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USCCB president, other bishops meet with survivors of clergy sexual abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

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BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, chairman of the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, Virginia, met with three survivors of clergy sexual abuse late June 12.

The meeting took place as the U.S. bishops were gathered in Baltimore for their spring general assembly June 11-13 where they focused on implementing bishop accountability measures in response to the abuse crisis in the church.

In a statement released after the meeting, Cardinal DiNardo said he and his fellow bishops were "grateful for the opportunity to meet with a group of survivors. Their testimony reminds us of the unfathomable pain they have endured, and the need for vigilance in extinguishing the evil of sexual abuse from our church once and for all."

He said that, during their spring assembly, the bishops sought to "expand and intensify existing policies in order to care for victims and prevent future instances of these crimes, holding not only clergy accountable but also ourselves as bishops. Our work will not conclude until the number of sexual abuse cases is zero."

On the morning of June 13, Bishop Doherty tweeted about the how the bishops and some USCCB staff who met with the survivors "were reminded that this week's meeting is not an abstract exercise."

"Thanks to the hurting who speak to us. My experience is that God comes to these conversations invited or uninvited," he added.

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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.

Update: U.S. bishops take action to respond to church abuse crisis

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- During the June 11-13 spring assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, it was clear the bishops had to respond to the sexual abuse crisis in the church -- and on the last day of their gathering they approved a series of procedures to begin this process.

On June 13, they voted to implement the document "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), issued by Pope Francis in May to help the Catholic Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.

The bishops also approved the document "Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments" and promised to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of the charter, including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. The document says any codes of conduct in their respective dioceses regarding clergy apply to bishop as well.

They voted in favor of the item "protocol regarding available nonpenal restrictions on bishops," which outlines what canonical options are available to bishops when a retired bishop resigns or is removed "due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act."

Their first action was a vote June 12 to authorize the implementation of a third-party system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free telephone number and online. The system, which would be operated by an outside vendor contracted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, should be in place no later than May 31, 2020.

During the first day of the assembly, several speakers discussed the challenge ahead and the need for the bishops to be both transparent and reliant upon lay leadership. The bishops also examined their plans to vote on procedures and policies in response to the abuse crisis, including some they had put aside during their fall general assembly in November at the Vatican's request.

The bishops' postponement of voting on these procedures was addressed from the meeting's onset June 11 in a message from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's nuncio to the United States.

He noted that there were "some expressions of 'dissent'" by some U.S. bishops at the previous assembly about postponing votes on items related to the reemergent clergy sexual abuse crisis, but he also stressed that "unity prevails over conflict."

"Working together provides us with the opportunity to speak and to listen," said the message from Archbishop Pierre, read by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d'affaires at the Vatican's nunciature in Washington. Archbishop Pierre was at the Vatican for a nuncio meeting.

Archbishop Pierre's message said that despite the desire among U.S. bishops in November to act quickly to address new crises on clergy sex abuse, the postponement of the votes on the issue allowed the U.S. church to participate more fully at the Vatican's February summit on the protection of minors.

"One of the reasons the Holy Father asked for a delay was that the whole church needed to walk together, to work in a synodal way," Archbishop Pierre said, "with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make the path forward clearer."

Moving forward was certainly a theme of the assembly, echoed by National Review Board chairman Francesco Cesareo June 11, who called for a greater role for laity in investigating allegations of abuse or reaction to reports of abuse against bishops.

Cesareo also said National Review Board members recommend a thorough review of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and a revision in the audit process regarding diocesan implementation of the charter, which governs the church's response to clergy abuse allegations.

"A strengthened audit would provide a means for improving your dioceses' existing methods to protect and heal," Cesareo said. "Virtually all your dioceses, including those where problems came to light under the microscope of the media and attorney generals, have easily passed the audit for years, since the bar currently is so low. Now is the time to raise the bar on compliance to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated."

Cesareo also recommended that the charter "should be revised immediately to explicitly include bishops and demand for greater accountability."

"You have a great opportunity," he said, "to lead by example and help show dioceses and episcopal conferences around the world not only how important it is for lay involvement to ensure greater accountability and transparency, but also how laity and the episcopacy can be co-responsible for the church's well-being."

Both the National Review Board and the National Advisory Council pressed the bishops to encourage Vatican officials to release documents regarding the investigation of misconduct by Theodore E. McCarrick, the former cardinal who was laicized earlier this year. The allegations against him were made public nearly a year ago on June 20, 2018.

The bishops also discussed the upcoming election, the crisis at the border and the issue of young adults leaving the church.

They were urged to do more to support the suffering of immigrant families, to be with them spiritually as pastors and to voice support for legal measures to help them.

"It's so important that our works match our words on this issue," said Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, June 11 after a presentation by the working group on immigration issues for the USCCB.

Two bishop members of the group, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, gave an update of what the U.S. church is doing at the national level and in certain regions of the country on immigration issues.

Bishop Vasquez urged the group to "redouble efforts to offer spiritual support and access to legal and social services to affected families," saying it is "vital that they feel supported by the church during this time of uncertainty."

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, spoke about an upcoming presentation at the fall meeting on how to respond to the growing number of young people leaving the church.

He said getting the religiously unaffiliated, or "nones," particularly young people, back to the Catholic Church, should be a top priority for the church, noting that 50% of Catholics age 30 and younger have left the church.

"Half the kids that we baptized and confirmed in the last 30 years are now ex-Catholics or unaffiliated," he said, and "one out of six millennials in the U.S. is now a former Catholic."

In anticipation of the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. bishops' quadrennial document that provides guidance to voters on Catholic social teaching won't change, but it will be supplemented by a brief letter and four 90-second videos that reflect the teaching of Pope Francis, the bishops were told.

A small group of no more than 10 protesters stood in largely silent protest June 11 outside the hotel where the meeting was taking place. One of the group's demands was that the bishops report abuse claims first to law enforcement.

"We don't think the church can police themselves," said Becky Ianni, director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests for the Washington area.

At the bishops' Mass at the end of the first day of the spring assembly, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and president of the USCCB, spoke about the challenges faced by early Christians and urged the bishops to follow the example of Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles who was respected and trusted.

"Today we honor Barnabas in our desire to do God's will and to do it carefully and with discretion but also with what the Holy Father calls boldness -- apostolic boldness," he said.

On the meeting's final day, the bishops also approved wording to keep treatment of the death penalty in the U.S. Catechism for Adults in line with the revised universal catechism.

During the second day of their meeting, the bishops met by regions and provinces in the morning. In the afternoon, they not only voted on the national hotline, but they also approved by electronic vote:

-- Strategic priorities for the 2021-24 USCCB Strategic Plan, in a provisional vote.

-- The second edition of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States for use in U.S. dioceses.

-- An update to texts last changed in 2003 for the ordination of clergy. The action still requires confirmation by the Vatican.

The bishops also gave their assent by voice vote for the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, to continue to pursue the sainthood cause of Irving "Francis" C. Houle, a man from Michigan who was said to have received the stigmata 16 years before he died in 2009, but who well before that had "many extraordinary physical and spiritual healings" attributed to him, according to a biography.

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Contributing to this report were Dennis Sadowski, Mark Pattison, Rhina Guidos and Christopher Gunty.

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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.

Update: Protocol approved on restrictions on bishops facing claim of abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a measure that would enable bishops to apply restrictions in the life and ministry of retired bishops accused of sexual abuse or who failed to take necessary measures to prevent abuse.

The 212-4 vote, with one abstention, was taken June 13, the last day of the bishops' June 11-13 meeting in Baltimore. The measure required 180 bishops, or two-thirds of all U.S. bishops, for passage.

If a credible accusation of sexual misconduct has been reported against a retired bishop, his successor may act to limit the retired bishop's scope of ministry, including the celebration of the sacraments and the right to be buried in the diocesan cathedral.

The "Protocol Regarding Available Non-Penal Restrictions on Bishops" was scheduled to be voted on when the bishops met last November. However, the Vatican requested they delay a vote until after the Vatican held a February meeting for presidents of bishops' conferences worldwide to discuss the abuse crisis.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee had decided last September that the development of a such a protocol would be helpful, said Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance. With the delay of any possible vote on the document last fall, bishops had more time to offer suggestions on the document.

"The authority to impose penalties on bishops who have committed offensive acts by commission or omission rests solely with the supreme pontiff," Bishop Deeley reminded his fellow bishops. But there are "existing instruments in canon law that are available to a diocesan bishop for imposing limitations."

The document uses "bishop emeritus" to refer for any bishop who has retired for age or for a "grave cause," or who was removed from office by the pope.

"The diocesan bishop will inform the bishop emeritus that public notice will be given of the situation and of any measures accepted by or applied to the bishop emeritus," the document says. "Prior to issuing such public notice, the diocesan bishops will inform the apostolic nuncio of his communications with the bishop emeritus, and will confer with the apostolic nuncio on the measures to be imposed."

Those restrictions can include "a statement to the effect that the bishop emeritus does not represent the diocese in any fashion or act on its behalf, and he is not to make public statements about alleged offenses, since these could result in further harm to victims or be detrimental to the faithful."

A diocesan bishop may forbid a retired bishop to preach, which is any clergyman's canonical right. "The diocesan bishop concerned may also request that the Apostolic See extend this prohibition more broadly or deny the exercise of the right entirely," the document says.

Diocesan bishops also may strip a retired bishop of the right to confer the sacrament of confirmation or to hear confessions. "The bishop emeritus can be denied the delegation necessary to witness marriages," it adds. "The diocesan bishop may request of the bishop emeritus, in writing, that he refrain from the public celebration of other sacraments or rites of the church."

While the U.S. bishops, in their "Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops," state that retired bishops have the right to sustenance and retirement benefits, "the diocesan bishop may adjust the benefits given to a bishop emeritus who falls under this protocol," the document said. "For instance, the diocesan bishop may decide that no funding for travel or secretarial assistance needs to be provided."

As for the possibility of burial in the diocesan cathedral, "the diocesan bishop will prudently decide based on local circumstances whether the bishop emeritus will be buried in the cathedral church of if other arrangements should be made."

Much in the protocol is dependent on the retired bishop agreeing to the requests and directives of his successor. Should he refuse, though, it adds, "the diocesan bishop can take measures within his competence, and strongly request further and swift intervention from the Apostolic See regarding matters outside his competence."

In addition to penalties imposed by a local bishop, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may, after consultation, ban such a bishop emeritus from attending USCCB meetings or serving on any USCCB body.

 

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Ignoring the poor falsifies the Gospel, pope says in message

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must not underestimate the importance of embracing and assisting the poor, oppressed and outcast, Pope Francis said.

Not only did Jesus entrust his disciples with the task of continuing his ministry on earth by giving hope to the poor, but "the credibility of our proclamation and the witness of Christians depends on it," the pope said in a message for the World Day of the Poor.

"Faced with countless throngs of the poor, Jesus was not afraid to identify with each of them" and tell his disciples "whatever you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did to me," the pope said.

"If we refuse to make this identification, we falsify the Gospel and water down God's revelation," he said.

"If the disciples of the Lord Jesus wish to be genuine evangelizers, they must sow tangible seeds of hope," he said in the message, released by the Vatican June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the poor.

The World Day of the Poor -- marked each year on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time -- will be celebrated Nov. 17 this year and, based on Psalm 9:19, will focus on "The hope of the poor shall not perish forever."

The commemoration and the period of reflection and action preceding it are meant to encourage Christians and people of goodwill "to cooperate effectively so that no one will feel deprived of closeness and solidarity," the pope said in the message.

Outlining some of the many old and "new forms of bondage that enslave" people in seriously unjust economic or social situations, the pope asked how people could continue to ignore or not be moved by the plight of these people.

The exploited, unemployed, refugees, orphans, minors brutally torn from their parents, people violated in prostitution or by narcotics, immigrants and the homeless all can end up becoming "part of a human garbage bin; they are treated as refuse, without the slightest sense of guilt on the part of those who are complicit in this scandal."

Judgment is everywhere, the pope said, with people casually deeming the poor to be "parasites on society," a threat or useless merely because they are poor.

"To make matters worse, they can see no end to the tunnel of extreme poverty," he added. Yet "we have come to the point of devising a hostile architecture aimed at ridding the streets of their presence, the last places left to them."

"We can build any number of walls and close our doors in the vain effort to feel secure in our wealth, at the expense of those left outside," the pope said, but, "it will not be that way forever."

The day of God's judgment will come and he "will destroy the barriers created between nations and replace the arrogance of the few with the solidarity of many."

"The marginalization painfully experienced by millions of persons cannot go on for long," he said, quoting Father Primo Mazzolari, a 20th century Italian priest dedicated to the poor and the oppressed: "The poor are a constant protest against our injustices; the poor are a powder keg. If it is set on fire, the world will explode."

Every Christian must respond, he said.

"The love that gives life to faith in Jesus makes it impossible for his disciples to remain enclosed in a stifling individualism or withdrawn into small circles of spiritual intimacy, with no influence on social life," the pope said.

By being close to the poor, he said, the church realizes she "is called to ensure that no one feels a stranger or outcast, for she includes everyone in a shared journey of salvation."

"The situation of the poor obliges us not to keep our distance from the body of the Lord, who suffers in them," Pope Francis said. "Instead, we are called to touch his flesh and to be personally committed in offering a service that is an authentic form of evangelization."

Offering real hope and compassion as well as sharing Christ's love with those in need, he said, Christians themselves are "strengthened and confirm the preaching of the Gospel."

The poor receive genuine hope when they experience warm, loving attention and the promotion of their genuine welfare, he said, not when they see "us gratified by giving them a few moments of our time, but from recognizing in our sacrifice an act of gratuitous love that seeks no reward."

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told reporters the pope underlines the importance of matching one's concern for the poor with concrete and consistent efforts that bring them real hope.

Local churches, associations and institutions are again asked to create initiatives that foster moments of real encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.

The archbishop said the pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Nov. 17 with the poor and volunteers, and he will have lunch afterward with about 1,500 people in the Vatican audience hall. Other volunteer groups will offer free meals throughout Rome that day.

A mobile clinic will again be set up outside St. Peter's Square Nov. 11-17, with free general and specialist care, he said.

They will also offer a free concert Nov. 9 "with the poor and for the poor" that will feature the Oscar award- winning Italian composer, Nicola Piovani.

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The pope's message in English can be found online here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/poveri/documents/papa-francesco_20190613_messaggio-iii-giornatamondiale-poveri-2019.html

In Spanish: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/poveri/documents/papa-francesco_20190613_messaggio-iii-giornatamondiale-poveri-2019.html

 

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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.

Bishops approve third-party reporting system; to be in place by May 31

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- A nationwide third-party system for receiving confidential reports of "certain complaints" against bishops took a step closer to being implemented during the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a series of three votes June 12, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to authorize the implementation of a system that would allow people to make reports through a toll-free telephone number as well as online.

The system, which would be operated by an outside vendor contracted by the USCCB, would be in place no later than May 31, 2020, under the proposal accepted by the bishops.

The plan met with widespread support during a 35-minute discussion on the second day of the spring assembly. The full body of bishops voted on three separate measures governing the implementation of the system.

Anthony Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary, presented the proposal to the assembly at the request of Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, conference president.

Picarello said the reporting system would fall in line with the requirements of Pope Francis' "motu proprio" "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), issued in May. Among its mandates, the document requires dioceses and eparchies worldwide to establish "one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports." It set June 1, 2020, as a deadline.

All reports would be funneled through a central receiving hub, which would then be responsible for sending allegations to the appropriate metropolitan, or archbishop, responsible for each diocese in a province and to the papal nunciature in Washington, Picarello explained. The U.S. has 32 metropolitans.

The metropolitans will be responsible for reporting any allegation to local law enforcement authorities as the first step toward investigating a claim.

In response to a question from a bishop, Picarello said reports of alleged abuse or complaints about how cases are handled by a bishop will continue to be taken by individual dioceses and eparchies.

Some dioceses already have reporting systems in place. The May 31 deadline was set to allow those systems and each metropolitan to align procedures to be able to accept the reports from the nationwide hotline, Picarello said.

Although the deadline for implementation is nearly one year away, Picarello added, the USCCB hopes the full system can be in place sooner.

"I can assure the Executive Committee along with the Administrative Committee, we want this thing done as quickly as possible," Cardinal DiNardo told the assembly. "But we want to make sure the metropolitans are in on this, and we can only go as fast as the metropolitans can go on this."

The first vote concerned putting a nationwide reporting system in place; it passed 205-16, with three abstentions.

In the second vote, the bishops agreed that the USCCB executive and administrative committees would develop a more detailed proposal regarding how the system would operate. It passed 200-21, with two abstentions.

Details and cost estimates would be reviewed in September by the bishops' Administrative Committee, which includes the officers and the chairmen of the various conference committees.

The same committee in November -- prior to the bishops' fall general assembly -- would then review scripts and other relevant details after the selection of a vendor. The Executive Committee would continue to oversee implementation of the program.

The final vote -- passing 220-4 with 1 abstention -- committed the bishops to having the reporting system operational by May 31.

The proposal also calls for the online segment to contain a link that could be posted on any diocesan or eparchial website as well as the USCCB website.

Bishop Robert D. Conlon of Joliet, Illinois, said publicizing the phone and online reporting system will be key. "The last thing we want is to be accused of not being transparent of a system we are setting up," he said.

Cardinal DiNardo said the reporting system as well as follow-up on how well it is working will be subject to review in three years, as called for under "Vos estis lux mundi."

Pope Francis' document is a new universal church law that safeguards members from abuse and holds its leaders accountable. It governs complaints against clergy or church leaders regarding the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons.

The Executive Committee presented a proposal for a third-party reporting system to receive complaints against bishops to the Administrative Committee in September. After being accepted, the plan was initially among a series of steps to respond to the ongoing sexual abuse crisis that was to be voted on during the USCCB's general assembly last fall.

However, those votes were postponed at the request of the Vatican until after Pope Francis convened a meeting of the presidents of bishops' conferences around the world to discuss a unified response to the crisis.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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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.

Nicaraguan cardinal withholds judgement on amnesty law

Managua, Nicaragua, Jun 12, 2019 / 02:13 pm (CNA).- The results of a Nicaraguan law granting amnesty to both anti-government activists and security forces will determine whether the legislation is good for the country, the Archbishop of Managua has said.

Nicaragua's unicameral National Assembly passed the amnesty law June 8. Though it has allowed the release of a group of political prisoners, the law has been criticized by the opposition over fears it will also give impunity to troops and paramilitaries responsible for crimes and arbitrary arrests that have taken place during the past 14 months of protests.

The law also requires those released to refrain from future protests.

Fifty-six activists were released June 11, and 50 protesters June 10. The government has detained more than 700 in connection with the protests.

Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua commented June 9: “I'm just thinking of a text in Saint Matthew and Saint Luke: 'By their fruits you will know them.' I think there have been a lot of amnesties that have been given in Nicaragua, and here we would have to evaluate what fruits they have borne.”

He added that it will be the implementation of the law that will end up vindicating the detractors or defenders of this legislation. However, he said that more time “ would have been helpful” to deliberate calmly “such an important law like amnesty.”

“That all the prisoners are getting out is a joy for the families because they're waiting for them to return. Now we're going to see how this law will be implemented and hopefully it won't be to their detriment, and that all detainees can live freely in their country,” Cardinal Brenes reflected.

Anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April 2018. They have resulted in more than 320 deaths, and the country’s bishops mediated on-again, off-again peace talks until they broke down that June.

A new round of dialogue began in February, but the opposition has made the timely release of all protesters a condition of its resumption.

Nicaragua’s crisis began last year after president Daniel Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega’s authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church had suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held this year, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

Pope advances sainthood causes for U.S. priest, Spanish martyrs

IMAGE: CNS/Archdiocese of Chicago

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of Father Augustus Tolton, who was the first African American diocesan priest in the United States and founder of the first black Catholic parish in Chicago.

Signing decrees issued by the Congregation for Saints' Causes June 11, Pope Francis also formally recognized the martyrdom of three Catholic laywomen who were nurses for the Red Cross and were killed during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.

The decree for Father Tolton's cause recognizes that he lived a life of heroic virtue.

Father Tolton had been born into slavery in 1854 on a plantation near Brush Creek, Missouri. After his father left to try to join the Union Army during the Civil War, his mother fled with her three children by rowing them across the Mississippi River and settling in Quincy in the free state of Illinois.

There, he was encouraged to discern his vocation to the priesthood by the Franciscan priests who taught him at St. Francis College, now Quincy University. However, he was denied access to seminaries in the United States after repeated requests, so he pursued his education in Rome at what is now the Pontifical Urbanian University.

He was ordained for the Propaganda Fidei Congregation in 1886, expecting to become a missionary in Africa. Instead, he was sent to be a missionary in his own country and returned to Quincy, where he served for three years before going to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1889.

Despite rampant racism and discrimination, he became one of the city's most popular pastors, attracting members of both white and black Catholic communities. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics and worked tirelessly for his congregation in Chicago, even to the point of exhaustion. On July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke on a Chicago street at the age of 43.

He was known for persevering against all odds in pursuit of his calling and quietly devoted himself to his people, despite great difficulties and setbacks.

Pope Francis also formally recognized the martyrdom of Maria Pilar Gullon Yturriaga, Octavia Iglesias Blanco and Olga Perez-Monteserin Nunez, members of Catholic Action who volunteered to serve wounded soldiers on the Asturian front in northern Spain.

The women refused to leave the wounded unattended even though the area was about to come under the control of populist fighters. All the patients, the doctor and chaplain were killed, and the three nurses were assaulted, raped and shot on Oct. 28, 1936. Gullon, Iglesias and Perez-Monteserin were 25, 41 and 23 years old, respectively.

The pope also signed decrees attesting to the heroic virtues lived by six servants of God -- three men and three women. Among them were:

-- Mother Rosario Arroyo, a distant relative of the former Filipino President Gloria Arroyo, lived from 1884 to 1957 and founded the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of the Philippines.

-- Felice Tantardini, known as "God's blacksmith," was an Italian lay missionary for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. Born in 1898, he spent 70 years serving in Myanmar, where he died in 1991 at the age of 93. He worked as a catechist and helped build churches, schools, parish houses, hospitals, seminaries, orphanages, convents and bridges.  

 

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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.

Unity is first sign of true Christian witness, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church gives an authentic witness of God's love for all men and women only when it fosters the grace of unity and communion, Pope Francis said.

Unity is part of "the DNA of the Christian community," the pope said June 12 during his weekly general audience.

The gift of unity, he said, "allows us not to fear diversity, not to attach ourselves to things and gifts," but "to become martyrs, luminous witnesses of God who lives and works in history."

"We, too, need to rediscover the beauty of giving witness to the Risen Lord, going beyond self-referential attitudes, renouncing the desire to stifle God's gifts and not yielding to mediocrity," he said.

Despite the sweltering Roman heat, thousands of people filled St. Peter's Square for the audience, which began with Pope Francis circling the square in the popemobile, occasionally stopping to greet pilgrims and even comfort a crying child.

In his main talk, the pope continued his new series on the Acts of the Apostles, looking specifically at the apostles who, after the Resurrection, "prepare to receive God's power -- not passively but by consolidating communion between them."

Before ultimately taking his own life, Judas' separation from Christ and the apostles began with his attachment to money and losing sight of the importance of self-giving "until he allowed the virus of pride to infect his mind and heart, transforming him from a friend into an enemy."

Judas "stopped belonging to the heart to Jesus and placed himself outside of communion with him and his companions. He stopped being a disciple and placed himself above the master," the pope explained.

Nevertheless, unlike Judas who "preferred death to life" and created a "wound in the body of the community," the 11 apostles choose "life and blessing."

Pope Francis said that by discerning together to find a suitable replacement, the apostles gave "a sign that communion overcomes divisions, isolation and the mentality that absolutizes the private space."

"The Twelve manifest in the Acts of the Apostles the Lord's style," the pope said. "They are the accredited witnesses of Christ's work of salvation and do not manifest to the world their presumed perfection but rather, through the grace of unity, reveal another one who now lives in a new way in the midst of his people: our Lord Jesus."

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Fr. Augustus Tolton, former African American slave, advances toward sainthood

Vatican City, Jun 12, 2019 / 05:03 am (CNA).- Fr. Augustus Tolton advanced along the path to sainthood Wednesday, making the runaway slave-turned-priest one step closer to being the first black American saint.

Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtue of Fr. Tolton June 12 making him “venerable” within the Church, only two steps away from canonization. With the decree, Catholics are now authorized to pray directly to Tolton as an intercessor before God.

Venerable John Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri in 1854. He escaped slavery with his family during the Civil War by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois.

“John, boy, you're free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord,” Tolton’s mother reportedly told him after the crossing.

The young Tolton entered St. Peter’s Catholic School in Quincy, Illinois with the help of the school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr. The priest went on to baptize Tolton, instruct him for his first Holy Communion, and recognize his vocation to the priesthood.

No American seminary would accept Tolton because of his race, so he studied for the priesthood in Rome. However, when Father Tolton returned to the U.S. after his ordination in 1889, thousands of people lined the streets to greet him. A brass band played hymns and Negro Spirituals, and black and white people processesed together into the local church.

Father Tolton was the first African American to be ordained a priest. He served for three years at a parish in Quincy, before moving to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics, St. Monica Parish, where he remained until his death in 1897.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints also recognized the heroic virtue of six other new “Venerables” June 12. Five Italians: Father Enzo Boschetti, Brother Felice Tantardini, layman Giovanni Nadiani, and Mother Maria Paola Muzzeddu.

The Filipino foundress of the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Rosary of the Philippines, Maria Rosario of the Visitation, was also declared venerable, and the martyrdom of Servants of God Maria Colón Gullón Yturriaga and two companions was recognized. Yturriaga and her companions were laypeople killed for their faith in Somiedo, Spain in 1936.

After two miracles through their particular intercession are verified by the Vatican, Father Tolton and the other new venerables can be declared saints.

Pope Francis: Unity is in the 'DNA' of Christian community

Vatican City, Jun 12, 2019 / 04:15 am (CNA).- An essential characteristic of Christian community is its unity in diversity, and the freedom this gives to Christians to come alive as witnesses of Christ, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

The selection of Matthias to take Judas’ place among the Twelve Apostles, as told at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, is the “reunification of the apostolic college,” the pope said June 12.

This moment “shows how in the DNA of the Christian community there is unity and freedom from oneself, which make it possible not to fear diversity, not to attach oneself to things and gifts and to become martyrs, that is, luminous witnesses of God alive and active in history,” he said.

“We too,” Francis urged, “need to rediscover the beauty of witnessing to the Risen, emerging from self-referential attitudes, renouncing the withholding of the gifts of God and not yielding to mediocrity.”

The pope, as part of a new series of general audience catecheses on the Acts of the Apostles, reflected on the disciples’ selection of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the Twelve Apostles.

Following the Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into heaven, the disciples are praying in the Upper Room. The selection of a disciple to fill the space left by Judas is a sign of the importance of communion, Pope Francis said.

With the addition of Matthias, “the body of the Twelve is reconstituted,” he said. “A sign that communion – it is communion – that wins over divisions, isolation, the mentality that absolutizes the private space, a sign that communion is the first testimony the Apostles offer.”

“The Apostles choose to live under the lordship of the Risen One in unity among brothers, which becomes the only possible atmosphere of the authentic gift of self,” he stated.

Judas, on the other hand, the pope said, had received a great grace in being part of Jesus’ own ministry, but he tried to “save” his own life and ended up losing it.

“He ceased to belong to Jesus with his heart and placed himself outside of communion with Him and his [disciples]. He stopped being a disciple and placed himself above the Master,” Pope Francis said.

Judas sold Christ to his enemies and with the “wages of his iniquity” bought land, where, “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out,” as Peter says in Acts 1:18.

But if Judas chose death over life, the other 11 apostles “choose life and choose blessing, they become responsible in making it flow in turn in history, from generation to generation, from the people of Israel to the Church.”

With the addition of Matthias, the Twelve Apostles, he said, “are the respected witnesses of Christ’s work of salvation and do not manifest their presumed perfection to the world but, through the grace of unity, they bring out an Other who now lives in a new way among his people: And who is this? It is the Lord Jesus.”