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Chilean bishop: Court ruling on sexual orientation training harms independence of Church

null / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, May 25, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A Catholic bishop and Alliance Defending Freedom have criticized the 2022 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) on the Pavez Pavez vs. Chile case for proposing controversial nondiscrimination “training” regarding sexual orientation that could threaten the country’s religious denominations.

The court gave Chile, and indirectly the Church, two years to comply.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, recently interviewed Juan Ignacio González Errázuriz, the bishop of San Bernardo, Chile, where the controversy originated, to learn how the Church is dealing with the case.

The prelate said the ruling handed down on April 20, 2022, against the Chilean state “implies that the independence of the Church or religious denominations is disavowed, and that is very serious and absolutely unacceptable.”

“The ruling jeopardizes the independence and autonomy of a religious denomination to fulfill its own purpose,” he pointed out.

In its decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Chilean state had discriminated against Sandra Pavez Pavez because of her sexual orientation. The Church did not renew her accreditation to teach religion because she was maintaining a same-sex relationship.

Beginning in 1991, Pavez taught Catholic religion classes at Cardenal Antonio Samoré High School in San Bernardo, part of metro Santiago de Chile.

The IACHR ordered that Pavez be reinstated “to the position she held as a teacher in a public institution.”

The court’s decision involves both the state and the Church in Chile as all public and most private schools receive a state subsidy. 

In addition, according to a 1983 law, all schools public and private must offer optional religion classes in the faith of the students’ parents’ or guardians’ choice. 

The competent authority of the religious denomination determines if the prospective teacher is acceptable and, if approved, issues a “certificate of suitability” to teach that religion, which can be revoked. In the case of the Catholic Church, that person is the diocesan bishop or his delegate.

Article 4 of the law also states that “any religious creed may be taught, as long as it does not violate a healthy humanism, morality, good customs, and public order.”

On July 25, 2007, the Vicariate for Education of the Diocese of San Bernardo learned that Pavez was in a relationship with a person of the same sex and therefore did not renew her accreditation to teach the Catholic faith on behalf of the Church.

Although Pavez was promoted to another position at the school, the woman decided to take legal action in the Chilean justice system, but since she didn’t get favorable results, she went to the international court. Her case was accepted by the Inter-American Court in September 2019.

One of the reparations demanded by the Inter-American Court of the Chilean state is the “guarantee of non-repetition,” i.e., that the Chilean state must implement a training plan, within a period of two years, for “people responsible for evaluating the suitability of teaching staff and judicial officials, of all levels, who are called upon to hear appeals for the protection of fundamental rights on the scope and content of the right to equality and non-discrimination, including the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

In the time remaining before the deadline, both the Church and the state have to decide how they will proceed.

The Church as a state entity?

Tomás Henríquez, area director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), explained that what the Inter-American Court ordered “in this case was to point out that it is the state that has to establish training for the people who are going to be in charge of evaluating the suitability of the teaching staff, in the case of the Catholic Church the bishop of the diocese or whoever has been delegated to this function.”

“How is the state going to comply? This is something that is not regulated by the court nor is it regulated by the state, and it is a pending discussion,” the Chilean lawyer told ACI Prensa in a recent interview.

In addition, Henríquez considers the provision of the Inter-American Court to be “an absolutely unacceptable imposition” because it is the Church “in the exercise of her own powers, which determines who are those who teach the faith.”

“What concerns me about this training on gender is not that they are going to change the opinion of the members of the clergy, but what it implies from the symbolic point of view, which is the claim to subjugate the Church, an entity prior to the existence of the state, and make it operate as if it were a state entity,” the ADF International director criticized.

Bishop González told ACI Prensa that what was ordered by the Inter-American Court “has not been complied with and surely it will not be possible to comply with so easily.”

“I don’t see how it could be possible for an international organization or a state body to subject a bishop or a vicar to some kind of course to not discriminate. My personal opinion is that it cannot be done,” he maintained.

For the prelate, it is “inadmissible that someone external to them is introduced into the exclusive and proper competence of religious denominations to qualify the judgment made by the religious authority regarding moral suitability.”

“The moral suitability that a person has to transmit the faith in the classroom is very important. In the case of the teacher Pavez, what happened is that there was a lack of moral fitness, because she began to live in a way that was absolutely contrary to the faith of the Catholic Church and its moral teaching,” he explained.

Referring to the order of the Inter-American Court, he stated that currently “we don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but the serious thing is that this could lead the educational authority to unilaterally introduce this decision of the court, that we bishops are not willing to accept.”

Finally, González reiterated that “it’s possible that a teacher has the skills to teach religion, but it can happen, as in the Pavez case, that she does not have the moral suitability to transmit it.”

In April 2022, the deputy director of ADF International, Robert Clarke, said that the decision of the Inter-American Court in this case “does not comply with international law, which clearly protects the autonomy of religious communities, and constitutes an exception if compared to similar cases decided in other human rights courts.”

“Once the state arrogates the responsibility of determining who is qualified to teach denominational religious education classes, why not also interfere in deciding which priests or ministers of worship are acceptable and, in that way, try to change the most deeply held beliefs of the autonomous religious communities?” Clarke questioned.

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

Bishops of Bolivia admit to having caused ‘deep pain’ to victims of sex abuse

The facade of Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in La Paz, Bolivia. / Credit: Yasemin Olgunoz Berber/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, May 25, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Faced with the scandal over allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by various priests in Bolivia, the country’s bishops acknowledged having been part of the “deep pain caused to innocent persons” and announced the creation of commissions to investigate the cases.

In a May 24 statement, the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference reported that it had received the visit of Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu, an official with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and an expert in the fight against abuse.

As a result of the meeting they had with the Vatican envoy, the prelates issued a statement in which they admitted that they had a part in the deficient handling of multiple cases.

“We are certain that we have been part, directly or indirectly, of deep pain caused to innocent people who have been victims of sexual abuse and the insufficient handling of the situation in the face of a reality that is truly difficult to understand,” they bishops said.

Addressing a few words to the victims and all those affected, the prelates said that “instead of giving them the protection and care they deserved, they met a Church deaf to their sufferings.”

“We know that there is no way to compensate for the harm caused, but we promise to do everything possible to accompany and provide reparation, with the support of professionals who provide assistance and help heal wounds and scars,” they added.

The Bolivian bishops described the progress they have made in recent years in the anti-abuse culture with the establishment of protocols, codes of conduct, and training for pastoral workers to deal with complaints.

However, they recognized that all of this has been insufficient and that “we have not given the response that we owed to our faithful and society in general.”

Consequently, the bishops announced that they will create a National Listening Commission and a National Investigation Commission to determine those responsible and find out what went on. This will go hand in hand with the prevention work that must be followed throughout the Church.

The bishops encouraged all those who have been victims of abuse, or who know of a case, to go to the places where the conference will receive complaints and also to public authorities to report these crimes.

Finally, the bishops reiterated their commitment to be transparent in their communications with the public and to cooperate with the investigations by the justice system in the country. In addition, they announced that they will communicate in a timely manner the progress that is being made, “always with the firm purpose of prioritizing care for the victims.”

An investigation published April 29 by the Spanish newspaper El País titled “Diary of a pedophile priest” revealed that Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno, who died in 2009, had abused as many as 85 minors based on his own diary discovered by a nephew among his personal belongings.

According to the nephew’s testimony, the diary also reveals a network of cover-ups, since it indicates that at least seven superiors and a dozen clergymen were aware of what was happening.

Subsequently, several other Jesuits, two Carmelites, and a Franciscan have been accused of sexually abusing minors.

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

Lawsuit alleges Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley failed to prevent abuse at Catholic high school

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA / null

Denver, Colo., May 25, 2023 / 14:55 pm (CNA).

Three former students at a Massachusetts Catholic high school have filed a lawsuit against Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley and other Church leaders because of alleged abuse committed by the school’s vice principal.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian on Monday announced that he had filed a May 5 lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court on behalf of three former students at Arlington Catholic High School in the northwest Boston suburb of Arlington.

The plaintiffs, who are not named in court papers, allege that former vice principal Stephen Biagioni abused them from about 2011 to 2016, the Boston Globe reported. The former students were between the ages of 15 and 17 at this time, they told reporters on Monday, according to WBUR News.

Biagioni, who became principal of Arlington Catholic High School, was placed on administrative leave in April 2016 pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged events at Sunday detention. At the time, vice principal Linda Butt said they had no reason to believe it involved allegations of sexual abuse, WCVB News reported.

The Archdiocese of Boston said that the allegations were reported to law enforcement when the high school became aware of them.

“We generally do not comment on active litigation,” Archdiocese of Boston spokesperson Terrence Donilon told CNA in a May 25 statement. “That said, we understand that certain of the allegations in this lawsuit were brought to the attention of Arlington Catholic High School in 2016 and were reported to the appropriate law enforcement and child welfare authorities at that time as part of Arlington Catholic’s ongoing commitment to provide a safe environment for young people at the school.”

“The administrator in question was subsequently removed from his position, and personnel from Arlington Catholic and the Archdiocese of Boston cooperated fully with the investigating authorities,” Donilon said.

The three have similar accounts. They said that during detention, Biagioni would wrestle students and during these incidents would force their heads up against his crotch area, including part of his genitalia. This was “explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct,” the lawsuit charges. The alleged victims suffer consequences including anger, flashbacks, and sleep problems.

“There is no doubt that the antennas of the Archdiocese of Boston should have been raised very high because of their history, allowing sexual abuse to occur for decades upon decades,” Garabedian said, according to the Boston Globe. “[O]ne would think by now they would have the proper safeguards in place to protect children.”

He said Church leaders should have done more to prevent abuse given their awareness of the history of abuse in Boston and because O’Malley since 2014 has held a significant role in the Catholic Church as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Besides O’Malley, the lawsuit was filed against Bishop Robert Deeley and Bishop Peter Uglietto as defendants as well as three other Church leaders. Biagioni, the former principal, is not named in the suit as a defendant.

Deeley, who now serves as the bishop of Portland, Maine, served as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Boston Archdiocese from 2011 to 2014, according to his biography on the Portland Diocese’s website. Uglietto has served as the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator for the clergy since February 2014.

The lawsuit said Church leaders have a duty to “properly supervise employees” to ensure that employees do not use their positions in the archdiocese “as a tool for grooming and assaulting vulnerable children.” It alleges that Church leaders “knew, or were negligent in not knowing” that Biagioni was a danger to the students.

The Boston Globe reported that two other plaintiffs who allege they were sexually abused by Biagioni also filed lawsuits against Church officials last year. Garabedian told the outlet that Biagioni wasn’t named a defendant in all three cases for “strategic reasons” and declined to comment further.

Garabedian has filed lawsuits on behalf of clergy abuse victims for decades. CNA sought a copy of the complaint from Garabedian’s office but did not receive a response by publication.

Nearly 30,000 abortions in Ireland since referendum came into effect, pro-life group says

An all-Ireland pro-life rally in Dublin. / William Murphy/infomatique via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Five years after Irish voters rejected the constitutional amendment that protected “the right to life of the unborn,” more than 28,800 abortions have occurred in Ireland since the referendum came into effect.

Irish Sen. Rónán Mullen called losing Ireland’s pro-life Eighth Amendment in the referendum vote on May 25, 2018, “the most tragic moment in Irish political history” in terms of the number of lives lost.

According to Ireland’s Pro-Life Campaign, the country’s annual abortion rate has increased by at least 70%, with 28,802 abortions performed in the republic since the referendum came into effect in 2019. 

New data provided by Ireland’s Health Service Executive on May 25 revealed that there were 8,876 abortions performed in Ireland in 2022 alone, a 33% increase from 2021.

“When we look at the change that has happened since it became legal, the most obvious change is that our abortion rates have gone up dramatically,” Mullen said in an interview with CNA.

Eilís Mulroy, the CEO of the Pro-Life Campaign, said the “alarming” rise in the abortion rate “points to the utter failure of the government to provide adequate safeguards and pathways to positive alternatives.”

One baby is being aborted in Ireland for every seven babies born, Mulroy told CNA.

Credit: Graph courtesy of Pro-Life Campaign
Credit: Graph courtesy of Pro-Life Campaign

The amendment legalizing abortion came into effect in January 2019. Mullen noted that in the first year that abortions were legalized in Ireland the number of abortions was 6,666, “a number that was not lost on lots of people.”

He added that Ireland’s Down syndrome population has been particularly affected by the referendum.

“We live this paradox where many of us in our community still want to celebrate the presence of people with Down syndrome among us. We champion the love and the participation that they bring to our world, and yet we’re working for the world where they will no longer exist,” Mullen said.

Irish government considers further pro-abortion measures

The Irish government is currently considering a recently released report by the chairperson behind a three-year review into Ireland’s abortion laws.

The report has been widely criticized by pro-life advocates as “based on selective evidence and poor-quality research,” according to Mulroy.

Ireland’s March for Life on May 1 brought out thousands of people who marched in Dublin from St. Stephen’s Green to the front of Leinster House protesting “the extreme proposals” contained in the review report.

The report recommends decriminalizing abortion entirely, which would effectively allow for abortion on request up to birth.

Elective abortions are allowed in Ireland up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and later in cases of fatal fetal abnormality or where the woman’s life or health are deemed to be at risk.

“It has been incredibly irresponsible for the three-year review, which failed to present an accurate estimation of the abortion rate, to focus so heavily on dramatically expanding the abortion legislation,” Mulroy told CNA.

“The review should have been an opportunity to objectively assess the impact and operation of the abortion law.”

Instead, she said, the report is “effectively like a blueprint for more abortion as a whole document and has failed to do anything to address the massive abortion rates or to do anything to support women.”

The report also recommends that the eight remaining maternity hospitals in Ireland that do not perform abortions be forced to do so, raising concerns about conscience protections for doctors and nurses.

“Ireland has transformed from a situation where any potential change to Ireland’s abortion laws would require a referendum of the whole people, to a new situation where extreme proposals can be made by unelected appointees without any serious media scrutiny or parliamentary accountability,” Mulroy said.

Credit: Graph courtesy of Ireland’s Pro-Life Campaign
Credit: Graph courtesy of Ireland’s Pro-Life Campaign

A closer look at the numbers

Pro-life advocates have also criticized the review report’s claim that there were approximately 17,820 abortions in the Republic of Ireland between January 2019 and December 2022.

“This figure is grossly inaccurate, and underrates the real number by 40%,” according to the Pro-Life Campaign. 

Mulroy explained that the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 required that doctors fill in a notification form to the Minister for Health after they’ve performed an abortion, which is compiled and released in an annual report. 

However, for the abortion rate in 2021, the number of notifications submitted by abortionists to the government was far out of step with the number of claims made for reimbursement for abortions performed. While 4,577 notifications were received, abortionists submitted reimbursement claims for 6,683 abortions performed in 2021. 

“The Department of Health acknowledged this in a supplementary note on the DOH website when releasing the annual report for 2021 in the summer of 2022. Obviously, doctors had been performing abortions, claiming money, but not filling in the notification forms,” Mulroy said.

The Pro-Life Campaign came to a total of 28,802 abortions performed in the Republic of Ireland from 2019 to 2022 by looking at the numbers of notifications and claims over the years since the referendum went into effect. 

In 2019, there were 6,666 notifications of abortions performed. In 2020, 6,577 notifications. In 2021, 6,683 claims were filed. And in 2022, 8,876 abortion claims.

“All this information points to an explosion in the number of Irish babies aborted since the repeal of the Eighth Amendment five years ago and the consequent introduction of the new legislation,” Mulroy said.

“Even if we account for the number of women with Republic of Ireland addresses who had an abortion in Britain annually plus the estimated number of approximately 1,000 abortion pills taken each year illegally in Ireland (ordered online) [before the referendum], we are still looking at a 70% increase in the years 2019–2022.”

Mullen noted that “even by the government’s own figures, it’s clear that there has been a large increase in the number of abortions.”

“And that shouldn’t surprise anybody because when something becomes legal, it becomes permissible.”

Supporting the cause of life in Ireland

Mulroy said that mobilization is needed to try to get more pro-life politicians elected in Ireland’s next election to bring about change. 

Sen. Mullen, who leads the Irish political party Human Dignity Alliance, has also asked people to pray for Ireland.

“To change the world, we need prayer, sacrifice, and action,” Mullen said. 

“I would ask people for their prayers for Ireland, for better laws in Ireland, and for good and dare I say it, better leadership around some of these areas,” he said.

South Carolina signs six-week ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill into law

null / Shutterstock.

CNA Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill Thursday prohibiting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy that goes into effect immediately.

The Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, passed the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday in a 27-19 vote, a week after the House passed the bill. The new law includes exceptions for rape and incest, the life of the mother, and fetal abnormalities up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

“With my signature, the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act is now law and will begin saving the lives of unborn children immediately,” the Republican governor said. 

“This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it,” he said.

South Carolina had previously banned abortion after 22 weeks. The change in the law makes Virginia the only southern state that has not added further restrictions to abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The South Carolina Catholic Conference released a statement applauding the passage of the bill.

“The Fetal Heartbeat Act is the strongest pro-life bill the state General Assembly has ever passed. The Catholic Conference thanks Senate leadership for coming together to pass a life-affirming bill that protects babies and their mothers.  

“We anticipate the abortion industry will file an immediate legal challenge. The battle will now move to the courts. For now, this is an incredible victory for life in the Palmetto State. Praise be to God!” the statement read.

Abortion providers Planned Parenthood and Greenville Women’s Clinic have filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

“Abortion providers have asked a state trial court to block S. 474 on the grounds that it violates South Carolinians’ constitutional rights to privacy, equal protection, and substantive due process by banning abortion, providing inadequate protections for patients’ health, conditioning sexual assault survivors’ access to abortion on the disclosure of their personal information to law enforcement, violating the Medicaid Act, and improperly targeting Planned Parenthood through an unconstitutional bill of attainder,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

South Carolina’s Supreme Court struck down a six-week abortion ban in January. Justice Kaye Hearn, who authored the ruling, has since retired. Her seat is now held by Justice Gary Hill, who was elected by both houses of the majority-Republican Legislature.

‘We don’t have an agenda,’ Synod on Synodality organizer says in new EWTN interview

Cardinal Mario Grech, who serves as secretary general of the global Synod on Synodality, speaks to EWTN Rome Bureau Chief Andreas Thonhauser for an exclusive interview that aired on EWTN on May 22, 2023. / EWTN Vatican

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Mario Grech, who serves as secretary general of the global Synod on Synodality, says the ongoing process underway in the Church risks missing “a moment of grace” if it focuses on polarizing issues raised during listening sessions, including same-sex marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination.  

In a sit-down interview with EWTN News, the Maltese prelate says that while he believes “a synodal Church is a more spiritual Church,” it is important to remember that the Church “is not a democracy.” He also addresses the involvement of lay men and women and other “non-bishops” in the synod’s assembly of bishops in October, and he draws a distinction between the worldwide synodal process and Germany’s Synodal Path, observing that the latter has “sent negative vibes” throughout the global Church.

The interview below has been edited for clarity.  

Your Eminence, you are responsible for organizing the synod’s assembly of bishops in October. A synod is not unusual, but this is a Synod on Synodality. Why does the Church, in your view, need a Synod on Synodality? 

These are two different words, synod and synodality. There can be synodality without a synod. But there is no synod without synodality.  

I’m not playing with words. It can happen that we have a synodal assembly without the spirit of synodality. We can and we need to become a more synodal Church, even without having a synod. 

Synods are an important moment in the life of the Church. In the past, the synod was a moment where only bishops were engaged. Pope Francis has introduced a new dimension of this experience that involves all the people of God.  

Everyone is being invited to reflect, to pray, and contribute to help us become more of a Church. After all, if we are talking about synodality, we are talking about the Church itself.  

Can you describe in a nutshell what it would look like for the Church to become more synodal?  

In simple terms, a synodal Church is a more spiritual Church. There is a temptation that we transform the Church into an NGO [nongovernmental organization], as the Holy Father underlines. The Church is the body of Christ and the anima (soul) of this Church is the Holy Spirit. 

A synodal Church is an invitation to the people of God to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the main player in this synodal process. The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of this process. 

To me, an invitation to a synodal Church is an invitation to give more space to the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, a key word in this simple process is discernment: How can we discern what the Holy Spirit is communicating to the Church today? 

One of the methods that really was effective in the continental assemblies is what we call the conversation in the spirit: spiritual conversation or synodal conversation. 

When we meet to discuss and listen in sessions, they are not purely human sessions. We have to invoke the Holy Spirit, we have to listen to the Word of God. Otherwise, the Church would be my project, our project, but the Church is not ours. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. 

Can you explain why non-bishops are now being invited to participate in the synod assembly taking place this October in Rome?  

The synod is an assembly for bishops and it will remain an episcopal assembly. The nature of the assembly is not going to change. But the Holy Father decided, through listening to the people of God, to also invite non-bishops to the synod.  

By non-bishops we mean not only laypeople but [also] priests, deacons, consecrated people, religious, and permanent deacons. The total number of non-bishops is less than 25%.  

Why this percentage? We do not want to change the nature of the assembly. The synod is an assembly of bishops. The presence of other members of the people of God gives expression to the whole people of God, but their presence there is also a presence to guarantee that the process is being respected by the bishops participating in their synodal assembly. 

The people of God that participated from the very start of this process are now also taking part in the final stage of the process. Their presence is there. Bishops are there because they are the shepherds, and there is no flock without a shepherd. And there are no shepherds without a flock. 

The reflection on the synodal Church brought up hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination. How should the Synod on Synodality help address these issues?  

During the first phase of consultation or listening phase, various issues were raised, as you are underlining. It was the first time that people were given this opportunity to speak out on these issues. The Church was listening to their needs. And I’m not surprised that certain hot-button issues now came to the fore. But at one point, me and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the general relator for this synod, sent a letter to all bishops, highlighting the fact that the theme of this particular synod is for the synodal Church. 

Other issues will not be discarded. We will put them on the back burner, as they are not issues that should be tackled by this particular synodal assembly. If we enter into those issues at this particular moment, we will miss a golden opportunity, a moment of grace, a reflection on how we can really help the Church to become more synodal and create those spaces where all the members of the people of God, under the leadership and the guidance of their pastors, can really contribute to evangelization.

So, this should be clear. We tried to make it clear. Again, it’s not that we are putting away certain issues raised by the people of God. These issues need to be addressed. But I believe, and this is my personal belief, that once we become more synodal, the theologians become more synodal, then we will be in a better position to explain the Gospel to the people of God, and also address certain issues.  

At a press conference when asked if you were worried that some agendas will hijack the synod, you said that the only one who could hijack the synod is the Holy Spirit.  

I really believe that this moment of grace will help us to become more spiritual, because the winds of the world can also blow in the Church and we have to pay attention. We don’t have an agenda. The agenda is already set, set in the Gospel, set by Jesus Christ. We have to do our reflection and listen to the Word of God, in the light of tradition, in the light of the magisterium.  

We are not starting a fresh page today, as if nothing has happened in the past. There’s a continuity. But in order to engage in this spiritual conversation, in this spiritual conversion, because it entails a conversion, we need to make more time for prayer, to be able to kneel down in the presence of the Lord. 

The synod is consultative in nature. Having consulted with so many people from around the world, bringing in bishops, and also non-bishops, do you think the synod should become more of a legal body of the Church by making its votes binding? 

It’s not up to me to pronounce myself on this issue. And I’m being sincere. I would like the synodal assembly to say something about this. But the nature of a synodal assembly, as you’re saying, is consultative, because ultimately it is the Holy Father’s decision. When Paul VI instituted the synod, the aim was to help the Holy Father, to consult with the Holy Father. 

I think there is decision-taking and decision-making. Listening to all the people of God, especially the bishops convened at the synodal assembly, is part of this decision-making, which will enlighten the Holy Father to make his own discernment.

There is this ecclesial discernment going on. I also say, always underlying this, we have the gift of the episcopal ministry in the particular Churches that can guarantee that the people are not going astray in their discernment. And for the whole Church, we have the Holy Father, the Petrine ministry, that really helps and guarantees the whole Church that we are doing God’s will. 

There has been criticism concerning the process of the Synod on Synodality. Is there any criticism that worries you that you would like to address? 

First of all, I understand those who have doubts or fears or different points of view. 

For me, criticism is valuable and it should help us all in our discernment process. Nobody has to be excluded, even if one is critical, or has objections, everyone should be welcome on board. Let us not forget that we are one family. And it takes time until ideas mature, until one really understands what’s going on. 

I have my fears as well. For example, those who are opposing the people of God and the hierarchy now, because in this synodal process everyone was allowed to raise his voice, some might think that we are on a way leading to a sort of a democracy. The Church is not a democracy.  

The Church is hierarchical, constitutively hierarchical. The ministry of bishops, the Petrine ministry, are a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. And we need to treasure that.

So if those who are opposing, for example, the crowd, the people of God with the hierarchy, that really hurts me, because we have to walk together, respecting all the charisms and ministries.  

Ministries are a gift for the Church. And they can give us assurance that we are walking the right path.  

Your task of communicating and explaining the synodal process has not necessarily become easier with a parallel process in Europe that has raised a lot of attention — the German Synodal Path. What is your take on this and how is it seen in the context of the global Synod on Synodality? 

Unfortunately, the Synodal Path in Germany sent negative vibes in all the Church. I was in Africa, I was in Bangkok, and I listened to people who were a bit hesitant and worried about what was taking place in Germany. 

But I always say, do we really know what is taking place in the Church, in our sister Church in Germany? There are two different synodal experiences. 

It is not a synod in Germany. It’s a synodal journey. A synodal way, they call it. Canonically it is neither a diocesan nor a national synod, as far as I know. 

They are two different ecclesial experiences. One in Germany is trying to address issues that are recurrent challenges for the Church in Germany. And the other one is for the whole Church. And the themes are absolutely different. 

Perhaps the global, universal synod will help us, will guide us to avoid other difficulties in the future in our experience of synodality. 

It is true that particular local Churches are very important in the whole frame of ecclesiology. The Church is made up of particular Churches, and this is Vatican II, but no particular Church is autonomous, no particular Church is independent from the other Churches.  

And if synodality is an important element in the Church, also the communion among bishops is a value.  

I’m talking about collegiality now. The bishops in Australia, to give another example, because they had also a plenary council now, the bishops in Ireland, the bishops in Germany, they have their responsibilities and their challenges. And we have to help our brothers to address the difficulties. 

But bishops are not autonomous, bishops form part of a college of bishops, and there are issues that belong to the whole Church that need to be addressed by all the bishops together, together with Peter.

This might give us hope for the experience in Germany. I really have trust in my brother bishops in Germany that they are well-meaning. And I hope they will find the right answer to the issues raised in their synodal experience, and to the issues that the people of God in Germany are putting forth.  

Are there demands that the proposals in Germany that have been voted on as well as adopted be added to the agenda of the global synod? 

No. They are two different experiences. The synod for the whole Church is about synodality. Now, if there are elements in the German synodal experience that deal with synodality, why not? But not everything that was on board in the synodal way in Germany fits in the synodal experience of the whole Church, because I repeat, they are two different experiences.  

Are there synodal elements to the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon? 

One result from all the continental assemblies was that we realized we need to create more spaces for the young generation. We need to find a new language so we can communicate with them. It’s a challenge. And obviously, World Youth Day will be an opportunity. 

Our secretariat is studying a project for how to be present on the ground so that we can also listen to the young generation. Because they are not only the future, but they are [also] the present. And when we made the invitation for the non-bishops for the synodal assembly of bishops, we indicated to the episcopal conferences to please also send young people. We want young people to be present to participate in this process. 

You have been asking people from around the world to contribute and participate in this process. Are there any inspiring ideas for evangelization you’ve encountered that are worthwhile to pursue? 

The idea of mission and synodality started from the Synod for Youth. In fact, in the final document of that synod the youth and the synod members spoke about mission and the synodal Church. Mission and synodality are the two faces of the same coin. We need a synodal Church in order to be more effective in our mission.  

How can we be really effective today? If all the people of God become conscious that we are all subjects of evangelization, that evangelization is not restricted only to a special class, a special group. But all the baptized are subjects and empowered by the Holy Spirit to announce the Gospel today. 

Everybody is invited and must feel duty-bound to announce Jesus to humanity today. This is the main objective of our reflection on a synodal Church.  

A synodal Church is for me mainly a spiritual Church. We need more prayer. We need more prayer to avoid the risk that the Church becomes only a human convention, a human institution.  

This is the reason why a few months ago, we sent an invitation to all bishops, so that during the month of May we organize a prayer at the feet of Mary, in the presence of Mary.  

Because Mary, the mother of the Church, our mother, she will guide us, help us, accompany us in this particular moment of the Church. I invite everyone to take part even with prayer in this moment of grace. 

Watch the full interview with Grech below.

Archbishop mourns loss of historic church in Alberta, Canada, destroyed by arson

The loss of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, on May 22, 2023, makes a sad moment for those with memories of the church, said Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas. Two men have been arrested in connection with the fire. / Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Vancouver, Canada, May 25, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

The archbishop of Grouard-McLennan in Northern Alberta, Canada, says he is saddened but “not overcome” by the loss of a 121-year-old church to arson.

Archbishop Gérard Pettipas, CSsR, released a statement Tuesday, May 23, following the May 22 fire that destroyed the historic St. Bernard Catholic Church.

Pettipas said the church was “irreparably destroyed” and marks “a sad moment for the many people who have fond memories of this church. Frequent Masses, baptisms, funerals, confirmations, and confessions took place between these walls, which are now charred and rendered as rubbish.”

The interior of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, after it was destroyed by fire on May 22, 2023. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
The interior of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, after it was destroyed by fire on May 22, 2023. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Royal Canadian Mounted Police have charged two men in connection with the fire: High Prairie, Alberta, residents Kenneth Ferguson, 56, and Gerald Capot, 50, are both charged with break and enter to commit theft as well as arson.

The two will appear in court in High Prairie on May 29.

St. Bernard’s Church, built in 1902, served as the first cathedral in the Diocese of Grouard in Canada. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
St. Bernard’s Church, built in 1902, served as the first cathedral in the Diocese of Grouard in Canada. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

In his statement, the archbishop said St. Bernard was “a place of immense historical significance.” 

“It was not only a monument to the past but [also] a vital part of the present and a building our diocese has been trying to restore, little by little, to its original beauty,” he said.

Saying he greatly mourned the loss of the church and regretted “the incident that led to its destruction,” the archbishop said: “I am not overcome by this loss. Nobody lost their life in this fire.”

Archbishop Gérard Pettipas celebrates Mass at St. Bernard’s in Alberta, Canada, in 2021. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
Archbishop Gérard Pettipas celebrates Mass at St. Bernard’s in Alberta, Canada, in 2021. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Although a church was destroyed, he said, “the Church — church with a capital C — will never be destroyed. The people of God, the body of Christ, lives on. A building is lost to the flames, but the flames of faith kindled there are not. The good news of Jesus Christ is as present and alive as ever.”

The archdiocese said the church was the diocese’s first cathedral, built when the episcopal vicar of Athabasca, Bishop Emile Grouard, chose Lesser Slave Lake Post as the seat of his diocese.

Grouard, a skilled artist, painted the mural that was displayed behind the altar. 

In 1942 the vicariate was transferred to McLennan, where the current cathedral was completed in 1945.

More than 50 Catholic churches in Canada have been vandalized or burned down since the announcement in 2021 that graves had apparently been found near a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

The Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada maintains a Church Attacks Database at cataloging attacks against Catholic churches in Canada ranging from the breaking of stained-glass windows to acts of desecration and church burnings.

This story originally appeared on May 24, 2023, in The BC Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada. It is used here on CNA with permission.

What is incorruptibility? Here’s what you need to know

A man places his hands on the glass urn holding the remains of St. Pio in Pietrelcina, Italy, in 2016. St. Pio was found to be in a state of partial deterioration and partial preservation when his coffin was opened in 2008, but experts present at the exhumation have said there was no supernatural quality to what was preserved. Artificial preservation techniques have since been applied to conserve his body from further deterioration and a lifelike mask has been placed over his skull. / Ivan Romano/Getty

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 09:33 am (CNA).

Catholic pilgrims are descending on a Benedictine monastery in rural Missouri after a seemingly incredible discovery.

The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, the African American foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, appears to be in an unexpected state of preservation even four years after she died in 2019 at the age of 95.

When the abbess and sisters of Sister Wilhelmina’s community decided to move her body from the cemetery to a final resting place inside their monastery chapel May 18, they were surprised to find her body apparently intact, even though she had not been embalmed.

The sisters were also amazed to see that their foundress’ habit was also in excellent condition, despite the complete disintegration of the cloth lining of the wooden coffin.

The current abbess of the community, Mother Cecilia, OSB, told EWTN’s ACI Group a few days after the discovery that they believe their foundress could be incorrupt. 

But no investigation has yet been carried out to rule out any natural causes for the presumed phenomenon, and the Catholic Church has not ruled on Sister Wilhelmina’s case. A cause for the foundress’ canonization has also not been approved by the Church.

How does the Church define the incorruptibility of saints, and what does the phenomenon signify?

What is incorruptibility?

Incorruptibility is the preservation of the body from normal decay after death.

According to Catholic tradition, incorruptible saints give witness to the truth of the resurrection of the body and the life that is to come.

The Church does not have a cut-and-dried definition of what condition a holy person’s body must be found in to be declared incorrupt, and it does not necessarily require that the body remains permanently in the same condition in which it was found.

Incorruptibility, when proven, is considered a sign, because it cannot be explained by intentional preservation, such as embalming, or by unintentional preservation through natural causes, such as mummification. 

Identification of incorruptibles

The Catholic author Joan Carroll Cruz, who died in 2012, wrote about the phenomenon in her 1977 book “The Incorruptibles.”

She identified 102 saints or blesseds who are recognized by the Church to be incorrupt.

She said there were certainly many more, but these 102 are “the great majority, and certainly the most famous.”

Cruz did extensive research for her book and, because she was writing before the internet, corresponded with the shrines holding the bodies to authenticate their incorruptibility and to discover if they had been embalmed.

She noted that at the time she was researching and writing, there were errors, or “false rumors,” about the incorruptibility of some saints.

The poor quality of some photographs of saints’ remains sometimes have lead people to believe that the “simulated figures” holding the relics of saints were really unnaturally preserved corpses, she wrote.

An 18th-century pope gave his definition of incorruptibility in a treatise on the process of beatification and canonization of saints.

Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, wrote the lengthy work while serving in the Holy See’s congregation for the promotion of saints’ causes from 1708 to 1728.

Two chapters of the book, titled “De Cadaverum Incorruptione,” outlined the young theologian and lawyer’s position on the phenomenon of incorruptibility.

According to Cruz, Lambertini ruled “that the bodies of saintly persons that are found intact, but disintegrated after a few years, could not be considered miraculous preservation.”

“The only conservations he was willing to consider extraordinary are those that retain their lifelike flexibility, color, and freshness, without deliberate intervention, for many years following their deaths,” she noted.

Cruz’s book documented cases where this has happened, such as for St. John of the Cross, who died in 1591 and whose body, she wrote, “is still perfectly supple.”

More recent saints have also exhibited this phenomenon, such as St. Charbel Makhlouf, a Lebanese monk who died in 1898. 

Miracles also occurred around the time of St. Charbel’s exhumation from his dirt grave, a few years after his death. One was the presence of a fragrant scent, a common phenomenon with incorruptibles. A bright light also emanated from St. Charbel’s grave after his death, prompting devotees of the holy monk to ask for his remains to be examined.

Common objections

A common objection to incorruptibility is the idea that the body either must have been deliberately preserved, a practice since ancient times, or that the conditions of the grave or tomb allowed for natural preservation.

In at least one case, modern scientific examination has found that a saint previously believed to be incorrupt was likely not.

According to a 2001 article by Heather Pringle, a Church-sanctioned investigation by Italian scientists in the 1980s found that the 13th-century Tuscan saint Margaret of Cortona had received extensive embalming and other intervention after death. 

The scientists also uncovered documents that showed embalming had been requested by devotees of the saint, a patron of reformed prostitutes. But after the passage of years, the fact had been forgotten, and her appearance led people to believe it was miraculous.

The evidence had been covered by her clothes, and out of a sense of modesty a full examination of her body had not been carried out for centuries.

The same scientists, however, could find “not a trace of human intervention” on another 13th-century saint and well-known incorruptible in Italy, St. Zita.  

A more recent example of mistaken incorruptibility is that of Blessed Carlo Acutis.

Photos of the holy teen caused some confusion online after his body was displayed for public veneration leading up to his beatification in 2020.

The bishop of Assisi, Italy, Domenico Sorrentino, clarified that though Carlo Acutis’ body appeared intact in photos, that was due to the use of a silicone reconstruction of his face — the blessed’s body had been found in a normal state of decay when exhumed 14 years after his death in 2006.

Does any preservation exclude incorruptibility?

Cruz argued in her book that some deliberate preservation after death does not exclude the possibility that the cadaver could still exhibit an unexplainable condition many years after death.

She acknowledged that about 1% of the 102 incorruptibles she identified had received some intervention. Many others, however, certainly had not, as they belonged to religious orders that did not allow it.

She also rejected the idea that many cases could be explained by natural mummification, citing the lack of rigidity or hardness of the bodies, the normal condition of mummified corpses.

As evidence, she documented the conditions in which many of the saintly people had been found, such as in dirt graves or wood coffins with significant decay and deterioration. St. Charbel’s body, for example, was found floating in mud. She argued that these were not conditions conducive to mummification. 

At one time, the Church would accept a candidate for sainthood’s incorruptibility as one of the miracles required for canonization. This practice fell out of use because being incorrupt after death is not one of the requirements to be declared a saint in the Catholic Church, nor is it a definitive sign of having lived “a heroic life of virtue.”

And many of the saints and blesseds whose remains have followed the normal process of returning “to dust” have been displayed for public veneration using coverings or silicone masks, as in the case of Carlo Acutis.

The state of Sister Wilhelmina’s body, whether verified to be incorrupt or not, sends a message that “Heaven is real. The resurrection is real,” the abbess of the foundress’ community in Gower, Missouri, said.

“Have faith,” Abbess Cecilia said. “Life does not end when we take our last breath: It begins.”

This story was originally published in 2020 and was updated on May 25, 2023.

Pope Francis on care for creation: ‘God wants justice to reign’

Pope Francis delivers his Regina Caeli address on May 21, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 08:07 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of the virtue of justice in a message for the upcoming World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

“God wants justice to reign; it is as essential to our life as God’s children, made in his likeness, as water is essential for our physical survival,” he said in the message, released May 25.

“God wants everyone to strive to be just in every situation, to live according to his laws and thus to enable life to flourish,” the pope continued. “When we ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33), maintaining a right relationship with God, humanity, and nature, then justice and peace can flow like a never-failing stream of pure water, nourishing humanity and all creatures.”

Pope Francis established the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in 2015, to be celebrated every year on Sept. 1.

The ecumenical day of prayer is seen as a sign of unity with the Orthodox Church and launches what is called the Season of Creation, celebrated every year from Sept. 1 through Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

The theme of the 2023 Season of Creation is “Let Justice and Peace Flow.”

Pope Francis said in his message that the theme is inspired by the words of the prophet Amos: “Let justice flow on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

The pope’s message for the 2023 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation was released during Laudato Si’ Week May 21–28.

Laudato Si’ Week 2023 marks the eighth anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’, Francis’ landmark encyclical on the environment.

In his message on caring for creation, Pope Francis said the first step is the transformation of our hearts.

“This is essential for any other transformation to occur; it is that ‘ecological conversion’ which St. John Paul II encouraged us to embrace: the renewal of our relationship with creation so that we no longer see it as an object to be exploited but cherish it instead as a sacred gift from our Creator,” he said.

“Creation,” Francis continued, “refers both to God’s mysterious, magnificent act of creating this majestic, beautiful planet and universe out of nothing and to the continuing result of that act, which we experience as an inexhaustible gift.”

“During the liturgy and personal prayer in ‘the great cathedral of creation,’ let us recall the great Artist who creates such beauty and reflect on the mystery of that loving decision to create the cosmos,” he said.

Pope Francis also reflected on his visit to Canada in July of last year, especially a stop on the shores of Lac Ste. Anne in Alberta, which is a place of pilgrimage for indigenous people.

The pope used the imagery of water throughout his message, including the idea of thinking about how to contribute “to the mighty river of justice and peace.”

One step he encouraged people to take is to change their lifestyles and to repent of their “ecological sins,” in the words of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

Francis invited people, with the help of God’s grace, to lower their waste production and consumption, to be mindful about their habits and economic decisions, to use resources with moderation and sobriety, to recycle, and to make greater use of sustainable options.

Regarding public policies, Pope Francis said world leaders participating in COP28, the U.N. climate change conference at the end of the year, “must listen to science and institute a rapid and equitable transition to end the era of fossil fuel.”

“Let us raise our voices to halt this injustice towards the poor and towards our children, who will bear the worst effects of climate change,” he said.

PHOTOS: Hundreds of Catholics march through Washington, DC, for eucharistic procession

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. / Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, two days after the solemnity of the Ascension. 

The procession, led by Catholic Information Center (CIC) Director Father Charles Trullols, began at the CIC building at 1501 K St., NW, and passed by Lafayette Square, which overlooks the White House, and by the Veterans Affairs Building. It ended with Benediction back at the CIC.

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

“This was the best event ever, because we honored Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist downtown, Washington, D.C.,” Grace Sims, 66, Arlington resident, told CNA after the Benediction.

Procession participants knelt before the Eucharist displayed in a monstrance and sang St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn “Salutaris Hostia” before beginning the procession through the city. Attendees stopped at three altar stations for silent prayer. At the first altar, Trullols read from the Gospel of John and at the second altar, he delivered a homily. At the third altar, he celebrated Benediction. 

During the procession, attendees prayed the joyful mysteries of the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. They also sang hymns, which included “Immaculate Mary.” 

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Edwin Salazar, a 27-year-old resident of Hyattsville, Maryland, told CNA that it was amazing how many people showed up to give public witness to their faith. 

“I think it was amazing; it was beautiful,” Salazar said.

“It really helps people ground their faith when they have a community backing them up.”

Another attendee, Sandy Cremers, told CNA that she had been to a eucharistic procession before, but this was her first time attending one in Washington, D.C. 

“We should do this every day until the country converts … and until our leaders convert,” she said.

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Trullols told CNA that the procession helps Catholics see the “sense of the beauty that we all have to … give to the Eucharist and the devotion and reverence.” He added that it also helps bear witness to the faith in front of people who otherwise would not encounter the Eucharist. 

Some bystanders who were not part of the procession also showed interest. Several people stopped to watch the procession, some took pictures, and others asked a few of the attendees about the event. 

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

“I saw so many bystanders stopping, taking pictures, wondering what it was,” Trullols told CNA. 

Trullols said this was the first time CIC organized a procession and it “exceeded all of [our] expectations.” He said he hopes to organize another procession next year “to make this an annual event.”