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Vatican accepts resignation of free-spending German bishop

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has accepted the resignation of a German bishop who was at the center of controversy over expenditures for his residence and a diocesan center.

Following a diocesan investigation, the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops studied the audit’s findings and accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg. Auxiliary Bishop Manfred Grothe of Paderborn was appointed to serve as apostolic administrator of Limburg in the meantime, the Vatican announced March 26.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst would be assigned, “at a suitable moment,” another unspecified assignment, the Vatican statement said.

Pope Francis called on the German clergy and faithful in the diocese to accept the Vatican’s decision “with meekness and to try to dedicate themselves to rebuilding a climate of charity and reconciliation,” the statement said.

The pope had authorized a leave of absence for the bishop in October after allegations of overspending and leading a lavish lifestyle.

“A situation has been created in which Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst currently cannot exercise his episcopal ministry,” the Vatican said last year in a written statement.

The bishop has been at the center of controversy over the remodeling and building project in Limburg, which was estimated to have cost about $40 million. Media dubbed Bishop Tebartz-van Elst the “luxury bishop” and “Bishop Bling.”

In early September, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, sent retired Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo to visit the diocese to promote peace between the bishop and some of the diocese’s priests concerned about the diocesan center project.

After the cardinal’s visit, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst agreed to publish figures about the construction project and cooperate with a commission established by the bishops’ conference to audit the project and examine how decisions were made. In most cases, church law requires consultation with a diocesan finance council before large sums of diocesan money can be spent.

In a separate controversy, the bishop agreed in November to pay a court-ordered fine of 20,000 euros rather than contest charges that he perjured himself before the Hamburg District Court. Hamburg prosecutors had charged him with lying to the court in a case involving the magazine Der Spiegel.

The bishop had sued over an article alleging that he had flown first class on a trip to India for charity work when he told a Der Spiegel reporter that he flew business class. Although the bishop denied that he said he flew business class, the reporter had a recording of his words.

 

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Our Lenten Journey: Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 26th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags:

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Click here for today’s Scripture readings:
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032614.cfm

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$1.1million stolen from U.S. Pontifical Mission Societies recovered

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NEW YORK — Following an 18-month investigation, the Pontifical Mission Societies announced March 25, in a joint statement with the Office of the New York State Attorney General, the recovery of some $1.1 million in funds stolen by a now-deceased official of the organization.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman praised the Pontifical Mission Societies for its full cooperation in the investigation, including for reporting financial irregularities as soon as the staff discovered funds were missing and verified they had been diverted.

“I’m pleased that we’ve been able to recover the stolen charitable funds and return a large sum to the societies so they can continue their important mission,” Schneiderman said. “Today’s agreement also ensures that these organizations will continue to enhance their controls to operate in a responsible fashion and prevent any future abuses.”

“It’s crucial that victimized organizations come forward and, like the Pontifical Mission Societies, take necessary steps to guard against future misconduct,” he said.

Oblate Father Andrew Small, the organization’s national director, thanked Schneiderman’s office for all of its efforts.

“Following our uncovering and reporting of the theft, we worked with the Attorney General’s Office to achieve a recovery of stolen funds that rightly belong to the poor and to strengthen our internal controls and board oversight,” he said in a statement.

The priest called it “a model form of collaboration,” saying the day’s announcement “allows us to put this sad affair behind us and to focus on our mission of helping poor churches and communities around the world.”

According to the Pontifical Mission Societies, the organization began making some changes to its accounting procedures in 2011. In the summer of 2012, the staff found inconsistencies in financial records for one of the organization’s funds.

In September 2012, when chief financial officer Raymond Schroeck fell ill, the organization verified that checks had been diverted and reported the discovery immediately to church and civil authorities, including the New York State Office of the Attorney General.

A subsequent investigation conducted by the attorney general found that Schroeck had stolen about $1.7 million dollars over a nine-year period, starting in 2003. The investigation found that while his wife benefited from the theft, there is no evidence that she was actually involved. Schroeck died in September 2012.

During the 18 months it took authorities to investigate the theft and recover most of the stolen funds, the Pontifical Mission Societies organization was asked by the attorney general’s office to make no public statement about the probe.

But the organization said it kept its board of directors and other church authorities informed of the situation.

With the recovery of nearly all the stolen funds, “there will likely be no net loss to the missions,” Father Small said.

The Pontifical Mission Societies said no monies it received from U.S. dioceses were ever part of the theft. The theft was limited to one account housed at the national office called the Pooled Income Fund.

A spokesperson for the organization said the Office of the Attorney General is satisfied with changes it has made in its accounting procedures since the theft was discovered and those changes will remain in place.

The Pontifical Mission Societies include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Missionary Childhood Association, the Society of St. Peter Apostle and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. The societies support more than 9,000 health clinics, 10,000 orphanages, 1,200 schools, 80,000 seminarians and 9,000 religious sisters and brothers in more than 1,150 mission dioceses, mostly in Africa and Asia.

The Missionary Union of Priests and Religious is a spiritual society of prayer for the missions.

 

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It’s a busy week in girls sports around the diocese

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For The Dialog

 

Here is the girls’ high school sports schedule for the first full week of spring sports. This all depends on the weather, including the chance of snow this afternoon. Read more »

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Abuse survivor says new Vatican panel must achieve real change

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Catholic News Service

DUBLIN — The lone clerical abuse survivor nominated by Pope Francis to sit on the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said the commission needs to achieve concrete change in order to “show other survivors that the church is going to get it right.”

Marie Collins, who was abused by a chaplain as a sick 13-year-old at Crumlin hospital in Dublin in the 1960s, told Catholic News Service that many survivors will be watching the new Vatican commission “with interest, but many will have written it off as merely a PR exercise.”

Irish abuse victim Marie Collins, left, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland, attends a 2012 vigil in Rome. Collins is the lone clerical abuse survivor nominated by Pope Francis to sit on the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

“Survivors will not be satisfied with more words or promises, they need to see real change,” she said.

Collins, who campaigns on behalf of abuse victims, said her priority is “a strong worldwide child protection policy which would include sanctions for any member of the church in a position of authority who ignored these rules.”

She added that too many bishops who have protected abusive priests have been allowed to remain in place undisciplined.

“I would like to see the way survivors and their families have been treated change. The concentration on often-abusive legalistic responses instead of caring for those hurt needs to end,” she said.

The cultural attitude within the church and laws that “categorized child abuse as a moral lapse rather than a criminal offense also have to be tackled,” she told CNS.

The Dubliner is seeking greater transparency because “the secrecy of the past led to enormous failures.”

The initial eight members of the commission will be free to decide what issues they are going to deal with, how they are going to work and who else will join the commission, Collins told CNS.

Though it is in its early stages, she said her understanding is that the commission will make its recommendations directly to Pope Francis and will not communicate through any Vatican departments.

Asked who else she would like to see on the new commission, she told CNS she would like to see Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin because he “is the template for how child protection should be handled at ground level,” and also Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who really “got it” when it came to addressing clerical sexual abuse.

Collins told CNS that she met another commission member, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, in 2011 as he led the Vatican investigation of the Archdiocese of Dublin and was “very impressed with his openness and his ability to listen.”

She also worked with another member of the commission, Baroness Sheila Hollins, during the Toward Healing Symposium at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 2012.

“I feel we worked very well together. She is very devoted to the cause of the vulnerable adult and has great expertise in this field. I am looking forward to working with Cardinal Sean and Baroness Hollins.”

However, Collins said she was “disappointed” listening to Pope Francis’ recent comments when he said no one has done more on the issue of child sexual abuse than the church, and yet the church is the only one to be attacked.

[“He seemed to miss the point that the huge anger directed at the Catholic Church has not been caused by the fact it had abusers in its ranks but by the unique situation whereby those in authority were willing to protect these men. This has been shown in inquiry after inquiry around the world,” she told CNS.

She said it was up to the new Vatican commission to change the pope’s mind on this.

Asked what it means to have a survivor on the commission, Collins said in the past there had been a fear of survivors and “an inability to handle their justified anger.”

At other times, survivors were seen as people who could be placated by words of apology but this “underestimated the damage done to lives and the hurt and anger and thirst for justice that so many survivors feel.”

“In this context it is a big step for the church to include a survivor on the commission, but a very necessary one,” she commented.

She has already been contacted by many survivors and survivor groups from various parts of the world. The majority responded positively, wanting her to take their particular concerns to the commission. She said some have suggested that she is a “token survivor” appointed just to give the church good public relations.

“I have remained a Catholic but not without much difficulty and struggle,” she told CNS. “There have been periods when practicing my faith has been impossible. I have tried to separate the institution of the church from the faith. My belief in God has never wavered. Being appointed to the commission has not changed anything in this regard.”

 

 

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World Meeting of Families in Phila. next year will engage all society

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year will be open to families and people of different faiths, including no faith at all, to engage the wider society in dialogue and to serve and strengthen all families, organizers said.

The gathering Sept. 22-27, 2015, “is meant to be a gift not just for Catholics in Philadelphia, but for every person of good will in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the surrounding regions and the wider world,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, center, looks on as Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, right, speaks during a press conference with a delegation from Pennsylvania at the Vatican March 25 to discuss the September 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Meetings that bring together thousands of people from many different parts of the world with different experiences are a source of “tremendous joy” and grace and “have the power to transform, in deeply positive ways, the whole public community,” the archbishop said at a Vatican news conference March 25.

Archbishop Chaput visited the Vatican with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as part of a delegation of government, religious and community leaders meeting with Vatican officials to plan the 2015 international family gathering. They also expected to have an audience with Pope Francis during their March 24-26 visit.

While the delegation leaders vowed to convince the pope to travel to Philadelphia to celebrate the closing Mass of the eighth World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Chaput said confirmation of the pope using the occasion to make his first pastoral visit to North America was not expected “anytime soon.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, which is helping prepare the meeting, said confirmation could come as late as six months before the event.

The aim of the global gathering will be to help all families of the world and accompany them “with an intelligent, courageous and loving” pastoral approach, the Italian archbishop said.

Archbishop Paglia called for intelligence in being able to read the current situation of today’s families; “courage to face the complex and numerous problems; (and) love for trying to solve them, keeping ever present the Gospel of the family and life.”

Vatican and church organizers are looking for the widest participation and input possible, the two archbishops said, including from members and representatives of other Christian churches and communities, different religions and women and men who are not religious, but are committed to “bringing peace and good will to our world.”

People from different Christian communities and faiths who place value on the family “can teach us something,” Archbishop Chaput said, and “we are sincere about being available and open to all kinds of input.”

When asked to what extent the gathering will open discussion up to the realities of single-parent homes, the divorced and same-sex couples, Archbishop Chaput said the church “always embraces people who differ with the church and I hope that’s a stance we all take.”

“I think all of us here have someone in our family who is divorced and maybe remarried again,” he said, or “have family members who are in a same-sex relationship.”

These are the reality facing many people today, “so not to deal with those kinds of issues” would be to ignore the situation many people live in, he said.

“But we’re not going to start to focus on the problems and the conflicts,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We certainly want everyone to have a chance to speak when those opportunities are provided, but we’re not going to be promoting positions that are contrary to the church’s expectations about family life either.”

It is a Catholic gathering and it will emphasize Catholic teaching about the family and openness to life, he said.

A marriage is more than problems. “It’s a grace, it’s a gift and we really want to start there and not start off with problems and differences and condemning. We want it to be an occasion of honest reflection, the joyful commitment to family life,” he said.

Corbett and Nutter told Catholic News Service they are excited about hosting the World Meeting of Families and would love to have Pope Francis attend. They cited a real need to help today’s families.

The family is “so important to society and, particularly in this day and age, I think we see very much a greater need for greater emphasis on the family,” Corbett said.

More attention and focus on the family “would help solve some of the problems of cities and countries,” he said.

Nutter said making Philadelphia the destination of a papal visit would have “great meaning to the millions of Catholics and other people of faith” in the United States.

The pope “is a world leader, and so whether you are Catholic or not, people are paying attention to what’s going on with Pope Francis, and certainly with the Catholic Church,” he said.

 

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Today is the feast of the Annunciation

March 25th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Gospel

Luke  1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God

to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,

of the house of David,

Detail from an icon depicting the Annunciation is from St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton, Alberta. CNS/Western Catholic Reporter

and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

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‘God’s Not Dead,’ he’s stacked this drama’s deck

March 25th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

A classic bit of impertinence from 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche notwithstanding, it seems that “God’s Not Dead.”

Willie and Korie Robertson star in the movie “God’s Not Dead.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Icon Media Group)

While that may be a welcome piece of news to those who were entertaining any doubts, the message movie that endeavors to proclaim such reassurance from the big screen turns out to be earnest but ineffective.

Pity poor college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper). No sooner does Josh stroll onto the picturesque campus of his new university than he encounters Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), the militantly atheistic faculty member who presides over the introductory philosophy course for which committed believer Josh has ill-advisedly registered.

Nearly the first order of business in Radisson’s class is for each student to write out, sign and pass to the end of the row the succinct formula: “God is dead.” Not surprisingly, Josh demurs; astoundingly, no one else in the packed lecture hall seems to have the least objection to fulfilling so flagrantly inappropriate a requirement.

Josh’s stand-out obstinacy drives his infuriated instructor to challenge him to a multipart debate on the subject of the Almighty’s existence, with Josh’s classmates as the jury and the lad’s grade for the course hanging in the balance.

Josh takes up the gauntlet, despite the active discouragement of his believing but ambitious girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford), who thinks he should go with the flow to avoid ruining their perfect future together. He is pre-law, after all.

So the stage is set for a rather dreary exchange of views, angry on Radisson’s side, meek but steadfast on Josh’s’ during which such names as Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking get bandied about for one side’s benefit or the other’s. Josh. no flat-Earther he. insists that both the Big Bang theory and the hurried pace of early evolution weigh on the side of a Creator and correspond to the symbolic details contained in the Book of Genesis.

Subplots abound around this core story. One involves strictly brought-up Muslim lass Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu). Though she dislikes the headscarf her traditionalist father makes her wear, and ditches it as soon as he drops her off on campus each morning, her inclusion in the movie seems, initially, to hold out the hope that the filmmakers are taking a broad view, and that believers of all stripes are eventually to be seen rallying to the cause.

Alas, not a bit of it. Ayisha harbors a secret, one that only reinforces the rigid presuppositions on offer here.

Other characters being made to conform to the script’s cramped and caricatured worldview include crassly materialistic business exec Mark (Dean Cain), his hippy-dippy main squeeze Amy (Trisha LaFache) and Josh’s fellow student and newfound pal, People’s Republic of China-bred Martin (Paul Kwo), to whom any mention of matters divine apparently comes as a shock.

On the side of the angels, meanwhile, lurk the local minister, Rev. Dave (David A.R. White), his missionary best friend, Rev. Jude (Benjamin Ochieng), as well as Radisson’s beleaguered (and possibly live-in) love interest Mina (Cory Oliver), a semi-closeted Christian for whose timidly proffered ideas her companion has only scorn.

There might be the kernel of an intriguing documentary buried within director Harold Cronk’s stacked-deck drama, given the extent of real-life academic hostility toward religion. But even faith-filled moviegoers will sense the claustrophobia of the echo chamber within which this largely unrealistic picture unfolds.

The film contains mature themes, brief domestic violence, a potentially upsetting accident scene and vaguely implied cohabitation. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG, parental guidance suggested. Some material may be not suitable for children.

 

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Our Lenten Journey: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized

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Click here for today’s Scripture readings:
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032514.cfm

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Mixed results for Catholic schools in spring sports openers

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For The Dialog

 

Spring sports kicked off over the weekend. We’ll start with baseball.

St. Elizabeth was on the wrong end of a 3-0 decision at home vs. Conrad on Saturday. Conrad pitcher Mike Awtry threw the complete game, giving up three hits and striking out eight. St. Elizabeth pitcher Jared Harrison surrendered three runs in five innings and had one of his team’s three hits, a double. Read more »

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