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Pope Francis: God's law brings freedom

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2020 / 06:26 am (CNA).- God gives the grace both to follow his law exteriorly and to accept it in one’s heart, which is what gives true freedom from passion and sin, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday.

“Let’s not forget this: living the Law as an instrument of freedom, which helps me to be freer, which helps me not to be a slave to passions and sin,” the pope said Feb. 16.

In his catechesis before the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis spoke about the difference between “formal compliance” and “substantive compliance” with the law, which is to accept the law also in one’s “the center of the intentions, decisions, words, and gestures of each of us.”

“Good and bad deeds,” he said, “start from the heart.”

The pope explained that “by accepting the Law of God in your heart, you understand that when you do not love your neighbor, you kill yourself and others to some extent, because hatred, rivalry and division kill the fraternal charity that underlies interpersonal relationships.” This is also true of gossip, he added.

Jesus knows it is not always easy to live the Ten Commandments in this way, “for this reason he offers us the help of his love,” Francis assured.

“He came into the world not only to fulfill the Law,” the pope continued, “but also to give us his Grace, so that we can do the will of God, loving him and our brothers.”

“Everything, everything we can do with the grace of God!”

Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, encourages his followers to have a correct understanding of the law, Francis explained.

“Jesus wants to help his listeners to have a correct approach to the rules of the Commandments given to Moses, urging us to be available to God who educates us to true freedom and responsibility through the Law,” he said.

“It is about living [the law] as an instrument of freedom.”

Pope Francis said: “It is a matter of trusting and entrusting ourselves to him, to his grace, to that gratuitousness that he has given us and to welcome the hand that he constantly extends to us, so that our efforts and our necessary commitment can be supported by his help, full of goodness and of mercy.”

According to the pope, war is also an example of succumbing to one’s passions.

He recalled the death of an 18-month-old girl, who died of cold in a refugee camp in Afrin, Syria Feb. 14.

War has many consequences. “This is the result of passions,” he said. “People who make war cannot control their passions.”

“Today, Jesus asks us to progress on the path of love that he has shown us, and which starts from the heart,” he said.

“This is the way forward to live as a Christian. May the Virgin Mary help us to follow the path traced by her Son, to reach true joy and spread justice and peace everywhere.”

 

St. Onesimus

St. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, an influential man who had been converted by St. Paul. Onesimus offended Philemon and fled in order to escape any sort of retribution. He then met St. Paul while Paul was in a Roman prison. Shortly after, Onesimus was baptized. Paul then sent a letter to Philemon asking for Onesimus' freedom, so Onesimus could become one of his own assistants. This letter is the Epistle to Philemon and entreats Philemon to accept Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me.� Philemon pardoned Onesimus and he returned to faithfully serve St. Paul. We know that St. Paul made him, with Tychicus, the bearer of his Epistle to the Colossians. (Col. 4:7-9) Later, as St. Jerome and other fathers testify, he became an ardent preacher of the Gospel and succeeded St. Timothy as bishop of Ephesus. He was cruelly tortured in Rome, for 18 days, by a governor who was infuriated by his preaching on the merit of celibacy. Onesimus' legs and thighs were broken with bludgeons before he was stoned to death.His martyrdom occurred under Domitian in the year 90. 

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 Sir 15:15-20

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live;
he has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed.
No one does he command to act unjustly,
to none does he give license to sin.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34

R. (1b) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe his decrees,
who seek him with all their heart.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
You have commanded that your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping your statutes!
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
Be good to your servant, that I may live
and keep your words.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of your law.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Reading 2 1 Cor 2:6-10

Brothers and sisters:
We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,
and which none of the rulers of this age knew;
for, if they had known it,
they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:
What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,

this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.

Alleluia Mt 11:25

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment;
and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife -  unless the marriage is unlawful -
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,' and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

or

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.

But I say to you, do not swear at all.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Date set Cardinal Pell's last chance appeal hearing

Sydney, Australia, Feb 15, 2020 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- Australia’s High Court has set a date for the final appeal of Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted in 2018 on five charges of child sexual abuse.

The cardinal’s final appeal in the Australian judiciary will be heard March 11 and 12 by the High Court, according to Australian media reports. Pell lost an initial appeal in Victorian courts in August 2019.

Pell’s attorney’s are expected to argue before the High Court that his conviction should have been overturned because it was based upon uncorroborated testimony of only one complainant.

That complainant said that he and another choir boy were sexually abused by Pell after Sunday Mass while the cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

According to the complainant, Pell exposed himself and forced the two choir boys to commit sex acts upon him, while the cardinal was fully vested in his Sunday Mass garb, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. The complainant also said that Pell fondled him in a corridor in 1997.

The other apparent victim died in 2014, and was unable to testify in the proceedings. In 2001 had denied to his mother that any abuse occurred while he was a member of the choir.

The cardinal was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.
 
Pell, 78, has maintained his innocence, with his defense making central the argument that the alleged crimes would have been, under the circumstances, “simply impossible.”

The conviction has divided opinion in Australia and internationally. The cardinal’s defenders have contended that the sacristy abuse allegations are not possible given the high traffic after Mass and the obstructing nature of the Mass vestments.

Pell is expected to face a canonical proceeding once a final disposition has been reached in Australia. If convicted in a canonical court of sexually abusing children, the cardinal would almost certainly be laicized.

The cardinal is incarcerated in HM Prison Barwon, a maximum-security prison southwest of Melbourne that holds some notorious crime bosses.

 

McCarrick was a 'devourer of souls,' former priest secretary tells parish

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2020 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- A priest who was the personal secretary of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick said he is sickened by manipulative fundraising tactics employed while McCarrick was Archbishop of Washington. The priest called McCarrick a “manipulator” and a “devourer of souls.”

“For a portion of my priesthood, I worked directly for the foremost fund-raiser in the Church – in the whole Church, the universal Church.”

“He was a master of the art, and knew every technique and tactic to its finest point. He paired with that an extraordinary, even preternatural sense of people, what they wanted and what they needed,” Monsignor K. Bartholomew Smith wrote Feb. 15 on a blog he maintains for parishioners of St. Bernadette’s parish in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“My stomach churns at the recollection, and not only because of how successful he was at this; but also because of what he obtained by this. He received the gratitude, the affection, and the emotional dependence of untold numbers of people high and low, rich and poor, because he made himself the bestower of the approval that they craved, told them that they were good and God Himself was grateful to them, and delivered them from the authentic demands of Jesus and His Gospel.”

“This is what their giving purchased, and what his fundraising obtained.  But he took more from them than just their donations, for he was a ravening manipulator of human affections, and a devourer of souls,” Bartholomew added.

The priest, who was ordained in 1998, was McCarrick’s private secretary in the early 2000s, before being appointed to serve in a similar role for Cardinal William Baum, who was then living in Rome.

Smith told his parishioners that “you would be hard pressed to find a person in our Archdiocese, Catholic or not, who did not fall for [McCarrick’s] seduction to some degree, or at some time.  We all want approval; we all enjoy gratitude. He offered Divine approval and God’s own gratitude, and many were the ones who did his bidding to obtain it.”

McCarrick, Smith wrote, “was a master of convincing folks of the pernicious delusion that God Himself needed, approved, and in fact was grateful to them for the difference that they were making in the world. This, in one line, is the snake-oil song of the ecclesiastical fundraiser, and he was the all-time virtuoso chanter and enchanter.” 

“Many good works were accomplished in this manner, and benefits from them still accrue to this day. But the cost, the cost in human lives and dignity, the cost to the integrity of the Faith, the cost to the fabric of the Church, is only recently become apparent to all,” Smith added.

Smith’s remarks came in the context of the annual archdiocesan appeal. He told his parishioners that because of his experience with McCarrick, “I beg your indulgence if I eschew fundraising techniques, and avoid tactics with proven records of success.”

“Instead of a fund raiser, I am charged by God to be a faith-raiser,” the priest added.

McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington from 2000-2006, capping an ecclesiastical career in which he had also been the Archbishop of Newark, the Bishop of Metuchen, and an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York.

In June 2018, a report emerged that McCarrick had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor. That report was followed by a torrent of sexual abuse, coercion, and harassment allegations against McCarrick made by priests, former seminarians, and laypeople. McCarrick was dismissed from the clerical state in Feb. 2019.

Catholics in the U.S. are awaiting a Vatican report on McCarrick that is the result of an internal investigation into the former cardinal’s ecclesiastical career. While the report was initially expected to be released in the early weeks of 2020, Cardinal Blase Cupich told EWTN News this week that it might be released in March, but the exact date of release is still under consideration by Pope Francis.

 

Hong Kong, Singapore cancel public Masses amid coronavirus

Hong Kong, China, Feb 15, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- All public Masses in Hong Kong are canceled through Feb. 28 amid the threat of the spreading of coronavirus.

Cardinal John Tong Hon, apostolic administrator and bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, announced Feb. 13 that all public Masses from Feb. 15-28 would be suspended.

The Archdiocese of Singapore has taken a similar step, suspending all public Masses from Feb. 15 until further notice.

Hong Kong is home to around 500,000 Catholics out of a total population of over 7 million, while in Singapore Catholics make up 300,000 of the city-state’s 5.6 million people.

“The Church, being a member of society, has the duty to maintain public hygiene and promote the common good. Therefore, Parish Priests, the other parish clergy and the faithful are to strictly comply,” Tong said, adding that follow-up measures would be announced before Feb. 28.

Tong encouraged the faithful to watch Sunday Mass online, make a spiritual Communion, reflect on the Sunday liturgical text, read the Bible, or say the rosary each Sunday.

He also suggested that the faithful watch ferial Masses online, or make or Lenten devotions or spiritual exercises, such as the rosary, the Angelus, and daily prayer.

“Parish churches and affiliated chapels are to remain open to the faithful for personal prayers and visits to the Blessed Sacrament,” Tong said.

“Parish churches may also arrange for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament daily or on specific days, so that individual members of the faithful may take part and pray that the coronavirus infections will be contained as soon as possible.”

Tong added that all other Church-related activities, with the exception of weddings and funerals, are to be suspended as well.

In Singapore, Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye wrote in a Feb. 14 pastoral letter that “the cancellation of Masses does not mean that Catholics can excuse themselves from fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Day of the Lord holy.”

“They should try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio,” he added. He asked that people please check the archdiocesan website for the broadcast's time.

“Following the broadcast of the Mass will help you to receive the Lord spiritually,” he said. “You can also gather as a family for the Liturgy of the Word by spending time in prayer, reading the Word of God of the Sunday Liturgy and interceding for the world that this Covid-19 virus will be contained and eradicated. Even if you cannot gather together as a family to worship, you should individually spend at least half an hour in quiet time to pray and especially read the Word of God.”

Originating in Wuhan in China's Hubei province, the new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

As of Feb. 13, authorities worldwide have diagnosed more than 63,000 cases of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 1,300 people have died. Most of the reported cases are in China, but it has spread to over two dozen countries worldwide.

In Hong Kong, there are at least 50 cases of the disease and one death reported. As of Friday, Singapore has recorded 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19, TodayOnline reports, with 17 discharged from hospital and six in intensive care.

Several countries, including Italy, have suspended flights from Hong Kong, which has an open border with mainland China.

Hong Kong last week issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering from mainland China, NPR reports. The city has set up a large number of mass quarantine camps to isolate victims, many in residential areas, which have led to protests.

The New York Times reports that about 7,000 medical workers in Hong Kong have gone on strike, demanding that Hong Kong fully close the border with the mainland.

Schools in Hong Kong remain closed until March 16 and the government has given its 176,000 government employees the option of working from home until Feb. 23.

The Vatican has sent between 600,000 to 700,000 face masks to three provinces in China since Jan. 27, according to the Global Times. Pope Francis prayed for people infected by the coronavirus during his Sunday Angelus prayer on Jan. 26.

Next ordinary synod of bishops to be held in 2022

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2020 / 11:03 am (CNA).- The next ordinary assembly of the synod of bishops is to be held in the fall of 2022, according to a press release from the Vatican on Saturday.

The theme has not yet been decided, but will be up to Pope Francis, who was presented with three possible options by the council of the general secretariat of the synod in a meeting last week.

An ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops is usually convoked by the pope every three years to discuss a matter of importance to the Church in general.

The last ordinary assembly was the 2018 synod of bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.

A Feb. 15 statement said the pope chose to call the next ordinary assembly for 2022, at a space of four years instead of three from the previous one, “so as to ensure greater involvement of the whole Church in the preparation and celebration of the next Ordinary Synod.”

The most recent synod of bishops was the 2019 Amazon synod. A special assembly of the synod, it focused on a specific geographical area of the Church, in this case, the Amazon region, which spans nine countries in South America.

The third type of synodal meeting the pope can call is an extraordinary general assembly, which is organized in the case of an urgent matter.

The secretariat of the synod of bishops consists of a council led by Secretary General Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and Pro-Secretary General Bishop Mario Grech.

The secretariat met Feb. 6-7 for the purpose of communicating to Pope Francis ideas for the next synod and to discuss the work carried out since the 2018 youth synod.

The Feb. 15 statement did not indicate what themes were proposed to Pope Francis, but said the three were decided last year through consultations with bishops’ conferences, synods of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, dicasteries of the Roman curia, and the Union of Superiors General.

The secretariat also released a message Feb. 15, stating it discussed the issue of migration, saying it reflected “among other things, on consequences of the migratory phenomenon taking place in different regions of the planet.”

Considering the many complications and difficulties migrants and refugees can face, including the risk of trafficking, forced prostitution, and abuse, the council of the secretariat said it “wishes to recall that the Church, while deploring the reasons that cause such a massive movement of people, is called to offer comfort, consolation and welcome to all those who are suffering in one way or another.”

Synods of bishops convened by the pope serve a mainly consultative role, as indicated in the Code of Canon Law.

Their main purpose is to foster unity between the pope and the bishops around the world, and to offer their input as the pope considers questions pertaining to the Church’s activity in different parts of the world, on issues of faith and morals, and “in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline.”

'The Vatican lost everything, got nothing': An interview with Cardinal Zen

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- On Feb. 11, Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong met with Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. After that meeting, the cardinal gave an exclusive interview to CNA in which he discussed the Church in China, the Holy See’s agreement with the Communist regime, and his relationship with Pope Francis and the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The following is a transcript of the cardinal’s interview with CNA. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Your Eminence, can you tell us about the situation of the Church in China?

“More and more, the Church is under persecution [in China]. Both the official Church, and the underground. Actually, the underground is doomed to disappear. Why? Because even the Holy See is not helping. The older bishops are dying, there are less than 30 bishops left in the underground Church, and no new priests being ordained.

“But we hope that [Chinese Catholics] can keep the faith in their families -- so we have to say, ‘back to the catacombs!’

“Even in the official church, the faithful are more and more controlled. On the top of the church they tell you to destroy the crosses, inside the church, they put the image of Xi Jinping—maybe not in the center, but in some place. Now they have to have the flag in the church, they have to sing the national anthem.

“People under 18 years of age are not allowed into churches, not allowed in any religious activity. Christmas is forbidden, in the whole country. Even the bible should be re-translated, according to the Communist orthodoxy. So now we see more and more control on the Church, and there is a really a universal lamentation in the whole Church.

“Now, I cannot contact directly anybody in China - it’s too dangerous for them. But sometimes people can come to Hong Kong, to see me and they cry, they say ‘what can we do?’ I say ‘What can I do for you? I can do nothing. I have no voice in the Vatican, simply none.

You have spoken publicly against the Holy See’s relationship with the Chinese government, has this affected your relationship with Pope Francis?

“The Holy Father Francis shows special affection to me. In interviews, they ask him ‘What about Cardinal Zen?’ and the Pope says ‘He’s a good man.’ …he says ‘maybe he’s a little frightened, his age…’ I say my age? I’m old, I’m 88, but the age helps me not to have any fear. Because I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose. 

“The situation in China is very bad. And the source is not the pope. The pope doesn’t know much about China. And he may have some sympathy for the Communists, because in South America, the Communists are good guys, they suffer for social justice. But not the [Chinese] Communists. They are persecutors. So the situation is, humanly speaking, hopeless for the Catholic Church: Because we can always expect the Communists to persecute the Church, but now [faithful Catholics] don’t get any help from the Vatican. The Vatican is helping the government, surrendering, giving everything into their hands.

“So I’m—I can sincerely say that I am not—I think the pope is okay. But I’m fighting [Cardinal Pietro] Parolin  Because the bad things come from him. From him. He’s still so, so, so optimistic about the so-called ‘Ostpolitik’, the compromise. But you cannot compromise: they want complete surrender - that’s Communism.”

Your Eminence, after the 2018 agreement between the Holy See and China on the appointment of bishops, members of the underground Church seem to have come under renewed government pressure, has this been your experience?

“I think the most evident case is about the one bishop in Fujian, Bishop Guo

“Now, they legitimize seven illegitimate bishops -- schismatic bishops, excommunicated bishops. But it happened that, in two of those seven dioceses, there are also two legitimate underground bishops. [Rome] asked them to step down. Now both stepped down, okay? 

But the one in Fujian was promised that he would be recognized as auxiliary bishop, downgraded, but still bishop. So he accepted. But then…[the Chinese authorities] say 'no, we have not yet recognized you as bishop. You have to sign the document.' And the document says, ‘I have accepted the independent Church.’ Guo said no, I cannot sign that, so he’s not yet recognized as a bishop.

“Now, recently, the news came that he is on the street, because they said 'your building is not safe. It is against the fire regulations.'

“I said that may be an exaggeration, that he is on the street. But actually it’s true, because the government doesn’t allow anybody to accept him. Now in that diocese, the underground Church is of 80% of the priests and faithful in the diocese. The official Church only has a small number of priests, and the bishop, who was the real bishop, is now not even recognized as an auxiliary. It’s terrible. 

“So [in this deal] the Vatican lost everything, and got nothing. I cannot understand why they would do such thing. I’m sure that the Pope has the good intention to gain some space, some breathing space, and maybe one day you can get something better. Okay. But Parolin, the Secretary of State, he knows very well who the Communists are: there’s no way to bargain with the Communists, you get nothing.

“I always say, can you imagine St. Joseph going to bargain with Herod to save the infant Jesus? No way, no way. He just wants to kill him.”

Pope Francis speaks about financial reforms to Vatican tribunal

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2020 / 05:24 am (CNA).- As the Holy See awaits the results of a scheduled financial inspection, Pope Francis spoke about ongoing financial reform and investigations at the opening of the judicial year of the Vatican City State’s court, which he attended for the first time.

He said Feb. 15 the Holy See is trying to conform to international law and has put in place processes to combat “illegality in the international finance sector.”

To do this, the Vatican has put in place internal surveillance and intervention systems, which “have recently brought to light suspicious financial situations,” he stated.

Situations, which, he continued, “beyond any possible illegality, are difficult to reconcile with the nature and purposes of the Church, and which have generated disorientation and uneasiness in the community of the faithful.”

Addressing the promotor of justice, prelate auditors, officials, lawyers, and collaborators of the tribunal of Vatican City State, he said “these are events for the attention of the judiciary,” and have not yet been determined to have been criminal and therefore are not pronounced on.

Pope Francis called it “positive” that first reports of the possibly illegal activities came from internal Vatican authorities, thus demonstrating “the effectiveness and efficiency of law enforcement actions, as required by international standards.”

“The Holy See is firmly willing to continue on the path undertaken,” he said, not only with the legislative reforms in place, but with “new forms of judicial cooperation,” meeting international standards and practices.

Pope Francis’ address at the Vatican City State tribunal’s opening of the judicial year was the first of his pontificate. It has sometimes been attended by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state.

The tribunal is composed of three judges, a president, and a notary, each nominated by the pope.

In early October 2019, Pope Francis named a new president of the Vatican City State’s tribunal, Italian prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone.

The appointment was announced just two days after the Vatican gendarmes carried out a search on the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF), resulting in the suspension of five employees.

Among these five was AIF’s director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, who Pope Francis said at the end of November is still suspended, because of suspected “bad administration.”

Meanwhile, the Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, suspended the AIF in mid-November.

The suspension was followed five days later by the resignation of AIF president René Brüelhart. His replacement, Carmelo Barbagallo, was named by Pope Francis at the end of November.

Barbagallo announced Jan. 23 that the Egmont Group had revoked the suspension and the AIF could resume collaboration with foreign financial intelligence bodies.

Before being readmitted to the Egmont Group’s secure communications network, the Vatican tribunal had to guarantee the processing of confidential intelligence data that had been acquired in the course of investigations into the purchase and sale of a London property, according to ACI Stampa.

Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, is scheduled to carry out an inspection of the Vatican this spring, after the Holy See was due to send a report in December.

The inspection comes after the Vatican in 2012 agreed to comply with a set of “recommendations” from Moneyval, incorporating them into internal policies.

CNA has reported a series of allegations concerning two major Vatican investments arranged by the Secretariat of State, one of which involves the Secretariat’s purchase of a London property earmarked for development into luxury apartments.

In his speech to the tribunal Saturday, Pope Francis spoke about justice, quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “For as you judge, so will you be judged.”

“These words must not frighten us, but only spur us to do our duty with seriousness and humility,” he said.

The pope emphasized the importance of personal conversion and that justice be accompanied by the other three cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, and fortitude.

If bad takes over the good in their interior lives, “no judicial system could save us,” he stated. “In this sense, I invite everyone to feel involved not only in an external commitment that concerns others, but also in personal work within each of us; our personal conversion.”

“This is the only justice that generates justice!”

 

'No different from the rest of us'- Priests and mental health care

Denver, Colo., Feb 15, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- After the suicide of a Missouri priest last month, psychologists talked with CNA about the issues priests can face when they need help with caring for their mental heatlh.

Fr. Evan Harkins of Kansas City took his own life in late January, leaving parishioners and friends across the country mourning the beloved priest.

Shortly after Harkin's death, Bishop Vann Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph said the priest had a “sunny” personality, but had begun to struggle with anxiety and his physical health.

The bishop said the priest's decision to end his life might have been connected to his medication.

He said Harkins had developed serious stomach and gastrointestinal issues, which seemed to cause him anxiety.

“He was given a prescription drug to deal with the anxiety and was experiencing some of the extreme negative side effects of this drug including terrible nightmares, among other things,” Johnston explained.

Though the factors leading to his death are no doubt comlicated, the priest’s death has begun a discussion about the mental health needs of priests, and the stigmas that surround them.

Dr. Melinda Moore is a Licensed Psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University and has studied Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS).

Moore told CNA that suicide prevention steps are incredibly important. She pointed to studies that show how a single individual's suicide can have a devastating effect that ripples throughout the community.

“We've got 48,000 Americans who are dying by suicide every year. … [These are] Americans who are killing themselves and leaving entire families, networks, communities devastated by their deaths. We know that for every person who dies by suicide, there are 135 people exposed. Out of those 135, forty-eight people will be seriously impacted by the death.”

“What we know is these people who are impacted significantly, they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and another study showed suicide attempt. So not only are these 40,000 Americans killing themselves every year, they're leaving all this collateral damage that amounts to over 2 million people every year,” she said.

Suicide among priests, and pastors of other Christian denominations, occurs more commonly than expected, Moore said. However, she said religious leaders often face stigmas about seeking psychological help.

“Priests are no different from the rest of us. The difference is that priests and other clergy oftentimes are idealized and held to a standard where they feel like they can't ask for help. They are the individuals that other people come to for help, and so they themselves feel like they can't seek help.”

Moore said suicide is not always tied to mental illness. But she said people who commit suicide often encounter three feelings - not belonging, being a burden to others, and the sense that that could carry out lethal self-harm.

“They oftentimes feel like they’re a burden, and then they also sometimes feel like they no longer belong to a community that they once belonged to … It's like they really feel like people would be better off if they weren't alive, that they are a burden to their loved ones, ” Moore said.

“Lastly, there's this thing called acquired capability to enact lethal self-harm. It's sort of a fearlessness in the face of death. It actually takes a lot of courage to kill yourself,” she added.

Dr. Christina Lynch was director of psychological services at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver from 2007 until she retired about a month ago. Lynch is still a supervising psychologist for the seminary, and is an advisor for the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (CPA), which she previously served as president.

Lynch told CNA that stigmas among priests regarding psychology differ depending on several factors, like location, age, and community. She said counseling may be looked down upon by older generations, noting that millennials are more sympathetic to it.

Lynch also said a sense of shame about getting psychological help may worsen if the priest or seminarian does not view the therapy setting as confidential or safe.

Shame among priests about seeking help gets worse among priests if mental health care is not supported by the bishop or laity. Lynch applauded the decision of Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, who announced in December that he was taking a leave of absence to focus on mental health.

Lynch also said the laity have a unique opportunity to support priests, even through simple actions like inviting them over to dinner.

“If they don't have support from their bishop, they feel shame or they don't want to go to counseling. So the support they received from the bishop is really important. I'm sure you read the article by Bishop Conley. I've heard from so many priests since then that this just gave them courage.”

“The laity have a role to play with the parish priest. They need to be praying for them, be friends with them. A lot of times laity are afraid to be really friends with their priests … They need to be attentive to their priests and make sure they're supporting them … The more support a priest is going to get from everybody instead of criticism, the better it is going to be for them.”

Dr. Cynthia Hunt, a Catholic psychologist, is a board advisor for the Catholic Medical Association and has also served as Chief of the Department of Psychiatry at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

Hunt said that stigmas about mental therapy are pervasive among clergy. She highlighted several reasons why priests might consider therapy a difficult process to access.

“There seems to be a shame surrounding the very human need for assistance in the mental health realm,” she said.

“Some difficulties which might bar priests from accessing therapy include their desire for more privacy (not wanting to sit in a waiting room), issues of shame, as noted above, as well as the desire to 'work things out on their own'.”

“Priests may consider their depression or anxiety a 'flaw' in their character. They also may not recognize the severity of their symptoms or realize that there is treatment,” Hunt added.

Hunt said that anxiety and depression can be as common among priests as it is among the general population. She said hereditary traits may contribute to a priest’s emotional issues, and addictions, like alcohol abuse, can exacerbate the problems.

The psychologist highlighted the options that priests can take to address these concerns.

“Priests may obtain therapy from a variety of disciplines including Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Marriage Family Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other licensed professional counselors. The type of therapy can be tailored to the needs of the priest to include but not limited to psychodynamic Therapy, trauma-informed therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and affirmation therapy,” she said.

While rural areas may face a lack of counselors, Hunt noted, there has been an increase in telemedicine, where priests can access therapy through video-platforms.

Hunt said psychological healing is best addressed through a holistic approach - a combination of biological, psychological, social and spiritual efforts. She said that while medication is not always necessary, it can be helpful, especially when coupled with counseling.

However, she added that some medications, like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), have an occasional side effect, and people may continue to have recurring anxiety and depression throughout their life.

“SSRIs improve many symptoms of anxiety and depression through their biochemical action on neurotransmitters such as serotonin and others … With more balance again in the neurotransmitter system, many symptoms improve including but not limited to panic, chronic anxiety levels, low mood, sleep or appetite issues, fatigue, lack of enjoyment of things once enjoyed and suicidal thinking,” she said.

“As with all medications, there can be side effects. In the case of SSRIs these tend to be quite mild and short-lived such as nausea and headache. There are very rare but serious effects which can include increased agitation, restlessness or suicidal thinking.”

In order to address the possibility of suicide among priests, Dr. Moore told CNA that dioceses should focus strongly on education regarding suicide awareness and suicide prevention methods.

She said the topic should be addressed at the pulpit, and dioceses should also make more resources available, including the suicide hotline number and health care professionals.  She also said priests should educate themselves through books designed to address their needs. Hunt mentioned “Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors” by Karen Mason.

For her part, Moore applauded initiatives the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky has begun to support suicide prevention and mental health. She the dioceses has provided resources and sought to be more sympathetic to the deceased and their families.

“[I am] very pleased that the Diocese of Lexington, which is led by Bishop John Stowe, has been very much an ally in putting out messages around being attuned and being sensitive to people who are in crisis …  but then also those people who've lost a loved one to suicide, making sure that the loved one who died is not demonized, and that the loved ones are provided resources.”

Father Anthony Sciarappa, the parochial vicar of Holy Spirit Parish of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, told CNA about his experience with therapy and mental health. He said, during his first year of seminary, he struggled with anxiety and depression.

“We had lots of events as seminarians where we put on our seminary uniform and we were supposed to meet with people, talk with people and all that was overwhelming. I would be physically, like, ill and sick, just paralyzed with that.”

“I have been suffering from anxiety and depression and I thought that's just how everyone lives and that was just normal,” he said.

Sciarappa’s bishop lived at the seminary where he studied. About six months into Sciarappa’s formation, the bishop, having spoken with the seminary faculty, encouraged the young seminarian to enter into therapy.

“When the bishop told me, I think I just started crying and his office right there, because it was just so overwhelming to be faced with the fact that I do need help,” he said.

It was a difficult concept to grasp, he noted, because therapy and mental illness were not topics typically discussed during his childhood. He said, among other stigmas, he considered therapy to be a tool for crazy people.

“I didn't know anybody who had done this before. It wasn't something that was ever just talked about in my circles growing up,” he said.

He went to a therapist for about three years. He went back to counseling during major seminary in Washington D.C. He described therapy as both a difficult and valuable process.

During counseling, Sciarappa said, he had to work through “core wounds” and the issues affected by habits learned during childhood. He said, “going through that is really hard work.”

“There were so many days I'd be exhausted after everything, but once [I brought] those things into the light I could make more sense of my life.”

It got easier as he progressed through the process, Sciarappa  noted, stating that he began to acknowledge the fruits of therapy and witness its impact on his health. He said, because of therapy, he learned the tools and skills to cope with depression and anxiety. He said it helped to better understand himself and what to expect from these kinds of struggles 

“It was like mechanisms and how to cope and strategies,” he said. “Now we see what's going on with the problem and why that's going on. For me, finding out why I struggled with this then helped me deal with it more and more.”

When asked about how to best priests can maintain mental health, Sciarappa stressed the importance of outside support, including spiritual direction, close friendships, and a priest support group to which he belongs.

The priestly support group meets once a month at one of the member’s rectories. At each meeting, there are two moderators, one a trained therapist, to help the team keep on track.

He said the group discusses personal struggles, like loneliness, but also struggles particular to priests, including the clerical abuse scandals, and priest relocation. Sciarappa said it is significant to have peers to confide in. It is not appropriate to be as open with parishioners, he added, noting it is nevertheless valuable to have community among the laity. 

“It's so important to have a brother priest so he can talk honestly about stuff, about difficulties, about insecurities,” he said. “I'm not going to spill my guts out to the random parishioner-- that would be unhealthy for them and for me.”

“I think it's [valuable to have] supportive, close friends, priests, laypeople. That's the biggest thing,” he said. “I'll talk about different things in those different circles or talk about them in different ways, but that way nothing that is going on stays in the darkness.”

Sciarappa said it’s difficult to enter into suffering places, recognizing one’s need for help and therapy. However, he said the experience has also given him more empathy and allowed him to truly experience the grace of God.

“It's given me tools where I can recognize it in other people. The big thing … it's made me a more empathetic person,” he said.

“Going through that suffering and having Christ redeem it and heal me more and more, when I speak to people about hope, when I speak to people [about] how healing can happen, I can speak about it from a place of experience. It's not theoretical, I really mean it. And that's going to change the way you preach. That's going to change the way you talk to people.”