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Taiwan president writes to Pope Francis about ‘preserving regional security’ with China

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a press conference at the presidential office in Taipei on Dec. 27, 2022. / Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has written a letter to Pope Francis underlining the importance of maintaining peace with China and a commitment to the island’s sovereign democracy.

“The war that erupted between Russia and Ukraine last February has brought home to humanity just how valuable peace is,” Tsai wrote in a letter to the pope published by her office on Jan. 23.

“Preserving regional security has become a key consensus shared by national leaders.”

Tsai sent the letter in response to Pope Francis’ message for the 2023 World Day of Peace, the pope’s annual letter sent to all foreign governments around the world to mark the new year.

The president of Taiwan, formally called the Republic of China (ROC), cited a speech that she gave last October following a dramatic rise in tensions between Beijing and Taipei over the summer.

“In my 2022 National Day address, I underscored that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are the basis for the development of cross-strait relations and that armed confrontation is absolutely not an option,” Tsai said.

“I made clear that only by respecting the commitment of the Taiwanese people to our sovereignty, democracy, and freedom can there be a foundation for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait.”

Vatican City State is the only remaining country in Europe that recognizes Taiwan as a country.

Taiwan, an island less than 110 miles off the coast of China with a population of more than 23 million people, has maintained a vibrant democracy with robust civil liberties despite increased pressure from Beijing regarding the island’s status.

The Holy See has had formal diplomatic relations with the ROC since 1922, while the Church has not had an official diplomatic presence on the mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC) since it was officially expelled by Beijing in 1951.

Only 14 states worldwide still have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, among them Guatemala, Haiti, and Paraguay. The Chinese Communist Party government in mainland China views Taiwan as a rebel province and has put pressure on countries to cut diplomatic ties with the island.

Amid concern over what a Vatican decision to renew its 2018 provisional accord with Beijing would mean for the Holy See’s diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in 2020 that it had received assurances from the Vatican regarding the renewal of the Vatican-China deal.

Tsai, the first female president of Taiwan, noted that last year marked the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of China and the Holy See.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,”  she said.

“Taiwan aspires to serve as a light in the world and will work closely with the Holy See to create a society of greater justice and peace for humanity.”

Jesuits ask Father Marko Rupnik to stay close to Rome during ‘ongoing preliminary inquiries’

Father Marko Rupnik / Credit: Centroaletti, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 10:47 am (CNA).

The Society of Jesus has asked Father Marko Rupnik to stay close to Rome as more alleged victims of the Jesuit priest and artist go public with their stories.

Father Johan Verschueren, SJ, this week told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that he had asked Rupnik “not to leave Lazio,” the Italian region where Rome is located.

Verschueren is the major superior for the international houses of the Jesuits. It is still unclear whether Verschueren or the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Arturo Sosa, is Rupnik’s direct superior.

Rupnik, originally from Slovenia, has been accused of the sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse of women from a religious community with which he was formerly connected.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. An investigation into the claims was dropped by the Vatican in October 2022 due to the statute of limitations.

Responding to ACI Prensa by email, Verschueren said he asked the 68-year-old Rupnik to remain in Lazio “in order to be available for some ongoing preliminary inquiries” related to new information and new allegations the Jesuits have received.

In mid-December, the Jesuits said they had a few months prior set up a team of people to deal with abuse-related issues and asked victims of the priest to report abuse complaints to them.

At the beginning of January, the news site The Daily Compass reported that Rupnik was living in a monastery.

Asked on Jan. 23 where Rupnik was and if it was possible he was living outside of Italy, Verschueren said this “would surprise me greatly.”

Verschueren said the Jesuits may release further information about the new inquiries into Rupnik in February.

The first complaints against Rupnik became public in early December after Italian websites published stories with reports that Rupnik had abused consecrated women in the Loyola Community.

In a statement dated Dec. 2, 2022, the Jesuits said the order had put Rupnik under restrictions for a complaint received in 2021.

The Jesuits later confirmed that Rupnik had incurred excommunication “latae sententiae” for absolving an accomplice in confession of a sin against the Sixth Commandment. The excommunication was lifted by the Vatican in May 2020, the same month it had been officially declared.

In the nearly two months since then, reports of alleged abuse by Rupnik with then-young women under his spiritual guidance have continued to be published under aliases.

Italian newspaper Il Domani published Monday an interview with another alleged victim of Rupnik who shares that she was pressured by the priest to join the Loyola Community at the age of 23.

The woman shared explicit details of the sexual acts Rupnik subjected her to over several years in her early 20s and the spiritual manipulation and grooming behavior that started as early as her mid-teens.

The woman claimed that in 1988, one year after she entered the Loyola Community, she was sent by Rupnik to stay with another woman formerly connected to the community, then living in southern Italy, who touched her sexually in order to teach her how to engage in a “threesome.”

The alleged victim said she was so “blocked” and embarrassed that one evening the friend of Rupnik called him and told him that “there was nothing to do with me.”

From that point onward, she said, “Father Rupnik totally changed his attitude toward me and began to treat me very badly: I was exploited, ignored, and marginalized in the community.”

She said she left the community at the age of 35.

Until the end of December, Rupnik was listed as the leader of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in Loreto, Italy, in mid-February.

The leader of the Feb. 13–17 retreat for priests will now be Father Ivan Bresciani, SJ, also from Slovenia and the vice director of the Centro Aletti, an artistic and theological center in Rome founded by Rupnik.

Rupnik was removed as the director of the Centro Aletti in May 2020, according to the Jesuits.

Rupnik was the creator of the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families, and for more than 30 years he has designed mosaic artworks for chapels, churches, and shrines around the world, including inside the Vatican.

In March 2020, Rupnik preached the first Lenten sermon for the pope and the Roman Curia at the Vatican.

Pope Francis: Amid polarization in Church, we are called to speak truth with charity

Pope Francis delivers the Angelus address on Jan. 22, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 08:42 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has urged Christians to “speak the truth and to do so with charity” amid polarization and divisions within the Church.

In his message for the World Day of Social Communications on Jan. 24, the pope said that everyone has the responsibility to “communicate truth with charity” in a time “marked by polarizations and contrasts — to which unfortunately not even the ecclesial community is immune.”

“We should not be afraid of proclaiming the truth, even if it is at times uncomfortable, but of doing so without charity, without heart,” Pope Francis said.

“Because ‘the Christian’s programme’ — as Benedict XVI wrote — ‘is “a heart which sees,”’” he added, quoting Benedict’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

Pope Francis underlined that this call to speak the truth from the heart “radically challenges the times in which we are living” in which the truth can be exploited with disinformation. He said that “it is necessary to purify one’s heart” to see clearly and bear good fruit in communication.

“Christians in particular are continually urged to keep our tongue from evil (cf. Ps 34:13), because as Scripture teaches us, with the same tongue we can bless the Lord and curse men and women who were made in the likeness of God (cf. Jas 3:9),” he wrote.

“No evil word should come from our mouths, but rather ‘only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear’ (Eph 4:29).”

The pope’s message was released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists.

“A brilliant intellectual, fruitful writer and profound theologian, Francis de Sales was bishop of Geneva at the beginning of the 17th century during difficult years marked by heated disputes with Calvinists,” he said.

“His meek attitude, humanity, and willingness to dialogue patiently with everyone, especially with those who disagreed with him, made him an extraordinary witness of God’s merciful love.”

Pope Francis recalled that 2023 will mark the centenary of Pope Pius XI’s proclamation of St. Francis de Sales as the patron of Catholic journalists in the encyclical Rerum Omnium Perturbationem.

He noted how the saint’s words “heart speaks to heart” have inspired many generations of Christians, including St. John Henry Newman, who chose it as his motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur.”

St. Francis de Sales understood communication as “a reflection of the soul,” rather than as “a marketing strategy,” the pope said.

“One of his convictions was, ‘In order to speak well, it is enough to love well,’” he said. “For St. Francis de Sales, precisely ‘in the heart and through the heart, there comes about a subtle, intense and unifying process in which we come to know God.’”

Pope Francis said that he dreams of “an ecclesial communication that knows how to let itself be guided by the Holy Spirit … that knows how to find new ways and means for the wonderful proclamation it is called to deliver in the third millennium.”

Speaking of the Church’s ongoing “synodal process,” the pope said that there is a pressing need in the Church for “listening without prejudice” and for communication that is “balm on wounds and that shines light on the journey of our brothers and sisters.”

The pope added that with the war in Ukraine it is urgent to reject hostile forms of communication in favor of “paths that allow for dialogue and reconciliation in places where hatred and enmity rage.”

“It is terrifying to hear how easily words calling for the destruction of people and territories are spoken. Words, unfortunately, that often turn into warlike actions of heinous violence,” he said.

“This is why all belligerent rhetoric must be rejected, as well as every form of propaganda that manipulates the truth, disfiguring it for ideological ends. Instead, what must be promoted is a form of communication that helps create the conditions to resolve controversies between peoples.”

Pope Francis concluded his message, signed in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on Jan. 24, with a short prayer:

“May the Lord Jesus, the pure Word poured out from the heart of the Father, help us to make our communication clear, open, and heartfelt. May the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, help us listen to the beating of hearts, to rediscover ourselves as brothers and sisters, and to disarm the hostility that divides. May the Lord Jesus, the Word of truth and love, help us speak the truth in charity, so that we may feel like protectors of one another.”

Pelosi reportedly arranged an ‘exorcism’ of her home. Can any Catholic priest do this?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, following the final vote on the Respect for Marriage Act in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2022. / Credit: PBS NewsHour screenshot via YouTube

Denver, Colo., Jan 23, 2023 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

After someone broke into her house and violently attacked her husband, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought the services of a priest to perform an “exorcism” of the couple’s San Francisco home, her daughter told the New York Times.

“I think that weighed really heavy on her soul. I think she felt really guilty. I think that really broke her,” Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra Pelosi told opinion columnist Maureen Dowd. “Over Thanksgiving, she had priests coming, trying to have an exorcism of the house and having prayer services.”

Pelosi’s office did not respond to CNA’s request for comment by publication. According to the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Washington, any priest can “expel demons” from a house.

“A priest can only conduct a solemn exorcism of a person with the direct permission of his bishop,” Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, who is also a research associate professor at the Catholic University of America, told CNA Jan. 23. 

“However, to expel demons from a place does not require any special faculties for a priest. As with any ministry of a priest, discretion and protecting the confidentiality of his people involved is expected and important,” Rossetti said.

The alleged assailant, David DePape, has pleaded not guilty to multiple state and federal charges, including assault and attempted murder. According to friends and neighbors, he had become enmeshed in internet conspiracy theories and political extremism, CNN reported. In October 2022 he reportedly entered the Pelosi home in search of then Speaker Pelosi in a plan to kidnap her but attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi, instead, causing a fractured skull and severe injuries to his arm and hands.

Pelosi told the New York Times she could not imagine seeing her home become “a crime scene.”

“This has been tough. It’s going to be about three or four more months before he’s really back to normal,” she said.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco, in which the Pelosis reside, said it was “unaware” of the exorcism.

“We would respect the privacy of families with regard to exorcisms and house blessings,” Peter Marlow, executive director for communications and media, told CNA Monday.

“Exorcisms and house blessings are not activities we would promote to the media,” he said. “If a parishioner is interested in a house blessing, they should contact a priest at their parish.

Marlow referred CNA to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ discussion of exorcisms on its website. While “major exorcisms” are conducted on a person by a bishop or priest with the special permission of the local ordinary, “minor exorcisms” are used in the rite of baptism or in a series of prayers that may be used by the faithful, including “any demonic influence on places and things in particular.”

Rossetti told CNA that the exorcism of a place is “specifically used when there is a demonic infestation.”

“This typically happens when evil actions have been done in a place,” he said. “Some of the behaviors that we have found to result in a demonic infestation are homicides, drug dealing, abortions, sex trafficking, child abuse, and occult practices such as Satanism or witchcraft.” 

Father Vincent Lampert, exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, described to the New York Post a possible exorcism rite.

“It would be the recitation of a particular prayer, inviting the presence of God back into the house, casting out any presence of evil that may be there,” he said. “Then the house would be blessed with holy water, reminding us of our new life in Christ and the fact that we need not fear any evil, because recognizing that Christ is dwelling with us.”

Lampert said he gets “thousands” of requests for such prayers each year.

In the wake of the attack on Pelosi’s husband, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco asked for people to join him in prayer “for the swift recovery of Paul Pelosi and comfort for his wife and family, too.” 

Earlier last year, Cordileone publicly rebuked Rep. Pelosi because of her staunch support for abortion, warning that it causes scandal and endangers her soul.

“I asked her to repudiate this position or else refrain from referring to her Catholic faith in public and receiving holy Communion,” Cordileone said in May 2022, reporting that he had repeatedly sought to reach out but had received no response.

Pelosi reiterated abortion support as recently as Jan. 22, the anniversary of the now-defunct Roe v. Wade pro-abortion Supreme Court decision.

“We must keep fighting to enshrine Roe into law,” she said on Twitter.

New Syrian Catholic archbishop tells how he survived captivity by Islamic State

Syrian archbishop-elect Father Jacques Mourad. / Credit: ACN

ACI Prensa Staff, Jan 23, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A Syrian priest, whose appointment as archbishop was confirmed by Pope Francis on Jan. 7, shared the difficult times he spent being held hostage by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group and the importance of the “spirit of forgiveness.”

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Father Jacques Mourad, elected archbishop of Homs, Syria, by the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Syrians, Eastern-rite Catholics in communion with Rome, recalled that when he was kidnapped by ISIS along with a postulant from his congregation, the jihadists were trying to “convert us to Islam.”

However, despite the risk of death, he recalled in that situation how other Christians “had the courage and enthusiasm to respond in order to testify to their faith.”

Despite the danger our lives were in, he stressed, “we are disciples of Jesus crucified and risen.”

It was precisely under these conditions, he noted, that he learned “a magnificent example of forgiveness.”

“One of the jihadists condemned me to death, put a knife to my neck, and threatened me,” he said.

“I didn’t feel anger, nor hatred, nor any feeling of violence against him,” Mourad said, and acknowledged that “I was surprised myself, because normally if someone hits me in the face, it’s normal to return the blow to his face, but in that moment I didn’t feel any ill feeling against him.”

The new archbishop was kidnapped by Islamic terrorists on March 21, 2015, when an armed group entered the Mar Elian Monastery in Syria and took him away along with a postulant from his congregation.

Archbishop-elect Mourad said that his captors are “in my prayers” every day.

“I ask forgiveness for them and I continue to, because normally it is God who gives this grace of forgiveness and absolution of all sins,” he said.

An archdiocese of poor Christians

Regarding his appointment, the new prelate noted that Homs had not had an archbishop since June 2020, when Archbishop Théophile Philippe Barakat died.

“For us it’s very important that after this long wait we have a bishop to help us with the structure of the Church, so that he can continue advancing and developing his mission with the laity who have remained faithful and attentive to the situation in the country,” he said.

The majority of the faithful of the archdiocese, he explained, “are peasants who farm, produce, and live off their hard labor. Most of our families are poor, and they’re getting poorer due to the economic crisis that’s going on in our country due to sanctions and corruption.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011, in the midst of protests of the so-called “Arab spring,” which led to the overthrow of rulers in some countries in the region.

Muslim terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State joined the protests demanding the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The violence sparked a civil war, with the Syrian government having Russia and Iran as allies, and Turkey as an adversary.

Hundreds of thousands have died in the war, and while the violence has decreased in recent years, an economic crisis still grips the country and its people.

In a region where Orthodox Christians and Muslims coexist, the archbishop-elect explained that “when we have activities to distribute things like at Christmas, we cannot only consider our Christians, or Syrian Catholics, because we have to share everything with others.”

“It’s not a nice witness that things are exclusively ours. That’s why we try to involve others in our activities, because this is the good witness of Christ’s love for the whole world,” he said.

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

Watch the March for Life in a 30-second video

Pro-lifers march on Washington D.C. during the March for Life / Katie Yoder

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Were you unable to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C.? Well, you can watch the entire march in the same time it takes to say two Our Fathers.

The official March for Life account released a 30-second time-lapse video showing the massive crowd making its way toward the U.S. Capitol in the first post-Roe March for Life on Friday, Jan. 20.

As is evident from the video, the turnout for this historic event was huge. However, an official estimate of the crowd size has not been given.

photo taken from the rally stage at the march also shows an impressive crowd getting ready to march in the defense of the unborn.

This year’s theme was “Next Steps: Marching into a post-Roe America,” which emphasized the need to continue to fight for legislation at the state and federal levels that protects the unborn, despite the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“While the march began as a response to Roe, we don’t end now that Roe is done. The human rights abuse of abortion is far from over,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said in a tweet from the group’s official account. “We will continue to march until the human rights abuse of abortion is a thing of the past.”

The March for Life also included powerful speeches from NFL coach Tony Dungy; Sister Mary Casey and her twin sister Casey Gunning, who has Down syndrome; and actor Jonathan Roumie from “The Chosen.” Watch the videos of each speech below:

German bishop dismisses Vatican concerns over a permanent synodal council

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference in St. Peter’s Square, June 27, 2020. / Deutsche Bischofskonferenz/Matthias Kopp.

CNA Newsroom, Jan 23, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

On Monday, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference said he welcomed a new letter from the Vatican detailing concerns about the push for a permanent synodal council — a new controlling body of the Church in Germany.

In a statement published on Jan. 23, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said the German diocesan bishops had discussed the letter and would seek to discuss the matter further “in the near future.”

At the same time, Bätzing dismissed concerns that a German synodal council would have authority over the bishops’ conference and undermine the authority of individual bishops as “unfounded.” 

As CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported, these concerns were addressed in the latest letter from the Vatican because five German bishops asked Rome to do so. 

The bishops of Cologne, Regensburg, Passau, Eichstätt, and Augsburg wrote to the Vatican on Dec. 21, 2022. They raised what Bätzing acknowledged on Monday were “justified and necessary questions” — in particular, whether bishops could be compelled to abide by such a council’s authority. 

This was not the case, the Vatican’s latest letter noted. The message, written in German, reminded Bishop Bätzing that according to Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council teaches “that episcopal consecration, together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and of governing, which, however, of its very nature, can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head and the members of the college.”

Running to four pages, the latest Vatican letter to Germany said it was approved by Pope Francis. It was signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin; the prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria; and the prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet. 

Warning of a threat of a new schism from Germany, the Vatican already intervened in July 2022 against a German synodal council. 

The latest missive, dated Jan. 16, informed Bätzing “that neither the Synodal Way, nor any body established by it, nor any bishops’ conference has the competence to establish the ‘synodal council’ at the national, diocesan, or parish level.”

In his public statement on Monday, Bishop Bätzing said the latest “document from Rome will have the consequence for us in Germany that we will think much more intensively about the forms and possibilities of synodal consultation and decision-making in order to develop a culture of synodality.”

Bätzing said this was “helpful” with a view to how the council would be brought about. This would be discussed in further dialogue with Rome.

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

According to this document, such a synodal council would come about after a “synodal committee” was formed, which then would deliberate the details of the new national governing body.

Though the letter from Rome explicitly states that bishops are not required to participate in such a committee, Bätzing noted on Jan. 23 that the concept of such a committee itself “is not called into question by the [latest] letter from Rome.”

According to the Synodal Way’s plans, the synodal committee would consist of the 27 diocesan bishops, 27 members elected by the lay organization ZdK, and 10 members jointly elected by them. 

The committee would be chaired by the president of the bishops’ conference and “the president(s) of the ZdK.”

The permanent synodal council would function “as a consultative and decision-making body on essential developments in the Church and society,” the German proposal states. 

More importantly, it would “make fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan significance on pastoral planning, questions of the future, and budgetary matters of the Church that are not decided at the diocesan level.”

Critics of the plan have drawn comparisons to communist Soviets and accused the German bishops of reinventing existing Protestant structures.

In June 2022, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a theologian considered close to Pope Francis, said there could be no “synodal council,” given Church history and theology: “Synods cannot be institutionally made permanent. The tradition of the Church does not know a synodal Church government. A synodal supreme council, as is now envisaged, has no basis in the entire history of the constitution. It would not be a renewal, but an unheard-of innovation.”

Kasper has previously accused the organizers of the German Synodal Way, also known as the “Synodal Path,” of using a "lazy trick" that constituted a coup d’etat.

The president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who was bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart from 1989 to 1999, said the German process had invited comparisons to communist structures in the Soviet Union: “It was a political scientist, not a theologian, who recently expressed this notion somewhat strongly, referring to such a synodal council as a supreme soviet.”

The cardinal continued: “‘Soviet’ is an old Russian word that means exactly what we call a ‘Rat,’ a council in German. Such a supreme soviet in the Church would obviously not be a good idea. Such a council system is not a Christian idea, but an idea coming from quite a different spirit or un-spirit. It would choke off the freedom of the Spirit, which blows where and when it wants, and destroy the structure that Christ wanted for his Church.”

Further concerns were raised by a professor of theology from the University of Vienna. 

The dogmatist Jan-Heiner Tück warned that a German “synodal council” would transfer leadership authority “from sacramentally ordained persons to bodies, a conversion of power that shows a clear closeness to synodal practices in the Protestant Church in Germany.”

From the outset, the German Synodal Way, which is not a synod, has courted controversy.

In June 2019, Pope Francis sent a 19-page letter to Catholics in Germany urging them to focus on evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.” 

The president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Bätzing of Limburg, has repeatedly rejected concerns and instead expressed disappointment in Pope Francis in May 2022.  

In November of last year, following an encounter with Pope Francis and the Roman Curia, Bätzing said Rome might once again summarize “its objections, its concerns” of the German process. However, the Synodal Way had made its decisions, also concerning a permanent synodal council, Bätzing added.

In an interview published one month later, in June, Pope Francis reiterated that he told Bätzing that the country already had “a very good Evangelical [Lutheran] Church” and “we don’t need two.”

Pope Francis lamented the “erosion” of the faith in Germany at the visit of the German bishops to Rome in 2015. 

“Excessive centralization, instead of helping, can complicate the life of the Church and her missionary dynamic,” the pope warned the German prelates in November 2015.

Prosecution accused of fabricating witnesses for trial of Nicaraguan bishop

Bishop Rolando Álvarez. / Credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

CNA Newsroom, Jan 23, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

An exiled priest, Father Erick Díaz, and a human rights defender, attorney Yader Morazán, have charged that the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua is manipulating and “fabricating” witnesses for the trial that it is preparing against the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez.

Díaz, who lives in exile in the United States after leaving his country in September 2022, said on Facebook that the regime “has fabricated” a list of witnesses “to testify against Bishop Rolando.” 

The prelate has been a critic of the abuses of the Ortega dictatorship. Beginning Aug. 4, 2022, the Nicaraguan police surrounded the chancery when he and a group of priests, seminarians, and a layman were inside and forcibly confined them for two weeks, until around 3 a.m. on Aug. 19, when they broke into the building and hauled everyone away.

All were taken to the capital of Managua, where the bishop is being held under house arrest, and the others are incarcerated in “El Chipote” prison, notorious for torturing political prisoners.

At a Jan. 10 hearing, amid complaints of irregularities in the proceedings, the court hearing his case determined that Álvarez, accused of “conspiracy” and spreading “fake news” against the regime, will be brought to trial. 

The list of witnesses against Álvarez was recently published by the justice system and released on social media. Díaz pointed out in a Jan. 18 Facebook post that there are several people “who didn’t know they were on that list and realized just today that their names have been used and put there.”

“You already know what comes next. They will be issued a summons and threatened so they’ll say what [the prosecution] has prepared or they’ll tell them what they should say,” the priest noted. 

“There are some who will go happily to vent their hatred and tell lies against the bishop. There are others who put their faith first and are not capable of bearing false witness,” he said.

For the priest, “this is also a crime committed by the system involving people who know nothing and who are not willing to tell lies. They, too, are victims.”

Díaz affirmed that only God knows “each person’s heart.”

“Sooner than later everything comes to light,” he said, pointing out that eventually it will be known “who acted willingly and out of faith and adherence to his Christian, ethical, and moral principles. And who ignored his conscience and went to lie against an innocent person.”

“Besides being a sin, it’s a crime punishable by law,” he specified.

The priest shared a screenshot of a post by one of the alleged witnesses summoned to testify by the dictatorship.

The screenshot is a message from Nieves Hernández, a former worker at Radio Hermano of the Diocese of Matagalpa.

“I have never sold out nor will I betray my Church or our priests, and long live Bishop Rolando,” the post reads.

“Blessings, we continue there with our heads held high even if they involve me in something that I have nothing to do with, my conscience always clear, and I continue to support our priests and long live Christ the King, long live our bishop and priests,” Hernández added.

According to local media, another of the “witnesses” on the Nicaraguan dictatorship’s list, Juan Francisco Blandón, has apparently left the country to avoid participating in the trial against Bishop Álvarez.

Nicaraguan lawyer Yader Morazán, a human rights defender exiled in the United States, charged on Twitter that other supposed “witnesses” who will testify against the Catholic bishop have ties to the dictatorship and seek to obtain the favor of the Ortega regime.

Among them, Morazán points to Emiliano Antonio Pérez Castro, noting that “after April he was appointed delegate of the Matagalpa Ministry of Transportation. His sister-in-law is Judge Sheyla Patricia Delgado Medrano.”

“He has wanted to enter the state service for years,” Morazán said.

Another of the witnesses is Josefa Azucena Jirón López, whom the lawyer identified as “secretary of the Matagalpa Ministry of Education.”

He also singled out Elba Marina Rayo, who “works at Radio Insurrección that operates within the FSLN Department,” the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front.

It was from that department, Morazán said, “that the repression of April 2018 was directed” against the massive demonstrations that demanded the departure of Ortega, who has been continuously in power since Jan. 10, 2007.

“Before, she embraced Bishop Álvarez, and now she will testify against him,” Morazán criticized.

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

Pakistan tightens its already far-reaching blasphemy laws

Pakistanis protest Nov. 2, 2018, in Lahore, shortly after the nation's supreme court acquitted Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges. / AMSyed/Shutterstock.

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 23, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

The parliament of Pakistan moved this week to tighten its already far-reaching blasphemy laws, under which numerous Christians and other minorities have been prosecuted and subjected to mob violence, often for dubious charges of blasphemy against beliefs or figures associated with Islam. 

Insulting the Prophet Muhammad is already, at least on paper, a capital offense in Pakistan. Under the newest legal changes, those convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, companions, or close relatives will now face 10 years in prison, a sentence that can be extended to life, along with a fine of 1 million rupees, or roughly $4,500, reported the New York Times. It also makes the charge of blasphemy an offense for which bail is not possible.

Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, and blasphemy laws have been on the books in the country for more than a century, even before it became an independent nation. A notable escalation of the country’s blasphemy laws occurred in 1987 when the death sentence was made mandatory for some violations. 

One of the most famous cases in recent years was that of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who spent nearly a decade on death row after being accused of disparaging Islam. Numerous world leaders called for her immediate release, including Popes Benedict XVI and Francis. In October 2018, the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned her blasphemy conviction. She subsequently fled the country and reportedly still receives death threats.  

Edward Clancy, director of outreach for the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), told CNA that each time Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been changed since the 1980s, they have become harsher. He noted that although the laws are not applied solely to Christians — many Muslims are charged as well — the fact that accusations against Christians are so common in a country that is 97% Muslim means the laws are not being equally applied. 

“Any time Pakistan enhances the law or increases the possibility for cases to be brought up, it’s not good for Christians,” Clancy told CNA in an interview.

Clancy noted that even if a Christian is not arrested or prosecuted by the state, accusations of blasphemy can ruin lives or even lead to death, as mobs and vigilantes, stirred up to violence, often take the matter into their own hands. Pakistani authorities, while touting the fact that the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, often ignore the many mob killings and disappearances that have taken place after an accusation of blasphemy, he said.

“The punishment is almost never administered by the state, but rather by mob justice,” he noted.

ACN’s primary mission is to support the pastoral life of the Catholic Church, and in the case of Pakistani Christians, this means helping many of the victims of the blasphemy laws in their legal cases, Clancy said. Of great concern, he said, is the difficulties they have faced in finding lawyers willing to argue the cases because they can themselves become targets of a mob. Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law have also been targeted by violence.

Clancy said ACN will continue to offer support for those victims of the blasphemy laws in legal and pastoral support. He urged prayers for the Christian community in Pakistan and suggested that people contact their elected representatives about the issue. Pakistan is designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. State Department, a designation that carries with it the possibility of sanctions, but these have not been well applied, Clancy said. He said he worried about the continued strengthening of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, warning that such laws are making Christianity virtually impossible to practice in Pakistan. 

He mentioned a current blasphemy case in Pakistan of two Christian nuns who, in April 2021, were accused of blasphemy after temporarily moving some decorative Islamic phrases from the wall of a hospital room while cleaning the room. Two years later, the women are still under this “prolonged indictment,” he said. 

“The evidence is in their favor. The accusation appears vindictive and baseless. Even should these two women be found not guilty, they will not be safe in Pakistan. They and their families will have to flee. With the new laws being broadened, there will be more opportunities for injustice,” Clancy said. 

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores — even among the most powerful — or to persecute religious minorities. Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who supported the country’s blasphemy laws as a candidate, was himself charged by his successor’s government for blasphemy in May of last year. In November, Khan survived an assassination attempt at a political rally that appeared to be religiously motivated.  

Pakistan’s authorities have consistently failed to implement safeguards on behalf of religious minorities, despite numerous policies in favor of economic and physical protections for members of non-Muslim religions. As of 2020, at least 40 people were serving a life sentence or facing execution for blasphemy in the country.

Pro-abortion counter-protesters at March for Life were few but loud

Pro-life and abortion rights activists protest during the 50th annual March for Life rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington, D.C. / Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 23, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The 2023 March for Life, which saw tens of thousands of pro-life activists march to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, only faced a handful of disruptions from a very small number of pro-abortion counterprotesters.

Although some had speculated that the pro-abortion presence might be larger this year because it was the first march since the overturning of Roe V. Wade, only about a dozen pro-abortion protesters stood in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and only a few others were scattered within the march and on the outskirts of the march.

Despite the low turnout, some of the counterprotesters did manage to cause disruptions and a few had verbal clashes with pro-life activists. Pro-abortion activists briefly interrupted two pre-march events: a prayer service organized by Priests for Life at DAR Constitution Hall and a moment of silence in front of the Washington, D.C., Planned Parenthood clinic.

During the prayer service, a handful of pro-abortion protesters stood up and interrupted while the group was trying to pray. One man shouted “abortion is forever; protect trans lives” and “my body; my choice” before walking out of the event. Another man yelled “this community supports abortion access” before being escorted out of the event.

Another man interrupted a moment of silence held in front of Planned Parenthood by repeatedly chanting “thank God for abortion” into a megaphone. The same man yelled at groups of protesters through a megaphone as they were walking toward the march, accusing pro-life activists of being fascists. A woman with him chanted “keep your religion off my vagina” while the man danced in a crosswalk and yelled at other activists. The woman later blasphemed Christ repeatedly.

When activists gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, some protesters used megaphones to amplify siren sounds in an apparent attempt to disrupt conversations and speeches. One woman who held a sign that said “America is not a Christian nation” shouted profanities at pro-life activists before chanting “thank God for abortion.”

In a few instances, pro-life activists and pro-abortion counterprotesters tried to cover up each other’s signs with their own. In one case, this led to minor shoving, but Catholic News Agency did not witness any fights break out.

The Metropolitan Police Department told Catholic News Agency that there were no arrests made in connection to the March for Life.