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Hong Kong protesters arrested at Catholic church

Hong Kong, China, Nov 13, 2019 / 04:39 pm (CNA).- Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have continued to escalate into violence, with many apparent incidents of forceful police tactics, including at a Catholic church, caught on camera and uploaded to social media.

A bystander video widely circulated on social media shows at least four riot police officers entering what appear to be offices at Holy Cross Church in Hong Kong and violently subduing a protestor.

Another angle of the incident seems to show a police officer planting a hammer in the backpack of the prostrate protester. The police arrested several protesters at the church.

Some social media users implicated Deacon Simon Chen, who works at Holy Cross Church, as having called the police to come and arrest the protesters, or at least having allowed the police to enter the church compound.

The Diocese of Hong Kong released a statement Nov. 11 countering this narrative, saying that Deacon Chan hurried to the scene as soon as the police began making their arrests.

“On his arrival, however, those protesters were already under arrest and shortly later they were escorted to the police car and taken away. Therefore, it was in fact not Deacon Simon Chan himself who allowed the police to enter the church compound,” the diocese said.

In response to queries as to why the church allowed the police to enter to arrest the protesters, the diocese stated “there is no way for a church to guarantee that those who enter it will not be arrested according to the law. We deeply regret that the above incident has taken place.”

“It is our earnest hope that the current turmoil in Hong Kong will come to an end and that the local situation will be back to normal as soon as possible,” the diocese concluded.

The protests in Hong Kong began earlier this year as mostly peaceful, large scale demonstrations against a proposal in the Hong Kong legislature that would have allowed mainland China to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong.

The impetus for the bill was a case involving a young Hong Kong man whom Taiwan requested be extradited for an alleged murder. Hong Kong previously has no formal extradition agreements with mainland China or Taiwan.

Christians and advocates widely opposed the bill, fearing that the Chinese government, which already seeks to control and suppress Chistianity on the mainland, would use it to further tighten its grip on free exercise of religion in Hong Kong.

Beijing has for years sought to control religion in China, leading to widespread persecution. The U.S. Commission on International Religion wrote in its 2018 report that last year China “advanced its so-called ‘sinicization’ of religion, a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.’”

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been affected. In September, reports emerged that churches belonging to the state-run “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” ecclesial community have been ordered to replace displays of the Ten Commandments with sayings of Chinese president Xi Xinping.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers enjoy freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

An estimated 1 million protesters turned out at the first major demonstration June 6. Catholics have played a major role in the protests since then.

Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, an auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, has called for prayer, asking that the faithful pray the rosary.

Bishop Ha has taken part in ecumenical prayer rallies with protesters in the past, urged an increase in prayer and said he is concerned for the safety of the many young people involved in the protests. He told CNA in September that he urges “Friday fasting” as part of the prayer for peace in Hong Kong.

Though Chief Executive Carrie Lam in October withdrew the extradition bill, protests have continued, with the most recent violent clashes taking place around the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

An unidentified protester recently told the National Catholic Register that protesters have become divided into two camps, “the so-called ‘peaceful group’ and the so-called ‘fighting group,’” noting that the extradition bill was first suspended only after the fighting group engaged the police in a major conflict June 12.

Another young Hong Konger told the Register that his decision to join the protests was guided by his Catholic faith and his sense of civic duty as a Chinese citizen in Hong Kong.

“The most fundamental concern for me is the freedom of religion, followed by the freedom of thought and speech,” he said.

“We protest because we do not trust the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP has a pretty nasty history of suppressing Christianity and other religions in China. Also, there is virtually no freedom of speech in China.”

Since the protests have gone on, Beijing has instituted a travel ban for some Catholics seeking to enter the island, and Chinese officials are reportedly concerned that Catholics on the mainland could work with the Catholic Church in Hong Kong to inspire similar resistance.

Protesters are demanding that Lam resign for her failure to respond to their demands, as well as an independent inquiry into police tactics and universal suffrage throughout the island territory.

Late into Tuesday evening, protesters at several locations around Hong Kong hurled Molotov cocktails at police who fired back volleys of tear gas, the Financial Times reports.

Another video released Nov. 10 showed a police officer shooting a masked protester in the chest at point-blank range in the street while grappling with another protester. Authorities reported that the protester who was shot is in hospital in critical condition.

Another video seems to show a masked assailant dousing a man on the street in flammable liquid and setting him on fire.

Last Friday, a 22-year-old protester died from injuries related to a fall.

Catholic leaders have continued to echo protesters’ calls for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

“I ask the Lord to move the government of the special administrative region to respond to the public opinion, and set up an 'Independent Commission of inquiry' so that the community can begin with the truth and begin the path of real reconciliation,” Bishop Ha wrote on Facebook Oct. 21.

Legislation has been introduced in the US Senate to support the protesters, drawing veiled threats from a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman that passing such a measure “will seriously harm the United States’ own interests.”

The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” has 37 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors in the 100-member Senate, and backers say it is expected to pass easily if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell schedules a vote, CNBC reports.

Ohio bill would target proposal on abortion reversal notification

Columbus, Ohio, Nov 13, 2019 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Two Democratic lawmakers in Ohio have introduced legislation that would prohibit the state from requiring doctors to provide patients with information that is not recognized by expert medical associations or supported through peer-reviewed research.

The bill challenges another piece of proposed legislation in the state, which would require physicians to inform patients seeking a medication abortion about the possibility of an abortion reversal. Supporters of the abortion reversal protocol argue that initial research indicates it increases the survival rate of a baby after the first part of a two-pill medical abortion regimen has been administered, without risk of harm to the mother or baby.

On Nov. 12, State Reps. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) and Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) introduced a bill that would prevent the state from requiring doctors to give patients information that they deem to be lacking evidence-based support, peer-reviewed research, or backing from medical organizations, as well as information they consider inappropriate for the patient’s circumstances.

“Government shouldn’t force healthcare providers to lie to their patients,” Liston said. “People should be able to trust their doctors and nurses to give them accurate and complete information.”

Earlier this month, the Ohio senate passed a bill that would require doctors administering medication abortions to inform women about the option to pursue an abortion reversal if they changed their minds.

Liston criticized that legislation in May, saying it was based on inaccurate medical information and “an extreme ideology.”

“Abortion pill reversal is not true medicine,” Liston said at the time. “This is legislation that interferes with standard practice and inappropriately puts politicians between doctors and patients.”

Other states - including Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah - have passed laws requiring that patients undergoing medication abortions receive information about the possibility of a reversal. These laws have frequently been met with legal challenges.

Medication abortions have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up 30-40% of all abortions.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first pill, mifepristone (RU-486) blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the baby. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the baby.

Some women, after taking the first pill (mifepristone), experience regret and do not want to follow through with the abortion by taking misoprostol.

The abortion reversal protocol, administered after the mifepristone is taken, floods a woman’s system with more progesterone, in the hopes of overriding the progesterone-blocking effects of the drug she has in her system.

A study published in April 2018 in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68% with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64% with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25% fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.

The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Delgado told the Washington Post that he thinks more research should be done on abortion pill reversal, but that he believes there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“(T)he science is good enough that, since we have no alternative therapy and we know it's safe, we should go with it,” he said.

Advocates of the abortion reversal protocol stress that progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone in pregnant women that has been used for decades to treat women at risk of miscarriage.

Nurse practitioner Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colo., stressed that hundreds of successful abortion pill reversals that have been documented in the U.S., without evidence of risk to the mom or baby.

Chism told CNA last year that it is common practice in medicine to share information about protocols that have yet to undergo even more rigorous prospective studies, if they have been shown to be safe and effective in case studies.

“We’re not causing harm, and even if the possibility of saving a baby is small, even if the population who desires it is small, is it not worth it to recognize it?” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful that there could be a possibility that just maybe could change and help you out when you’ve made a decision that you’ve regretted?”

“To be able to tell a patient that it may be possible in some circumstances to reverse an abortion pill, I think that is simply informed consent,” she added.

 

Daytime vandalization of Irish Carmelite monastery shocks locals

Dublin, Ireland, Nov 13, 2019 / 02:51 pm (CNA).- A group broke into an Irish Carmelite monastery during the daytime, vandalized its chapel and shouted slurs at the elderly nuns who lived there on Monday.

“The poor sisters who live there play such an integral part of life in the area and it’s outrageous that a small group of thugs would target them like this,” a local parishioner who regularly goes to the chapel told the news site Dublin Live.

The incident happened after 1 p.m. Nov. 11 at Star of the Sea Monastery in Malahide, about 10 miles north of Dublin City Center.

Fr. Jimmy McPartland, co-parish priest at the nearby St. Anne’s Church in Portmarnock, announced the incident to parishioners during a morning Mass.

McPartland said the vandals had “desecrated” the chapel. The gang had shouted “very horrible things” about the nuns after the vandalism.

The parishioner told Dublin Live the priest was “visibly upset” in reporting the news and the congregation was “shocked.”

"He mentioned that the thugs had said very offensive things about the nuns and there was possibly racist graffiti," the parishioner reported.

Police said they are investigating and no arrests have been made.

“Any vandalism is bad but on a group of elderly nuns is disgraceful,” Darragh O’Brien, a Deputy to the Dáil from Malahide, equivalent to a Member of Parliament, told Dublin Live.

“Unfortunately we’ve become used to burglaries and break-ins in the area, but this type of violation of a monastery—to desecrate a religious building—is shocking,” he added. “The effect this has on a group of lovely women—most of whom are elderly—will disgust people in the area.”

The incident will mean that the chapel, which is usually open to the public, will be locked and Massgoers will no longer be able to access it freely. Its 8:30 a.m. Mass will continue to be open to the public.

“The sad outcome of this is that those wishing to pray in the oratory at the convent can no longer do so freely,” the local parishioner told Dublin Live. “The chapel has always been open during the day for anyone who wanted to go in and pray or reflect. Now because of the actions of a few thugs, we can no longer use this beautiful place of worship freely, but must instead request a key.”

O’Brien, the local representative to Ireland’s parliament, has previously campaigned for more police resources in the area. After the incident, he called for a 24/7 police station to be restored to Malahide “to deter criminality.”

The Carmelite community moved to Malahide in 1975. The current monastic foundation resulted from a combination of two other monasteries in 2011, the monastery’s website said.

Bishop DiMarzio denies allegations of sexual abuse

Newark, N.J., Nov 13, 2019 / 01:54 pm (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn is rejecting an allegation that he sexually molested a minor in the 1970s, calling it a “false allegation.”

Allegations were reported Wednesday against DiMarzio, who recently concluded an investigation into accusations of cover-up against Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo.

“I am just learning about this allegation,” DiMarzio told the Associated Press. “In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation.”

The bishop said in a Nov. 13 letter to members of his diocese that he will vigorously fight the allegation and is confident that his name will be cleared.

According to the Associated Press, 56-year-old Mark Matzek says DiMarzio and another priest, who is now deceased, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Diocese of Newark. DiMarzio was a priest there at the time.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Newark earlier this week notifying them that he is preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Matzek, according to the AP. The suit will ask for $20 million.

The Archdiocese of Newark said it had received the allegations and reported them to law enforcement, in accordance with Church policy for handling abuse accusations, the AP reports.

The state of New Jersey recently passed a law extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims. The window to file a lawsuit under the new legislation will open next month.

DiMarzio said in his letter that sex abuse is a “despicable crime” that he has worked for more than 15 years to eradicate in the diocese. He noted that the diocese has, under his leadership, instituted background checks and sexual abuse awareness training aimed at abuse prevention, as well as a victim assistance ministry and annual healing Mass to help reach out to victims.

DiMarzio recently completed an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo, which has faced months of scandal surrounding its bishop, Richard Malone, who has been accused of mishandling sex abuse claims against a priest in his diocese.

Leaked documents and recordings from within the diocese appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before he removed the priest from ministry. Malone has said that he fell short in responding to the allegations, but denies that his actions amounted to a cover-up. He has resisted calls for his resignation.

The visitation, a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission, was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops.

DiMarzio made three trips to Buffalo for the visitation, interviewing nearly 90 people. On Oct. 31, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that the visitation had been completed.

Garabedien, the attorney preparing the lawsuit, told the AP that the allegation against the DiMarzio taints his investigation into Bishop Malone, and said law enforcement should carry out a new investigation in Buffalo.

Adriana Rodriguez, press secretary for the Brooklyn diocese, told CNA Nov. 13 that the visitation report had been submitted to Rome the previous week.

US reporting mechanism for episcopal abuse cases could go live by February

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- A national third-party reporting system for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct against bishops could be activated by February 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference said Wednesday.

Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told bishops Nov. 13 at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore that a contract had been finalized for the anticipated third-party reporting mechanism for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

The system could be ready for use by February 2020, he said, well ahead of the Holy See’s May deadline. However, metropolitans and dioceses would need to be ready to receive allegations.

Picarello spoke to the U.S. bishops near the close of their general meeting in Baltimore held Nov. 11-14. The bishops had elected a new conference president—Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—and a new vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, as well as six committee chairs.

In September 2018, the bishops’ executive committee had initially proposed a third-party reporting mechanism to handle accusations made against bishops. The decision followed new claims of sex abuse that had been made against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in the summer of 2018; in August, McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and assigned a life of prayer and penance.

At their November 2018 meeting, however, the U.S. bishops did not take substantive action on the abuse crisis following instructions from the Vatican that they not act until a clergy sex abuse summit in Rome would be convened in February 2019.

After that February summit, Pope Francis issued his apostolic letter Vos estis lux mundi, which outlined a canonical process of handling accusations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

To handle such accusations, the U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly at their spring meeting in June to authorize a third-party reporting mechanism to receive accusations made online or by phone.

The mechanism had to be updated from the bishops’ September 2018 proposal. For instance, Vos estis called for allegations against bishops to be sent to regional metropolitans, not just the apostolic nuncio. Also, the system would have to handle specific violations outlined in Vos estis, not those listed in the U.S. Bishops’ Code of Conduct.

Picarello said on Wednesday that at their September 2019 meetings, the bishops’ administrative committee picked the vendor Conversant for the reporting system, decided how costs would be allocated, and finalized a contract. Dioceses would be billed directly for their portion of the overall cost.

The contract provides that the reporting system could go live by February 2020, he said.

In the ensuing discussions after Picarello’s presentation, some bishops expressed concern that the hotline could be hit with a deluge of irrelevant requests.

Once the number for the national hotline is advertised, could people share “all sorts of concerns” such as priests not genuflecting for the consecration at Mass, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet in Illinois asked, at the insistence of his metropolitan, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, O.F.M. Conv., of Savannah asked if the reporting mechanism could be advertised too much.

Picarello replied that a process will be in place promptly to filter out irrelevant claims and ensure that allegations pertain to bishops and to those acts of misconduct listed in Vos estis.

“We just want to make sure this system is reserved for this very specific, very high-priority purpose,” Picarello said. The conference, he said, will provide advertisement resources for regional provinces but will ultimately leave the implementation to dioceses and provinces.

Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City asked how allegations made against religious superiors would be handled on the hotline. Picarello said the conference is waiting on a canonical determination for that question, as the matter is “complex.”

New Zealand to hold referendum on euthanasia, assisted suicide

Wellington, New Zealand, Nov 13, 2019 / 10:52 am (CNA).- The New Zealand Parliament voted in favor of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide Wednesday, sending the bill to a referendum next year.

The End of Life Choice Bill was passed Nov. 13 by a vote of 69-51.

It would allow terminally ill persons who have six months or fewer to live to be euthanized or to themselves take a lethal dose of prescribed drugs, on the condition that two doctors agree the person is well-informed.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed those with severe or incurable conditions to seek euthanasia or assisted as well.

The bill was introduced by David Seymour of ACT New Zealand, a crossbench, libertarian party.

It is supported by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of the New Zealand Labour Party.

Maggie Barry, a member of parliament of the opposition New Zealand National Party, said the bill is “dangerous and permissive,” according to Reuters.

A 2017 inquiry prepared by the health committee of the 51st New Zealand Parliament (which was controlled by the National Party) did not recommend the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“We've tried to distil all the arguments and our recommendation to both the Parliament and the people of New Zealand is to read this report and come to a deeper understanding of what's been asked around assisted suicide and euthanasia,” Simon O’Connor, then-chair of the health committee, said in August 2017.

When the National Party was governing, it concluded that “the public would be endangered” by legalization of the practices.

Submissions “cited concern for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled, those with mental illnesses, and those susceptible to coercion. Others argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea. To do so would suggest that some lives are worth more than others. There were also concerns that, once introduced, eligibility for assisted dying would rapidly expand well beyond what was first intended,” the report of the health committee of the 51st parliament read.

As SCOTUS hears DACA arguments, bishop calls for congressional action

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 09:44 am (CNA).- The USCCB’s migration committee chairman hopes that Congress can come to a solution regarding the situation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy recipients, as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case seeking approval to eliminate the program altogether.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin told CNA Nov.12 that while he and his brother bishops have been advocating for a congressional solution to DACA, their main concern now was the situation of the approximately 700,000 DACA recipients.

“Those people need also to have someone advocate for them. So the bishops need to speak up and say very clearly that these people, we don't want separation of families," said Vasquez. About 256,000 children have at least one parent with DACA status.

There are fears that if DACA were to be repealed, these people would then be deported, splitting up the family. This is “a big concern for the Church,” said Vasquez.

“The Church is always going to advocate on the side of the family, because the family is very important," he added.

DACA recipients, he said “already are...part of the fabric of this country” and contribute to the economy and to their communities.

“They’re leaders already in many of our parishes and churches,” said the bishop.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases – Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California; McAleenan, Secretary of Homeland Security v. Vidal; Trump, President of U.S. v. NAACP – which concern whether the Trump administration may end DACA outright.

President Barack Obama introduced DACA via executive memorandum in June 2012. It permits people who were brought to the United States illegally as children to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits. The program was set to expire in 2017, but this has been delayed after Congress was given a chance to codify parts of DACA into law.

Congress failed to pass DACA into law, and the partisan-based debate over immigration and border security has continued.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision about whether President Donald Trump would be permitted to end DACA in the spring or early summer of 2020.

As for Vasquez, he will continue to hope that Congress can come to a solution.

"My hope and prayer is that they would be able to do something, they'd be able to reconcile and come together and take care of these people,” he said. “I think deporting them is the wrong answer. It's not the way to address this issue.”

Record floods in Venice damage St. Mark’s Basilica

Venice, Italy, Nov 13, 2019 / 08:05 am (CNA).- The crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica was completely flooded Wednesday, after Venice’s water levels hit the highest level in more than 50 years.

Local authorities have called for a state of emergency after one man died in the worst flooding in Venice in decades. The high water mark reached over 6 feet, the highest level since 1966.

The Patriarch of Venice Francesco Moraglia and the city’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, inspected the damage at St. Mark’s Basilica together on Nov. 13, the morning after the heavy rains subsided.

"St. Mark’s Basilica has suffered serious damage, as has the entire city and the islands,” Venice mayor Brugnaro confirmed after the visit.

“Venice is on its knees,” Brugnaro wrote in a Twitter Nov. 13 post with photos of him and the patriarch at the basilica.

 

#Venezia è in ginocchio. La Basilica di San Marco ha subito gravi danni come l’intera città e le isole.
Siamo qui con il Patriarca Moraglia per portare il nostro sostegno ma c’è bisogno dell’aiuto di tutti per superare queste giornate che ci stanno mettendo a dura prova. pic.twitter.com/3Qy7070hZn

— Luigi Brugnaro (@LuigiBrugnaro) November 13, 2019

 

Patriarch Moraglia said he is concerned above all for those who sleep on the streets of Venice, and said that he hopes that Venice parishes will be the first to open their doors to them.

“To my Venetians, so much closeness, I have asked Caritas to be active in all possible ways, and I also make available emergency funds for charity,” Moraglia said, according to ACI Stampa.

In St. Mark’s Basilica’s 926 year history, there have been only six floods of similar severity. In October 2018, flood waters inside the basilica damaged part of the marble mosaic floor of the Madonna Nicopeia chapel.

Church staff cleared water and mopped the floors of the flooded basilica Nov. 13 to avoid repeating the damage caused last year when part of the nearly 1,000 year old marble floor of the basilica was left under flood water for 16 hours.

“We are here with Patriarch Moraglia to show our support, but we need everyone's help to overcome these days that are putting us to the test,” Mayor Brugnaro said after his visit to the basilica.

UPDATED: Australian High Court refers Cardinal Pell's appeal of sex abuse conviction

Melbourne, Australia, Nov 13, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- The Australian High Court announced Wednesday that Cardinal George Pell's application for special leave to appeal has been refferred to the full court for decision. Pell is seeking to appeal an August decision by the Court of Appeal in Victoria to uphold his conviction for child sexual abuse.

His application will now be considered by all the members of Australia's highest court, and a decision is expected in March or April.

Pell’s appeal to the High Court in Canberra, Australia’s supreme court, is his last legal avenue to overturn a conviction which has divided opinion in the country and internationally.

Responding to the decision, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP of Sydney said he "welcomed" the progress of the case at the High Court.

"The Cardinal has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so," Fisher said. "The divided judgment of the Court of Appeal reflects the divided opinion amongst jurors, legal commentators and within our community." 

"For the sake of all involved in this case, I hope that the appeal will be heard as soon as possible," Fisher said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, the Vatican also issued a statement "reiterating its trust in the Australian justice system." 

"The Holy See acknowledges the decision of Australia’s High Court to accept Card. George Pell’s request of appeal, aware that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence," the statement said.

"At this time, the Holy See reaffirms once again its closeness to those who have suffered because of sexual abuse on the part of members of the clergy."

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two choir boys after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

He 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.

The cardinal, 78, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned. He has been held in solitary confinement and has not been permitted to celebrate Mass in prison.

Pell was convicted of exposing himself and forcing two choir boys to commit sex acts while fully vested in his Sunday Mass garb, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. Pell was at that time Archbishop of Melbourne. He was also convicted of fondling one of the boys in a corridor in 1997.

The prosecution rested on the testimony of one of the alleged victims— the one reported to have suffered two instances of abuse by Pell. The other victim died in 2014 and was unable to testify, but in 2001 had denied to his mother that any abuse occurred while he was a member of the choir.

Pell has maintained his innocence, with his defense making central the argument that the alleged crimes would have been, under the circumstances, “simply impossible.”

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 had appealed to the Court of Appeal in Victoria. Three judges considered his case and dismissed his procedural appeal. The judges were divided on Pell’s primary ground of appeal, that the decision of the jury was “unreasonable.”

At particular issue was the question of whether the jury which convicted Pell had properly weighed all of the evidence presented in his defense, or reached the determination of guilt despite the demonstration of clear “reasonable doubt” that he committed the crimes with which he was charged.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court President Chris Maxwell formed the majority in favor of rejecting Pell’s appeal that the jury verdict was unreasonable on the evidence presented, finding that it was open to the jury to find beyond “reasonable doubt about the truth of the complainant's account.”

In an extensive dissent from the majority finding, Justice Mark Weinberg noted that the entirety of the evidence against Pell consisted of the testimony of a single accuser, whereas more than 20 witnesses were produced to testify against his narrative.

“Even the ‘reasonable possibility’ that what the witnesses who testified to these matters may have been true must inevitably have led to an acquittal,” Weinberg wrote, concluding that Pell had, in effect, been improperly asked to establish the “impossibility” of his guilt and not merely reasonable doubt.

All three judges granted further leave to appeal on the ground of the unreasonableness of the jury’s conviction.

Media commentators and members of the Australian legal community have voiced concerns about the reasoning of the two-judge majority opinion and the wider implications its argumentation could have for standards of evidence in criminal trials.

Holy See press office director Matteo Bruni responded to the Court of Appeal decision at the time by saying that “the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” while reiterating its “respect for the Australian judicial system.”

“As the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court,” Bruni said at the time.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Cardinal Pell's petition for leave to appeal had been "granted" rather than "referred" to the full court for decision. 
 

Pope Francis denounces rise in anti-Semitism 

Vatican City, Nov 13, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis denounced rising anti-Semitism Wednesday as an attitude that is inhumane and unchristian.

"The Jewish people have suffered so much in history … And, in the last century, we saw so many brutalities on the Jewish people and we thought that this was over,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 13.

“Today the practice of persecuting the Jews has begun again here and there. Brothers and sisters, this is neither human nor Christian. The Jewish people are our brothers, and they should not be persecuted,” the pope said in a departure from his prepared remarks.

Anti-Semitic violence and harassment has been on the rise in Europe, particularly in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

In October, a man with anti-Semitic beliefs shot and killed two people at a synagogue in Germany on Yom Kippur, and last year a far-right extremist attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people.  Other deadly attacks on a Jewish supermarket and a school in France in recent years were linked to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

The pope’s comments were a part of his reflection on the Biblical account of the expulsion of the Jewish people from Rome by Emperor Claudius in the first century.

The Acts of the Apostles describes how this order affected a married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who were forced to move from Rome to Corinth.

Pope Francis praised Priscilla and Aquila as Biblical models of married life, hospitality, and lay evangelization.

“These spouses prove to have a heart full of faith in God and generous towards others, capable of making room for those who, like them, experience the condition of a foreigner,” he said.

By welcoming Paul into their home in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla also welcomed the Gospel of Christ, the pope said. “From that moment their home is imbued with the fragrance of the living Word that vivifies the hearts.”

The home of Priscilla and Aquila became a “house church” for the local Christian community to listen to the Word of God and celebrate the Eucharist, Francis said.

“Even today in some countries where there is no religious freedom and there is no freedom for Christians, Christians gather in a home, some hidden, to pray and celebrate the Eucharist. Even today there are these houses, these families that become a temple for the Eucharist,” the pope added.

In his ongoing weekly catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis described how Aquila and Priscilla traveled with Paul on a missionary journey to Ephesus, and later returned to Rome.

The pope noted that this married couple were among the recipients of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where St. Paul described them as “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks to save my life.”

“How many families in times of persecution risk their necks to keep the persecuted hidden,” the pope added. “This is the first example: family hospitality, even in bad times.”

Pope Francis prayed, asking God to “pour out his Spirit on all Christian couples so that, following the example of Aquila and Priscilla, they will be able to open the doors of their hearts to Christ and to their brothers and transform their homes into domestic churches.”

“A house is a domestic church, in which to live communion and offer the worship of a life lived in faith, hope and charity. We must pray to these two saints Aquila and Priscilla, so that they teach our families to be like them,” Pope Francis said.