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Update: Guilty verdict for Guam archbishop, appeal to follow

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2018 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced the conclusion of a year-long trial against an archbishop in Guam, stating that he has been found guilty of some charges stemming from allegations of sexual abuse of minors and has been removed from office.

A source close to the case has confirmed that the archbishop has already appealed the decision.

According to a March 16 statement from the Apostolic Tribunal of the CDF, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 72, was found guilty of “certain” accusations and penalized with removal from the office and prohibition from residing within the Archdiocese of Guam.

The CDF did not state the charges for which the archbishop was found guilty. Sources close to the case told CNA that the archbishop was found guilty of a minority of the allegations leveled against him.

If the archbishop has been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, the penalty leveled against him is unusual - often a cleric found guilty of such crimes would be "laicized," or removed from the clerical state, sources say.

Sources also noted that the archbishop has seemingly maintained his ecclesiastical faculties, and though restricted from residence in Guam, is apparently able to exercise ministry as a priest.

A source close to the case told CNA that the penalty is "a complete contradiction" to the sentence.

The source said that if the archbishop is guilty of sexual abuse against minors, "justice would demand the strongest possible penalty," adding "this punishment maintains the status quo."  

One expert suggested to the CNA that the five-judge panel may have been divided on the archbishop's guilt, which could explain the disparity between a guilty verdict and an unusually light sanction.

One source questioned whether pressure to quickly resolve the matter might have influenced the sentence.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura, is the case's only judge to be publicly identified.

"It is difficult to explain how such a serious-minded and competent canonist would put his name to something like this," a source close to the case said of Burke, noting questions raised about the sentence and delays in the case's adjudication. 

Apuron was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority by Pope Francis in 2016, in the wake of the allegations, and was effectively replaced by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, formerly of Detroit.

The canonical trial against Apuron began in October 2016, with Cardinal Burke appointed by Pope Francis as the trial’s presiding judge. Byrnes told reporters that the Vatican reached a decision on the case in October 2017, though no information regarding its outcome had yet been released.

Sources question why the CDF delayed finalizing sentences apparently completed in mid-2017. The archbishop is reported to have been notified of the court's decision only recently, and it was not made publicly known until today.

One source close to the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam questioned whether Archbishop Byrnes pushed the Vatican to release the sentence in order to resolve public concern about the matter in Guam.

However, the source questioned whether Byrnes has been appropriately advised on the matter. "Most of the people who were opposed to [Apuron] in terms of governance" have become advisers to Byrnes, the source said.

"The curial advice Byrnes is receiving is institutionally and personally opposed to Apuron."

In the early hours of March 17 on Guam, Apuron released a statement through his attorney.

"I have been informed of the conclusion of the first instance canonical trial against me. While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict. God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process," the statement read.

"Today, my prayers are with the Church in Guam, which has been suffering greatly. I pray that Santa Marian Kamalen may intercede for the healing of our island," Apuron continued.

Until appeals are resolved, “the imposed penalties are suspended until the final resolution” of the trial, according to the CDF.  

A source told CNA that the credibility of the witnesses will be a major factor of the appeal. Questions have been raised regarding connections between the witnesses, attorneys, and real estate developers on Guam.

The prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, will determine whether or not to accept the appeal, and then be responsible for appointing judges to consider it.

The most recent allegation against Apuron was made Jan. 10 by the archbishop’s nephew, Mark Apuron. He filed a lawsuit Jan. 10 claiming that his uncle raped him in a Church bathroom in 1989 or 1990. This was the fifth lawsuit to accuse the archbishop of sexual abuse of minors during his time as a pastor and bishop.

The archbishop denied the allegations in a statement Jan. 18, writing, “God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one,” according to Guam Pacific Daily News.

In addition to this claim, Apuron also faced four other accusations from former altar boys, who charged the archbishop with abuse in the 1970s when he served as a parish priest in Agat.

The first allegations against the archbishop were made public in May 2016. Mark’s attorney, David Lujan, said that his client was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family about the alleged abuse until recently.

Archbishop Byrnes, who is empowered by the Vatican to oversee the Archdiocese of Agana but has not yet formally succeeded Apuron, has since implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that Byrnes said will “help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese.”

Byrnes adopted in February 2017 the US bishops’ conference’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

The Archdiocese of Agaña is currently a defendant in 96 sexual abuse lawsuits, involving Apuron, 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor, and a Boy Scout leader. Most of the lawsuits were filed after 2016, when Guam’s territorial legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.

CNA staff contributed to this report.

Pro-life leaders deliver letter to Irish prime minister: Choose Life

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2018 / 02:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of 17 American pro-life leaders delivered a letter to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday urging him against repealing the country’s 8th Amendment.

Ireland’s 8th Amendment recognizes the right to life of both a mother and an unborn child. This means that abortion is illegal in the country with extremely limited exceptions. Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 to possibly repeal this amendment and bring legal abortion to the country up until the 12th week of pregnancy. Past attempts at repeal have failed.

One of Varadkar’s first acts on his first day as prime minister was to start the process for the repeal vote.

Varadkar is in Washington, D.C. and visited the White House as part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. Abortion was not discussed during the visit.

Pro-life leaders from groups around the country joined together to sign and deliver a letter defending the 8th Amendment and calling on Ireland to lead the way in respecting women and their babies.

Co-signers of the letter included Lila Rose of Live Action, Jeanne Mancini of the March for Life, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List.

The letter calls Ireland one of the safest places in the world for pregnant women, noting that it has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates - without relying on abortion. Additionally, the letter says that over 100,000 lives have been saved as a result of the 8th Amendment.

The repeal of the amendment, the pro-life leaders assert, would be a disaster for Ireland. While Varadkar has said that he supports abortion in limited circumstances, the letter--citing the United States’ example of the Roe v. Wade decision--warned that this could lead to widespread abortion throughout the country.

“Since then, millions of women have been negatively affected by abortion, some have even died, and we are missing over 55 million children in America today simply because of a law that was initially said to permit abortion only in certain cases.”

Further, the Roe v. Wade decision has impeded even “common sense” pro-life laws, including a 20-week ban, the pro-life leaders said.

It referred to Ireland as a “beacon of hope for the entire world” and as a leader in “demonstrating life-affirming laws and medical treatment.” These policies should be praised, not repealed, they said.

“You (Varadkar) have the power to continue Ireland’s excellence in life-affirming laws and healthcare.”

“Ireland has been a beacon of hope for America, that one day we too could have life-affirming laws that promote excellent healthcare for women and their children,” the co-signers said.

Haspel CIA nomination raises questions about ‘enhanced interrogation’ and torture

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where US intelligence targets were reportedly subject to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

As Haspel prepares to face Senate questions about her work with the agency, a national debate over whether “enhanced interrogation” techniques amount to torture has reignited.

It is not clear whether Haspel directly participated in the "enhanced interrogation" of intelligence targets. But at the Cat’s Eye, the code-name for the CIA compound Haspel took over in 2002, al-Qaida suspects were subjected to new interrogation techniques implemented shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. These methods of “enhanced interrogation” included sleep deprivation, humiliation, painful stress positions, and simulated drowning, known as “waterboarding” in an effort to obtain information about terrorist organizations.

Haspel is also suspected of pushing to destroy videotape evidence of "enhanced interrogations" conducted by CIA operatives.

In the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Pope St. John Paul II taught that torture is “intrinsically evil.”  What does that say about the morality of waterboarding or other methods of “enhanced interrogation?”

“When an interrogator in some other way imposes physical or psychological pain, at least significant pain, until the one being interrogated ‘breaks’ and talks, then I think this is clearly torture and morally evil,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a moral theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

“I think that this would clearly encompass some things that the US did in the early or mid 2000s, most especially waterboarding, but very likely some of our other ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques also,” Miller said.

Miller clarified that even if these interrogation techniques were not defined precisely as “torture,” the Church would still object to them due to its firm defence of the dignity of each human person created in the image of God.

The theologian referenced Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world: “Whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself...all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed.”
He noted that “attempts to coerce the will itself,” are condemned in the passage, one that Saint John Paul II repeatedly quoted.

“If one is inflicting physical or psychological distress in order to – and to a degree that one thinks will likely succeed in – getting someone to answer questions that he/she would not otherwise agree to answer, then one is engaging in an attempt to coerce the will – whether or not the distress being inflicted rises to the level of torture. And this is intrinsically evil – contrary to both justice and charity,” said Miller.

An intrinsic evil is an evil that is wrong in the chosen act itself, independent of one’s intentions or the surrounding circumstances, Miller explained.

“Returning to Gaudium et Spes,” continued Miller, the “general principle underlying its condemnation of various evil acts is ‘reverence for man,’ grounded in the need to see every human person as one’s brother or sister, with whom one has been offered a communion that is a participation in the Trinitarian communion.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference has condemned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques for years, particularly after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released part of its 2014 report on CIA’s use of interrogation in the years following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“The acts of torture described in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong,” stated Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who was chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee at the time.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on October 2017, Bishop Cantú affirmed American bishops’ support for “legislation to make torture, which some euphemistically refer to as ‘enhanced interrogation,’ illegal.”

President Barack Obama prohibited the CIA and military from using waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques when he took office in 2009. During a debate during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said that he supported reinstituting the use of waterboarding “and more.”

“Current U.S. law is clear in banning enhanced interrogation techniques. Any nominee for Director of the CIA must pledge without reservation to uphold this prohibition, which has helped us to regain our position of leadership in the struggle for universal human rights—the struggle upon which this country was founded, and which remains its highest aspiration," said Senator John McCain in a statement released shortly after Trump announced Haspel as his pick for CIA Director on March 13.

“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process,” continued McCain.

“The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” said McCain, who was himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War.

“In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, our government squandered precious moral authority in a futile effort to produce intelligence by means of torture. We are still dealing with the consequences of that desperately misguided decision,” McCain added.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against any type of torture in a 2007 address, “I reiterate that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.”

John Paul II presented an even more vivid condemnation in a speech in 1982, “With regard to torture, the Christian is confronted from his childhood with the reading of the passion of Christ. The memory of Jesus stripped naked, hit, mocked while suffering his agony, should always make him refuse to see similar treatment applied to one of his brothers in humanity.”

If confirmed, Haspel will be the first female director in CIA history. At 61, she has had an extensive career within the spy agency, which she has worked for since 1985.

Why I Stopped Avoiding the Stations of the Cross

Why I Stopped Avoiding the Stations of the Cross

“Praying the Stations of the Cross is not for me.” Although a practicing Catholic for (mostly) my entire life, I’d always shirked the Stations of…

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Alleged abuse victims testify against Cardinal Pell at Australian court hearing

Melbourne, Australia, Mar 15, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Alleged victims of abuse of Cardinal George Pell gave testimonies this week during a hearing in an Australian court which will determine if he will face a trial.

The committal hearing for the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy took place at the Melbourne Magistrate Court, and will allow prosecutors to determine whether there is enough evidence for a jury trial. The hearing began last week and is expected to take about a month to complete.

This week, the hearing was closed to media and the public while alleged victims gave testimony to the court through a video link. The courtroom reopened to the public Wednesday afternoon.

The total number of charges brought against Pell are not public, although some of the charges previously brought against Pell date as far back as 1961. In January, a key charge against Pell was dropped after the complainant died of leukemia.

Pell, 76, is being represented by four lawyers and intends to plead not guilty if his case goes to trial. He has said that “the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Last summer, Pope Francis granted Pell a leave of absence from his duties as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy while the claims are investigated. Pell is also a member of the Pope’s council of nine cardinal advisers.

On Thursday, a father of one of the alleged victims, both of whom cannot be identified for legal reasons, said he found out his son had been abused by Pell from his other son. The alleged victim was so traumatized by the event that he would not talk about it, the father noted.

"He would not talk about it. He was just abused," he said, according to court reporters. "That's all he told me.”

Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, questioned the father as to why he did not mention Cardinal Pell by name in the initial police reports about the incident, and accused him of making up the accusation.

The father of the alleged victim called the accusation an “insult” and said he had not made it up. In the initial police report, the father stated that his son had been abused by “multiple priests.”

Other accusations brought against Pell included those from Broken Rites, an advocacy group for victims of clerical abuse. According to the Associated Press, a volunteer from the group testified against Pell based on statements made from the mother of an alleged victim to the group.

The Vatican has refrained from stating a judgement or opinion on the Pell case, pending the outcome of the investigations by the Australian court.

The hearing for Cardinal Pell is ongoing and will resume next week.

New book captures Pope Francis’ reflections on the Our Father

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2018 / 03:37 pm (CNA).- In commemoration of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy, Penguin Random House has published a collection of the Pope’s reflections on the Our Father.

Released March 13, “Our Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer” focuses on issues of social justice and charity around the world, urging Christians to reflect on solidarity and forgiveness.

“I hope that in praying the Our Father, every one of us will feel ever more loved, forgiven, bathed in the dew of the Holy Spirit, and I will thus be able in turn to love and forgive every other brother, every other sister,” writes Pope Francis in the book’s introduction. “This will give us an idea of what Heaven is like.”

A majority of the book contains the text from the nine question-and-answer sessions that composed the Italian television series “Our Father,” aired by Italian television network TV2000. In the series, Pope Francis collaborated with Father Marco Pazzo, a theologian and prison chaplain in Northern Italy, to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer.

Additionally, the book contains excerpts from homilies of his general audiences and angelus addresses, with an afterword by Father Pazzo.

Each chapter breaks down one section of the Our Father. They also include reflections on topics such as hope, Mary’s fiat, the elderly, and the poor.

In the beginning of the book, Pope Francis focuses on the importance of the title of God as “Our Father.” The word “Father” is power, he writes, and shows us an intimate image of God as creator of sons and daughters and as a provider for his children.

“What I say is this: we must humble ourselves into saying ‘Daddy’ and to truly believing that God is the Father who accompanies us, forgives us, gives us bread, is attentive to all that we ask, clothes us even better than the flowers of the field.”

The book emphasizes the need for prayer and compassion for those who suffer from hunger around the world. Quoting the book of James, the Pope writes that the Gospel is not lived properly without attending to the bodily needs of those who are hungry and sick.

“Always someone is hungry and thirsty and needs me … This poor person needs me, my help, my words, my efforts, we are all in this together.”

Pope Francis also expresses the importance of the elderly, stating that their prayers are a gift to the Church. He says their prayers sustain the workers of the Church.

“The lives of the elderly and of the grandparents are prayers. They are a gift for the Church. They are a treasure!”

In December, during one of the filmed sessions for the “Our Father” series, Pope Francis garnered media attention for suggesting that part of the Our Father was “poorly translated.”

“This, ‘lead us not into temptation,’ is not a good translation. . . . It is not God who tosses me into temptation in order to see how I fall. A father does not do this. A father helps his child get up right away.”

He further clarified that God is the good father who helps his children, but it is rather Satan who leads people into temptation.

The past seven years: A reflection on the Syrian Civil War

Damascus, Syria, Mar 15, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven years ago, on March 15, 2011, the Syrian Civil War began. Since then, the conflict in Syria has forced more than 5.4 million people to flee their home country to neighboring nations, such as Turkey and Lebanon. An additional 6.1 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced. And more than 400,000 have lost their lives.

“More than 11 million Syrians – that is larger than the population of New York City – have had their lives torn apart and fled their homes due to this long, long war,” said Tom Price, communications officer at Catholic Relief Services, in an interview with CNA.

“Children, who make up more than half of Syrian refugees in the Middle East, are paying the heaviest price. Many have witnessed violence and the loss of homes or loved ones; the vast majority have been out of school for years,” Price continued.

The conflict began when demonstrations sprang up across Syria protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath Party. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.

Russia and Iran have been supportive of the Syrian regime, while western nations have favored some rebel groups.

The civil war is being fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State; and Kurdish separatists.

Neighboring countries surrounding Syria have absorbed most of the Syrians fleeing the constant threat of death and destruction – a number which has now skyrocketed to the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis in the world.

“For years, countries in the Middle East have been hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees,” Price remarked, most of whom have landed in Turkey and Jordan, while others have fled to Iraq and Egypt.

Turkey has experienced the largest number of Syrian refugees over the years, mounting to around 3.3 million registered in total.

For those who have retreated to Lebanon, Syrians often struggle to make ends meet. An estimated 70 percent of refugees are now living below the poverty line and the country offers no formal refugee camps. There are nearly 1 million Syrian refugees in the country, whose population is little more than 6 million.

Refugees in Jordan are experiencing similar situations. Around 93 percent of Syrians are living below the poverty line outside of refugee camps in exile. Iraq is hosting around 246,000 Syrian refugees and Egypt has seen around 126,000.  

While life as a refugee is arduous, those who have decided to remain in their war-torn country are experiencing different hardships, under the constant threat of violence – mostly living in areas controlled by the government.

However, Price noted that CRS is advocating with the U.S. to continue its efforts in expanding humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in the Middle East, adding that ending the civil war should be the ultimate goal.

“Most importantly, the United States should lead concerted diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Syria,” Price said.

“Catholic Relief Services echoes the message of Pope Francis, who has pleaded for an end to the violence and the peaceful resolution of hostilities in Syria,” he continued.

UNHCR, together with other UN agencies, also noted that they have appealed the U.S. for $8 billion in funding for refugees in Syrian and surrounding locations.

Kim Pozniak, the director of communications at CRS, also said that their organization is working with “the bishops and Catholic Charities to assist those who’ve had to leave their homes and addresses root causes of migration in many countries, so more people do not have to migrate.”

As the years of conflict have passed, Syria is still seeing severe fighting, particularly in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, and along the Turkish border, with no end in sight.

While the war rages on, Pozniak noted the importance of not letting the violence become normalized over time, and urged Catholics around the world to support refugees through prayer and action.

“We’ve been called by Pope Francis to ‘share the journey’ with our brothers and sisters on the move due to violence and other hardships,” Pozniak told CNA.

“As Catholics, we must strive to overcome indifference to cries for help, especially in a crisis that’s lasted this long.”

Coming Together to Serve: How to Create a Volunteer Service Experience with Friends

Coming Together to Serve: How to Create a Volunteer Service Experience with Friends

I’ve just returned from an Alternative Spring Break trip in the Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Kentucky. This is my eighth year serving as a mentor…

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Lessons from a Lily: What My (Lack of) Green Thumb Taught Me About Repentance

Lessons from a Lily: What My (Lack of) Green Thumb Taught Me About Repentance

I’ve never had a green thumb. Unfortunately, very few plants I’ve ever tried to nurture have enjoyed long lives. After awhile, their perfect posture and…

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Virtual Stations of the Cross

Virtual Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross is a devotion following the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. Prayers accompanying it allow time to reflect on the mystery…

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