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Update: Bishops describe their retreat as inspiring, Spirit-filled

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although the weeklong retreat for U.S. Catholic bishops emphasized quiet reflection, several bishops spoke out on social media during the retreat and after it wrapped up Jan. 8 with positive reaction about it and to give shoutouts to the retreat leader, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has preached to popes and top officials of the Roman Curia for nearly 40 years.

One bishop said listening to Father Cantalamessa was akin to being in the presence of the early Christian theologians. "Clear, intensely filled with the Holy Spirit, and all for the Kingdom of God," Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Boulette of San Antonio said in a tweet. "Let us continue to pray for one another, our church and our world. A blessing to be here!"

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, tweeted that the retreat leader was a "true instrument of the Lord" and that the Holy Spirit was at work during the retreat.

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, described Father Cantalamessa's talks and homilies as "powerful and engaging."

He tweeted that he was glad they had time to reflect and pray about their role as shepherds, stressing: "We must start there to be able to offer healing. I am taking this very seriously but feeling positive."

Boston Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O'Connell said it was a "truly blessed experience" to be on retreat with Father Cantalamessa and fellow U.S. bishops.

"The Holy Spirit was powerfully present, and I was quite moved," he tweeted. He also thanked the pope for giving the bishops this gift.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980. The time of prayer Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago was planned largely in response to last summer's revelations of allegations of sex abuse that reached the highest levels of the U.S. church.

In a Jan. 8 column for Angelus News, the archdiocesan news outlet of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bishops' retreat leader focused "our attention on the vocation and responsibility of bishops in this moment in the church."

"We are praying together as a visible sign of our unity as bishops and our communion with the Holy Father. There is a collegial spirit here and a firm commitment to address the causes of the abuse crisis we face and continue the work of renewing the church," he added.

The archbishop said Father Cantalamessa asked them to "trust more in the Holy Spirit. We need to have confidence that we are always living in God's loving presence."

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, wrote a few blog posts about the retreat with some reflection about the retreat leader's message.

He said they heard about the need to emphasize in their preaching the fundamental belief in Jesus before delving into his message and teachings.

He also said Father Cantalamessa emphasized the need to root out "love of money" and all that it implies, including material possessions, honor or power.

"If this pursuit for 'money' needs to be rooted out from our Christian lives, then we need to embrace a true spirit of detachment," the bishop wrote, adding that he would add more to that topic in the days ahead.

The theme of the U.S. bishops' retreat was "the mission of the apostles and of their successors" drawing from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus "appointed 12 -- whom he also named apostles -- that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach."

Reflections from the retreat do not seem to be about the crisis in particular, maybe for a reason.

In an email to Catholic News Service weeks before the retreat, Father Cantalamessa said he would "not talk about pedophilia and will not give advice about eventual solutions; that is not my task and I would not have the competence to do so."

"The Holy Father asked for my availability to lead a series of spiritual exercises for the episcopal conference so that the bishops, far from their daily commitments, in a climate of prayer and silence and in a personal encounter with the Lord, can receive the strength and light of the Holy Spirit to find the right solutions for the problems that afflict the U.S. church today," he added.

In a Jan. 9 column for the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said the pope's intention for the retreat went beyond "this particular moment or challenge facing us bishops."

"We are not leaving this retreat with all the answers to the important questions facing the church in these days," he wrote, but he said the bishops now have a renewed sense of the importance of taking their cues from "Christ's spirit rather than our own efforts."

Another blessing from the week, he said, was being drawn closer to each other and to the pope.

"I have no doubt that just as the early church relied on Peter's unique ministry to meet the challenges of the day, so we will draw strength and insight from our unity with his successor," he said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

A global response to abuse: Work already underway, Jesuit says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- By summoning leaders of the world's bishops' conferences and top representatives of religious orders to the Vatican in February to address the abuse crisis and the protection of minors, Pope Francis is sending the message that the need for safeguarding is a global issue.

Even though media attention and public fallout for the church's failings have focused on a small group of nations, abuse experts and victims know that does not mean the rest of the world is immune from the scandal of abuse or can delay taking action to ensure the safety of all its members.

While Catholic leaders in some countries might not recognize it as a global issue, Vatican offices that receive abuse allegations have a "clear idea about what is the situation now because allegations come from all parts of the world," said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a member of the organizing committee for the February meeting.  

Because the Catholic Church mandates that all credible allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy must be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, "we have one office that has to deal with all of this so, for the time being, we know what are the allegations that come from different parts of the world," he said.

Allegations coming in from the English- and German-speaking countries that have been the center of the abuse scandal for decades "have diminished considerably" because of the safeguarding measures that have been put in place, he told Catholic News Service in early January.

But in those countries where abuse has not been talked about in society and in the church until recently, he said, allegations are just beginning to surface.

The doctrinal congregation has never released statistics on the geographical distribution of the clerical sexual abuse cases reported to it; in the past, the congregation has published the total number of cases reported and the total number of priests expelled from the priesthood because of abuse.

The last figures published by the congregation were for cases submitted to it in 2015. It said 518 cases involving "graviora delicta" ("more grave crimes") were submitted in 2015; the majority of those cases dealt with the sexual abuse of minors, including the possession of child pornography, but the category of "graviora delicta" also includes serious offenses against the sacraments.

What is not known, however, is the actual extent of abuse throughout society, Father Zollner said.

"There are no clear and no scientifically verified statistics for the prevalence of sexual abuse in societies worldwide. There are only estimates that range from 7 percent to 25 percent of all young people in a given society and, in some countries, it may be even much worse," he said.

However, because abuse is a global phenomenon, he said, the church -- as a global network with people and institutions in every corner of the world -- is perfectly positioned to be part of the solution.

In fact, while the February summit is being designed to bring church leadership together in solidarity, humility and dialogue and to strengthen their commitment to serving the most wounded and vulnerable, a very wide and global grassroots effort in safeguarding has been underway for years.

The Pontifical Gregorian University, the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and others established the Center for Child Protection in 2012.

"At the very beginning of the CCP, when we had only the e-learning program, the idea was to spread" its online studies in multiple languages and make them accessible "to the whole world," he said.

The center also reached out to other educational and academic institutions so that coursework in safeguarding would become part of the "normal curricula" for those studying psychology, social sciences, teaching or theology, said Father Zollner, who is also academic vice rector of the Gregorian University and dean of its Institute of Psychology.

The center has since developed a global alliance of organizations -- starting with some pontifical and Catholic universities -- who are committed to working with local experts and exchanging concrete information.

The center also offers a multidisciplinary diploma course and master's program in safeguarding for priests, religious and laypeople from all over the world. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples offers bishops' conferences in Africa and Asia full scholarships for either program for six people each year.

"This is very forward-looking because in those countries there are almost no resources either in society or in the church that have any kind of special training in this field," he said.

Graduates go back to their home countries, dioceses, orders or institutions, mostly to work in child protection, setting up programs, offering workshops and giving talks for church personnel and anyone who requests their help. In very poor or remote areas, sometimes they are the only experts available even for the government.

The feedback and reception safeguarding graduates have been getting back home, Father Zollner, "is very mixed because there is certainly a certain kind of reluctance and hesitancy and sometimes passive resistance" in some places.

One of the big challenges now, he said, is to give graduates "ongoing support so that they can push through and they can also exchange strategies that will help them and the church to really come to grips of the situation in their countries."

Father Zollner travels the world doing workshops and talks on child protection at the invitation of bishops' conferences and religious orders.

Just in the past year, he said, "I have been invited by the bishops' conferences of Papua New Guinea and Malaysia -- countries where just two or three years ago one would never have thought that there was any possibility to talk about (abuse) either in society or in church, and the church has started to face that now."

The international members of the papal commission on safeguarding also are invited to speak at seminars, conferences and workshops on every continent and provide education and insight, including survivors' testimonies to new bishops and staff at the Vatican.
 
Father Zollner said having skilled and motivated people on the ground to implement and share safeguarding measures will be very important for church leaders attending February's summit.

"Because once you have some good people, trained well and very committed, and all of them are really committed, you will find links to others, other church institutions and organizations and possible government structures, (then) you can really make a difference," he said.

It is a "very unfortunate" misconception that in most places nothing has been done in the area of safeguarding and prevention, Father Zollner said. "In many places in the world, safeguarding procedures are put in place, people are trained, schools, orphanages and so forth now have to have safeguarding training and screening of personnel."

"Again, this is not 100 percent present in all countries and in all institutions. Far from it," he said. "But there are very good examples of best practices even in areas where a few years ago no one would have had any clue about what to do and why to do what is necessary to protect minors."

Not all the world's roughly 200 countries are "doomed to repeat the same mistakes as the 20 countries or so that we know and talk about normally," he said. "I am positive especially about countries I visited in Central America or some parts of Africa and Asia where the bishops are really on board, the religious are on board; they have at least the potential to do it differently, to act before they are forced to act."

"The only choice they have is either we deal with it today, which needs courage and energy, or you will be forced or your successors will be forced to deal with it tomorrow," he said. "But there is no choice to avoid it or not to avoid it. You have to face it sooner or later."

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Vatican leaps into the world of sports

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican announced its plans to take a leap of faith into the wide world of sports with the creation of its first ever sports association.

The Vatican Athletic sports association, which will fall under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture and its "Culture and Sport" section, was presented during a briefing at the Vatican press office Jan. 10.

According to a press release by the association, the idea to establish a Vatican sports team began with Vatican employees who met for their daily morning runs along the Tiber River.  

"The Secretariat of State allowed this 'community' of friends to be given a suitable and completely innovative legal form of Christian witness in the streets, literally 'going out' as Pope Francis asks, among the women and men who live the passion of sport," the statement said.

Vatican Athletic, it continued, is not just concerned with competing with other athletes but also committed to giving a "concrete Christian witness with spiritual initiatives" in the world of sports.

The association currently is made up of 60 athletes, ranging from 19 to 62 years old, who work in various Vatican offices or serve with the Swiss Guard. It has also welcomed "honorary members," including two young Muslim migrants and "several young people with disabilities."

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council, told journalists the Vatican Athletic group represents a much-needed message of peace and unity in sports, which can sometimes be divisive.

The establishment of an official Vatican sports association also could open the possibility of athletes from the world's smallest state competing in future Olympic Games.

During the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a Vatican delegation, led by Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the president of Vatican Athletic, was invited to take part in the opening ceremony of the Winter Games and attend its general meeting as an official observer.

While a Vatican delegation attended the opening of the Summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, the South Korea games marked the first time the Vatican was invited to attend an annual session of the Olympic committee.

Msgr. Sanchez, who is also a former modern pentathlete, said the Vatican would not field an Olympic team anytime soon, but there may be a glimmer of hope that the gold and white colors of the Holy See may be seen one day at the global sporting event.

"A Vatican team at the Olympics? Seeing the Vatican flag fly at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a short or medium-term goal, but we aren't closing any doors," Msgr. Sanchez said. First, though, "I would like to participate in sporting events of symbolic value such as the Games of the Small States of Europe and the Mediterranean Games."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

The Church and sexuality: An interview with Cardinal Brandmüller

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2019 / 10:50 am (CNA).- Cardinal Walter Brandmüller made headlines last week, after he told German news agency DPA that debate over the clerical sexual abuse crisis should not “forget or silence the fact that 80% of the cases of sexual assault in the Church affected male youths not children,” adding that a connection between homosexuality and sexual abuse has been “statistically proven.”

Brandmüller, 90, told the news agency Friday that “only a vanishingly small number” of priests has committed sexual abuse, and that it was “hypocritical” to focus only on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.

“What has happened in the Church is nothing other than what is happening in society as a whole,” he said.

In an interview with CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language sister agency, the church historian explained his remarks - and pointed to causes of the Church crisis and possible solutions:


Your Eminence, your interview on Friday has generated a great deal of attention. How do you deal with the reporting and the reactions?

What secular media makes of statements that do not correspond to the worldview of the reporting journalists might well raise certain questions. But I was concerned with scandals that are more important than how I am being dealt with as a person.

You’re referring to the abuse scandals and their coverup?

Well, I would argue  that the real scandal is that when it comes to this issue, clergy and employees of the Church are not sufficiently distinguishable from society overall. The apostle Paul admonished the Romans, "do not be conformed to this world." [[12:2]]

[But] sexual abuse - in whatever form - is anything but a specifically Catholic phenomenon.

How is that to be understood in this context?

The sexualization of society over decades - think of Oswalt Kolle and Beate Uhse - has left its mark on Catholics and those in the employ of the Church. This statement may help explain the heinousness of the transgressions, but is by no means an excuse!

[ed. Note: Oswalt Kolle was an author, filmmaker, advocate for the sexual revolution in Germany, prominent during the 1960s and 1970s. Beate Uhse AG is a German distributor of pornography, “sex toys,” and lingerie.]

In other words,  the role and self-conception of the clergy are at the heart of the issue?

First of all, it must be emphatically emphasized that hundreds of thousands of priests and religious people faithfully and selflessly serve God and men. To put them under general suspicion is just as offensive as unjustified, considering the tiny percentage of abusers. On the other hand, it equally is an excessively narrow view of reality to look only at the Catholic Church.

But surely one must be differentiate between abuse in the Church and across society?

Absolutely.

It would be no less unrealistic to forget or conceal that 80 percent of cases of abuse in the church context were perpetrated against male adolescents, not children. This relationship between abuse and homosexuality has been statistically proven - but it has nothing to do with homophobia, whatever one might mean by that term.

How can sexual misconduct and abuse be prevented in principle? Irrespective of whether it is perpetrated against minors or adults, men or women?

In the first place it will be necessary, before any religious consideration, to once again refamiliarize and deepen our understanding of the principles of sexual morality brought about by human nature being that of man and woman. John Paul II, with his Theology of the Body, has made a groundbreaking contribution on this matter.

Surely such an understanding would particularly be required of the clergy, and anyone in a teaching capacity, both in terms of educating on this matter and themselves actually living it?

Indeed, this doctrinal teaching of John Paul II should also form the basis for the selection and formation of future priests and religious educators. Then we should pay attention to their psycho-physical constitution. However, it should not be forgotten that all of this is not just about psychology and sociology, but rather about recognizing a true vocation coming from God. Especially when it comes to priests! Only when these aspects are duly considered and taken into account can a candidate be admitted to ordination.

This is also what Pope Francis has said on several occasions.

By the way: Experienced rigor in the selection of candidates also leads to a higher attractiveness of the priestly profession.

Given this falls under a bishop’s bailiwick, surely theirs is a key role in bringing this about?

The present crisis can only be overcome if, above all, the bishops understand it as a call and an incentive to a new spiritual awakening, drawing on the roots of our Faith. Is it not it astounding that the "conventional" seminars of so-called traditionalist communities, especially in France but not only there, have no shortage of seminarians? So why not adopt this model for success?

In the face of the current crisis, the credibility of the Church as a moral institution is severely shaken in the eyes of many. What is more, Catholics are asking themselves in which direction the Church is headed.

The question I ask myself is whether there really is any direction. Is the Church not tossed back and forth on contradictory currents? Can one recognize any direction at all?

In any case, it is obvious that - at least in Western Europe - Church statements are more or less in line with the social mainstream, and that purely secular matters often determine the speeches and actions of ecclesiastical authorities instead of following the lead of Benedict XVI, who in his speech in Freiburg in 2011 talked about the necessary detachment from worldliness [Entweltlichung], which promptly was misunderstood and even met with disapproval.

In the meantime, even some bishops, especially in the field of morality, have expressed views that are diametrically opposed to Scripture. But in doing so, one removes oneself from the very foundations of the Church’s existence.

So the Church and its foundations are still in their place?

Naturally. And of course it is all the more embarrassing when a financially potent but spiritually foundering  Church in Germany reckons it has a mandate to lecture its "poorer brothers and sisters" in - of all places - regions where  the Church is experiencing a period of spiritual vitality and growth, ie in Eastern and Northeast Europe as well as regions such as Africa and Asia.

What is also noteworthy in the West, however, is the phenomenon of religious awakenings among the youth, who are unimpressed with the decline around them.

"Fluctuat nec mergitur" - This expression is written on the coat of arms of the city of Paris, which shows a ship on high waves: Despite being tossed back and forth, it is not lost! In fact, Jesus Christ is on board even when he appears to be asleep. This is a depiction of of the Church.

 

Translation provided by AC Wimmer.

 

On the Precipice of Abortion Expansion

With the beginning of the new session of the New York State Legislature, we are now on the verge of having the most radical and extreme abortion law in the United States, if not the world.

Administrative Assistant

Chancery Canonical Office

God is waiting to hear your prayers, pope says

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2019 / 05:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Persevere in prayer, remembering that God the Father is waiting to answer his children – even if the result is to change the person, not the circumstance, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

“How many times have we asked and not obtained – we all experience it – how many times have we knocked and found a closed door? Jesus urges us, in those moments, to insist and not to give up,” the pope said Jan. 9.

“Prayer,” he continued, “always transforms reality, always. If things do not change around us, at least we change, change our heart. Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to every man and to every woman who prays.”

In his continuing catechesis on the ‘Our Father,’ Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ instructions about prayer in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11, when he teaches his disciples “to pray and to insist in prayer.”

“He promised us: He is not like a father who gives a snake instead of a fish. There is nothing more certain: the desire for happiness that we all carry in our hearts will one day be fulfilled,” he stated.

Francis noted the very first words Jesus taught his disciples to use when praying: “Our Father.”

“We can stay all the time in prayer with that word alone: ‘Father.’ And to feel that we have a father: not a master or a stepfather. No: a father,” he added. “The Christian addresses God by calling him above all ‘Father.’”

Recalling the verse in Luke which says, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?” he invoked the experience of fathers and grandfathers, when their hungry children and grandchildren ask and cry for food: “You feed him what he asks for, for the good of him,” he said.

“With these words Jesus makes us understand that God always answers, that no prayer will remain unheard,” he said, adding: “Why? Because he is a Father, and he does not forget his children who suffer.”

Francis noted how such statements about prayer can cause people distress, because so many prayers seem to get no result and no answer from God.

“We can be sure that God will answer,” he said. “The only uncertainty is due to the time, but we do not doubt that He will answer. Maybe we will have to insist for a lifetime, but He will answer.”

“Jesus says: ‘Will God not do justice to his elect, who cry day and night to him?’ Yes, he will do justice, he will listen to us,” the pope stated. “What a day of glory and resurrection will it be! Praying is now the victory over loneliness and despair.”

At the moment, creation is “heaving in the torpor of a story that we sometimes do not grasp,” he continued. “But it’s moving, it’s on its way, and at the end of every street, what’s at the end of our road?”

“At the end of prayer, at the end of a time when we are praying, at the end of life: what is there? There is a Father waiting for everything and waiting for everyone with his arms wide open. We look at this Father,” he concluded.

 

Prayer has the power to change lives, hearts, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God is a father who never ignores his children when they call to him in times of suffering, loneliness and despair, Pope Francis said.

Although at times it seems that "so many of our prayers seem to have no result," Christians are called by Christ to "insist and not give up," the pope said Jan. 9 during his weekly general audience.

"Prayer, prayer always changes reality, let us not forget that: It either changes things or changes our hearts, but it always changes," he said.

Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope greeted thousands of cheerful pilgrims, shaking hands, embracing children and even taking a sip of mate tea offered to him by a pilgrim.

Continuing his series of talks on the Lord's Prayer, the pope reflected on the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray.

In teaching them to pray the "Our Father," he said, Jesus "explains to his followers in what words and with what feelings they must turn to God."

"Father -- that is such a beautiful word to say," the pope said. "We can pray just with that word, 'father,' and feel that we have a father; not a master but a father."

At important moments in his own life, Pope Francis explained, Jesus is "in an atmosphere of prayer" and guided by the Holy Spirit in his actions. He also prays for others, including "for Peter who will soon deny him."

"This consoles us, knowing that Jesus prays for us, he prays for me, he prays for each one of us so that our faith does not fail." the pope said. "We can also say to Jesus: 'You are praying for me; continue to pray because I need it.' (Pray) like that, with courage."

Even in his final moments, the pope added, Jesus is immersed in prayer, for example when consoling the women along the way of the cross, when promising the joys of paradise to the good thief and before taking his last breath.

"Jesus' prayer seems to dampen the most violent emotions, the desires for revenge and retaliation, he reconciles man with his most bitter enemy: death," he said.

When life seems incomprehensible, Pope Francis said, prayer "is ultimately the victory over loneliness and despair" because God is always present.

"What is at the end of our path, at the end of prayer, at the end of a time of prayer, at the end of life. What is there?" the pope asked. "There is a father, waiting for everything and everyone with open arms. Let us look at that father."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Debate begins on decriminalizing abortion in Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador, Jan 8, 2019 / 04:29 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Ecuadorian legislature began debate on decriminalizing abortion last week, amid opposition from the Church and various civil organizations.

The decriminalization of abortion is part of the reform of the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code. The proposal would liberalize this procedure in cases of rape, non-viable fetal deformity, rape, and incest.

The Ecuadorian bishops' conference stated in a Jan. 3 communiqué that “human life is above any political and religious banner or positions erroneously called conservative or progressive.”

“We invite all men and women of good will, families and, in a special way, the members of the assembly, to exposit with clarity and courage their scientific, ethical and legal arguments, free of any fundamentalist position, whether it be of a social, political or religious character,” the bishops encouraged.

The Ecuadorian bishops' conference also stated that “we have prepared a document with the counsel of renowned professionals in the fields of medicine, ethics, and law, referring in a particular way to the rights of unborn children.”

Cristina Franco, of Guayaquil Pro-Life Lawyers, told ACI Prensa that the proposal to decriminalize abortion in the case of rape was made by Ernesto Pazmiño Granizo, the former People's Ombudsman, in 2016, and other proposals were later added to it.

Finally, the proposal was incorporated into the reform of  the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code, and it received the approval of the National Assembly's Justice and the Structure of the State Commission in December 2018, a necessary previous step for it to be debated in the Plenary Assembly.
 
“The Constitution of Ecuador requires a bill to be submitted to two debates prior to the sanction or objection of the Executive Branch. The first debate began January 3, and out of that, the Commission will issue a second report prior to the second and final debate,” Franco said.

An additional session would have to be held the coming week as part of the first debate, before the bill will be returned to the Justice and Structure of the State Commission.

“This report would have to make note of the bill's rejection or acceptance by the legislators, as well as proposals presented by the representatives of the different civil organizations.”

Cristina Valverde, a lawyer,  told ACI Prensa that “currently, the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code does not penalize abortion if the life of the woman is in danger or if the pregnancy was the consequence of the rape of a woman with a mental disability.”

Valverde said that pro-life groups were eventually able to enter the Plenary Assembly Jan. 3 to "tell the members of the assembly that the majority of Ecuadorians want sexual violence to be eradicated and for life to be respected from conception.”

She said the proposal to decriminalize abortion will eventually go back to the Justice Commission, “where we hope they completely eliminate this article and that life will be respected from conception just as the Constitution of Ecuador guarantees in Article 45.”

Article 45 ensures that “girls, boys and adolescents shall enjoy the rights common to human beings, in addition to those specific to their age. The State shall recognize and guarantee life including its care and protection from conception.”

 

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

Nicaraguans face steeper challenges than most heading to World Youth Day

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Israel Gonzalez Espinoza

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Many will make sacrifices to attend the upcoming World Youth Day in Panama in late January, but few compare to the challenges facing young Catholics in nearby Nicaragua as the country deals with political and economic upheaval, some of it involving violent clashes with government forces that have plagued the Central American nation since last year.

"Some of the young Nicaraguans heading to (World Youth Day) have made extraordinary economic sacrifices, selling things, begging institutions for help, because it's a unique opportunity," said Israel Gonzalez Espinoza, a Nicaraguan journalist for Religion Digital, a Spanish-language online news site that focuses on the Catholic Church.  

The Jan. 22-27 gathering in Panama City will be the first time the event, first instituted by St. John Paul II in 1985, will be held in Central America and likely the only opportunity for many of the region's young adults and teens to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who arrives in Panama Jan. 23.

Past World Youth Day gatherings have taken place in Argentina, Spain, Poland, Brazil, the United States and other countries that have been cost-prohibitive to Central American youth, many who are now excited about their physical proximity to the upcoming celebration.

But it could not have come at worse time for young Nicaraguans, particularly because some have been involved in some of the clashes against the government of President Daniel Ortega, whose attempts to reduce pensions and salaries while increasing employee contributions to the social security system ignited fiery protests last April.

The situation became worse when hundreds of protesters died in the clashes against Ortega's administration, which kept moving toward getting a tighter grip on political power in the country, curbing tourism and business interests and sending the economy into a tailspin. An economy that was growing instead quickly contracted. Inter Press Service news agency reported in September that "more than 900 million dollars have fled the financial system" in Nicaragua since the conflict started.

Covering the crisis on the frontlines was Catholic journalist Gonzalez, a 25-year-old who has documented the particular role the Catholic Church has played in the drama, as the bishops' conference sought to mediate an end to the clashes, which have sent the citizenry running for cover into the country's Catholic churches and facilities. But because of it, Gonzalez has paid the price of being accused by government supporters of being an instigator and also a mouthpiece of Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez, who has been highly critical of the government.

In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Managua Jan. 3, Gonzalez recounted how he was ready to give up journalism early last year and turn to a more lucrative way to make a living by opening up a small business. But he said he could not stay away when the crisis exploded in April.

"As a Nicaraguan journalist, it has been the most fruitful year but also a painful year," he told CNS.

Because of his dispatches about the role of the Catholic Church in negotiations with the government and other news he has reported, he has received threats, had his personal phone number and address published, and been threatened by pro-government supporters, who have called on police to have him arrested, he said.

Similarly, other young Catholics like Gonzalez wonder what they will risk by attempting to leave and then attempting to re-enter Nicaragua if they choose to attend World Youth Day.

"As a journalist, it's a bit risky for me to attend World Youth Day, because I have to take with me my equipment, my camera, microphone, but the problem is not leaving Nicaragua, it's coming back," he said.

Government forces, or even customs officials at the airport will ask about the equipment, his profession, what political sides he takes, whether he criticizes the government.

"All of that can put a person into a state of anxiety," he said. "And that I could have my equipment away, in my own country."

Other young Catholics, too, could face similar questioning, he said.

"Remember, that it's been the youth (of Nicaragua) who have been the vanguard of this movement," against the government, he said. "They have been the most affected by the government persecution."

Because of those fears and because of the country's deteriorating economic and political situation, which will make it difficult for many of them to afford even the short trip, only a fraction of young Nicaraguans will make it to the event. Estimates put the Nicaraguan delegation at between 5,000 to 6,000, said Gonzalez, who plans to cover the historic gathering.

Though he's put his plans to open a business on hold for the moment, Gonzalez said he decided to "bet on the side of journalism" and continue to document the church's role in Nicaraguan society, in seeking dialogue, peace and a democratic process in the country.

"I made a decision of conscience," he said. "A person with a conscience does not opt to remain silent when that person sees injustice."

It's hard to gauge, at the moment, what, if any effect, the crisis will have on pilgrims from Central American nations such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, traveling by land through Nicaragua. Gonzalez said he's heard that Panama has been in talks with officials in the country to expedite a safe passage of pilgrims traveling through and returning through Nicaragua before and after World Youth Day. He said he still recommends groups traveling by land to contact their respective embassies in the country a week before making the trip to avoid delays or problems.

 

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