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Exiled residents of destroyed Israeli village unite each month at the church


Catholic News Service

IQRIT, Israel — For the elders of Iqrit, their biggest regret in life is not having been able to raise their children together.

On April 13, they congregated with the younger generations in the old Church of St. Mary for Easter Monday Mass in this destroyed Melkite village perched on a sloping hill in Western Galilee.

Father Souhail Khoury blesses a baby after Easter Monday Mass at St. Mary's Church in Iqrit, Israel, April 13. The residents were expelled by the Israeli army in 1948 and have never been able to permanently return to the village. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Father Souhail Khoury blesses a baby after Easter Monday Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Iqrit, Israel, April 13. The residents were expelled by the Israeli army in 1948 and have never been able to permanently return to the village. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

As youngsters, they and their families left the village in October 1948, shortly after the Israeli war of independence, at the behest of the fledgling Israeli army, which said they would be allowed to return after 15 days. The villagers had hoisted the white flag atop their church as the soldiers entered, and the village priest received them with a Bible, and salt and bread as signs of peace and rapport.

But as Israel, which uses the Jewish calendar for holidays, is set to celebrate its 67th independence day April 23, the people of Iqrit are still waiting to return to their village.

A July 1951 Supreme Court decision ruled residents could return due to a lack of evacuation orders. Five months after the court’s decision, formal evacuation orders were issued. On Christmas Eve 1951, Iqrit was destroyed except for the church.

Villagers were finally allowed to re-enter their village in the summer of 1971.

The tightly knit group of some 126 families eventually dispersed among nearby villages, but they have never lost their connection to their town or given up their struggle to return. They continue to celebrate a monthly Mass at the church together, to teach their children, grandchildren, and now the newest great-grandchildren to love their Iqrit roots through gatherings and summer camps. They have come to bury their dead at the cemetery here, and now the elders say that they, too, will be buried here. At least then, they say, they will be allowed to return to Iqrit.

“Even our children don’t know each other. It is sad,” said Abdullah Haddad, 85, as he recounts the story of his secret courtship with his wife, Vidad, 83. Their relationship was disrupted because of what followed after the evacuation, and Abdullah Haddad went to work in Jerusalem. But Vidad Haddad said she put off other marriage proposals and waited 10 years until she and Abdullah could marry.

Haddad said he has not yet lost hope of returning, if not him, then his grandchildren.

Sitting together in a tin shack used as a reception hall with his brother Ibrahim and some childhood friends, Ayoub Ayoub, 76, recalled Easters in the village, when the girls would prepare colored eggs and the boys would sneak around to steal a look at the girls they fancied.

“These are memories we don’t forget,”he said. “When we are here, we are like one family. It is a happy and sad occasion to come here. The only thing I ask is that when God takes me, he allows my soul to return here and not to Rameh as a refugee.”

Though several Israel politicians and even nearby Jewish communities have expressed support for their cause, officially Israel has not relented.

Aymen Odeh, a Muslim, attended the Easter Monday Mass. The newly elected Knesset member is leader of the Joint Arab List, now Israel’s third-largest political party. He is a longtime supporter of the villagers and said he respects their nonviolent methods, but added that it was time to take the case outside the village.

“We need demonstrations in public squares and in front of the Knesset,” he said. “Things here are far away from the public eye.”

He said the Israeli position that the villagers could not return because of security reasons due to its strategic hilltop location is no longer valid, because the villagers and their descendants have proven to be loyal, productive citizens of Israel, some even serve in the army. He said the fear that their return would create precedence for demands by others is also null since the cases of Iqrit, and the Maronite Catholic village of Biram, whose residents faced a similar situation, are unique in that they left with the promise of return and have a Supreme Court decision in their favor.

For several years, some members of the younger generation, such as Nijmy Yacoub, 26, who grew up in Kfar Yasif, and Samer Awess, 21, of Haifa, have established a presence on the site, rehabilitating the rectory and planting gardens near the church. When they can, they spend the night in the village.

“We love the land and we feel a strong connection to this place,” said Awess, noting that theirs has always been a peaceful struggle. There is no reason to resort to violence, he said. “That is the nature of the village. We are doing the right thing. We feel like we have something here which belongs to us. I believe that someday we will be allowed to return. There is no reason not to. We are not settlers here; this is ours.”

“I feel more connected here than to the village where I grew up,” added Yacoub, who had her young niece and nephew, already the fifth generation of Iqrit descendants, in tow. “When I come here I feel comfortable, and I come here when I am feeling low. I like to tell the stories my grandparents told my father, and my father told me.”

After the Mass, Melkite Father Souhail Khoury, whose great-great-great-grandfather was a priest in the village and is buried in the church, was asked by several eager grandparents to “church” the newest-born, in the Melkite tradition.

“Even if we live in Haifa or other places where we have no problems, our connection is here to the church and the priest here. This is our holy site,” said Hubbeya Khoury, 60, as she held her infant grandson, Ettienne, after the rite.

“We believe in prayer,” said the priest, who lives in Nazareth, where he also serves as a parish priest and in a nearby village. “We ask God to be with us and hear us and answer us so we can come back to live in Iqrit.”


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Mideast groups seek protected zone for minorities in Iraq, Syria


Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan —A call for an area to protect Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq is gathering pace even as April marks the centenary of the 1915 genocide of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians.

“We have met with representatives of four of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, France and Russia — and submitted our request for a temporary protected area to be set up for Christians, Yezidis, and other minorities in Iraq and Syria,” said Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council in Syria.

“Our issue is how to protect these people,” said Ishak, a prominent Syrian Christian political leader. He said his council and other organizations concerned about the future of religious minorities caught in the crosshairs of volatile conflicts in the Middle East “want a U.N. resolution drafted and passed that will provide for their protection.”

“We are asking for a temporary protected zone. This is different and separate from resolving the Syrian or Iraq question,” Ishak told Catholic News Service. “People are taking the call very seriously.”

“Representatives of 60 countries spoke in favor of the protected area at a U.N. General Assembly meeting. But Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria aren’t for it,” Ishak said of the March 27 meeting.

Ishak’s own Assyrian forefathers were victims of the 1915 massacre of Syriac-speaking Christians that took place in Turkey. Forced into exile, they took up shelter near Hassakeh, in northeastern Syria.

“There have been three massacres on the same people in one century,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI. The group provides practical aid to Syrian Christians displaced by the recent Islamic State attacks along the Khabur River.

“The grandfathers of these Assyrians survived the Christian genocide of 1915 under the Ottoman Turks, referred in our language as ‘Seyfo’ or sword,” he told CNS by telephone from Iraq.

“We lost one-third of our population in 1915. Around 700,000 Assyrians from different denominations, including the Church of the East, Chaldeans, Syriac Orthodox, and Syriac Catholics were massacred,” he said.

Some 1.5 million Armenians also were killed in the onslaught.

Those Assyrians who survived fled to the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk, a province of Mosul, which became part of the new state of Iraq and a member of the League of Nations in 1932.

Father Youkhana recounted that on Aug. 6 and 7, 1933, another “massacre and the first genocide in the new Iraq took place in Simele, near Dohuk, against Christian Assyrians.” Those who survived fled to the Khabur River region of northeastern Syria.

Fast forward some 80 years. Islamic State began its sweep of Christian towns along Iraq’s Ninevah Plain last Aug. 6. And during this past February, it attacked the Christian towns along the Khabur, setting off another flight of Christians escaping for their lives. Around the same time, the militant group destroyed priceless, historic Assyrian artifacts in Iraq.

Father Youkhana has urged the international community to stop this “open-ended persecution,” saying it had a moral obligation to do so.

“If our history is being destroyed and our historical sites demolished, our present is targeted and we have been massacred, can we have a future?” Father Youkhana asked.

Others are also expressing deep concern over the recent violent attacks against Christians in the Middle East and their diminishing numbers, saying more help by the international community is needed quickly.

“Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world are disappearing in the very lands where their faith was born and first took root,” noted the Washington-based Center for American Progress. “Christians have migrated from the region in increasing numbers, which is part of a longer-term exodus related to violence, persecution, and lack of economic opportunities stretching back decades,” the center said in a report published in March.

John Michael of the Assyrian Democratic Movement told Britain’s Catholic Herald that “the West is arming and supporting the central government in Iraq, the Kurdish peshmerga, the Shiite militias, but no one is supporting the Assyrian Christians.”

“The Assyrians are totally ignored and being left to their own devices with no means to defend themselves against the evil barbarians” of the Islamic State, he said in an article published Feb. 24. “How much longer will this persecuted minority have to suffer before those in positions of power act to protect them? Or should we all remain silent whilst a massacre unfolds in the ancestral lands of the Assyrian Christians?”


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Cardinal Njue calls Kenyans to prayer in wake of militants’ brutal college attack


NAIROBI, Kenya — The president of the Kenyan bishops’ asked Easter worshippers to pray for peace and security in their homeland after militants attacked a college campus days earlier.

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi also condemned the April 2 attack by the Somalia-based al-Shabaab militants at Garissa University College in which Christian students were targeted.

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, delivers the homily during a special Easter Mass April 5 at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi for victims of the massacre at Garissa University College. Al-Shabaab militants raided the campus April 2, leaving at least 147 dead. (CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters)

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, delivers the homily during a special Easter Mass April 5 at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi for victims of the massacre at Garissa University College. Al-Shabaab militants raided the campus April 2, leaving at least 147 dead. (CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters)

After reading a message of condolence from Pope Francis to the congregation at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi, Cardinal Njue urged worshippers to commit themselves to praying for peace and security in the country.

“We need to constantly invoke God’s name, following common attacks in the country by the al-Shabaab militia group, including the most recent one at Garissa,” the cardinal said.

In his message, Pope Francis condemned the assault by Somali militants, calling it an act of “senseless brutality.”

“In union with all people of goodwill throughout the world, his holiness condemns this act of senseless brutality and prays for a change of heart among its perpetrators,” said the pope’s message in a statement sent by the Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Cardinal Njue said the assault, which left 148 people dead, shocked the bishops’ conference and Bishop Paul Darmanin of Garissa in particular.

“I have assured the shocked bishop of the bishops’ support, through prayers and any other (means),” Cardinal Njue said.

He reminded Christians that Christ was persecuted and suffered for the sake of people’s sins and told them never to give up even in the face of terror.

“We as a nation are undergoing through many challenges and we must remain fixed to things above. Let us pray for the families and victims of Garissa terror attack and let their dead be a meaning to us.” Cardinal Njue said.

The cardinal called for a global response to terrorism and urged Kenyans not to look at Garissa massacre through a religious lens.

“Even in the wake of the insecurity in the country, we must remain united and not give a few people the impression that this is a war between Christians and Muslims,” Cardinal Njue says.

Meanwhile, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta April 4 announced three days of national mourning, in the wake of the attack.

In an address to the nation, Kenyatta cited those who have stood with the country as it dealt with the aftermath of the attack, including the United States, United Nations and Pope Francis.

Contributing to this story was Francis Njuguna and Walter Cheruiyot.


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Holy See calls for world effort to end Boko Haram terror in Africa


GENEVA — The Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva called on the international community to assist Nigeria and neighboring countries to rid the region of Boko Haram insurgency.

“The Holy See urges an international collaborative effort to address this crisis situation with urgency so as to prevent the extension of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups and their strategy of inflicting suffering on local people and to destabilize Africa even further,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council April 1.

Nigeria and its neighbors, including Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Niger, have been beset by Boko Haram’s violent campaign to impose Islamic rule in the region. Based in northeastern Nigeria, leaders of the insurgents have claimed credit for a series of bombings and gun attacks on public markets, churches and isolated communities since 2009.

He said the insurgency requires an “urgent and effective response.” Citing Pope Francis in an address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See in January, Archbishop Tomasi called the situation in Nigeria and its neighbors “a scourge which needs to be eradicated, since it strikes all of use, from individual families to the international community.”

The archbishop also expressed concern that Boko Haram’s recent announcement that it was aligning with the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria shows that “such extremist groups are growing like cancer, spreading to other parts of the world.”

“Crimes in the name of religion are never justified. Massacring innocent people in the name of God is not religion but the manipulation of religion for ulterior motives,” the archbishop told the council.

“It appears the time is ripe for the international community to assist in bringing an end to the violence, which has caused numerous civilian victims,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “Before such violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws we cannot afford to have a posture of indifference that would lead to the widening contagion of violence and also set a dangerous precedent of non-action in response to such horrific crimes.”


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Diocese in Italy seeks to keep mafia out of Easter processions


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The bishop of a southern Italian diocese has issued new directives aimed at keeping the mafia out of this year’s Easter processions.

Commonly called “L’Affruntata” (the encounter), the popular and traditional Easter Sunday procession involves bringing together three statuesm, one of Jesus, the apostle John and Mary, who is caped in a black robe. The Marian statue’s black robe is removed at the end of the procession to symbolize her joy over Jesus’ resurrection.

But the infiltration of the mafia in the Easter procession and religious celebrations as a way of asserting its power in southern Italy has been both common and contentious.

Last year, Bishop Luigi Renzo of Mileto-Nicotera-Tropea stood behind parishioners in the town of Sant’Onofrio, who opted to cancel their Easter procession rather than allow the infiltration of the mafia or let civil authorities determine how they would celebrate. The bishop decided to celebrate a Mass instead.

However, in July 2014, he banned a procession outright in another Calabrian town when authorities said men with suspected mafia ties were slated to carry the statue of Mary. Earlier that month, a procession in a neighboring diocese made international headlines and caused public outcry in Italy, after people carrying a statue of Mary stopped in front of the house of a presumed mob boss and tilted the statue forward, as if bowing in homage.

While the Calabrian bishops published joint guidelines last fall, Bishop Renzo issued a new set of regulations in March for all processions in his diocese.

In a section particular to the Easter procession, Bishop Renzo urged the faithful to reclaim their traditions and “not to allow themselves to be dispossessed of their most genuine religious heritage by leaving it in the hands of unscrupulous people.”

He also exhorted priests to be “more courageous and united” in offering “new signs of presence and hope” to the people.

“Concrete signs of breaking with certain bad habits are needed,” the bishop told the priests. He also encouraged them to entrust the role of carrying the statues to young people active in the parishes and to make them “protagonists” in organizing the procession.

Among the new general rules: Processions are forbidden to stop in front of any people, homes or buildings, other than hospitals or long-term care facilities; routes must be established ahead of time in consultation with the pastor; those carrying statues must be active members of the parish and chosen by the pastor, along with the parish council; for the Easter procession, those carrying statues are selected from among parishioners in a lottery on Palm Sunday; people who are members of organizations “condemned by the church” cannot carry statues; if the procession route is long, a second group of parishioners must be selected ahead of time to help carry the statues, not just anyone along the route can act as a substitute.

The new regulations took effect March 1.


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Anglican and Catholic rites for reburial of King Richard III


Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — One of England’s last Catholic kings was reburied three years after his skeleton was discovered in a coffin beneath a parking lot.

King Richard III, the last monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty and the last English king to die in battle, was originally buried by Franciscan friars in Leicester, a city in the Midlands, after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Read more »

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English cardinal urges priests to keep their family synod views out of the press


Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster urged priests to end debating the upcoming synod on the family in the press after more than 450 priests published a letter calling on the Catholic Church to retain the prohibition on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving holy Communion.

“Every priest in England and Wales has been asked to reflect on the synod discussion. It is my understanding that this has been taken up in every diocese, and that channels of communication have been established,” Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said in a statement March 25.

“The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press,” the statement said.

Set to appear in the March 27 edition of the London-based Catholic Herald, the priests’ letter explained that it was written partly to counter “confusion” over the moral teaching of the Catholic Church as a result of some synod fathers pushing for a relaxation of the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion.

It was signed by 461 priests and also appeared on the website of the weekly magazine March 24.

“We wish, as Catholic priests, to restate our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the word of God and taught by the church’s magisterium for two millennia,” the priests wrote.

“We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society,” the letter continued.

“Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony,” the letter added.

The priests concluded their letter by urging all participants of synod on the family Oct. 4-25 at the Vatican “to make a clear and firm proclamation of the church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.”

Signees included parish priests, members of religious orders and prominent English theologians Dominican Father Aidan Nichols and Father John Saward.

One signatory, Father John Johnson, who serves as the dean of Wigan in northern England, told Catholic News Service March 25 that it would be a “scandal to the community” to allow people who have deserted their spouses to set up home with another partner to publicly receive Communion.

“It is a very delicate matter … but you can’t teach the indissolubility of marriage if you allow all and sundry to go to Communion,” he said.

The final report of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family last October committed the church to “further theological study” on whether divorced and remarried Catholics could have access to Communion as well as “fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion.”


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Gunmen fire on police guarding Catholic church in Pakistan

March 25th, 2015 Posted in International News Tags: , , , ,


LAHORE, Pakistan — Unidentified gunmen opened fire on policemen guarding a Catholic church, police officials said.

Asif Khan, a local township police officer, confirmed the March 24 attack outside of St. Peter Church in the southern Pakistani city, reported the Asian Catholic news portal ucanews.com.

“Two masked men riding a motorbike fired on policemen who were deployed outside the church,” Khan said. “Police retaliated, after which the assailants sped away.”

Two passersby were injured in the crossfire, but no other injuries were reported, Khan said, adding that police had obtained closed circuit television footage from the church and have launched an investigation.

Local media reported that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has directed police to submit a report of the incident.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said he was aware of the incident and that no church or school staff were injured in the attack.

Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a Christian rights activist and lawyer, condemned the attack.

“It is unbelievable how militants fired at the church guards and managed to flee,” Gill said. “We urge the government to beef up security at churches.”

He added that twin suicide bombings in Lahore earlier in March had created a sense of fear and insecurity within the Christian minority community.

The bombings, which left 14 dead and more than 70 others injured, also sparked riots in which two men thought to be associated with the bombers were beaten to death in a rare display of violence on the part of Christians in Pakistan.


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Pope’s day in Naples: Saint’s blood liquefies, cloistered sisters ‘break free’


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — At the end of Pope Francis’ spontaneity-filled meeting with priests, seminarians and religious in the cathedral of Naples, the vial of dried blood of the city’s patron saint appeared to miraculously liquefy.

After Pope Francis blessed the congregation with the reliquary holding the vial, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples announced, “As a sign that St. Januarius loves the pope, who is Neapolitan like us, the blood is already half liquefied.”

Nuns greet Pope Francis during his meeting with religious at the cathedral in Naples, Italy, March 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Nuns greet Pope Francis during his meeting with religious at the cathedral in Naples, Italy, March 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The thousands of people present in the cathedral applauded, but the pope insisted on taking the microphone. “The bishop said the blood is half liquefied,” he said. “It means the saint loves us halfway; we must all convert a bit more, so that he would love us more.”

The blood of the fourth-century martyr is Naples’ most precious relic. The townspeople gauge the saints’ pleasure with them by awaiting the blood’s liquefaction three times a year: in the spring during celebrations of the feast of the transfer of the saint’s relics to Naples; Sept. 19, his feast day; and Dec. 16, the local feast commemorating the averting of a threatened eruption of Mount Vesuvius through the intervention of the saint.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2007 and the blood did not liquefy, Msgr. Vincenzo de Gregorio, custodian of the relic, told reporters the miracle had never occurred when a pope visited on a day other than the feast day.

Entering the cathedral, Pope Francis’ white cassock and his arms were yanked repeatedly by priests, seminarians and nuns wanting to touch him or attract his attention.

Calmed reigned briefly after the pope reached the altar, but then Cardinal Sepe told the pope that, in accordance with canon law, he had given formal permission for the nuns in Naples’ seven cloistered convents to go out for the day.

The nuns, who had been seated in the sanctuary, broke free, running to the pope, surrounding him, hugging him, kissing his ring and piling gifts on his lap.

“Sisters, sisters, not now, later!” the cardinal shouted over the microphone to no avail. “Look what I have done,” he said, exasperated. “And these are the cloistered ones, imagine what the non-cloistered ones are like! Ay. They’re going to eat him alive.”

When order was restored, Pope Francis stood with several sheets of paper and told the congregation, “I prepared a speech, but speeches are boring.” So, he put the papers aside, sat down and began talking about how Jesus must be at the center of a consecrated person’s life, about life in community, about poverty and mercy.

“The center of your life must be Jesus,” he said. Too often, people, including priests and religious, have a difficulty with a superior or a confrere and that problem becomes the real center of their lives, robbing them and their witness of joy.

Addressing seminarians, he said, “if you do not have Jesus at the center, delay your ordination. If you are not sure Jesus is the center of your life, wait a while in order to be sure.”

Money definitely cannot be the center of the life of a priest or nun, he said. Even a diocesan priest, who does not take vows of poverty, must make sure “his heart is not there” in money.

The pope told the story of a religious woman he knew in Argentina who was so concerned about raising money for her school that she subconsciously preferred the company of people with money. One day, in the faculty room, she fainted. In the teachers’ attempt to revive her, the pope said, one suggested putting “a 100 peso note” under her nose to revive her, “but the poor woman was already dead and this was the last word said about her when no one knew if she had died or not.”


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Scotland cardinal renounces duties, rights of office


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis accepted Scotland Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s decision to renounce all “duties and privileges” associated with being a cardinal.

The former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who resigned in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct, will no longer exercise the role of a cardinal, including by serving as a papal adviser, a member of Vatican congregations and councils, and as an elector of a new pope, the Vatican press office said.

A written statement from the College of Cardinals, published March 20, said, “The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of the rights and privileges of a cardinal expressed in canons 349, 353 and 356 of the Code of Canon Law, presented by his eminence Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien, archbishop emeritus of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, after a long period of prayer.”

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, told journalists the resignation was “not a punishment resulting from a process” or any formal proceedings against the cardinal, but rather it came from the cardinal himself after a long period of prayer and reflection “in dialogue with the Holy Father.”

While he will no longer be invited to attend consistories and other gatherings of cardinals, including an eventual conclave for the election of a new pope, Father Benedettini said, he retains his faculties as a priest and retired bishop.

The College of Cardinal’s statement also said Pope Francis expressed his pastoral concern for all Catholics in Scotland and encouraged “them to continue with hope the path of renewal and reconciliation,” the Vatican statement said.

In his own statement, released through the Scottish bishops’ conference, Cardinal O’Brien again apologized “to the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland.”

“There have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me. For that I am deeply sorry,” said his statement released March 20.

“I thank Pope Francis for his fatherly care of me and of those I have offended in any way. I will continue to play no part in the public life of the church in Scotland; and will dedicate the rest of my life in retirement, praying especially for the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, for Scotland, and for those I have offended in any way,” the cardinal wrote.

The cardinal stepped down as archbishop in February 2013, after the Observer, a British weekly national newspaper, carried a story detailing complaints of three priests and one former priest who alleged Cardinal O’Brien had made sexual advances toward them.

The cardinal initially denied the allegations but, less than a week later, he issued a public apology for his actions. He did not attend the March conclave that elected Pope Francis because, he had said, he did not want media attention to be on him rather than on the process of electing a new pope.


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