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Vatican: Abuse summit to help bishops know 'what they need to do'

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2019 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just over a month ahead of the much-anticipated February meeting on sex abuse, the Vatican said the summit’s goal is for bishops to leave the meeting knowing clearly what it is they need to do to stop the abuse of minors.

According to a statement by papal spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti Jan. 16, the February meeting “has a concrete purpose: the goal is that all of the bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors.”

“It is fundamental for the Holy Father,” Gisotti said, that the bishops of the February gathering, when they have returned home, “understand the laws to be applied and that they take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims, and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried.”

It was also stated that Pope Francis wants the summit of bishops to be “an assembly of Pastors, not an academic conference,” and that he knows “a global problem can only be resolved with a global response.”

It will be a meeting “characterized by prayer and discernment, a catechetical and working gathering,” the statement read.

It concluded by drawing attention to the high expectations surrounding the summit, recalling that the Church is “not at the beginning of the fight against abuse,” but that the meeting is just one step along a “painful journey” the Church has “decisively undertaken” for the last 15 years.

According to the Vatican, the February meeting will include plenary sessions, working groups, moments of prayer, listening to victim testimonies, a penitential liturgy, and a final Mass.

Pope Francis will be present for the entirety of the gathering.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, president of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation and former director of the Holy See Press Office has been asked by Pope Francis to moderate the plenary sessions.

The gathering, which will take place Feb. 21-24, is focused on the protection of minors from sexual abuse within the Church. The pope has asked the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, and the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, to attend.

The U.S. bishops expected to attend are United States Conference of Bishops President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Vice-President Jose Gomez, and Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who is on the planning committee of the summit.

One part of the preparation for the meeting is a questionnaire which bishops were asked to fill out and submit to the planning committee by January 15.

Participating bishops were also urged to meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse in their own countries in advance of the gathering.

Pope Francis: 'God loves you, even if you forget Him'

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2019 / 05:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- God the Father will always be there for his beloved children, Pope Francis said Wednesday, with a reminder that the unconditional love of God is not limited by our own sense of guilt or unworthiness.

“God is looking for you, even if you do not seek Him. God loves you, even if you forget Him. God sees beauty in you, even if you think you have squandered all your talents in vain,” Pope Francis said in his general audience Jan. 16.

The pope reflected on the first two words of the “Our Father,” focusing on the depth of personal love for each person found within God’s fatherhood.

“It may be that we too happen to walk on paths far from God, as happened to the prodigal son; or fall into a loneliness that makes us feel abandoned in the world; or, again, do wrong and are paralyzed by a sense of guilt,” Pope Francis explained.

In those moments, one’s prayer should simply start by saying the word, “Father,” with the tenderness of a child who calls out “Papa” or “Abbà,” in the original Aramaic, Francis said.

“You have a father who loves you!” Pope Francis said enthusiastically. Call out to God as “Father,” and God will answer you, he said.

If you respond to God by saying, “But, Father, I have done this ...” God will answer, “I never lost sight of you. I saw everything. But I was always there, close to you, faithful to my love for you,” Pope Francis said.

To call God “Father,” the pope explained, is to have  “the whole world of Jesus poured into one's heart.”

Pope Francis described the intimacy of the Aramaic expression “Abbà” used twice in the letters of St. Paul. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul wrote, “As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!'"

Francis repeated the words that Italian children use, “Papa” and “Babbo” - which are roughly equivalent to saying “Daddy” in English - to exemplify the depth and closeness found in the word “Abba.”

“We continue to say ‘Our Father,’ but with the heart we are invited to say ‘Papa,’ to have a relationship with God like that of a child with his father, who says ‘Papa, Babbo,’” he said.

“These expressions evoke love, evoke warmth, something that projects us into the context of childhood: the image of a child completely enveloped by the embrace of a father who feels infinite tenderness for him,” he said.

Pope Francis continued, “dear brothers and sisters, to pray well, we must get to have a child's heart … like a child in the arms of his father.”

March for Life works to maintain unity in a time of division

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2019 / 03:06 am (CNA).- Barring an unexpected resolution, the federal government shutdown will have hit the four-week mark when pro-lifers descend upon the nation’s capital for the March for Life on Friday.

The ongoing government shutdown is, for some pro-lifers, a reminder that this year’s march comes amid tense political division in the country.

For Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, this division requires a careful balancing act, one that welcomes pro-lifers of all political stripes while avoiding debates over other policy questions and personalities and keeping participants focused on the issue at hand.

In an interview with CNA last month, Mancini said she tries to navigate Washington’s political tensions “with a great deal of prayer and discernment.”

Striking the right balance is not always easy. Last year, organizers drew criticism for welcoming a speech from U.S. President Donald Trump, who became the first sitting president to address the march via live video.

The move led prominent pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) to cancel his appearance at the March for Life rally, saying he was uncomfortable being associated with Trump.

Mancini respects Lipinski’s decision and called him “one of my heroes,” saying, “He’s just such a great man and truly a statesman in the real sense of the world, and that’s unusual on Capitol Hill these days.”

She stressed that the march tries to include speakers from both sides of the political aisle.

Lipinski will return to speak this year, along with Louisiana state representative Katrina Jackson (D) and two Republican lawmakers. But the 2019 slate of speakers is not without controversy, particularly headliner Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of The Daily Wire and host of a popular conservative podcast.

In a Washington Post op-ed last month, Fordham University professor and Democrats for Life board member Charles Camosy called the inclusion of Shapiro as keynote speaker “a serious mistake,” saying the 34-year-old’s heavily partisan leanings will further isolate pro-lifers who already do not feel at home within the Republican Party.

In a tweet to Camosy, Mancini responded that the march strives to reflect the diversity of the pro-life movement. But the discussion surrounding Shapiro strikes at a deeper question regarding the identity of the pro-life movement as a whole. In recent years, a number of “whole-life” organizations have challenged the idea of what it means to be pro-life, arguing that the label should cover not only abortion, but other human rights issues as well.

The rise of nontraditional groups – such as New Wave Feminists, Rehumanize International, and Secular Pro-Life – has raised questions about whether the pro-life movement must also take a definitive stance on immigration, health care, gun control, and other policy issues regarding human dignity in other walks of life.

Mancini, who says she comes from a “leftward-leaning Catholic family” and has a background with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, says she sees abortion as a matter of social justice. But she has emphasized the need for unity around the abortion issue, which she says is foundational, because without it, no other rights could exist. Under Mancini’s leadership, the March for Life is not only bipartisan, but open to all peaceful pro-lifers, regardless of their views on other policy questions.

While Trump may have shortcomings in his personal life and other issues relating to human dignity, Mancini told CNA, his administration has been solid in its work to protect the unborn, and his efforts should be recognized.

In the first two years of his presidency, Trump’s administration has removed federal funding from overseas abortion groups, increased transparency around abortion coverage in insurance plans, proposed a rule to cut Title X taxpayer funding from any facility that performs or refers for abortions, and made strides to protect medical professionals who object to cooperating with abortion.

Trump has also upheld his promise to appoint judges with pro-life records, naming Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

With the Roe decision approaching 50 years old, Mancini is hopeful that this generation will see an end to abortion. The pro-life movement, she stressed, is not only political, but also cultural. Trying to change hearts and minds can often seem like an uphill battle, she acknowledged, but there are also signs of good news.

For example, she said, “There were maybe 500 pregnancy care centers in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, and there were 2,000 abortion clinics, and now that’s swapped. Now there are about 700 abortion clinics in our country and nearly 3,000 pregnancy care centers around the country.”

Other good news: The number of abortions has decreased in the U.S. in recent years, and polls show that Americans want abortion limited more than it currently is, while advances in technology increasingly make it apparent that life begins at conception.

“There are all sorts of great signs that we’re building a culture of life,” Mancini said. “But do we have our work cut out for us? You bet.”

 

Duterte open to dialogue with bishops after suggesting Filipinos kill them

Manila, Philippines, Jan 16, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- A government spokesman said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is open to dialogue with the country’s bishops, after the president recently suggested that citizens of the country kill the Church leaders.  

Tensions have increased between Duterte and the bishops as Church leaders have continued to condemn the president’s brutal war on drugs. Since Duterte’s rise to power in 2016, thousands of people have reportedly died in extrajudicial killings.

In a speech on Dec. 5, Duterte said people should “kill and steal” from Catholic bishops, stating “this stupid bunch serve no purpose – all they do is criticize,” according to UCA News.

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon and Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga condemned the statement, describing the comments as dangerous and inappropriate remarks that cannot be dismissed as an attempt at humor.

“Again, his mouth has uttered absolutely silly things! And his ‘fans’ consider his murderous words as a mere joke! Is it a joke to advise people to kill?” said Bastes, according to Philstar.

“It is no longer funny and does not deserve laughs or applause from audiences but condemnation. The advice just promotes criminality, encourages lawlessness. What kind of authority that calls for killing?” said Santos.  

Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s lawyer and spokesman, responded to the bishops on Jan. 13. He said the president was open to conversation with the Catholic leaders, according to UCA News.

“[Duterte] is up for talks, if that's what [the bishops] are asking for,” said Panelo. “Anything that is beneficial to the nation, the president is easy to talk to.”

Vicente Sotto III, president of the Philippine Senate, has offered to mediate a discussion between Duterte and the Church leaders, noting that the tension between the parties has citizens in the largely Catholic country worried.

Duterte has a history of criticizing the Catholic Church. He has called the bishops “idiots” and “sons of wh-res” and told the people that they should stay at home and pray rather than attending church services.

According to the president’s spokesman, the context for Duterte’s insults is the sexual abuse he underwent in Catholic school. Duterte has said he was molested by Fr. Mark Falvey, SJ, who has been accused posthumously of serially sexually abusing children. In May 2007, the California province of the Society of Jesus reached a $16 million settlement with at least some of his victims.

Duterte has been accused of “social cleansing” for his bloody war on drugs in the country. The country’s bishops offered to provide sanctuary for any whistleblowers in the Philippine police department who spoke out against various human rights abuses. In response, Duterte said the Church was “full of sh-t.”

British women in their 50s increasingly requesting in-vitro fertilization

London, England, Jan 15, 2019 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- In-vitro fertilization clinics in Britain are increasingly helping women over age 55 to conceive children because there is currently no legal age limit for the treatment, according to news reports.

“Women have been expected to cram all their life tasks into 15 years between the age of 25 and 40, including having a career, finding a man and having children,” Dr. Nick Macklon, medical director of the London Women's Clinic, was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail.

“The technology we have opens that up so that they have longer. We believe an age limit for them to deliver at 54 is reasonable.”

Women are at greater risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth if they conceive after menopause, which occurs on average at age 51 for British women. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a British professional organization, recommends women have children between the ages of 20-35, and women older than 40 are considered to be at a higher risk of pregnancy complications.

Macklon said at his clinic, women over 50 are asked to confirm with an obstetrician that they are fit and healthy for pregnancy, while their medical and social circumstances are also assessed. The London Women’s Clinic has accepted 26 women aged 51 to 54 for egg donation treatment in the three years since it instituted a policy of treating women before their 55th birthday.

Dr. Marco Gaudoin, medical director for the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Scotland, told the Daily Mail that his clinic's maximum age of 55 for women using donor eggs was set by its ethics committee, but also that he would consider treating a 60-year-old woman if she were mentally and physically well, and would ask the ethics committee to consider the request.

Dr. Gaudoin said it was “sexist” to believe that older women could not have children, when men of the same age could.

The Catholic Church has judged IVF treatment to be immoral because it separates the act of procreation from the marital act between a husband and wife.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2008 issued instruction that laid out guidelines for treatment assisting with infertility, writing that medical techniques regarding fertility must respect the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death, the unity of marriage, and the requirement that “the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses.’”

The CDF also noted that even in modern IVF treatments, the number of embryos sacrificed in order to achieve pregnancy remains high, and embryos with defects may be discarded altogether. Moreover, IVF disassociates procreation from the personal marital act of a husband and wife, which in itself is ethically unacceptable.

“The Church recognizes the legitimacy of the desire for a child and understands the suffering of couples struggling with problems of fertility,” the CDF wrote.

“Such a desire, however, should not override the dignity of every human life to the point of absolute supremacy. The desire for a child cannot justify the “production” of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.”

In order for there to be an age limit for IVF treatment set in Britain, the Department of Health would have to change the law. Alternatively the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority could issue guidelines telling clinics not to exceed a certain age.

In 2009, a British woman gave birth at age 66 after undergoing fertility treatment in Ukraine. In July 2018, a 58-year-old paid woman £4,500 to undergo IVF in India because British clinics would have turned her down because of her age.

 

How the Knights of Columbus save lives: 1,000 ultrasound machine donations

Arlington, Va., Jan 15, 2019 / 03:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A program to donate ultrasound machines to U.S. pregnancy centers has passed the 1,000 mark, thanks to the charitable work of the Knights of Columbus and its members.

“Building a culture of life requires all of us to strive for the just treatment of innocent unborn children and to accompany with compassionate concern women facing crisis pregnancies,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said in the January 2019 issue of Columbia magazine, which is published by the charitable organization.

“This program is saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The 1,000th machine was donated to the Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic in Manassas, which has already expanded since its December 2017 opening.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, and officials of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington joined local Knights of Columbus members at the Jan. 14 celebration marking the milestone.

The ultrasound program has put a Knights-sponsored ultrasound machine in every U.S. state and in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, and Peru, as well as places in Africa.

Anderson said the 1,000th machine marked “a historic milestone,” adding, “there are still many more milestones ahead of us in the lives of thousands of vulnerable unborn children.”

“Our Ultrasound Initiative must continue to expand into every community where it is needed,” he said.

One woman who benefitted from the program is Lauren, from South Bend, Ind.

She told Columbia magazine that when she was pregnant two years ago she wasn’t sure what decision she should make and didn’t know what to expect from an ultrasound procedure. She went to Women’s Care Center in South Bend, which had received an ultrasound machine through the program.

“The only way I can describe it is that it changed me in the blink of an eye,” Lauren said. “The moment I saw my child on the big screen in front of me, I knew I was going to be a mom. It did not matter what I had thought before — all that mattered was loving my child and caring about her safety. I saw her little feet and little arms. I heard her heartbeat as I watched her in front of me. I still have the pictures of the ultrasound that were given to me that day — the day that changed my life forever.”

Lauren is still attending college and working “to make a great life for my daughter.” She said pregnant women in similar circumstances should know “Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are never alone.”

The ultrasound program was launched in 2009 with the goal of donating 1,000 machines. State or local knights’ councils raise funds half of the ultrasound machine expenses, which is matched from the Supreme Council’s Culture of Life Fund. On average, the machines cost about $30,000 each.

According to program details on the Knights of Columbus website, councils must first identify qualified pregnancy centers and have these centers evaluated by the local diocese’s Culture of Life director.

Evaluation criteria include whether the proposed beneficiary has the staffing, finances and other resources to justify the purchase of an ultrasound; whether the center’s location, client load and hours of operation justifies the “major expenditure,” ongoing costs, and staffing commitments; whether the center’s practices, policies and history are consistent with Catholic ethics; and whether the pregnancy center is welcoming of Catholics as employees, volunteers and clients.

The Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic opened in December 2017 with support from the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

It aims to provide free medical care to uninsured or underinsured adults living in northern Virginia. Many of its patients are recently arrived immigrants. Its new expansion has rooms for prenatal care, offices for adoption services, space for the Gabriel Project service for pregnant mothers in need, and space for the Project Rachael ministry to post-abortive women, the Arlington Catholic Herald reports.

The clinic is presently open 24 to 36 hours per week for no-cost patient care. It averages 65-70 patients a week and 209 registered volunteers, including five primary care physicians, four nurse practitioners, two cardiologists, an obstetrician, a pulmonologist, an orthopedic doctor, a chiropractor, and a pharmacist. The clinic also gives referrals for other services.

Bishop Burbidge blessed the ultrasound machine, the new expansion, and those gathered at the clinic on Monday.

“We want to do everything we can to promote the gospel of life, but ultimately it’s entrusting our work and our intentions to the Lord,” he said, according to the Arlington Catholic Herald. “It’s ultimately his work and upon his grace that we must depend.”

The clinic is located in a medical office formerly occupied by one of the area’s largest abortion clinics, Amethyst Health Center for Women, which closed in September 2015 when its owner retired.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization founded in 1882 by Connecticut priest Ven. Michael J. McGivney, have close to 2 million members worldwide.

It recently made the news when two Democratic U.S. senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned a Catholic judicial nominee about his membership in the group, citing its stands against abortion and same-sex marriage. They asked whether membership could prevent judges from serving “fairly and impartially.” The questioning drew strong objections from many Catholics and other public figures.