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Argentine clergy abuse victims in Rome, one year after Vatican summit

Rome, Italy, Feb 21, 2020 / 12:49 pm (CNA).- One year after the Vatican hosted a summit on the abuse crisis, three former students of an Argentine institute which cared for deaf children, and from which two priests were convicted last year of sexual abuse, have traveled to Rome to ask the Vatican for files on accused priests.

Two Catholic priests were sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted in November of sexually abusing students at the now-closed Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired children in Argentina’s Mendoza province.

Three victims, who are former students of the institute, were accompanied by around 18 other victims of clergy sexual abuse, activists, and lawyers at a gathering near the Vatican Feb. 21.

The group was at the United Nations in Geneva earlier in the week, where they gave presentations to the UN committees against torture, on disability rights, and on the rights of the child, according to Denise Buchanan of advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse.

The Argentina case was presented “so that they can discuss it in the committees and pressure the Vatican to do whatever they need to do to make this stop from that end,” Buchanan told CNA.

One of the young victims from Argentina, Claudia Labeguerie, told CNA they went to the UN to “denounce the pope and the Vatican for cover-up, and then we came here to Rome to tell [about] the report.”

Labeguerie, who is deaf and uses sign language, spoke with CNA through her sister, Erica. Labeguerie said she suffered “abuse and torture by priests and sisters” at the Provolo Institute.

Buchanan, who was in Rome during the 2019 Vatican summit on abuse, said the Argentine victims “want Pope Francis to know that right here, right now is the time for there to be some reparation for them.”

She described reparation as including financial support for the victims, many of whom came from poor families. She also said they are looking for papal acknowledgment and changes to Church law.

The 2019 convictions in Argentina were for crimes which took place from 2004 to 2016. The cases involved 10 students, though around 20 have made abuse accusations.

Noting that some of the abuse occurred as recently as four years ago, Buchanan said they hope “people understand that [abuse is] not a past issue, it’s a present issue.”

Friday’s gathering was held in the square outside the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes of abuse by clergy or religious according to Church law.

Buchanan and others present said they were outside the CDF because they want the Vatican to hand over to Argentine lawyers the files on priests connected with the Provolo Institute and their photos.

Lawyers for the students, who were also present Friday, want the files to aid in their own prosecutions, according to Buchanan.

The CDF does not share information or the case files on ongoing investigations and legal proceedings. After the conclusion, prosecutors in other countries may request access to case files through the Secretariat of State.

Gemma Hickey is the founder of victim advocacy organizations the Pathways Foundation and ACTS-Canada. The Church “has lost its way,” in handling clergy abuse, Hickey told CNA, calling for “ownership, transparency, accountability.”

Hickey, who is a victim of clerical abuse and now identifies as a transgender man, said, “when someone abuses you and they represent God, that never leaves you.”

“As much as you move on, as much therapy as you do, you still carry that with you every day. It’s very difficult. It compromises your faith and your relationship to God, your relationship with yourself.”

Members of SNAP, the ECA network, and BishopAccountability.org were also present at the gathering.

Patricia Dold, a religious studies professor, said she herself is not a victim of clergy abuse, but she is angry and frustrated “to see this Church fail survivors.”

Their presence in Rome “is just one way to make the statement that we want the Church to live up to its moral code.”

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Doctors, bishops oppose decriminalization of euthanasia in Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal, Feb 20, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers in Portugal debated five pieces of legislation Thursday to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, and doctors in the country are joining with the Catholic Church in opposing the potential change.

Each of the bills, which are not substantially different, were approved by the unicameral parliament Feb. 20.

“The most dignified option against euthanasia is in palliative care as a commitment to proximity, respect and care for human life until its natural end,” the Portugese bishops' conference said Feb. 11, urging support for a referendum on the topic rather than a legislative change.

The Portuguese Doctors' Association says the legislation violates key principles of the medical profession, MailOnline reports.

“Doctors learn to treat patients and save lives. They are not prepared to take part in procedures leading to death,” PDA president Miguel Guimaraes said after meeting with Portugese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who has expressed reluctance to signing the legislation.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Australian state of Victoria, while Switzerland and some U.S. states allow assisted suicide.

The Socialist Party, one of the left-of-center parties leading the charge to push the legislation in Portugal, also led proposals to permit same-sex marriages and abortion in Portugal, the AP reports.

Hundreds of protestors gathered Thursday outside the parliament building in Lisbon to oppose the changes.

The bill would apply to patients over 18 who are “in a situation of extreme suffering, with an untreatable injury or a fatal and incurable disease.” According to the AP, two doctors, at least one of them a specialist in the relevant illness, and a psychiatrist would need to sign off on the patient’s request to die. The case would then go to a Verification and Evaluation Committee, which could approve or turn down the procedure.

The bills also stipulate that those seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide must be Portuguese citizens or legal residents.

Pope Francis speaks out frequently against the practice of euthanasia; in September 2019 he called it “a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”

This is not the first time Portugal has considered decriminalizing euthaniasia and assisted suicide.

After heated debate, the Portuguese Parliament voted during May 2018 to reject multiple proposed laws that would legalize euthanasia in the country, drawing praise from local bishops.

Pro-life groups had been protesting the euthanasia bills in the weeks leading up to the vote in the nation’s capital of Lisbon, where they held signs saying, “We demand palliative care for ALL,” and “Euthanasia is a recipe for elder abuse.”

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UK health service clarifies policy to deny care to ‘homophobic’ patients

London, England, Feb 19, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Britain’s National Health Service has clarified a new policy that will allow patients found to be homophoic, racist, and sexist to be denied non-emergency treatment. 

Under the new rules, medical professionals can refuse non-emergency care to patients who harass, bully, or discriminate against them. The policy was announced on Feb. 18, and will go into effect in April. 

Previously, a medical professional was only permitted to deny non-emergency care to verbally aggressive or physically violent patients. The new policy will expand this criteria to include any harassment, including homophobia, sexism, and racism. 

The U.K.’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote to NHS staff announcing the change on Tuesday, stating “no act of violence or abuse is minor,” and that “being assaulted or abused is not part of the job.”

A 2019 survey of NHS staff revealed that more than one in four NHS workers have reported being “bullied, harassed or abused” in the last year. Approximately one in seven NHS workers said they had been physically attacked.

Hancock said that “Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out,” and that “I’ve seen it for myself in [emergency rooms], on night shifts, and on ambulances.” 

The survey also found that NHS staff who worked in patients in emergency wards, with mental health issues or learning disabilities experienced more abuse and violence than workers at other NHS locations.

CNA asked the NHS to clarify how a patient would be deemed racist or homophobic, and if they could be denied care due to a staff member’s perception or inference of their religious beliefs. CNA questioned if someone such as a Catholic priest or Imam could be removed from an NHS trust due to their religious opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexual activity. 

An NHS spokesperson told CNA that the policy would only extend to people who made discriminatory comments to a member of the staff while they were receiving treatment. 

“A person’s personal beliefs or any historical views are entirely irrelevant for this policy – a person would only be refused treatment if they made openly discriminatory remarks to a staff member at that time,” Owen Taylor, senior media relations officer for NHS England, said to CNA. 

Taylor also clarified that certain medical conditions that may impact a person’s decision making skills or verbal filter would be considered when making a decision to deny care. 

“Things like the patient’s mental health, any sort of cognitive impairment will also be taken into account,” said Taylor. “So someone showing obvious signs of dementia would not be refused treatment in this circumstance.”

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Court evidence suggests abuse cover-up by high ranking Legionaries of Christ

Milan, Italy, Feb 18, 2020 / 12:01 am (CNA).- Evidence to be presented in an upcoming criminal trial suggests an elaborate cover-up of sexual abuse allegations against a former priest of the Legionaries of Christ whom an Italian court has convicted of sexual abuse of a minor.

The case, set to begin in March, names four Legion priests and a Legion lawyer who are accused of attempting to obstruct justice and extort the family of a sex abuse victim, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

The names of the priests and lawyer in question have not been released, and the Legion did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

The Legion of Christ, a religious congregation consisting of fewer than 1,000 priests worldwide, was long the subject of critical reports and rumors before it was rocked by Vatican acknowledgment that its charismatic founder, Father Marcial Maciel, lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children. Maciel abused at least 60 minors.

In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age, and he died in 2008.

Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Valasio De Paolis, a highly respected canon lawyer, to lead the religious order in 2010.

De Paolis, who died in 2017, has faced criticism for leaving much of the leadership of the congregation from Maciel’s time in place and failing to investigate claims of cover-up.

The present case chiefly concerns Mexico native Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez, who was ordained a priest in 2006 and immediately was sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary near Italy's border with Switzerland, the AP reports.

The Legion has said it first recieved allegations of sexual abuse against Reséndiz during March 2011. An Austrain boy reported the allegation to a church ombudsman’s office in Austria that receives abuse complaints, according to the AP.

In addition, the son of Yolanda Martinez, a church employee in Milan, revealed in 2013 during sessions with his psychologist that Reséndiz had abused him at the Gozzano youth seminary in 2008.

In October 2013, the Legion offered a settlement of 15,000 euros to Martinez, but in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to prosecutors that Reséndiz had repeatedly assaulted him, the AP reports.

Martinez called De Paolis to complain about the proposal. According to their wiretapped Jan. 7, 2014 conversation, De Paolis told Martinez not to sign the deal and to negotiate a different deal, without lawyers.

Authorities obtained the tape of the conversation, as well as numerous documents to be presented at the trial, during a 2014 raid of the Legion’s headquarters in Rome.

Documents obtained during the 2014 raid suggest that Reséndiz was known to the Legion as a risk to children even when he was a teenage seminarian in 1994, with his novice director writing that he believed Reséndiz to be “a boy with strong sexual impulses and low capacity to control them.”

A lawyer for the Legion is accused of recommending various schemes to Legion leaders aimed at covering up Reséndiz abuses.

The lawyer recommended in a March 2011 email that Father Gabriel Sotres, a Legion priest who was tasked with revising the congregation’s constitution a decade ago, go to Austria to convince the alleged victim not to tell their parents or the authorities.

Documents also suggest that Legion knew about another possible victim in Venezuela, where Reséndiz had been moved in 2008. The lawyer proposed a plan to report only Reséndiz’s name to Venezuelan police to comply with local reporting laws, leaving out that he was a priest, that he was accused of a sex crime against a child, and the name of the Legion, as well as noting that he no longer lived in Venezuela, the AP reported.

All of this would be done in order to mitigate the possible damage to the order.

That same month, Reséndiz was removed from priestly ministry after his religious superior questioned him, but documents suggest he hearing confessions in schools and celebrating Mass in Colombia while he was supposedly suspended, and later assigned to an administrative position.

Evidence to be presented at the trial suggests that although De Paolis opened a canonical investigation of Reséndiz within the congregation, he did not alert the police.

Authorities in Milan did not learn of the abuse allegations against Reséndiz until March 2013, when Martinez’s son’s psychologist reported them.

Reséndiz eventually confessed to his crimes in a letter to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller in 2012. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dismissed Reséndiz from the clerical state during April 2013, the Legion says.

An Italian court convicted Reséndiz in absentia during March 2019, and during Jan. 2020 an appeals court confirmed the conviction. Reséndiz faces a sentence of six and a half years in jail. He is believed to be living in Mexico.

The Legion reported in December 2019 that since its founding in 1941, 33 priests of the Legionaries of Christ have been found to have committed sexual abuse of minors, victimizing 175 children, according to the 2019 report.

The preliminary hearing for the present criminal trial in Milan is scheduled for March 12.

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First Mass since Reformation to be held in Swiss cathedral

Geneva, Switzerland, Feb 17, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The first Catholic Mass in nearly five hundred years will be celebrated at a cathedral in Geneva later this month. Mass will be said in the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre de Genève on Feb. 29, in a decision announced by the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg’s episcopal vicariate for the city.

The cathedral was the seat of the Catholic bishops of Geneva from the fourth century until the Protestant Reformation. The last Mass celebrated at the cathedral took place in 1535. After the Reformation, the building was taken over by John Calvin’s Reformed Protestant Church, which destroyed the cathedral’s statues and paintings, and banned Catholic worship.

Fr. Pascal Desthieux, the Catholic episcopal vicar for Geneva, described the cathedral as the “central and symbolic location of Geneva’s Christian history” in a letter published on the vicariate’s website. 

Following the reformation, the cathedral became a location “emblematic of the Calvinist reform,” he said. 

John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, lived in Geneva, and the city was a destination for French Protestants who were forced to flee France due to persecution. Saint-Pierre de Genève was Calvin’s home church and his chair is displayed next to the cathedral’s pulpit. 

The Diocese of Geneva was eventually absorbed into the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg. Today, just under 40% of Switzerland is Catholic. 

At the request of Geneva’s Protestant population, Desthieux will celebrate the Mass and not Bishop Charles Morerod of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg. But, Desthieux said, Bishop Morerod views the Mass as an historic “local event.” 

While acknowledging that the return of Catholic Mass to the cathedral is a cause for rejoicing, Desthieux warned against any “triumphalism,” as well as any language suggesting the Catholics are looking to “take over” the building. 

“With our Protestant brothers and sisters, who welcome us in their cathedral, we want simply to make a strong ecumenical gesture, a sign that we all live together in Geneva,” he said. The Mass is a “gesture of hospitality” within the Christian community of the city, said the priest. 

“Our Protestant brothers will welcome us, and we will let ourselves be welcomed,” Desthieux said. 

The date and timing of the Mass was chosen to coincide with the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. The Mass will be celebrated at 6:30 p.m., making it the vigil Mass of the first Sunday of Lent. 

“We have chosen to have this historic Mass at the beginning of Lent, to include a penitential process where we ask forgiveness for our sins against unity,” he said in the letter. 

All other Saturday vigil Masses in the city of Geneva will be cancelled on Feb. 29, in order to encourage all of the city’s Catholics to attend the Mass at the cathedral. 

Some media reports have suggested that Protestant attendees at the Mass will be invited to receive Communion, though this is prohibited by canon law. 

According to Daniel Pilly, president of the Saint-Pierre de Genève parish council, it is common in Geneva for Protestants to receive Communion during ecumenical services.

“Protestants receiving Communion is already done locally in many parishes during ecumenical celebrations, where Protestants and Catholics invite each other to the Lord’s Supper and to Communion,” said Pilly to Protest Info, a Swiss press agency that reports on news related to the Reformed Churches. 

In the Catholic Church, only baptized Catholics in a state of grace are permitted to receive Communion. 

According to an article in the Geneva Tribune, a Swiss newspaper, Protestants who attend the Mass on Feb. 29 will not be encouraged to receive Communion. 

“People of a faith other than Catholic will not be formally invited to Eucharist, the sharing of bread and wine,” said the paper in a news article about the Mass published on February 12. 

Speaking to the Geneva Tribue, Desthieux quoted Redemptionis Sacramentum, the 2004 document published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments regarding the proper practices regarding the Eucharist, and explained that Protestants who attend Mass are not generally permitted to receive Communion.

“However, in such special circumstances, we practice what we call eucharistic hospitality by welcoming all people who come forward to receive the Body of Christ,” he said. Desthieux did not explain what “eucharistic hospitality” means in this case, or if and on what basis Communion would be knowingly distributed to Protestants.

“And anyway,” Desthieux said, “everyone is welcome to this Mass.”

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Vatican, Chinese diplomats discuss deal on bishop appointments

Munich, Germany, Feb 14, 2020 / 04:13 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, met Friday with Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, discussing their states' 2018 agreement on episcopal appointments.

The Feb. 14 meeting took place in Munich on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“In the course of the colloquy, which took place in a cordial atmosphere, the contacts between the two parties were evoked, which have developed positively over time,” according to a Holy See press office communique.

“In particular, there was highlighted the importance of the Provisional Accord on the nomination of bishops, signed 22 September 2018, renewing the willingness to continue the institutional dialogue at the bilateral level to promote the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people,” the Holy See press office wrote.

The press office also said that “appreciation was expressed for the efforts being made to eradicate the coronavirus epidemic as well as solidarity with the affected population.”

The Vatican has sent between 600,000 to 700,000 face masks to three provinces in China since Jan. 27 to help contain the spread of coronavirus, and Pope Francis prayed for those infected during his Jan. 26 Angelus prayer.

The press office communique closed saying that “a desire for greater international cooperation to end of promoting civil coexistence and peace in the world was called for, and considerations on intercultural dialogue and human rights were exchanged.”

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

The September 2018 agreement between the Holy See and Beijing was intended to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and unify the underground Church and the CPCA. The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

Cardinal Zen told CNA Feb. 11 that “the situation is very bad” in China, and added that “the bad things come from [Parolin].”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin is Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Gallagher is one of his top deputies.

According to Cardinal Zen, Cardinal Parolin is so optimistic about the so-called ‘Ostpolitik’, the compromise.”

But, the cardinal told CNA, “you cannot compromise” with the Chinese Communist Party, whom he called “persecutors” of the faith.

“They want complete surrender. That’s communism.”

“More and more, the Church [is] under persecution,” Cardinal Zen said, “both the official Church, and the underground.”

Guidance from the Vatican recognizes the choice of those who feel that they cannot in good conscience register with the government and accept sinicization. However, reports indicate that those who decline to register are facing harassment and persecution.

A report by the Congressional China Commission, issued in January, noted that human rights abuses intensified in China during the 2019 reporting year, and the persecution of Catholics worsened after the Vatican-China deal was reached.

“After the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Holy See in September 2018 paving the way for unifying the state-sanctioned and underground Catholic communities, local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increasing persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy” the report read.

In December 2019 Bishop John Fang Xingyao of Linyi, president of the CPCA, said that “love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.” He was speaking at a Beijing meeting sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party.

New restrictions on religious groups in China went into effect Feb. 1. These include a mandate to implement socialst values, spread the principles of the Chinese Communist Party and support its leaders, and adhere to the path of Chinese socialism.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The Sinizication of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.

In 2017, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country’s government, and therefore must become more “Chinese-oriented.” Since he took power, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 church buildings.

And a government official who oversees religious affairs said in April 2018 that government restrictions on bishop appointments are not a violation of religious freedom, as he emphasized that religions in China must “adapt to socialist society.” The official, Chen Zongrong, added that “I believe there is no religion in human society that transcends nations.”

Restrictions put in place in February 2018 made it illegal for anyone under age 18 to enter a church building.

Muslims, too, have come under pressure from the Chinese government. It is believed that as many as 1 million Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnoreligious group in China's far west, are being detained in re-education camps where they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination.

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Francis ‘would be disappointed’ by focus on priestly ordination of married men

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Feb 13, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Armagh said Thursday that the pope's apostolic exhortation on the Amazon was foremost a call to preserve the region, and that a focus on its failure to address the priestly ordination of married men is undue.

“I understand there has been disappointment over the airwaves yesterday, and a lot of people feeling that perhaps this was a moment at which Pope Francis was going to express his views on the ordination of married men as priests,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said Feb. 13 to the Irish public broadcaster RTE.

“But I think Pope Francis would be disappointed if this is the issue that we're all talking about today, because his exhortation is a huge cry from the Amazon and a cry from the heart to protect that region that is being cruelly destroyed by, I suppose, the exploitation of its resources, the destruction of its natural beauty and its life.”

“He says, 'listen, the whole world has a responsiblity to try and preserve the equilibrum of the planet, which so much depends on the health of the Amazon and the ecosystems there'; so his whole exhortaion is really in line with his thinking from a few years ago, in his famous encyclical Laudato si'; it's really a call for the protection of the earth.”

While Pope Francis was expected to focus in Querida Amazonia on a proposal to ordain married priests in the Amazon region, the pope instead emphasized the importance of collaboration in apostolic ministry by Catholics in various states of life.

Archbishop Martin noted that the Pope “chose not to mention” the priestly ordination of married men.

“It's been said he refused this or refused that; he's actually left the question. I think that he's done so in order to encourage all of us to focus on much bigger questions about Church ministry, organization, the involvement of lay people in the Church, the involvement of women in the Church, and he calls on the local Church there to actually officially recognize these roles in a way which it hasn't done until now,” the archbishop commented.

Pressed on the topic, Archbishop Martin said that a call to consider the priestly ordination of married men was made in one of the 120 paragraphs of the Amazon synod's final document, “so it wasn't even at the Amazon synod the main theme of the synod, it was on this other issue I've been speaking to you about, the corruption, exploitation of the Amazon, the destruction of the indigenous peoples there, their displacement, oppression. These are the issues that he bishops at the Amazonian synod in October were most passionate about.”

He emphasized that Francis is urging the Church “to step back and look at the bigger issues for mission. One of his key themes since he began his pontificate is that the Church needs to go out, and therefore he's calling on all of us throughout the world to respond to this crisis for priests  in the Amazon.”

“I know we think we're very short on priests, but a Church which loses its missionary spurt and its missionary zeal is a Church which is dying, and I think that's what Pope Francis is saying to us: stay missionary, get out there, go out and help these people.”

Archbishop Martin said that “if we're to respond to Pope Francis' call here in Ireland then we too need to be looking at how are we recognizing the role of our lay faithful, how are we recognizing officially and presenting in our Church the role of women; and these aren't simply about ordination to the priesthood, but a recognition of the richness and the charisms … that lay people, lay women and men, can bring to our Church in terms of organization, proclaiming the Word, leading prayer, administering parishes, making decisions at a local and diocesan level, even exercising the pastoral care which in the past priests would have done.”

“It's when we have this worshipping, vibrant, and living Christian community, it's then that we have new vocations,” he stated.

In a Feb. 12 statement on Querida Amazonia, Archbishop Martin said it “highlights the problems of poverty, economic and social injustice and the violation of human rights which are intertwined in the vicious cycle of ecological and human degradation.”

He added that “Despite the challenges we have here in Ireland with finding enough priests and religious to serve our parishes, we should not forget that Ireland has always been a country which has responded to the Church’s call to mission … It would be wonderful if some Irish priests, religious and lay missionaries today were to consider offering even a five year period of ministry to the Amazon.”

Pressed nevertheless on the topic of priestly ordination of married men by RTE, the archbishop said that “this question is still open, I'm open to this question, I'm open to this question in the universal Church. I think Pope Francis recognizes it's a question where there's a lot of divided thinking, and I think that we can recognize the joy and beauty of the gift of the priesthood where a man gives his life wholly and entirely dedicated to God, set apart for the service of Christ and his Church, a real gift to the Church. At the same time, we have to look at other roles, other ministries within the Church.”

He said that “I'm very much open to the idea” of the priestly ordination of married men, “and I think Pope Francis is too. He doesn't shut the idea down, he leaves it open for further dicussion within the Church.”

The final document of the synod had proposed “that criteria and dispositions be established by the competent authority, within the framework of Lumen Gentium 26, to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community … who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.”

Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican's editorial director, wrote Feb. 12 that “after praying and reflecting,” Pope Francis “has decided to respond not by foreseeing changes or further possibilities of exceptions from those already provided for by current ecclesiastical discipline, but by asking that the essentials be the starting point,” for discussions regarding priestly ministry in the Amazon.

The pope's failure explicity to permit the priestly ordination of married men in the Amazon has not deterred some of those who are calling for the practice.

Bishop Augusto Martin Quijano Rodriguez, Vicar Apostolic of Pucallpa, told Reuters that “the door is still open,” and that “the pope is asking for reflection. This proposal is still ongoing.”

The Central Committee of German Catholics, an influential lay group which is jointly managing the so-called synodal process with the German bishops’ conference, accused Pope Francis of a “lack of courage for real reforms” in his Amazonian exhortation.

ZdK wrote that the pope “does not find the courage to implement real reforms on the issues of consecration of married men and the liturgical skills of women that have been discussed for 50 years.”

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Spain moves forward on euthanasia bill

Madrid, Spain, Feb 12, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- After Spain’s socialist party tried and failed twice last year to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, the lower house of the country’s parliament has now voted to consider a bill that would legalize the practices in certain circumstances.

According to Spanish newspaper El País, the bill was approved for consideration in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies by 201 votes to 140, with two abstaining. It now goes through additional steps of consideration in a committee and by the Senate before a final vote.

If passed, the law would permit euthanasia or assisted suicide in cases of “clearly debilitating diseases without a cure, without a solution and which cause significant suffering,” government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montero told Reuters.

Voluntary euthanasia occurs when a doctor kills a patient at the patient’s request. Assisted suicide is the prescribing of a lethal dose of drugs by a doctor to a patient, who then administers the drugs themselves. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Australian state of Victoria, while Switzerland and some U.S. states allow assisted suicide.

The bill being considered in Spain would legalize both procedures. It allows for conscientious objectors among doctors, although it stipulates that patients must be referred to alternate doctors.

According to the AP, the bill also stipulates that patients would not be made to wait more than a month after making their initial request for either euthanasia or assisted suicide. Initial requests will be considered by two doctors, and then a patient must make a subsequent request for the procedure, which will go to a committee for approval.

The bill has faced strong objections from the Catholic Church, as well as from the conservative People’s Party and the far-right party Vox.

In a statement on their website, the Spanish Bishop’s Conference said that the Church “has always considered euthanasia as a moral evil and an attack on the dignity of the person. St. John Paul II affirmed that ‘according to the Magisterium of my predecessors and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a serious violation of the Law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.’”

The bishops added that euthanasia and assisted suicide are “alien” to the field of medicine and violate the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors, which states: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

They also noted that the arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide as acts of autonomy are flawed. “...it is not possible to understand euthanasia and assisted suicide as something that refers exclusively to the autonomy of the individual, since such actions involve the participation of others, in this case, of health personnel,” they said.

The bishops said that instead of killing people, the country should instead bolster its palliative care efforts to ease the pain and suffering of the dying and to accompany their families and loved ones.

Vox spokesperson Rocio Monasterio told Reuters that her party will have “fierce” resistance against the bill, which calls for the “elimination” of people who are no longer useful to society.

Pope Francis has frequently condemned euthanasia, calling it a “sin against God” and saying that it is “based on a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”

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‘A lack of courage’: Germans divided over Pope Francis’ Amazonian exhortation

Munich, Germany, Feb 12, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- German Church leaders have offered markedly distinct responses to Querida Amazonia, the apostolic exhortation on the Amazon region released by Pope Francis Feb. 12.

Catholic officials in Germany paid close attention to the 2019 Vatican synod that preceded the papal document, because synod recommendations to relax clerical celibacy norms and ordain women as deacons closely mirrored calls made by some leaders of a two-year Church synodal process taking place in Germany.

Pope Francis’ document did not respond affirmatively to those suggestions.  

The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), an influential lay group which is jointly managing the so-called synodal process with the German bishops’ conference, accused Pope Francis of a “lack of courage for real reforms” in his Amazonian exhortation.

The group has taken formal stances against Church teaching and discipline on a range of issues, and called for the ordination of women, the blessing of same-sex unions by the Church, and an end to clerical celibacy.

“With his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the Amazon Synod, Pope Francis continues the path he has chosen. He addresses the whole people of God and all people of good will in a clear and understandable, also emotional language,” said a statement published on the ZdK website on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, he does not find the courage to implement real reforms on the issues of consecration of married men and the liturgical skills of women that have been discussed for 50 years.”

The ZdK said that, following the publication of the working documents for the Synod on the Amazon the synodal deliberations last October, “expectations regarding concrete steps towards reform, especially with regard to access to the priestly office and the role of women, were very high.”

“We very much regret that Pope Francis did not take a step forward in his letter. Rather, it strengthens the existing positions of the Roman Church both in terms of access to the priesthood and the participation of women in ministries and ministries.”

While the lay committee’s apparently accepted that the pope has ruled out any meaningful change to clerical discipline, the head of the German hierarchy appeared to downplay the impact of Francis’s exhortation.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich, the outgoing head of the German bishops’ conference who attended the synod last year, released his own statement in response to the pope’s exhortation. Marx insisted that Francis did not close the door on German ambitions to end clerical celibacy, and called Francis’s letter, which has papal magisterial authority, “a framework for reflection.”

“Anyone who expected concrete decisions and instructions for action with the post-synodal letter from Pope Francis will not find them,” Marx conceded, while insisting that recommendations for change from the synod are “by no means off the table.”

“As is well known, the two-thirds majority of the 280 [synodal fathers] in the final synodal document also advocated for exceptions to compulsory celibacy and stimulated further reflection on the admission of women to the diaconate,” the German cardinal said.

“Against the background of the reform proposals discussed in Germany, these issues were particularly well received by the Church and public, but they were not the main topics of the synod.”

“This discussion will continue,” Marx insisted.

Although the final synodal document was “formally presented” along with the pope’s response, Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldesseri both emphasized during the Vatican press conference that it has no magisterial weight and does not authorize any diocesan bishop to ordain married men.

In contrast to the resignation and protests expressed, another German churchman welcomed the pope’s document.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith welcomed Querida Amazonia, saying the pope “does not want to fuel existing political, ethnic and inner-Church conflicts and conflicts of interest, but rather to overcome them.”

“The Pope does not draw from [the final synodal document] any dramatic and disconcerting conclusions,” Cardinal Müller wrote in his own response on Wednesday. 

“Rather, he wishes to offer the Church and all people of good will his own answers, in order to help to ensure a ‘harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the whole synodal process’.”

Müller said that the text could have “the reconciling effect of reducing internal Church factions, ideological fixations and the danger of inner emigration or open resistance.”

The cardinal said the pope has made an important call for renewed missionary commitment and zeal from all the faithful for the Amazon region, and underscored the dignity and mission of the laity.

“The lay faithful are not defined by the fact that they can do everything except that which is exclusively reserved to priests, but by their participation in the total mission of the Church on the basis of Baptism and Confirmation,” Müller wrote, noting that “the importance of the ecclesial ministries of laymen and women, who ‘are called in various ways to direct collaboration with the apostolate of the hierarchy,’ is rightly recalled” by the pope.

Pope Francis, Müller said, had made a clear choice in his non-treatment of the demands for dramatic changes to the clerical state and the divisions these had caused in the wider Church.

“The Pope does not want to fuel existing political, ethnic and inner-Church conflicts and conflicts of interest, but rather to overcome them.” 

“It is to be hoped,” the cardinal wrote, “that the interpreters of this document will refrain from unnecessary harshness and take up the concerns of the Holy Father like true sons and daughters of the Church in a spirit of agreement and collaboration.”

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Cardinal Marx will not seek re-election as head of German bishops’ conference

Munich, Germany, Feb 11, 2020 / 11:36 am (CNA).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx has notified German bishops that he will not stand to be elected to a second term as head of the German bishops’ conference.

Marx, who is 66 and the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, one of Germany’s largest local churches, cited his age and his desire to spend more time in his archdiocese as the reasons.

The cardinal was elected to lead the German bishops in 2014. If he had been elected to second term, the cardinal would have been 72 at the conclusion of his service to the bishops’ conference.

The Church in Germany, which is largely funded through a tax collected by the German government, coordinates a considerable amount of its activity through the bishops’ conference. The head of the bishops’ conference is usually regarded as the de facto leader of the Church in the country, and Marx has taken an active role as a liaison between German bishops and the Vatican.

The conference is now central to organizing a two-year “synodal way,” a process by which laity and bishops are deliberating about the future of the Church in Germany, and taking up controversial issues, including the Church’s doctrine regarding sexuality. Aspects of that process have been the subject of considerable criticism by Vatican figures, including Pope Francis.

Marx’ tenure as head of the German bishops’ conference has been marked by controversy, with the cardinal embroiled in controversy about the possibility of liturgical blessings for same-sex couples and comments about the role and ordination of women.

The German bishops will elect a new leader at their general assembly in early March. Marx, who has said he will remain active in the conference, has suggested that “it should be the turn of the younger generation” to lead the Church in Germany.

Catholic practice is on the decline in Germany: while there are more than 23 million Catholics in the country, only about 10% are estimated to attend Mass regularly. In 1995, nearly 20% of Catholic in the country reported regularly attending Mass.