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French cardinal deplores ‘democracy gone mad’ in nation’s presidential race

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Catholic News Service

France’s Catholic primate has condemned the current presidential campaign as his country’s “worst ever” and urged Christians to help prevent democracy from “losing its sense.”

“Left and right rivaled each other and had their radical wings, but there was also a center. Now, left and right have stepped back, and the main candidates are divided by other unclear criteria. I have the impression our voters are totally lost,” said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, is pictured before the start of Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, is pictured before the start of Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In an interview with Poland’s Catholic Information Agency (KAI), published April 26, Cardinal Barbarin said France was witnessing “the twilight of its existing political system” as citizens sought out “leaders closer to the people in their economic and social realities.”

“Democracy seems to be losing its sense and being cast adrift by media shabbiness,” Cardinal Barbarin added. “This has been our worst-ever election campaign, characterized by the unforgivable accusations, total critiques, violence, chaos and the misleading of voters.”

In the first round of French elections April 23, Emmanuel Macron, founder of En Marche!, a center-left political movement, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, emerged as the two top vote-getters. They will face off May 7, when voters will choose who will be president for the next five years. Candidates from the mainstream Socialist and Republican parties will not be in the final round.

Cardinal Barbarin said the success of Le Pen, who has vowed to take France out of the European Union and give French nationals priority over foreigners in jobs, welfare, housing and education, reflected a “destabilizing trend” also visible in other parts of Europe and the United States. He spoke of a “form of democratic terrorism,” which stripped candidates of their dignity by establishing a right “to know everything, whether proved or unproved” about them.

“It seems we’re dealing with a democracy gone mad,” the cardinal said. “Although statesmen still exist, they’re unable to get through today’s campaign mechanisms, where everything is decided by the art of winning. Those who win are just electoral animals, not competent, rational politicians.”

Catholics traditionally make up two-thirds of France’s 67 million inhabitants, although only a small proportion attends Mass.

In a book-length message last October, “Recovering the sense of politics,” the bishops’ conference said “weariness, frustration, fear and anger” in the country had fueled “profound hopes and expectations of change,” but also cautioned against “a search for facile, emotive options.”

Cardinal Barbarin told KAI the Catholic Church should appeal to citizens not to vote “for people with pretty eyes, who can make stars of themselves with media support.”

“This is a time of decadence, and decadence means certain forms and structures are nearing their end,” he said.

“As Christians, we yearn for social order, peace and harmony, a state based on principles of welfare and participation, where all can make contributions and citizens are subjects of the political community,” he said. “But the problem in today’s France is the rising disappointment and anger of those who feel ill-treated, rejected and forgotten.”

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Pray for those responsible for poverty and for the rich, pope tells disadvantaged pilgrims

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pray for those responsible for extreme poverty, for the rich who feast unaware of people in need at their door, and for priests who ignore those who are hurting, Pope Francis told people living a precarious existence.

Pope Francis laughs as he greets a woman during an audience with people from Lyon, France, in Paul VI hall at the Vatican July 6. The audience was with 200 people living in difficult or precarious situations. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis laughs as he greets a woman during an audience with people from Lyon, France, in Paul VI hall at the Vatican July 6. The audience was with 200 people living in difficult or precarious situations. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Say a prayer for these people, wish them well and “ask Jesus that they convert, and I assure you that if you do this, there will be great joy in the church, in your hearts and also in beloved France,” the pope told his audience.

The pope met with about 200 people from the French province of Lyon, who are homeless, living in poverty or coping with an illness or disability.

The group was on pilgrimage to Rome with Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon and the All Together With Dignity Fourth World movement founded by Father Joseph Wresinski, who ministered to deprived families in urban and rural parishes.

Meeting with the group July 6 in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall, the pope told them he had a favor to ask them, or rather, he said, he was giving them a mission to carry out.

It is “a mission that only you, in your poverty will be able to accomplish,” he said in Italian, while an aide translated into French.

Jesus was very harsh with and “strongly reprimanded people who do not embrace the father’s message,” the pope said, recalling Jesus’ “sermon on the plain” in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

While the poor, hungry, excluded and mournful are blessed, Jesus said, “woe to you who are rich,” satiated and mocking, the pope said.

When spoken by the son of God, the warning of “woe,” he said, “is frightening,” and Jesus directed that admonition “to the rich, the wise, those who laugh now, those who like to be flattered, hypocrites.”

“I give you the mission of praying for them so that the Lord give them a change of heart.”

The pope also asked them to pray for those who are “guilty of your poverty” and for “so many rich people dressed in purple and fine linen, who feast with great banquets without realizing that lying at their door there are so many Lazaruses eager to eat the scraps from their table.”

“Pray also for priests, for the Levites, who, seeing that man beaten and half-dead, pass to the other side, look the other way, because they have no compassion,” the pope said.

Jesus chose to share in their suffering out of love, by becoming “one of you: scorned by man, forgotten, someone who means nothing.”

“When you experience this, do not forget that Jesus also experienced this like you. It is proof that you are precious in his eyes and that he is by your side,” he said.

The poor are a priority for the church, Pope Francis told them. “The church, who loves and prefers those whom Jesus loved and preferred, cannot rest until it has reached all those who experience refusal, exclusion and who don’t mean anything to anybody.”

Not only are people able to encounter Christ in the poor, he said, the poor help build peace in the world by “reminding us that we are brothers and sisters and that God is the father of everyone.”

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French cardinal in Lyon admits errors on abuse, meets with priests

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LYON, France —French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin in Lyon, under judicial investigation over his handling of sexual abuse accusations against clergy, admitted making mistakes and unveiled new anti-abuse measures at a meeting with local priests.

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is under judicial investigation over sexual abuse accusations against clergy, admitted making mistakes and unveiled new anti-abuse measures at a meeting with local clergy. He is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Mohamed Messare, EPA)

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is under judicial investigation over sexual abuse accusations against clergy, admitted making mistakes and unveiled new anti-abuse measures at a meeting with local clergy. He is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Mohamed Messare, EPA) 

“The cardinal has accepted the archdiocese committed errors in managing and nominating certain priests and has reiterated how important it is for victims of sexual abuse by clergy to see their right to truth and justice recognized,” the Lyon archdiocese said.

The statement was published in French newspapers following an April 25 meeting between Cardinal Barbarin and 220 priests from the archdiocese, which has been hit hard by abuse accusations.

France’s Catholic La Croix daily said the three-hour closed meeting in a Lyon suburb included testimony from at least one victim. It said participants described the atmosphere as “fraternal but noncomplacent” and said some priests had made “virulent criticisms” of the cardinal’s conduct, while others urged clergy to “stick together.”

In its statement, the archdiocese said the gathering had “unanimously determined to reinforce the struggle against pedophilia in the church,” by strengthening clergy formation and “establishing new criteria” for future appointments. The statement said a “listening cell” would be set up for victims to discuss their needs with clinical psychologists, and a “college of experts,” meeting twice monthly, would “study and analyze” the cases of accused priests.

“This is the engagement of a church determined to provide a sure home where families can feel welcomed in total security,” the archdiocese said. “It underlines the archdiocese’s willingness to assign a rightful place to all sufferings endured and is a collective effort to prevent such activities.”

Meanwhile, the archdiocesan vicar general insisted most Catholic clergy had backed Cardinal Barbarin and resisted calls for his resignation.

“It’s clear we didn’t have full knowledge of certain facts and were remiss in our obligation to investigate and check the truth,” Father Yves Baumgarten told a Lyon news conference. “But while some priests wanted the archbishop to take a retreat during the judicial investigation, the great majority wanted him to continue his mission.”

Prosecutors launched investigations after claims the cardinal failed to discipline a local priest, Father Bernard Preynat, who was charged Jan. 27 with “sexual aggression and rape of minors” while running a Catholic Scout group at Lyon’s Saint-Luc parish.

Calls for Cardinal Barbarin’s resignation grew after apparent inconsistencies in his statements about when he first heard of Father Preynat’s alleged offenses.

A group of 45 abuse survivors, La Parole Liberee, is suing the archbishop for failing to report abuse, a crime that risks a three-year jail term, and has also filed a lawsuit against Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.

The French bishops’ conference adopted guidelines for handling accusations in 2001. Its 10-member permanent council announced new measures April 12, including a dedicated Internet site to ensure victims were “received, heard and accompanied,” and a “national independent commission of expertise” to advise local bishops.

However, in an April 13 statement, the Parole Liberee victim group said the measures sounded “like a rehash … lifeless and without interest,” adding that France’s bishops had failed “the test of courage” urged by the pope and Vatican.

The mass-circulation Le Monde daily said April 26 that the church’s response to abuse claims still appeared “lukewarm, with clumsy declarations,” adding that the Lyon scandals had caused “tongues to loosen around the country.”

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