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Mississippi asks US Supreme Court to solve circuit court split with 15 week abortion case

CNA Staff, Oct 23, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The Mississippi Attorney General on Thursday urged the US Supreme Court to hear a case regarding the state’s ban on most abortions from 15 weeks into pregnancy, citing a circuit split over a question raised in the suit.

Lynn Fitch submitted a brief petitioning for writ of certiorari in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Oct. 22.

“The circuit split...continues to grow,” she wrote, over the question “whether the validity of a pre-viability law that protects women’s health, the dignity of unborn children, and the integrity of the medical profession and society should be analyzed under Casey’s ‘undue burden’ standard or Hellerstedt’s balancing of benefits and burdens.”

“This case remains an ideal vehicle to promptly resolve both that question and the first question presented—the contradictions in this Court’s decisions over use of ‘viability’ as a bright line for measuring pro-life legislation,” Fitch stated.

Fitch noted that in a recent case, a panel of the Fifth Circuit acknowledged that its decision conflicted with one reached by the Eighth Circuit, and that the Sixth Circuit has “reached the exact opposite conclusion as the Fifth Circuit panel majority.”

The circuit split arises from differences in interpretation of the Supreme Court’s June decision in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, which struck down Louisiana’s requirement that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

In December 2019 Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a district court ruling that blocked Mississippi’s 15 week abortion ban.

The law allows abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy when the mother’s life or a major bodily function is in danger, or when the unborn child has a severe abnormality and is not expected to be able to live outside the womb at full term. Exceptions are not granted for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Physicians who knowingly violate the law can lose their state medical license.

Defending the law, Mississippi’s attorneys have argued that it has an interest in protecting the life of the unborn, as well as maternal health. They pointed to an increased risk of complications for the mother when abortion is performed further into the pregnancy. They have also made a case that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain prior to viability.

Higginbotham wrote that “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right but they may not ban abortions.”

In July, Governor Tate Reeves signed into law the Life Equality Act, banning abortion based on sex, race, or genetic abnormality.

Trump and Biden clash on immigration and coronavirus during final debate

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 23, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Immigration and the coronavirus pandemic took center stage on Thursday’s final debate between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, while issues like abortion and religious liberty were not up for discussion, as the candidates enter the final two weeks of the presidential campaign. 

The debate, hosted by Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, featured new rules designed to improve the flow of discussion. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the candidates were spread apart and had a plexiglass barrier in between them. 

The night started off with moderator Kristen Welker of NBC questioning the two candidates about how they would lead the country through the “next stage” of the pandemic. 

Trump defended his record, saying he “closed the greatest economy in the world” to fight the disease, and noted that the excess mortality rate was “way down” compared to other countries. He also said that a vaccine is “coming” and “ready,” and will be “announced within weeks.” 

When pressed, Trump said that there was “not a guarantee” on the timeline but that he thinks there is a “good chance” a vaccine will be announced “within a matter of weeks.” 

Biden attacked the president for not encouraging mask wearing earlier in the pandemic, and said that he had “no comprehensive plan” for tackling the virus, which has caused the deaths of more than 250,000 people in the country.

“What I would do is make sure we have everyone encouraged to wear a mask, all the time. I would make sure we move in the direction of rapid testing, investing in rapid testing. I would make sure that we set up national standards as to how to open up schools and open up businesses to be safe, and give them the wherewithal and financial resources to be able to do that,” said Biden. 

Biden said that a vaccine process must be “totally transparent” in order for Americans to be willing to actually take the vaccine. He also defended calling Trump “xenophobic” when the president restricted travel from China at the beginning of the pandemic, and then added that the president “did it late.” 

The former vice president said that while he would not immediately endorse another shutdown, he had not ruled out the possibility, should a community experience a high rate of cases. 

Trump, conversely, pressed for the increased opening of schools, and stated that “we’re not going to shut down.” 

Following the discussion of coronavirus, the debate shifted to national security and foreign policy, and then onto health care reform. 

Trump was questioned about the recent claim that more than 500 children separated at the border from their families could not be reunited as their parents could not be located. 

During the approximately two months that the administration enforced its “zero tolerance” policy, which included family separation, was in effect, about 3,000 children were separated from their parents, plus an additional 1,000 children who were separated from their parents during a pilot program of the policy in 2017.

Catholic leaders, both domestic and international, have repeatedly criticized the family separation policy. 

At the end of June 2018, the court ordered that the children be reunited with their families.

The president appeared to deflect the question, saying first that “Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they’re brought here and it’s easy to use them to get into our country.” 

Trump said that he was “working” on a plan to reunite these children with their families, but said that this was difficult as “a lot of these kids come up without the parents” via a cartel or coyote. 

 A “coyote” is a slang term for a person paid to smuggle people into the United States. 

Biden objected to these claims, saying that “these 500 plus kids came with parents” and were separated from them at the border. He also rejected the idea that coyotes were responsible for bringing children across the border, saying that “their parents were with them.” 

Biden and Trump sparred on the topic of the now-infamous “cages” that temporarily housed children who were separated from their parents at the border. 

Trump noted that the “cages” were built during the Obama administration,during which time President Obama was referred to as the “deporter-in-chief” for the record-high number of deportations during his time in office. 

Biden countered that the policy of separating families made a “laughingstock” of the country, and said the failure to achieve immigration reform during his vice presidency was “a mistake” and that he would create a pathway to citizenship for “over 11 million undocumented people” within the first 100 days of his presidency. 

During exchanges on healthcare, Trump credited himself with “terminating” the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which he called “the worst part of Obamacare.” 

“Now [the ACA] is in court, because Obamacare is no good,” said Trump. “No matter how well you run it, it’s no good. What we’d like to do is terminate it.” 

The president said that if Obamacare were “terminated,” he would “come up with a brand new beautiful healthcare” policy that would continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions. 

Biden said that, if elected, he would “pass Obamacare with a public option.” He referred to this as “Bidencare.” This public option would cover people who qualify for Medicaid but “do not have the wherewithal...to get Medicaid.” 

Biden said that he would not eliminate private insurance.

Two more Swiss Guards test positive for the coronavirus

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Pontifical Swiss Guard announced Friday that two more of its members have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The world’s smallest but oldest standing army said in a statement Oct. 23 that a total of 13 guards had now contracted the virus, following tests on every member of the corps. 

“No guards were hospitalized. Not all guards necessarily show symptoms such as fever, joint pain, coughing, and loss of sense of smell,” the unit said, adding that the guards’ health would continue to be monitored.

“We hope for a prompt recovery so that the guards can resume service in the best possible way, in health and safety,” it said.

The Vatican confirmed last week that an initial four Swiss Guards had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Responding to journalists’ questions Oct. 12, Holy See press office director Matteo Bruni said that the four guards had been placed in isolation following positive tests.

Citing the Governorate of Vatican City State’s new measures to combat the virus, he explained that all guards would wear face masks, both indoors and outdoors, regardless of whether they were on duty. They would also observe all other rules intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The corps, which has 135 soldiers, announced Oct. 15 that seven more of its members had tested positive for the virus, taking the then total to 11. 

Italy was one of Europe’s worst-hit countries during the first wave of the coronavirus. More than 484,800 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 37,059 have died in Italy as of Oct. 23, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

The Italian health ministry said Friday that the country had recorded 19,143 new cases over 24 hours -- a new daily record. Some 186,002 people are currently confirmed positive with the virus in Italy, with 19,821 of those in the Lazio region, which includes Rome.

Pope Francis received 38 new recruits to the Swiss Guards in an audience Oct. 2.

He told them: “The time you will spend here is a unique moment in your existence: may you live it with a spirit of brotherhood, helping one another to lead a life rich in meaning and joyfully Christian.”

Munich archdiocese: church tax income rises as record numbers depart

Rome Newsroom, Oct 23, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising announced Friday that it received 665 million euros in income from the church tax last year, despite a record number of Catholics in the diocese formally leaving the Church.

Official figures released Oct. 23 showed that the archdiocese’s total assets were around 3.6 billion euros ($4.26 billion). That is 114 million euros more than last year, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In 2019, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, in southern Germany, received a total of 887 million euros, of which 665 million euros, roughly $787.8 million dollars, came from the church tax.

If an individual is registered as a Catholic in Germany, an additional 8-9% of their income tax goes to the Church. The only way they can stop paying the tax is to make an official declaration renouncing their membership, after which they are no longer allowed to receive the sacraments or a Catholic burial.

Munich archdiocese’s church tax in 2019 brought in 20 million euros more than in 2018, when it totaled 645 million euros.

The archdiocese is led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy and a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinal Advisers. Marx was named Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI, who led the same archdiocese from 1977 to 1981.

Earlier this year the Munich statistics office told CNA Deutsch that 10,744 Catholics formally withdrew from the Church in Munich in 2019. Statisticians said this was the first time that annual departures had surpassed the 10,000 mark since records began.

The rise in the archdiocese’s church tax income in 2019, despite an exodus of Catholics, follows the pattern of the rest of the country. 

The Church in Germany received 6.76 billion euros from the church tax in 2019, an increase of more than 100 million euros compared to 2018. The rise is believed to be due to the growth of Germany’s economy in 2019.

While the number of Catholics abandoning the faith has increased steadily since the 1960s, the Church’s income has risen. In 2019, a record number of Catholics left the Church in Germany, with 272,771 people formally leaving. 

Last year the German bishops announced plans for a two-year “Synodal Way,” 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.

They said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes -- raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge Church teaching and discipline. 

In June 2019, Pope Francis sent a 28-page letter to German Catholics urging them to focus on evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.”

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” he wrote.

In an address to the German bishops in 2015, he said that “one can truly speak of an erosion of the Catholic faith in Germany,” urging them to “overcome resignation which paralyzes.”

Vatican extends plenary indulgence for the dead throughout November

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican has extended the availability of certain plenary indulgences for the souls in Purgatory, amid concerns about avoiding large gatherings of people in churches or cemeteries and including those confined to home due to the pandemic.

According to a decree Oct. 23, certain indulgenced acts, which can help to remit the temporal punishment due to sin for those who have died in a state of grace, can be obtained throughout the entire month of November 2020.

The decree was signed by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

In an interview with Vatican News, Piacenza said that bishops had requested an extended timeframe for the plenary indulgence, considering the importance of the commemoration of the feasts of All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2.

In the interview, Piacenza said that, although the availability of livestreamed Mass was good for the elderly who cannot attend the liturgy in person, “some people have gotten a little used to celebrations on television.”

This “can mark a certain disinterest in presence in [liturgical] celebrations,” he said. “There is therefore a pursuit by the bishops to implement all possible solutions to bring people back to the Church, always respecting everything that needs to be done for the particular situation in which we unfortunately find ourselves.”

Piacenza also noted the importance of the availability of the sacraments during the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, which for some countries can have very high sacramental attendance and participation.

With the penitentiary’s new decree, those who cannot leave home can still participate in the indulgence, and others can have more time to attend Mass, to receive the sacrament of confession, and to visit the cemetery, while still following local coronavirus measures on crowds, he said.

The decree also encouraged priests to make the sacraments as widely available as possible during November.

“For an easier attainment of divine grace through pastoral charity, this penitentiary earnestly prays that all priests endowed with the appropriate faculties offer themselves with particular generosity to the celebration of the sacrament of Penance and to administering Holy Communion to the sick,” the decree said.

Plenary indulgences, which remit all temporal punishment due to sin, must be accompanied by full detachment from sin.

A Catholic who wishes to obtain a plenary indulgence must also fulfill the ordinary conditions of an indulgence, which are sacramental confession, reception of the Eucharist, and prayer for the intentions of the pope. Sacramental confession and reception of the Eucharist can occur within a week of the indulgenced act.

In the month of November, the Church has two traditional means of obtaining a plenary indulgence for the souls in Purgatory. The first is to visit a cemetery and pray for the dead during the Octave of All Saints’ Day, which is Nov. 1-8.

This year, the Vatican decreed that this plenary indulgence can be obtained on any day in November.

The second plenary indulgence is connected to the Feast of All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2, and can be received by those who piously visit a church or oratory on that day and recite the Our Father and the Creed.

The Vatican said that this plenary indulgence has also been extended and is available to Catholics throughout the month of November to reduce crowds.

Both indulgences must include the three ordinary conditions and full detachment from sin.

The Vatican also said that, because of the health emergency, the elderly, the sick, and others who cannot leave the house for serious reasons can participate in the indulgence from home by reciting prayers for the deceased before an image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary.

They must also spiritually unite themselves to other Catholics, be completely detached from sin, and have the intention of fulfilling the ordinary conditions as soon as possible.

The Vatican’s decree offered examples of prayers that homebound Catholics can pray for the dead, including lauds or vespers of the Office for the Dead, the rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, other prayers for deceased among their family or friends, or performing a work of mercy by offering their pain and discomfort to God.

The decree also said that “since the souls in Purgatory are helped by the suffrages of the faithful and especially with the sacrifice of the Altar pleasing to God ... all priests are warmly invited to celebrate three times the Holy Mass on the day of the commemoration of all the faithful departed, in accordance with the apostolic constitutionIncruentum altaris,’ issued by Pope Benedict XV, of venerable memory, on August 10, 1915.” 

Piacenza said that another reason they are asking priests to say three Masses on Nov. 2 was to allow more Catholics to be able to attend.

“Priests are also exhorted to be generous in the Ministry of Confessions and in bringing Holy Communion to the sick,” Piacenza said. This will make it easier for Catholics to be able “to offer prayers for their deceased, to feel them close, in short, to encounter all these noble sentiments that go into creating the Communion of Saints.”

Australian state police rule out probe into Vatican money transfers during Pell trial

CNA Staff, Oct 23, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Police in the Australian state of Victoria said Friday that they have no plans for a further investigation into reports of money transfers from the Vatican during the trial of Cardinal George Pell, while federal police have said the information they have received is under their review, and been shared with an anti-corruption commission. 

Victoria Police told journalists Oct. 23 that AUSTRAC, Australia’s financial intelligence agency, had shared information with the force regarding the transfers.

“AUSTRAC has made Victoria police aware of transfer of monies from the Vatican over a period of time to Australia,” a police statement said.

“They have not advised Victoria Police of any suspicious activity related to these transactions. In the absence of any other evidence or intelligence, Victoria Police has noted the advice from AUSTRAC. We are not at this time conducting any further investigation.”

On Tuesday, it emerged that the financial intelligence agency had passed details of the transfers to both federal police and state police in Victoria.

During an Oct. 20 Senate committee hearing, Nicole Rose, the chief executive of AUSTRAC, was asked about allegations, first published in Italian media on Oct. 2, that approximately 700,000 euros ($829,000) in Church funds had been sent to Australia at the behest of Cardinal Angelo Becciu for the purposes of influencing Cardinal Pell’s trial on charges of sexual abuse.

Liberal Party senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells asked Rose about media reports of the transfers “allegedly from Vatican funds to a person or persons in Australia.”

“Yes, I can confirm AUSTRAC has looked into the matter and we’ve provided information to the AFP [Australian Federal Police] and to Victoria Police,” Rose told the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on Oct. 20.

The exchange during the parliamentary committee session confirmed that AUSTRAC, which is charged with monitoring financial transactions to prevent money laundering, organized crime, tax evasion, fraud and terrorism financing, is aware of the allegations and has apparently identified information meriting police attention or investigation.

The Australian Federal Police said Wednesday that AUSTRAC had passed the information to it as “part of a routine exchange of financial intelligence.”

“The AFP is undertaking a review of the relevant information. The AFP has concurrently referred aspects of this matter to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission,” it said.

Victoria’s anti-corruption agency has powers to investigate the state public sector, including police.

Guardian Australia reported Friday that the commission said that it could not confirm whether it was investigating the referral.

Meanwhile, The Australian newspaper said Thursday that the amount transferred by the Vatican could be higher than initially reported. 

It said that as much as AU$2 million ($1.4 million) could have been wired from the Vatican to Australia between early 2017 and mid-2018. It suggested there were four payments, beginning with one of AU$415,000 in February 2017, followed by another in May of that year. This was reportedly followed by third and fourth payments, amounting to AU$1.3 million, in December 2017 and June 2018 respectively.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera first reported Oct. 2 that an alleged money transfer was part of a dossier of evidence being compiled by Vatican investigators and prosecutors against Cardinal Becciu, who was forced to resign by Pope Francis on Sept. 24, in apparent connection to multiple financial scandals dating back to his time as the second-ranking official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. 

According to another Italian newspaper, Il Messaggero, the allegations regarding a transfer to Australia were made by Msgr. Albert Perlasca, Becciu’s former chief deputy at the secretariat.

Perlasca and Becciu worked together for several years overseeing aspects of curial governance, including the investment of Vatican finances. Perlasca is believed to be cooperating with Vatican prosecutors as part of an ongoing investigation into financial misconduct at the Secretariat of State over a period of years.

CNA has not confirmed the substance of the accusation. Cardinal Becciu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or attempt to influence the trial of Cardinal Pell. 

Pell has not publicly addressed the allegations, although Robert Richter QC, the former head of his legal defense team in Australia, has called for a public inquiry into the allegations.

After the initial reports, some media outlets speculated that funds could have been sent from Vatican accounts to or through the Holy See’s nunciature in Australia. 

On Oct. 6 in Rome, Pope Francis met with Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, apostolic nuncio to Australia. But AUSTRAC’s confirmation that information had been forwarded to both national police and state police in Victoria suggests that any transfer or transfers under investigation could fall outside diplomatic or sovereign channels.

In 2017, Pell took a leave of absence from his role as head of curial finances in the Vatican to return to Australia, where he stood trial on accusations of sexual abuse, attested to at trial by a single alleged victim. After spending more than a year in prison, his conviction was overturned by the Australian High Court earlier this year.

Police in Victoria have been criticized for their handling of the Pell case.

In 2013, Victoria Police opened Operation Tethering, an open-ended investigation into possible crimes by Cardinal Pell. At the time the operation began, no alleged victims had come forward against the cardinal and there had been no criminal complaints made against him. Although they had found no victims or criminal accusations, in 2015 the program was expanded and put on a more formal footing.

In 2017, Pell was charged with sexually abusing two minors. He was convicted in 2018 on the evidence of a single victim-accuser, the second alleged victim died before the trial. The second alleged victim had denied on several occasions that he had ever been sexually abused.

In December, CNA reported that, as early as 2014, senior police officials in Victoria discussed that the investigation into Cardinal Pell could be used to deflect public scrutiny from a corruption scandal in the force, linked to organized crime.

Cardinal Pell served as the first prefect for the Secretariat of the Economy in the Vatican, a department created by Pope Francis in 2014 to bring coherence and transparency to the administration of curial finances.

From 2011 to 2018, Cardinal Becciu served as “sostituto” at the Secretariat of State. CNA has reported that Becciu and Pell clashed repeatedly over the Australian cardinal’s attempts to reform Vatican finances.

Following the allegations that Becciu used Vatican funds in an attempt to interfere in Pell’s trial in Australia, on Oct. 17 Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said that, “regarding the everlasting attention of some journalists to Cardinal Pell’s trial,” Becciu “is compelled to reiterate vigorously that he has never interfered with it in any way whatsoever.”

The lawyer also said that “to protect and defend his honor, so gravely damaged,” Becciu may seek legal recourse against some news organizations for their continued reporting of “an alleged, albeit non-existent activity to taint the evidence of Cardinal Pell’s trial.”

Mexican broadcaster: Vatican held back Pope Francis' words on same-sex civil unions in 2019 interview footage

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2020 / 08:50 am (CNA).-  

A Mexican broadcaster said Thursday that the Vatican held back footage from a 2019 interview that it conducted with Pope Francis, in which the pope called for the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples. That footage appears in a documentary on Pope Francis released this week, but the Vatican has not yet explained the situation.

A spokesman for Televisa told the Washington Post Oct. 22 that “Someone at the Vatican gave us the part that we did broadcast, and later they gave the rest of the material to someone else.”

The missing footage appeared in the documentary “Francesco,” directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, which premiered Wednesday in Rome, prompting a global media firestorm.

The Vatican has not addressed why the comments that were excised from the interview it sent to Televisa later appeared in the documentary.

Teresa Villa, a spokeswoman for Televisa, confirmed to the New York Times on Thursday that the pope made the statement about civil unions in an interview with the broadcaster’s Vatican correspondent, Valentina Alazraki, which took place last year. The interview was recorded with Vatican-owned cameras, and the network was given footage of the interview — but apparently not all footage — after the interview.

While Alazraki’s interview was released by Televisa June 1, 2019, Pope Francis’ comments on civil union legislation were not included in the published version, and had not previously been seen by the public.

According to the Times, two other people close to the company, who asked not to be identified, said that the interview was filmed with Vatican cameras and the Vatican had control over the footage. The two sources also said that Francis’ comments on same-sex unions were cut from the version of the interview footage Televisa received from the Vatican.

The interview Pope Francis gave to Televisa appeared to have been shot in the same place, with the same lighting and the same appearance as the pope’s comments on civil unions, which drew questions this week about the statement’s origin, with conflicting reports coming from different sources.

Afineevsky, who said he was given access to Vatican archival video footage during the documentary’s years-long production, told CNA and other journalists on Wednesday that Pope Francis’ comment in support of legalizing same sex civil unions was made during an interview the director himself conducted with Pope Francis. Televisa’s statement and analysis of the footage contrast that account.

Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, director of the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, said on Wednesday evening “there is nothing new” in the pope’s remarks on civil unions.

In a video released by Tv2000, a media apostolate of the Italian bishops’ conference, Spadaro said that “the director of the film ‘Francesco’ compiles a series of interviews that have been conducted with Pope Francis over time, giving a great summary of his pontificate and the value of his travels.”

“Among other things, there are various passages taken from an interview with Valentina Alazraki, a Mexican journalist, and within that interview Pope Francis speaks of a right to the legal protection of homosexual couples but without in any way affecting doctrine,” Spadaro said.

“This is an interview given a long time ago that has already been received by the press,” Spadaro added, apparently unaware that the pope’s remarks on civil unions had not previously been released.

Tv2000 is not affiliated with the Vatican, and Spadaro is not a Vatican spokesman.

Also on Wednesday, the priest told the Associated Press that “there’s nothing new because it’s a part of that interview,” adding that “it seems strange that you don’t remember.”

Other aspects of the “Francesco” documentary have been called into question by journalists in recent days.

On Thursday, CNA and other media outlets reported that other remarks that Pope Francis made about people who identify as LGBT had been spliced together out of sequence from excerpts of the Televisa interview, making their meaning less clear than the pope’s initial remarks.

The Vatican has not responded to questions or requests from media about Pope Francis’ expression of support for legal same-sex civil unions.

 

Report: Vatican requests evidence in Becciu embezzlement investigation

Rome Newsroom, Oct 23, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Vatican prosecutors have requested evidence from Rome in an ongoing investigation into allegations that Cardinal Angelo Becciu used Secretariat of State funds to help family members, according to an Italian newspaper.

La Repubblica reported Friday that Vatican prosecutors have sent letters rogatory to Rome’s public prosecutor’s office as they investigate claims that Becciu used his position to give money to companies owned by several of his brothers. Letters rogatory are a formal request from courts in one country to the courts of another country for judicial assistance.

The Italian cardinal has insisted that the accusations that he misused Vatican funds to benefit his brothers are false.

Becciu resigned as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals Sept. 24, reportedly in relation to concerns about his management of Vatican financial affairs, including the controversial purchase of a London apartment.

But following the resignation, new reports emerged claiming that Becciu, the former “sostituto,” or second-ranking official, at the Vatican’s Secretary of State, may have directed Vatican and Italian bishops’ money to go toward “loans” for projects owned and operated by his brothers.

The Vatican’s recent request to Rome’s prosecutor’s office was for information to help “clarify” some of the financial and familial relationships of Becciu, according to the La Reppubblica report.

The Vatican request, which has not been independently confirmed by CNA, was reportedly asking for information about the relationship between Caritas of Rome, the charitable arm of the Diocese of Rome, and a company called Angel’s srl, of which Becciu’s brother, Mario, is majority partner and legal representative.

Angel’s produces a beer, and the company has a partnership with Caritas of Rome to affix the charity’s label to its bottle and, in return, give the charity 5% of its sales. There appear to be questions about whether the charity ever received the sales money.

The Vatican’s promoter of justice is reportedly looking into this agreement, which may also violate Italian fiscal law.

Vatican prosecutors are also reportedly looking into three non-repayable “loans” sent to an Italian company called Spes Cooperative, which is the operational arm of the diocesan Caritas of Becciu’s former diocese of Ozieri in Sardinia. The owner and legal representative of Spes Cooperative is Becciu’s brother, Tonino.

The business is reported, according to La Repubblica, to have received 600,000 euros from the Italian bishops' conference for repairs and adjustments to structures, as well as the modernization of a furnace for the Diocese of Ozieri, between 2013 and 2015.

An additional 100,000 euros received by Spes Cooperative in 2018 reportedly came from Peter’s Pence, the pope’s charitable fund made up of Church-wide donations, managed by the Secretariat of State, and under the control of Becciu while he was sostituto. There seem also to be questions about whether these funds were used for their ostensible charitable purpose.

After initial reports at the end of September, Becciu denied any guilt, saying that he “may have made a mistake out of too much love for my diocese, but I do not see the crime. I am ready to shout the truth,” Il Fatto Quotidiano reported. 

The Becciu family also released a statement Sept. 25, saying that news reports that members of their family received financial favors from their brother, the cardinal, were “unfounded and maliciously false, in particular for the imaginative and unprovable references to alleged donations from Peter’s Pence.” 

Taiwan foreign ministry: Catholics in China are facing serious challenges

Rome Newsroom, Oct 23, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Taiwan’s foreign ministry responded to the renewal of the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement Thursday by highlighting the worsening religious freedom situation on the mainland.

“With the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] dictating all matters, Catholics in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] are facing serious challenges to their faith and conscience,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) said in a statement issued Oct. 22.

The government statement indicated that Taiwan has not changed its position on the Holy See’s provisional agreement with the Chinese government, which has been extended for two more years until Oct. 22, 2022. The foreign ministry said that Taiwan hoped that it can “improve the worsening situation of religious freedom in the PRC.”

“Unfortunately, as the PRC government has stepped up measures to persecute local Catholic communities, such as further suppressing believers who resist being controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and forcing many bishops to join the CCP-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, religious freedom and human rights in China have continued to deteriorate,” the foreign ministry said.

“This so-called ‘sinicization of religion’ in the PRC has become ‘nationalization of religion,’ even characterized by extensive CCP indoctrination,” it added.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry also said that it “highly values” the “solemn commitment” made by the Vatican that its confidential agreement with China does not pertain to diplomatic relations.

The Holy See is the only remaining country in Europe that recognizes Taiwan as a country. For 77 years, the Holy See has had formal diplomatic relations with the country officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), while the Church has not had an official diplomatic presence in mainland China since it was officially expelled by Beijing in 1951.

The Chinese Communist Party government in mainland China views Taiwan as a rebel province and has historically put pressure on countries to cut diplomatic ties with the island. After the United Nations ceased to recognize the Taiwanese government in 1971, the majority of member states severed official ties and the Vatican embassy has been led by a chargé d’affairs, rather than a full ambassador.

“The Holy See has publicly stated on numerous occasions that the provisional agreement with the PRC only deals with pastoral issues and does not touch on diplomatic or political matters. Taiwan highly values this solemn commitment and has maintained close contacts with the Holy See, expressing our concern and position,” the foreign ministry said. 

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin reiterated this in comments made to journalists Oct. 21, saying that what has been agreed to thus far “does not envisage the establishment of diplomatic relations.”

“For the moment there is no talk of diplomatic relations, we are focused on the Church,” Parolin said, according to a transcript provided by Italian newspaper Avvenire.

“The agreement does not concern diplomatic relations, nor does it envisage the establishment of diplomatic relations. The agreement concerns the situation of the Church, a specific point which are the appointments of bishops and the difficulties that exist and that we hope to tackle through dialogue,” he said.

When asked about the persecution of Christians in China, Parolin responded: “But, what persecutions … You have to use the words correctly. There are regulations that are imposed and which concern all religions, and certainly also concern the Catholic Church.”

Following the Vatican-China agreement in 2018, state officials in different regions of China removed crosses and demolished church buildings, and underground Catholics and clergy have reported harassment and detention.

On Sept. 1, priests in the Diocese of Yujiang in Jianxi Province who refused to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association were been placed under house arrest and forbidden from “engaging in any religious activity in the capacity of clergy,” according to a UCA News report.

In China, religious education of any person under the age of 18 is illegal. This means that catechism classes have been closed and minors are not allowed to enter church buildings. Catholic churches registered with the Chinese authorities are closely monitored via CCTV cameras connected to the public security network. Priests have been forced to attend government training courses.

But other religious groups have fared far worse under the Chinese Communist Party’s policies of “sinicization” and technological control, particularly the Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province, who have suffered forced labor, indoctrination, sterilization, forced abortion, and torture in dentention camps.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told journalists at a press conference Oct. 22 that it had had “friendly negotiations with the Vatican” before coming to the decision to extend its agreement with the Holy See.

“The two sides will continue to maintain close communication and consultation and advance the improvement of bilateral ties,” it said. 

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said that it would “closely monitor related developments.”

“Taiwan will continue to advance cooperation with the Holy See and the Catholic Church to jointly safeguard the core values of religious freedom and support those who are persecuted for their faith so as to steadily enhance its longstanding values-based diplomatic partnership with the Holy See,” it commented.

Polish president Duda welcomes landmark abortion ruling

CNA Staff, Oct 23, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Polish president Andrzej Duda welcomed a landmark court ruling on abortion Friday.

He told the newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna Oct. 23 that he supported the constitutional court’s verdict that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

“I have said it many times and I have never concealed it, that abortion for so-called eugenic reasons should not be allowed in Poland. I believed and believe that every child has a right to life,” he said in an interview with the legal and business daily.

Duda, who was reelected by a narrow margin in July, is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS). A group of 119 MPs belonging to PiS, as well two smaller parties, asked the constitutional court to review the country’s abortion law last year.

They argued that a 1993 law permitting abortion in cases of fetal abnormality was incompatible with the Polish constitution. 

In the highly anticipated ruling Oct. 22 -- the feast day of Polish pope St. John Paul II -- the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw declared that the law was unconstitutional.

The court found that abortion in the case of a high probability of severe and irreversible impairment of the fetus, or an incurable disease that threatens its life, was inconsistent with constitutional provisions protecting human life.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, could lead to a significant reduction in the number of abortions in the country. 

Until now, Polish law has permitted abortion only in cases of rape or incest, threat to the mother’s life, or fetal abnormality. 

Approximately 1,000 legal abortions take place in Poland each year. The vast majority are carried out in cases of fetal abnormality.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, hailed the verdict, which cannot be appealed. 

He said: “By its decision, the constitutional court affirmed that the idea that ‘life is not worth living’ is in flagrant contradiction with the principle of a democratic state governed by law.” 

“The life of every human being, from conception to natural death, has the same value before God and must be protected to the same degree by the state.” 

Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, criticized the ruling, describing it on Twitter as “a sad day for women’s rights.”

Police detained 15 people following protests against the ruling in Warsaw on Thursday evening, Reuters reported Oct. 23.

Mikołaj Pawlak, Poland’s Ombudsman for Children, praised the ruling on Twitter.

“The decision of the Constitutional Tribunal declaring eugenic abortion inconsistent with the fundamental law is the victory of life over death. It is the restoration of equality of rights for every human being, including the unborn,” he wrote.