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Ex-Philly pastor arrested for charges of embezzling roughly $100,000 of church funds

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 22, 2019 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- A priest in Downingtown, Penn., a suburb west of Philadelphia, was arrested yesterday for stealing roughly $100,000 in church funds over six years to fund his New Jersey beach house and sexual encounters with men among other personal expenses, authorities have reported.

Rev. Joseph McLoone, 56, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Downingtown and placed on administrative leave in early 2018, shortly after his secret account of stolen funds, which he had named the “St. Joseph Activity Account”, was discovered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Monsignor McLoone was the only signer on this account and he acted alone with respect to all of the account’s activity,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement released Wednesday.

“Off book accounts are in violation of standard Archdiocesan financial control practices and procedures. This bank account was frozen in February 2018 and a review of parish financial records was then undertaken by personnel from the Archdiocesan Office for Parish Services and Support,” the statement added.

According to the Reading Eagle, investigators reported after a year-long investigation that McLoone used his secret account to siphon off the entire collection taken up at the parish each year on the feast day of All Soul’s Day in November, for a total of $39,543 over six years.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, some of the rest of the money came from McLoone doubling his stipends for weddings, funerals and other special Masses. Authorities report that he spent at least $3,000 of the money on men with whom he had sexual relationships, including one New York prison inmate.

“Those expenses were related to relationships with adults that represented a violation of ‘The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries’ established by the Archdiocese. None of this activity involved other members of the Saint Joseph Parish community,” the archdiocesen statement noted.

McLoone made “regular withdrawals” from the account and spent “thousands” of dollars in New Jersey, where he has a beach house, the Eagle Reader reported.

Money from regular Sunday collections, donations to the parish capital campaign, and school and PREP tuition fees do not seem to have been stolen by McLoone, the archdiocese said.

In total, McLoone is charged with embezzling between $98,000-$125,000 in funds from the parish during his time there.

“Father McLoone held a position of leadership, and his parishioners trusted him to properly handle their generous donations to the church,” District Attorney Chief of Staff Charles Gaza said in a statement, reported by the Inquirer. “Father McLoone violated the trust of the members of St. Joseph’s for his own personal gain.”

The charges against McLoone include dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and other related counts, the Reading Eagle reported.

The priest maintains his innocence.

“The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is overreaching,” Melissa McCafferty, McLoone’s attorney, told the Inquirer. “They filed these charges based off speculation, conjecture, and innuendo.... They won’t be able to prove them.”

McLoone was sent to the parish in 2011 after the previous pastor, Msgr. William Lynn, was convicted of covering up clerical sex abuse in 2012. Lynn’s conviction was overturned three years ago, and he is awaiting a retrial.

The archdiocese said it has pledged to “pursue full financial restitution” to the parish for the reportedly stolen funds, and said that it shared this information along with other updates on the case throughout the past year with the parish during the investigation.

“These charges are serious and disturbing,” the archdiocesan statement said. “The Archdiocese and the parish will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as the criminal matter enters its next phase. Pending the outcome, Monsignor McLoone remains on administrative leave. Information regarding his arrest will be shared with the Saint Joseph Parish community.”

McLoone now awaits a hearing before a district court judge for the charges.

Vatican diplomat: Solidarity must be at the heart of the European project

Rimini, Italy, Aug 22, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States said Wednesday that politics surrounding migration in Europe fuel ideological conflicts that do not fully take into account the complexity of the problem.

“I believe it is clear to everyone that such a delicate issue cannot be dealt with effectively without a clear political vision at all levels. But how can we have such a vision, without a cultural perspective that allows us to face the wide spectrum of related problems?” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said Aug. 21 in a speech in Rimini, Italy.

Gallagher pointed to the Catholic social principles of solidarity and inalienable human dignity. He also spoke of the necessity to balance the rhetoric of “rights” in Europe with that of their corresponding duties.

“The concept of law no longer seems to be associated with the equally essential and complementary concept of duty, so that we end up affirming the rights of the individual without taking into account that every human being is linked to a social context, in which his rights and duties are connected to those of others and to the common good of society itself,” Gallagher said, quoting Pope Francis’ speech to the European Parliament in 2014.

The bishop said that the duty of solidarity is an indispensable underlying principle to achieve the pillars of the European unification project: the defense of freedom, the promotion of justice and the building of peace.

Solidarity, he said, is “not based on the compassion or repulsion that another arouses, but on the objectivity of a common human nature.”

The crises Europe has faced in the last decade from the financial crisis to Brexit have been compounded by the growing “emotionality and reactiveness of political choices,” he said.

“It is precisely this characteristic of objectivity and reasonableness that links duties and rights between them. Since the objective duty of solidarity with others corresponds to that set of rights that are as objective as any human person,” Gallagher said.

“Where objectivity is lacking, the same system of rights loses its meaningfulness. This is what has been happening in the last fifty years when the interpretation of some rights has progressively changed, so as to include a multiplicity of new rights,” he continued.

The process of “relativization of rights,” Gallagher said, is intricately connected to the progessive exclusion of religion from European social life, which has resulted in an unhealthy secularization.

Gallagher said that the result of this process is a “fragmentation of existence,” which he said was presciently described by St. John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in Europe:

“We find ourselves before a widespread existential fragmentation. A feeling of loneliness is prevalent; divisions and conflicts are on the rise. Among other symptoms of this state of affairs, Europe is presently witnessing the grave phenomenon of family crises and the weakening of the very concept of the family, the continuation or resurfacing of ethnic conflicts, the re-emergence of racism, interreligious tensions, a selfishness that closes individuals and groups in upon themselves, a growing overall lack of concern for ethics and an obsessive concern for personal interests and privileges,” John Paul II wrote in 2003.

“The weakening of the sense of duty and the progressive subjectivation of rights has therefore weakened the very heart of the European project,” Gallagher said.

“The European project arises with the idea of ​​giving life to a community of peoples who agree to be bound by mutual duties,” he said at the Rimini “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples.”

Gallagher outlined examples duties of states that relate to the migration issue in Europe.

“Above all, there is the most obvious duty: that of human solidarity with the person who is in need, suffering and often in danger,” he said.

He said that the duty of solidarity between states  is “a key principle of the very existence of the European Union.”

States also have a duty to offer opportunities for integration to migrants and security to their citizens, Gallagher said, explaining that cultural integration can free migrants from “the dynamics from which they had fled home and which often reappear in the lands of landing remaining within their national communities.”
 
In an interview with Vatican News Aug. 22, Gallagher responded to the current debate in Europe on national sovereignty surrounding both the migration and European Union issues.

“No one questions the sovereignty of a country, of a nation. The problem emerges … when there is again an exaggerated view of sovereignty, when there is an insistence on sovereignty,” he said.

“It is very difficult for a government to guarantee all rights to their peoples, as well as peace, defense, security. We are all interconnected… The idea that ‘sovereignty’ means a total closure to others perhaps has a certain theoretical, pragmatic attraction, but I do not think it's the path to follow,” he added.

Gallagher underlined in his speech in Rimini that when approaching the issue of migration, in particular, “ we need to rediscover the duties, rather than the rights,that are at stake.”

“The first and perhaps greatest contribution that Christians can bring to today's Europe - the Pope affirms - is to remind them that it is not a collection of numbers or institutions, but is made up of people, endowed with of transcendent dignity,” he said.

 

In first-ever event, UN commemorates religious victims of violence

New York City, N.Y., Aug 22, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The United Nations General Assembly has designated Aug. 22 as the first-ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

“On this Day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement.

The General Assembly condemned acts of violence against religious minorities and reiterated its support for the right to freedom of religion, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Over the past few months, we have seen increasing numbers of attacks against individuals and groups targeted simply because of their religion or belief,” Guterres said. “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

He particularly noted the worrying trend of attacks targeting places of worship, and minority religious communities being attacked because of their faith.

“We must resist and reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred,” he said.

The United Nations is working on a new initiative to counter hate speech as well as a new action plan to safeguard religious sites, Guterres said.

In recent years, observers have voiced alarm at ongoing religious-based persecution in countries around the world.

In its annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that “despite two decades of tireless work to bring an end to religious-based discrimination, violence, and persecution, innumerable believers and nonbelievers across the globe continued in 2018 to experience manifold suffering due to their beliefs.”

A report earlier this year commissioned by the British Foreign Office found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and that persecution against them is on the rise.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the UN for recognizing the serious threat posed by contemporary religious persecution, while highlighting the need for further action.

“All people have the right to peacefully live out their faith, and we can never forget those who have faced persecution for doing so,” said Kelsey Zorzi, president of the United Nations’ NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and international director of advocacy for global religious freedom at ADF International.

She welcomed the UN’s decision to create a day commemorate victims of religious persecution, while adding that “remembrance alone is not enough.”

“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world. We therefore urge all countries to ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” she said.

Tony Perkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council, also called for additional action to prevent religious persecution across the globe.

“Commemorating victims of violence based on religion or belief is critical, but that’s only the beginning of the world’s work to achieve justice for the survivors of past tragedies, like the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq by ISIS,” he said.

“We must also recognize and work together to halt the continuing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and Christians in Burma and violence against Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram.”

Real reform in the Church requires a faithful laity, priest says 

Auckland, New Zealand, Aug 22, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- For the Catholic Church to be renewed, the entire body of Christ - especially the laity - must strive to live the faith devoutly.

This was the message of Father Roger Landry, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, at a Eucharistic assembly in July.

“While in history, reforms have been championed by popes, bishops, founders of religious orders and their spiritual sons and daughters, the real reform of the Church happens when lay people assimilate it and live it,” he said.

“The Church is not made of marble, wood, bricks and glass, but of men, women, boys and girls, who build their lives firmly on Christ the cornerstone and Peter the rock on whom Jesus constructed the Church.”

Landry spoke during the Auckland Eucharistic Convention on the weekend of July 12 at the Sacred Heart College in New Zealand. Speakers at the event also included Emeritus Bishop Denis Browne of Hamilton, founder of the conference, and Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland.

During his speech, Landry noted that there is much discussion about a renewed Church, particularly following recent scandals within the Church.

He pointed to the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the “universal call to holiness” and noted that the Gospels include the images of Christians as salt, light, and leaven.

“They are particularly meaningful images because they speak not only of the deep involvement and the full participation of the lay faithful in the affairs of the earth, the world and the human community, but also and above all, they tell of the radical newness and unique character of an involvement and participation which has as its purpose the spreading of the Gospel that brings salvation,” he said, quoting St. John Paul II.

At the time of the New Testament, salt had three purposes: preserving food so it would not spoil, enhancing flavor, and combining with animal dung to create fuel.

Similarly, he said, Christians should preserve the world from sin, reflect God’s glory, and bring others to the goodness of redemption.

“Jesus calls us to be his instrument to prevent the earth from going to corruption, from dying. We’re supposed to keep the world and others good,” he said. “As Salt of the Earth, we’re called to be God’s instrument for bringing good out of the evil we encounter, to help even those who were given over to evil to start producing something good.”

“We, as salt of the earth, are called to give flavor so that others can ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord,’ we’re supposed to bring joy,” he said.

Light is another important metaphor, Landry said, especially in a world darkened so deeply by grief, despair, sin, physical pain, and emotional wounds. Like Christ, the Christian should warm people from the cold and dispel darkness.

“He has come and mercifully taught us in such a way that we may walk as children of the light and be true children of the light. So the Christian life is supposed to be luminescent, like the lights on a landing strip at an airport on a foggy night that help planes land,” he said.

“Similarly, light gives off warmth, and Christ has come into the world to warm us by his love, to burn away whatever in us is frigid or tepid, so that we in turn may warm others by the fire of divine love.”

Leaven is an important metaphor, Landry said, because it teaches us that just a small number of devout Christians can have a significant impact on the world.

“We know that leaven works unseen, doesn’t call attention to itself, but it does its work all the same. Much of the most important work of Christians happens through example - by our cheerfulness, by the powerful transforming influence of good friendship, by the encouraging smiles and deeds that others need when they are down,” he said.

He pointed to the example of the early Japanese Christians, who kept the Catholic faith alive for centuries after the priests in the country had all been martyred.

Missionaries in the 1800s found hundreds of Catholics in a village in northeastern Japan. In place of Mass, the Catholic families would gather every Sunday to pray the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and an Act of Contrition.

The villagers had been instructed by previous missionaries to be steadfast and to wait for more “fathers” to come after the initial missionaries were martyred. The early priests had taught the people how to recognize the four marks of the Catholic Church: belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, devotion to Mary, the papacy ,and the priesthood.

“So great was the trust in God and in his Church by those who were being killed in the 1600s that they prepared the people for the time when Catholic priests would return to Japan, and their simple instructions were passed down by the kakure Kiristan, the clandestine Christians, for a dozen generations,” Landry said.

Hong Kong student leader: Catholics have an important role in peaceful protests

Hong Kong, China, Aug 22, 2019 / 12:12 am (CNA).- As massive protests continue in Hong Kong, one student leader says Catholics have an important role to play in encouraging demonstrators to remain peaceful in asserting their demands.

“The protests last Sunday [were] very peaceful, peaceful protests. And very luckily, there were no major conflicts between the police and the protestors,” Edwin Chow, acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, told CNA in an interview.

Despite the threat of violence from police and growing concern about a potential crackdown by Chinese authorities, an estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong last Sunday for a largely peaceful demonstration in the pouring rain.

The largest protest has so far this year has been an estimated 2 million-strong crowd on June 6. At some of the protests, police and some protesters have resorted to violence.

“From June to the previous protest, almost every time, the police have used tear gas and bullets. But this time, for this weekend, actually the police did not use any tear gas and they didn't have any serious clash between the protesters and the police,” Chow said.

Protesters continue to demonstrate against the use of excessive force by the police, as well as the potential for Hong Kong to begin extraditing suspected criminals to stand trial in mainland China.

The bill proposing extraditions to China, which was introduced in Hong Kong’s government in February, has been indefinitely suspended, but Christians in Hong Kong remain worried that the Chinese Communist government will continue to find ways to persecute those who are helping Christians in mainland China, where freedom of religion is severely restricted.

“The Chinese government is suppressing the Church in mainland China, and so we are worried that when we have communication with the mainland Church, maybe one day the Chinese government will also arrest the Hong Kong people to suppress Hong Kong people,” Chow said.

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students organized members to attend the protest and also held a prayer meeting before Sunday’s march. Chow said many more protests are already planned for August, and early next month students are planning to “strike” on the first day of class.

“My class will start on the 2nd of September, but actually the student union, most of the university students, we are planning to have a strike on that day. That is a must, I think, this will happen. We will go on strike.”

Chow, a student studying Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, told CNA last week that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government.

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

“It's a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal...so that's why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, our strengths, our power becomes stronger,” he told CNA last week.

Chow said he believes the protestors are changing their tactics to try to be less disruptive. A number of protests held in the last few weeks in the city’s busy international airport caused a lot of noise and disruption, he said.

“So the protestors adjusted their strategy. They think that a peaceful protest maybe can gain more support. I think due to the previous clash, and too much violence, maybe we have lost some support, so we want to gain it again,” Chow explained.

“And also I think the main theme of the protests is...police violence; it's hard to convince people that we are against violence when we use violence. So I think this is the main reason why this protest this weekend was [more] peaceful.”

Chow believes that Christians groups can play an important role in encouraging protestors to remain peaceful and not be carried away by emotion.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down. Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again.”

Chow said there is an interesting protest set to take place this Friday, wherein protestors plan to form a human chain as part of the demonstration.

“This week, almost every day we have protests,” he said.

“For tomorrow, the secondary students also have their own protest, their own assembly...it's a very busy month, very busy, these two months for Hong Kong people. Because actually, we almost protest every day.”

Chow said the Catholic clergy have been very supportive. The Federation invited bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen to celebrate Mass on June 16, in front of the government headquarters.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has also been very active in going to the protest sites, supporting the young people, and vocally supporting the protestors. Bishop Ha took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after one rally.

“Other ordinary Catholics, some of the older Catholics, they also join in our activities,” Chow said. “So you can see that not only the teenagers are supporting, participating in the whole protest, but the older people, some adults...they also join, they also support the whole protest.”

In the US, the Archdiocese of San Francisco Chinese Ministry and the Office of Human Life & Dignity are inviting the faithful to a prayer vigil for Hong Kong at 6:30 pm on August 26 at St. Anne of the Sunset Church in San Francisco. The service is set to include scripture readings, Eucharistic Adoration, and Benediction.

White House criticized for push to allow indefinite detention of migrant kids

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- The White House announced on Wednesday that it would look to terminate court-approved limits on detention of migrant children and families, allowing for indefinite detention. The announcement drew strong criticism from a leading Catholic immigration group.

“These changes would expand the number of children who will be detained and are in direct opposition to the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

Gallagher added that the action “would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts.”

The White House’s new rule will seek to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, a court-approved national policy on the treatment of migrants by U.S. government agencies. The new rule must be approved by a federal judge before it can go into effect.

“To protect these children from abuse, and stop this illegal flow, we must close these loopholes. This is an urgent humanitarian necessity,” President Donald Trump stated.

Under previous court rulings, the administration said it had to allow most migrant children and families to leave detention centers after 20 days; a new proposed rule, the “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children,” would remove time limits and allow for indefinite detention.

The rule would ensure the care and safety of children in detention and protect them from smugglers, the White House said in its announcement; smugglers have been taking advantage of the previous policy by promising migrants a quick release if they were to be apprehended by U.S. law enforcement, and by bringing children and adults together to pose as migrant families at the border, the White House said.

In a press conference, Kevin K. McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized that the facilities holding families under the new rule are “campus-like settings with appropriate medical, educational, recreational, dining, and private housing facilities.”

However, CLINIC, established by the U.S. bishops in 1988, called the administration’s proposal last September an “abomination.”

Gallagher said on Wednesday that “clinical studies demonstrate that the mitigating presence of parents does not negate or lighten the serious and adverse effect of detention on the physical and mental health of children.” The organization has also said that the administration’s policy would allow it to set the conditions for migrants in detention centers with lesser independent oversight, threatening the due process of migrants.

In June of 2018, a group of human rights officials at the United Nations stated of the U.S. policy of detaining children and separating families at the border that “detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”

The number of “family unit aliens” apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has soared in Fiscal Year 2019, the White House says, increasing by more than 300 percent; more than 430,000 “family unit aliens” have been apprehended in FY 2019.

Priest: We need to address roots of the global migration crisis

Rome, Italy, Aug 21, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- With migrant and refugee numbers at a crisis level in Europe and other parts of the world, the international community must act to alleviate the suffering of those forced to leave their homes, a priest said this week.

Fr. Mussie Zerai is an Eritrean priest based in Rome, serving as European Coordinator for the Catholics of Eritrea.

Zerai works particularly with migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea, fleeing dangers in their homeland and seeking a better life.

Speaking this week with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency, Zerai said that to address the migration crisis, it is necessary to look at the factors pushing people to leave their home countries.

He also said neighboring countries in Africa should be better equipped to accept refugees, so they are not forced to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The priest pointed to an initiative by the Sant’Egidio Community and the Italian Bishops’ Conference that allows migrants to travel to Italy and other European countries with their needs covered and without relying on local mafias.

These humanitarian channels are an important avenue of legal immigration, and states should assume similar initiatives, he said, stressing that if the European Union were to ensure “legal access for people who need protection, a lot of people would not feel driven by desperation into the hands of the traffickers, risking their lives in the desert and on the sea.”

Rather than getting to the root of the migration crisis, Zerai lamented, “the European Union tried to put up walls…to create obstacles to whoever was fleeing from their countries for different reasons: hunger, war, political, ethnic and religious persecutions.”

As a result, he said, people fleeing dangerous situations at home lack the protection they need to migrate safely.

“Perhaps we don’t see them, but they continue to die in the desert, continue to die in the prisons, in the many detention centers, continue to die at sea.”

Opinions divided in reaction to Pell decision

Melbourne, Australia, Aug 21, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The decision by the Court of Appeal in Victoria to reject Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of his conviction for child sex abuse Wednesday has divided opinion among court watchers, both Catholic and secular.

Reactions to the ruling ranged from celebrations that Pell will remain in prison, to questions being raised about the entire Australian legal system. 

Cardinal Pell’s spokesperson released a short statement after the decision, saying that the cardinal was “obviously disappointed” but will continue the legal process. 

“While noting the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence,” said the statement. “We thank his many supporters.” 

Pell may still appeal to the High Court, Australia’s supreme judicial body. If the court decides to hear his appeal, there could still be months or even years before a final decision is reached. But in the meantime, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Court of Appeals’ ruling meant that Pell will be stripped of his Order of Australia honors. 

“My understanding is that this [appeal loss] would result in the stripping of the honours that are decided externally to the government,” said Morrison. 

“That is a process that is done independently, and that course will now follow.”

Many people who were outside the court while the decision was being read were happy with the news. 

Julie Cameron, who was described in Australian media as an advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse, said that the ruling meant that “the largest protected pedophile ring in the world is busted.” 

Videos taken from outside the courtroom showed a crowd cheering “victory” at the decision, while another stated “we’re never giving up, we’re never going away.” 

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt offered a different view from much of the media coverage of Pell’s trial, saying in a post that the conviction makes “no logical sense” and that there were many “improbabilities” to the prosecution’s case.  

“Even if Pell could physically have been in the sacristy, in time, and without being seen, and physically done these attacks, how insane would he have to be to do all this, attack two boys he didn’t know, in an open room in a busy cathedral?” said Bolt in a piece published after the decision. 

Australian Catholic leadership also had varying reactions to the decision. 

Archbishop Anthony Fisher, who succeeded Pell as leader of the Sydney archdiocese said he was “limited in my ability to comment on today’s outcome,” since Pell could still lodge a further appeal.

“Today’s split decision amongst the judges is consistent with the differing views of the juries in the first and second trials, as well as the divided opinion amongst legal commentators and the general public,” Fisher said in a statement.

“Reasonable people have taken different views when presented with the same evidence and I urge everyone to maintain calm and civility.”

Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli of Melbourne, another of Pell’s former dioceses, said in a statement that he “respectfully receives the Court’s decision,” and that he “encourages everyone to do the same.” 

Comensoli remarked that “the complexity of the search for the truth in this matter has tested many, and may very well continue to do so.” 

The archbishop said that he was praying for the man who accused Pell of sexual abuse, and that he would offer spiritual and pastoral help to him if he so wanted it. Notably, Comensoli declined to use the word “victim” or “survivor” to describe the man. 

Additionally, Comensoli said that he will “ensure that Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence” of six years in prison. 

The Vatican issued a cautious statement “acknowledging” the decision.

“While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system... the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, said Aug. 21.

Bruni stated that “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.” A canonical process to assess the accusations against Pell has formally been opened, but remains pending until the entire criminal process in Australia concludes.

As a body, the Catholic bishops of Australia offered a similarly carefully worded response to the news. 

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), which represents all of the country’s bishops and archbishops, said that while they accepted the judgment, they “acknowledge that this judgement will be distressing to many people.” 

“The Catholic Bishops of Australia believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today’s judgement accordingly,” said the statement from Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, the ACBC president. 

Coleridge noted that “this has been and remains a most difficult time for survivors of child sexual abuse and those who support them,” and that the Australian clergy has caused much pain in the country. 

“We remain committed to doing everything we can to bring healing to those who have suffered greatly and to ensuring that Catholic settings are the safest possible places for all people, but especially for children and vulnerable adults,” he said.

Retired Bishop Peter Elliott, a former auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, pointedly rejected the outcome. 

“I don’t accept this outcome because I hope it is appealed to a higher court,” he said to the Australian news program 7.30 after the appeal was denied. Elliott has known Pell for over 50 years. 

“I believe that George Pell is totally incapable of what he’s been accused of, and what he’s been convicted for,” said Elliott, urging Australian Catholics to “keep calm, and carry on praying” for Pell.

Amazon missionary bishop: Synod plans miss the real problems

Belém do Pará, Brazil, Aug 21, 2019 / 02:51 pm (CNA).-
A long-time missionary bishop of the Amazon River delta has said that the working document for an upcoming synod of bishops on the region does not address the actual problems faced by the Church in the region.

Bishop José Luis Azcona, is the missionary bishop emeritus of Marajó, a diocese that includes dozens of islands in the Amazon River Delta. During his years of service in the region, Azcona lived under death threats for denouncing human trafficking and for defending the human rights of indigineous people.

In remarks recently offered to ACI Digital, CNA's Portugese-language sister agency, Azcona criticized the Instrumentum laboris, or working document, for October’s Pan-Amazonian synod of bishops, which he said fails to address the Church’s most pressing challenges: a growing Pentacostal majority; child labor, abuse, and trafficking; and a spiritual crisis.

Azcona said that synod must address a sobering reality: “the Amazon, at least the Brazilian Amazon, is no longer Catholic.”

He questioned the central points of the synod’s preparatory document, which he said focus unduly on “a distorted vision of the so-called Amazonian face,”  “interculturality,” and the ordination of married men.

The Face of the Amazon

According to Azcona, “the Amazon, at least the Brazilian Amazon, is no longer Catholic.

“This point of departure is crucial for conducting the synod. If the Amazon has a Pentecostal majority, it is necessary to address that reality thoroughly.”

“Any nostalgia for an Amazon that no longer exists is fatal to its integral evangelization. Even in some areas of the Amazon the Pentecostal majority reaches 80%,” he said.

“A Pentecostal penetration into several indigenous ethnic groups, overrunning cultures, ethnic identities, indigenous peoples in the name of the Gospel, is a serious phenomenon in today's Amazon, which with its fundamentalist and proselytizing connotations has a profound impact on the indigenous peoples.”

“This is today's Amazonian face!”

“There's not one word about this point in the Instrument laboris,” Azcona said.

The bishop added that “the long experience of years confirms that in many Amazonian dioceses the faith is not lived out in society nor in history.  The chasm between the confession and celebration of faith in beautiful liturgies and the social, environmental, cultural and political reality has not yet been overcome.”

Child abuse

Azcona next pointed the pervasive problems of child abuse in the Amazon region.

“Unfortunately, the synod doesn't know, or knowing doesn't understand, the significance, for the present and the future of the Amazon, of the faces of anguished, re-victimized and denigrated children, [abused] by their own parents and relatives, subjected to a slavery that forms an essential part of the abandoned and destroyed face of Jesus in the Amazon.”

“This entire document is straw if it doesn't understand or doesn't commit to the spirit and letter of the Gospel: 'He who receives a little one like this receives Me and he who receives Me, receives the Father who sent Me.”

In that regard he continued, “in Pará alone in one year there were 25,000 reports of crimes of this kind [Editor's note: pedophilia]. According to experts in this area, for every reported case of pedophilia there are four others besides. If during approximately one year there were 100,000 abused children in Pará, isn't this face of destroyed children an essential part of the Amazonian face?”

“Where is the pastoral sensitivity, so evident and so firmly expressed by the Holy Father Pope Francis, expressed by those responsible for the Instrumentum laboris?” Azcona asked.

“Where is the defense of the Amazon, of its children, in the Instrumentum laboris, and, therefore, in the synod? Let's stop these false projections about the Amazon, and instead make possible new paths for it.”

“What is the Amazonian face? Can a synod next October of this magnitude be built with a presentation so far from reality, from identity, from respect for what is different, when pre-established schemes of interpretation of reality deform what is real?” he questioned.

Inculturation or 'Equalization'?

Azcona also criticized “the themes around the inculturation of the Gospel in the Amazon and related areas,” which he said “are presented in a context of immanence, Neo-Pelagianism, leveling out the Gospel with Amazonian (indigenous) cultures, ecclesiologically devoid of theological and pastoral foundations, annulling the Gospel of salvation.”

Recalling the Ad gentes decree of the Second Vatican Council, the bishop pointed out that “the words of the Gospel proclaimed by the Church decide the destiny of persons, of peoples, cultures and nations.”

“In no part of the Instrumentum laboris is anything similar explicitly affirmed. On the contrary, the tendency to equalize the indigenous cultures with the Gospel is overwhelming. This is a point of departure which cannot be dispensed with in a synod.”

“Forgetting this fundamental principle renders the synod useless and nullifies the specific and unique power of God in the Gospel, as well as all missionary dynamism in the Amazon and from the Amazon,” he said.

Azcona pointed out that “in no part of the Instrumenum laboris is the presence of demons spoken of, or their influence, their malice in persons, peoples and cultures, as well as the victory of Christ, his deliverance and the destruction of the power of the Evil One.”

“The document forgets the luminous and guiding pages that speak of the Evil One and his presence in history, to which Pope Francis devotes numbers 158-164 in last year's apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exultate.”

He also warned that “the Pelagianism spread throughout the document, leads to attributing to the Amazonian man, to his ethnic and cultural groups, more than what belongs to them, because they are realities created and marked by sin, and it supplants the solid conciliar doctrine about the Gospel and the mission of the Church in the power of the Risen One, as found in Lumen gentium 16.

“Finally, the utopian ideo to revitalize the pre-Colombian religions, separating them from Christ and the universal Church, would not be progress but regression,” he said.

Ecological conversion

Addressing the question of ecological conversion, the bishop argued that “the need for repentance for the forgiveness of sins is the fundamental challenge that the Church has to face in the Amazon. Without this absolute priority of the being and action of the Church there is no future for the Amazon, because we thus forget the presence of the Kingdom of God in the world.”

“In the absence of the repentance that 'makes exist that which does not exist' for the generation of the new Amazonian man, the document does not experience the hunger, the thirst for the Holy Spirit.”

According to the bishop “the document, forgetting the New Pentecost encouraged by Pope Saint John XXIII in the preparatory prayer for the Council, sets aside the nucleus of the mission in the Amazon. Is this mission in the Amazon like a land and water mission? Or is it the missionary dimension which, as the Church in the Amazon, is called and sent out to the world? Let us be guided by the inspired teaching of Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium.”

“What the Holy Father proposes is evangelization and therefore an Amazon very different from a set of tasks carried out, projects, pastoral plans, inculturation, ecology.”

“Why doesn't the document cry out this truth, the only truth that can save the Amazon?” he asked.

Viri probati

Azcona said that “the ordination of “viri probati” is going to be useless,” since “it's placing a piece of new cloth on an old fabric. The tear is bigger!"

On the other hand, he observed, “the clergy in the Amazon need, as does the entire Church, repentance, conversion, the faith that saves in the strict sense. Experience offers this evidence. The meaning of the priestly ministry and specifically in the Amazon, is lost or is dead in the lives or in the authentic pastoral conversion of priests.”

“Why ordain viri probati within a priesthood in crisis?” he asked

“The perfect and perpetual continence of the Kingdom of Heaven will continue being, a sign of encouragement of pastoral charity and the original source of spiritual fruitfulness- within the Amazon,” he said.

“We may ask: Does this attitude of prayer exist for the gift of celibacy in the priests of the Amazon? “Does the entire Church pray that this sublime gift be poured out on the whole Body of Christ? The facts answer: 'No'!'”

“And also, and principally, deciding this issue is something completely inopportune in a context in which the current trends of large groups of Catholics, the so-called conservatives, are questioning the Magisterium of the Church, specifically in the Supreme Pontiff himself. Some are publicly calling him a heretic demanding his immediate resignation. Others are demanding his resignation for the lack of consistency on the issue of pedophilia in the Church! Let's not entertain a discussion on the legitimacy of these questions. What is certain is than an affirmative response would open up the risk of a division, of a real schism in the Church.”

He thus stressed that “it's not about the victory of the so called 'conservatives' or the 'progressives.' It's about what is greatest in the Church: charity. In the face of charity, any concept or sociological label ought to pale.”

“Recognizing that the venerable institution of priestly celibacy belongs to the disciplinary area of the Church and therefore subject to changes, I considerate it disadvantageous, even dangerous at this time for ecclesial unity, to open up the possibility that the document is asking for,” Azcona said.

“It's not an exclusively indigenous ministry problem. It's a situation of the widespread shortage of priests in the Church. The same reasons that can be invoked for this recognition asked for by the document are the same ones that can be applied to the entire Church, or to much of it.”

According to the bishop, “the problem is not just the lack of enough priests, but the examination, discernment of this great shortage for a realistic solution.  The fundamental root of this shortage of vocations in the Church and also in the Amazon, including the evangelized  indigenous peoples, is due to an alarming lack of faith or the absence of faith that works in practice through love and necessarily in history and society.”

Thus, he explained, “even though it's a disciplinary issue, this becomes an ethical imperative beginning with the absolute instruction: Christ died for the unenlightened brother; your freedom is not something absolute; it is against Christ they sin, wounding the conscience of the brother; the only absolute is love; this love is that of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit”

“Is this the love of the Church in the Amazon? Is this the love of God that sufficiently pervades the criteria for pastoral care, the ecclesial criteria, the praxis as the supreme reality or is it gnosis or Pelagius which commands the ship of the Church in the Amazon?”

“This danger of schism is not imaginary! Nor in the Amazon!” Azcona concluded.

Azcona, 79, is a native of Pamplona, Spain. He was appointed a missionary bishop in the Amazon in 1987, and retired from his post in 2016.

 

This interview was first published by ACI Digital, CNA's Portugese-language sister agency. It has been adapted and translated by CNA.

 

Jesuit superior general: Satan is a 'symbolic reality'

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2019 / 01:44 pm (CNA).- The superior general of the Society of Jesus said Aug. 21 that the devil is a symbol, but not a person.

The devil, “exists as the personification of evil in different structures, but not in persons, because is not a person, is a way of acting evil. He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life,” Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, said Wednesday in an interview with Italian magazine Tempi.

“Good and evil are in a permanent war in the human conscience and we have ways to point them out. We recognize God as good, fully good. Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality,” he added.

Sosa’s remarks came after he participated in a panel discussion at a Catholic gathering in Rimini, Italy, organized by the Communion and Liberation ecclesial movement.

The Catechism of the Catholic teaches that “Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: ‘The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.’”

Angels, the Catechism says, are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings.”

“They are personal and immortal creatures,” it adds, who “have intelligence and will.”

Sosa, 70, was elected the Jesuits’ superior general in 2016. A Venezuelan, he has a pontifical licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in political science. He served as a Jesuit provincial superior in Venezuela from 1996 to 2004, and in 2014 began an administrative role at the general curia of the Jesuits in Rome.

Sosa has offered controversial comments about Satan in the past. In 2017, he told El Mundo that “we have formed symbolic figures such as the Devil to express evil.”

After his 2017 remark generated controversy, a spokesman for Sosa told the Catholic Herald that “like all Catholics, Father Sosa professes and teaches what the Church professes and teaches. He does not hold a set of beliefs separate from what is contained in the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”