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Pope encourages South Sudan peace process, hopes to visit

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the process to implement a peace accord in South Sudan continues, Pope Francis met March 16 with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and expressed the hope that, finally, he would be able to visit the country.

During the meeting in the papal library, the Vatican said, the pope and president discussed "matters regarding the implementation of the agreement recently reached by various political actors with a view to a definitive solution to the conflicts, the return of refugees and displaced persons, and the integral development of the country."

South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in mid-2011 after years of fighting. But in December 2013, tensions between political factions erupted and civil war broke out. Tens of thousands of people have died in the past year and millions have been displaced.

In the context of the discussions about implementing the September peace agreements, the Vatican said, Pope Francis "expressed the wish to ascertain the conditions for a possible visit to South Sudan, as a sign of closeness to the population and of encouragement for the peace process."

In late 2017, Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, Episcopal Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of South Sudan and Sudan and the Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, visited the Vatican to explain the situation in their country to the pope.

They invited Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury to visit South Sudan together to bring a message of peace directly to the country's leaders and citizens; despite the willingness of the pope and the head of the Anglican Communion to make the visit, the lack of security has delayed the trip.

 

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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.

Pope Francis calls for 'gestures of peace' in wake of mosque attacks

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2019 / 06:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis called for gestures of peace to oppose hatred and violence Sunday in the wake of attacks on two mosques in New Zealand.

“To the grief for the wars and the conflicts that continue to afflict humanity, we have added that for the victims of the horrible attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand,” Pope Francis said March 17.

The pope asked all gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus prayer to join him in a moment of silent prayer for “our Muslim brothers” who were killed in New Zealand, and said that he will continue to pray the dead, the wounded, and their families. A total of 50 people were killed in Friday’s shooting, and 34 of the injured remain in Christchurch Hospital.

Reflecting on the necessity and meaning of suffering, the pope said, “Each of us has his own cross. The Lord shows us at the end of our journey -- which is the Resurrection -- the beauty of carrying our own cross.”

“The Transfiguration of Christ shows us the Christian perspective of suffering,” Pope Francis said. “It is a necessary, but transitory passage.”

“By showing his glory, Jesus assures us that the cross, the trials, the difficulties in which we struggle have their solution and will be overcome in Easter,” he said.

The pope explained that in Christ’s Transfiguration, Jesus granted his disciples Peter, James, and John a foretaste of the Resurrection shortly before his crucifixion.

“Jesus knew that they would not accept this reality - the reality of the cross, the reality of Jesus' death,” Francis said. “And so he wants to prepare them to bear the scandal of the passion and death of the cross, so that they will know that this is the way through which the Heavenly Father will bring his Son to glory, raising him from the dead.”

“And this will also be the path of the disciples: no one comes to eternal life except by following Jesus, bringing his own cross into earthly life,” he added.

Pope Francis recommended taking more time for prayer and moments of recollection during the Lenten season to allow Christ’s “light to pervade and radiate in our lives.”

Through “prayer in Christ and in the Holy Spirit” a person can be transformed from within and “can illumine others and the surrounding world,” he said.

“The Virgin Mary teaches us to stay with Jesus even when we do not understand Him and do not understand His ways. Because only by remaining with Him will we see His glory,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican diplomat accused of corruption and 'romantic' relationship while at UN

New York City, N.Y., Mar 15, 2019 / 01:09 pm (CNA).- An archbishop who served as the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations is accused of financial and professional misconduct, including the use of Vatican staff and influence to assist and support financially a woman with whom he is alledged to have had a romantic relationship.

Sources say that although Vatican officials were informed of the man’s conduct, he was quietly reassigned to a new diplomatic post without facing sanctions.
 
Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, 65, now apostolic nuncio to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, is alleged to have maintained an inappropriate romantic relationship with a woman during his time as the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in New York, a post he held from July 2010 until June 2014.

 

Errant texts

Three priests who were members of the diplomatic staff at the Vatican mission in New York told CNA that Chullikatt would frequently send the woman “inappropriate” and “romantic” text messages from his phone, and that the Holy See’s mission staff assisted her in obtaining a visa to come to New York.

One priest-official said this was “the most unfortunate part of the story having to do with Archbishop Chullikatt.”

Former staff members told CNA that on several occasions, Chullikatt mistakenly sent these text messages to staff members, who were left confused and concerned.

“The messages were, frankly, very inappropriate in content and clearly romantic in nature,” one priest told CNA. “At least three members of the mission staff received them that I know of, including me.”

“The first time this happened, he managed to send it to a member of staff who didn’t know what to make of it. As [the recipient] was a layman, it was doubly concerning to us,” the priest said.

Another former official said that every time Chullikatt mistakenly sent a romantic message to the wrong person, he would “abandon his phone and get a new cell phone or a new cell phone number.”

Another priest said the archbishop was obliged to change his phone “ridiculously often.”

A third priest who also served at the Holy See’s mission to the U.N. during Chullikatt’s time also recalled the messages.

“I cannot think how he managed to keep doing this,” he told CNA. “I can only surmise he must have been drinking when he would send them to the wrong people.”

“They were of an obviously romantic character, really outlandish, and usually sent very late at night.”

As romantic messages continued to be sent to priests, lay employees, and religious sisters, it became apparent who their intended recipient was.

According to multiple sources, the woman is a consecrated virgin who Chullikatt met during a previous diplomatic assignment. Staffers say they were expected to assist her in securing a visa and coming to the U.S., and later, in finding employment.

The office of the Holy See’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to requests from CNA for comment.

One former official at the mission, also a priest, told CNA that the woman had served as the archbishop’s interpreter during a prior diplomatic posting.

“That was my understanding of how they met,” the priest told CNA.

A woman of the same name, also a consecrated virgin was previously an auditor at a special assembly of the synod of bishops in Rome, and was identified at that time as a university professor.

The university where the woman reportedly teaches did not respond to a request for confirmation. CNA was unable to contact the woman directly.

After she came to the U.S., the woman was, according to multiple accounts, a regular visitor at the mission’s offices.

“She was around, we all knew of her. She was a very significant figure in Chullikatt’s life, I think we can put it that way,” a priest-official told CNA.

The priest told CNA that the woman would visit Chullikatt at the mission in New York “quite frequently,” and that he behaved with “impunity.”

“She was there, that was it,” he told CNA. “In any normal situation, let alone one like this, you would expect there to be some sort of backstory given – we met in school, she’s a family friend, something – but he gave no explanation, he just carried on.”


Financial questions

The same priest said the nuncio’s relationship with the woman was part of a pattern of dysfunctional and unprofessional conduct during his time in New York. Another priest said the relationship fit a pattern of “indifference” to immorality, which included financial impropriety.

A March 11 report from Crux alleged that Chullikatt had mistreated staff at the Holy See’s mission to the U.N. and imposed arbitrary wage cuts on the salaries of lay staff members. The priests who spoke with CNA confirmed those allegations

“I would say that swinging cuts [to salaries] were a mark of his tenure,” one priest told CNA.

“He treated staff as inferiors, across the board. There was no spirit of collaboration, no sense of working ‘with’ anyone.”

The priest also told CNA that in additional to subjecting employees - both priests and lay people - to frequent and “humiliating” outbursts of temper, Chullikatt was also known to dismiss staff at a moment’s notice.

“It was alright for us priests, I suppose,” he told CNA. “We always have a diocese to go home to, but for the lay staff, they were often left stranded with no means of support.”

One priest told CNA that Chullikatt would often bemoan the salaries paid to lay staffers, suggesting that they ought to volunteer their time without concern for being paid. Because they were paid, a priest said, Chullikatt questioned their loyalty.

A source recalled a particular instance in which a lay expert was recruited by the mission for a three month contract.

“This man was a tenured professor who arranged to take three months of unpaid leave from his post to serve the Church. Chullikatt sacked him within two weeks, leaving him without a salary for the rest of his sabbatical.”

“There was only ever room for one opinion, one voice in the room with Chullikatt - even adult conversation was impossible with him, let alone professional collaboration.”

Terrence McKeegan, a former legal advisor to the Holy See’s mission to the U.N., told CNA that after he signed a one-year contract to work for the mission, Chullikatt arbitrarily cut his wages.

“On or about December 10 of 2013, I myself was informed by the nuncio that starting in 2014, he would only pay me half of the salary we had contractually agreed upon,” McKeegan told CNA.

McKeegan also noted that, beyond his contracted position, he was expected to serve, unpaid, as legal advisor to the non-profit Path to Peace Foundation, a legally distinct U.S.-based private foundation affiliated with the U.N. mission. McKeegan said he was not given access to records for the foundation, or invited to attend meetings.

The foundation, he said, helps fund mission operations and staff salaries. It also, according to its tax filings, has funded scholarships, seminars, and a U.N. internship program founded by Fr. Thomas Rosica.
 

“Surreal” conditions

One priest told CNA that may lay employees were reticent to complain because some were in the U.S. only on diplomatic passports, and because many of them love the Church and wanted to support the U.N. mission.

Former staff members said that the imposition of arbitrary cuts to wages and the dismissal of staff were linked to Chullikatt’s relationship with the woman he maintained a relationship with.

“I would say his need to be tight-fisted with the mission’s finances was, at least partly, because he had a secret need. I believe he was supporting this woman: room, board, everything,” one priest, who was directly involved in the mission’s finances, said.

The priest recalled an example in which the archbishop budgeted money for “bonuses” for the mission’s staff, but then only distributed a portion of the money.

“The rest? Well, [Chullikatt] knows where it went,” he told CNA.

Another priest, who also was involved in the mission’s financial administration, also told CNA that Chullikatt was supporting the woman financially.

McKeegan spoke to CNA about what he called the “surreal” working conditions under Chullikatt.

In a statement, McKeegan said that in his time in New York he heard “voluminous allegations of highly improper and scandalous behavior by Archbishop Chullikatt.”

“I know that the longest-tenured cleric on staff had already brought many of most serious allegations against the nuncio to the attention of then-Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, in a meeting they had around Mamberti’s visit to the U.N. in late September of 2012,” McKeegan said.

 

Report to Rome

Concerns about Chullikatt’s behavior, regarding both the woman and the office finances, were reported in a “dossier” of complaints delivered to the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in December 2013, former staffers told CNA.

This dossier included a letter signed by McKeegan detailing numerous instances of financial malpractice by Chullikatt, including the unjust treatment of staff and the near-systematic withholding of agreed salaries.

“I was, and still am, absolutely certain of the serious moral violations that were being committed by the nuncio regarding the withholding of just wages,” McKeegan’s letter said.

“However, based on my experience with high-ranking officials in the Church, I knew that even sins that cry out for vengeance would likely go unheard in Rome, so I stressed in my letter to Archbishop Parolin that the unjust withholding of Mission staff salaries could constitute potential criminal violations of US visa and labor laws.”

According to one staff member familiar with the delivery of the complaints in Rome, direct mention was made of allegations that Chullikatt was supporting the woman financially, and that he had directed mission staff to arrange a visa for her to travel to New York.

In January 2014, Chullikatt was summoned for an extended meeting in Rome, for what a former senior mission staffer called “a dressing down.”

Chullikatt remained in Rome for nearly two months, while his absence from New York went unexplained to staff.

“He was supposed to be removed then and there,” one priest said, “but he was able to run around to enough of his friends in Rome to stay on [in his position] a little while longer.”

One staff member told CNA that Chullikatt had “exploited” the pope’s well-known disposition toward mercy, in order to avoid being removed from his position.

Another staffer told CNA that Chullikatt demanded a stay of his removal, insisting that members of the Spanish royal family were scheduled to visit the U.N. in June at his personal invitation, and that he needed to be in place to welcome them.

In June 2014, Queen Sofia of Spain visited the U.N. in New York. Chullikatt’s resignation from the U.N. position was accepted July 1 of that year.

“He used that time [between December and June] to clear out the opposition to him, dismissing staff and generally making life even more miserable before he went,” one former mission staffer told CNA.

During the final six months of Chullikatt’s tenure, several mission staffers were dismissed from their posts. Sources told CNA that Chullikatt waged a “vendetta campaign” because of the complaints to the Secretary of State.

 

The pontifical secret

Several staff members told CNA that Chullikatt would remind them that their obligation to maintain “pontifical secrecy” included his behavior. This, they said, prevented staff from speaking out.

One former priest official told CNA that “I’m sure he thinks everything we saw and had to endure is covered by the secret.”

“In reality, it refers to the sensitive diplomatic work undertaken on behalf of the Church. It certainly doesn’t cover the fact that he’s a nasty little man.”

The pontifical secret, which was defined by Pope St. Paul VI in the 1974 instruction Secreta continere, obliges clerics, lay employees, and even volunteers to keep confidential information obtained in service to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Violation of the secret can be punished with an excommunication.

But the former priest-officials of the U.N. mission told CNA that the secret is formulated without clarity, and can lead employees and volunteers to think they are beholden to keep confidential things they ought to report. They told CNA that Chullikatt’s situation is evidence it would be to the Church’s benefit to reform its policies governing the pontifical secret.

In recent months, Cardinals Blase Cupich and Reinhard Marx have both called for reforms to those policies.

“Pontifical secrecy shouldn’t protect bad people and their bad behavior,” one former priest-official of the U.N. mission told CNA. “It should protect properly professional and confidential information.”

 

Kazakhstan

After he resigned from his role New York, Chullikatt spent nearly two years without an assignment before being sent to Kazakhstan in June 2016 - a post one priest characterized as “the back end of beyond as far as the diplomatic service goes.”

One former official of the U.N. mission told CNA simply “he doesn’t deserve to be anywhere.”

McKeegan described the handling of the allegations against Chullikatt, and his eventual rehabilitation as part of an “all-too-familiar pattern.”

“Rome followed a very specific playbook with its handling of Archbishop Chullikatt.  Although giving the impression (never directly but via back channels and rumor) to the whistleblower or accuser that Rome was dealing with the problem, the Vatican was instead maneuvering to protect yet another high-ranking official who had “played ball” with the corrupt leadership in the Church.”

“Archbishop Chullikatt was quietly given a sabbatical. This sabbatical period was not used by Rome to fully investigate the serious allegations against him, of which my letter only constituted a small portion, but rather to wait out mission staff accusers like me to give up in frustration,” McKeegan said.

Another former senior member of the mission’s staff told CNA he was unsurprised that the allegations went without formal response, and that Chullikatt had been restored to the diplomatic service.

“You have to understand the culture of the diplomatic service, and the curia more widely,” he told CNA.

“There is a powerful incentive to keep a problem like Chullikatt under wraps. You aren’t just touching one man by speaking out, you touch a whole genealogy of those who have covered for him, and those who he’s covered for and been promoted by in turn,” the priest said.

The Vatican press office acknowledged receipt of questions from CNA regarding the allegations against Chullikatt, but did not respond before deadline.

Despite repeated attempts, Chullikatt could not be reached for comment.

 

This story has been updated.

Worn marble steps of Holy Stairs to be uncovered for public to climb

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For the first time in 300 years, the marble steps of the Holy Stairs will be free from the thick wooden panels installed in 1723 to protect the stairs and left uncovered for the public.

For at least 40 days, people will be able to touch and climb the bare stones that, according to tradition, are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified.

The soon-to-be cleaned steps and newly restored frescoed stairway will be unveiled April 11, the week before Holy Week, during a special blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. The marble steps were going to be left open to the public temporarily before the original and restored wooden panels would be put back on.

The decision was made during one of the final phases of the sanctuary's restoration -- a 20-year-long project overseen by the Vatican Museums and funded with the help of private donors, foundations and the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

Paolo Violini, the Vatican Museums' head fresco restorer, and his team were so astonished and moved when they saw the degree to which the stone steps had been worn away, he felt this hidden testimony of faith had to be seen and experienced -- even just temporarily -- by today's faithful.

"It's an extraordinary occasion to touch the same steps as Jesus and witness the faith of all the other people who came before us," the sanctuary's rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told Catholic News Service March 15.

"And it is a concrete way to become linked with those who came before us in history and the faith, who passed on the faith to us," he said.

Tradition holds that St. Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.

The sanctuary, whose walls and ceilings are covered with newly restored decorative paintings and frescoes depicting Christ's passion and events of the Old Testament, was built specifically for the stairs to be venerated by the public in the late 1580s, by order of Pope Sixtus V.

Since then, millions of people climbed the steps on their knees, slowly and unintentionally digging deep undulating ruts and furrows into the soft stone. One of the 28 steps was so worn away by people's shoe tips, a hole had been bored straight through the thick slab of stone.

That happened, Violini said, because that was the step where pilgrims lingered longer, to lean down and kiss "the most important step" above, which is cracked down the middle and adorned with a metal cross and a raised metal grate. According to tradition, Jesus fell at the 11th step, cracking it with his knee. The cross marks the point of impact, Violini said, and the open grate covers what was said to have been a spatter of his blood.

A worker stuck his finger through the grate to scoop out some debris and show just how much stone had been rubbed away by centuries of people touching the spot. A cross also marks another step at the top of the staircase, indicating where, tradition said, had been another drop of blood.

Up until now, people had only been able to see -- not touch -- these areas through small glass panels in the wooden treads.

A few steps were still being uncovered March 15. Two workers chipped away some pieces of brick along the staircase walls to free the rusty metal hooks securing the 300-year-old walnut wood treads in place.

Handwritten notes, holy cards, colored photographs, small coins, buttons and mounds of black dust spilled out from under the heavy plank, which was peppered with woodworm holes and stuck with wisps of spider silk.

Workers carefully bagged the written prayer requests and mementos, which had been stuck into the open slats in the stair risers. They were to be given to the Passionist Fathers in charge of the sanctuary for cataloging and study. The objects date back to no earlier than the 1950s, Violini said, which has led the restorers to believe the stairs had probably been cleaned for the Jubilee Year of 1950.

Mei Wen, a member of the Vatican Museums' Patrons of the Arts, came from her home in Perth, Australia, to see the steps being revealed.

She told CNS she became a major donor to the stairs' restoration after she and her husband first climbed them in 2013.

"That year what we prayed for and reflected on sort of came true so, because of that, I made a commitment that I should donate to the restoration of this project, for the faithful who want to climb the stairs for whatever reasons, for spiritual or family reasons," she said.

Restoring such "a special place," she said, "is also for the art and the history of it."

She said she was moved by seeing and touching the mementos and grooves in the marble "made by people climbing on their knees. It's very real and it's history made centuries ago, how could you not feel something?"

 

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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.

At memorial Mass, CRS remembers four employees who died in plane crash

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

By Paul McMullen

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Approximately 480 men and women work at the Baltimore headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid and development agency of U.S. Catholics.

None were more affected than Yishak "Isaac" Affin and Atli Moges by the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash that took the lives of all 157 on board -- including four who were not just colleagues, but their fellow countrymen and women.

Affin and Moges were part of the standing-room-only gathering at the CRS chapel March 14, when Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori offered a memorial Mass. His concelebrants included a majority of the 14 bishops who serve on the CRS board of directors, in town for meetings.

Like the four who perished, Moges and Affin are natives of Ethiopia, which has approximately 100 million residents. Almost half lack access to clean water.

Trying to better themselves so that they could better their country, the four CRS administrators were en route to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, when their flight crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of the east African nation that sits in a region wracked by famine.

"They do their work from their hearts," Moges told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan news outlet. "They were the kind of people who stayed in the office until midnight or worked Saturday if that was necessary."

She speaks from experience.

A senior adviser for CRS in financial technical support, Moges came to Baltimore in 1988, but from August 2015 to March 2018 served in Ethiopia as the deputy country representative for operations.

Managing administration, finance, human resources and IT for a staff of approximately 200 during her time in Ethiopia, Moges said she worked with the four deceased staffers "very closely."

They were typical of the 7,000 people employed by CRS, which prioritizes hiring and training local people in the nations it serves.

Moges said that Mulusew Alemu, a senior finance officer, was devoted to his Ethiopian Orthodox faith and "a delightful person, very respectful and hard-working."

Despite his low-key demeanor, she said, Sintayehu Aymeku had "wonderful leadership skills." A procurement manager who had lived for a time in the United States, Aymeku left behind a wife and three daughters.

"I had high hopes for him," Moges said.

Sara Chalachew, who once spent three weeks in Baltimore on temporary duty, was promoted last December to senior project officer for grants. Moges said she was always smiling, and "got along with everyone on staff."

Getnet Alemayehu was a senior procurement officer, known for being patient and persistent while navigating shipments.

Before Affin, a senior accountant, came to Baltimore in 2003, he worked as an auditor in Addis Ababa, where he knew Alemayehu as a driver, albeit one "studying at university."

As Moges got emotional remembering the four after the Mass, Affin placed his right hand on her left shoulder.

The Mass included a choir comprised of CRS staff based in Baltimore.

Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the CRS board of directors, welcomed Archbishop Lori, who had made a short walk from the Catholic Center, headquarters of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to CRS.

"Sorrow shared," Bishop Mansour said, "is sorrow lessened."

"Why were such good colleagues taken from us?" Archbishop Lori said in his homily. "A tragic moment such as this, and the season of Lent itself, tests and probes the depth of our faith," he said.

"It highlights the kind of faith, hope and love -- coupled with courage -- that undergirds the many risks you and your colleagues take each day to advance the kingdom of justice, peace and love in this world."

Archbishop Lori said the four employees "died in pursuit of their mission to bring a measure of food security to regions of the world that are habitually plagued by famine. They met the Lord as they were dedicating themselves and their lives to the golden rule."

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McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

 

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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.

Pope Francis joins international community in mourning after New Zealand attacks

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2019 / 08:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis mourned “senseless acts of violence” against innocent life after the New Zealand mosque attacks. On Friday, at least forty-nine people were killed in attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

 

The pope assured all New Zealanders, in particular the Muslim community, of “his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks,” in a telegram sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State March 15.

 

New Zealand officials say that one man in his late 20s has been charged with murder, and two other aremed suspects have been taken into police custody. The attacks centered on the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand Friday afternoon.

 

One of the attackers broadcast the murders live on Facebook. The police also found two explosive devices attached to his vehicle.

 

The attack took place during Friday prayer at the mosques. At least 48 people were injured in addition to the 49 confirmed dead.

 

“Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, Pope Francis invokes the divine blessings of comfort and strength upon the nation,” it stated.

 

Pope Francis said he will continue to pray for “the healing of the injured, the consolation of those who grieve the loss of their loved ones, and for all affected by this tragedy.”

 

The attacks have prompted an outpouring of condolences and solidarity across the international community.

 

On Friday morning, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the attacks during a press briefing in Washington, DC.

 

“I offer my personal condolences to the nation of New Zealand in the wake of the grotesque mosques attacks in Christchurch,” Pompeo said.

 

“The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the victims and their families today. The United States condemns this hateful assault and we pledge our unwavering solidarity with the government and people of New Zealand in this hour of darkness.”

Update: After attacks, New Zealand bishops tell Muslims: 'We hold you in prayer'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Martin Hunter, Reuters

By Michael Otto

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNS) -- New Zealand's Catholic bishops have expressed horror and distress at a terrorist attack in two mosques in Christchurch that saw at least 49 people killed.

The shootings took place at or near the Al Noor Mosque, where 41 people were killed, and at the Linwood Mosque, where 7 were killed. One more person subsequently died at Christchurch Hospital. Muslims had gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers. Some of those killed were children, it has been reported.

The terror attack started at around 1:40 p.m. local time March 15, sparking a massive mobilization by police. Mike Bush, New Zealand police commissioner, announced at 9 p.m. that a man in his late 20s had been charged with murder and would appear in the Christchurch District Court the next day.

Some three-and-a-half hours after the attacks began, the New Zealand bishops released a message, addressed to the nation's Muslim community, via social media.

"We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch," the bishops wrote.

"We are profoundly aware of the positive relationships we have with Islamic people in this land, and we are particularly horrified that this has happened at a place and time of prayer.

"We are deeply saddened that people have been killed and injured, and our hearts go out to them, their families and wider community. We wish you to be aware of our solidarity with you in the face of such violence."

The bishops signed off their message "Peace, Salaam."

A message sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, on behalf of Pope Francis, said the pope was "deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life cause by the senseless acts of violence" at the mosques.

"He assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks." He also offered prayers and blessings to those injured, those grieving, those who died and emergency personnel.

Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin released his own message on social media.

"We are horrified at the violence that has been inflicted on people of our city this afternoon," Bishop Martin wrote.

"Words cannot convey our distress. Our prayers are with those who are suffering. I invite you now, wherever you are, alone or with family, workmates or friends, to pray together in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: Lord make me an instrument of your peace ... "

Bishop Martin planned to celebrate a Mass of prayer for peace, "remembering those who have died in the mosques tragedy and praying for those who are suffering," at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral March 16.

This is the second major tragedy involving significant loss of life in Christchurch in the last decade. On Feb. 22, 2011, an earthquake struck the city, killing 185 people. The Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament suffered severe damage, as did the nearby Anglican Cathedral.

Anglican Bishop Peter Carrell of Christchurch issued a statement on behalf of all church leaders in the city in early evening.

"Church leaders are absolutely devastated at the unprecedented situation in Christchurch this afternoon, and our hearts and prayers go to all involved. No religious organization or group deserves to be the target of someone's hate -- regardless of beliefs. We stand for an Aotearoa New Zealand, which will never condone such violence. So, across the churches of Christchurch and Canterbury, we are praying for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for those injured and those who have lost loved ones, for the police, ambulance and other emergency services, and for all in the city of Christchurch who are feeling distress and fear due to this event. We are upholding you all in our prayers. We pray, too, for the shooter and their supporters, because for any person to do this, they must have such hatred in their hearts, such misalignment of the value of human life, that they too, need our prayer. We thank many others from around our nation and the world who are praying for peace in Christchurch."

Five Catholic high schools and about a dozen elementary schools in Christchurch city were among many schools that went into lockdown in mid-afternoon as news of the terror attacks spread. Children and staff were unable to leave the schools until 5:30 p.m., when enough police personnel had been deployed to ensure a safe passage home.

When the lifting of the lockdown, one Catholic high school, the all-girls Villa Maria College, stated on Facebook announced that rolls would be taken in the school gym and that students would be "debriefed with pastoral care on hand." After this, students were released.

The attack is the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand's history. The gunman reportedly live-streamed video of the attack using a helmet-camera. New Zealand police asked people not to share this on social media. The shooter also posted a 73-page manifesto.

Facebook and Twitter reportedly removed the gunman's pages.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack." She said the thoughts and prayers of the nation were with "those who have been impacted today."

"Christchurch was their home," Ardern said. "For many, this may not have been the place they were born, in fact for many, New Zealand was their choice. The place they actively came to and committed to. The place they were raising their families. Where they were parts of communities that they loved and who loved them in return. It was a place that many came to for its safety. A place where they were free to practice their culture and their religion."

The prime minister added: "For those of you who are watching at home tonight and questioning how this could have happened here. We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbor for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things."

Mosques across the country closed on Friday at the urgings of police. Vigils sprang up throughout New Zealand as people gathered to mourn and grieve.

A meme on Facebook shared by many showed a sobbing kiwi.

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Otto is editor of NZ Catholic.

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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.

German bishops announce 'synodal process' on celibacy, sexual morality

Munich, Germany, Mar 14, 2019 / 05:27 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising has announced that the Catholic Church in Germany is embarking on a "binding synodal process" to tackle what he says are the three key issues arising from the clerical abuse crisis: priestly celibacy, the Church's teaching on sexual morality, and a reduction of clerical power.

Speaking at the conclusion of the plenary session of the German bishops’ conference on Thursday, Marx told reporters that the bishops had unanimously decided these three topics would be subject to a process of "synodal progression" that could lead to a binding, but as yet undetermined, outcome.

"The Church needs synodal progress," the president of the German bishops' conference asserted. "Pope Francis encourages this."

The German bishops held their plenary session in the German town of Lingen from March 11 to 14.

Addressing journalists on the final day, Marx said the Church's teaching on sexual morality has yet to account for significant recent discoveries from theology and the humanities. Also, he said, the significance of sexuality to personhood has not yet received sufficient attention from the Church.

Bishops “feel we often are unable to speak on questions of present-day sexual behavior," Marx said.

The cardinal also said that the German bishops appreciate priestly celibacy as an "expression of the religious bond to God" and do not simply want to give up on it. But to what extent celibacy should always be an element of priestly witness is a question "we will determine" through the "synodal process," Marx told the press.

Furthermore, Marx said clerical abuse of power constitutes a betrayal of the trust of people in need of stability and religious orientation. Therefore, the "synodal process" would be charged with identifying what measures must be taken to achieve "the necessary reduction of [clerical] power."

The establishment of ecclesiastical administrative courts is one such step for which the bishops will in the near future draft a proposal.

As a first step on the proposed synodal path, Marx announced that the German bishops have decided to set up three preparatory working groups. The working group on "clerical power" is headed by Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer, the working group on "sexual morality" will be headed by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück. The working group on "the priest's way of life," which will focus on celibacy, will be moderated by Bishop Felix Genn of Münster.

Interim reports are expected from all three by Sept. 13.

Referring to the German bishops' four year "Würzburg Synod" from 1971 to 1975, which was charged with an implementation of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, Marx affirmed that the Church in Germany is "not starting at zero" in a synodal process, given the Würzburg experience, and various consultation processes undertaken by the German bishops in recent years.

The "synodal process" will involve consultations with the "Central Committee of German Catholics," a lay organization that closely cooperates with the bishops' conference, and will draw on outside experts.

 

 

Researcher: Difference between 'considering leaving' and 'leaving' church

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ed Langlois, Catholic Sentinel

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The headlines from a March 13 Gallup Poll about the growing number of U.S. Catholics who have thought about leaving the church because of the clergy abuse crisis did not faze one researcher of Catholic data too much.

"There is a substantial difference between considering leaving and leaving. It is also the case among those who do leave, some come back," said Mark Gray, director of Catholic polls and a senior research associate at Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA.

"When you think about the question about considering leaving, I am frankly surprised the percentage isn't higher. Given the realities of the scandal I think it is natural to ask oneself questions about membership and identity," he told Catholic News Service in a March 14 email.

The Gallup Poll revealed that 37 percent of U.S. Catholics, up from 22 percent in 2002, said the abuse scandal in the church has led them to question whether they would remain Catholic.

The poll's results are based on interviews with 581 U.S. Catholics from Jan. 21 to 27 and Feb. 12 to 28. Gallup conducted a similar poll in 2002 after The Boston Globe reports on clergy abuse gained widespread attention.

In this new poll, responses from practicing Catholics differed from the overall Catholic population.

Forty-six percent of Catholics who seldom or never attend Mass say they have questioned whether they would remain in the faith, while 37 percent of monthly Massgoers say they have considered this and 22 percent of weekly Massgoers have thought about this.

The same pattern existed in 2002, but this year more practicing and nonpracticing Catholics said they were likely to question their place in the church. Seventeen years ago, only one in eight weekly Massgoers asked this question compared to 24 percent of semi-regular Massgoers and 29 percent of those who seldom attend Mass.

The report indicates, although this seemed to get lost in some of the coverage of it, that the responses to the poll don't reveal if "Catholics who are questioning their church membership will actually decide to leave the church. Many Catholics may consider leaving the church but ultimately decide not to do so, or they may have no intention of leaving" but are responding to the question out of frustration with how the church has responded to this crisis.

A tweet posted by CARA March 13 suggested that Gallup track the number of U.S. adults who identify as Catholics by the end of 2019, noting: "In the past, most who considered leaving didn't and among those who did, some returned." It said if the number of U.S. Catholics falls below 21 percent that would be "outside the post-1948 norm." In 2000, the percentage of Catholics in the U.S. was 23 percent and last year it was 22 percent.

Gray, who takes the long view, said that "religious identity and affiliation is much more nuanced over the course of a lifetime than many assume."

He also pointed out that most Catholics are recognizing that the abuse crisis is "not a current event but the scandal is. They are also likely to realize that there is a difference between their faith and the individuals who committed these awful crimes."

But Gray also cautioned that "something feels different about the current situation than in 2002." "It's almost as if this is a second strike" and any further scandal related to sex abuse could have a stronger impact on church membership, he added.

The Gallup Poll showed no major difference in Catholics' opinions about their church membership by age or gender. The poll also revealed that 40 percent of Catholics say they have a great deal of confidence in Pope Francis and 18 percent have quite a lot of confidence in him. These surveyed Catholics expressed similar views about their own parish priests: 41 percent have a great deal of confidence in them and 18 percent have quite a lot of confidence.

But the poll showed that Catholics are less confident overall about priests, U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders. About one in four U.S. Catholics said they have very little or no confidence in those two groups.

Catholics who go to Mass each week are the most confident in priests and church leaders in general and infrequent Massgoers are the least confident. The widest gaps in confidence appears at the parish level with 86 percent of weekly Massgoers expressing confidence in their own priests, compared with 39 percent of those who seldom or never attend church.

The Gallup Poll, which questioned adults throughout the country via landline and cellphones, has a sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points.

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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.

Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels dies at the age of 85

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2019 / 09:16 am (CNA).- Cardinal Godfried Danneels died Thursday at the age of 85 in his native Belgium. Danneels served as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and leader of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference for more than thirty years.

In later life, Danneels was widely recognized as an influential member of the college of cardinals and an at times controversial figure.

“This zealous pastor served the Church with dedication not only in his diocese but also at the national level as President of the Conference of Bishops of Belgium, while being a member of various Roman Dicasteries,” Pope Francis wrote March 14 in a telegram to the bishops of Belgium expressing his condolences.

“Attentive to the challenges of the contemporary Church, Cardinal Danneels took an active part in various Synods of Bishops, including those of 2014 and 2015 on the family. He has just been reminded of God at this time of purification and of walking toward the Resurrection of the Lord,” Francis said.

Considered among the more progressive churchmen of his generation, Danneels was an enthusiastic supporter of the liturgical reforms which followed Vatican Council II. He was also a prominent advocate for decentralized Church governance and interreligious dialogue.

As leader of the Church in Belgium, the cardinal was an established figure in national life, keeping close company with politicians and members of the royal family. He was sometimes criticized for his apparent willingness to embrace secular-liberal politics, once controversially describing same-sex marriage as a “positive development” in Belgium.

In recent years, accusations of mismanagement and cover-up of clerical sexual abuse cast a shadow over his past leadership of the church in Belgium.

Danneels was at the center of a national scandal when the Belgian newspapers De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad published transcripts of a recording in which he appeared to pressure a victim of sexual abuse to remain silent.

The victim had been abused by his uncle, Belgian Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, beginning at the age of 5. When the victim met with Danneels to report the abuse and insist on his uncle’s removal from office, the cardinal told the man that Vangheluwe would retire in a few months.

“I don’t think you’d do yourself or [your uncle] a favor by shouting this from the rooftops,” Danneels was recorded saying.

The cardinal denied that he intended any cover-up.

Danneels was born June 4, 1933 in Kanegem, diocese of Bruges, and grew up in a family of six in West Flanders.

Ordained in 1957, Danneels went on to teach theology at the Flemish Catholic University of Louvain as a professor for ten years, after earning a doctorate at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome.

Danneels was appointed as the bishop of Antwerp by Pope Paul VI in 1977, became archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in 1980, and created cardinal by Pope John Paul II three years later.

After his retirement in 2010, Danneels would infrequently speak in public.

In 2013, Danneels stood next to the newly elected Pope Francis on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis later invited Danneels to attend the two sessions of the Synod of Bishops on the family as a special delegate.

In a 2015 authorized biography of the cardinal, Danneels was listed as being part of a group of cardinals who coordinated efforts ahead of the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

The funeral for Cardinal Danneels will take place in the Cathedral of St. Rombouts in Mechelen, and will be celebrated by the current Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels Cardinal Jozef De Kesel.

In a March 14 statement announcing the death, Cardinal Kesel recognized Danneels’ years of service, “We are very grateful to Cardinal Danneels. For many years he has exercised shepherding in the Church in a period of fundamental changes in Church and society.”

“He has experienced trials, and in the end he was greatly weakened and exhausted. We continue to thank him gratefully. May he rest in God's peace,” he said.