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Bishop remembers slain journalists in Mexico on feast day of their patron saint

null / Microgen/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

On the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, Bishop Francisco Javier Acero, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico, remembered and asked for prayers for the members of the media who have been murdered in Mexico and for their families.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, between 2000 and 2018, a total of 134 journalists were murdered and 20 have been forcibly disappeared.

The Mexican Bishops’ Conference stated in a video calling for a day of prayer for the victims on Jan. 15 that in the last 10 years “at least 80 journalists have been murdered in Mexico for practicing their profession despite pressure from civil society and international organizations.” 

In a video released by the Archdiocese of Mexico, Acero said that “in Mexico, defending the truth costs your life.”

“We’re not talking about Middle Eastern countries, no, no, we’re talking about our real Mexico. Defending the truth costs your life,” he stressed.

In 2022, 11 journalists were murdered in Mexico. In a report published in early December 2022, the international organization Reporters Without Borders considered the country to be the most dangerous place to practice journalism in the world, worse than Ukraine, Haiti, Syria, Yemen, and Brazil.

In his video message, a segment of the Jan. 23 live broadcast of “The Voice of the Bishop” program, Acero asked that before turning in for the night, “we pray an Our Father for all the journalists who defend human rights but especially for the families of these 11 journalists who gave up their lives to defend the truth.”

Given the prevalence of organized crime, common criminality, and corruption among politicians it is hard to say who is behind the killings.

Bishop Acero, originally from Spain, came to Mexico 20 years ago and is a naturalized Mexican citizen.

Pope Francis named him an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico in November 2022.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Two Florida residents indicted for vandalizing pro-life pregnancy centers

A pro-life pregnancy center in Hollywood, Florida, was defaced with pro-abortion graffiti over Memorial Day Weekend 2022. / Courtesy of Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Department of Justice on Tuesday indicted two suspects accused of vandalizing three pro-life pregnancy centers in Florida in June 2022 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

The indictment against the two Floridians, 27-year-old Caleb Freestone and 23-year-old Amber Smith-Stewart, accuses them of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which is also known as the FACE Act. The indictment alleges that their actions amount to a conspiracy to prevent the employees from providing services. They could face up to 12 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and up to $350,000 in fines.

Pro-life pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, provide free services and resources to pregnant women, including alternatives to abortion.

LifeChoice Pregnancy Center, a pro-life pregnancy center based in Winter Haven, was spray-painted with several threatening messages including “YOUR TIME IS UP!!,” “WE’RE COMING for U,” “if abortions aren’t safe than niether [sic] are you,” and “We are everywhere.” The facility was unavailable for comment by the time of publication. Two other facilities were allegedly targeted: one in Hollywood and one in Hialeah.

The indictment alleges that the messages were threats of force to intimidate and interfere with the employees at the facilities because of the reproductive health services they provide. It alleges that the two Floridians intentionally damaged and destroyed the facility’s property because of the reproductive health services they provide. Both of those actions violate the FACE Act.

The act became law in the 1990s to establish special protections for reproductive health centers, including pro-life facilities and abortion facilities. It established certain federal penalties for threatening, damaging, and obstructing conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with a person’s right to obtain or provide reproductive care.

According to the DOJ, the FBI Tampa Field Office carried out the investigation with help from the Miami Police Department. 

Some pro-life activists were grateful for the indictment but expressed frustration about the length of time it took to indict the suspects and the lack of arrests in other attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers throughout the country.  

The indictments represent the first suspects known to have been arrested in attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers since a rash of incidents of vandalism began in 2022.

Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life, told CNA that she is pleased with the indictment. 

“It took way too long … and I know there’s way more out there [who] need to be arrested,” Bell said. 

CNA has independently tracked and confirmed nearly 60 attacks nationwide on pro-life pregnancy centers since May 2022. This includes a significant number of threatening messages through vandalism and several fires. One pro-life center in Wisconsin was firebombed. The organization also claimed that the attacks are underreported because the pro-life centers are trying to protect their clients.

Bell said those who are attacking pro-life centers should be brought to justice and expressed a concern that the attacks “have not been a priority” for the DOJ. Even though the firebombing of the Wisconsin pro-life pregnancy center took place in May, she said there have not yet been any arrests.  

“That’s unheard of with the technology our [law enforcement] has,” Bell added.  

On Jan. 11, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the recent attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), passed the chamber 222-209, with most Republicans supporting the measure and most Democrats opposing it.  

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, issued a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the DOJ for targeting pro-life Americans.

“These charges are good first steps, but the fight for equal justice is far from over,” the statement read. 

“With a new House GOP majority positioned to exercise its oversight powers, we are finally beginning to see some accountability. Yet the Justice Department continues to target the people of states that protect unborn children and their mothers. Congressional Democrats had the opportunity to condemn the violence and all but three refused, and again we have had to call on the White House to stop vilifying pro-life Americans. The pro-life movement is keeping a watchful eye on this administration and we will not be silent in the face of violence and intimidation.” 

Today, Pennsylvania resident and pro-life advocate Mark Houck appeared in court, where he faces federal charges for allegedly violating the FACE Act. The charges stem from an incident that took place during a protest at an abortion clinic. Houck was arrested a year later by the FBI in a raid of his home as his family looked on.

Pro-life leader and Catholic father of 7 Mark Houck goes to trial: an emotional first day

Mark Houck and his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, prior to entering the federal court house in Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 2023. / Credit: Thomas More Society/Vimeo

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 25, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The prosecution and defense gave fiery opening statements this morning in the federal government’s case against pro-life advocate and Catholic father of seven Mark Houck as his family, seated behind him, reacted in what was an emotional first day of the trial.

The trial, held in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, comes about four months after Houck was arrested at his home in front of his terrified wife and children by federal agents last September, following a federal indictment alleging that he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” 

Prosecutor Ashley Martin of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleged in her opening statement that Houck was the aggressor and instigator in an incident involving an abortion clinic escort more than one year ago.

The allegations relate to an incident that occurred at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved a clinic patient escort during a verbal altercation while a then 72-year-old man, Bruce Love, was attempting to lead clients inside the clinic.

Martin referred to Houck as a “6-foot-tall, 200-pound, muscular” man who was shouting at Love and assaulted him, alleging that Houck took two hands, placed them on Love’s chest and shoved him to the ground in one incident.

She said that video evidence, which has no sound, corroborates her claim. She did not say what Houck was shouting about. The one-minute video of the incident, which was shown Wednesday in court, shows Houck pushing Love to the ground after Love approaches Houck.

Martin alleged that another altercation between the men occurred first, in which Houck was attempting to talk to two women and elbowed Love after the abortion clinic escort allegedly told the women that they didn’t have to talk to Houck.

That allegation could not be corroborated by video evidence because the footage was apparently not saved by Planned Parenthood, according to Faiz Malik, vice president of people and culture for Planned Parenthood Keystone, who was one of the prosecution’s witnesses who appeared in court. Malik oversees security at the clinic where the incident occurred.

Martin said to the jury that this case is “not about pro-choice, it’s not about pro-life, it’s not about activism, it’s not about politics.”

“Politics just doesn’t come into the equation here,” she added. 

Following the prosecution’s argument, one of Houck’s daughters could be seen crying in the arms of her mother. The room was filled with supporters for Houck, several of whom could be seen praying the rosary.

The defense argued that the charges against Houck should never have made it to federal court. 

Defense attorney Brian McMonagle of the law firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis, said in his opening statement that “we’re not in state court here.”

“This is not a state court prosecution for assault,” he said, adding that “they made a federal case out of a shove.” 

In order to fit the criteria laid out in the FACE Act, McMonagle told the jury that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Houck used force, intentionally injured or attempted to injure Love, and that he did it because Love was providing reproductive health services.

“They’ve got to prove motive,” he said.

McMonagle said that Houck “pushed Love because he refused to stop degrading him in front of his son and refused to leave them alone.” He said that Houck intentionally positioned himself a distance away from the entrance to the clinic while sidewalk counseling with his then 12-year-old son, Mark Jr.

Referring to the first incident, McMonagle said that Love approached Houck from behind while Houck was speaking with a woman who left Planned Parenthood and blocked him “like he’s setting a pick in a basketball game.”

He said that Houck shouted at Love, asked him what he was doing, and then returned to the street corner to pray. McMonagle said that Love left Planned Parenthood a short while after and approached Houck and his son. According to McMonagle, Love harassed them, saying things to the boy such as “You’re dad’s a bad guy” and “Your dad doesn’t like women.”

He said Houck told Love several times to return to the clinic and stop harassing his son. He then said that Love began to speak to Houck’s son again after walking away briefly. There is a video of the altercation, but again, there is no sound. The video shows both Love approaching Houck’s location on the street corner and Houck pushing him to the ground. 

McMonagle maintained that Houck’s push was to defend his son and that “Houck’s intentions were not to injure anybody.”

“His motive that day was pure and simple. His hope was that he might be able to touch one heart that day, so he could save a second heart,” he said of Houck’s sidewalk ministry work.

As part of Houck’s Catholic apostolate “The King’s Men,” he does sidewalk counseling for women who are considering abortion.

Two of the prosecution’s witnesses took the stand on Wednesday: Malik and Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Much of the questioning of the witnesses focused on the responsibilities of Planned Parenthood clinic escorts and whether Love had violated any of the company’s clinic escort policies.

Steinberg said she didn’t have an opinion on whether Love broke any policies, however, Love was removed from being a volunteer at the clinic temporarily, according to Malik. He said he asked Love to refrain from volunteering at the clinic until all litigation with Houck had concluded.

Malik said that Planned Parenthood has a “nonengagement” policy that directs the volunteer escorts to steer clear of and refrain from speaking to or engaging with protestors who may be in the vicinity surrounding the clinic.

Malik also affirmed that he told Love that he needed to stop engaging with protesters. It’s unclear if that was before or after the incident.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

Pope Francis decries German Synodal Way as ‘neither helpful nor serious’

Cardinal Reinhard Marx and fellow bishops from Germany meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022 / Vatican Media

CNA Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 15:41 pm (CNA).

In an interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis decried the German Synodal Way as elitist, unhelpful, and running the risk of bringing ideological harm to Church processes.

“The German experience does not help,” the pontiff told Associated Press when asked about the controversial process, explaining that dialogue should involve “all the people of God.”

The 86-year-old pontiff contrasted the German event, which is not a synod, with the universal Church’s recently extended Synod on Synodality.

Francis said on Tuesday that the global synod’s aim was to “help this more elitist (German) path so that it does not end badly in some way, but so is also integrated into the Church.”

While Pope Francis did not delve into details of the demands made in Germany, he plainly described the Synodal Way as perilous.

“Here the danger is that something very, very ideological trickles in. When ideology gets involved in church processes, the Holy Spirit goes home, because ideology overcomes the Holy Spirit,” he said in the wide-ranging interview that also included remarks about the Church’s stance on homosexuality, the loss of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — and his health.

Since its launch by Cardinal Reinhard Marx in 2019, the German Synodal Way has courted controversy

Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to Church teaching on homosexual acts, prompting accusations of heresy and fears of schism.

Concerns have been publicly raised by Church leaders from Poland, the Nordic countries, and around the world.

Fears of a “dirty schism” from Germany have increased over the past few months, as organizers of the Synodal Way in November refused a moratorium on the process suggested by the Vatican.

In his interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis insisted: “Always try to unite.”

Just two days earlier, on Monday, the latest Vatican intervention against the Synodal Way revealed that even participants in the process are anything but united: Five German bishops, it was reported, had asked Rome to clarify concerns over a synodal council.

Participants of the German Synodal Way in September 2022 voted to create such a controlling body that would permanently oversee the Church in Germany.

The Vatican stated in a letter published Jan. 23 that the Germans are not authorized to install a permanent synodal council to oversee the Church in Germany. The missive was formally approved by Pope Francis.

Despite all these interventions, the Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg” in German, sometimes translated as the Synodal Path — is currently still expected to continue as planned by its organizers. The next (and so far final) synodal assembly is scheduled to take place in Frankfurt in March.

Japanese prime minister vows to take action on declining birthrate

null / Unsplash.

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 25, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently warned that Japan’s birthrate — one of the lowest in the world — is not sustainable and that the ongoing population decline in the country poses an urgent risk to Japanese society. 

“Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” Kishida said in Monday’s speech before the newly opened session of Parliament. 

Kishida, a conservative leader who took office in 2021, said he intends to launch a new government agency in April to support children and families. Kishida said he wants the government to double its spending on child-related programs.

“Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed,” he said, as reported by The Guardian.

Japan, a nation of 125 million people, has the world’s second-highest proportion of people aged 65 and over, according to World Bank data. The only country with a higher proportion of elderly people is Monaco, a tiny city-state. Japan also has an extremely high life expectancy and has struggled as a nation to care for its growing elderly population. 

The prime minister noted that only 800,000 births were recorded in the country last year, a low figure that Japan was previously not projected to reach until 2030. It’s also the lowest figure recorded since Japan began compiling statistics on births in 1899.

According to Asia News, a Catholic news site, Kishida has endorsed direct economic support to families with dependent children, the strengthening of child care services, and the reform of Japanese working habits to allow working parents a better work-life balance. 

Specific proposals to address the demographic crisis are being drawn up by a task force led by Masanobu Ogura, the government minister in charge of implementing them. The members plan to come up with measures by the end of March so they can be included in the economic and fiscal policy document that is published every year in June, Asia News reported. 

The archbishop of Tokyo, Isao Kikuchi, spoke with CNA in late 2019 about Japan’s “birth rate crisis.” He said the ongoing collapse in the national population has already negatively affected all sectors of Japanese society.

“Population decline due to the low birth rate and the aging population is not just a problem for the Church but a problem for the entire Japanese society,” Kikuchi said. 

While couples in Japan are financially rewarded, to an extent, for creating larger families, Kikuchi said at the time that the government has been unable to give young Japanese a sufficient push to make them comfortable with the traditional idea of family-making.

He also said Japan’s ruthless working culture, combined with a heavy expectation on children to be busy with extracurriculars, can impede the practice of faith in Japanese households. 

“In addition, such a collapse in the traditional Japanese family system has caused marriages to break down, with single mothers raising their children in poverty,” the archbishop said.

Japan is not the only Asian country facing a demographic crisis — China, the world’s most populous nation, registered a population decline in 2022 for the first time in nearly six decades. 

Alabama governor adds another layer of protection to religious freedom

null / Credit: Pexels

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed an executive order Friday to protect religious freedom in the state. 

The executive order ensures the enforcement of the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment. 

Passed by the state Legislature in 1998, the amendment to the state constitution guarantees the freedom from government coercion in violation of one’s religion to all individuals and businesses holding state licenses as well as all state contractors, employees, and grant and benefits recipients. 

“As I have promised, under my watch, our state government will always reflect the values of our people,” Ivey, who has served as governor since 2017, said. “Religious freedom is the cornerstone of the American way of life, and as governor, I will always protect the rights of Alabamians and ensure they are free to exercise their beliefs as provided in the Constitution.”

Donald Carson, communications director for the Diocese of Birmingham, applauded the governor’s action. 

“Catholics in the Diocese of Birmingham, which covers central and northern Alabama, are blessed to live and work in this state with such strong affirmation of religious freedom,” Carson told CNA.

Religious Liberty in the States, a database on freedom of religion in the U.S. maintained by the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy, ranked Alabama as the 12th best for religious freedom in 2022. One of the determining factors in the organization’s measure was the existence of Alabama’s religious freedom amendment. 

Twenty-three states have passed state religious freedom amendments since the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was found unconstitutional in application to states by a federal court in 1997.

According to Becket, a religious liberty law firm, state RFRAs “level the playing field in court for people of deeply held religious convictions.”

RFRAs are designed to protect all religious minorities, Becket states on its website. The act itself was originally created, Becket points out, after Oregon state denied unemployment benefits to Native American counselors who were fired for using peyote in their religious ceremonies.​​ 

On Oct. 15, 2019, a federal district court in Texas ruled that the “transgender mandate” in the Affordable Care Act violated the federal RFRA. In his decision, Judge Reed O’Connor said that providers and insurers’ refusal to perform or pay for transgender procedures was an exercise of their religious freedom.

And in a similar case, Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra, on Aug. 26, 2022, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling that found the Department of Health and Human Services in violation of the RFRA. The decision protects the religious freedom of doctors and hospitals to care for patients in accordance with their professional judgment and religious beliefs.

Pope Francis offers condolences for Monterey Park shooting

A woman takes a closer look at the names of 11 people killed in a mass shooting written on crosses and displayed during a candlelight vigil in front of the City Hall in Monterey Park, California, on Jan. 24, 2023. / Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has offered his condolences after 11 people were killed in a shooting at a Los Angeles dance hall, one of two deadly mass shootings in California this week.

The pope sent a condolence telegram to Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles on Jan. 25 expressing his sadness and assuring his spiritual closeness to “those affected by this tragedy.”

A gunman opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, on Saturday night amid celebrations of the Lunar New Year. It was the worst massacre in Los Angeles county history, according to the Associated Press.

The LA County Coroner Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victims on Tuesday as Xiujuan Yu, 57; Hongying Jian, 62; Lilian Li, 63; Mymy Nhan, 65; Muoi Dai Ung, 67; Diana Man Ling Tom, 70; Wen-Tau Yu, 64; Valentino Marcos Alvero, 68; Ming Wei Ma, 72; Yu-Lun Kao, 72; and Chia Ling Yau, 76.

“His Holiness joins the entire community in commending the souls of those who died to almighty God’s loving mercy and he implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved,” the papal telegram said.

Sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, it said: “As a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord, the Holy Father sends his blessing.”

Two days after the shooting in Monterey Park, seven people were killed in a mass shooting in northern California’s Half Moon Bay, which authorities suspect was a workplace grievance at a mushroom farm.

In an interview following the back-to-back shootings, Pope Francis was asked about the large number of weapons in the U.S. and the frequency of mass shootings.

“I say when you have to defend yourself, all that’s left is to have the elements to defend yourself. Another thing is how that need to defend oneself lengthens, lengthens, and becomes a habit,” the pope told AP in an interview published on Jan. 25.

“Instead of making the effort to help us live, we make the effort to help us kill,” he added.

Catholic bishops in California have also responded to the shootings. Archbishop Gomez offered prayers for the victims and their loved ones and asked God to “grant wisdom and prudence to law enforcement and public officials working to make sense of the violence and keep our communities safe.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said: “The recent shootings in Monterey Park and now in Half Moon Bay remind us of how fragile human life is, but also how precious human life is.”

“We must never take human life for granted. We must never take out our aggressions and our frustrations on others, especially in any form of violence.”

Ukrainian interfaith group’s efforts a ‘concrete testimony of peace,’ Pope Francis says

Pope Francis meets with the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations on Jan. 25, 2023, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Meeting with an interfaith group representing Ukrainian churches and religious organizations today in Rome, Pope Francis expressed his support, calling their efforts a “concrete testimony of peace in a country suffering from war.”

The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) consists of 16 churches and organizations, including the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

Since the start of Ukraine’s war with Russia, UCCRO has been leading efforts to help alleviate the suffering within the country.

Now, almost a year since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the war has resulted in nearly 18,000 Ukrainian civilians killed or injured, according to a Jan. 2 estimate by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“I give thanks to God because this meeting enables me, in some way, to have close contact with the Ukrainian people, who have always been present in my prayers during these months,” Francis told the delegation.

The pope praised the interreligious nature of the organization, calling it “a grace from God that all these initiatives are decided and carried out together, as brothers.”

“I am with you in defending the rights of the faithful of every religious community,” Francis said, “especially those who suffer abuse and persecution. I am with you in your efforts to assist prisoners and those detained for political reasons. I encourage your efforts to reestablish respect by all for the principles and norms of international law and fundamental human rights.”

Francis expressed his belief that UCCRO’s interfaith efforts prepare Ukraine for a future of peace. 

“Your action, carried out with tenacity and courage, effectively prepares for tomorrow, a tomorrow of peace,” the pope said.

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict nears a year in length, a spokesman for the Russian government said on Monday that peace negotiations “are now impossible since there are no conditions for them.” 

Pope Francis: ‘I had nothing to do’ with Father Marko Rupnik case

Father Marko Rupnik, SJ, in an interview with EWTN in 2020. / EWTN

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 11:16 am (CNA).

For the first time, Pope Francis has commented publicly about the scandal surrounding Father Marko Rupnik, denying he intervened to help his fellow Jesuit avoid punishment for the alleged sexual abuse of women in a religious community in Slovenia.

Speaking to the Associated Press Jan. 24 in a headline-grabbing interview published Wednesday that covered a wide range of topics, the pope said his involvement in the case was strictly procedural: assigning the case to the same tribunal that had earlier reviewed the automatic excommunication Rupnik incurred by absolving in confession a woman with whom he had sex.

After Rupnik repented the excommunication was lifted later the same month. The tribunal wound up dropping the second case because the statute of limitations had expired.

Francis explained that he thought it best to have the second case “continue with the normal court, because, if not, procedural paths are divided and everything gets muddled up.”

He added: “So I had nothing to do with this.”

The first complaints against Rupnik, a well-known Jesuit artist, became public in early December after Italian websites published stories quoting unnamed women who came in contact with Rupnik in the Loyola Community in Slovenia with which he was connected, accusing him of sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse.

Pope Francis, who was reportedly close to Rupnik, told the AP he was shocked by the allegations.

“For me, it was a surprise, really. This, a person, an artist of this level — for me was a big surprise, and a wound.”

While the abuse allegedly took place in the 1980s and early 1990s — beyond the Vatican’s statute of limitations for abuse cases involving adult victims — questions persist about why the statute wasn’t waived, as is routinely done in cases involving minors.

Francis told the AP he “always” waives the statute of limitations for cases involving minors and “vulnerable adults,” but said he is inclined to uphold traditional legal guarantees with cases involving others.

Using a Spanish term that implies a no-holds-barred approach, Francis told the AP his approach was: “No loose reins with minors, the reins are pulled pretty tight.”

Francis said he wanted more transparency in how cases are handled, but he suggested that is difficult to do in an institution that in the past has handled such cases privately.

“It’s what I want,” the pope said. “And with transparency comes a very nice thing, which is shame. Shame is a grace.”

Pope Francis unpacks Jesus’ good news: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled’

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 25, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 11:01 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Christians Wednesday that if they want to understand Jesus they should pay close attention to the “good news” he brings in his sermon in the Nazareth synagogue when he says he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecy.

At his weekly public audience Jan. 25, the pope said that when Jesus enters the synagogue and reads the passage from Isaiah he “then surprises everyone with a very short ‘sermon’ of just one sentence, just one sentence. And he speaks thus, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:21).”

“This means that for Jesus that prophetic passage contains the essence of what he wants to say about himself. So, whenever we talk about Jesus, we should go back to that first announcement of his,” the pope said.

The Holy Father then proceeded to break down the following passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to release the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).

The pope explained that the teachings or “proclamation” Jesus delivered that day can be distilled into five essential points that make up the Gospel or “good news”: joy, deliverance, light, healing, and wonder.

1. Joy

The “good news to the poor,” is “a proclamation of gladness,” the pope said. 

“One cannot speak of Jesus without joy, because faith is a wonderful love story to be shared. Bearing witness to Jesus, doing something for others in his name, to have received ‘between the lines’ of one’s life, so beautiful a gift that no words suffice to express it,” he said.

Joy is also the mark of the Christian faith, he said, adding: “When joy is lacking, the Gospel does not come through.”

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 25, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 25, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

2. Deliverance

Pope Franics explained that when Jesus says he was sent to “release the captives” it means “that one who proclaims God cannot proselytize, no, cannot pressure others, no, but relieve them: not impose burdens, but take them away; bearing peace, not bearing guilt.

“Those who witness to Christ show the beauty of the goal rather than the toil of the journey,” he said.

3. Light

Referring to Isaiah’s prophecy that one would come to “bring sight to the blind,” the pope noted that the restoration of sight is something new that came with Christ.

“It is striking that throughout the Bible, before Christ, the healing of a blind man never appears, never. It was indeed a promised sign that would come with the Messiah,” he said.

The light that Christ brings, he said, is one of a relationship with God.

“He brings us the light of sonship: He is the beloved Son of the Father, living forever; with him we too are children of God loved forever, despite our mistakes and faults,” the pope said.

4. Healing

Pope Francis devoted the majority of his catechesis to the subject of “healing,” particularly healing from guilt and the burdens of sin.

“Jesus says he came ‘to set at liberty those who are oppressed,’” the pope said. 

“The oppressed are those in life who feel crushed by something that happens: sickness, labors, burdens on the heart, guilt, mistakes, vices, sins.” 

“We think of the sense of guilt, for example. How many of us have suffered this?” the pope asked. 

“But the good news is that with Jesus, this ancient evil, sin, which seems invincible, no longer has the last word,” he said.

“Those who carry burdens need a caress for the past. So many times we hear, ‘But I would need to heal my past,’” he said.

“Brothers, sisters, do not forget: God forgets everything. How so? Yes, he forgets all our sins. That he forgets. That’s why he has no memory. God forgives everything because he forgets our sins. Only he wants us to draw near to the Lord and he forgives us everything,” the pope continued.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 25, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 25, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

5. Wonder

When Jesus says he came “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19), the pope explained, he was declaring a “jubilee” —  but “not a scheduled jubilee” such as we have today. 

“Christ is the Jubilee of every day, every hour, drawing you near, to caress you, to forgive you,” he said.

This new reality or “grace” should be received with an attitude of wonder, he said. 

“The proclamation of Jesus must always bring the amazement of grace. This amazement… ‘No, I can’t believe it! I have been forgiven.’ But this is how great our God is. Because it is not we who do great things, but rather the grace of the Lord who, even through us, accomplishes unexpected things. 

“And these are the surprises of God. God is the master of surprises. He always surprises us, is always waiting, waits for us. We arrive, and he has been expecting us. Always. The Gospel comes with a sense of wonder and newness that has a name: Jesus.”

The pope added that the “good news” Jesus shares in his proclamation is addressed to “the poor” and that all Christians must become poor to encounter Christ.

“You have to overcome any pretense of self-sufficiency in order to understand oneself to be in need of grace, and to always be in need of him. 

“If someone tells me, ‘Father, what is the shortest way to encounter Jesus?’ Be needy. Be needy for grace, needy for forgiveness, be needy for joy. And he will draw near to you,” the pope said in concluding his catechesis.

The pope’s general audience message was the third in a new weekly series of catechesis, or teachings, on evangelization and apostolic zeal.

Following his remarks, the Holy Father noted that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day will be observed Jan. 27. 

“In remembrance of that extermination of millions of Jewish people and people of other faiths that must neither be forgotten nor denied. There can be no sustained commitment to building fraternity together without first dispelling the roots of hatred and violence that fueled the horror of the Holocaust,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded with a prayer for Ukraine.

“In our thoughts and prayers, may the tormented Ukraine, so much afflicted, not be absent,” he said. “This morning I had a meeting with the leaders of the different confessions of faith that are in Ukraine — all united — and they told me about the pain of that people. Let us never forget, every day, to pray for definitive peace in Ukraine.”