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More clergy accused of child sexual abuse in California as important deadline nears

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Boston, Mass., Dec 2, 2022 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

As California’s three-year window to file child sex abuse lawsuits past the statute of limitations nears its conclusion, 66 Catholic clergy and religious have been named in 116 lawsuits in Alameda County, which covers the area between San Francisco and San Jose.

Additionally, 14 of the clergy members and religious identified in the lawsuits are named for the first time, the law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates announced Nov. 28. 

The law firm said that the 116 lawsuits may be a small percentage of the total number of suits filed under the California Child Victims Act, which was passed in 2019.

The legislation allowed a three-year period in which victims of child sex abuse could come forward with claims that would have expired under the previous statute of limitations. The window began Jan. 1, 2020, and will expire in less than a month. The bill was signed by Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The legislation allows one to file a civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse up to the age of 40, or within five years from the date that the plaintiff “discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring” after the age of 18 was caused by the abuse.

Previously, claims had to be filed by age 26, or within three years of discovering damages from the abuse. Dec. 31 is the last day to file a lawsuit before the window closes.

“The California Child Victims Act has helped hundreds of survivors seek justice and healing,” attorney Jeff Anderson said in a statement. “This law is a major advancement in the child protection movement, and we applaud all of the survivors who have come forward. But time is running out. Survivors must act before the Dec. 31 deadline.”

Andy Rivas, the then executive director of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, said at the the time the law, known as AB 218, passed that the Church viewed it as a “step forward."

“Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction,” Rivas said.

“The Catholic Church has confronted this issue of child sexual abuse for more than two decades now,” he said. “It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them.”

According to the law firm, the lawsuits allege that the abuse occurred within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Diocese of Fresno, the Diocese of Monterey, the Diocese of Oakland, the Diocese of Sacramento, the Diocese of San Jose, and the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

Brother Salvatore Billante and Father Stephen Kiesle were accused most frequently, according to the law firm. Billante was accused at least 11 times and Kiesle was accused at least nine times, the law firm said. Billante’s alleged abuse took place at locations in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Kiesle’s alleged abuse took place at locations in the Diocese of Oakland.

Fourteen of the allegations named clergy members for the first time. Their names, reported by the law firm, are Father James Corley, Father Sidney Hall, Father John A. Lynch, Father John Francis Scanlon, Father William Dodson, Father Henry Hall, Sister M. Rosella McConnell, Father Joseph Watt, Father Elwood Geary, Father Domingos S. Jacque, Brother U Benedict Reams, Father Robert Gemmet, Father Robert H. Lewis, and Father Christian Sandholdt.

It’s unclear whether the 66 accused clergy and religious are living or deceased, and where they are living, the law firm said. The names of the 66 accused clergy and religious can be seen here.

“The vast majority of claims against these individuals have not been fully evaluated in a civil or criminal court,” the law firm said. 

“The allegations should not be considered proven or substantiated in a court of law. All individuals should be considered innocent until proven guilty.”

Several other states, such as New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Carolina have also passed legislation opening windows for lawsuits past the statute of limitations. 

Pope Francis’ watch auctioned off and proceeds set a world record

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CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

A watch worn by Pope Francis was sold Wednesday at a charity auction and set a new world record for the brand.

The LaViolette Scholarship Foundation auctioned off a Swatch Once Again watch Nov. 30 that Francis had worn for much of his pontificate.

The watch, which can be found at the brand's official store for $55, was finally sold for $56,250 — more than 1,000 times its retail value — making it the Swatch watch for which the most money has ever been paid.

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, sent a letter to the Holy Father in May telling him about the life of Brian LaViolette, a teenage watch collector who died at the age of 15 in a swimming accident.

In the letter, Ricken asked the pontiff to donate one of his cheapest watches to be auctioned by the LaViolette Foundation, which offers financial help for students to go to college.

The Holy Father agreed to the request and the auction of the watch joins those of other famous people such as Fred Savage, Joe Theismann, Terry Bradshaw, Condoleezza Rice, and Randall Park.

It’s not the first time that Pope Francis has donated things for auction.

Less than a year after being elected pope, Harley-Davidson gave the pope a motorcycle that, after he autographed it, was sold for $285,000.

The money raised was used to renovate the “Don Luigi Liegro” shelter, which welcomes the homeless or jobless.

Then in November 2017, Lamborghini gave one of its most exclusive cars to the Supreme Pontiff, who decided to auction it off and allocate the money to numerous charitable works.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Vermont to allow religious schools to use state assistance after settling lawsuit

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St. Louis, Mo., Dec 2, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Religious private schools in Vermont will now be allowed to make use of a state tuition assistance program that previously excluded them, after the state settled two lawsuits on the matter Nov. 30.

Vermont’s Town Tuition Program provides tuition benefits for students who live in towns without public schools, and it previously allowed payments to secular private schools but not religious ones. As part of the settlements, state and local government officials agreed that Vermont’s exclusion of religious private schools from the program is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The Diocese of Burlington, which includes the entire state and serves some 2,300 students at 13 schools, was party to both lawsuits, as were several private-school families.

“We are glad that our schools will finally be included along with the other private and public schools as a choice for students that do not have a school in their town,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said in a statement to CNA.

The lawsuits were filed by attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal group. Thomas McCormick, a longtime Vermont lawyer who works with the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel on behalf of the families and the Diocese of Burlington.

On Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont entered a stipulated judgment enforcing the settlement agreement. Under the settlements, the plaintiff families who requested tuition but were wrongly denied by their school districts will be reimbursed for the tuition they paid out of pocket, ADF stated. The school districts will reimburse the plaintiff families directly; other families will have the opportunity to request reimbursement from the school districts. The state of Vermont and the school districts will also pay the families’ attorney fees, ADF said.

Vermont’s school choice program dates to 1869. The state has barred religious schools from the program since 1999, following a state Supreme Court ruling that held that public funds may not be used to "support any place of worship” under Vermont’s constitution. The lawsuits against the state were filed more than two decades later, in 2020.

The settlements in the present cases come in light of a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June in the case Carson v. Makin. In that decision, the court ruled 6-3 that Maine’s policy barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend “sectarian” schools violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

In that decision, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that having chosen to fund private schools through its aid program, Maine cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious. The state “pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A state’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”

Other recent cases before the Supreme Court have led to favorable results for advocates of school choice. In its June 2020 decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down as a violation of the free exercise clause a state scholarship program that excluded religious schools. And in 2017, the court found in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.

Meet Lorie Smith, the Christian artist with a Supreme Court free speech case

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Ever since she was a young girl, Lorie Smith has loved weddings. Now, as an artist with her own studio, she says she wants to help others celebrate their big day. But she feels like she can’t — because she is a Christian who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in her case303 Creative LLC v. Elenis — on Monday, Dec. 5.

The 38-year-old graphic artist and website designer from the Denver metro area is challenging Colorado’s anti-discrimination law that she says would compel her to use her artistic talents, or speech, to create messages celebrating same-sex weddings. At the same time, Colorado argues that the case is one about discrimination: If someone sells a product in the public sphere, he or she has to sell it to all people.

For her part, Smith stressed that she creates for everyone with her company, 303 Creative.

“I serve everyone, including those who identify as LGBT,” she told CNA. “I love to custom create and will work with anyone — there are simply some messages I can’t create regardless of who asks me.”

Her case, she said, is about freedom of speech for all artists.

“I want the LGBT graphic designer to be free to create consistent with her beliefs, and the Democrat speechwriter and the atheist photographer,” she said. “A win in my case is truly a win for all Americans.”

Represented by faith-based legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith is challenging Colorado officials, including Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case centers on the question of “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Right now, Smith said that she is compelled.

“After I started my own design studio, I wanted to expand my portfolio to custom create art and websites to tell stories about weddings, but Colorado made it clear I wasn’t welcome in that space,” she said. “Colorado officials are censoring my speech and forcing me to speak messages about marriage that are inconsistent with my beliefs — the core of who I am.”

She added: “Not wanting to be punished for saying what I believe, I had no choice but to challenge this unjust law.”

Smith is optimistic that the Supreme Court justices will agree with her.

“I love to design art — every word I write, every graphic I design, and every website I craft expresses a unique and custom message,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will ensure that the government can’t force myself or anyone to say something they don’t believe.”

While Smith considers her creative skills a gift to glorify God, she revealed that she was not always a Christian.

“My faith journey began after I lost my uncle, who was like a father to me, to a tragic accident,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why bad things could happen to good people, so I set out on a journey to try to disprove the existence of God.”

Instead, she said, she found God.

“I attended church regularly to equip my arsenal of evidence against him,” she said. “But God had other plans, and it was through this process that he brought me to faith, and that changed my entire life. Now, everything I do or say and how I love other people, I do for his glory.”

According to Smith, her case has only drawn her closer to God.

“As I’ve navigated the highs and lows of the past six years of litigation, including death threats, hate mail, and even having my home address posted on social media, I have grown much in my faith,” she said.

“I know that my stand for free speech is for everyone, regardless of who they are or how they identify,” she added. “I know my stand will protect even those who disagree with me or who say uncharitable things about me. I know the freedom of speech is worthy of protecting and I want all Americans — and the next generation — to be able to enjoy this incredible freedom.”

She concluded: “My faith has inspired me to continue to stand for this important truth.”

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative. Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom
Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative. Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Jake Warner, senior counsel for ADF, explained how Smith’s art translates into speech.

“She creates words, pictures, and graphics. And all of those things are what the Supreme Court calls ‘pure speech’ because they express a message,” he said, adding that Colorado has conceded the same about Smith’s work.

Rather than having one product to sell to all, Smith’s creations are tailored to her every client, he said. Every website or graphic is custom-made, with different names, pictures, and details.

This is not the first time ADF has represented a Coloradan Christian artist at the Supreme Court. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled on a case brought by Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, after he refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. With that case, Warner said the court ruled that Colorado had discriminated against Phillips and that his free exercise rights were violated.

“It didn’t reach the free speech issue raised in that case, which is the one that the 303 case, or that Lorie Smith’s case, raises now,” he said. “Can the government force an artist to express a message that goes against their deeply-held beliefs?”

St. Bibiana

St. Bibiana

Feast date: Dec 02

The earliest mention in authentic historical authority of St. Bibiana, a Roman female martyr, occurs in the "Liber Pontificalis" where in the biography of Pope Simplicius (468-483) it is stated that this pope "consecrated a basilica of the holy martyr Bibiana, which contained her body". This basilica still exists today. In the fifth century, therefore, the bodily remains of St. Bibiana rested within the city walls. We have no further historical particulars concerning the martyr or the circumstances of her death, neither do we know why she was buried in the city itself. In later times a legend sprang up concerning her, connected with the Acts of the martyrdom of Saints John and Paul, and has no historical claim to belief.

According to this legend, Bibiana was the daughter of a former prefect, Flavianus, who was banished by Julian the Apostate. Dafrosa, the wife of Flavianus, and his two daughters, Demetria and Bibiana, were also persecuted by Julian. Dafrosa and Demetria died a natural death and were buried by Bibiana in their own house, but Bibiana was tortured and died as a result of her sufferings. Two days after her death a priest named John buried Bibiana near her mother and sister in her home, and the house was later turned into a church. It is evident that the legend seeks to explain in this way the origin of the church and the presence in it of the bodies of the above mentioned confessors. The account contained in the martyrologies of the ninth century is drawn from the legend.

An alternate account says that in the year 363, Emperor Julian made Apronianus Governor of Rome. Bibiana suffered in the persecution started by him. She was the daughter of Christians, Flavian, a Roman knight, and Dafrosa, his wife. Bibiana's father was tortured and sent into exile, where he died of his wounds. Her mother was beheaded, and their two daughters, Bibiana and Demetria, were stripped of their possessions and left to suffer poverty. However, they remained in their house, spending their time in fasting and prayer. Governer Apronianus, seeing that hunger and want had no effect upon them, summoned them. Demetria, after confessing her faith, fell dead at the feet of the tyrant. Bibiana was reserved for greater sufferings. She was placed in the hands of a wicked woman called Rufina, who in vain endeavored defile her virginity. She used blows as well as persuasion, but the Christian virgin remained faithful. Enraged at the constancy of this saintly virgin, Apronianus ordered her to be tied to a pillar and beaten with scourges, laden with lead plummets, until she died. The saint endured the torments with joy, and died under the blows inflicted by the hands of the executioner. Her body was then put in the open air to be torn apart by wild animals, yet none would touch it. After two days she was buried according to this legend.

Process of beatification begins for Carmen Hernández, co-founder of Neocatechumenal Way

Carmen Hernández, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way / Credit: Archimadrid

CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The beatification and canonization process for Carmen Hernández, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, officially opens this Sunday. The archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Carlos Osoro, will preside at the event that will take place at Francisco de Vitoria University.

The second Sunday of Advent is the liturgical setting for the official ceremony. Also attending the event will be the international team of the Neocatechumenal Way: Kiko Argüello, Ascensión Romero, and Father Mario Pezzi, as well as the diocesan postulator for the cause, Carlos Metola.

During the ceremony, the members of the tribunal will be sworn in: the episcopal delegate for the Causes of the Saints, Father Alberto Fernández; the promoter of justice, Father Martín Rodajo; and deputy notaries Ana Gabriela Martínez and Mercedes Alvaredo.

Almost a year and a half has passed since July 2021, when the postulator delivered the “supplex libellus” to Cardinal Osoro at a Mass celebrated on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Carmen Hernández.

The “libellus” is the formal petition for the start of the process. It includes writings, documents, and testimonies in support of the sanctity of the co-founder of the Way and that she lived the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.

On that occasion, Cardinal Osoros noted that Hernández was “a tireless catechist and worker of the announcement of Christ” who in her life wanted to be “a bearer of Jesus Christ.”

Argüello, who co-founded the movement with Hernández, highlighted in a letter that Hernández “was a deep, authentic, and free woman in her relationship with everyone. She loved Christ and the Church and the pope above all.”

“For love of the Church and the brethren, she has stayed with me for 50 years, carrying out this Christian initiation that is the Neocatechumenal Way,” Argüello recalled.

“I thought they were following me,” Argüello acknowledged, “but I discovered that thousands of brethren are on the Way thanks to Carmen and because of the love that Carmen had for Christ.”

After the solemn act, there will be the premiere of two symphonic poems by Argüello, titled “Daughters of Jerusalem” and “Aquedah.” The latter expression refers to the sacrifice of Isaac recounted in Genesis Chapter 22.

Both the solemn act and the premiere of these works can be followed on the YouTube channel of the Archdiocese of Madrid:

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Despite incessant attacks, Nigerian Catholics keep their faith

Police and residents of Wumat, a farming town 45 miles south of Jos, Nigeria, arrive to survey damage and help survivors of a terrorist attack on Nov 22, 2022. / Courtesy of Victor Nafor

Abuja, Nigeria, Dec 2, 2022 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

November proved to be an especially deadly month in Central Nigeria, leaving Catholics like Matthew Onah and his family struggling to cope with their losses.

In the Catholic enclave of Maikatako, 11 people were killed on Nov. 15 in an attack by armed militia, reportedly 200 to 300 in number and dressed in black.

Among the victims was Onah’s 2-year-old son. A member of the St. Benedict’s Independent Mission Kuba within the Diocese of Pankshin in Plateau State, Onah said his wife, Rosemary, 33, was injured but is recovering in a local hospital. Their two other children survived.

One week later, at least 12 unarmed civilians were killed by radicalized Muslim militia in the town of Wumat, 45 miles south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, according to Titus Alams, a former speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly. 

Alams told CNA more than 200 terrorists encircled the hilltop settlement on the cold Tuesday night, shooting residents who tried to escape.

Burned vehicle in the town of Wumat, Nigeria, where 12 villagers were killed in a terrorist assault on Nov. 22, 2022. Courtesy of Victor Nafor
Burned vehicle in the town of Wumat, Nigeria, where 12 villagers were killed in a terrorist assault on Nov. 22, 2022. Courtesy of Victor Nafor

The attacks followed weeks of terror raids on surrounding Christian villages, causing farmers to stay away from their farms, said Father Andrew Dewan, who is in charge of St. Benedict’s Independent Mission Kuba, which serves approximately 25 surrounding villages.

“Just last month, we buried two of our parishioners in a town close to Maikatako,” Dewan said. “They were killed by the same Fulani militants who went to kidnap their sister. They kidnap Christians for ransom, destroy their farm crops and still wage attacks, killing Christians and destroying their livelihoods.”

The motivation for the attacks is “land grab and forceful Islamization,” he said.

“They have taken many of our communities and turned them into no-go zones,” Dewan said.

Officials in Nigeria have often characterized the attacks as clashes between sedentary farmers and semi-nomadic herdsmen over the fertile land, which they say have increased because of climate change.

Bishop Michael Gokum of the Pankshin Diocese told CNA this is a distortion of the facts.

“If you are in your house and somebody comes and attacks you, that is not a clash,” Gokum said in a phone interview. “We are worried about the growing killings not just of Catholics but all Christians which have continued unabated.”

Bishop Michael Gokum, head of the Diocese of Pankshin, Nigeria. Courtesy of Bishop Gokum
Bishop Michael Gokum, head of the Diocese of Pankshin, Nigeria. Courtesy of Bishop Gokum

The attacks by groups of Islamist militia variously called “herdsmen,” “bandits,” or “unknown gunmen” increasingly victimize farming towns in Nigeria’s vast Middle Belt of states.

At least 18 people were shot and hacked to death in the northern area of Benue State on Nov. 3 in three neighboring villages of Guma County, reported Father William Shom, a resident of the county. Many of the victims were children, Shom told CNA.

More worrisome to Nigerian experts is that herdsmen attacks are popping up in Nigeria’s southern states, where they were rare a few years ago.

On Nov. 21, a terrorist group heard speaking the language of the Fulani tribe attacked villages in the southern area of Enugu State, approximately 400 miles from the attack sites in Bokkos County, Plateau State. Enugu State is home to more than one million Roman Catholic residents.

Analysts have warned that the incessant attacks — if unresisted — could push Africa’s most populous nation into the hands of radical Islamists.

“True, Christian farmers have clashed with nomadic Fulani Muslim herders, or militants, for scores of years, but recent attacks by Fulani militants appear to be coordinated and strategic,” Kyle Abts, executive director of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), told CNA.

It’s “concerning that there are continued killings in Plateau State and just a few days later new attacks in the southern state of Enugu,” he added.

“Throughout the Middle Belt, security forces are either overwhelmed, unable to stop, or complicit in these attacks,” Abts said.

Solomon Maren, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, said Bokkos has seen a steady rise in armed attacks and annexations since 2018.

“Our people in the rural areas can no longer farm or move freely without the fear of attacks. Just last month, we buried more than 30 of our people who were attacked either on their farms or in their houses,” he said.

Gov. Simon Lalong ordered a crackdown on terrorists’ hideouts in Bokkos on Nov. 17. Military spokesman Major Ishaku Takwa told CNA that night that the effort was already underway.

However, three hours later, apparently, the same gang of 300 terrorists that attacked Maikatako assaulted a village approximately two miles west of Maikatako.

The volunteer guards in Maikatako armed with single-shot shotguns resisted the night attack as best they could, according to guardsmen who spoke to CNA. 

“They took cover behind houses firing their guns but were forced to retreat by the terrorists’ superior weapons, AK-47 assault rifles,” said Bitrus Dang, a retired assistant superintendent of police. Dang and two other men were injured during the attack.

According to the military spokesman in Plateau State, Major Ishaku Takwa, villagers do not call for help early enough.

“Prompt information sharing is key to ending these attacks,” he said. “These terrorists come in and strike within minutes and go away so we need information as soon as it happens.”

A pastor in the town who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation told CNA that two army trucks carrying at least five men each were stationed on a bypass encircling Maikatako earlier in the evening when rumors of a planned attack started circulating. However, they stood by listening to music during the attack, the clergyman said.

“We were helpless,” Dang said. 

“They came with AK-47 and AK-49 rifles as well as other sophisticated weapons,” he said. “We only had single-shot cartridge guns.” He said the attack continued for four hours without any intervention by police or soldiers.

While sifting through the rubble of their burned house on the morning of Nov. 16, Onah found a Bible, his only belonging that survived the terrorists’ fire. 

“I lost everything including my baby, my car, my house, food and clothing, but with this [Bible], my hope is renewed,” he said.

“Nothing will stop me from being a Catholic. Nothing will stop me from following Christ,” he said.

Iraqi government must support Christians, Chaldean Catholic patriarch says

Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako / ACI MENA

Erbil, Iraq, Dec 2, 2022 / 11:45 am (CNA).

ACI MENA, the Arabic-language new service based in Erbil, Iraq, conducted an exclusive interview Nov. 21 with Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Louis Sako at the patriarchal residence in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. 

During the discussion, the cardinal touched on new challenges facing Christians and the Church and talked about what he expects to come out of the synodal way within the Chaldean Church. 

Over the course of the interview, Sako addressed emerging threats facing Christians in Iraq, including their exclusion from the political process.

The Iraqi government’s refusal to shelter displaced Christians

When Christians were forced to leave their homes in the Nineveh Plain after the 2014 Islamic State invaded Iraq, they exhibited great heroism, Sako said. 

He added that when the Iraqi government failed to help the displaced find new homes on the pretext of not having the necessary funding, the Church, he said, assisted in providing housing to thousands of displaced Christians and non-Christians alike.

He expressed his concern that in Iraq, a country that was once home to more than one and a half million Christians, approximately 20 Christian families leave each month. He warned that if the government and the Muslim majority don’t change their policies soon to support Christians, an unthinkable disaster will occur. A country that has housed the Church for hundreds of years will soon be without the Christian faith, he said.

Property of the Church and Christians not safe

The patriarch cardinal also spoke out against the government’s decision to evict displaced people from a housing project in Baghdad. The Virgin Mary complex, which is located on government-owned property, has hosted 120 families, or approximately 400 individuals — including displaced Christians and poor families — after their areas were destroyed during the period of ISIS control.

The complex will be evacuated by the end of this year according to an order from the Iraqi government.

Reflecting on the situation, Sako shared that “the Iraqi government overlooked the most important issue — that being the Chaldean Church provided apartments for those dislocated and abandoned by the government.”

No real representation of Christians in Iraq

Cardinal Sako explained that, in effect, Christians lack representation in Iraq, citing the influence of those who are doing the will of the political parties in power. He expressed his regret that some Christian politicians have aligned themselves with “Hashd al-Shaabi,” a Shiite militia organization.

“There is a Christian politician who considers that the ‘Hashd al-Shaabi’ is from God; how can a military faction be from God? This is a defect and distorts Christianity,” Sako told ACI MENA.

Sako also discussed a need to reform the way political seats are allocated and how government jobs are distributed so that Christians are not unfairly treated.

The Iraqi government and parties in power, he added, do not listen to the opinions of the Church regarding problems faced by Christians in Iraq.

The synodal way and renewal

The patriarch spoke about the synodal process taking place within the Chaldean Church and noted that he has already seen a “renewal” in the fields of theology, liturgy, and legal work, describing these changes as necessary to meet the needs of the times. 

The Chaldean patriarch also called on Muslim leaders to work on a “synodal way in Islam” to renew Islam and religious discourse just as the Catholic Church has. His hope, he said, is that this renewal on the part of the religions will pave the way to a future where Christians and Muslims in Iraq and countries where Muslims are the majority can coexist.

Role of women and same-sex marriage

Cardinal Sako touched on the ultimate goal of the listening sessions: how to increase the role believers have in the Catholic Church in Iraq. 

He referred in particular to the importance of ensuring that women have an active role and presence in the life of the Church. 

Sako made clear that renewal does not, however, mean accepting what is contrary to Church teaching, such as same-sex marriage.

“The Church respects the human being, but it does not accept marriage that comes outside the concept of man and woman,” he said.

Sako explained that the Church plays the role of a mother, embracing all her sons and daughters who are believers and taking care of them. Her role, he observed, is represented in accompanying and helping them to stay within the correct faith, and guiding them, reminding them that God is “mercy and love.”

At the end of the interview, Sako spoke of his desire to unify the position of the Churches of Iraq so that its members can be united in their demands before a state that deals with Christians as though they are second-class citizens. He also called for the establishment of a civil Iraqi state based on the principle of citizenship and not religious affiliation, and the abolition of any reference to religion in the country’s official documents.

Former Colombian guerrilla fighter sentenced in murder of Catholic archbishop

Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino / null

CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The Criminal Chamber of the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice sentenced “in absentia” former FARC leader Luciano Marín Arango, alias Iván Márquez, to 25 years in prison as the orchestrator of the 2002 assassination of Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino.

Márquez is at large and must be captured in order to serve the sentence.

The prelate was archbishop of Cali when he was murdered on March 16, 2002, by two hitmen on a motorcycle as he left Good Shepherd parish after celebrating en masse the weddings of 105 couples. The hitmen were later found to have been paid by FARC’s Joint Central Command of the West.

Márquez was part of the Secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that had ordered the assassination of the prelate due to his constant statements against the guerrilla group.

He was also part of the group that negotiated a peace accord with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, which led to the disbanding of this guerrilla force in 2016 and its subsequent transition into the far-left Commons political party.

However, in August 2019 Márquez announced in a video that he was returning to the armed struggle, after he had been linked to drug trafficking again. He currently leads one of the FARC factions that rejected the peace accord, known as the Second Marquetalia, which operates on the border with Venezuela. He must be captured in order to serve the sentence.

In the verdict, posted yesterday on its website, the Supreme Court upheld the 25-year sentence handed down by a lower court in December 2011 against Márquez and other members of the FARC Secretariat, but whom the Cali Superior Court acquitted in 2013. 

That same year, the attorney general’s office then filed an appeal for the Supreme Court to examine the case, but the process did not advance until it was referred to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created with the 2016 Peace Accord.

However, on Dec. 15, 2021, the case was returned to the Supreme Court of Justice, which decided to review the rebel leader’s case as he was no longer under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace because he had reneged on the 2016 Peace Accord.

Regarding the other members of the Secretariat, Rodrigo Londoño, Noel Mata Mata, and Pablo Catatumbo, who are also implicated in the crime, the Supreme Court said that since they accepted the peace process, their cases fall under the JEP.

The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice thus upheld the sentence handed down in 2011, stating that in its 2013 ruling the Cali Superior Court made errors in assessing the evidence that showed that the murder of Archbishop Duarte was ordered by the FARC Secretariat. 

In its sentence, the Criminal Chamber noted that the prelate “criticized and censured the actions of the FARC-People’s Army, which he did in the course of his religious preaching and through press releases condemning attacks on the civilian population and kidnappings ordered by said group.”

Former guerilla fighter Julio Rodrigo Iriarte testified in the case that the Secretariat ordered the crime, committed by the 30th and 6th Fronts and the “Arturo Ruíz” Mobile Bloc led by Pablo Catatumbo.

“Undoubtedly, as it is a properly hierarchical organization and organized under clear and precise mandates given by the Secretariat, it could be expected that the group’s orders and operations would be carried out under a strict command logic, whose actions with the greatest resonance and connotation only could be authorized by the most important decision-making body,” the Supreme Court said.

The biographer of Archbishop Duarte, Father Efraín Montoya Flórez, said that on the day of the assassination, the prelate repeated twice the Prayer of Abandonment of St. Charles de Foucauld, a French mystic: “My Father, I abandon myself to you. Do what you want with me.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

German Synodal Way designed to create ‘pressure’ on the Church, founding president says

Thomas Sternberg speaking at a press conference for the German "Synodal Way" on Sept. 30, 2021, in Frankfurt. / Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner

CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 07:10 am (CNA).

The German Synodal Way was designed from the outset to avoid legal sanctions while simultaneously creating “pressure” on the Church to change Catholic teaching, one of the founders of the process told German media Friday.

Thomas Sternberg, former president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said the controversial process wanted to achieve changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the ordination of women, and other topics, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Speaking to German diocesan broadcaster Domradio on Dec. 2, Sternberg said the Synodal Way was proceeding “much more successfully than I had thought.” 

In light of the Vatican’s interventions against the Synodal Way, he said it had become clear “it was right not to use the form of a synod, as that would have been sanctioned by canon law” and “would have given canon law properly then also the possibility to prohibit something like that.”

From the perspective of canon law, the Synodal Way was just “a nonbinding discussion process,” Sternberg said. 

Only in this way could the participants “actually operate freely. Then even prefabricated critical objections that have been raised by Rome come to nothing.” 

Together with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Sternberg launched the Synodal Way in 2019. Acknowledging the process is not a synod, Marx at the time said it was instead a “process ‘sui generis.’”

The pope’s letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany remained “very important,” Sternberg said Dec. 2.

Like many ZdK leaders, Sternberg is a professional politician. He described in detail some of the political tools and tactics the organizers of the German Synodal Way followed in their pursuit of achieving change, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

On the one hand, he said, it was clear the participants could not “decide the question of the ordination of women or the question of the abolition of celibacy in Germany.” 

However, he said, “I am a politician to the extent that I know that processes and developments are needed in order to make topics worthy of discussion in the first place.”

“When you get involved in a synodal process, you also have to reckon with the fact that sometimes you don’t win,” Sternberg said about the one text so far not adopted by the process — which led to tumultuous scenes at the Frankfurt event.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx and ZdK Chairman Thomas Sternberg on July 5, 2019 Photo: Martin Rothweiler / EWTN.TV.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx and ZdK Chairman Thomas Sternberg on July 5, 2019 Photo: Martin Rothweiler / EWTN.TV.

“We have to talk about it, and we have to make demands,” the former ZdK president said of the approach chosen by the organizers. “Only through pressure does real change come about.”

Sternberg specifically mentioned the Synodal Way’s texts on ordaining women to the priesthood, clericalism, and homosexuality.

He said these topics were now being discussed “internationally, not only in Germany,” thanks to the German process.

The Vatican last week published the full wording of its latest warnings over another schism coming out of Germany, raising fundamental concerns and objections.

The Synodal Way risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Cardinal Marc Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

The prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops said the Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

The Vatican was receiving messages on a daily basis from Catholics scandalized by this process, he added. 

Sternberg’s successor as president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Irme Stetter-Karp, accused the Vatican of “snubbing” German Catholics on Nov. 21.

The Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg” in German, sometimes translated as the Synodal Path — is still expected to continue as planned by organizers. The next (and so far final) synodal assembly will take place in the spring of 2023.