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Report: Vatican investigators provide evidence of payments to Italian ‘security consultant’

Rome Newsroom, Oct 21, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Vatican investigators have evidence that an Italian woman accused of embezzling from the city state was paid by order of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, both while and after he was at the Secretariat of State, according to an Italian news report.

Italian news agency Adnkronos reported on Oct. 21 that it has seen a 13-page document sent by Vatican investigators to the Italian Minister of Justice, Alfonso Bonafede. The document was sent as support for the request for the extradition of Cecilia Marogna. CNA has not independently confirmed the report.

Marogna, 39, has been accused of aggravated embezzlement related to payments of hundreds of thousands of euros she received from the Vatican Secretariat of State to her Slovenia-based company Logsic, D.O.O., in 2018 and 2019.

She was arrested Oct. 13 by Italian financial authorities after a warrant was issued by Vatican prosecutors through Interpol.

Although a Milan court of appeal has upheld the execution of the warrant, lawyers for Marogna have appealed her extradition to Vatican City. Pending the outcome of the appeal, Marogna is being held in a local jail after the Milan court deemed her a flight risk. She has also asked to be released from prison while she awaits her appeal hearing, scheduled for the end of this month, after which the Court of Appeal will have five days to give its decision.

According to the report by Adnkronos, Vatican investigators argued in their document that evidence shows Marogna was acting in the capacity of a “public official” under a 2013 Vatican law, and that she received a total of 575,000 euros ($683,000) from the Secretariat of State in 2018 and 2019.

The report stated that the Vatican began investigating after Slovenian police reported to them a series of abnormal movements registered by two bank accounts of Marogna’s company, Logsic D.O.O.

Logsic is registered in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in the sector of welfare and humanitarian aid.

The Vatican Gendarmerie reportedly found two bank accounts which had received nine bank transfers issued by the Secretariat of State between Dec. 20, 2018, and July 11, 2019, for a total amount of 575,000 euros, the report said.

According to the Vatican document, many of the payments made from the accounts of Logsic “concerned expenses that were not compatible with the corporate purpose of the company,” including more than 120 payments at shops such as Prada and Louis Vuitton, as well as at luxury hotels and restaurants.

As evidence of Marogna acting as a public official, the Vatican investigators cited a Nov. 17, 2017, declaration signed by Becciu, then the second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, certifying that “Ms. Marogna provides professional service as geopolitical analyst and external relations consultant for the Secretariat of State - General Affairs Section.”

The investigators also cited as evidence the collaboration of Marogna with the Secretariat of State for the release of a Colombian nun, who was kidnapped in February 2017 while serving as a missionary in Mali.

In the document, the investigators reportedly wrote that Marogna exercised powers of a public nature, which she “debased by exploiting and bending the mandate received in her own favor.”

According to the media report, the investigators’ document included a series of conversations on the messaging platform WhatsApp between Cardinal Becciu and Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, who at the time was head of the administrative office of the Secretariat of State.

A Dec. 20, 2018, conversation reportedly shows Becciu directing Perlasca to send money to Marogna in several installments for the purported mediation of the release of the Colombian nun kidnapped from Mali in 2017.

Becciu reportedly wrote to Perlasca: “It seems that something is moving and the mediator must have the money available immediately. However, we send it to them in different tranches to the account that I will indicate below. First bank transfer: 75,000 euros made out to ‘Logsic D.O.O’. Reason: ‘voluntary contribution for a humanitarian mission.’”

Becciu also reportedly indicated, in a subsequent message, that the transfer had received the authorization of the “superior Sovereign Authority,” by which he appeared to refer to Pope Francis.

Also included in the investigators’ document were messages between Perlasca and Fabrizio Tirabassi, an official then working under Perlasca in the Secretariat of State. Perlasca reportedly sent the name of Marogna’s company and the account’s IBAN number, which is used to make money transfers in Europe.

Similar messages were exchanged on the dates of the other payments to Marogna between January and July 2019, the document reportedly states.

The Vatican investigators said that their conclusion is, “with a certainty that excludes any possible reasonable doubt, that the Secretariat of State paid to Logsic D.O.O, entrusting it to Ms. Cecilia Marogna, sums for institutional purposes.”

Pope Francis gives financial aid to families of shipwreck victims

CNA Staff, Oct 21, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis will be sending financial aid to families whose loved ones went missing when their ship sank in September. 

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said Oct. 21 that the pope would send an “economic contribution” to all the families of the 43 seafarers who were shipwrecked Sept. 2 during a typhoon.

The vessel, Gulf Livestock 1, sank 100 nautical miles west of Amami Ōshima Island in southwest Japan amid Typhoon Maysak. The ship was traveling between New Zealand and China with a cargo of 5,867 cattle. The crew consisted of 39 Filipinos, two Australians, and two New Zealanders.

Japan’s coast guard rescued three survivors, one of whom died. A dedicated search for the 40 remaining men was called off Sept. 10, but the families continue to hope that they will be found through privately funded search operations.

The Vatican dicastery noted that members of the seafarers’ charity Stella Maris had been offering support to families in the Philippines since the disaster. The support was given via internet platforms because of restrictions relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The economic aid, in collaboration with the apostolic nunciatures and the Stella Maris of the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand, will be delivered personally to the families of the missing persons and the two survivors, together with a small personal gift from Pope Francis, to demonstrate his closeness and solidarity,” the dicastery said.

Serving life: How pro-life pregnancy centers are making a difference

CNA Staff, Oct 21, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A new report aims to measure the impact of pro-life pregnancy centers on women’s health care in the U.S., offering detail on the nearly 2 million women served last year.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, reported on Wednesday that more than 2,700 pro-life pregnancy centers around the U.S. served nearly two million people in 2019, providing nearly $270 million in services.

These centers included both brick-and-mortar establishments, but also mobile medical centers, serving both expectant mothers and post-abortive women, with the vast majority of facilities offering parental education, material assistance for mothers, and ultrasound tests.  

“Pregnancy centers exist to serve and support mothers in the courageous decision to give their children life, even under the most difficult circumstances,” Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, stated on Wednesday. “This report calculates the impact of their mission of love in concrete terms.”

The report calculated that pregnancy centers offered around 732,000 pregnancy tests in 2019, and more than 486,000 free ultrasounds. They also provided women nearly 1.3 million packs of diapers and more than two million baby outfits.

In addition, they offered more than 291,000 clients parenting and prenatal education, and more than 21,000 clients post-abortive support.

Pro-life pregnancy centers have come under fire from pro-abortion groups in recent years, with groups like Planned Parenthood claiming that they use deceitful tactics to get women in the door who are considering abortion and then do not offer them information on abortion as an option.

In California, the state passed a law in 2015 that required pro-life pregnancy centers to offer women information about abortion and where they could obtain one. The centers, represented by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), brought a lawsuit against the state and its then-attorney general Kamala Harris, who is now the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

The Supreme Court in 2017 ruled that the state’s requirement likely violated the free speech rights of pregnancy centers, and blocked the law from going into effect while lower courts reconsidered the case.

Pro-life groups warn that women would experience a steep decline in available health care centers if they had to close clinics; they also say that federally-funded health clinics around the U.S. would not be able to replace them amid a surge in women clients.

“They provide invaluable education as well as physical, medical, emotional and financial support,” said Anne O’Connor, NIFLA’s vice president for legal affairs. “Pregnancy centers provide these services at no cost, saving communities across the nation millions in tax dollars annually.”

Alison, a woman from Portland, Maine, whose testimony is in the report, said she was a post-abortive mother who was pregnant with her second child. She reached out to a pregnancy center ABBA, and said that she “started to grow a strength inside of me that wasn’t there before. I decided I didn’t need anyone else’s approval,” and that she was “truly amazed and overwhelmed by the amount of support I was given.”

“These women worked so hard and spent so much time researching options for me that I didn’t even know existed. They were there to support and guide me when no one else was, and I’m not sure I could ever express how much that means to me,” she said.

CLI says it compiled the report by surveying pregnancy centers from around the country, but included only those affiliated with a major network—Care Net, Heartbeat International, or the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA)—or those abiding by national standards of care and competence.

To quantify the services offered, the report used cost estimates for services and wages calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for social workers, sonographers, and registered nurses.

Pro-life leaders have hailed the increase of ultrasound machines in recent years as a concrete way for mothers to see their child. Groups such as the Knights of Columbus have worked to supply pregnancy centers around the U.S. with more than 1,000 ultrasound machines—and nearly eight-in-centers surveyed by CLI offer ultrasounds.

“Thirty-five years have now passed since the introduction of life-revealing and life-changing ultrasounds into pregnancy centers, and their medicalization continues to grow and thrive,” Donovan said.

According to the report, 15% of the centers received government funding. For Planned Parenthood in its 2018-19 annual report, it reported that the nearly $617 million its affiliates received in government funding made up 37% of the overall revenue of both its national organization and affiliates.

Some centers also provide testing for sexually-transmitted diseases and infections (STD/STI).

“National health surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the American STD epidemic continues to be a significant public health challenge,” the report stated, adding that “undiagnosed STDs cause infertility in more than 20,000 women each year.”

“Medical pregnancy centers or clinics provide STI/STD testing and treatment to women, and at some locations to men, in direct response to this public health crisis,” it stated. “At pregnancy centers where STI/STD testing and treatment are not available, referrals for screening/testing and treatment are routinely made.”

Polish bishop dies from the coronavirus

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A Polish bishop died from COVID-19 Tuesday at the age of 83.

Bishop Bogdan Wojtuś died at noon local time Oct. 20, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Gniezno.

Wojtuś, a retired auxiliary bishop of Gniezno archdiocese, was admitted to hospital on Saturday after testing positive for the coronavirus. 

His funeral will take place in Gniezno cathedral Oct. 24. Afterwards, he will be laid to rest in a crypt alongside other auxiliary bishops in the church at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Gniezno, central-western Poland.

Wojtuś was named an auxiliary bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1993, serving until 2012, when he reached the retirement age of 75. 

A number of Polish bishops have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks amid a surge in cases in Poland. They include Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference.

Gądecki paid tribute to Wojtuś Oct. 21, describing him as “a man of great spirit, unwavering faith and deep love for the Church.” 

A spokesman for the Polish bishops’ conference has denied claims that bishops contracted COVID-19 as a result of their plenary meeting in Łódź on Oct. 5-6. He pointed out that not all the infected bishops attended the meeting.

At least 13 other Catholic bishops have died from the coronavirus worldwide. They include Archbishop Oscar Cruz, former president of the Philippines bishops’ conference, Brazilian Bishop Henrique Soares da Costa, and English Bishop Vincent Malone.

Italian Bishop Giovanni D’Alise of Caserta, in southern Italy, died Oct. 4, a few days after being admitted to hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Reconciliation is crucial in Belarus

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Church in Belarus has no other task than proclaiming the Gospel. It did so also during the protests that broke out in Belarus following the presidential elections in August, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with the Catholic News Agency.

Since Aug. 31, Kondrusiewicz has been unable to return to his country. He was blocked at the border with Poland, where he had gone for a celebration at a Marian shrine. Later on, the Belarusian government said that the archbishop's passport was invalid.

Despite many international appeals, the archbishop still cannot return to his country. Pope Francis sent his foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, to Belarus Sept. 11-14. The bilateral meetings zeroed in on the situation in Belarus and also the particular case of the archbishop.

As of now, the archbishop has not been able to return to his country. He visited the Vatican Oct. 19-20.

“I was summoned,” he told CNA, “by the Secretariat of State, and I had meetings with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Gallagher. We discussed the situation in Belarus and my particular situation. I already knew that, but I am now even more convinced that the Holy See has put in place strong efforts to solve my issue.”

Speaking about the situation in Belarus, Kondrusiewicz recalled that he has made many appeals for reconciliation.

“I am very worried. Belarus’ situation is challenging, but I am more preoccupied with some slogans I hear around that say: ‘We remember, we do not forgive.’ This is not a Christian way of thinking,” the archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev said. 

He stressed that “with no forgiveness, there is no room for reconciliation, no room for peace. Like St. John Paul II said, forgiving is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. When I forgive my enemy, I win because I let enmity go and keep something spiritual. As a bishop, I teach this way of thinking because this is the Gospel.”

Kondrusiewicz noted that the lack of reconciliation stemmed from a deeper problem in Belarusian society.

“The Belarusian generations were first raised in atheism and now in secularism, which does not recognize any spiritual perspective, but focuses on material issues,” he remarked.

He said that, although there is no longer ideological and militant atheism, there is a materialistic atheism. 

“No one openly persecutes the Church,” he explained, “but there are signs of persecution of Christians ‘in white gloves,’ since there are many parliaments that pass laws against the divine law.”

In his country, Kondrusiewicz strived to foster interreligious dialogue, and he organized many meetings of prayer on the issue. He explained that this was a way to help the reconciliation process.

On Aug. 18, the Executive Committee of Justice and Peace Europe asked all Christians to say an “Our Father” for the Belarusian people.

Kondrusiewicz said: “The notice of the initiative did not come so much in advance, and there was no time to deliver the message properly. However, the response was phenomenal. We arranged the recitation of the prayer in the Red Church in Minsk, which is pretty big. The church was overcrowded: there were Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Greek Catholics, Protestants, Jewish people, Muslims.”

In particular, the archbishop was struck by “a Muslim woman that prayed very intensively.”

According to Kondrusiewicz, the meeting “created an interconfessional and interreligious symphony, that is the symbol of a new society, open to different faiths. All the religious confessions gather together and pray together for the same purpose; that is, the peaceful solution of the Belarusian issue.”

He stressed that the event was a twofold sign. On the one hand, it consolidated Belarusian society. On the other, the common prayer was a wake-up call for an increasingly secularized Europe.

Pope Francis calls for civil union law for same-sex couples, in shift from Vatican stance

CNA Staff, Oct 21, 2020 / 06:35 am (CNA).-  

In a documentary that premiered Wednesday in Rome, Pope Francis called for the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples, departing from the position of the Vatican’s doctrinal office and the pope’s predecessors on the issue.

The remarks came amid a portion of the documentary that reflected on pastoral care for those who identify as LGBT. 

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in the film, of his approach to pastoral care.

After those remarks, and in comments likely to spark controversy among Catholics, Pope Francis weighed in directly on the issue of civil unions for same-sex couples.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope said. “I stood up for that.”

The remarks come in “Francesco,” a documentary on the life and ministry of Pope Francis which premiered Oct. 21 as part of the Rome Film Festival, and is set to make its North American premiere on Sunday.

The film chronicles the approach of Pope Francis to pressing social issues, and to pastoral ministry among those who live, in the words of the pontiff, “on the existential peripheries.”

Featuring interviews with Vatican figures including Cardinal Luis Tagle and other collaborators of the pope, “Francesco” looks at the pope’s advocacy for migrants and refugees, the poor, his work on the issue of clerical sexual abuse, the role of women in society, and the disposition of Catholics and others toward those who identify as LGBT.

The film addresses the pastoral outreach of Pope Francis to those who identify as LGBT, including a story of the pontiff encouraging two Italian men in a same-sex relationship to raise their children in their parish church, which, one of the men said, was greatly beneficial to his children.

“He didn’t mention what was his opinion on my family. Probably he’s following the doctrine on this point,” the man said, while praising the pope for a disposition and attitude of welcome and encouragement.

The pope’s remarks on civil unions come amid that part of the documentary. Filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky told CNA that the pope made his call for civil unions during an interview the documentarian conducted with the pope.

The pope’s direct call for civil union laws represents a shift from the perspective of his predecessors, and from his own more circumspect positions on civil unions in the past.

In 2010, while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis opposed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. While Sergio Rubin, the future pope’s biographer, suggested that Francis supported the idea of civil unions as a way to prevent the wholesale adoption of same-sex marriage in Argentina, Miguel Woites, director of the Argentinian Catholic news outlet AICA, dismissed in 2013 that claim as false.

But the pope’s mention of having previously “stood up” for civil unions seems to confirm the reports of Rubin and others who said that then-Cardinal Bergoglio supported privately the idea of civil unions as a compromise in Argentina.

In the 2013 book “On Heaven and Earth,” Pope Francis did not reject the possibility of civil unions outright, but did say that laws “assimilating” homosexual relationships to marriage are “an anthropological regression,” and he expressed concern that if same-sex couples “are given adoption rights, there could be affected children. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.”

In 2014, Fr. Thomas Rosica, who was then working in the Holy See’s press office told CNA that Pope Francis had not expressed support for same-sex civil unions, after some journalists reported that he had done so in an an interview that year. While a civil unions proposal was debated in Italy, Rosica emphasized that Francis would not weigh in on the debate, but would emphasize Catholic teaching on marriage.

In 2003, under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and at the direction of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society.”

“Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself,” the CDF added, calling support for such unions from politicians “gravely immoral.”

“Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society, especially if their impact on society were to increase,” the document said.

The Vatican’s press office did not respond to questions from CNA on the pope’s remarks in the film.

While bishops in some countries have not opposed same-sex civil unions proposals, and tried instead to distinguish them from civil marriage, opponents of civil unions have long warned that they serve as a legislative and cultural bridge to same-sex marraige initiatives, give tacit approval to immorality, and fail to protect the rights of children to be parented by both a mother and father.

Afineevsky told EWTN News this month that he tried in “Francesco” to present the pope as he saw him, and that the film might not please all Catholics. He told CNA Wednesday that in his view, the film is not “about” the pope’s call for civil unions, but “about many other global issues.”

"I’m looking at him not as the pope, I’m looking at him as a humble human being, great role model to younger generation, leader for the older generation, a leader to many people not in the sense of the Catholic Church, but in the sense of pure leadership, on the ground, on the streets,” Afineevsky added.

The documentarian said he began working with the Vatican to produce a film on Pope Francis in 2018, and was given unprecedented access to Pope Francis until filming completed in June, amid Italy’s coronavirus lockdowns.

Afineevsky, a Russian-born filmmaker living in the U.S., was in 2015 nominated for both an Academy Award and an Emmy Award for his work “Winter on Fire,” a documentary that chronicled Ukraine’s 2013 and 2014 Euromaidan protests. His 2017 film “Cries from Syria” was nominated for four News and Documentary Emmy Awards and three Critics’ Choice Awards.

On Thursday, Afineevsky will be presented in the Vatican Gardens with the prestigious Kineo Movie for Humanity Award, which recognizes filmmakers who present social and humanitarian issues through filmmaking. The award was established in 2002 by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Rosetta Sannelli, the creator of the Kineo Awards, noted that “every trip of Pope Francis to various parts of the world is documented in Afineevsky's work, in images and news footage, and reveals itself as an authentic glimpse into the events of our time, a historical work in all respects.”


Vatican to UN: It is immoral to threaten use of nuclear weapons as deterrence

Rome Newsroom, Oct 21, 2020 / 06:10 am (CNA).- A Vatican official challenged the security theory of nuclear deterrence as immoral at the United Nations this week and called for “genuine progress” toward complete nuclear disarmament.

“Seeking security through arms … only makes us progressively more insecure,” Archbishop Gabriele Caccia said at the UN’s first committee general debate in New York on Oct. 19.

“The strategic doctrines of the Nuclear-Weapons-Possessing States have contributed to fomenting this climate of fear, mistrust and hostility afflicting the world today,” he said.

Caccia, the permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN, underlined that complete disarmament needed to begin “with a renunciation of defense strategies that blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons.”

“If it is immoral to threaten to use nuclear weapons for purposes of deterrence, it is even worse to intend to use them as just another instrument of war, as some nuclear doctrines propose,” the archbishop said, citing Pope Francis’ 2017 speech to an international disarmament symposium.

There are currently nine countries in possession of nuclear warheads: the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. 

Among these, the U.S., Russia, and the U.K. have been reducing their nuclear inventories, while China, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are expanding their nuclear arsenals, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

While the number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased significantly from its peak of an estimated 70,300 in 1986, the FAS reports that there were approximately 13,410 warheads in the world as of early 2020.

The Vatican official called on all states possessing nuclear weapons to make “a No-First-Use pledge.”

He lauded the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) for providing “full recognition to the enormous humanitarian consequences that would follow from a conflict in which nuclear weapons were used.”

“As we await the day for the TPNW to enter into force, it is imperative to continue encouraging, through concerted diplomatic activity, the participation of all Nuclear-Weapon-Possessing States in negotiations to establish ceilings, if not reductions, regarding their nuclear weapons,” Caccia said.

“Genuine progress toward general and complete disarmament should free up much-needed resources ‘that could be better used to benefit the integral development of peoples and protect the natural environment,’” he said, quoting Pope Francis’ recent address to the UN General Assembly.

He continued: “As we embark on the Decade of Action for sustainable development, the Holy See urges renewed consideration the establishment of ‘a Global Fund,’ as first urged by Pope Paul VI, to assist those most impoverished peoples, drawn partially from military expenditures: a contemporary and much-need expression of ‘turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks,’ to which the words of Isaiah, inscribed across the street from the entrance to the United Nations, never cease to summon us.”

Pope Francis: ‘Prayer is the center of life’

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that Christians should pray from the heart and not “like parrots.” 

In his general audience address in the Paul VI Audience Hall Oct. 21, he said: “The worst service someone can give God, and others as well, is to pray tiredly, by rote. To pray like parrots. No, one prays with the heart. Prayer is the center of life.”

He made the comments during a reflection on the Psalms, the 11th in a cycle of catechesis dedicated to prayer that he began in May. The pope paused the cycle in June for a series of reflections on the coronavirus crisis, before resuming it in October. 

Today’s audience was still marked by the pandemic. Pilgrims sat wearing face coverings in the audience hall, amid rows of empty seats, and the pope remained at a distance from them throughout. 

“I apologize for this,” he said at the start of the audience, “but it is for your safety. Instead of coming near you and shaking your hands and greeting you, we have to greet each other from a distance, but know that I am near you with my heart. I hope that you understand why I am doing this.” 

The pope said that during the biblical reading at the start of the audience, he noticed that one of the pilgrims was comforting a crying baby.  

“I was watching the mamma who was cuddling and nursing the baby and I said: this is what God does with us, like that mamma. With what tenderness she was trying to comfort and nurse the baby,” he said, adding that babies should always be allowed to cry in church.

In his catechesis, the pope observed that the Psalms present prayer as “the fundamental reality of life.” He said that a prayerful relationship with God prevents human beings “from venturing into life in a predatory and voracious manner.”

“Prayer is the salvation of the human being,” he said.

But he noted that there is also a “false” form of prayer that seeks only to impress others. 

“The person or those persons who go to Mass only to make it seen that they are Catholics or to show off the latest fashion that they acquired, or to make a good impression in society. They are moving toward false prayer,” he said. 

“Jesus strongly admonished against such prayer. But when the true spirit of prayer is sincerely received and enters the heart, it then allows us to contemplate reality with God’s very eyes.”

He emphasized that how we pray and how we treat others are deeply connected.

“Those who adore God, love His children. Those who respect God, respect human beings,” he said.

“And so, prayer is not a sedative to alleviate life’s anxieties; or, in any case, this type of prayer is certainly not Christian. Rather, prayer makes each of us responsible.”

The pope suggested that if we want to learn to pray this way, the Psalms are a “tremendous school.” While they are often “intimate and personal,” the prayers were first used in the Temple in Jerusalem and later in synagogues. 

He quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that “The Psalter’s many forms of prayer take shape both in the liturgy of the Temple and in the human heart.” 

“And thus, personal prayer draws from and is nourished first by the prayer of the people of Israel, then by the prayer of the Church,” he explained.

He said: “Even the Psalms in the first person singular, which confide the most intimate thoughts and problems of an individual, are a collective patrimony, to the point of being prayed by everyone and for everyone.” 

“The prayer of the Christian has this ‘breath,’ this spiritual ‘tension’ holding the temple and the world together. Prayer can begin in the penumbra of a church’s nave, but come to an end on the city streets. And vice versa, it can blossom during the day’s activities and reach its fulfillment in the liturgy. The church doors are not barriers, but permeable ‘membranes,’ willing to allow everyone’s groans in.”

The pope warned pilgrims that those who do not pray from the heart can begin to treat others with contempt.

“If you pray many rosaries each day but then gossip about others, and nourish grudges inside, if you hate others, this is truly artificial, it is not true,” he said.

He continued: “Scripture acknowledges the case of the person who, even though he or she sincerely searches for God, never succeeds to encounter Him; but it also affirms that the tears of the poor can never be repudiated on pain of not encountering God.” 

“God does not support the ‘atheism’ of those who repudiate the divine image that is imprinted in every human being. That everyday atheism: I believe in God but I keep my distance from others and I allow myself to hate others. This is practical atheism.” 

“Not to recognize the human person as the image of God is a sacrilege, an abomination, the worst offense that can be directed toward the temple and the altar.”

He concluded: “Dear brothers and sisters, the prayers of the Psalms help us not to fall into the temptation of the ‘wicked,’ that is, of living, and perhaps also of praying, as if God does not exist, and as if the poor do not exist.”

In his greeting to Polish-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis noted that Oct. 22 is the feast day of St. John Paul II, who served as pope from 1978 to 2005.

He said: “He, a man of deep spirituality, every day contemplated the luminous Face of God in liturgical prayer and in meditation on the Psalms. He also exhorted all Christians to begin their days with praise to the Lord, before embarking on the not always easy ways of daily life.”

Her abuse story was posted to her parish Facebook - and then taken down. Why it’s back, and why that matters

Denver Newsroom, Oct 21, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Gina Barthel, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, has found that telling her story is an important part of her healing journey.

When she first shared her story with CNA last year, Barthel said it made her feel “light and free and so full of hope.” 

“When the original story...went live, I was filled with joy. I mean, such joy that morning. I woke up, I high-fived Jesus in my bedroom, and I was like, ‘Jesus, we did it. We did it. We took this brave, courageous step.’”

In that story, Barthel shared that her home archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had supported her after she was abused, and that the auxiliary, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, had been meeting with her personally on a monthly basis to make sure she was receiving the help she needed.

What Barthel did not anticipate was “the very unsettling response” of some fellow parishioners, and even relatives, who did not respond positively when she shared her story. She said some responses have been “distressing.”

In January, Barthel shared her story of abuse survival again, that time with her diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit. Her pastor at the time, Fr. Peter Richards, posted the newspaper’s story to the parish Facebook page, St. Michael’s Catholic Church in St. Michael, Minnesota, in February.

But to Barthel’s dismay, the parish took the story down just hours after it had been posted, reportedly after the parish received a complaint about it.

When Barthel saw the story go up on her parish Facebook page, and then come down again, she was hurt.

“What I find very heartbreaking is the original story...and the story that appeared in The Catholic Spirit, the entire goal and focus was my overwhelming, overarching theme that I wanted people to know was that of hope. That you can be wounded in the heart of the Church and find healing in the heart of the Church,” she said.

“And here I come forward, that message somehow got totally messed up into, ‘We don't want this known in our community. We don't want this known.’”

Barthel said she was not concerned so much with whether her story was shared specifically to her parish’s website or Facebook page. But once it had been shared and quickly removed, she was hurt, and she worried about the message that decision sent to abuse survivors.

“When that Facebook post was taken down, and then all the controversy that erupted about putting it back up, it made me very sad because that's not the Church that I know and love,” Barthel said.

“The Church that I know and love teaches that one, we don't shame the victims, and two, we don't keep their stories secret and we certainly don't try to silence victims, and that's what was happening, which was very distressing for me.”

Furthermore, she added, “there are people who are watching in the shadows who haven't come forward,” whether they’re clergy abuse victims or abuse victims in general.

“They're watching. How does our faith community treat somebody who was a survivor of a heinous crime? How does our faith community treat that person? How does our faith community reverence that person? How does our faith community treat that person who was wounded and may not always act perfectly? How do we treat that person and hold that person and love that person and walk with them in the midst of pain as they're continuing their healing journey?” she said. “People are watching that from the sidelines.”

Barthel said she heard from Fr. Richards that he regretted taking the post down, and that he had plans to repost her story. But he did not get the chance to do that before he was transferred to a new parish and moved in June.

In July, Fr. Brian Park took over as pastor of the parish, and still Barthel waited months before her story was reposted.

Eventually, on October 13, her story was reposted to the parish Facebook and website, accompanied by a statement dated October 9 from Archbishop Bernard Hebda.

“Your new pastor, Father Brian Park, inherited this situation. I have asked Father Park to help fulfill Father Richard’s promise to this survivor by reposting The Catholic Spirit article on the Saint Michael Catholic Church Facebook page and website. I would like to explain to you why I believe this is important,” Hebda said.

“When a priest makes a promise to a survivor of clergy abuse, I am of the opinion that we—as clergy—should do all in our power to make sure that the promise is kept, absent a particularly compelling reason to the contrary,” he said.

“The issues presented in this situation go well beyond the immediate question of reposting and well beyond your community. The real issues are about justice, accountability, compassion and healing. This is especially true for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, but can also affect those who have experienced abuse in other contexts,” he added.



Hebda added that in recent years the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has made “significant, meaningful and potentially long-lasting progress” in its response of compassion and support to survivors of clerical abuse.

“We must not regress. It is important for all of us in any survivor’s life, especially within the Church, to hold steadfast to the principled approaches now in place,” he said.

In his statement, Hebda noted that he had spoken to Fr. Richards, who had communicated that he had been planning on reposting the article and hosting some subsequent educational events about abuse before he was transferred from the parish.

“He has indicated to me that he regrets that he did not complete the educational plan and repost the article prior to his assignment to another parish this past summer,” Hebda said.

The archbishop added that the Church has an “affirmative duty….(to) support victim/survivors on their journeys to justice and healing. The opportunity for abuse survivors to tell their stories is universally acknowledged as an essential moment in the healing process. Going public often means for them that they are no longer subject to the manipulation of the abuser. This can also be an important moment of justice.”

Stories of abuse are shared “not out of vengeance, but truthfulness,” the archbishop noted, which can be a positive healing step for a whole community and can hold past abusers accountable for their actions.

Addressing the resistance met by some within the parish to posting Barthel’s story, Hebda asked parishioners to join him in “praying for a healing of any such division. Join me also in praying for all survivors of abuse, as well as for their family members and for those who support them in their healing and pursuit of justice. May Mary, Undoer of Knots, bring her Son’s love into the difficulties of our lives.”

Jim Thorp, communications manager for St. Michael’s Catholic Church, told CNA in an email that “we pray that Gina’s story brings hope and healing to many. We continue to pray for healing for Gina and all victims and survivors of abuse, as well as their families, communities and the Church as a whole.”

Fr. Park, through Thorp, declined to comment on why he waited for Archbishop Hebda’s letter before reposting Barthel’s story.

Of the nine comments on the parish Facebook post sharing Hebda’s letter and Barthel’s story, all were positive or supportive, as of October 20.

“Bishop Hebda and the pastor have done a right and courageous act. God bless them, Gina Barthel and all the victims of clergy abuse. They must be very beloved to Jesus,” Patricia Tinajero commented.

“So grateful for the Archbishop's words and for Gina's brave witness, both bringing light to this darkness. I am hopeful that our beautiful church family and leaders continue to recognize the importance of supporting and praying for all victims of abuse,” commented Katrina A. Witschen.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens told CNA that he was glad Barthel’s story was shared with her parish community, because in every parish community are survivors of abuse, whether that is abuse from clergy or other people.

“There are victims of abuse in every parish and so we always need to be attentive to that. And it's difficult at times to raise up that reality because nobody likes to talk about it,” Cozzens said.

“But it can be really helpful to the victims of abuse if we're willing to, when it's appropriate, raise up the reality of abuse so that people who have experienced it can come to healing. So when you have a story like Gina's, where there has been some healing, that can be helpful.”

Cozzens added that he hoped any abuse victims who have been following Barthel’s story see that “the Church is committed to standing by them, even if it takes a long time to do so, even if we still have a culture change that we have to go through. We are committed to standing by survivors and we hope they understand that.”

Dr. Jim Richter is an abuse survivor and survivor advocate who became friends with Barthel last year, after reading her story.

Richter told CNA that for abuse survivors, it is often, though not always, important for them to share their stories, and their local communities often seem like the safest and most comfortable place to do that.

“If you have a community, a family community, a civic community, or a parish community, I think that's a great place to explore doing that sharing because it's oftentimes been identified or it's associated with something that is comfortable, familiar, safe and often supportive.”

He added that while he understands stories of abuse can be difficult to hear, they can also help communities remember that they have survivors in their midst and that they need to remain vigilant against potential future abuse.

“Although this is 2020, and although it is difficult for folks to sometimes recognize that a crisis isn't over as quickly as they would like it to be, the better equipped we are to hear, and in some cases to be unpleasantly reminded of what has happened. That can really inform the work that as an individual and as a parish we're going to do moving forward,” he said.

“So I don't understand...the need to bury or ignore or kind of sidestep somebody's abuse experience.”

Barthel said that while she is grateful for all the support she has received thus far on the archdiocesan level, it was also meaningful to share her story with her local community.

“My everyday life happens in the local church. And I need to have the support of the local church. All victim/survivors need the support of their local community. To feel that I was being stripped of that by some (parish) members….who have not been supportive, made that very painful.”

Ultimately, Barthel said she is grateful for the support of her archdiocese, and now her parish, in sharing her story.

“To have Archbishop Hebda's voice is so important because I think it sends the right message, the healthy and hopeful message to the Church,” she said. She said she hopes other victim/survivors continue to find hope and encouragement in her story.

“I can only speak for my archdiocese, but at least in our archdiocese, if they do come forward, they can find the support that they need in the leadership of the church. And I think that's really important.”

‘Festival of Friendship’ seeks authentic encounter in a digital venue 

Denver Newsroom, Oct 21, 2020 / 12:16 am (CNA).- An annual cultural festival hosted by a Catholic group of artists and intellectuals is being held virtually this month, offering opportunities for encounter and discussion through art and creativity.

The Revolution of Tenderness - which draws its name from an exhortation of Pope Francis - is in the middle of hosting its eighth Festival of Friendship. The project brings together a myriad of people from different cultures and belief systems.

“The Festival of Friendship is an annual free cultural event that is open to the public; it features speakers and topics to do with every aspect of human ingenuity and creativity: from the arts and humanities, to sports, to science, to politics and economics, to education, to research, to any and all expressions of human culture,” said Suzanne Lewis, coordinator for Revolution of Tenderness.

“We place a special emphasis on dialogue; thus we invite speakers who belong to many different religions (or none), and we explore subjects of interest to Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” she told CNA.

The festival is modeled after the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples, an annual cultural festival held in Italy’s coastal town of Rimini. This event, which is also free, attracts over 800,000 visitors each year. Lewis was so moved by attending the Rimini meeting that she decided to replicate the experience in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Steubenville, Ohio.

“My collaborators and I have not made any attempts to innovate on the model I first witnessed in Rimini. In fact, all our efforts to do with the festival have been motivated by a desire to imitate the meeting as faithfully as possible while providing the fewest possible ‘translations’ for an American audience,” she said.

The first festival was established in 2012 and called The Pittsburgh Encounter. The nonprofit, Revolution of Tenderness, was then established in 2017. As the nonprofit developed, the organization has been able to further other initiatives, including literary workshops, conferences, and classes.

Normally, the Festival of Friendship is carried out one autumn week in Pittsburgh. In addition to Catholics from a variety of professions, it has also hosted jazz musicians, Buddhist monks, Islamic scholars, and medical professionals. About 500 people attended last year’s event.

This year, the event is being held in online sessions every Thursday through Sunday in October. It showcases music, poetry, cinematography, lectures, panel discussions, and keynote talks.

While the online format has drawn a smaller-than-typical audience, Lewis said it has been a very positive experience.

“We decided to spread our offerings over the course of a month, and to give our audience days off to rejuvenate before tuning in for the next event of the festival,” she said, adding that they have seen “several unexpected positive side effects from moving online.”

One benefit has been the “extraordinary opportunity to engage with artists, speakers, musicians, academics, and audience members from across the country and around the world.”

“While we long for the warm, human embrace and conviviality that our past, in-person festivals have become famous for, we’ve seen signs, already, that the online, multi-week format has been able to open the door for an even larger community of friends to discover together what it means to be ‘found’ and truly embraced, despite the limits of physical separation,” she said.

This Friday, the festival will host “To Live In A Sea Of Happiness” - a samba concert that seeks to convey discovery and hope. The music, born in the poverty of Brazil, is an expression of joy and hope performed through music and dance, according to organizers. It will be performed by Ney Vasconcelos, Antonio Gomes, and Marcelo Rocha.

That same day, the festival will also host “Every Separation is a Link: Being Found Behind Bars,” a discussion on how inmates are “found” in prison. It will include discussions with professionals such as Dr. Louis Mendoza, director of the Pen Project, a program that connects maximum-security inmates to Arizona State University students; and Ron Zeilinger, the founder of Dismas Ministry, a Catholic prison ministry based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Elisabeth Kramp is the editor-in-chief of Revolution of Tenderness’ biannual journal Convivium and was one of the performers at last week’s event, “From Whence Springs a Boundless Fruitfulness.” Kramp recited poems, along with several other authors including Ewa Chrusciel and Suzanne M. Wolfe.

“This year I made a recording of myself reading in my study,” she told CNA. “In giving a reading, I hope the language I use incites listeners' imaginations. Poetry is a way of knowing, and I'm all the richer when, through poetry, I see or sense the world in new ways. That's why I write it, and that's what I hope is transferred in a reading.”

She said the author and poets were able to place their own spin on interpreting the theme, “boundless fruitfulness.” For herself, she said fruitfulness inspired questions about the fruits of labor, fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the impact of language, especially as a literary artist.

“Language conveys so much of that fruit, the way that we strive to make beauty, the way that we patiently toil for words, not necessarily for books and publication, but for the sharing of ideas,” she said.

Kramp described her experience as an artist during the pandemic. Putting together an issue of Convivium, she was able to read a variety of submissions from artists across the world, including poems submitted from Nigeria, Wales, France, and Siberia.

“How strange that a small journal could connect me to so many in a time when I very occasionally left my home,” she reflected. “And the work on the journal knits my collaborators and I together in friendship - in spite of our being far flung across the U.S. This work has been a reminder that artistic collaboration fosters friendship, even though the overt goal is to produce the work of art.”

Lewis said efforts such as the Festival of Friendship are particularly important today, given the tension and division in society.

“In a time of increasing division and polarization, when dialogue often seems impossible among opposing camps (both inside and outside the Church), we bring diverse people together to look for what is true and useful and enduring in every discipline and topic imaginable,” she said. “We want to recover the art of authentic and convivial debate, and we want to share this gift with others.”

“Many in the Church spend enormous resources and time answering questions that no one is asking,” she continued.

“We need first to develop a capacity for listening, so that we might hear the questions, articulated and unspoken, that our fellow human beings, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, wrestle with, and then we need to do the work of discovering, within the daily realities and the fabric of ordinary life, how our own priceless inheritance answers those questions in very particular and unique ways.”