Browsing News Entries

Bishop Wall: Pope Francis 'passionate about life' from conception to natural death

Gallup, N.M., Feb 20, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- After visiting with Pope Francis for two and a half hours during his region’s ad limina visit, Bishop James Wall of Gallup told CNA that he was encouraged by the Holy Father’s passion for the pro-life movement, his love for the vulnerable in society, and his willingness to discuss anything.

“The Holy Father just (said), ‘What would you want to talk about?’” Wall told CNA.

“So I saw an opportunity, and it was kind of funny. I said, ‘Holy Father, we're pro-life.’ And he joked and he goes, ‘Well, so is the Holy Father.’”

Wall said he then told Pope Francis that he wanted to talk about how much of the Church, and society at large, has still rejected the message of Humanae vitae, St. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reaffirming the Church’s teaching on sexuality and against contraception, more than 50 years after it was written.

The rejection of Humanae vitae’s teachings has created a “vocational crisis,” Wall added, because parents are not learning to be generous with God, and therefore their children are not learning to be generous with God and to trust him with his plan for their lives.

Wall said Pope Francis responded that he especially sees this crisis in the disappearance of people with disabilities from society.

“(Pope Francis) said, ‘Yes, the question about why is it in our society that we see fewer and fewer people with disabilities?...Because we do tests of children in the womb, and if we see that they have a disability, then we abort them. This is a great evil.’”

People with disabilities are created in the image and likeness of God, as are all people, and they have “a unique role to play in society, because they help us to love and they teach us about love,” the Pope told the bishops.

“It's a beautiful line from the Holy Father,” Wall told CNA.

The bishops of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Region XIII met with Pope Francis Feb. 10. The region includes the bishops of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Wall said he discussed with Pope Francis that the Native American people in his diocese still value life - they care for children with Down syndrome, and they have great respect for their grandparents and elders.

Pope Francis then spoke about the importance of respecting life "from conception until natural death, the littlest to the oldest” and the need to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“It was awesome to see the Holy Father just really be so passionate about life, and passionate about life of people with disability. I thought that was beautiful,” Wall said.

One of the problems with the way society talks about life is that they use the term “quality of life,” Wall noted.

“That's such a loaded term,” he said. “My quality of life could be different from your quality of life, but that doesn't mean that my life is better or worth more than your life. Every life is worth it and worth living.”

“And whether somebody has a disability, whether somebody's old and young, whatever the case is, or if somebody makes a lot of money or doesn't, the quality of life is the same for everyone, (because) our quality of life is we're all created in the image and likeness of God.”

Priests should be preaching the truth about Church teaching regarding contraception and human life in order to foster a deeper culture of life among Catholics, Wall added.

“That's something that we shouldn't shy away from preaching - preaching the truth of Humanae vitae, preaching the truth of the theology of the body, preaching the truth of what all the Church teaches when we talk about the sacredness of life,” he said.

“And we need to be able to name it for what it is,” he added. “So when we talk about abortion, or we talk about contraception, and we talk about embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide - we call it for what it is. We pray for an end to these intrinsic evils in our society.”

Parishes should also give couples who are living according to Church teaching a chance to share their testimonies, Wall said, in order to counter the perception that everyone is using contraception and that it must be okay because it is so widely used.

Wall said he would also encourage Catholics to read Humanae vitae.

“It was a prophetic document from Pope St. Paul VI...because, in terms of the negative things, he said, ‘If the Church were to go down this rabbit hole (of approving contraception), these are all the things that we're going to see happen. We're going to see an increase in abortion. We're going to see an increase of violence, sexual acts of violence, sexual acts against women, men objectifying women. We're going to see an increase in divorce.’ All these things happened (when) society gave into it.”

“But, in the positive sense, Pope St. Paul VI said, ‘If we're faithful to God's plan for marriage and God's plans for life, what we're going to see is we're going to see a blossoming of marital life.’ So when we see couples that are open to God's plan, what we see is anywhere from a 2 to 4% divorce rate. In other words, we see in 94 to 96% success rate, meaning couples are together. They're being faithful to their marriage vows and staying together ‘til death do they part.”

Wall added that after his region’s ad limina visit, he felt very close to the Holy Father and appreciated his openness to discuss anything.

“We didn't send him a list of questions and have him get prepared for it. He wanted to talk about things. So if you asked him a question, he would sit there and he would really think about it. You could tell he was very thoughtful and very prayerful...and I found that very inspiring. I took away a great love for the Church and a real closeness to him.”

How California's abortion mandate trampled on Catholic nuns

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 19, 2020 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- California could lose federal funds for requiring employer health plans to cover elective abortion, federal officials have said.

But the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic consecrated women whose legal complaint helped trigger the threat, only want their voice heard and their conscience clear.

“They have a ministry that works closely with the farm worker community and with immigrants. They’re wonderful women,” Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 18. “They just didn’t understand why their conscience rights were being ignored, so they took action for themselves and others.”

The Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit are consecrated women who live among the poor and needy in inner city and rural areas and serve them through activities like teaching religion classes and working with destitute Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Their June 26, 2017 complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights alleged that California’s 2014 rules mandating abortion coverage in health plans burdened their conscience rights and compelled them to fund “the practice of abortion on demand for other plan participants,” despite their Catholic beliefs that direct abortion is “gravely contrary to the moral law.”

Eckery told CNA that the California Catholic Conference saw the new state rules as “overreach” that impinged on the rights of conscience of Californians, especially the Guadalupanas.

“They didn’t understand why as Catholic nuns they were being forced to pay for elective abortion coverage and so they sought relief,” he said.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

On Jan. 24, federal officials sided with the Guadalupanas and another complainant, the Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa. The HHS Office of Civil Rights estimated that the state mandate wrongly affected at least 35 employer groups serving over 28,000 enrollees, including 13 groups that met California’s definition of “religious employer.”

In a document known as a notice of violation, the Office of Civil Rights said that California’s Department of Managed Health Care ignored its specific request to confirm or deny whether it would align its practices to the Weldon Amendment, and instead issued a response that “confirms its non-compliance.” The office gave California 30 days from Jan. 24 to agree to comply with the law or face limits on federal HHS funds.

The Guadalupanas province, headquartered in Los Angeles, declined to comment to CNA.

Eckert said that the California Catholic Conference is “pleased” that federal action has been taken, but he stressed the need to seek a resolution.

“We’re not out to start or continue a culture war. We’re just out to make sure that the beliefs of people like the Guadalupanas are respected.”

“We’re not seeking to cut off federal funds,” he said. “All we’re seeking is a respectful conversation, but one that is now clearly backed by the government which recognizes that this is a violation of conscience rights.”

“We’re interested in simply rolling back to the status quo that existed prior to 2014,” Eckert said.

In August 2014 California’s Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans “from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The law requires all health plans to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the state regulator said.

California officials mandated the coverage after two Catholic universities in autumn 2013 announced that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions and had secured state approval for the new health plans.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions, according to emails published in court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law.” They said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

The federal action against California was announced Jan. 24.

Some California officials, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, were defiant in response.

“Despite a federal opinion four years ago confirming California’s compliance with the Weldon Amendment, the Trump Administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right… California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

Eckery, however, rejected partisan political interpretation of objections to the state rule.

“People who want to impose partisan political logic on issues of morality are off-base,” Eckery told CNA. “For us, this is not an issue of partisanship. We refuse to engage in partisanship on these matters. Why would one trade the moral teachings of the Church for just becoming another political party?”

“It’s unfortunate we live in a time of polarization. If we had a lot more respect and spent a lot more time listening than shouting, we’d all be better off.”

In a Jan. 31 statement, the California Catholic Conference said that the Weldon Amendment provision to withhold all federal funding from a state seems “impractical” to most observers and is a reason why the amendment has not been enforced previously.

“Catholic organizations and have been advocating for years for more effective consequences and for a private right of action in such cases,” the conference said.

Diocese of Harrisburg files for bankruptcy amid new sex abuse lawsuits 

Harrisburg, Pa., Feb 19, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania announced Wednesday that it is filing for bankruptcy.

A landslide of clergy abuse lawsuits have been filed against the diocese after a watershed Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse was released in August 2018 and a change to state law allowed new litigation on old cases.

“This decision was made after countless hours of prayer and careful deliberation with our financial experts, attorneys, and our Diocesan Consultative Bodies,” Bishop Ronald W. Gainer said in an announcement on the diocese’s website.

“Despite the success of the Survivor Compensation Program, which helped 111 survivors of clergy child sexual abuse, or 96% of those who participated in the program, we already are in receipt of half a dozen new lawsuits, any one of which could severely cripple the diocese,” he said. 

The bankruptcy filing will allow the diocese to reorganize its finances in order to keep its main ministries afloat and to pay off its existing debts. Pending lawsuits against the diocese will be frozen until after a bankruptcy judgment is made, the Washington Post reported.

In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It also presented a devastating portrait of alleged efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations - either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal. The text of the report was drafted by the office of the state attorney general Josh Shapiro.

The two dioceses not included in the report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, had undergone previous investigations.

While the statute of limitations in the state of Pennsylvania prevented most victims from filing lawsuits against priests who are still alive, a recent decision from Pennsylvania’s Superior Court ruled that victims may file lawsuits against dioceses in some cases, even if the statute of limitations for a lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator of the abuse had passed. The decision allowed a wave of lawsuits against the Diocese of Harrisburg.

“Our current financial situation, coupled with changes in the law both here and in New Jersey, where we are already named in one lawsuit and where we anticipate more to follow, left us with no other path forward to ensure the future of our Diocese,” Gainer said.

Harrisburg joins more than 20 U.S. dioceses and religious orders that have filed for bankruptcy due to sex abuse lawsuits since 2004, according to the website bishop-accountability.org. They are the fifth diocese to file since the summer of 2018, during which accusations of sexual abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick came to light, and the Grand Jury report was published.

“The diocese was in need of right-sizing,” Matthew Haverstick, an attorney for the Diocese of Harrisburg, told the Washington Post. “Bankruptcy is really the responsible way to do it, so it can continue to do all the things it does, spiritually and charitably.”

Shaun Dougherty, who has campaigned for changes to the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, told the Washington Post that the diocese’s decision is “horrendous” because he fears victims will not get justice or fair compensation.

“That’s how [Catholic dioceses] operate. They’re protecting the secrets, the assets,” Dougherty told the Washington Post.

Gainer said in his statement that he hopes to bring the bankruptcy process to a conclusion “as soon as is reasonably possible and in a way that allows us to be present to the community, as we have been for the past 152 years.”

He added that anyone with further questions can find more information on the website for the Diocese of Harrisburg.

“I humbly ask for your prayers for our diocese as we move forward in this process. May God grant us every grace needed during this difficult time,” he said.

“May Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother, intercede with Her Son to be our strength and support as well.”

 

LGBTQ+ law clinic at Gonzaga Law raises 'serious concerns' for Spokane bishop

Spokane, Wash., Feb 19, 2020 / 05:08 pm (CNA).- Gonzaga University’s plan to become the first Jesuit university to open a law clinic focused primarily on LGBT advocacy has raised “serious concerns” for Spokane's Bishop Thomas Daly.

“While the Catholic tradition does uphold the dignity of every human being, the LGBT Rights law clinic’s scope of practice could bring the GU Law School into conflict with the religious freedom of Christian individuals and organizations,” the Spokane diocese said Feb. 19 in a statement to CNA.

“There is also a concern that Gonzaga Law School will be actively promoting, in the legal arena and on campus, values that are contrary to the Catholic faith and natural law.”

“Bishop Daly and the diocese are studying the issue further and will be discussing these serious concerns with the university administration,” the diocese added.

The diocese told CNA it was not consulted before the university announced the creation of the clinic.

The Lincoln LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic at Gonzaga was developed in partnership with the school’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, the university said in an announcement Feb. 14.

The clinic “aims to advance the equal rights and dignity of individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ through education, programming, advocacy, research, and legal representation.”

It will also provide “a special opportunity for Gonzaga law students to help protect and advance the rights of the LGBTQ+ community,” the university added.

Gonzaga's law school dean, Jacob Rooksby, told CNA that the LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic fits within the Catholic identity of the university because “it allows our students the chance to learn firsthand how law and the work of lawyers can further respect for individual dignity.”

The university noted that Harvard, Cornell, Emory, and UCLA— all secular institutions— have developed LGBTQ+ law clinics.

Father Bryan Pham, S.J., a civil and canon lawyer and chaplain for the Gonzaga School of Law, told CNA that the goal of the clinic is to create a space that helps students understand the viewpoints of a broad range of clients.

"I don't think there's anything that the law school or the clinic will be doing that would be in opposition to the Church's teaching, other than the fact that we want students to engage in this in a civil context of a law setting," Pham told CNA in an interview.

He said the clinic is not “about converting people or trying to get them to believe one way or another.”

“The law in this country is pretty clear about discrimination, so how do we expand that conversation in a much broader context?” he said.

The Lincoln LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic will “offer legal services to members of the public” with the help of second- and third-year law students, under the direction of a full-time faculty member, the university’s announcement explained.

Pham said it will be up to individual professors to decide whether or not to present the Church’s teaching in the classroom. He said “when it's my turn to be part of the conversation, I will definitely bring it up, absolutely.”
 
Concerns mentioned by Daly about religious liberty seem rooted in litigation some Catholic institutions have faced in recent years.

In the United States, various Catholic schools and dioceses have faced lawsuits from employees who have been fired after contracting civil same-sex marriages in violation of the diocesan or school policy.

In some states, such as Illinois, California, and Massachusetts, Catholic adoption agencies which do not place children with same-sex couples have been forced to close their doors after losing legal challenges.

In addition, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits from people who identify as transgender and wish to recieve surgery or hormone therapy to change their sex.

CNA asked Gonzaga whether students participating in the clinic might find themselves representing clients who are suing Catholic institutions.

“We are in the early stages of this initiative, working to hire a director and launch the clinic in the fall. Given that we are early in our development in the clinic, it is premature on our part to respond to hypothetical circumstances,” university spokesperson Chantell Cosner said in an email response to CNA.

“We anticipate being in a position to speak more specifically about the work of the clinic later this fall.”

But Pham said even if the clinic advocates for same-sex marriage, “the Church won't recognize that, so this really isn't an issue.”

In 2003, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”

“One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection,” the CDF added.

According to Pham, more basic issues are likely to be the clinic’s focus.

“For us, it's more about how people are discriminated against. So in places of employment, housing, bank loans— you know, they won't give a loan to a couple because they're a same-sex union— so those are really basic human issues,” the priest said.

Pham said his main concern is people’s assumptions that the clinic will advocate for positions contrary to Church teaching.

"My concern is people jumping to conclusions, and just looking at the name of the clinic, and then making an assumption about it,” Pham commented.

“This is something that we're aware of, when we were thinking about doing this clinic. We are a Catholic Jesuit school, our foundation is within Catholic social teaching, so I think my main concern is people hearing about this and often jumping to conclusions without finding out.”

Pham said the university uses a 1997 document from the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Always Our Children,” as a guide for how “we work with our students and with community members who are of that community."

“Always Our Children” was, at the time of its release, criticized by groups who say they are faithful to Church teaching, such as Courage. It was largely embraced by groups critical of Catholic doctrine, such as DignityUSA. The document was not voted on by the full body of bishops, nor even discussed by them before its issuance, according to the National Catholic Register.

“Always Our Children” was revised and reissued in 1998, again, without a full vote of the U.S. bishops. One of the changes was the addition of a footnote to a 1992 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding legislative proposals to address discrimination against people who identify as gay.

“There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account,” the document says, “for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.”

“‘Sexual orientation’ does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to nondiscrimination,” the document continued.

“Including ‘homosexual orientation’ among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices.”

In 2006, the USCCB issued an new document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination. That document, which was approved by a vote of the bishops, cited the CDF’s 1992 letter more explicitly.

“As human persons, persons with a homosexual inclination have the same basic rights as all people, including the right to be treated with dignity. Nevertheless “‘sexual orientation’ does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to nondiscrimination,” the 2006 document said.

“Therefore, it is not unjust, for example, to limit the bond of marriage to the union of a woman and a man. It is not unjust to oppose granting to homosexual couples benefits that in justice should belong to marriage alone,” the document continued.

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexual inclinations are not sinful, homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law...under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

For its part, the Diocese of Spokane said it will approach talks with Gonzaga with hope for a positive resolution to points of disagreement.

“Bishop Daly is a strong supporter of Catholic education and hopes that Gonzaga will continue to be a partner in the Catholic mission of faithful education in the Church,” the diocese said.

Australia's disability inquiry told of mistreatment of people with Down syndrome

Sydney, Australia, Feb 19, 2020 / 04:58 pm (CNA).- Parents of persons with Down syndrome are pressed to procure abortion, and their healthcare is negatively affected throughout their life, Australia's disability royal commission has heard.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability began a hearing in Sydney Feb. 18. The two week hearing will listen to persons with cognitive disability and their loved ones, medical professionals, and advocacy groups about their experience with the health system in Australia.

Toni Mitchell told the commission Feb. 19 that when an ultrasound showed that her son, Joshua, would likely have Down syndrome and had a heart condition and was likely to miscarry, a doctor told her, “here's your appointment for a termination”, handing her a piece of paper.

“In that moment they completely disallowed his life. They said he wasn't worth living,” she reflected.

Joshua is now 19. He has Down syndrome, autism, and Hirschsprung's disease.

Toni told the commission that she tossed the paper indicating the abortion appointment, and, “that was the moment I had to start justifying my son's right to live and to be treated and I had to start justifying his value to be alive … They kept just judging us based on my decision to give him a chance at life.”

The commission's chair, Ronald Sackville, told the inquiry during his Feb. 18 opening address that the consequences of poor healthcare for those with disabilities are “as disturbing as they are profound,” and that “they should shock the conscience of all Australians.”

Rebecca Kelly, whose son Ryan has Down syndrome, said that in the model of Australia's health system “if you can't cure it … then you eradicate it.”

“If you think that person's life is a tragedy and that they suffer from this condition then you start to believe that it's an act of kindness or that it's a responsible act to do all you can to prevent that birth, and that becomes quite coercive,” she stated.

She added that the problems don't end with pressure to procure abortion.

“If you have a doctor (who) thinks that possibly your life's going to be a little bit better if your child doesn't make it because they're taking that burden away from you, that has horrible implications for the level of care that you don't get.”

The disability royal commission was established in April 2019. It is to provide an interim report by October, and a final report by April 2022.

Such inquiries are provided for under the Royal Commissions Act 1902. They serve as independent public inquiries, initiated by the government, and can make recommendations on reforms to policy or legislation.

A 2013-17 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse urged a program to compensate the victims of institutional child sex abuse, which the Church in Australia established in July 2018.

It also proposed that priests be legally obligated to disclose sexual abuse sins which have been admitted in the confessional, or face criminal charges.

The Australian bishops' conference responded positively to nearly all the sex abuse royal commission's recommendations, but has defended the sanctity of the confessional seal.

Biden touts Catholic faith as campaign falters

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Presidential candidate Joe Biden highlighted his Catholic faith in a new campaign ad, released on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The former frontrunner for the Democratic nomination has seen a sharp drop in his poll numbers following loses in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Biden, a baptized Catholic, said in the ad that “faith is what has gotten me through difficult times in my life,” including the deaths of his first wife, eldest daughter in a car accident, and his son Beau’s death from brain cancer. 

As Biden is speaking, the ad displays black-and-white pictures of the former vice president with various religious figures, including Pope Francis.

“Personally for me, faith, it’s all about hope and purpose and strength, and for me, my religion is just an enormous sense of solace,” he added.

“I go to Mass and I say the rosary. I find it to be incredibly comforting,” Biden said. 

The former frontrunner for the Democratic nomination quoted the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who said that “faith sees best in the dark,” to explain how his traumatic experiences have helped him develop and rely on his faith. 

“I marvel at people who absorb hurt and just get back up,” he said, drawing comparisons to the present state of the United States under President Donald Trump. 

“And I’m absolutely thoroughly convinced and optimistic about the prospects of this country. No, I really mean it,” he said. “There is nothing-there is nothing we can’t do.” 

While Biden is profiles his Catholicism in the advertisement, it has been a source of controversy over his lengthy political career, and he has endorsed policies that are contrary to Church teaching.

Shortly after his election as vice president, the then-bishop of his hometown of Scranton, PA, rebuked Biden for his views on abortion. 

“I will not tolerate any politician who claims to be a faithful Catholic who is not genuinely pro-life,” said Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton in 2008. “No Catholic politician who supports the culture of death should approach Holy Communion. I will be truly vigilant on this point.”

During the 2008 campaign, Biden also received a letter from the then-bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, after he received Communion at a parish in the diocese. The letter reiterated the Catholic Church’s views on abortion, and the bishop offered prayers that Biden would “live by the virtue of fortitude as you proclaim your support to the Person of Christ in the most vulnerable of his members: the pre-born child.” 

In October 2019, Biden was refused Communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. The priest denied Biden Communion in accord with a 2004 diocesan policy that prohibits politicians who have been supportive of legal protection for abortion from receiving the Eucharist. 

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

At the time Biden was denied Communion, his website stated that one of his priorities as president would be to “work to codify Roe v. Wade” into federal law, and that “his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate the constitutional right to an abortion,” including laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, and parental notification of a minor’s abortion. 

“Vice president Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because healthcare is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income,” said his website. 

Biden’s website also pledges him to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” and promises to “rescind the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated and expanded.” 

During his career as a senator, Biden voted numerous times in favor of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, and opposed public funding for abortions. 

During the last year, Biden has shifted his views on abortion. Over the course of one week in June, Biden went from publicly supporting the Hyde Amendment--which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions--to pledging to repeal it if he were to be elected president. 

Previously, Biden supported some aspects of pro-life legislation. In addition to his Senate vote in favor of the Hyde amendment, he also supported the Mexico City Policy in 1984, voted again in favor of Hyde in 1993, and voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 1995 and again in 1997.

In an interview shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Biden refused to support unrestricted access to abortion and said that he thought the Supreme Court “went too far” in their decision. In 1981, he lent his name to the “Biden Amendment,” which bans the use of federal funds for biomedical research involving abortion or involuntary sterilization.

By 2012, in the vice presidential debate against then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Biden described himself as being personally pro-life, though he also expressed his support for legally protecting abortion.

London to Malta via Rome: Following the money in Vatican financial scandals

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Vatican raid conducted on the chief prosecutor of the Church’s Apostolic Signatura sheds light on a network of companies and businessmen at the center of interrelated Vatican financial scandals. 

On Feb. 18, Vatican officials raided the home and office of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the chief prosecutor at the Church’s highest ecclesiastical court and a former senior official at the Secretariat of State. Vatican police seized documents and computers for an ongoing investigation into financial misconduct at the Secretariat, the curia’s most influential department.

The raid on Perlasca’s home is the most recent in a steady flow of stories about questionable Vatican finances, involving a London property development, shell companies, tax havens, opaque investment funds, and shuttered banks in Italy and Switzerland.

Each new scandal appears uniquely complicated, but, a recurring pattern of institutions and individuals suggests that a series of apparently independent financial scandals might, in fact, be linked to each other.

Perlasca is now the fifth official or former official at the Secretariat of State to be targeted by Vatican investigators.

Four staff members were suspended in October, along with the director of the Vatican Financial Authority amid an investigation into the secretariat’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros into a building development at 60 Sloane Ave. in London. 

As it happens, this month’s raid on Perlasca was prompted by information obtained from the officials suspended in October.

London

Two officials suspended in October, Dr. Caterina Sansone and Msgr. Mauro Carlino, served as directors of London 60 SA Ltd., a UK-based holding company through which the Secretariat of State controls the London property. Between 2014 and 2018, that building was bought in stages by the secretariat from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione.

In 2014 Mincione was managing $200 million for the Secretariat of State through his company, Athena Capital, with 55% allocated to “speculative investments.” Through these, Mincione used Vatican funds to purchase unrated bonds in another of his holding companies, Time and Life SA, which financed his personal investments, while at the same time charging the Vatican millions of euros in performance and management fees.

Also in 2014, Mincione used Athena Capital to channel Vatican funds into 60 Sloane Avenue, which Minicione owned, through another of his companies. The Vatican paid 180 million euros for a 45% share of the building: More than Mincione paid for his original investment in the whole building —even though Mincione had yet to secure the planning permission upon which property development hinged. 

CNA has reported that the Vatican’s funds for the purchase of its share in the building came from loans from two Swiss banks, and were concealed on Vatican balance sheets, in breach of Vatican financial regulations.

In 2016 the Secretariat of State, under the authority of then sostituto Cardinal Angelo Becciu, decided to purchase the remaining 55% of the building from Mincione. The Vatican paid Mincione’s company to manage that sale. Mincione cleared hundreds of millions of euros in profit on the sale of the second set of shares in the project.

Even after it had sold to the Secretariat of State 30,000 of 31,000 shares in the project, Minicone’s holding company retained the 1,000 voting shares needed to control the holding company which owned the building. Mincione eventually offered to part with those, at greatly inflated prices. To broker the sale, in 2018 the Secretariat of State enlisted the help of another businessman, Gianluigi Torzi, who acted as a middleman for the purchase of the remaining shares.

Mincione’s estimated profit from managing the deal, excluding profit from selling the building itself, is 60 million euros; Torzi pocketed 10 million from his participation. When the Secretariat finally got complete ownership of the building, the property came saddled with a high-interest mortgage taken out by Mincione; that mortgage might exceed the actual equity value of the property.

Torzi and his family were reportedly granted a private audience with Pope Francis in the Domus Santa Marta the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, 2018. CNA made numerous requests to the Vatican press office in the last several weeks to clarify why Torzi was afforded this honor, and who arranged the audience; those requests have not been answered.

But Torzi’s connections to Mincione, and to the London property deal, are much deeper than acting as a broker for the final part of the sale.

A Complicated Network

The manager of the Secretariat of State’s London property is Luciano Capaldo, an architect who is a registered director of the secretariat’s holding company, London 60 SA Ltd.

Calpaldo is also a part owner and former chairman of Imvest, a property development company listed in Rome. The architect has also served as a director of several other companies, including Odikon Services, which is the subject of a lawsuit for fraud in the UK, and currently suspended by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.

Torzi has also served as a director of Odikon. 

In addition to the UK lawsuit, Torzi is also currently being investigated by Italian authorities for another alleged multi-million euro fraud involving Odikon and the securitization of receivables owed to a Catholic hospital in Rome, Fatebenefratelli.   

A company set up by Torzi in Luxembourg, FEG International Assets SA, is a major investor in Imvest. FEG and Torzi were both also named in a recent commercial fraud suit in London’s High Court.

The largest shareholder of Imvest is a firm called Meti Capital, of which Capaldo is also a part owner. Odikon is also a major shareholder of Meti.

In 2016, Imvest offices were raided by Italian financial police in connection to charges of coordinated fraud, submission of false budgets, and false accounting. Those raids included 13 other businesses and several individuals invested in Imvest, chief among them Alfio Marchini, a wealthy Italian entrepreneur and politician.

Marchini, a twice-failed candidate for mayor of Rome while standing as a candidate for the 5 Star Alliance with the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, owned a controlling interest in Imvest in 2015, the year under investigation. He owned the controlling interest through his company Astrim SpA, which was also included in the 2016 raids.

Another company included in the raids and connected to Marchini is Methorios Capital SpA, a subsidiary of Optimum Asset Management; Optimum is both suing and being sued by the Vatican’s Institute for Works of Religion (IOR, commonly called the Vatican Bank). The IOR is suing in Malta over millions of euros in investments by the Vatican bank in another Optimum vehicle, Futura Funds Sciav. 

Futura Funds also has a close relationship with Imvest, buying the whole of Imvest’s first bond issuance in 2013 - worth 30 million euros. The bonds were unsecured, and Imvest used all of the proceeds to finance a further loan to its own largest shareholder: Marchini’s company Astrim.  

At the time, Methorios was the largest shareholder in Imvest, and by 2015 Futura had become the largest shareholder in Methorios. 

Bank Fraud

In 2015, Optimum was identified by Italian authorities as a fund manager through which Banca Popolare di Vincenza fraudulently funneled money meant for outside investments back into investment in the bank itself.

While the bank was required by European law to maintain a diversified investment portfolio as a hedge against risk, it was found to have used Optimum to fraudulently invest in itself instead,  obscuring the likelihood of the bank’s default and the loss of its ordinary customers savings.

The bank also used the same tactic, channeling investment funds back into itself and disguising bad loans, through the Athena Global Fund run by Raffaele Mincione—the same fund hired by Vatican Secretariat of State to invest Peter’s Pence.

Italian media have estimated that the fraud involved hundreds of millions of euros and Banca Popolare was fined, and then closed by a forced sale in 2017.

UK health service clarifies policy to deny care to 'homophobic' patients

London, England, Feb 19, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Britain’s National Health Service has clarified a new policy that will allow patients found to be homophoic, racist, and sexist to be denied non-emergency treatment. 

Under the new rules, medical professionals can refuse non-emergency care to patients who harass, bully, or discriminate against them. The policy was announced on Feb. 18, and will go into effect in April. 

Previously, a medical professional was only permitted to deny non-emergency care to verbally aggressive or physically violent patients. The new policy will expand this criteria to include any harassment, including homophobia, sexism, and racism. 

The U.K.’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote to NHS staff announcing the change on Tuesday, stating “no act of violence or abuse is minor,” and that “being assaulted or abused is not part of the job.”

A 2019 survey of NHS staff revealed that more than one in four NHS workers have reported being “bullied, harassed or abused” in the last year. Approximately one in seven NHS workers said they had been physically attacked.

Hancock said that “Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out,” and that “I’ve seen it for myself in [emergency rooms], on night shifts, and on ambulances.” 

The survey also found that NHS staff who worked in patients in emergency wards, with mental health issues or learning disabilities experienced more abuse and violence than workers at other NHS locations.

CNA asked the NHS to clarify how a patient would be deemed racist or homophobic, and if they could be denied care due to a staff member’s perception or inference of their religious beliefs. CNA questioned if someone such as a Catholic priest or Imam could be removed from an NHS trust due to their religious opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexual activity. 

An NHS spokesperson told CNA that the policy would only extend to people who made discriminatory comments to a member of the staff while they were receiving treatment. 

“A person’s personal beliefs or any historical views are entirely irrelevant for this policy – a person would only be refused treatment if they made openly discriminatory remarks to a staff member at that time,” a spokesman for NHS England, said to CNA. 

Taylor also clarified that certain medical conditions that may impact a person’s decision making skills or verbal filter would be considered when making a decision to deny care. 

“Things like the patient’s mental health, any sort of cognitive impairment will also be taken into account,” said the spokesman. “So someone showing obvious signs of dementia would not be refused treatment in this circumstance.”

Eastern Catholic bishops in US have particular pastoral concern for immigrants

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- In the United States, Eastern Catholics face many of the same challenges as Latin rite Catholics, but the Eastern Catholic Churches are particularly concerned about growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and the plight of Christians overseas, a Ukrainian Catholic archbishop said Wednesday.

The U.S.-based Eastern Catholic bishops are in Rome for their ad limina visit to the Vatican and to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul Feb. 17-21.

“I see [the ad limina visit] as a chance for discussion, but it’s also a chance for communion,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Ukrainian Archbishop of Philadelphia, told CNA Feb. 19.

The bishops met with a group from the Secretariat of State, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Feb. 19 for an hour and 45 minutes. Their meeting with Pope Francis will be Feb. 20.

“When you meet your father and when you meet in the family, it’s important to discuss different questions and the issues that arise, but it’s also important just to be together. That’s what this ad limina visit is like and I think that’s what our encounter with the Holy Father will be like tomorrow,” Gudziak said.

The archbishop is the metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches.

There are eparchies of 10 Eastern Catholic Churches in the US: Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Melkite, Syriac, Maronite, Armenian, Romanian, Syro-Malankara, Chaldean, and Syro-Malabar. Many of these serve large immigrant populations.

Gudziak said some of the concerns shared by all Catholic bishops in the U.S., and which were discussed in Wednesday’s meeting with Parolin, are “for the poor of America, the spread of gender ideology, and the safeguarding of all vulnerable people.”

Another two issues of importance, he said, are how to support priests and “how to help young people meet Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

“We breathe the same air that Roman Catholics breathe in the United States,” the archbishop said. “People are on the same internet and drinking the same Coca Cola, so we share these concerns.”

The Eastern bishops, however, have a particular pastoral concern for Catholic “immigrants and ensuring clergy and structures for them,” he stated.

According to Gudziak, the political situation in the U.S., especially in regard to immigrants, was one of the topics discussed with the Secretariat of State.

Gudziak pointed out that the actions, behavior, legislation, and quality of rhetoric in the political-social sphere in the United States is “quite distant” from the concerns of Christ in the Gospel and from what the Church teaches.

“I think the divisions in society are creeping into the Church and we become polarized.”

He noted: “We’re not expecting politicians to be saints but there are significant flaws across the political spectrum, whether it’s pro-life issues or aggression toward immigrants.”

Gudziak explained that the situation of immigrants touches the Eastern Catholic bishops personally, since they lead “quintessentially immigrant Churches, and not only in the past but today.”

He estimated that around 60% of his flock are recent immigrants fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

“For most of us our lands of origin are enduring great suffering,” Gudziak stated. “[There is the] Russian invasion in Ukraine, in the Middle East the Christians are decimated and leaving, fleeing the danger.”

“So, immigration is kind of a matrix of our reality, of our pastoral life. And the growing harshness of the rhetoric and the legislation about immigrants in the United States is something we are very troubled about.”

“We asked that the Holy See be as prophetic about this as possible,” he added.

“They are human beings, endowed with human dignity.”

He said the U.S. government’s increased vetting and denial of visas has also made it more difficult for Ukrainian priests to come to serve the growing Ukrainian immigrant populations.

According to the archbishop, in the past, when people have been underserved by their priests, they have left the Church, many joining the Orthodox.

The Eastern Catholic Churches are the final group of U.S. bishops to make the pilgrimage. The U.S. bishops began their visits, which typically take place every five years, in November 2019.

On Friday, Archbishop Gudziak will preside over a Divine Liturgy at San Clemente al Laterano. The Roman church, he said, is an important place for all Eastern Catholics, but Ukrainian Catholics in particular, because of its connection to the legacy of St. Clement and to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who brought the Gospel to the Slavic people.

“We will be praying for our Churches, our eparchies, our clergy, and our faithful, and young people…”

According to Gudziak “we’re living in a time of radical cultural change and there needs to be what Pope Francis calls a pastoral conversion.”

One of these changes, he explained, is the lack of a shared anthropology: “There isn’t one understanding of what a man or a woman is, marriage. If you don’t have common denominators in society around one of the most fundamental questions, what is humanity, there’s a lot of chaos.”
 
“Catholic teaching is pretty clear on these issues,” he said. “The Church needs to be a community of those who listen to the Word of God and share it in authentic friendship. We need to make sure the doctrine is correct; We also have to live very much according to what we preach.”

He said the abuse crisis is an example of this difference between “our sermons and our corporate culture.”

The bishops discussed at the Vatican “the fact that this is God’s Church,” he noted. “Really hoping that this time is a time of purification, where we’re losing illusions, any kind of hope that there’s a triumph in this world that we’re going to enjoy.”

“We are called more and more to swim against the current.”

Yemen war: A look at a 'serious humanitarian crisis'

Sanaa, Yemen, Feb 19, 2020 / 11:19 am (CNA).- Nearly 24 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to a Center of Strategic and International Studies report.

Speaking Jan. 9 to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis called the current situation in Yemen “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history.”

The Yemeni Civil War between a Saudi Arabian-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has left more than 100,000 dead since 2015, and millions more in need of basic food and medical necessities. Between Saudi air strikes on hospitals and schools and Houthi forces holding aid hostage, both sides of the conflict have violated international humanitarian law.

In his speech to diplomats last month the pope decried the “general indifference on the part of the international community” to the human suffering in Yemen.

The United Nations was $1.2 billion short of meeting its $4.2 billion goal for international donations to address the situation in Yemen in 2019. However, the greater challenge has been getting the existing food and medical aid to the millions of Yemeni people who need it.

Severe movement constraints on humanitarian organizations, aerial bombardments, and restrictions on importation has left 80% of Yemen’s population in need of food, fuel, and medicine, the CSIS Task Force on Humanitarian Access reported.

On Feb. 19, the Associated Press reported that half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs had been blocked by the Houthi rebels. The rebels had requested that 2% of the entire aid budget be given to them, heightening concerns that the rebels have been diverting humanitarian aid to fund the war.

“To implement a tax on humanitarian assistance are unacceptable and directly contradict international humanitarian principles,” a USAID spokesperson told the AP.

Because the UN and other donors refused to pay the 2% demand, more than 300,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children under 5 did not receive nutritional supplements for six months, a U.N. official said.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have attacked Yemeni hospitals, a breach of international humanitarian law. On Feb. 10, the UN reported that two more hospitals north of Marib City had been hit.

More than 19.7 million people in Yemen are in need of basic health care after the conflict severely damaged vital health care facilities.

A cholera outbreak in Yemen has affected tens of thousands of people, but cases of cholera have significantly declined since September 2019 when the World Health Organization reported 86,000 cases. In January 2020, WHO reported 35,000 suspected cholera cases in Yemen.

A UN spokesman reported Feb. 18 that aid staff have not heard reports of “famine-like conditions” in 2020 as they had in 2018. However, 7 million people in Yemen remain malnourished as the country relies on imports for 90% of its grain and other food supplies.

In early months of 2020, the conflict has displaced 26,800 people in northern Yemen, according to the UN.

In January 2020, a representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN spoke during an open debate at the UN Security Council.

Pope Francis is concerned about the continued “silence and indifference” on the situation in Yemen and concerned that the lack of international attention could allow further suffering and loss of life, Vatican diplomat Monsignor Fredrik Hansen told the Security Council.

The pope has often asked for prayers for the Yemeni people in his public audiences in recent years.

“Pray hard, because there are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have no medicine, and are in danger of death,” Pope Francis said during an Angelus prayer in February 2019.