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New Mexico Senate blocks repeal of state abortion ban

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal to repeal the state’s law criminalizing abortion, which dates to 1969. The state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the law’s repeal.

Eight Democrats joined all 16 Republicans in opposing House Bill 51, voting it down 24-18. The House of Representatives passed the bill last month, and Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had promised to sign the measure into law.

At issue is a New Mexico law which makes it is a felony for any doctor to perform abortions, except in instances of congenital abnormalities, rape, and a danger to the woman’s health. The law has not been enforced since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

Democratic Sen. Gabriel Ramos reportedly cited his religious beliefs and the Catholic Church before voting against House Bill 51, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“This is one of the toughest decisions any of us will ever have to make,” he was quoted as saying in the Journal.

“I stand unified against legislation that weakens the defense of life and threatens the dignity of the human being.”

The debate over the bill lasted for hours and featured emotional and sometimes tearful testimonies from both opponents and supporters, the Journal reported.

Advocates for House Bill 51 had expressed concern about a possible repeal of Roe v. Wade. Representative Joanne Ferrary, co-sponsor of the bill, has said the bill was a necessary protection to ensure abortion services are “safe and legal.”

"It is time to remove this archaic law from New Mexico's books," she said, according to Las Cruces Sun News.

"With the threat of a Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe, we need to pass this bill to protect health care providers and keep abortion safe and legal.”

In a Jan. 7 statement ahead of the House passing the bill, Bishop James Wall of Gallup voiced his opposition and encouraged lawmakers to focus on policies that support human prosperity at all stages of life.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” he said.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living.”

Eight other states have laws that would also ban abortion and four additional states have “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

New Mexico Senate blocks repeal of state abortion ban

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal to repeal the state’s law criminalizing abortion, which dates to 1969. The state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the law’s repeal.

Eight Democrats joined all 16 Republicans in opposing House Bill 51, voting it down 24-18. The House of Representatives passed the bill last month, and Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had promised to sign the measure into law.

At issue is a New Mexico law which makes it is a felony for any doctor to perform abortions, except in instances of congenital abnormalities, rape, and a danger to the woman’s health. The law has not been enforced since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

Democratic Sen. Gabriel Ramos reportedly cited his religious beliefs and the Catholic Church before voting against House Bill 51, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“This is one of the toughest decisions any of us will ever have to make,” he was quoted as saying in the Journal.

“I stand unified against legislation that weakens the defense of life and threatens the dignity of the human being.”

The debate over the bill lasted for hours and featured emotional and sometimes tearful testimonies from both opponents and supporters, the Journal reported.

Advocates for House Bill 51 had expressed concern about a possible repeal of Roe v. Wade. Representative Joanne Ferrary, co-sponsor of the bill, has said the bill was a necessary protection to ensure abortion services are “safe and legal.”

"It is time to remove this archaic law from New Mexico's books," she said, according to Las Cruces Sun News.

"With the threat of a Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe, we need to pass this bill to protect health care providers and keep abortion safe and legal.”

In a Jan. 7 statement ahead of the House passing the bill, Bishop James Wall of Gallup voiced his opposition and encouraged lawmakers to focus on policies that support human prosperity at all stages of life.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” he said.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living.”

Eight other states have laws that would also ban abortion and four additional states have “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

Michigan governor asks for additional $2m to investigate clergy sex abuse

Lansing, Mich., Mar 15, 2019 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the state’s ongoing sex abuse investigation into Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses.

Spurred by the release of the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania last year, which documented hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse that took place over several decades in almost every diocese in the state, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the state’s own investigation in August 2018.

This week, Whitmer asked the state legislature for additional funding to cover the costs of the rest of the investigation, which is expected to last two years, The Detroit News reported.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, told The Detroit News that while the investigation had thus far been covered internally by the state department, “the sheer size and scope of the investigation requires that we ask the Legislature to appropriate funds for this project.”

Rossman-McKinney told The Detroit News that the requested funding would come from state settlements, and would be used to cover “additional investigatory resources and victims’ advocacy services,” pending approval by the state legislature.

The investigation covers all seven Catholic dioceses in the state - Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and Detroit - and includes cases of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s.

After the announcement of the investigation in the fall of 2018, the dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit said at the time that they “looked forward” to cooperating with state officials and actively participating in the investigation. The archdiocese also emphasized its confidence in its safe environment practices already in place, but added that the investigation would be the next step toward healing.

While the dioceses have pledged cooperation, in a press conference last month, Nessel warned dioceses against “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements with victims, and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with state authorities.

The Archdiocese of Detroit countered that Nessel was making “broad generalizations” and that she should clarify which dioceses, if any, were being uncooperative.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit does not self-police,” the archdiocese said Feb. 21. “We encourage all victims to report abuse directly to law enforcement.”

“Clergy with credible accusations against them do not belong in ministry,” it added. “Since the attorney general’s investigation began, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not received notification from that office regarding credible accusations against any of our priests. Should we become aware of such a complaint, we will act immediately.”

The Detroit archdiocese noted its support for mandatory sex abuse reporting laws and its efforts to widely publicize the state’s sex abuse tip-line. It added that the archdiocese places no time limits on the reporting of sex abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other personnel. The archdiocese added that the attorney general’s office has not asked it to stop internal review processes.

Other dioceses responded in kind, asking for clarification and reiterating their dedication to cooperation and transparency.

Each diocese was subject to a raid by state authorities last October as part of the investigation, for which the dioceses pledged full cooperation, including Saginaw, which had undergone an earlier, local raid in March, in which local authorities cited a lack of cooperation from diocesan officials.

In a statement, Saginaw emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the state raids in October.

According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Attorney General’s office has received approximately 360 complaints since the investigation began in August.

Last year the state extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years in criminal cases, and 10 in civil. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim's 28th birthday.

State officials have urged victims of clergy abuse or those with tips pertinent to the investigation to file complaints with the clergy abuse hotline at (1-844-324-3374) or online at mi.gov/clergyabuse.

Michigan governor asks for additional $2m to investigate clergy sex abuse

Lansing, Mich., Mar 15, 2019 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the state’s ongoing sex abuse investigation into Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses.

Spurred by the release of the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania last year, which documented hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse that took place over several decades in almost every diocese in the state, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the state’s own investigation in August 2018.

This week, Whitmer asked the state legislature for additional funding to cover the costs of the rest of the investigation, which is expected to last two years, The Detroit News reported.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, told The Detroit News that while the investigation had thus far been covered internally by the state department, “the sheer size and scope of the investigation requires that we ask the Legislature to appropriate funds for this project.”

Rossman-McKinney told The Detroit News that the requested funding would come from state settlements, and would be used to cover “additional investigatory resources and victims’ advocacy services,” pending approval by the state legislature.

The investigation covers all seven Catholic dioceses in the state - Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and Detroit - and includes cases of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s.

After the announcement of the investigation in the fall of 2018, the dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit said at the time that they “looked forward” to cooperating with state officials and actively participating in the investigation. The archdiocese also emphasized its confidence in its safe environment practices already in place, but added that the investigation would be the next step toward healing.

While the dioceses have pledged cooperation, in a press conference last month, Nessel warned dioceses against “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements with victims, and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with state authorities.

The Archdiocese of Detroit countered that Nessel was making “broad generalizations” and that she should clarify which dioceses, if any, were being uncooperative.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit does not self-police,” the archdiocese said Feb. 21. “We encourage all victims to report abuse directly to law enforcement.”

“Clergy with credible accusations against them do not belong in ministry,” it added. “Since the attorney general’s investigation began, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not received notification from that office regarding credible accusations against any of our priests. Should we become aware of such a complaint, we will act immediately.”

The Detroit archdiocese noted its support for mandatory sex abuse reporting laws and its efforts to widely publicize the state’s sex abuse tip-line. It added that the archdiocese places no time limits on the reporting of sex abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other personnel. The archdiocese added that the attorney general’s office has not asked it to stop internal review processes.

Other dioceses responded in kind, asking for clarification and reiterating their dedication to cooperation and transparency.

Each diocese was subject to a raid by state authorities last October as part of the investigation, for which the dioceses pledged full cooperation, including Saginaw, which had undergone an earlier, local raid in March, in which local authorities cited a lack of cooperation from diocesan officials.

In a statement, Saginaw emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the state raids in October.

According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Attorney General’s office has received approximately 360 complaints since the investigation began in August.

Last year the state extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years in criminal cases, and 10 in civil. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim's 28th birthday.

State officials have urged victims of clergy abuse or those with tips pertinent to the investigation to file complaints with the clergy abuse hotline at (1-844-324-3374) or online at mi.gov/clergyabuse.

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

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

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

 

Errant texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was my understanding of how they met,” the former Vatican diplomat told CNA.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Financial questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surreal” conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Report to Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The pontifical secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kazakhstan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This story has been updated.

On Lenten retreat, Pope Francis reflected on 'Gaudium et spes'

Rome, Italy, Mar 15, 2019 / 11:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Friday that he senses resistance to Gaudium et spes, a document the pope said he reflected much upon during his Lenten retreat this week.

In his concluding remarks at the Roman curia’s spiritual exercises March 15, Pope Francis said that he was struck by the retreat master’s theme of God’s presence in humanity.

“I thought a lot about a conciliar document - Gaudium et spes - perhaps it is the document that has found more resistance, even today,” Pope Francis said.

Gaudium et spes is the Second Vatican Council's 1965 pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world.

Francis told the retreat master, Benedictine abbot Bernardo Gianni, that he saw the monk possessed “the courage of the Council Fathers when they signed that document.”

The document's introduction states that “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”

Gaudium et spes touches on the Church’s role in economic and social life, matters of the family, political affairs, the development of culture, and the promotion of peace in the world through the international community.

“Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come,” Gaudium et spes states.

It continues, “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise—human dignity, brotherly communion, and freedom—according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom … Here on earth the kingdom is mysteriously present.”

Reflecting on the incarnate Word, the pastoral constitution says: “Christ … fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

Pope Francis returned to Rome after his Lenten retreat at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia March 15. It is the sixth consecutive year the pope and members of the Curia have held their spiritual exercises at the house in Ariccia.

New Zealand bishops ‘horrified’ by mosque shootings

Wellington, New Zealand, Mar 15, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement of solidarity with the country’s Muslim population following terrorist attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch. At least 49 people were killed in a mass shooting on March 15.

 

“We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch,” the country’s six bishops wrote in a joint letter.

 

The bishops said they were “profoundly aware” of the “positive relationships” New Zealand Catholics enjoyed with their Muslim neighbors.

 

The shootings occured during Friday afternoon prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, and the bishops said they were “particularly horrified” that the attacks coincided with acts of worship.

 

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

 

The attack at the Al Noor mosque, in which more than 40 people were killed, was broadcast on Facebook Live, and the alleged attacker published a manifesto on the internet.

 

An armed worshipper at the second mosque chased away the gunmen, ending the attack. Seven people were killed in Linwood.

 

Several people, including an Australian national have taken into police custody, and one person has been charged with murder. It is unclear how many people were involved in the attacks.

 

New Zealand police said that several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found in a car near the Al Noor mosque. These were disabled before they could be detonated.

 

Other prominent Catholic figures expressed condolences to those affected by the attack.

 

“I share [Pope Francis’] deep sadness and grief over the deadly violence in Christchurch. No one should have to fear something like this, perpetrated as they worship. We cannot tolerate hatred of or prejudice against any of the Lord's children,” said New York archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a message posted to Twitter.

 

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster expressed similar sentiment.

 

“The news of the massacre in the New Zealand mosques is deeply shocking and has caused us all great pain. We pray for the many victims, for the wounded and for the whole community, which has been severely affected by this act of terrorism,” said Nichols.

 

“May God free us from these tragedies and sustain the efforts of all those who work for peace, harmony and coexistence."

What Catholic universities are doing to address the sex abuse crisis

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Late last summer, as accusations of abuse against then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick surfaced, a grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailed decades and hundreds of cases of clerical abuse, and dioceses began listing their priests accused of sexual abuse, lay Catholics horrified by the news grasped for something they could do.

Some started letter-writing campaigns, prayer campaigns or petitions. Others launched anonymous watchdog websites. A social media campaign with the hashtag #SackClothandAshes encouraged the laity to offer fasting and sacrifices for the sins of the clergy.

Now, several Catholic universities have announced how they’re joining in the reform efforts.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. recently announced the launch of ‘The Catholic Project’, an initiative aimed at bringing healing and reform to the Church after the sex abuse crisis.

Leaders at the university have said that as the pontifical university in the U.S., CUA is uniquely situated to respond to the crisis in a number of ways.

“CUA has a unique place in the American Catholic landscape, being sort of the bishop’s university that has a special relationship with the Vatican, but it’s also a lay-led institution,” Stephen White, who was named executive director of the project, told CNA.

It also makes sense geographically for CUA to respond to the crisis, White said, since it sits across the street from headquarters of the U.S. bishop’s conference and is in Washington, D.C., the same city where the now-laicized McCarrick had previously served as cardinal and archbishop.

Furthermore, White said, CUA has a host of invaluable resources at its fingertips.

“(CUA) has all of these assets at its disposal - a law school, a canon law faculty (the only one in the country), theologians, social workers who’ve been working on these questions for decades now,” White said. “It’s sort of a perfect place for a response to the crisis.”

But what form will that response take? There are many, White said.

“It’s sort of an all-of-the-above approach which is sort of why the name of this project came to be ‘The Catholic Project,’” White said.
“We came to realize that there were so many aspects to this and so many things the University can do, that we chose a broader, more generic name.”

Some of those aspects of response began before The Catholic Project existed, such as listening sessions the university hosted with students, a forum where students could vent their frustrations and fears about the crisis. It included a panel discussion “Church in Crisis” series, which included panel discussions about the crisis.

One of the upcoming initiatives of the project will be a collaboration with the USCCB, which will bring bishops together with abuse victims who want to share their story and help the Church heal.

“(They) understand that the Church needs bishops, and they understand that if the Church is going to heal from this, and move forward from this, that the bishops need to understand the survivor’s perspective and that survivors have something to give to heal the Church, even though they are the ones who are least responsible for where we are,” White said.

The project will also be promoting research into sociological questions surrounding the crisis, White said, such as: “What was it that made the abuse spike like it did in the middle of the 20th century? Why did that happen? Was this unique to the Catholic Church or were there other institutions who saw similar spikes? Has the Dallas Charter (the bishop’s previous abuse prevention plan) worked? And if it has worked, what parts of it have worked? Are there parts that have been implemented but that didn’t really make much of a difference, or parts that worked, and what are those parts?”

Another part of the project will work with the business school to come up with ways to help priests and bishops be better managers of their parishes and dioceses.

“When you have an organization that’s run transparently and efficiently and well, you’re less likely to have parts of the organization where bad things can fester,” White said.

“So there’s lots of different components to (the project),” he added.

White also recognized that academic work and research are not going to solve completely the problem.

“But it’s important, and the work that’s going to have to be done in chanceries, and parishes, and bishop’s conferences, is work that can be helped by the things that we’re going to be doing at CUA,” he said.

Other Catholic universities and colleges are responding in similarly strong and broad ways.

Fordham University in New York recently announced a lecture titled “Reckoning and Reform: New Horizons on the Clergy Abuse Crisis” as a part of their ongoing response to the abuse crisis.

David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, told CNA that the event will be a two-part presentation aimed at helping people understand the crisis and what can be done moving forward.

“People are upset and understandably just aghast at what is going on, but in order to find some solutions we have to figure out what has happened,” Gibson told CNA.

Gibson said that by hosting the event in the late afternoon and evening, he hoped to catch some “Catholic regular working folks who are vitally interested in this kind of thing and they can attend,” he said.

“Academic conferences are good and a lot of people are doing those kinds of things, but I think it's also really important that we do things that can get regular Catholics coming to attend them and to get informed on these kind of things so it's not just ‘professional Catholics’,” he said.

Gibson added that Catholic universities and colleges will be “indispensable” in the response to the sex abuse reform, for several reasons: because of their vast array of resources, because, as lay institutions, they now have more credibility with many Catholics than the bishops, and because they are positioned all throughout the country, where they can reach many people.

Another prominent Catholic institution of higher education, the University of Notre Dame, recently published a statement outlining the ways that university has and will continue to address the abuse crisis.

Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame, noted in the statement that in October 2018 the university created two task forces to begin the work of reform: a Campus Engagement Task Force, which “was charged with facilitating dialogue and listening to the observations and recommendations of our campus community,” and the Research and Scholarship Task Force, which “considered ways in which Notre Dame might respond and assist the Church in this crisis through its research and scholarship.”

He then outlined both the immediate and ongoing steps the university will take to address the crisis, as informed by the task forces.

As for immediate steps, Jenkins said the university will “initiate prominent, public events to educate and stimulate discussion.” The focus of the first event will be “where the Church is now, identifying steps that have been taken and problems that must be addressed.”

The second event “will focus not only on the issue of sexual abuse, considered narrowly, but also on the broader questions the current crisis raises, such as structures of accountability in the Church, clericalism, the role of women, creating and sustaining ethical cultures, and the continued accompaniment of survivors.”

The university will also be making research grants available “across a wide range of disciplines that will address issues raised by the current situation. In accord with this recommendation, the President’s Office will provide up to $1 million in the next three years to fund research projects that address issues emerging from the crisis.”

For ongoing efforts to address sex abuse in the Church, the university will continue to “encourage and share relevant research and scholarship … with the goal of producing recommendations for ensuring that seminaries and houses of religious formation are safe environments free from sexual harassment.”

It will also “train graduates for effective leadership in the Church during and beyond the crisis,” through graduate programs in theology, teacher and leadership formation programs, and catechist training programs, which are all “committed to training ministers and teachers to be aware of issues of sexual abuse and policies and behaviors needed to prevent it.”

Jenkins also noted that university will “redouble” its efforts in preventing and addressing cases of sexual assault that occur on Notre Dame’s campus.

“As I join others in praying for survivors, I will do what I can to prevent these terrible offenses. I encourage everyone, each in their own respective positions and roles, to contribute to real and lasting change that will prevent sexual assault and abuse, in the Church and outside it, and to support survivors,” Jenkins noted.

“To the extent we can do this, the dark night of the current crisis will lead us to a hopeful dawn.”

Federal budget proposal draws criticism for slashing foreign aid

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 12:36 am (CNA).- A Catholic aid agency is asking Congress to maintain its commitment to international humanitarian funding, after the Trump administration proposed a federal budget that would cut foreign aid by 24 percent.

In a March 12 statement, Catholic Relief Services warned that the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request “would undermine dramatic progress in global poverty reduction over the past two decades, disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalized people.”

The budget proposal, released earlier this week, would cut foreign aid by nearly one-quarter, and would combine current departments for international food aid, disaster response, and migrant and refugee assistance.

Given drastic humanitarian crises currently ongoing throughout the world, the U.S. should be increasing, not decreasing, its funding for international aid, a top CRS official told a recent congressional subcommittee.

Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs that violence, droughts and other disasters have left millions vulnerable and in need of aid.

“U.S. foreign assistance is a moral and practical imperative. Poverty not only causes unnecessary suffering, but also breeds instability. Aid empowers local leadership, builds local capacity and supports a community on its journey to self-reliance,” O’Keefe said.

The United States should be maintaining a leadership role in offering humanitarian aid, especially for the more than 68 million people displaced from their homes globally, he told the members of Congress on the subcommittee.

O’Keefe specifically called for U.S. money to be allocated for development aid, disaster response, migrant and refugee assistance, and disease eradication.

Catholic Relief Services highlighted the situation in Venezuela, where 3 million people have fled as extreme shortages of food, medicine, and water are compounded by political unrest.

In addition, the agency said, millions in the Horn of Africa are experiencing drought conditions that are expected to create widespread conditions of severe hunger this year, with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicting up to 30 percent crop failure in some areas.

Matt Davis, CRS regional director for East Africa, said the agency is “very concerned by the deteriorating conditions in the region where we are seeing families – whose lives rely on the land – unable to cope.”

He warned against changes to U.S. funding that “could abandon millions of families around the world just when they need help the most.”

Most families in the Horn of Africa are small-holder farmers, and “much of the livestock – which many families depend on for a living – has already died off, been sold, or eaten,” Catholic Relief Services said.

“In South Sudan, 7.7 million people – more than half the population – will need food assistance by August. That crisis has been caused by both conflict and drought,” the agency added.

Humanitarian aid is currently being offered to alleviate the situation in parts of the Horn of Africa, Davis explained, but more help is necessary.

CRS works with local groups to help the communities in the region prepare for droughts, as well as to increase their resistance against drought through new technology, micro-savings programs and education on nutrition and health.

The agency counts on U.S. foreign aid funding for these efforts, as well as emergency food distribution in times of crisis.

Similar foreign aid cuts were proposed by the Trump administration last year, but rejected by Congress. Catholic Relief Services asked Congress to again reiterate its commitment to foreign aid funding.

“Helping the poor is a moral imperative, and a wise investment in global stability,” Davis said.

Catholic leaders speak out against 'Remain in Mexico' policy

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders released a statement this week in disagreement with the United States’ expansion of a policy that restricts asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We oppose U.S. policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting to access protection in the United States. We urge the Administration to reverse this policy, which needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols,” the statement read.  

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, released the joint statement on March 13.

First implemented in January, the Migrant Protection Protocols require asylum seekers at the San Ysidro border crossing to remain in Mexico while immigration courts process their case – a procedure that may take years. In previous administrations, asylum seekers were often permitted to remain in the U.S. while awaiting their court dates.

The U.S. government announced Tuesday that the program would now be expanded to the border crossing in Calexico, which is about 120 miles outside of San Diego. Department of Homeland Security officials stated that 240 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico since the policy was enacted. They anticipate that the number will grow significantly as the program expands.

In February, a lawsuit was introduced in federal court challenging the policy, which is known unofficially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The suit claims that the program puts asylum seekers at risk because of Mexico’s dangerous conditions. A federal judge has not yet announced whether an injunction will be granted to block the policy while it is being considered in court.

The Associated Press reported that Mexico’s Foreign Relations and Interior departments objected to the policy update, which they say was made unilaterally by the United States. However, citing “humanitarian reasons,” the departments said a majority of the asylum seekers returned to Mexico will be allowed to stay.  

Vasquez and Callahan also voiced opposition to the policy, emphasizing the rights of the people seeking shelter from harsh conditions, especially from the dangers witnessed in Central America. 

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement read.

The Church leaders reiterated the call of Pope Francis to protect and welcome immigrants and encouraged the government to respond with policies that best promote human dignity.

“Our government must adopt policies and provide more funding that address root causes of migration and promote human dignity and sustainable livelihoods,” they said.