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South Sudan bishops condemn atrocities, appeal for help to prevent famine

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Catholic News Service

South Sudan’s Catholic bishops asked for the world’s help to prevent mass starvation that threatens the lives of more than 5 million people.

A soldier walks past women carrying their belongings Feb. 11 near Bentiu, South Sudan. South Sudan's Catholic bishops have denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating "scorched-earth" policies in defiance of international law. (CNS photo/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)

A soldier walks past women carrying their belongings Feb. 11 near Bentiu, South Sudan. South Sudan’s Catholic bishops have denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating “scorched-earth” policies in defiance of international law. (CNS photo/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)

In a separate statement, they also said the looming famine was a man-made catastrophe. They denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating “scorched-earth” policies in defiance of international law.

In a Feb. 23 appeal for humanitarian assistance, the bishops said farmers have fled lands without planting crops as civilians are targeted by both sides in the country’s increasingly bloody three-year civil war. Food shortages have been compounded by problems of unemployment, soaring inflation and poor rains, meaning that the country had now entered a critical time, the bishops said.

Citing government predictions, they estimated that about 4.9 million people would be facing famine by April and about 5.5 million people by July.

Among the most vulnerable are more than 3 million refugees and people internally displaced by fighting between the supporters of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.

“We anticipate difficult times ahead in 2017 as our people are likely to witness mass starvation by virtue of their multiple displacements, especially (because) the states that traditionally produced cereals in surplus will be missing the planting season, and that will, in turn, lead to further food insecurity in 2017,” the bishops said.

They called for “immediate and unconditional concrete intervention and action … before it is too late.”

In a message sent to churches around the world, the bishops asked Caritas Internationalis and the international community to press for “an immediate stop to the violence and (for) free movement of population.”

They also demanded safe access for aid agencies to reach people in remote areas and secure delivery of humanitarian aid to places where it was needed most urgently.

The bishops also collectively directly addressed the Catholics of the predominantly Christian country in a pastoral letter Feb. 23, telling them that any soldiers who killed, tortured and raped civilians were guilty of war crimes.

“There seems to be a perception that people in certain locations or from certain ethnic groups are with the other side, and thus they are targeted by armed forces,” the bishops said. “They are killed, raped, tortured, burned, beaten, looted, harassed, detained, displaced from their homes and prevented from harvesting their crops.”

“Some towns have become ghost towns, empty except for security forces and perhaps members of one faction or tribe,” they added. “Even when they have fled to our churches or to U.N. camps for protection, they are still harassed by security forces. Many have been forced to flee to neighboring countries for protection.”

The bishops said hatred had become so intense that the victims of such violence were being mutilated and burned even after they were killed.

“People have been herded into their houses, which were then set on fire to burn the occupants. Bodies have been dumped in sewage-filled septic tanks. There is a general lack of respect for human life,” the bishops said.

The church, they said, was increasingly being accused of taking sides in the conflict, but they stressed its neutrality.

“We are for all good things — peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, the rule of law, good governance — and we are against evil — violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression — regardless of where they are and who is practicing them,” the bishops said.

They concluded their letter by expressing their joy at the prospect of a visit by Pope Francis to South Sudan in 2017, saying he was “deeply concerned” by the suffering in the country.

“It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here,” the bishops said.

On Feb. 22, Pope Francis used his general audience to appeal for food aid to Sudan, warning the international community that starvation might condemn to death “millions of people, including children.”

In a Feb. 23 statement emailed to Catholic News Service, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England, said that “the world must wake up to this man-made humanitarian disaster.”

“The violence must stop and the international community must intervene,” said Bishop Kenney, a former president of Caritas Europa who has visited South Sudan on several occasions.

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Bishops visiting Holy Land say Christians must oppose Israeli settlements

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JERUSALEM — Christians have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, said bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

“This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace,” said bishops who participated in the Holy Land Coordination Jan. 14-19.

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales)

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity,” said the statement, issued Jan. 19, at the end of the visit.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was among the 12 bishops who signed the statement. Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, represented Canadian bishops. The statement also was signed by representatives of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as well as bishops from the United Kingdom and other European countries.

During their visit, the bishops visited Hebron, West Bank, where the main market area is closed off to accommodate the security needs of some 800 Israeli settlers. Afterward, Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service, “It becomes clearer that (the settlements) are not just about outlying settlements but something more systematic; more about infiltrating Palestinian land and forcing Palestinians out by making them so uncomfortable with such limited freedom they don’t want to continue living there.”

Three of the bishops also visited the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli blockade has made it difficult to get supplies for reconstruction of buildings destroyed by Israeli shelling. Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, Scotland, one of the bishops who visited Gaza, said he left feeling “sad and helpless” at the poverty and lack of basic commodities.

In 2006, a government led by Hamas was elected in Gaza. Israel, the United States and the European Union have listed Hamas. an Islamic political party with an armed wing, as a terrorist organization and have imposed economic sanctions against Gaza.

In their statement, the bishops said Christians had a responsibility to help “the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe. They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.”

They also said Christians must continue to encourage nonviolent resistance, as encouraged by Pope Francis.

“This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land, including the Cremisan Valley,” the statement said.

The barrier is a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. If completed as planned, the separation wall would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank. Israel maintains that the barrier contributed significantly to a decrease in the number of terrorist attacks, while Palestinians contend that the barrier is simply another Israeli land grab, imprisons them and imposes travel limitations.

The bishops said that each year since 1998, they have called for justice and peace, “yet the suffering continues.”

“So this call must get louder,” their statement said. “As bishops, we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action.”

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Bishops, others offer prayers, resolve after Orlando shootings

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WASHINGTON — Bishops of dioceses which themselves fell victim to mass shootings in recent years were among the flood of Catholic leaders offering condolences and consolation to survivors and family members of the victims of the mass shooting June 12 at a gay nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida.

Women cry near the body of Angel Candelairo Padro during his wake June 17 in his hometown of Guanica, Puerto Rico. Candelario was of the victims of the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Alvin Baez, Reuters)

Women cry near the body of Angel Candelairo Padro during his wake June 17 in his hometown of Guanica, Puerto Rico. Candelario was of the victims of the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Alvin Baez, Reuters)

The mass shooting left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and more than 50 others wounded.

Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, a city that suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement: “For those of us in San Bernardino, this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center.

“In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the city itself,” said the statement. “Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, which takes in Newtown, where four years ago 20 children and six adults were slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the gunman took his own life, said in a June 14 statement that all Catholic must raise their voices against hatred.

The attack in Orlando, he said, “”has unmasked once again the evil face of hatred and bigotry in our society. It is an evil that must spur us to rededicate ourselves to fostering a true spirit of unity and reconciliation.”

“How do we respond before such hate? At minimum, all Catholics must raise our voices against such hatred,” Bishop Caggiano said. “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society. The Lord Jesus extended his arms on the cross to embrace all people who respond to His offer of salvation.

“Who are we to close our hearts to anyone for whom the Lord has offered an invitation to experience his saving life? As a society and a church, we must do whatever we can to fight all hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms.”

“Yet another lament about the prevalence of guns throughout our society seems a pale response to the horror of the crimes in Orlando,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston in a June 13 statement.

“With each repeated occurrence of mass shootings in schools, theaters, churches and social settings it appears increasingly clear that any hope for thwarting these tragedies must begin with more effective legislation and enforcement of who has access to guns and under what conditions. However, legislation alone will not be sufficient as there are wider and deeper forces at work in these attacks.”

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas focused on gun violence in his June 13 statement.

“Our gun laws are an invitation to kill. They would be ludicrous if the situation were not so tragic. ‘By their fruits you know them,’” Bishop Farrell said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew, “and the fruits of our gun control laws are bitter indeed, no, they are fatal.”

He added, “The Second Amendment rightly protects our right to bear arms for hunting, sport, self-defense and other legitimate purposes. There is no legitimate purpose for making this kind of weapon available to the general public.

“It shouldn’t take 49 of our children being mercilessly shot to death for us to recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality,” said a June 16 statement by Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, north of Orlando.

“When the victims of the Pulse shooting were made public, the world learned that they were predominately young and Latino,” he said. “This should sound familiar to the Catholic Church. We are young and Latino and we cannot fail to be attentive to people, whether they are found in our pews, our neighborhoods or gays and lesbians in our families.”

“We stand in solidarity with all those affected by this atrocity, for regardless of race, religion or personal lifestyle, we are all beloved children of God, called to respond to the mystery of iniquity with love and compassion,” said a June 13 statement by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco.

In his June 16 column in The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, New York, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany said that the objective of the gunman at the nightclub “seemed clear enough: to put a violent end to defenseless members of a class of human beings simply because they existed and he did not want them to live.”

“We must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community,” he wrote.

“There have always been and will be powers in this world whose design is to divide us as a nation by actions provoking us to respond in kind with hatred and violence,” the bishop wrote. “One thing that can unite us is our trust in God’s patience with us sinners, along with our uncompromised conviction as Americans, whatever our religious faith, that every human being is a being of moral worth, from conception to natural death. And this is so without regard to any class or status assigned us by human custom or judgment, or by personal or institutional convenience. … To devalue one human life is to devalue all human lives. United in the defense of human life we must stand.”     The Sisters of St. Joseph based in the Philadelphia suburb of Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, posted a statement June 13 on Facebook which said, in part, “In a special way, our prayers are with the LGBT community, their families, and friends, as they mourn the loss of their loved ones. … Together, with all people of goodwill, let us work to eliminate gun violence and to eradicate every form of discrimination, that they peace for which Jesus lived and died may be realized on this earth.”

The mass shooting in Orlando and other such “tragic moments serve add to a culture of fear in our nation that makes us suspicious of anyone we define as ‘other,’” said a June 17 statement from the provincials of the Franciscan Friars of the U.S.

“We, of course, join our voices to the chorus of those offering thoughts and prayers for the victims in Orlando. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBT brothers and sisters as they grieve and try to make sense of this tragedy. To them we say clearly: We stand with you,” the statement said.

The provincials also urged universal background checks and other common sense reforms to help reduce “the violence of a gun culture run amok in the U.S. It is time that we stand up as a people and say enough is enough.”

Prayer services took place around the country in cities large and small to remember the Orlando victims.

A prayer service in the Skaggs Catholic Center grotto in Draper, Utah, drew more than 100 people June 13, less than 24 hours after the calamity. They prayed a decade of the rosary in memory of the victims of the Pulse shooting. They also prayed for the victims’ families. The prayer service was organized by officials of Juan Diego Catholic High School, one of three schools in the Skaggs Catholic Center.

William Flanagan, a Juan Diego senior who was among those who led a decade of the rosary during the prayer vigil, said the shootings saddened him, and that he hoped the vigil “helps get all those innocent souls into heaven and with that said, I hope it helps the families, too.”

“A good response to a tragedy like this is prayer,” Galey Colosimo, Juan Diego Catholic High School’s principal, told those gathered in the grotto. “Whether you’re Catholic or not, it doesn’t matter. I think we’re all here in solidarity together tonight. Just pray for so many things: the victims and their families, certainly, and for our country, and for our world.”

 

Contributing to this roundup was Marie Mischel in Draper.

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Northern Ireland bishops call ruling on abortion ‘disquieting’

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Catholic News Service

The Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland have described as “profoundly disquieting” a ruling by the High Court that the region’s ban on abortion in all but very limited circumstances breaches human rights legislation.

A pro-life supporter demonstrates in 2012 outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland have described as "profoundly disquieting" a ruling by the High Court that the region's ban on abortion in all but very limited circumstances breaches human rights legislation. (CNS photo/Paul Mcerlane, EPA)

A pro-life supporter demonstrates in 2012 outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland have described as “profoundly disquieting” a ruling by the High Court that the region’s ban on abortion in all but very limited circumstances breaches human rights legislation. (CNS photo/Paul Mcerlane, EPA)

While Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the 1967 legalization of abortion only extended to England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland retains the earlier 1861 prohibition on abortion.

Currently, termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland is allowed only if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

However, the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, ruled Nov. 30 that grounds for abortion should be extended in cases where the child is not expected to live long outside the womb or cases of rape or incest.

Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the decision and was “considering the grounds for appeal.” He had six weeks to decide.

Responding to the statement, the bishops said, “It is profoundly disquieting that the decision of the High Court in Belfast has effectively weighed up one life against another and said to our society” that the lives of some children are “more worthy of our protection, love and care than others.”

“Vulnerable and innocent children who suffer from a life-limiting condition, and children who have been conceived as a result of the trauma of a sexual crime for which they bear no responsibility, will no longer be afforded the protection of the law to vindicate their inherent right to life.

“To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person continues to be gravely morally wrong in all circumstances,” the bishops said.

They said the church is “committed to a culture of equal compassion and care for a mother and her unborn child. We share with others the belief that the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child can never be a humane, compassionate or appropriate response to the complex and sensitive circumstances of a difficult or crisis pregnancy.

“The church will continue to consider the full implications of the judgment of the High Court in Belfast and of any appeal which may follow,” the statement added.

Bernadette Smyth of the pro-life advocacy group Precious Life said, “this is an undemocratic decision today. It will clearly see, long term, the opening of the floodgates.”

The issue is also proving contentious in the neighboring Irish Republic, where a strict ban on abortion was relaxed in 2013 to permit abortion in limited circumstances when there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother, including when a woman says the continuation of the pregnancy leads to suicidal thoughts.

Some in the Irish Republic have called for wider access to abortion. Such a move would require a referendum to repeal an article of the country’s constitution, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn child. Prime Minister Enda Kenny has said that if his government is returned to power after next year’s general election, he will call a citizen’s convention to debate the issue.

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Mozambique’s bishops call for prayers for peace amid clashes

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MAPUTO, Mozambique — Catholic bishops in Mozambique scheduled a day for prayer for peace and urged the country’s leaders to listen to the cries of citizens.

“Hearing the many cries coming to us, we deplore the inconsistency between what is said and done and call on government and opposition to abandon their weapons definitively and immediately resume effective dialogue,” the Mozambican bishops’ conference said in an early November appeal to mark 40 years of independence from Portugal.

In this Oct. 19, 2011, file photo, people gather in Maputo, Mozambique, to view a statue of former Mozambican President Samora Machel, who led the country when it gained independence in 1975. (CNS photo/Antonio Silva, EPA)

In this Oct. 19, 2011, file photo, people gather in Maputo, Mozambique, to view a statue of former Mozambican President Samora Machel, who led the country when it gained independence in 1975. (CNS photo/Antonio Silva, EPA)

“We must listen to the cry of bereaved families mourning the death of sons fallen in combat,” said the bishops’ conference, headed by Bishop Lucio Muandula of Xai-xai.

Clashes continue between government troops and Renamo, the Mozambique National Resistance, which refused to recognize the long-governing Mozambique Liberation Front victory in October 2014 elections.

“We must also hear the cry of children and young people forced to abandon their studies, of farmers who cannot produce a livelihood for their families, of those impoverished by the interruption of business activities, of internal and external investors seeing their businesses ruined by progressive insecurity.”

The bishops asked all citizens, and “Christians in particular, to commit to building peace through reconciliation gestures, civil and democratic coexistence, respect for differences and shared responsibility.”

The bishops said the continued deterioration in the political and military situation had caused “much popular anguish” and a new upsurge of internally displaced people and refugees who had fled “at risk of losing their lives.”

They scheduled a day of prayer for peace in all Catholic parishes in Mozambique on Nov. 22, the feast of Christ the King.

Catholics make up more than a quarter of the 25.8 million inhabitants of Mozambique, which is one of the world’s poorest countries but has also seen rapid economic growth.

Speaking during a Nov. 9 visit to Angola, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said his country should follow Angola’s example by disarming and transforming guerrilla movements into political parties.

Angola’s Catholic bishops also issued a pastoral message to mark four decades of independence Nov. 11, noting that “peace and reconciliation” still required “continued work.”

They said Angolans should commemorate independence by “investing in spiritual and moral reconstruction,” and “safeguarding the dignity of Christian culture against religious fanaticism and cultural by-products of globalization, which seek to trivialize God.”

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Bishops from around the world plead for climate change action

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The presidents of the U.S. and Canadian bishops’ conferences joined leaders of the regional bishops’ conferences of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe in signing an appeal for government leaders to reach a “fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement” at a summit in Paris.

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, signed the appeal Oct. 26 at the beginning of a joint news conference at the Vatican.

A boathouse sits at the end of a small pier at Lake Ammersee in Germany Oct. 24. The presidents of the U.S. and Canadian bishops' conferences joined leaders of the regional bishops' conferences of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe in signing an appeal for government leaders to reach a "fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement" at a summit in Paris. (CNS photo/Karl-Josef Hildenbrand, EPA)

A boathouse sits at the end of a small pier at Lake Ammersee in Germany Oct. 24. The presidents of the U.S. and Canadian bishops’ conferences joined leaders of the regional bishops’ conferences of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe in signing an appeal for government leaders to reach a “fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement” at a summit in Paris. (CNS photo/Karl-Josef Hildenbrand, EPA)

The appeal, Cardinal Gracias said, was a response to Pope Francis’ letter on the environment and an expression of “the anxiety of all the people, all the churches all over the world” regarding how, “unless we are careful and prudent, we are heading for disaster.”

The appeal is addressed to negotiators preparing for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris Nov. 30-Dec. 11. The bishops called for “courageous and imaginative political leadership” and for legal frameworks that “clearly establish boundaries and ensure the protection of the ecosystem.”

The bishops also asked governments to recognize the “ethical and moral dimensions of climate change,” to recognize that the climate and the atmosphere are common goods belonging to all, to set a strong limit on global temperature increase and to promote new models of development and lifestyles that are “climate compatible.”

The appeal calls for decisions that place people above profits, that involve the poor in decision making, that protect people’s access to water and to land, are particularly mindful of vulnerable communities and are specific in commitments to finance mitigation efforts.

Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, president of the Latin American bishops’ council, spoke of the “suffering” Amazon basin and the key role it plays in the survival of South America and the world. The Latin American bishops, he said, want an end to pollution, to the destruction of the forests and the disappearance of biodiversity, but they also want justice for their people, the majority of whom do not benefit from the exploitation of resources taken from their countries.

Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, president of the Federation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Oceania, told reporters, “We come from islands, and our life is very much at risk.”

“We belong to those most vulnerable groups impacted by rising sea levels,” he said. Many communities, particularly on Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Carteret Islands, already are experiencing the disappearance of land used for subsistence farming or seeing their agricultural land rendered unusable by the infiltration of salt water.

Climate change, the archbishop said, already is leading to the phenomenon of climate refugees.

The appeal said that most people, whether or not they believe in God, recognize the planet as “a shared inheritance, who(se) fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the creator, since God created the world for everyone.”

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, confirmed that the U.S. bishops asked that a specific temperature target not be in the appeal. Others agreed, he said.

“We’re pastors and we’re not scientists,” the archbishop said. The specific temperature target for reversing the impact of climate change is something for scientists to decide, but the need to act is a moral issue, and the bishops are competent to speak to that, he said.

People in the United States are starting to understand how important action is, Archbishop Wenski said. It has been slow because “we live in a little bit of a cocoon sometimes, and if it doesn’t affect us immediately, we don’t react.”

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, represented the Canadian bishops at the presentation. His province, Alberta, is “fossil fuel central,” he said, yet people in Alberta, like in the rest of Canada, recognize that something must be done.

“Nobody wants the future placed in jeopardy because of this, and everyone understands intergenerational responsibility,” he said.

“Everybody knows that we have to move away from fossil fuels,” he said, but the big question is how. “There are some great minds out there working on finding the new technologies” that will provide jobs and energy without harming the environment.

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Francis meets with both bishops and clergy abuse survivors at Phila. seminary

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — Pope Francis met with a group of survivors of sexual abuse Sept. 27 and later told bishops that he was overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment and was committed to holding accountable those who harmed children.

Pope Francis meets with church leaders at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

Pope Francis meets with church leaders at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

In a meeting with cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo, the pope prefaced his address on the importance of the family by saying that he had met with the group as arranged by Philadelphia archbishop Charles J. Chaput. The Vatican said the 30-minute meeting, with three women and two men abused by members of the clergy or their families or their teachers, was held at the seminary shortly before the pope addressed the bishops.

“It is engraved in my heart, the stories, suffering and pain of the children abused by priests,” the pope said. “I continue to feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment because of those who had in their care the little ones and caused them great harm.

“I am deeply sorry. God cries,” he said.

He said that “the crimes and sin of sexual abuse of children can no longer remain secret” and that he “committed the close vigilance of the church to protect the children, and I promise that all responsible will be held accountable.”

In his earlier meetings with bishops during his six-day U.S. visit, he told them that he continued to be hurt by news of sexual abuse of children and wanted them to be more vigilant.

For years, the Philadelphia archdiocese has been rocked by years of sexual abuse by priests and has sold church-owned properties and scaled back ministries to settle claims. Earlier this year, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, resigned after being the first bishop convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report to authorities the sexual abuse of children by a priest.

In 2014, Pope Francis met in Rome with victims of sexual abuse by clergy. However, many groups, including members of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or SNAP, continue to be critical of the Vatican and claim it has not done enough for the victims.

In his private meeting at the seminary, Pope Francis told the survivors that they were an inspiration and “ministers of mercy.” He also prayed with them and said he shared their pain, suffering and shame.

“We owe each of them and their families a gratitude for their great courage to bring the light of Christ of the sexual abuse of children,” he told the bishops.

In his address on the importance of the family, Pope Francis challenged the bishops to provide more pastoral leadership and guidance in a “consumerism” culture and to encourage young people to opt for marriage and family despite challenges that keep many from the sacrament.

His speech at the seminary came about 12 hours after a star-studded Festival of Families celebration that showcased the importance of the family. In unscripted remarks at the festival, Pope Francis said the institution of marriage, despite its many challenges, should continue to be protected.

“Without the family, not even the church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely ‘a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race,’” the pope said, quoting “Lumen Gentium,” the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

“Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural — and now juridical — effects on family bonds,” the pope said.

As the number of marriages decline and more and more states across the country legalize same-sex marriage, the pope said the consumerism culture allows people to follow the latest trends, and their loneliness discourages establishments of close bonds and the devouring of everything, including religion, until the next fad.

“Today, consumerism determines what is important,” the pope said. “Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming … whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere means for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.’”

As he had done on several occasions during his U.S. visit to the United States, the pope challenged the bishops to do more to help refortify the family, especially the young people, the future of the church.

“Many young people, in the context of this culture of discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence,” he said. “Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full.

“We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family,” he said.

Pope Francis said that priests give up a family to care for a larger one in an effort to bring them closer to God.

“Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the church and the family,” he said. “Otherwise it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.”

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Contributing to this story was Laura Ieraci.

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Pope OKs plan to investigate, judge bishops who fail to act on abuse

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has approved new procedures for the Vatican to investigate and judge claims of “abuse of office” by bishops who allegedly failed to protect minors and vulnerable adults from sex abuse.

The procedures will include a new “judicial section” within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that has a papal mandate to “judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors,” the Vatican said in a written statement June 10.

Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The announcement came at the end of a series of consultations the pope had with his international Council of Cardinals, which met at the Vatican June 8-10.

U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, a member of the so-called C9 group of cardinal advisers and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, presented to the council and the pope a number of proposals for greater accountability of bishops in dealing with cases of clerical sexual abuse.

Originally prepared by the protection commission, the proposals were later expanded and given unanimous approval by the Council of Cardinals and the pope June 8, the Vatican said.

While the Code of Canon Law already stipulates that bishops hold certain responsibilities, there had been no permanent system or trained staff to deal with reporting, evaluating and judging claims that a bishop had failed to fulfill his responsibilities linked to handling suspected and known cases of sex abuse, said a source familiar with the discussion.

Previously, the Congregation of Bishops would send out a different ad hoc group to investigate each case, the source added.

Now a specific “procedure is defined for how to deal with these cases,” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters.

The new process also means people who want to make a claim, and anyone can do so, will know more clearly whom to go to if a serious crime of negligence is suspected, the source told Catholic News Service.

Cardinal O’Malley gave the council and Pope Francis a full report about the proposed procedures, but the Vatican released only a list of the “five specific proposals made to the Holy Father,” which subsequently received his full approval and can be considered to have gone into effect.

The Vatican statement said the three Curia offices that have oversight of the world’s bishops, the congregations for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples and for Eastern Churches, were now authorized “to receive and investigate complaints of the episcopal abuse of office.”

“There is the duty to report all complaints to the appropriate congregation,” it said.

The pope mandated the doctrinal congregation be in charge of judicial procedures regarding charges of “abuse of office” and that it establish a special section with the proper staff and resources to carry out its work.

The pope was to appoint a secretary of the new judicial section and to authorize the appointment of the personnel needed for “penal processes regarding the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy.”

The pope still would have to approve the removal of a bishop from office if he was found by the tribunal to have been negligent in his duties, Father Lombardi said.

The new procedures will be reviewed in five years and may be amended, the statement said.

 

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Washington Letter: Catholics’ clash over America’s Salvadoran policy in Archbishop Romero’s time recalled

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The upcoming beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero has inspired many U.S. Catholics to attend the May 23 ceremony in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador.

A man armed with a pistol runs from a burning car as another, left background, throws a Molotov cocktail during violence that erupted at Archbishop Oscar Romero's 1980 funeral in San Salvador, El Salvador. Debate over U.S.-Salvadoran policy during the time of his murder has been recalled prior to his May 23 beatification. (CNS photo/Ulises Rodriguez, Reuters)

A man armed with a pistol runs from a burning car as another, left background, throws a Molotov cocktail during violence that erupted at Archbishop Oscar Romero’s 1980 funeral in San Salvador, El Salvador. Debate over U.S.-Salvadoran policy during the time of his murder has been recalled prior to his May 23 beatification. (CNS photo/Ulises Rodriguez, Reuters)

The long hoped-for event has also reminded many that Catholics and other religious groups implored the U.S. government to change its policy toward the Salvadoran government before and after Archbishop Romero was gunned down during a March 1980 Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador.

Throughout the 1970s, the U.S. government paid close attention to political upheavals in Central America. Among the factors driving policy decisions were fears that the Soviet Union would gain influence by propping up communist regimes, as it had in Nicaragua after the Sandinista revolution. Populist movements in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were sources of concern, said Tom Quigley, former foreign policy adviser on Latin America and the Caribbean to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It was a Cold War-driven policy, Quigley told Catholic News Service. Congressional and administration analysts feared the Central American countries would go the way of Cuba as it all but became a Soviet satellite following its 1953-59 revolution, he said, and the Soviets would gain a foothold in the Americas.

The administrations of President Jimmy Carter and later President Ronald Reagan supported military aid for the Salvadoran government to fend off insurgencies under the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, an umbrella organization of five guerrilla groups.

While he had previously been thought of as a supporter of El Salvador’s ruling class, when then-Auxiliary Bishop Romero became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, he emerged as a champion for the poor and an uncompromising critic of a government he said legitimized terror and assassinations.

While the new archbishop had no affection for the rebels, he strongly opposed North American military intervention or aid to a government he saw as oppressive.

“Many U.S. Catholics cited Romero in arguing for a change” in U.S. policy, said Theresa Keeley, a historian of foreign relations and religion and a visiting assistant professor at Georgetown University.

First the Carter administration and then the Reagan administration in the 1980s “characterized the Salvadoran government as centrist and in need of U.S. aid to withstand attacks from both the right and left,” Keeley told CNS.

Archbishop Romero used his pulpit to denounce actions of the government including its use of death squads and other violence and military occupation of churches, said Julian Filochowski, chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust in London.

U.S. bishops and their policy staff listened to Archbishop Romero and began to lobby their own government to stop sending military aid to El Salvador, Keeley said.

Then-Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, who was president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, issued a major statement in July 1977 on persecution of the church in Central America. That was followed by congressional testimony on behalf of the church that same month, focusing mainly on the threats against the Jesuit community in El Salvador, following the murder of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, Quigley said.

“No one was in any doubt, least of all those in the State Department or the White House, that the official (U.S. bishops’) position was highly critical of much of U.S. policy toward the region and was especially opposed to the provision of military aid to any parties in conflict there,” he said.

“Despite requests from religious groups that Carter end military aid to El Salvador as Archbishop Romero implored, the Carter administration continued with its request for Congress (for) $5.7 million for military aid to El Salvador,” Keeley said. “In fact, the Foreign Operations Subcommittee approved the administration’s request the day after Romero’s murder.”

Though the U.S. bishops were inspired by Archbishop Romero during his three-year tenure as archbishop of San Salvador, they were incensed by his assassination and it galvanized them to press their country’s leaders even harder to change course on Salvadoran policy, Quigley said.

Among U.S. critics of American policy, the bishops led the field.

“Local, national and international radio and television units interviewed (U.S. Catholic leaders) on what seemed at the time an almost routine basis,” Quigley said. “In 1980 and 1981 alone, (the U.S. bishops) issued no fewer than 14 official statements or letters expressing opposition to military aid.”

The Salvadoran civil war (1979-1992) brought more bloodshed to El Salvador, especially after Archbishop Romero’s murder.

In December 1980, four churchwomen — Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missioner Jean Donovan — were raped and murdered outside San Salvador.

“It was really the murders of the churchwomen… that galvanized a larger number of U.S. Catholics” to begin protesting support for the Salvadoran government, Keeley said. A major guerrilla offensive in January 1981”did not see the kind of spike in activity as these murders did.”

The war also took a toll against non-combatants, including the Nov. 16, 1989, murder of six Jesuits and two women at Central American University in San Salvador.

“The U.S. government, in my recollection, had little to say about the several murders of religious in the region except for those who were U.S. citizens,” Quigley said. “The church, however, was active in pressing the human rights and religious freedom issues throughout the region.”

Despite reports of the savage murders of men, women and children in El Salvador, the U.S. continued to provide the Salvadoran government with weapons, money and political support into the early 1990s.

 

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Bishops see signs of resilience in ‘open-air prison’ of Gaza

By

Catholic News Service

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Despite the immense destruction still evident in Gaza following the war there last summer, the resilience of the people gave hope to 16 bishops of the Holy Land Coordination during their visit to the Gaza Strip Jan. 11-12.

One boy’s words continued to resonate with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The boy, who was the last student to speak to the bishops before they left Holy Family School in Gaza, told them he simply wanted dignity.

An unidentified bishop, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., and Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, England, pray during a Jan. 12 Mass with other bishops from around the world at the Carmelite Monastery in Bethlehem, West Bank. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

An unidentified bishop, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., and Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, England, pray during a Jan. 12 Mass with other bishops from around the world at the Carmelite Monastery in Bethlehem, West Bank. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

“What made a deep impression on me is that the people are not broken,” said Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa. “Their will is very strong. We saw this in the way they interacted with us and the fact that life is as back to as normal as possible. It signifies the strength of the human spirit.”

It took some of the bishops six hours to get through the Erez checkpoint into Gaza where they celebrated Mass, met with members of the Christian community and were briefed on the work of CRS, Caritas and the Pontifical Mission in Gaza.

The bishops also visited the Israeli border town of Sderot, which was among the Israeli towns that came under bombardment from Gaza during the war, before returning to Bethlehem.

“We shouldn’t make light of the Israeli perspective and we need to listen to it; it is truly a concern and before the walls of separation there were suicide bombings. We understand the fear, but that is not a long-term solution,” said Bishop Cantu. “The wall of separation is causing even more problems, even in the short term.”

Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England, noted that an Israeli they spoke with in Sderot remembered with fondness the time when Gazan workers were able to come to the city, and they had meals together.

Israel and Egypt instituted a border blockade of Gaza in 2007 following an internal struggle between two Palestinian factions — Hamas, which Israel, the United States and others consider a terrorist organization, and Fatah, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip following their legislative election win in 2006.

As a result of the blockade, the bishops noted, Gaza residents are still struggling to repair or rebuild their homes when it is extremely difficult to obtain much-needed building supplies.

Tens of thousands of people are still living in their bombed out homes or under primitive conditions even during the recent cold spells, the bishops noted, calling Gaza an “open-air prison.” They emphasized the importance of showing solidarity for the people living in Gaza so they know they are not forgotten.

“The biggest need for the people of Gaza is freedom,” said Bishop Felix Gmur of Basel, Switzerland. “They do not feel free because there is no exchange of goods or (movement) of people.”

He noted the strength of the shrinking Gazan Christian community.

“They hold on. They keep being there,” Bishop Gmur said. “It makes me feel sad because they are not free; they are living in circumstances which are partially hostile because … there are some (Muslims) who would like them to be outside of Gaza.”

In the face of growing radicalization of Islam in the region as well as in Europe, it is up to religious leaders of all faiths, especially Christians, to uphold the banner of reconciliation, several bishops said.

Since 1998, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has organized the annual meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land at the invitation of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land.

Mandated by the Holy See, the Holy Land Coordination meets every January in the Holy Land, focusing on prayer, pilgrimage and persuasion with the aim of acting in solidarity with the Christian community there and sharing in the pastoral life of the local church as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure.

 

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