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Context of pope’s ‘civil union’ documentary comment reported

CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 04:42 pm (CNA).-  

A fuller context of remarks from Pope Francis on civil unions in a recent documentary has emerged, while questions continue to surround the documentary, and the Vatican has not responded to requests for comment.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope is seen to say in a documentary released Wednesday, during a scene in which he talks about pastoral care for those who identify as LGBT.

“I stood up for that,” Pope Francis is seen to add.

The documentary, “Francesco,” made global headlines because of the pope’s apparent call for civil union legislation, a contrast to the position of his papal predecessors on the question.

While filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky told CNA and other journalists that Pope Francis made comments calling for the passage of civil union laws directly to him, it later emerged that the comments were actually part of a 2019 interview of Pope Francis conducted by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.

It was subsequently revealed that several sentences spoken by the pope in the documentary were spliced together, out of context, from the 2019 interview, and journalists have since then asked questions about the precise nature of the pope’s remarks on civil unions.

The civil union remark was not contained in the published version of Alazraki’s interview, and has not been available to the public. But America Magazine published Oct. 24 the apparent context of the pope’s remark on civil unions.

During a discussion on the pope’s opposition to a same-sex marriage proposal when he was an archbishop in Argentina, Alazraki asked Pope Francis if he had adopted more liberal positions after becoming pope, and if so, whether that was attributable to the Holy Spirit.

Alazraki  asked: “You waged a whole battle over egalitarian weddings, of couples of the same sex in Argentina. And later they say that you arrived here, they elected you pope and you appeared much more liberal than what you were in Argentina. Do you recognize yourself in this description that some people who knew you before make, and was it the grace of the Holy Spirit that gave you a boost? (laughs)”

According to America Magazine, the pope responded that: “The grace of the Holy Spirit certainly exists. I have always defended the doctrine. And it is curious that in the law on homosexual marriage…. It is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage. But what we have to have is a law of civil union (ley de convivencia civil), so they have the right to be legally covered.”

The last sentence was omitted when Alazraki's interview was broadcast in 2019.

It is not clear when the pope said “I stood up for that,” or if that sentence references the remark on civil unions. The magazine also did not indicate how it had obtained the footage omitted from the publicly aired interview.

A CNA analysis found that comments from the pope presented in the documentary before his remarks on civil unions were heavily edited, with various phrases from the 2019 interview strung together as presented as a cohesive whole.

The translation of the pope’s phrase “convivencia civil” has also been disputed.

Some commenters have suggested that the pope’s Spanish phrase is not properly translated as “civil union.” However, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, a long-time theological advisor to Pope Francis, posted on Facebook October 21 that civil unions is the correct translation. That post has since been deleted.

The Vatican press office has not responded to requests for clarification about the pope’s comments.


The Order of Malta: Serving in a time of crisis 

Vatican City, Oct 24, 2020 / 12:25 pm (CNA).-  

On October 23, CNA interviewed HE Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, about the religious order’s international work and ongoing process of constitutional reform. This is part one of that interview.

Doctors, hospitals, and governments across the world have struggled to respond to the still-unfolding coronavirus pandemic. Taking the strain along with them is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta – the thousand-year-old Catholic religious order, medical aid organization, and international diplomatic entity.

Present in 120 countries, with over 2,000 projects in the medical-social field, and more than 120,000 volunteers and medical staff, the order functions as an emergency relief organization in many developing areas and crisis zones.

As the order works to cope with increasing need for its services, it is also grappling with an ongoing process of internal reform. A years-long process to change the order’s governing constitution has been put on hold, following the death of the Grand Master, Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre, earlier this year, and the recent fall from grace of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom Pope Francis had named in 2017 as his personal delegate to oversee the order’s “moral and spiritual” renewal.

This week, CNA spoke to the order’s Grand Chancellor – effectively the chief operating officer - Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, about a crucial period for the historic order and its work.

Boeselager told CNA that, while it is in a time of flux at the top, the order remains focused on its medical mission during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The order fortunately is organized in a very horizontal way,” he said. “The situation [in the order’s headquarters in Rome] does not affect in any way the ongoing, many different services of the order – which as you can imagine are in many countries under great stress due to the corona crisis.”

During the pandemic, many national associations and relief corps of the order have scaled up or even launched new projects to help treat COVID-19 patients.

“It’s very, very different,” Boeselager said, explaining that the order has tried to retool its medical missions to respond to the global health crisis.

In Italy, coronavirus wards and hospitals have been set up by the order’s relief corps, and many facilities in Germany, France and other European countries are now dedicated to patients with coronavirus.

Boeselager said that most of the Order’s entities are supporting national health authorities in triage operations, transportation of patients, and in test administration. In Africa and Asia many other projects have been converted into health, sanitation and virus prevention schemes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We had to change many of our projects,” he said. “Even if Africa is not so much affected by the incidence of the illness, the precautionary measures [taken by local governments] are quite similar – in many countries we have the great challenge to get food to children who would normally have one or two meals a day in schools, which are now closed. These were the only substantial meals for many, many of those children.”

Working in Italy, where a second wave of the virus has caused a surge in cases, the order’s volunteer corps set up two dedicated field hospitals for coronavirus patients which came online towards the end of the first peak in the spring.

“When they were first opened [at the end of the first wave],” Boeselager told CNA, “they were not much needed anymore, but they may be needed again now. The hospital in Milan is already being prepared to receive patients again.”

Further from its base in Rome, but closer to its historical roots in the Middle East, Boeselager explained that the order remained deeply committed to its work in Lebanon, where overflow from the Syria civil war has taken a rolling toll on the country and triggered an ongoing refugee crisis. More recently, a massive explosion in the capital Beirut decimated large parts of the city, triggering further economic crisis and the resignation of the government.

“The crisis in the Middle East is the core of our concern,” Boeselager told CNA. “We have huge activities in Lebanon, Iraq, and also some in Syria.”

Boeselager said the order’s Lebanese association is “probably the only organization with good contacts with all of the eighteen other confessions in the country.”

“We run nine clinics, some of them as formal joint ventures with Sunnis, Shi’ites, and the Druze. In the south, we have a clinic in cooperation with the Shi’ites, where the nurses are Muslim and wear the burqa, but on the burqa is the cross of the order!”

The still-ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria has had a deep impact on Lebanon. Boeselager told CNA the order had set up a clinic in a heavily Sunni area on the northern border with Syria.

The order is unique in that, while it has no territory, it is a sovereign entity under international law – with its own passports, diplomatic relationships, and permanent observer status at the United Nations. Boeselager said that this diplomatic independence was crucial to is ability to work in war-torn regions like the Syrian border, without be perceived as a tool of any side of government.

“We were warned about going there,” he told CNA, “because it was said it would be too dangerous for Christians, and we were advised not to put the cross of the order on the mobile clinic.”

In fact, after the order established its presence in the region, it found that its Christian presence was not only accepted but adopted as an essential part of bringing peace to the area.

“After four weeks of operation, the elder of the local village asked us to put the cross up on the clinic to have it better visible and protected because the order is so respected. And then we were told that in the small waiting room, one day they found leaders of three different rebel groups meeting under pretext of needing medical care to discuss ceasefires.”

Boeselager said the order’s diplomatic neutrality and Christian identity among the different Muslim groups, is essential, not just for delivering its humanitarian aid but also for fostering peace.

“People in armed conflict have a sixth sense,” he said. “They know somebody is there only to help, or whether there is a hidden other agenda.”

“This is where you see our status in international law becomes so important,” he said. “You can see also how the religious identity is important, because in most Muslim countries – not in all – it is easier to work for a Christian organization than a secular organization.”

“Historically, the service to the poor is first,” said Boeselager, “this has always been in the foreground for us.”

“This and the order’s call to promoting, witnessing, protecting the faith are two sides of the same coin. It is creating a space where the faith can be promoted and is possible. The way the order promotes the faith is in combination in its work.”

“We are not theologians, we are not liturgists, our vocation is to promote the faith and serve the poor together.”


Financial and operational questions surround Scholas Occurentes pontifical foundation

CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).-  

The Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurentes, which is charged with promoting education in underserved and poor communities, has received millions in donations and agreements with organizations in recent years, without having built any schools in underserved neighborhoods.

The Scholas Occurentes foundation was formally established in 2015, with backing from Pope Francis, who has encouraged throughout his pontificate a “poor Church for the poor.” In 2015 two arms of the foundation were registered, one in Argentina and one in Spain, and were recognized by Pope Francis with the title “Foundation of Pontifical Law.”

Among the foundation’s purposes are “to promote, improve education and achieve the integration of communities, with a focus on those with fewer resources", as well as "promote awareness campaigns on human values."

The organization, focused on education, has not erected or established any schools. It has instead established numerous headquarters offices and reached agreements giving it a presence in schools and universities.

The “University of Sense,” one of Schola Occurentes’ most recent projects, has among its exhibitors well-known supporters of the legalization of abortion and promoters of gender ideology in the world.

The University of Sense project is designed, according to its website, “ to educate in the ultimate responsibility of every human being: to listen to what surrounds us - to listen to the other, to the earth, to life - to give to each moment an original response - that of a new story, that of a new culture. To educate on the possibility of jumping into the open, to fulfill the call of life: the unfolding of its mystery that offers us meaning. Sense that each one names unique and, therefore, that each one embodies beauty.”

Among presenters in the project are the writer Luisa Valanzuela and the philosopher Darío Sztajnszrajber, who have publicly spoken in favor of abortion, and a priest, Fr. Hugo Mujica, who has lamented that Pope Francis has not lived up to expectations of liberalizing sacramental discipline in the Church.

At the end of September, the Catholic University of Valencia in Spain agreed to be the official headquarters of the University of Sense.

The University of Sense is one part of a very broad Scholas Occurentes network.

According to its website, Scholas Occurrentes has offices in Argentina, Chile, Vatican City, Colombia, Spain, the United States, Haiti, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal and Romania. Its presence extends to a “network in 190 countries, integrating more than 400,000 educational centers and reaching more than one million children and young people around the world,” the website says.

The Scholas Occurrentes board of trustees consists of José María del Corral as president, the Argentine member of the Vatican curia Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo as vice president, Enrique Adolfo Palmeyro as secretary, and Marta Simoncelli as vice secretary.

The support of Pope Francis has allowed Scholas Occurrentes , despite its short existence, to enter into agreements and receive donations from large companies and high-level public institutions.

In each of its public financial statements for 2016, 2017, and 2018 there is an agreement with Football Club Barcelona, ​​Lionel Messi's team, valued each year at 30,000 euros. In the 2019 economic report, the 30,000 euros from FC Barcelona were recorded as a donation. Another Spanish sports team, Club Atlético de Madrid, donated 460,000 euros in 2017.

In the organization’s 2015 financial statement, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is recorded to have made a donation of about 324,000 euros.

In 2019 the organization  also registered an agreement with the Ministry of Education of Haiti, for 323,951 euros. In the same year, it also received a donation from the Air Europa airline for about 735,000 euros,

Scholas also has an agreement of almost one million euros with Origen Worldwide, a marketing and communication company based in Madrid, Spain.

Other public and private organizations with which Scholas has entered into agreements or received donations include Paul David Hewson, the singer and vocalist of the rock band U2 known as Bono; the Santander Bank; the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires; PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world's leading consulting firms; Disney Worldwide; the Mexican Agency for international cooperation for development; the Office of the First Lady of the Dominican Republic; the Inter-American Development Bank; Mercedes Benz Argentina; Microsoft and the San Pablo CEU University Foundation.

According to reports not included in the officially published financial statements, Scholas Occurrentes has used millions to pay unspecified fees, and hundreds of thousands to support its offices and the travel of its workers.

According to the document entitled “Fundación Scholas Ocurrentes - Scholas Consolidado (USD): Scholas Argentina. Statement of income and expenses from Jan 2016 to Dec 2016," the organization spent in that year, only in the Argentine headquarters, almost $5.2 million dollars in "professional fees " and another million in "temporary fees."

The document also indicates that more than $448,000 were used for "salaries and social charges."

In “office rentals”, Scholas Occurrentes spent more than $324,000 that year. Another $300,000 went to mobile telephone expenses.

As total income, “gross profit”, the pontifical foundation registered that year in its Argentine headquarters more than $12 million.

In its "Abbreviated Report as of December 31, 2017", which is not published on the group’s website, Scholas Occurrentes indicates that it allocated 903 thousand euros to "travel expenses" in 2016 and more than 912 thousand euros in 2017.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 30.8% of the population of Latin America lives in poverty, below the threshold of $1.90 per day.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 14 million children and adolescents between 7 and 18 years of age are out of the educational system in Latin America.

It is not clear how the projects offered by Scholas Occurents intend to address those populations.

Among the events that can be found in the 2019 Scholas yearbook are concerts, camps, a project “Programming for Peace” that does not explain how students from low-income schools could access technology, as well as an “Online Marathon on Bullying and Cyberbullying.”

The organization’s projects, including the University of Sense, offer online programs, but do not address how those in the world’s poorest groups, which disproportionately lack internet access, should participate.

A UNICEF report from August this year revealed that " at least a third of school-age children around the world did not have access to distance education during the closure of schools due to COVID-19."

One of the main causes for the lack of access to distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico, one of the countries where Scholas Occurrentes has installed a headquarters, was “ the lack of a computer or internet ”, according to a study carried out by the Universidad Iberoamericana .

According to UNICEF, the “minimum percentage of school-age children without access to distance education” is above 40% in Africa, while in South Asia it is 38%. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia it is at 34%, while in Latin America and the Caribbean at 9%.

In total, the United Nations organization indicated, there are 463 million minors who cannot access distance education around the world.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, contacted Scholas Occurrentes on September 15 , through Virginia Priano, director of communications for the pontifical foundation.

After two weeks, with several exchanges of emails, WhatsApp messages and phone calls, the organization's executives did not respond to questions from ACI Prensa about pro-abortion and gender ideology speakers convened for the University of Sense.

On September 29, after the publication of an article on the organization’s classes, ACI Prensa sent new questions to Virginia Priano, this time about the financial management and considerable expenses of Scholas Occurrentes in fees, travel, offices and telephony.

Priano sent a brief greeting message to ACI Prensa on September 30 via WhatsApp, but was not in contact with ACI Prensa again. Days later, the Argentine telephone number through which the communication had been made became inactive. Calls and messages to the Italian telephone of the director of communications of Scholas Occurrentes have not been answered, as well as the various emails sent this month.

ACI Prensa asked Scholas Occurentes how it would explain to poor families with limited access to education that an organization encouraged by the pope to undertake education initiatives has spend millions on fees, and hundreds of thousands on offices and telephones.

ACI Prensa also asked whether the group will develop a specific program for the construction of schools and access to education for poor minors or a scholarship program. It also asked the cost of the University of Sense, and how much Scholas Occurrentes paid to the consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers design of the Ágora Project.

Among other internal documents of Scholas Occurrentes to which ACI Prensa had access is the “Ágora Project. Creation of a World Social Network based on Education: Scholas,” which dates back to 2015 and is marked “strictly private and confidential.”

The Ágora Project proposes a growth and financing model for Scholas Occurentes that sheds light on its current operation.

In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers pointed out that the Scholas fundraising model had been generated “spontaneously and opportunistically”, which is why it proposed new mechanisms to achieve “continue with Scholas' activity, consolidate the countries in which they are present and invest in the generation of other sources of financing. ”

In one of its first pages, the project acknowledges that “the pope is a key asset for Scholas and therefore a development model is necessary that allows Scholas Global to have broad control over the use of his image in all its chapters / venues.”

For this reason, the document indicates, it is important "to maintain control over the image and reputation of the Foundation and the Pope."

"Avoiding reputational risk is, for Scholas (...) a priority task," the confidential document reads.

A version of this report was first published as a series by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Pope Francis meets with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

Vatican City, Oct 24, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the Vatican Saturday.

The Vatican said Oct. 24 that the pope received the Socialist leader in a private audience for approximately 35 minutes at the Apostolic Palace. 

In improvised remarks that were captured on video, the pope reflected on the vocation of politicians and highlighted the dangers of ideological thinking.

“It is very sad when ideologies take over the interpretation of a nation, a country, and disfigure the homeland,” he said.

Sánchez later held talks with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister.

“The talks in the Secretariat of State focused on bilateral relations and issues of common interest that concern the Holy See and Spain,” the Holy See press office said.

“The opportunity for constant dialogue between the local Church and government authorities was also emphasized.”

“Finally, some international issues were discussed, such as the current health emergency, the process of European integration, and migration.”

Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, has previously clashed with the Church in Spain over religious instruction in schools and euthanasia, among other issues. 

In July, he claimed that Pope Francis had intervened to help the government carry out the controversial exhumation of the body of Francisco Franco, Spain’s ruler from 1939 to 1975, from the Valley of the Fallen on Oct. 24, 2019.

This prompted the Holy See to issue a statement insisting that it had never “made any declaration on either the exhumation or the place of burial, because it is not part of its competency.”

“On the question of Francisco Franco’s exhumation, [the Holy See] has repeated on various occasions its respect for the legality and the decisions of the competent governmental and judicial authorities,” it said.

During his audience with Pope Francis, Sánchez gave the pope a facsimile of a Book of Hours by Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, a counselor to Ferdinand and Isabella, the 15th-century Catholic Monarchs of Spain.

The pope gave Sánchez a copy of his encyclicals, as well as a bronze relief. The artwork, by Daniela Fusco in collaboration with Michele Palazzetti, expresses the themes of mercy, welcome, and fraternity, according to the Vatican.

Pedro Sánchez ha regalado al Papa un facsímil del Libro de horas del obispo Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca. Y el #Papa una copia de sus Encíclicas y este relieve de bronce con “mensaje”, símbolo de misericordia, acogida y fraternidad. pic.twitter.com/8ZXM1hw8ud

— Eva Fernández (@evaenlaradio) October 24, 2020  

The relief depicts a mother with a child in her arms at the entrance to the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square. Behind her, there are other migrants in a boat on the water. Two hands are joined in front of the mother and child. 

Beneath are written the words “Riempiamo le mani di altre mani” (“Let’s fill our hands with other hands”), which the Vatican said referred to the pope’s appeals to welcome others and show mercy.

After the audience, Sánchez expressed gratitude for his meeting with the pope. 

“We agreed to address the crisis caused by COVID-19 from a multilateralist perspective and with a social outlook; protecting the most vulnerable and moving forward, all of society united, towards a more just and solidary world,” he wrote on Twitter. 

Camden diocese dedicates youth center to Blessed Carlo Acutis

CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Bishop of Camden blessed a retreat center earlier this month, naming it for newly Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who dedicated his talents to sharing his love for the Eucharist.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan led the inauguration of the Blessed Carlo Acutis Youth Center in Absecon, 50 miles southeast of Camden, Oct. 8. He was joined by numerous students from Holy Spirit High School.

The event also involved Father Perry Cherubini, the president of Holy Spirit; Father Joshua Nevitt, the school’s director of Catholic identity; and Father Cosme de la Pena, pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.

Located across the street from the high school, the Blessed Carlo Acutis Youth Center was previously used as a convent.

Bishop Sullivan said Acutis’ example is a demonstration that senior citizens, “goody-two-shoes,” or priests are not the only people who can lead a life of holiness. He focused on the young saint’s youthful and humble piety as well as his dedication to the Eucharist and the poor.

“Holiness is possible for you,” the bishop told the high school students, noting that the young Italian was buried wearing sneakers and jeans. He stressed the value of using modern communication means to spread the faith.

Blessed Acutis died from leukemia at the age of 15 in 2006, and was beatified at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 10. Born in 1991, Acutis is the first millennial to be beatified.

The beatification drew an estimated 3,000 people to Assisi, including Acutis’ friends, family, and pilgrims inspired by his witness. The feast day of Carlo Acutis will be observed Oct. 12.

The young Italian had enjoyed computer science and video games. However, he also used his computer programming skills to spread devotion to the Eucharist and offered his suffering from cancer for the Church.

“Since he was a child … he had his gaze turned to Jesus. Love for the Eucharist was the foundation that kept alive his relationship with God. He often said ‘The Eucharist is my highway to heaven’,” Cardinal Agostino Vallini said in his homily for the beatification.

“Carlo felt a strong need to help people discover that God is close to us and that it is beautiful to be with him to enjoy his friendship and his grace.”

Pope Francis names new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Vatican City, Oct 24, 2020 / 04:06 am (CNA).- Pope Francis named Italian Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa as the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Saturday.

Pizzaballa has served as apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem since 2016, while the office of Latin Patriarch has remained vacant. 

The Oct. 24 appointment ends a four-year wait for the estimated 293,000 Latin Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Cyprus for a new patriarch. 

Pizzaballa, a 55-year-old Franciscan friar, has lived in the Holy Land since 1990. The former Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land succeeds Jordanian-born Patriarch Emeritus Fouad Twal, who led the patriarchate from 2008 to 2016.

When Pizzaballa was appointed apostolic administrator, the Latin Patriarchate was on the verge of bankruptcy from debts amounting to more than $100 million.

In an interview with EWTN News in Rome on Wednesday, Pizzaballa said: “They have been four difficult years. I had a very clear mandate: first to put order in the administration.”

He reorganized the patriarchate’s financial management, put in place new internal and external controls, and created more transparency.

He was able to pay the debt with help from international donations, by cutting expenses, and with some property sales in Nazareth.

As apostolic administrator, Pizzaballa oversaw the patriarchate together with the Italian-born auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, whose resignation, for the reason of age, was accepted by Pope Francis in August.

Pizzaballa -- who speaks Italian, Hebrew, and English -- told EWTN News that he was also given the task of improving the pastoral situation in the Holy Land, including creating more unity among the priests and the different Christian communities in Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Cyprus.

He wanted to show “what we have in common,” he said. “And to create understanding, trust, among the different communities in the same diocese.”

“In the beginning, it was very difficult. But once we have been transparent, I felt that all the community was very supportive and so we could overcome all our problems and turn the page finally,” he said.

Pizzaballa was born in Cologno al Serio, Bergamo, Italy, on April 21, 1965. He joined the Franciscans in 1984, making his solemn profession in 1989. He was ordained to the priesthood on September 15, 1990. A month later, he moved to the Holy Land, studying biblical theology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.

He served as Vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for the pastoral care of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. He oversaw the publication of the Roman Missal in Hebrew in 1995.

He was Custos of the Holy Land -- the major superior of the Friars Minor in the Middle East -- from 2004 to 2016. He was appointed apostolic administrator sede vacante of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on June 24, 2016.

One of Pizzaballa’s most pressing challenges as Latin Patriarch will be to help Latin Catholics in the Holy Land to weather the coronavirus crisis, which has had a severe economic impact on the community.

The Latin Patriarchate welcomed the news of Pizzaballa’s appointment.

“With feelings of joy and gratitude, the family of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Amman, Nazareth, and Cyprus, in particular the bishops, patriarchal vicars, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious men and women, consecrated men and women, the People of God in all the parishes as well as the workers in the diocesan institutions, congratulates the new Patriarch wishing His Beatitude success in carrying out his exceptional responsibilities, especially in these unusual circumstances,” the patriarchate said in an Oct. 24. statement.

“May His Beatitude be granted good health and divine blessing to continue serving our Local Church, while promoting peace, justice, and reconciliation.”

Analysis: How the Washington Post is opening the path to use the pope against the Catholic Church

Denver Newsroom, Oct 23, 2020 / 11:05 pm (CNA).-  

Amid an international fracas over Pope Francis’ words on civil unions in a newly released documentary, the pope’s remarks have begun to be used to criticize Catholic organizations facing ongoing religious liberty challenges in the U.S. – despite the pope’s very public alignment with these organizations on the issues of same sex marriages and adoptions.

In “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, Pope Francis called for the passage of civil union laws, saying that homosexual couples need to be “covered” by the state.

The pope also affirmed that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” emphasizing that “nobody should be thrown out” of a family because of homosexuality, or “be made miserable.” Since the documentary’s release, those remarks have been proven to relate to children ostracized in their families because of their sexual orientation, while in the film they are presented absent this context, the result of heavy editing, with ambiguous implications.

The pope’s remarks have been distorted  to suggest a tacit endorsement of adoption by same-sex couples, something Pope Francis has actually consistently opposed during – and prior to– his pontificate.

The Supreme Court is set to hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia on Nov. 4, a case that could impact faith-based adoption and foster care agencies affected by state and local non-discrimination ordinances around the country.
In 2018, the city of Philadelphia notified Catholic Social Services, as well as Bethany Christian Services, that their policies of not working with same-sex couples on foster care placements were discriminatory; the city stopped contracting with both services.

Catholic Social Services declined to alter its policy and has not had any new foster care placements through the city.

Litigation against the city was filed by Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, who have fostered more than 40 children. The lawsuit has now made its way to the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post’s editorial board commented on the case:

“The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a case about whether a Catholic social services agency is entitled to continue receiving public funds if it refuses to place children in foster care with same-sex couples. Is the church’s position in that case consistent with the pope’s humane assessment that all people are entitled to enjoy the blessings of family life?”

The Post’s editorial did not reference the Pope’s clear record on the issue of such adoptions.  

The pope does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples. He has said that through such adoptions children are “deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God.” He has also said that “every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.”

In fact, according to a long-time theological advisor of the pope, Archbishop Victor Fernandez, the pope’s long-standing opposition to gay marriage is, in part, motivated by his basic Catholic understanding that children should have both a mother and a father. In Argentina, it is well known that Francis’ openness to a civil union law in 2010 was based on his hope that compromise on civil unions would forestall gay marriage, and with it the redefinition of the family.

Efforts to redefine the family through same-sex marriage, Francis said in 2015, “threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”

Despite that evidence, it seems unlikely that the Washington Post will be the last outlet or organization to make use of the pope’s words to suggest that Catholic organizations should change their policies.

While his meaning was not the same, the pope’s assertion that same-sex couples “have a right to a family,” makes use of a phrase that has been used by LGBT activists in many countries for the past two decades to insist on the legal right for gay couples to adopt. That phrase, quite apart from the context, is almost certain to become a rallying cry for advocates who want to claim falsely the pope’s support for their initiatives, both in the U.S., and elsewhere.

On Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro asked his country’s legislature to consider a same-sex marriage bill, citing the words of the pope. In the developing world, Maduro will not be the last politician to use that approach.

While spin is rampant, and is likely to increase, and while the Holy See has yet to address the controversy, one thing is clear: there is no evidence to suggest that pope has deviated from his long and public opposition to same sex marriage and adoption by same sex couples.  


Former spiritual director of 'Medjugorje visionaries' excommunicated

CNA Staff, Oct 23, 2020 / 05:48 pm (CNA).- A laicized priest who had been the spiritual director to six people who said they experienced visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Bosnian town of Medjugorje has been excommunicated.

Tomislav Vlasic, who had been a Franciscan priest until he was laicized in 2009, was excommunicated July 15 by a decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican. The excommunication was announced this week by the Diocese of Brescia, Italy, where the laicized priest lives.

The Brescia diocese said that since his laicization, Vlasic “has continued to carry out apostolic activities with individuals and groups, through conferences and online; he has continued to present himself as a religious and priest of the Catholic Church, simulating the celebration of sacraments.”

The diocese said Vlasic has been the source of “serious scandal to Catholics,” by disobeying the directives of ecclesiastical authorities.

When he was laicized, Vlasic was forbidden from teaching or engaging in apostolic work, and especially from teaching about Medjugorje.

He was in 2009 accused of teaching false doctrine, manipulating consciences, disobeying ecclesiastical authority, and of committing acts of sexual misconduct.

A person who is excommunicated is prohibited from receiving the sacramentals until the penalty has been lifted.

Alleged Marian apparitions in Medjugorje have long been a subject of controversy in the Church, which have been investigated by the Church but not yet authenticated or rejected.

The alleged apparitions began June 24, 1981, when six children in Medjugorje, a town in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, began to experience phenomena which they have claimed to be apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to these six “seers,” the apparitions contained a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.

Since their beginning, the alleged apparitions have been a source of both controversy and conversion, with many flocking to the city for pilgrimage and prayer, and some claiming to have experienced miracles at the site, while many others claim the visions are non-credible.

In January 2014, a Vatican commission concluded a nearly four-year-long investigation on the doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the Medjugorje apparitions, and submitted a document to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

When the congregation has analyzed the commission’s findings, it will finalize a document on the alleged apparitions, which will be submitted to the pope, who will make a final decision.

Pope Francis approved Catholic pilgrimages to Medjugorje in May 2019, but he has not made a deliberation on the authenticity of the apparitions.

Those alleged apparitions “still require an examination by the Church,” papal spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement May 12, 2019.

The pope permitted pilgrimages “as an acknowledgment of the “abundant fruits of grace” that have come from Medjugorje and to promote those “good fruits.” It is also part of the "particular pastoral attention" of Pope Francis to the place, Gisotti said.

Pope Francis visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2015 but declined to stop in Medjugorje during his trip. During his return flight to Rome, he indicated that the process of investigation in the apparitions was nearly complete.

On the return flight from a visit to the Marian shrine of Fatima in May 2017, the pope spoke about the final document of the Medjugorje commission, sometimes referred to as the “Ruini report,” after the head of the commission, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, calling it “very, very good,” and noting a distinction between the first Marian apparitions at Medjugorje and the later ones.

“The first apparitions, which were to children, the report more or less says that these need to continue being studied,” he said, but as for “presumed current apparitions, the report has its doubts,” the pope said.

Santa Fe archdiocese again suspending public Mass

Denver Newsroom, Oct 23, 2020 / 04:37 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is indefinitely suspending all public Masses after the weekend, citing rising COVID-19 cases in New Mexico and the approaching flu season.

The archdiocese’s schools may remain open.

In an Oct. 22 letter, Archbishop John Wester directed that all scheduled Masses be livestreamed or recorded starting Oct. 25. He said churches may remain open for private prayer, as long as people remain masked and socially distanced.

Funerals should be “delayed if possible,” with funeral rites without a Mass having ten or fewer people present, and anointing of the sick may continue “with due care,” he added.

Archbishop Wester said that “hospitals are also reaching maximum capacity for treating patients.”

The archbishop said there has been “no significant increase in the number of cases in our Catholic schools,” and thus Catholic schools may remain open “in accordance with the judgment of the pastor, superintendent and principals.” He said schools should prepare to provide online instruction if the need arises.

The archdiocese did not respond to CNA’s inquiry about whether there have been any outbreaks of the virus associated with the celebration of Mass in the archdiocese.

Since May 16-17, churches in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe have been allowed to reopen for the public celebration of Mass in line with phase one of the governor’s reopening guidelines, initially allowing for attendance set at 10% of building capacity, which was later expanded to 25%.

Under guidelines posted on the archdiocesan website, various restrictions on the celebration of the liturgy remain in place, including a prohibition on congregants singing.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has not issued any new orders telling houses of worship in the state to close again, but urged all residents Oct. 23 to “stay home,” to wear a mask, and to avoid crowds.

Medical experts have told CNA that the celebration of Mass during the pandemic in the United States has been shown to be safe as long as safety guidelines are followed.

In August, doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak authored an article for Real Clear Science on Mass attendance and COVID-19. At that point, the doctors said, Catholic parishes had celebrated over a million public Masses in the United States since shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

At the time of their writing, “for Catholic churches following guidelines, no outbreaks of COVID-19 have been linked to church attendance.” Even in a few cases where asymptomatic infected individuals attended Mass, following the guidelines prevented outbreaks: maintaining distance, mask wearing, and washing hands.

“The few churches that have been reported as sources of COVID-19 outbreaks did not follow social distancing or require masks; they also promoted congregational singing,” the doctors stated.

The doctors said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed.

In July priests in the archdiocese were warned they could lose the faculty to preach if they give homilies longer than five minutes.

Fr. Glennon Jones, archdiocesan vicar general, wrote in a July 31 memo to priests that the chancery had “received reports of some homilies going on for well over the 5-minute limit set by the Archbishop.”

“If such homilies continue, [Archbishop John Wester] will consider severer [sic] actions for subject clergy,” Fr. Jones wrote, “up to and including possible suspension of the faculty to preach.”

Lujan Grisham announced new coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, museums, and stores Oct. 20.

Retail businesses in the state will have to close by 10 pm daily, and state-operated museums and historical sites will be required to shut down completely, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

New Mexico recorded 827 new cases Oct. 21, a single-day record.

Public schools in the state have reported 264 COVID-19 cases in 157 schools, with 157 infected staff members and 97 infected students, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Lujan Grisham had closed non-essential businesses March 24, and banned “mass gatherings” of five or more people in the state.

Churches were initially exempt from the ban, although all of New Mexico’s Catholic dioceses stopped public Masses by the end of March to help curb the spread of the virus.

On April 11, Lujan Grisham extended the ban on “mass gatherings” to include houses of worship.

On April 15, Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces announced that he would resume public Masses, being the first US diocese to reopen public Masses. He allowed for Masses to be offered outdoors with attendees spaced more than six feet apart, or inside churches with fewer than five people present.

Argentine bishops call bill to legalize abortion ‘untenable’

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 23, 2020 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Argentina have blasted a plan to introduce an abortion legalization bill in the country, saying it is “untenable and inappropriate” to prioritize abortion during an ongoing pandemic.

An advisor to President Alberto Fernández announced that an abortion legalization bill would be introduced in the legislature at the end of October, El Día newspaper reported.

Fernández, who took office last year, has pledged to legalize abortion in Argentina. The country currently allows abortion in cases when the mother's life or health is in danger, or in cases of rape.

A legislative debate on the legalization of abortion was originally planned in March, but was postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Just as the dignity of life and the promotion of human rights are central concepts in an authentically democratic agenda,” the Catholic bishops’ conference said in an Oct. 22 statement, “the general public health situation…makes any attempt to introduce and discuss a law like this untenable and inappropriate.”

The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the state’s duty to care for the life and health of its people, the bishops said, and “not taking care of all lives, all Life, would be a very serious fault by a State that wants to protect its inhabitants.”

The bishops called for “political prudence” aimed at fostering unity in a wounded society.

“When the spirit of Argentines overcomes extreme situations with patience, ingenuity and hope –even in the face of families losing their loved ones; when we suffer from the humiliating increase in the number of ever poorer households; in a school year that left a large number of students on the sidelines and exposed the inequality of resources and means; when heroic healthcare workers, exhausted by superhuman effort, cry out to us to care for life; common sense - which abounds in ordinary people - reveals to us that there is no place to think about legislation that contradicts the discourse that says that taking care of all Argentines is a priority,” they said.

Other pro-life groups also criticized the plan to move forward with a legislative debate regarding abortion.

“Seriously, is abortion a priority in the middle of a crisis?” the group Prolife Unity said on social media. “Argentines need a State that takes care of them, that lifts them out of poverty and doesn’t abandon them. Abortion was not and is not a priority.”

Pro-life organizations have planned a pro-life caravan to drive by the Quinta de Olivos presidential residence on October 24 to protest the upcoming debate and possible legalization of abortion.