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Pope prays for victims, rescue workers of Sierra Leone mudslide

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2017 / 07:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With hundreds dead and nearly 600 more still missing as a result of a giant mudslide that ravished Sierra Leone's capital, Pope Francis has prayed for the victims, their families and rescue workers providing relief to those affected.

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time,” read an Aug. 16 telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

Addressed to Freetown's Archbishop Charles Edward Tamba, the telegram relayed the Pope's sympathies, and assured of his prayer for all who have died.

The telegram comes two days after a flooding and a large mudslide killed some 400 people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown Monday, and have left some 600 still missing.

According to BBC, a mass burial of victims that had been scheduled for Wednesday in order to free up space in mortuaries has been delayed as the “chaotic” disaster continues to unfold.

Flooding is not uncommon in the overcrowded town of one million, leaving those who live in unsafe, makeshift housing especially at risk during natural disasters. However, Monday's slide is thought to be the worst incident in the past two decades.

At least 100 houses were wiped out when a hillside in Regent, a mountain town some 15 miles east of Freetown, collapsed, submerging entire buildings and taking people with them.

Bodies have continued to be retrieved from the mud and rubble, but efforts to identify them are proving difficult in the chaos.

In his telegram, the Pope not only offered his prayers for the victims, but he also extended “divine blessings of strength and consolation” upon their families.

Francis also expressed his “prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”

Pope prays for victims, rescue workers of Sierra Leone mudslide

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2017 / 08:54 am (EWTN News/CNA).- With hundreds dead and nearly 600 more still missing as a result of a giant mudslide that ravished Sierra Leone's capital, Pope Francis has prayed for the victims, their families and rescue workers providing relief to those affected.

In Christ, Mary brings new joy and meaning to mankind, Pope says

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2017 / 04:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the Feast of the Assumption, Pope Francis said that in bringing Christ to the world, Mary also provides the joy and grace of her Son, which not only sustain us in difficulty, but are primarily intended for the weak and humble.

“Carrying Jesus, the Madonna also brings us a new joy, full of meaning; she brings us a new ability to pass with faith through the most painful and difficult moments; she brings us the capacity for mercy, forgiveness, understanding and supporting one another,” the Pope said Aug. 15.

Mary, he said, “is the model of faith and virtue,” and in contemplating her Assumption into Heaven, we give her thanks “because she always precedes us on the pilgrimage of life and of faith.”

We are also able to ask that she “guard us and sustain us, that we may have a strong faith, joyful and merciful; that she help us to be holy, to meet her, one day, in paradise,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present for a special Angelus address given for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, which is celebrated annually Aug. 15.

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – teaches that when Mary's earthly life ended, God assumed her body and soul into heaven.

The Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition even in the early centuries of the Church, and was a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However, it wasn't until 1950 that it was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus.

In his Angelus speech honoring the feast, Pope Francis turned to the day's Gospel reading from Luke, in which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist, despite her advanced age.

He noted how when Mary arrived to her cousin, having gone “in haste,” Elizabeth immediately proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

In this moment, the greatest gift that Mary brought not just to Elizabeth, but to the whole world, “is Jesus, who already lives in her,” Francis said.

“And he lives not only by faith and waiting, as in many other women in the Old Testament: from the Virgin Mary Jesus took on human flesh, for his mission of salvation.”

The Pope then noted how preceding the encounter, Elisabeth and her husband Zechariah were filled with sadness by the fact that they couldn't have children. However, in place of this, “now there is the joy of a child on the way: a child who will become the great John the Baptist, precursor of the Messiah.”

And when Mary arrives, this joy “overflows and bursts from their hearts,” he said, “because the invisible but real presence of Jesus fills all meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people...everything!”

Mary herself expresses this joy when she speaks the “stupendous prayer” of the Magnificat, which is “a song of joy to God who works great things through humble people, unknown to the world, like Mary herself, like her spouse Joseph, and also like the village in which they lived, Nazareth.”

In off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope pointed to “the great things the Lord does in the world with the humble, because humility is like a void that leaves room for God.”

The humble person “is strong because they are humble, not because they are powerful,” he said, and urged those present to ask themselves “how is my humility?” and to reflect on the answer.

Going on, Francis said the Magnificat prayer is an expression of God's mercy and fidelity, as well as his plan for salvation, which he carries out with “the little ones and the poor, with those who have faith in him” and trust in his Word, as Mary did.

Jesus' arrival to Elizabeth and Zechariah through Mary brings not only a climate of joy and communion, but also “a climate of faith which leads to hope, prayer and praise,” the Pope said, noting that the same thing can happen for each person today.

Francis closed his address asking Mary to bring to each person and their families and communities “that immense gift, that unique grace which we must always ask for before and above all other graces that are also in our heart: the grace that is Jesus Christ!”

After leading pilgrims in the Angelus, the Pope offered a special prayer for all those who are suffering due to various global situations.

He entrusted to Mary and her intercession “the anxieties and pains of the peoples who in many parts of the world suffer due to natural disasters, social tensions or conflicts,” asking that she obtain for them “consolation and a future of peace and harmony!”

In addition to the various conflicts raging throughout the world, the Pope's words come after one woman lost her life and several others were injured when a car rammed into a group of protesters at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. earlier this week, adding fuel to what were already-escalated racial tensions in the United States.

The Pope's appeal also comes as many South Asian and African countries such as India, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone face heavy flooding and mudslides, which so far have led to hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

In Christ, Mary brings new joy and meaning to mankind, Pope says

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2017 / 05:26 am (EWTN News/CNA).- On the Feast of the Assumption, Pope Francis said that in bringing Christ to the world, Mary also provides the joy and grace of her Son, which not only sustain us in difficulty, but are primarily intended for the weak and humble.

Australian bishops oppose forcing priests to reveal details of confession

Vatican City, Aug 14, 2017 / 07:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Australia have indicated that they will resist the Royal Commission's proposal that priests be legally obligated to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional, facing criminal charges if they don't.

“Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Archbishop Denis J Hart of Melbourne said in an Aug. 14 statement.

President of the Australian Bishops Conference, Hart said confession “is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the Law of Australia and many other countries.”

“It must remain so here in Australia,” he said, but stressed that “outside of this, all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so.”

The statement came the same day Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, established in 2013, released a sweeping 85 proposed changes to the country's criminal justice system.

In addition to suggestions tightening the law on sentencing standards in cases of historical sexual abuse, the use of evidence and grooming, the commission recommended that the failure to report sexual abuse, even in religious confessions, be made “a criminal offense.”

“Clergy should not be able to refuse to report because the information was received during confession,” the report said, adding that if persons in institutions are aware of possible child abuse or suspect it, they ought to report it right away.

The commission cited cases brought before them in which perpetrators who had confessed the sexual abuse of children to a priest then “went on to re-offend and seek forgiveness.”

Therefore, while it recognized the importance of Confession to the Catholic Church, “the report recommends there be no exemption, excuse, protection or privilege from the offense granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in connection with a religious confession.”

According to the Church's canon law, “the sacramental seal is inviolable. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other manner.”

A priest who directly violates the “Seal of Confession” incurs a “latae senentiae” excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See, which can only be lifted by the Pope himself.

In an Aug. 14 statement from the Australian Church's “Truth, Justice and Healing Council,” established in 2013 as a platform for the Church “to speak as one” on matters involving the Royal Commission, the council voiced opposition to the proposal involving Confession, but suggested that if implemented, the final decision on whether to comply would come down to each priest and his conscience.

In the statement, Francis Sullivan, CEO of the council, said that while the Catholic Church and the council itself “have consistently argued that these reporting provisions should not apply to the confessional, the Royal Commission has now made a different determination based on information and evidence it has heard over the past four years.”

“The whole concept of confession in the Catholic Church is built on repentance, forgiveness and penance,” Sullivan said, adding that “if a child sex-abuser is genuinely seeking forgiveness through the sacrament of confession they will need to be prepared to do what it takes to demonstrate their repentance.”

Part of this, he said, especially in cases of sexual abuse, “would normally require they turn themselves in to the police. In fact, the priest can insist that this is done before dispensing absolution.”

However, since the commission has now made a suggestion counter to the Church’s position, the final decision on whether or not it will become law is up to individual parliaments to form their own view and then make the relevant changes to the law.

“If ultimately there are new laws that oblige the disclosure of information heard in the Confessional, priests, like everybody else, will be expected to obey the law or suffer the consequences,” Sullivan said.

“If they do not, this will be a personal, conscience decision, on the part of the priest that will have to be dealt with by the authorities in accordance with the new law as best they can.”

Other changes proposed by the commission include changes to police responses, such as improvements to investigative techniques when interviewing; provisions for the improvement of “courtroom experience” for victims, making the process less traumatic; the removal of  “good character” as a factor in sentencing when that character carried out the abuse; changes requiring sentences to be placed in line with current sentencing standards rather than those at the time of the offense and the extension of grooming offenses to cover when the offender builds trust with a parent or guardian in order access the child.

Of the proposed changes, another that could affect the Catholic Church in real time is the request to change sentencing policies for historical cases of sexual abuse.

The suggestion asks that “all states and territories should introduce legislation so that sentences for child sexual abuse offenses are set in accordance with sentencing standards at the time of the sentencing, instead of at the time of offending.”

However, they said the sentence “must be limited to the maximum sentence available for the offense at the date when the offense was committed.”

“Many survivors of institutional child sexual abuse do not report the offense for years or even decades and applying historical sentencing standards can result in sentences that do not align with the criminality of the offense as currently understood,” they said.

Although it is unknown whether the change will in fact be made or how quickly it could be enforced, the move would directly affect cases such as that of Cardinal George Pell, who is currently facing charges on multiple counts of historical child sexual abuse.

The charges were announced by the police of Victoria, Australia at the end of June. As the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy since 2013 and a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell is the most senior Vatican official to ever be charged with abuse.

With the permission of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell has taken leave from his responsibilities in the Vatican in order to return to Australia for the court proceedings.

He has maintained his innocence since rumors of the charges first came out last year. At a brief hearing in Melbourne July 26, the cardinal said he would be pleading “not guilty” to the charges. He is set to appear at a preliminary hearing Oct. 6.

Despite the fact that charges against the cardinal date as far back as the 1960s, the new proposals to historical cases of sexual abuse, if implemented right away, could go into effect in time to determine how Pell is sentenced should he be found guilty.

At the time the charges were announced, Victoria Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton emphasized that at that point, there had been “no change in any procedures whatsoever,” and stressed the importance of remembering that “none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet.”

“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it's important that the process is allowed to run its natural course.”

Australian bishops oppose forcing priests to reveal details of confession

Vatican City, Aug 14, 2017 / 08:43 am (EWTN News/CNA).- The bishops of Australia have indicated that they will resist the Royal Commission's proposal that priests be legally obligated to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional, facing criminal charges if they don't.

Trust in Christ – not in horoscopes, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Aug 13, 2017 / 04:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis repeated a message he often has, warning against putting one's trust in horoscopes and fortune telling rather than Christ, who is the only true security that gets us through times of trial and darkness.

Pointing to how Peter begins to sink when walking toward Jesus on the water in the day's Gospel reading, Francis noted that the same thing can happen to us when we put our trust in false securities.

“When we do not cling to the Word of the Lord, but consult horoscopes and fortune tellers, we begin to sink,” the Pope said Aug. 13.

The episode, he said, serves as a reminder “that faith in the Lord and in his word does not open a path where everything is calm and easy; it does not take us away from the storms of life.”

Rather, “faith gives us the security of a presence that pushes us to overcome the existential storms, the certainty of a hand that grabs us in order to help us in difficulties, showing the way even when it's dark.”

“Faith, then, is not an escape from life's problems, but it supports on the journey and gives it meaning.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for his weekly Angelus address, focusing on the day's Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus walks on water in the midst of a storm, and beckons Peter to come to him. Peter initially begins to walk toward Jesus, but starts to sink out of fear when he sees the waves, and cries out for Jesus to rescue him.

This episode, Francis said, has a lot of symbolism for both individuals, and for the Church as a whole.

The boat can represent the life of each person, but also the life of the Church, he said, explaining that the wind signifies the “difficulties and trials” each will face.

Peter's cry of “Lord, command me to come to you,” and then his plea “Lord, save me!” represent both our desire feel close to the Lord, and “the fear and anguish which accompany us in the most difficult moments of our lives and our communities, marked by internal fragility and external difficulty,”  Francis said.

In the moment when he looked at the wind and the waves and began to fear, Peter wasn't founded on the Word of God, “which was like an outstretched rope to cling to in front of the hostile and turbulent waters.”

The same thing happens to us when we put our faith in trivial, worldly securities, rather than in the Lord, he said.

Pope Francis said the passage is “a stupendous image” of the reality of the Church throughout the ages: “a ship which, along the crossing, must counter winds and storms which threaten to overwhelm it.”

What saves the ship is not the courage and quality of it's men, he said, but rather, “the guarantee against a shipwreck is faith in Christ and in his word.”

“On this ship we are safe, despite our miseries and weaknesses, above all when we get on our knees and adore the Lord” as the disciples did, who, after Jesus calmed the storm, prostrated themselves and said “truly you are the Son of God!”

To drive the point home, Francis had the crowd repeat the phrase, listening as they shouted “truly you are the Son of God” three times.

Francis closed his address asking that the Virgin Mary intercede in helping all to “stay firm in the faith in order to resist the storms of life, to stay on the boat of the Church, eschewing the temptation to go on amusing, yet insecure boats of ideologies, fashions and slogans.”

He then led pilgrims in praying the traditional Marian prayer and greeted various groups of youth from around Italy before asking for prayer and giving his blessing. 

Trust in Christ – not in horoscopes, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Aug 13, 2017 / 05:41 am (EWTN News/CNA).- On Sunday Pope Francis repeated a message he often has, warning against putting one's trust in horoscopes and fortune telling rather than Christ, who is the only true security that gets us through times of trial and darkness.

Pope orders Belgian religious group to stop offering euthanasia to patients

Vatican City, Aug 10, 2017 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis is cracking down on a Belgian Brothers of Charity-run organization, giving the group until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to patients in their psychiatric centers.

In addition, each of the religious brothers serving on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organization that runs the centers, has been ordered to sign a joint letter to their general superior, Br. Rene Stockman, declaring their adherence to Church teaching.

Brothers who refuse to sign the letter will face punitive action under canon law, while the group itself is expected to face legal action and could have its Catholic status revoked if it does not change its policy.

The Vatican order, sent at the beginning of August, follows several prior requests that the group drop the policy, which allows doctors to euthanize non-terminal mentally ill patients on its grounds.

In comments to CNA Aug. 10, Br. Stockman said he initially went to the Vatican for help in the spring, when the group, which is a state organization run by the order, decided to change their policy on euthanasia on the grounds that their stance was culturally abnormal.

Since the year 2000, the group has maintained a firm policy against euthanasia and how to cope with requests for it, he said, explaining that as a state organization, they take requests for euthanasia seriously, and try to help the patient regain their desire for life, “knowing of course that someone who is very depressive can have the tendency to ask for euthanasia.”

After doing everything possible to help alleviate any depression present in a patient, if the individual still requests euthanasia – which is legal in Belgium – the brothers would transfer them elsewhere.

“We don't accept that euthanasia should be done inside our institutes,” Br. Stockman said, noting that this had been the organization's firm policy until last year, when the group “started to deflect,” claiming that the Catholic position was “unique” in Belgium, where euthanasia is widely accepted, even for children.

The group argued that they had to “adapt,” and so developed a new vision that Br. Stockman said “we could not accept as a congregation.”

Despite the fact that all board members are Catholic, and some have high political profiles, in Belgium “secularization is very, very high, very strong,” Br. Stockman said, “so you have to ask yourself what is Catholic still?”

In response to the group's decision to change the policy, “we said very clearly first of all, for us respect of life must always be absolute,” the superior general said.

However, he said, the group responded that “respect of life is fundamental, but autonomy for the person is on the same level,” and once the two are placed on the same level, “then the autonomy of the patient becomes absolute, and not respect for life.”

Despite meeting resistance from Br. Stockman, the group insisted on implementing their new policy, which went into effect in June for each of the 15 psychiatric centers they run throughout Belgium.

As a response, the general superior went to the Belgian Catholic Bishops Conference and asked that they back him in the debate. When the organization continued to resist, despite pressure from the bishops conference, Br. Stockman took the issue to the Vatican.

He was eventually invited to present the issue before both the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, both of which became involved in investigating the issue.

The doctrinal congregation then promptly drafted a letter reiterating the Church's position on euthanasia and insisted that the group step back into line with doctrine. However, the letter was ignored.

Br. Stockman then received a specific mandate from the Congregation for Consecrated Life “to see that the organization can again be in line” with Church teaching.

Part of his mandate is enforcing the ultimatum and gathering the group's response by the end of August. Br. Stockman said he has not spoken with Pope Francis personally, but that it is the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life who conceived the ultimatum and presented it to the Pope, who gave it his full support.

Of the three brothers who are members of the organization's board of trustees – the majority of board consists of laypeople – Br. Stockman said he is still waiting for their answers, but is “quite positive about that, I can say that, I think the brothers will conform themselves.”

To ask the brothers to reaffirm their adherence to Church teaching is “logical,” he said, because “when you are a religious, then you have to be in line with the Church.”

“I know them and they are really under pressure from the whole mentality,” he said, but voiced confidence that they will send the letter without any problems.

As for the organization itself, the general superior said he has been in contact with the board members. “They said they received the letter and that they will discuss again in their board the situation,” he said, adding “I am waiting for the final answer.”

When asked if there was fear that even if the organization does change the policy back, they would be forced by the state to provide euthanasia, Br. Stockman said that thankfully, as of now institutions can't be forced, “so I think we also have to use this opening not to do it.”

“If the law changes and they say that institutions have to do euthanasia, then the situation becomes totally different. Then we have to ask ourselves, can we still continue as a Catholic hospital in a certain environment where we are forced to do euthanasia?”

“But until now we have the possibility to refuse euthanasia inside the walls of the institute,” he said.

Pope orders Belgian religious group to stop offering euthanasia to patients

Vatican City, Aug 10, 2017 / 11:17 am (EWTN News/CNA).- Pope Francis is cracking down on a Belgian Brothers of Charity-run organization, giving the group until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to patients in their psychiatric centers.