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Reports of Pell guilty verdict emerge, despite gag order

Sydney, Australia, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:48 am (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell has been convicted by an Australian court on charges of sexual abuse of minors, according to media reports and CNA sources close to the cardinal.

A judicial gag order has restricted Australian media coverage of the trial since June.

Despite the gag order, a story published Dec. 11 on the Daily Beast website first reported that a unanimous verdict of guilty had been returned by a jury on charges that Pell sexually abused two altar servers in the late 1990s, while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The verdict reportedly followed three days of deliberations by the jury - the second to hear the case. An earlier hearing of the case is reported to have ended in early autumn with a mistrial, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

In October, two sources close to Cardinal Pell, members of neither his legal team nor the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, told CNA that the first hearing of the case had ended in a mistrial due to a jury stalemate. One source said that jury was deadlocked 10-2 in favor of Pell.

In remarks to CNA Dec. 12, the same sources independently confirmed this week's report that a guilty verdict had been reached.

The conviction has not yet been confirmed by the Australian judiciary, and the gag order on Australian media could remain in place for several months.

Pell will reportedly be sentenced in early 2019. He will not be incarcerated prior to his sentencing.

Citing deference to the gag order, the Vatican has declined to comment on reports of the guilty verdict.

"The Holy See has the utmost respect for the Australian courts. We are aware there is a suppression order in place and we respect that order," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters Dec 12.

Pell has been accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse of minors. In May, lawyers for the cardinal petitioned the County Court of Victoria to split the allegations into two trials, one dealing with the accusations from Melbourne, and another dealing with accusations related to his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s.

As the trial for the Melbourne allegations began in June, the judge imposed a sweeping injunction preventing media from reporting on the progress of the case. The gag order reportedly remains in force, over concerns that the verdict could influence the outcome of the second trial, which is expected to be heard early in 2019.

Pell has been on leave from his position as prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for the Economy since 2017. Pell asked Pope Francis to allow him to step back from his duties to travel home to Australia to defend himself against the charges, which he has consistently denied.

Prior to his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, Pell served as the Archbishop of Sydney.

In October, Pope Francis removed Pell, along with Cardinal Javier Errazuriz and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, from the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with helping the pope draft a new constitution for the Holy See’s governing structure.

In April 2018, Robert Richter, the lead attorney on Pell’s legal team, refuted the allegations made against Pell.

“The allegations are a product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may or may not have, or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country,” Richter said.

Richter further said that the accusations were “not to be believed,” and were “improbable, if not impossible.”

Until the imposition of the gag order in June, Pell had been the subject of sustained media attention in Australia, prompting the order. The extent of hostile attention directed at Pell by several Australian outlets, even prior to the accusations being made, led to a public debate in some sections of the Australian media about whether it would be possible to find an impartial jury for the cardinal.

Although the gag order was issued, one source called the integrity of the proceeding into question. In remarks to CNA, he called the trial a “farce” and a “witch hunt.” He said that Australian prosecutors were determined to secure a conviction, despite the earlier mistrial.

“They kept going until they got the jury who’d give them what they want,” the source told CNA.

Last week, another Australian court overturned the recent conviction of the former Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Wilson, on charges he failed to report complaints of sexual abuse.

Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis said Dec. 6 that the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Archbishop Wilson did not report abuse committed by Fr. James Fletcher, when Fletcher was charged in 2004 with child abuse which occurred between 1989 and 1991.

The judge also noted the possibility of undue media influence on the case.

“This is not a criticism of media, but intended or not, the mere presence of large amounts of media from all around Australia and the world carries with it a certain amount of pressure on the court,” Ellis stated.

The heavy media presence “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes.”

“The potential for media pressure to impact judicial independence may be subtle or indeed subversive in the sense that it is the elephant in the room that no one sees or acknowledges or wants to see or acknowledge,” Ellis said.

He added that  Wilson could not be convicted merely because the “Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in terms of its historical self-protective approach” to clerical sex abuse. “Philip Wilson when he appears before this court is simply an individual who has the same legal rights as every other person in our community.”

“It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits, or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding Philip Wilson guilty, simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest.”

If the decision is confirmed, Pell can appeal to the Supreme Court in Victoria, and from there to the Australian High Court.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.

Our Lady of Guadalupe remains a 'teacher of the Gospel' through her image

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe Wednesday, reflecting on how Mary continues to evangelize Latin America through her ubiquitous image.

As Our Lady of Guadalupe accompanied Saint Juan Diego on Tepeyac, she continues to encounter people through “an image or stamp, a candle or a medal, a rosary or a Hail Mary,” Pope Francis said in his homily Dec. 12 in St. Peter's Basilica.

Through her image, Mary “enters in a home, in a prison cell, in the ward of a hospital, in a nursing home, in a school, in a rehabilitation clinic to say: ‘Am I not here, that I am your mother?’” he continued in Spanish.

The pope’s homily centered on Mary as a “teacher of the Gospel” through her Magnificat.

“Mary teaches us that, in the art of mission and hope, so many words and programs are not necessary. Her method is very simple: she walked and sang,” Francis said.

In the school of Mary, he said, we “nourish our hearts” with the “multicultural wealth of Latin America, where we can “listen to that humble heart that beats in our villages” with “the sacredness of life.”

Here, the “sense of God and his transcendence,” as well as “respect for creation, the bonds of solidarity, and the joy of the art of living well” are preserved, he continued.

As her image traveled the continent, Our Lady of Guadalupe is “not only remembered as indigenous, Spanish, Hispanic or African-American. She is simply Latin American,” Francis said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn, appeared to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1531, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples.

Mary took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in a native language, Nahuatl.

She asked Juan Diego to appeal to the bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, stating she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her son. Initially turned away by the bishop, Diego returned to site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message.

She instructed him to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish bishop. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the bishop, he found that an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma.

Nearly 500 years later, Diego’s tilma with the miraculous image is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “mother of a fertile and generous land in which all, in one way or another, can find ourselves playing a leading role in the construction of the Holy Temple of the family of God,” Francis said.

Three cardinals dropped from C9 as reform process nears end

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 08:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican said Wednesday that while there are no immediate plans to add new members to the C9, Pope Francis has released the three eldest cardinals from the duties of the advisory group.

Papal spokesman Greg Burke told journalists in a briefing Dec. 12 that the pope sent letters to Cardinal George Pell, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo at the end of October to thank them for their service to the Council of Cardinals over the last five years.

Francis sent the letters following a request in October from the council – which advises the pope on matters of Church governance and reform – for a review of the work, structure, and composition of the advisory group, especially in light of the advanced age of some members.

However, the Vatican stated that, “considering the phase of the Council’s work, the appointment of new members is not expected at the moment.”

Over the course of the meetings, Bishop Marco Mellino, who last October was made adjunct secretary of the Council of Cardinals, presented the most recent draft of the new apostolic constitution of the Roman Curia.

Burke said that canon lawyers are still examining the constitution, which is provisionally titled Predicate evangelium.

The other main topics of discussion during the Dec. 10-12 meetings were the February 2019 meeting of bishops on child protection and how to reduce the Holy See’s operating costs.

Asked if, for transparency, the Holy See would be releasing any budgetary information and numbers, Burke said, “yes,” though he does not know when that will take place.

Toward lowering costs, the Vatican will take several actions, including more strongly enforcing a hiring freeze that has been in place since 2014. There are currently no plans to reduce personnel, though a reshuffle and re-outlining of job responsibilities is expected, as well as the possibility of offering early retirement.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, coordinator of the Council for the Economy, addressed the importance of making long-term plans for the reduction of costs, and proposed the development of multi-year budgets for the Council of the Economy to use in five- and 10-year projections.

Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, presented the progress of the reforms of the communications department, and the next steps for implementing Pope Francis’ 2015 motu proprio, which established the then-Secretariat, now Dicastery for Communication.

Ruffini emphasized the importance of the different media outlets (TV, radio, web, and social media) of Vatican Media and their cooperation.

He also explained the value of Vatican Media being present in many different languages.

The cardinals also heard from Professor Vincenzo Bonomo, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University and an advisor to Vatican City State, on the new laws governing Vatican City, which were published Dec. 6.

Present at the latest round of meetings were council members Cardinals Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Reinhard Marx, Sean O’Malley, Giuseppe Bertello, and Oswald Gracias.

Only Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, was not in attendance, since he was in Morocco, representing the Holy See at the UN Global Compact for Migration.

As usual, Pope Francis was present for all sessions apart from Wednesday morning, when he held the weekly general audience.

Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the Council of Cardinals – also known as the “C9” – serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus, the apostolic constitution which governs the Roman Curia.

The next gathering of the council will take place Feb. 18-20, 2019.

Faith is not ‘decorative,’ Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis gave an Advent reminder Wednesday that faith should not be just a “decorative” addition to daily life by pointing to how the ‘Our Father’ prayer embodies the essence of life itself.

“Prayer - Jesus teaches us - does not begin in human existence after the stomach is full: rather it lurks wherever there is a man, any man, who is hungry, who cries, who struggles, who suffers and wonders ‘why,’” Pope Francis said in the Paul VI hall Dec. 12.

The ‘Our Father’ prayer’s request for “daily bread,” the pope explained, exemplifies God’s desire to meet man in his concrete reality, in his basic needs.

“Our first prayer, in a sense, was the wail that accompanied the first breath. In that newborn cry, the destiny of our whole life was announced: our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our search for happiness,” he continued.

Pope Francis pointed to the Biblical example of Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel - a blind man who begged at the gates of Jericho - whose loud cries for mercy were met by Jesus’ healing.

“Around him he had so many good people who told him to keep quiet, not to disturb the Master with his annoying shouts. But he, demanded with holy insistence, that his miserable condition could finally meet Jesus,” Francis said.

Prayer “frees us from the desperation of those who do not believe in a way out of so many unbearable situations,” he added.

The pope’s teaching on the ‘Our Father’ is a continuation of catechesis he began in the first week of Advent on “the seven questions” found in the “short but bold prayer” full of “filial trust.”

“The Lord Jesus gives us the grace of total trust in God as a compassionate Father who loves us and always remains at our side,” Pope Francis said in Spanish as he greeted pilgrims from Spain and Latin America.

The Paul VI Hall was filled with cheers and waves as the pope mentioned the day’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, help us to surrender ourselves to the providential love of God and to place all our hope in Him,” Francis prayed.

Indian sister: Rape claims against bishop went unheard by Church leaders

Jalandhar, India, Dec 11, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The religious sister who says she was serially raped by an Indian bishop claims she made a police report only after written complaints to Church authorities went unheeded.

“I was scrambling for support and initially I found almost none,” the 44-year-old sister based in Kerala, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, told Scroll.in, in reference to the two-year period in which she claims to have been repeatedly sexually assaulted by Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.

The sister was not named in the Scroll.in interview.

The sister claims that Mulakkal sexually assaulted her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. She said that after telling members of her religious community about the assaults in early 2017, she wrote to several Indian Catholic leaders, including Cardinal George Alencherry.

Eventually, the sister claims, she sent letters to India’s Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, to Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and to Pope Francis.

She claims those letters went unacknowledged. In June 2018, she filed a police report in Kerala. After several public demonstrations in support of the sister’s claim, Mulakkal was arrested on Sept. 21. He has since been released on bail, although he is temporarily removed from his responsibilities as Bishop of Jalandhar.

The bishop has claimed that the sister made false reports against him because he censured her for engaging in a romantic affair. A police investigation is ongoing.

The sister told Scroll.in that she had wanted to enter religious life since childhood. She became a novice in the Missionaries of Jesus at age 20.

She said that since she initially reported the sexual assault, she has faced serious difficulties. In November 2017, Mulakkal reportedly pressured her to recant her allegation, holding her in a room for nearly eight hours while trying to convince her to retract the claim.

“I had several moments when I asked God, why me?” the sister told Scroll.in.

“But, after a while, I realized God had chosen me as an instrument to ensure that nuns do not suffer this way in future.”

The sister, along with five other sisters who have publicly supported her, have been the subject of criticism and threats, Scroll.in reported.

On Oct. 22, Fr. Kuriakose Kattuthara, who testified in support of the sister’s claims, was found dead under mysterious circumstances. Foul play has been alleged by members of the priest’s family, but a final autopsy report has not yet been reported.

Nevertheless, the sister and her supporters say that making public the claim of sexual assault is an important part of their vocation.

“Even now, I maintain there should be an internal mechanism within the Church where we can complain,” the sister said. “That will ensure the Church does not face public humiliation.”

“If your husband is ill, would you leave him to die?” a sister asked Scroll.in.

“We are married to the Church that way, we know it has major illnesses and we are hoping to help it cure itself.”

 

Trump signs law to aid Christians in Iraq, Syria

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which seeks to ensure US aid reaches Christian and Yazidi genocide victims.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27, and in the Senate Oct. 11.

This bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and the lead Democratic sponsor was Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). This was Smith’s second attempt at getting the bill signed into law, and altogether it took 17 months for this bill to be passed.  

Trump was joined at the Dec. 11 signing by Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, Smith, Eshoo, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and many others.

Trump said it was a “great honor” to sign H.R. 390 into law, and remarked that his administration has had great success in fighting Islamic State. The group has lost nearly all of its territory since its peak in 2015.

“This bill continues my administration's efforts to direct US assistance for persecuted communities including through faith-based programs,” he said.

The signing of the legislation is a symbol of the US speaking “with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” Anderson said in a statement provided by the Knights of Columbus, which were heavily involved with the process of writing the bill and assisting the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus have donated more than $20 million to help Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria with food, housing, and other needs. The Knights also spent $2 million to rebuild an Iraqi town that had been destroyed by Islamic State.

H.R. 390 provides funding to various entities, including faith-based and religious organizations, that are helping with recovery and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria in religious and ethnic minority communities, including Christians and Yazidis.

The bill also instructs the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the region and for the administration to identify signs of potential violent action against minority groups in the country.

Another part of the law encourages foreign governments to identify those who belong to Islamic State in security databases and security screenings to aid with their prosecution. The bill provides support for groups that are investigating members of Islamic State who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region.

Since Islamic State took control of the region, the country’s Christian population has dwindled to only a few thousand families. Many of these people fled to nearby Turkey and Lebanon out of concern for their safety. Although the situation has drastically improved since nearly all of Islamic State's territory has been regained, Christians are reluctant to return to the region due to a lack of economic opportunities and continued concerns for safety.