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Cardinal Burke cuts ties with institute, citing its alignment with Bannon

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marcia per la Vita


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke has resigned from the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, saying it has become "more and more identified with the political program" of Steve Bannon.

In a letter posted on his Twitter feed, Cardinal Burke said June 25 he had urged the institute to return to its original purpose of promoting the respect of human dignity but "it has not done so," so he was terminating his relationship, including being the institute's honorary president. Eleven other cardinals make up the institute's advisory board and Bannon, former chief strategist at the White House, is a patron and member of the board of trustees.

"I have been made aware of a June 24 LifeSiteNews online article -- now removed -- entitled 'Steve Bannon hints at making film exposing homosexuality in the Vatican,' in which the insinuation is made that somehow, through my association with Mr. Benjamin Harnwell of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, I was involved in a meeting between Mr. Bannon and Mr. Frederic Martel, author of the book, 'In the Closet of the Vatican,' to promote a film version of Mr. Martel's book," Cardinal Burke said in his letter.

"LifeSiteNews made no contact with me to verify my possible involvement," he said. "Given the overall content of the article and given several statements made by Mr. Bannon in the article, I must make the following clear:

"I do not, in any way, agree with Mr. Bannon's assessment of the book in question," Cardinal Burke said. "Furthermore, I am not at all of the mind that the book should be made into a film. I disagree completely with a number of Mr. Bannon's statements regarding the doctrine and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church.

"Above all, I find objectionable his statement calling into question the church's discipline of perpetual continence for the clergy, in accord with the example and desire of Christ ..." he said.

Cardinal Burke said he had never worked with Bannon but had met with him "on occasion to discuss Catholic social teaching regarding certain political questions."

"In meeting with him, as in meeting with other political leaders, I have tried to fulfill my mission as a priest to teach the faith and morals for the common good," he said.

In early June, the Italian ministry for culture revoked a license it granted to the Dignitatis Humanae Institute to manage a state-owned historic monument south of Rome, citing irregularities in the bidding process and a breach of contract. The former Carthusian monastery of Trisulti was being used as the headquarters of the institute.


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Cuban Catholics pray for Cardinal Ortega battling terminal cancer

IMAGE: CNS photo/Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The archbishop of Havana said his predecessor, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, is in stable condition, but his health has weakened and taken a downturn in recent days.

"We have received in this archdiocese countless calls and messages manifesting caring interest in the health of Cardinal Jaime Ortega," Havana Archbishop Juan Garcia Rodriguez wrote in a letter posted on Facebook June 24. Archbishop Garcia took over the archdiocese when the Vatican accepted Cardinal Ortega's resignation in 2016.

Cuban Catholics have taken to Facebook to post updates on the cardinal's health and to communicate with others about his condition. A June 22 post on the Facebook page of San Antonio Maria Claret parish in the city of Santiago de Cuba asked Catholics to pray for the 82-year-old cardinal, who "suffers from terminal cancer."

"Last night the health of our brother, longtime bishop and cardinal, Jaime Ortega, became extremely weak," said the post. "It is expected that at any moment he will pass to the house of the Lord."

On June 19, Palabra Nueva, the magazine for the Archdiocese of Havana, published online photos of a visit with the cardinal, surrounded by brother bishops and smiling with the prelates.

Cardinal Ortega played a pivotal role in reestablishing relations between the Vatican and the Cuban government, which ultimately allowed the last three popes to visit the island. At the same time, some criticized him for not speaking out against the Cuban government, which began persecuting Christians shortly after the Cuban revolution brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959.

However, he seems to be a beloved figure inside Cuba and has witnessed and been a player during crucial moments in the island's recent history, including the thawing of relations with the United States in 2015.

Signis-Cuba, the local affiliate of a global Catholic communications organization, also has been keeping Cuban Catholics informed of the cardinal's health via Facebook. The cardinal, the organization wrote June 22, has been "surrounded by the clergy, who has been with him during his illness. The Cuban Catholic Church prays for his health and from their homes are with him in prayer."


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As raid threats stoke fears, church leaders try to comfort immigrants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president's threats came and went in tweets, but priests, women and men religious, church-affiliated organizations and even some bishops from around the country were left trying to dampen the fear they sparked among immigrant communities of faith.

Though President Donald Trump used the social media platform Twitter June 17 to announce that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, would soon be removing "millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States" and would do so "as fast as they come in," he called off the threat days later with another tweet. He said that at the urging of Democrats, he would delay the action for two weeks to see if they could arrive at an agreement over asylum. If they did not agree, "Deportations start!" he tweeted June 22.

But by then, panic had set in among immigrant communities bracing for roundups that would target families and were set to begin June 23, a Sunday. That day in Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori paid a visit to Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, a predominantly immigrant Latino parish, the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported in a June 24 story.

"I came to express my solidarity, my love, my care for the immigrant community," he told the Sun in an interview after Sunday Mass.

Father Bruce Lewandowski, the pastor, said that he found an immigrant family in a van outside as he was getting the day started, and they had slept in the vehicle outside the church out of fear, various news agencies reported.

Baltimore was one of 10 cities that would have been affected by the raids, according to news reports that also listed Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and Miami as potential targets.

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, in a June 21 letter addressed to the archdiocese's pastors, gave advice for those tending to immigrant communities.  

"The best response is to quietly remind people that they should remain vigilant, reduce public activities, refuse entry to anyone purporting to be law enforcement without a warrant," he wrote.

He also reminded them of an ICE policy that tells agents to avoid apprehending in a "sensitive" location, such as a church, and that undertaking such a major operation would prove difficult for the agency. He also reminded them to share information provided by organizations such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, said in a June 22 statement that while the USCCB recognizes the right of nations to control their borders, the planned "broad enforcement actions instigate panic in our communities and will not serve as an effective deterrent to irregular migration."

"Instead, we should focus on the root causes in Central America that have compelled so many to leave their homes in search of safety and reform our immigration system with a view toward justice and the common good. We stand ready to work with the administration and Congress to achieve those objectives," he said.  

"During this unsettling time, we offer our prayers and support to our brothers and sisters, regardless of their immigration status, and recognizing their inherent dignity as children of God," he continued.

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Syriac Catholic bishops optimistic amid dispersion of their faithful

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Syriac Catholic patriarchate

By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) -- Faced with the migration of Christians from Syria and Iraq, Syriac Catholic bishops meeting in Lebanon for their annual synod called upon church members "scattered everywhere in the East and West" to cling to their faith with hope so they "can be witnesses to the joy of the Gospel wherever they are."

In a statement at the conclusion of the June 17-22 gathering led by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, the bishops acknowledged the suffering of the faithful in the face of "endless wars, persecutions, acts of violence, terrorism, displacement, murder and destruction, and the uprooting of a large number of nationals from the land of fathers and grandparents -- Syria and Iraq -- and their dispersion throughout the world."

Yet the bishops stressed that they also are optimistic, "thanking God for the return of many displaced people to their villages" in Iraq and Syria.

The prelates noted that Christians "are an authentic component and founder in these two countries." They called for solidarity among all citizens to build peace, hope and unity.

Synod participants came from dioceses and patriarchal and apostolic offices in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the United States, Venezuela and Australia. They were joined by the patriarchal vicar in Rome.

In studying pastoral service in the countries where Syriac Catholics relocated -- primarily Europe, the Americas and Australia -- the bishops acknowledged the plight of migration "to the country of alienation and painful assimilation" and the importance of sending "priests of good quality." They pointed to visits from the patriarch and bishops to Syriac Catholics worldwide in which the faithful were called "to preserve the deposit of faith and trust for their churches, the Syriac heritage and native lands."

The bishops reiterated their demand to stop wars and "resolve disputes through dialogue and peaceful means, and to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting peace." They called for the return of all displaced persons, refugees and abductees to their homelands.

The synod also stressed "the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and establish their state on their land," emphasizing that Jerusalem "is a holy city for the followers" Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

They called on Lebanon's president, prime minister "and all concerned" to find an immediate solution to the country's economic recession and crisis in the housing sector that pushes Lebanese youth, in particular, to emigrate.

In their statement, the prelates welcomed efforts made "to obtain the official recognition of our Syriac Church in Jordan."

They also praised the establishment of a Syriac Youth Meeting in Syria in early July and plans for a World Youth Meeting in 2021, which both follow the first World Youth Meeting in Lebanon in the summer of 2018. The bishops recommended such meetings be held in eparchies and other countries.


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Update: Australians begin 'ad limina' visits acknowledging impact of crisis

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The president of the Australian bishops' conference told his fellow bishops that it is "a time of humiliation" for Catholic Church leaders, but he is convinced that God is still at work.

As church leaders continue to face the reality of the clerical sexual abuse crisis and attempts to cover it up, "we as bishops have to discover anew how small we are and yet how grand is the design into which we have been drawn by the call of God and his commissioning beyond our betrayals," said Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, conference president.

After a weeklong retreat near Rome, the bishops of Australia began their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican with Mass June 24 at the tomb of St. Peter and a long meeting with Pope Francis.

The 38-member group included diocesan bishops, auxiliary bishops, the head of the ordinariate for former Anglicans and a diocesan administrator.

Archbishop Coleridge was the principal celebrant and homilist for the Mass in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica marking the formal beginning of the visit.

The "ad limina" visit is a combination pilgrimage -- with Masses at the basilicas of St. Peter, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls -- and series of meetings with Pope Francis and with the leaders of many Vatican offices to share experiences, concerns and ideas.

The visits traditionally were required of bishops every five years, but with the increased number of dioceses and bishops around the world that is no longer possible. The last "ad limina" visit of the Australian bishops took place eight years ago with Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis no longer meets with each bishop individually and no longer delivers a speech to the entire group. Instead, he spends 90 minutes or more with each group, answering their questions and offering advice when asked; the Vatican releases only photographs and a list of the bishops who were present.

His meeting with the Australian bishops reportedly lasted about two hours.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney tweeted afterward that it was a "brilliant audience" and very encouraging. "We spoke about everything and the Holy Father responded with such great pastoral wisdom. A true 'incontro' and accompaniment of the Australian bishops."

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne tweeted that it was "an extraordinary 2.5-hour conversation, brother to brothers. It is hard to put into words -- spiritually intense, deeply honest, pastorally astute, free and frank. Wow."

A statement from the bishops' conference said the Australians raised "a number of topics that are of deep concern to the Catholic Church in Australia," including "the church's work to eliminate child sexual abuse and to accompany survivors of abuse; the bishops' desire to support and minister to aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; the hopes for the plenary council; and the need to find new ways of witnessing to Jesus Christ in Australian society in a time of change."

"There was an ease and a fraternal warmth in the way Pope Francis spoke and an attentiveness in his listening to the questions the bishops asked," the statement quoted Archbishop Coleridge as saying.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, conference vice president, said the meeting with Pope Francis was "moving and deeply encouraging" and showed that "the Holy Father clearly understood our situation in Australia. It was a real moment of grace."

Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin, the most recently ordained of the Australian bishops, said he was "deeply impressed" by Pope Francis' "humanity, his compassion, his sense of collegiality, his passion for working with all the people of God in a synodal church and his true commitment to the Gospel."

In his homily before meeting the pope, Archbishop Coleridge told his fellow bishops that "it is a time for humiliation to give birth to humility." He prayed that St. Peter -- "the Galilean fisherman," who betrayed Jesus, was forgiven and given the mandate to feed his sheep -- would "be our companion and guide on the journey."

Celebrating the feast of the Body and Blood of the Christ June 23 with his fellow bishops in the chapel of the Domus Australia, Archbishop Fisher also looked at the impact of the abuse scandal on the bishops and on where they must find Christian hope.

Like the disciples who did not know how to feed the crowds gathered around Jesus in the Gospel, "Today the bishops tell the Lord that feeding this mob is beyond them and suggest he sends them away," Archbishop Fisher said.

"Jesus responds by telling them to give it a go, with whatever is left in their tanks. He takes the little they offer and supplies the rest that is needed," the archbishop said. The result is that there is "enough, more than enough, superabundance: twelve basketsful of leftover graces, one for each apostle and his successors."

"It's precisely when we are at our lowest ebb that the triumph of grace is most evident," he said, adding that in the Archdiocese of Sydney "the numbers attending our annual Corpus Christi procession through the streets keeps growing, despite pressures to drive the church into obscurity."

And, he said, "at the very time that human reasoning counts against any sane man giving his life to this rickety show, my seminary is the fullest it has been since it was rebuilt in the 1990s."


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As immigration policy changes, so does work of Catholic organizations

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Immigration policies rolled out during the Trump administration have spread fear among immigrant populations in the U.S., but Catholic organizations and parishes have responded with renewed efforts focused on helping those groups, a new survey says.

The Federal Enforcement Effect Research Survey, also called the FEER survey, released June 12 by the Center for Migration Studies in New York, analyzed the impact of intensified immigration enforcement on the work of Catholic organizations and other faith-based groups that work with immigrants.

While many studies have focused on the effect of the policies on immigrants, few have looked at how those policies have affected and changed the nature of Catholic and other faith-based organizations.

One of those changes is that organizations that were helping refugee resettlement nationally now help asylum seekers at the U.S. border with Mexico.

"We have certainly witnessed a change in both our own department but also across the country in the work of the Catholic Church at large in welcoming the stranger," said Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), who participated in a webinar June 18 addressing the findings of the survey.

One of the changes for institutions such as MRS, Canny said, came about with the Trump administration's drastic reduction of refugees allowed into the country. Since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, the U.S. had admitted on average 95,000 refugees annually, and faith-based agencies, including many Catholic organizations, had since then stepped in to help with resettlement.

The number of refugees allowed into the country was capped at 45,000 after Donald Trump became president in 2017 and was scaled back to 30,000 refugees for fiscal year 2019. However, the cap does not reflect the actual number of those allowed to enter, it's simply a limit.  

"This had a relatively dramatic effect on the infrastructure that had developed over the last 30 years," which was a well-oiled network dedicated to helping refugees and their families integrate into the country, Canny said. "There were some 320 affiliates across the U.S. in all states who were receiving refugees and the Catholic Church, primarily Catholic Charities, represented about 90 of those."

These days, 45 of those Catholic affiliates remain, Canny said, adding that at the same time that the refugee cap was shrinking, the number of asylum seekers was rising at the southern border.

"Nine resettlement agencies including our own, interestingly, began to turn their attention and resources toward those asylum seekers," he said.

More funds started being raised for asylum seekers, more staff dedicated to helping them.

"You had a bit of an awakening," Canny said.

Last year, MRS, which had focused on resettlement, instead mobilized to reunite families separated by a government policy that took children away from parents or guardians if they had entered at the U.S. southern border without documents. After great backlash and public outcry, the government sought the help of Catholic organizations as well as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to help after U.S. courts stepped in to stop the separations and demanded that families who had been separated be reunited by a particular date.

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, and one of the authors of the survey, said Catholic organizations have been making "extraordinary efforts to adapt and to serve immigrants despite all these various issues."

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), for example, has dispatched staff to provide legal help along the U.S.-Mexico border and support for those helping immigrants forced to wait in Mexico until their asylum cases are heard, a new requirement of a policy announced by the Trump administration in late 2018. The "Remain in Mexico" policy requires those seeking asylum to petition at ports of entry and then wait for legal proceedings in Mexico until U.S. courts can hear their case.

Even as Catholic organizations have stepped up efforts to help, the fear some immigrant communities are experiencing is getting in the way of that help. Many are afraid of attending legal consultations that might help with their immigration status, accessing food, and even applying for a public service they're eligible for, because of fear of deportation or that it might affect chances at citizenship in the future, Kerwin said.

The Trump administration has discussed instituting a "public charge" policy that would hurt immigrants' chances at permanent residency, citizenship and even threatened deportation for those who sign up for public benefits. Some immigrants can't tell what kind of help could harm them.  

"These are obviously kind of very serious problems, most of all for immigrants, but also for Catholic agencies who are doing extraordinary work in trying to work around these problems," Kerwin said.  

Brian Corwin, executive vice president for Member Services of Catholic Charities USA, who also participated in the webinar, said clients are afraid to ask for help at food pantries and soup kitchens and don't want to sign up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for their U.S.-born children, who are eligible, because they are afraid it will affect another family member's immigration situation.

"People are afraid to come forward, to get help," Corwin said, recalling that a session to get families to sign up for the SNAP program, also known as food stamps, resulted in people not wanting to take the application and even the few who did, said they likely weren't going to fill it out "because of fear that it might affect their immigration case and fear that their greencard (a residency card) might be revoked."

Rampant misinformation, mistrust and "fear of the current rhetoric" are reasons people aren't seeking help, said staff at one California Catholic Charities, he said.

"We haven't even begun to do research on (housing) and the issue of mixed family status," Corwin said.

But there are "bright lights" as agencies push to keep helping by working with dioceses and parishes, saying "we're going to do something regardless of the climate," Corwin said.  

In places such as Minnesota, when attendance at Mass and other parish events waned after immigrants were apprehended and deported, church workers vowed to think differently. Sensing the fear parishioners had of leaving the house, one priest decided to take Mass to them -- to an apartment complex.

"It was a great success," said Estela Villagran Manancero, director of Latino ministry for Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, who participated in the webinar.

During major events, some parishes rented large buses to pick up parishioners who were afraid to drive lest they be detained, she said.  

"It's a little more expensive, but then we all can have security that they will not be detained," said Villagran.

Parishioners in Minnesota also have organized so they can tag along, or drive those who are afraid, to doctor's appointment, court dates, to take their children to school, Villagran said.

"I think people that are serving are very much committed," she said.  

The survey mirrors what a lot of the organizations and parishes such as the ones in Minnesota are experiencing, Kerwin said, that "here's more accompaniment ... more services designed and geared to the moment that we're living in. I think charities and parishes are very much focused on this issue."


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Vatican official praises Catholic media for coverage of sex abuse crisis

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Greg Erlandson

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (CNS) -- In a remarkably frank and detailed speech, the Vatican official heading the department charged with reviewing clergy sexual abuse allegations told an assembly of Catholic journalists June 19 that his investigators and the press "share the same goal, which is the protection of minors, and we have the same wish to leave the world a little better than how we found it."

Msgr. John Kennedy, who since 2017 has headed the discipline section for the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, described the personal toll on the 17 people in his office as they have reviewed an ever-growing tide of cases involving clergy sexual abuse or related crimes.

"I can honestly tell you that, when reading cases involving sexual abuse by clerics, you never get used to it, and you can feel your heart and soul hurting," Msgr. Kennedy said. "There are times when I am poring over cases that I want to get up and scream, that I want to pack up my things and leave the office and not come back."

The Irish-born priest has worked and studied in Rome since 1998. Speaking with a soft Irish brogue and an even tone, he gave a humane and at times anguished assessment of his job reviewing the horrors of sexual abuse and its cover up.

Msgr. Kennedy views his work as both a privilege and a burden. He also realizes how important the work is. "The topic of the clergy abuse crisis is front and center in our culture," he noted. "Certainly, no theological topic or any other kind of heresy comes close."

"For me it is at the heart, at the very core, and some have even suggested that the church's heart has been broken in this crisis."

He said it has also taken its toll on many bishops.

"I have seen bishops who were once smiling pastors turned into morose, burdened figures," he said. He described bishops who wept when reporting cases and bishops who felt absolutely alone -- if not for Msgr. Kennedy and his office -- in confronting the scandals.

"A newly elected, but to date not ordained, bishop told me that he found out that there are many cases of historical abuse cases to be tackled in the diocese. No one told him this before they asked him to accept the responsibility. Now it is too late to say no."

No matter what pain or suffering he and others feel, however, "this is nothing compared to those who have borne this for years in silence," he said of sexual abuse victims.

"What of the father, mother or siblings of the child who have to look at that child and live through this? What can they say? Everything has been taken from them. You believe me when I am telling you these things. Can you imagine what it might be like not to be believed by church authorities? What would it be like to remain silent because a person did not have the courage to come forward and name their abuser?"

The priest said his office has now surpassed doctrine as the largest of the four offices that comprise the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its responsibility for examining the cases of clergy sexual abuse was given by St. John Paul II to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the congregation.

"When the pope entrusted the work to Cardinal Ratzinger's office," Msgr. Kennedy said, "he was instinctively aware of the impact these cases would have both on the credibility of the church's mission but more importantly on the faith life of a person who had been abused."

Msgr. Kennedy said the mandate of his office goes beyond clergy sexual abuse. It also investigates crimes committed by clerics that involve the celebration of the sacraments, such as penance, and the handling or mishandling of sexual abuse allegations.

Msgr. Kennedy praised "Vos Estis Lux Mundi," Pope Francis' recent "motu proprio" that legislated by papal decree new rules governing sexual abuse and its cover up. It is "a welcome development" that now makes "the denunciation of sexual crimes an obligation," he said, noting that the church should not wait until the press uncovers abuse cases.

Regarding the press, the priest said that his office, while bound by rules of confidentiality as it seeks to investigate cases, shares with journalists a desire to speak about the truth for the common good.

"If we consider that the purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies and their governments, then we can understand that the church's legal process and mission have the goal of offering its judges the best possible opportunity to be able to deliver justice in this particular aspect of its life," he said.

Throughout the speech, which received a standing ovation from the assembled journalists, Msgr. Kennedy returned to the challenge of a constant flow of new cases into his office.

"We are privileged to have a unique bird's-eye-view of the whole global situation," he noted. He compared the work of his team to that of doctors working in an emergency room or trauma center.

"One cardinal said to me as he looked at the piles of disciplinary cases in front of him that we only deal with problems. In part he was right. I said to him that it is important to remember that we may receive problems but that our main task is to offer solutions," Msgr. Kennedy said.

He expressed the hope that someday the services of his office will not be in such demand, "so that my priest colleagues can go back to what they were ordained to do. I wish that we will be able to work ourselves out of a job."

"In all honesty, this work has changed me and all who work with me," he confessed. "It has taken away another part of my innocence and has overshadowed me with a sense of sadness."

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Follow Erlandson on Twitter: @GregErlandson.


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Update: Historic cross on public property can stay, Supreme Court rules

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of preserving a historic cross-shaped memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland saying the cross did not endorse religion.

The June 20 ruling reversed a lower court decision last year.

"Although the cross has long been a preeminent Christian symbol, its use in the Bladensburg memorial has a special significance," said the court's ruling in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. He said the memorial, paying tribute to soldiers who died in World War I, should be seen in the same "historical context" as the white crosses marking the overseas graves of soldiers who had lost their lives in that war.

He also said removing the memorial "would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions."

Alito noted that for nearly a century, the 40-foot cross "has expressed the community's grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifice, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought. It has become a prominent community landmark."

Several justices wrote separate opinions in this case, dissented by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

"This is a great victory for not only the American Legion and our veterans, but really this is a landmark decision on religious liberty," said Kelly Shackelford, president and chief counsel to First Liberty Institute, a Texas law firm that represented the American Legion in this case

Joining him for a news conference in front of Supreme Court June 20 was Michael Moore, commissioner of the American Legion Post 136 in Greenbelt, Maryland, who first visited the memorial when he was 8 years old with his father and learned about the 49 men whose memories are enshrined there.

"I feel vindicated. The legion is just gratified at the decision. We're very, very happy that the memory, sacrifice and the service of past members will not be destroyed," he told reporters.

Shackelford said that for 50 years the Lemon test -- based on a 1971 Supreme Court case Lemon v Kurtzman and used to determine if a law violates the First Amendment -- has caused confusion and attacks on veterans' memorials, menorahs, Nativity scenes and more.

"The Lemon test is not useful in this context, it's not helpful," he said. "We are a country that has a religious heritage and history, so you're going to see monuments that are secular and those that are religious."

Charlie Russo, director of the University of Dayton's doctoral program in Educational Leadership and Research and a law professor at the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio, said the decision "shakes the Establishment Clause jurisprudence to its very foundation."

"Of course, it remains to be seen what happens in later litigation, but religious symbols may well be OK in public education and elsewhere," he told Catholic News Service, saying this ruling could have "an impact on the many cases in schools where religious symbols such as the cross, a creche and student-painted religious murals have been banned."

But the court ruling also left some wiggle room. Abner Greene, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York, said the court "did not adopt the more conservative position that only government coercion violates the Establishment Clause."

He said the court specifically focused "on the history of the specific religious symbol on state property" and "did not adopt a more categorically permissive rule."

In late February, the justices heard oral arguments about the 93-year-old cross on a grassy median strip in an intersection of a Washington suburb. Opponents said it endorsed religion and supporters viewed it as a secular monument.

Known as the Bladensburg Cross or the Peace Cross, the cement and marble memorial was erected by the Snyder-Farmer Post of the American Legion of Hyattsville, Maryland, to recall the 49 men of Prince George's County who died in World War I. The cross, whose construction was funded by local families, was dedicated July 13, 1925.

Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia, ruled 2-1 that the monument is unconstitutional and must be removed or destroyed because it has the "primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion."

The American Humanist Association, a Washington-based group that represents atheists and others, filed suit against the memorial, saying its cross shape on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The monument's supporters stress that its message is secular: to commemorate war victims. They also have argued that its cross shape was not intended for religious reasons but to look similar to cross-shaped grave markers in Europe used for American soldiers who died there.

"Figure out where you want to draw the line," Justice Elena Kagan said during oral arguments about markers with religious connotations.

She also pointed out some distinctions about this memorial, saying it was put up when crosses were a common way to honor those who died in World War I; it is located near other war memorials and does not include religious language.

Other justices pointed out the strong Christian symbolism that comes across even in a plain cross. Ginsburg pointed out that it is "the preeminent symbol of Christianity."

Alito had cautioned against a general ruling against all war memorials with crosses, telling the attorney representing those opposed to the memorial: "There are cross monuments all over the country, many of them quite old. Do you want them all taken down?"

The Trump administration had joined dozens of religious, municipal and veterans' groups defending the cross monument and complaining that the court's mixed messages about religious symbols have forced legal battles on a case-by-case basis.

The Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit law firm with a focus on religious liberty, said in a friend-of-the-court brief that the monument's purpose was not to advance or inhibit religion but to "honor the dead using a historical symbol of death and sacrifice."

"The decision to destroy this memorial, which existed without complaint for nearly a century, simply because the plaintiffs, passing motorists, claim to be offended by the memorial's use of the Latin cross, evidences an intolerance to religion, and Christianity in particular, that is wholly inconsistent with our nation's history and with the purpose and meaning of the First Amendment's Religion Clauses," it said.

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Contributing to this story was Sydney Clark.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.



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Migration situation requires a humane, Christian response, official says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican recognizes how difficult it is for nations to manage the flow of migrants and refugees, but one thing is certain: "We must respond in a humane manner, a Christian manner, and we must try to help people, not harm them," said the Vatican foreign minister.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, whose formal title is Vatican secretary for relations with states, spoke with Vatican News June 19, the eve of the U.N.'s World Refugee Day.

While the Vatican obviously respects the sovereignty of individual nations to determine how best to respond to the needs of migrants and refugees, the archbishop said, "the numbers are what they are, and we must face that and we must help."

In connection with World Refugee Day, the U.N. Refugee Agency released its annual report on "forced displacement" around the world.

At the end of 2018, it said, there were 70.8 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, and 25.9 million of those people were officially recognized as refugees, which means they were found to have fled their homelands because of persecution, war or violence and they have a "well-founded fear of persecution" if they return home. At year's end, another 3.5 million people were asylum seekers in the process of applying for protected status.

Children under the age of 18 make up one half of the world's refugee population, the report said. And, in what the U.N. said was surely an "underestimate," it counted 27,600 unaccompanied and separated children, who sought asylum on their own, and another 111,000 unaccompanied and separated children, who had refugee status.

More than two-thirds (67%) of all refugees were from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

The five countries hosting the most refugees, the U.N. said, were: Turkey with 3.7 million refugees; Pakistan with 1.4 million; Uganda with 1.2 million; Sudan with 1.1 million and Germany with 1.1 million.

Archbishop Gallagher told Vatican News, "It's obvious that conflicts in the world, difficulties with the environment and extreme poverty are elements that will not change from one day to the next, so we must continue -- probably for many years -- to act in solidarity and with fraternal love for these people."

While the situation is dire for the migrants and refugees, the archbishop said that people in wealthier nations must acknowledge the contributions of newcomers, and not just in terms of cultural enrichment, but also in offsetting the declining birthrate in many European countries and the need in many nations for factory and farmworkers.

"So, it is necessary to have a balanced approach, but also try to humanize ourselves," he said. "In fact, if one treats others badly, we are the ones who are diminished."


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Update: U.S. bishops take action to respond to church abuse crisis

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- During the June 11-13 spring assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, it was clear the bishops had to respond to the sexual abuse crisis in the church -- and on the last day of their gathering they approved a series of procedures to begin this process.

On June 13, they voted to implement the document "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), issued by Pope Francis in May to help the Catholic Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.

The bishops also approved the document "Affirming Our Episcopal Commitments" and promised to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of the charter, including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. The document says any codes of conduct in their respective dioceses regarding clergy apply to bishop as well.

They voted in favor of the item "protocol regarding available nonpenal restrictions on bishops," which outlines what canonical options are available to bishops when a retired bishop resigns or is removed "due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act."

Their first action was a vote June 12 to authorize the implementation of a third-party system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free telephone number and online. The system, which would be operated by an outside vendor contracted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, should be in place no later than May 31, 2020.

During the first day of the assembly, several speakers discussed the challenge ahead and the need for the bishops to be both transparent and reliant upon lay leadership. The bishops also examined their plans to vote on procedures and policies in response to the abuse crisis, including some they had put aside during their fall general assembly in November at the Vatican's request.

The bishops' postponement of voting on these procedures was addressed from the meeting's onset June 11 in a message from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's nuncio to the United States.

He noted that there were "some expressions of 'dissent'" by some U.S. bishops at the previous assembly about postponing votes on items related to the reemergent clergy sexual abuse crisis, but he also stressed that "unity prevails over conflict."

"Working together provides us with the opportunity to speak and to listen," said the message from Archbishop Pierre, read by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d'affaires at the Vatican's nunciature in Washington. Archbishop Pierre was at the Vatican for a nuncio meeting.

Archbishop Pierre's message said that despite the desire among U.S. bishops in November to act quickly to address new crises on clergy sex abuse, the postponement of the votes on the issue allowed the U.S. church to participate more fully at the Vatican's February summit on the protection of minors.

"One of the reasons the Holy Father asked for a delay was that the whole church needed to walk together, to work in a synodal way," Archbishop Pierre said, "with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make the path forward clearer."

Moving forward was certainly a theme of the assembly, echoed by National Review Board chairman Francesco Cesareo June 11, who called for a greater role for laity in investigating allegations of abuse or reaction to reports of abuse against bishops.

Cesareo also said National Review Board members recommend a thorough review of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and a revision in the audit process regarding diocesan implementation of the charter, which governs the church's response to clergy abuse allegations.

"A strengthened audit would provide a means for improving your dioceses' existing methods to protect and heal," Cesareo said. "Virtually all your dioceses, including those where problems came to light under the microscope of the media and attorney generals, have easily passed the audit for years, since the bar currently is so low. Now is the time to raise the bar on compliance to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated."

Cesareo also recommended that the charter "should be revised immediately to explicitly include bishops and demand for greater accountability."

"You have a great opportunity," he said, "to lead by example and help show dioceses and episcopal conferences around the world not only how important it is for lay involvement to ensure greater accountability and transparency, but also how laity and the episcopacy can be co-responsible for the church's well-being."

Both the National Review Board and the National Advisory Council pressed the bishops to encourage Vatican officials to release documents regarding the investigation of misconduct by Theodore E. McCarrick, the former cardinal who was laicized earlier this year. The allegations against him were made public nearly a year ago on June 20, 2018.

The bishops also discussed the upcoming election, the crisis at the border and the issue of young adults leaving the church.

They were urged to do more to support the suffering of immigrant families, to be with them spiritually as pastors and to voice support for legal measures to help them.

"It's so important that our works match our words on this issue," said Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, June 11 after a presentation by the working group on immigration issues for the USCCB.

Two bishop members of the group, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, gave an update of what the U.S. church is doing at the national level and in certain regions of the country on immigration issues.

Bishop Vasquez urged the group to "redouble efforts to offer spiritual support and access to legal and social services to affected families," saying it is "vital that they feel supported by the church during this time of uncertainty."

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, spoke about an upcoming presentation at the fall meeting on how to respond to the growing number of young people leaving the church.

He said getting the religiously unaffiliated, or "nones," particularly young people, back to the Catholic Church, should be a top priority for the church, noting that 50% of Catholics age 30 and younger have left the church.

"Half the kids that we baptized and confirmed in the last 30 years are now ex-Catholics or unaffiliated," he said, and "one out of six millennials in the U.S. is now a former Catholic."

In anticipation of the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. bishops' quadrennial document that provides guidance to voters on Catholic social teaching won't change, but it will be supplemented by a brief letter and four 90-second videos that reflect the teaching of Pope Francis, the bishops were told.

A small group of no more than 10 protesters stood in largely silent protest June 11 outside the hotel where the meeting was taking place. One of the group's demands was that the bishops report abuse claims first to law enforcement.

"We don't think the church can police themselves," said Becky Ianni, director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests for the Washington area.

At the bishops' Mass at the end of the first day of the spring assembly, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and president of the USCCB, spoke about the challenges faced by early Christians and urged the bishops to follow the example of Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles who was respected and trusted.

"Today we honor Barnabas in our desire to do God's will and to do it carefully and with discretion but also with what the Holy Father calls boldness -- apostolic boldness," he said.

On the meeting's final day, the bishops also approved wording to keep treatment of the death penalty in the U.S. Catechism for Adults in line with the revised universal catechism.

During the second day of their meeting, the bishops met by regions and provinces in the morning. In the afternoon, they not only voted on the national hotline, but they also approved by electronic vote:

-- Strategic priorities for the 2021-24 USCCB Strategic Plan, in a provisional vote.

-- The second edition of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States for use in U.S. dioceses.

-- An update to texts last changed in 2003 for the ordination of clergy. The action still requires confirmation by the Vatican.

The bishops also gave their assent by voice vote for the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, to continue to pursue the sainthood cause of Irving "Francis" C. Houle, a man from Michigan who was said to have received the stigmata 16 years before he died in 2009, but who well before that had "many extraordinary physical and spiritual healings" attributed to him, according to a biography.

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Contributing to this report were Dennis Sadowski, Mark Pattison, Rhina Guidos and Christopher Gunty.

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