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FBI investigating fourth church attack this year in El Paso

El Paso, Texas, Dec 6, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- The FBI is investigating the fourth case of church vandalism in El Paso this year, with authorities saying they are uncertain whether the incidents are related.

An unknown perpetrator vandalized St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on Thursday, destroying nearly half a dozen windows and doors and starting a small fire in one of the parish offices.

ABC-7 reported that FBI officials are unsure if the vandalism is related to three other attacks that took place this year in the west Texas city, which borders both Mexico and New Mexico.

No one was in the church at the time of the vandalism, but a parish fire alarm alerted authorities to the intrusion. The damaged windows and doors were replaced on the same day.

Fernando Ceniseros, a spokesman for the Diocese of El Paso, encouraged anyone with information on the crime to reach out to the police, FBI, or the local crime stoppers initiative.

“If you see something, if you know something or if you hear something we are asking our people to say something,” he said, according to the ABC-7.

Three other Catholic churches in the area have been subject to vandalism and arson in the last eight months.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Matthew Catholic Church were both vandalized in May. Small fires had been set outside of each church, where the FBI found incendiary devices, according to local media.

 St Jude Catholic Church was then attacked in June. Another incendiary device was used, starting a fire inside the church, which led to minor smoke damage.

The FBI has issued a $15,000 reward to help track down the offender in the church attacks.

In May, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso questioned the motives behind the destruction, suggesting that the back-to-back attacks were beyond random acts of violence.

“When we see that two events happen like this in such short order it certainly concerns us that it wasn’t simply an act of random vandalism but two events targeting churches,” said Seitz, according to KTSM.

After the most recent attack, a parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church told ABC-7 that they were shocked by the offense but that the community is not intimidated.

“To whoever did it, we are not afraid of you, we will continue to come here to worship God and we will continue praying for those who did it,” the parishioner said.

Prosecute pornographers for obscenity, Congressmen tell AG

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Four members of Congress have requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) use obscenity laws already on the statute book to prosecute major pornography producers and distributors.

In a letter to the DOJ provided to National Review, Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and Brian Babin (R-Tex.) all warned of an “explosion in pornography” that is fueling violence against women, human trafficking, and child pornography.  

The members asked Attorney General William Barr to bring back the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in the DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division. The task force, founded in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration, was responsible for invesitgating and prosecuting producers of hard core pornography under obscentiy laws. The task force was dissolved by Eric Holder, Attorney General under President Barack Obama, in 2011.

Rep. Banks, who led the letters signatories, said in a statement provided to CNA that the internet and other technologies have brought about convenience, but that has a “dark side” to it.

“Anyone connected to the Internet – including children – has on-demand access to billions of photos and videos of people having sex or committing other lewd acts,” Banks stated.

“The prevalence of pornography in our society has consequences, especially for our children. It’s time we start talking about it,” Banks said.

Obscenity laws are already on the books forbidding obscene pornography online, on TV, at motels, and through retail, but the laws need to be enforced, the letter says.

“Given the pervasiveness of obscenity, it’s our recommendation that you declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority and urge your U.S. Attorneys to bring prosecutions against the major producers and distributors of such material,” the letter stated.

Pornography has been declared a “public health crisis” by 15 state legislatures. President Trump, as a 2016 presidential candidate, signed the Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge to prioritize enforcement of obscenity and anti-child pornography laws.

Pope Francis, in a recent meeting at the Vatican with technology executives from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Paramount Pictures, emphasized the responsibility of technology companies to protect against the abuse and exploitation of children.

New McCarrick lawsuits brought as New Jersey litigation window opens

Newark, N.J., Dec 6, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Two new lawsuits were filed against Theodore McCarrick and New Jersey dioceses this week, after the state temporarily lifted its statute of limitations on sexual abuse allegations.

The two lawsuits allege that McCarrick sexually assaulted two males while he was bishop of Metuchen and archbishop of Newark, in some cases at the cathedral rectories. One of the males was a minor at the time of the assault.

The other male was James Grein, who originally went public with his allegations against McCarrick in July of 2018 in the New York Times. Grein said he was abused by McCarrick, a family friend, beginning at age 11 when McCarrick was a priest in the Archdiocese of New York.

In his lawsuit filed on Thursday, Grein said the abuse continued while McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark; the counts of sexual assault in Grein’s lawsuit were alleged to have taken place in the 1980s, by the time he was an adult.

Other counts include gross negligence by the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark.

Theodore McCarrick was laicized for sexual abuse of minors and adults in February after a Vatican canonical penal process triggered by an initial complaint made in the Archdiocese of New York was found “credible” and subsequent investigation showed a history of alleged sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

In one of the two lawsuits in New Jersey courts this week, plaintiff John Bellocchio alleged that McCarrick “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with him when Bellocchio was a minor, “approximately 13 or 14 years old” in “approximately 1995 or 1996” while McCarrick was Archbishop of Newark.

The abuse allegedly occurred at a parish in the archdiocese as McCarrick was “presiding [at] ceremonial services as Archbishop.”

Bellocchio’s family attended St. Francis of Assisi parish in Hackensack, New Jersey, and he had “participated in youth activities and/or church activities at St. Francis”

In the other lawsuit, plaintiff James Grein alleged that McCarrick “engaged in unlawful sexual contact” with him “at times” when he was bishop of Metuchen, from around 1982 to 1986, and then while McCarrick was archbishop of Newark from around 1986 to 1989.

Grein also filed a lawsuit in August against the Archdiocese of New York for alleged abuse by McCarrick while he was a priest of the archdiocese.

Grein alleged that some of the abuse in the 1980s took place “at times” in the rectories of the cathedrals of Metuchen and Newark; McCarrick allegedly pressed his naked body against Grein’s and grabbed his genitals.

Grein also alleged gross negligence on the part of the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark for not properly recognizing and addressing the threat McCarrick posed.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark stated to CNA that “The Archdiocese of Newark takes all allegations of sexual abuse seriously. We are carefully reviewing the allegations in new lawsuits. Today and every day, we stand with survivors of clergy abuse on their journey towards healing.”

“We reassure the faithful that we continue to do all we can to promote the healing of victims, to enact structures of accountability, and to provide greater transparency into the activities of the Archdiocese of Newark. Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s Statement of Accountability on our website represents an important step in our ongoing efforts to heal the Body of Christ and uphold our commitment to the faithful,” the statement continued.

Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq., spokesperson and chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen, stated that “it is our moral obligation to face any allegations, even those from long ago, with transparency and truth to ensure that justice is served and to make certain these actions can never be repeated.”

“The Diocese of Metuchen is aware of the pending lawsuits and while we cannot discuss pending litigation in detail, we can say with confidence that every allegation of abuse, as a matter of strictly adhered to policy, has been and will continue to be reported to law enforcement.”

The diocese also pointed to the Independent Victim Compensation Program of the five New Jersey dioceses which serves as “an efficient alternative to litigation; one that is both speedy and transparent, and which can resolve their claims with a significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” Claims through the program are accepted through Dec. 31, the diocese said. 

McCarrick was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York by Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1958, and rose through the ranks to become one of the most prominent, powerful, and well-known ecclesiastical figures in the Church before he was laicized in 2019.

He was appointed as the bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981, and appointed as archbishop of Newark in 1986. He served there until 2001 when he was appointed as archbishop of Washington, D.C. He served until his retirement in 2006, but even in retirement he traveled frequently despite reported sanctions placed on him by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

After the Archdiocese of New York found allegations against him to be “credible” and other allegations were publicized to the press, he was subsequently assigned by Pope Francis to a life of prayer and penance in August of 2018.

McCarrick was laicized in February of 2019 after the Vatican’s expedited investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

In a canonical deposition by the Archdiocese of New York in December of 2018, Grein reportedly said that McCarrick abused him during confession.

Catholic leaders say food stamp cuts will harm people, but not put them to work

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- A new rule that will disqualify roughly 700,000 people from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps, will not help people find or keep employment, leaders of Catholic charitable and social policy organizations told CNA.

“Just because suddenly they're not eligible for SNAP doesn't mean they don't need SNAP. It doesn't mean they don't need nutrition assistance,” Julie Bodnar, a policy advisor for the department of Domestic Social Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

“So they're going to turn elsewhere and the Church is going to strive to meet those needs, but it's hard. There's no increased resources on our end, so I think people will do their best, but it's going to be a struggle to try to respond to that increased need,” Bodnar added.

On Dec. 4, the Trump administration officially announced a change in SNAP eligibility rules that will apply to single adults between the ages of 18-49 who do not have children and are not disabled. Such adults qualify for food stamps if they work at least 20 hours a week for more than three months within a three-year period. However, states have until now been allowed to grant waivers for the work requirement in areas with high rates of unemployment.

The new rule tightens restrictions on these waivers, only allowing them in areas where the unemployment rate is 20% above the national average unemployment rate, and at least 6% over a two-year period. The national unemployment rate in October was 3.6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This new rule would disqualify 688,000 people from food stamps when it takes effect in April 2020, the USDA told NBC News. It is the first of three new rules being considered by the USDA. If the other two measures pass, millions of people could lose their eligibility for food stamps.

Brian Corbin is the Executive Vice President of Member Services at Catholic Charities USA. Corbin told CNA that the new restrictions violate a principle of Catholic social teaching, which is that “food is a basic right, a basic human right to help fulfill our dignity and flourishing,” he said. “We have to remember that we're dealing now with people and food and food security.”

Corbin said that many of those who lose their eligibility for food stamps will likely come to Catholic Charities branches throughout the U.S. for help.

He added that most people overestimate the amount of financial assistance food stamp recipients actually get.

“We're talking about $167 is the average monthly voucher for SNAP,” he said. According to the USDA, the intention of the new restriction on food stamps is to be fair to taxpayers, and to incentivize able-bodied people to return to work. “We’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told NBC News.

“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That’s the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”

Bodnar said her department welcomes and supports efforts to expand SNAP education and job training programs, rather than measures that disqualify people from food assistance.

“It just doesn't help meet that goal (of people returning to work) in any concrete way. It’s only a punitive measure.”

Corbin said that while the idea to incentivize people to return to work is good in theory, in practice it will take food away from people who were laid off their jobs or who are living in states experiencing recession.

“First, these are people that are probably struggling because they were laid off or that jobs are not available in certain parts of the country,” Corbin said. “And second, recessions come and go, so this really prevents states from (having) the ability to act appropriately, to respond to the recession.” “And third, a lot of states are not mandated to have employment training programs,” Corbin added, making jobs even more out of reach for people in already high unemployment areas.

Monsignor John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. said he has personally witnessed the hunger of low-income people and was worried the new SNAP restrictions would let more people go hungry.

“My experience is an awful lot of people out there...really are in desperate situations, not of their own wishes or desire, and they need assistance to get themselves out of that situation,” Enzler told CNA.

According to a recent press release from Catholic Charities D.C., the District of Columbia has a food insecurity rate of 14.5% due to food deserts and families living below the poverty line. This means more than 82,000 are food insecure, including 31,000 children.

Enzler said when he was a pastor in a local parish he personally knew of some low-income people who resorted to eating dog food when they couldn’t afford to feed themselves. He has also known of grandmothers who go without food so that they can feed their own grandchildren.

“These are real, honest situations going on,” Enzler said. “That should shock the jeepers out of all of ourselves. The nation’s capital? The capital of the Free World? What are you talking about? Well, it's true. It's real.”

Citing chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, the monsignor added that Jesus taught his disciples to care for the poor, the hungry and the thirsty in their midst.

“He actually says on judgment day...we'll be judged on whether we met Jesus in those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, or ill,” he said. “This is part of the Gospel. This is part of our call to take care of people. And we do the best we can.”

Catholic Charities in D.C. already operates several programs that serve meals to homeless or low-income people along with other forms of assistance. They are currently in the midst of their third annual Virtual Food Drive, through which people can make online donations that will benefit a local food bank and several other food assistance programs that partner with Catholic Charities.

One of those programs is St. Maria’s Meals, a food truck and bike delivery program that provides warm meals to 300 people in need on a weekly basis. The name comes from the wife of St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers. Enzler said that according to the story of St. Isidore, he would send poor people home to his wife, Maria, and she would feed whoever showed up.

“The legend is that the food never ran out. So basically she and Isidore just took care of people. That's the Gospel, basically, taking care of people. That's why it's Maria’s, because we say our food will not run out. You come to us, we'll take care of you.”

Last year, Catholic Charities D.C. provided more than 2.5 million meals to people in need and distributed more than 1 million pounds of food to local pantries. They also served 28,000 people through St. Maria’s Meals and more than 32,000 people through a program that provides grocery assistance to recently released prisoners.

Enzler encouraged Catholic leaders to preach out the call to help the poor, and he encouraged Catholics to pray for those in need and to contact their representatives to voice their concerns about the SNAP restrictions.

“With a program like SNAP, basically what the government says is that we'll help the situation. Without it, it's going to be more on us,” Enzler said.

“We'll keep doing the best we can, but our resources are limited. We don't have anywhere near that amount of money that the government has to do the things we're called to do. So obviously, we find ourselves limited in our response,” he added.

“What's the bottom line? People are starving. That's the bottom line.”

 

Congress advances bill condemning China ‘re-education’ camps

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2019 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The House of Representatives this week passed legislation recognizing the mass detention of Uyghurs and other abuses committed by the Chinese government in the province of Xinjiang.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who sponsored the House version of the legislation, said on the House floor on Tuesday that “millions of stories” are “waiting to be told about the crimes against humanity being committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic Muslims.”

“We cannot be silent. We must demand an end to these barbaric practices and accountability from the Chinese government. We must say “never again” to the cultural genocide and the atrocities suffered by Uyghurs and others in China,” Smith said.

The bill, the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act (UIGHUR Act), was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). It passed the house overwhelmingly on Tuesday by a vote of 407 to one. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was the lone vote in opposition.

“The Chinese Government and Communist Party is working to systematically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” Rubio stated on Tuesday.

Now the amended legislation heads back to the Senate for consideration. The UIGHUR Act notes that the communist Chinese government “has a long history of repressing Turkic Muslims, particularly Uighurs, in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”

In 2014, the repression grew more intense as the government’s “Strike Hard against Violent Extremism” campaign began under the guise of an anti-terrorism campaign.

Between 800,000 and two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities are estimated to have been detained in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang since 2014, the bill finds.

There have been reports of forced labor, rape, forced abortions, re-education and torture in the camps, poor working conditions at factories once detainees have been released from camps, and mass surveillance by the government in the region. Families have been separated and Muslim religious practices have reportedly been forcefully curtailed.

Last month, leaked documents emerged offering insight into the organization and management of the camps. 

One of the documents appears to be part of a manual or handbook for the operation of the internment camps, which are referred to as “vocational skills education and training centers.” The handbook is dated to 2017, when the internment camps first began operating, and is marked as “confidential.” 

The manual includes details on how prison camp employees should work to prevent escapes of prisoners, prevent information about the camps themselves from being leaked, and how to indoctrinate prisoners. Additional guidelines in the document detail how to stop disease outbreaks, fires, and when those imprisoned in the camp are to be allowed to use the bathroom or see their relatives. 

One former Uyghur camp detainee, Zumrat Dawit, testified at a side event of the United Nations General Assembly in September on “The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang” on Sept. 24. She reported being beaten, shackled, denied food, and sterilized, according to the Associated Press.

The Chinese government has defended the existence of the camps, previously calling them vocational training centers. After the New York Times in November published leaked Chinese government files ordering the mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, China said that detentions were efforts to curb terrorism in the region.

The bill, S.178, directs the President to submit a list of senior Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and subject them to sanctions. It also calls on the President to condemn the abuses in Xinjiang and call for the camps to be closed; the Secretary of State should also consider sanctions under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the bill says.

It would direct various U.S. government entities to report to Congress on the Uighurs, on matters such as the scope of detention, forced labor, and government surveillance in the Xinjiang province of China, the eligibility of certain Chinese individuals for human rights sanctions, and the forcible return of Uighur refugees and asylum-seekers by foreign countries to China.

“We will not be silent. Justice is coming. We will demand accountability—not only because it is the right thing to do, but because U.S. interests are threatened by China’s high-tech authoritarianism,” Smith said.

Rep. Massie, who voted against the legislation, also opposed a bill to sanction human rights abusers in Hong Kong and express solidarity with pro-democracy protesters.

He explained his “No” vote on the bill on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that “When our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.”

“Before expressing righteous indignation re: my vote against these sanctions, please consider whether you committed enough to the issue that you would personally go a week without buying something made in China,” he stated.

On Nov. 27, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, sponsored by Rubio, which provided for sanctions of human rights abusers in the region.

Smith, who first introduced a version of the legislation in 2014, said that “Xi Jinping should understand that the US is not kidding about human rights. Beating, torturing and jailing of democracy activists is wrong and this historic legislation lets China know that respecting fundamental human rights is paramount.”

Tucson bishop: US policy puts migrants at risk of violent crime

Tucson, Ariz., Dec 5, 2019 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- The U.S. government’s “Remain in Mexico” policies put vulnerable migrants at risk of kidnapping, rape, cartel violence, gang activity, and other dangers across the border, the Catholic Bishop of Tucson, Arizona said this week.

“The Migrant Protection Protocol is a policy that does not provide protection to these most vulnerable people and in fact has placed them in significant danger in cities that cannot adequately assist them,” Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson said Dec. 2. For these reasons I call on others of good will to oppose this policy and to join me in communicating this opposition to our congressional delegation.”

The Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, were announced in January 2019 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These policies have meant between 50,000 and 60,000 asylum seekers, mainly families with children, have remained in border cities like Tijuana, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros while their cases are processed by immigration courts – a procedure that may take years.

“The numbers of people forced across the border have overwhelmed the cities, the humanitarian aid organizations and the Mexican Government,” Weisenburger said.

Sanitary conditions in some areas are so bad in some areas that 2,500 people share only three toilets. Pregnant women receive only one bottle of water per day. Families and children live in “makeshift tents on sidewalks,” the bishop said.

“In addition to the inhumane conditions in which the people must remain, they are subject to extortion and kidnapping by cartels and gangs, 364 rapes and assaults have been reported in one city, and daily threats of violence when the family has no money to pay the extortion,” said Weisenburger.

The government’s “Remain in Mexico” policy had not been implemented in the Tucson Sector until Nov. 22, when a change in policy was announced. The Department of Homeland Security decided the sector was a “weak link” in its efforts to detain undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, the bishop reported.

“The policy is not to apply to children traveling alone, pregnant women, people who are ill or with disabilities or those who were determined to face violence in Mexico,” he said. Still, he added, “There is reason to believe this policy has not been adequately implemented and that many of these most vulnerable people are living in the streets in the city of Juarez where they will be taken from Tucson.”

The bishop emphasized the Christian duty to aid migrants, asylum seekers and others in need.

“As Catholics, we are bound by faith to see all people as one family created in the image of God. We are called to offer hospitality to those who need us,” he said. “We are required to treat all with dignity and respect because they are our sisters and brothers. We are called to walk in solidarity with migrants on their journey.”

He pointed to the work of the Tucson diocese’s Catholic Community Services, which has been operating its migrant shelter Casa Alitas for six years. So far in 2019 it has aided 20,000 people, mainly families with children, as they travel to meet their sponsors and take part in the legal process to seek asylum.

“All people assisted at Casa Alitas are provided medical screening, clothing, food, assistance with transportation, a clean bed and a safe place to recover from the trauma of an arduous journey,” he said. “Few if any of these resources are available in Juarez.”

“Instead of care, concern and dignity these same families are being pushed into the street facing danger and the uncertainty if and when they will be given to opportunity to present their case to an immigration official,” said the bishop.

A Catholic-run migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, across the U.S.-Mexico border from the city of Juarez, closed in mid-2019 because the migrants it would have assisted were barred from entering the country. After opening in 2018, before the policies changed, the shelter had been taking in 40 to 80 migrants per day after the migrants were cleared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

As a whole, the U.S. bishops have been critical of the Trump Administration and previous administrations’ handling of migration.

In a March 13 joint statement, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services said the “Remain in Mexico” policy “needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols.”

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement said.

The Trump administration has justified its policies on several grounds, including the need to limit the number of false asylum claims.

The number of asylum claims has dramatically increased over the last decade, with very few asylees being allowed to stay. In 2009, there were 35,811 people who applied for asylum in the United States, and 8,384 were granted. In 2018, that number had more than quadrupled to 162,060 claims, with 13,168 actually granted.

Pelosi fumes: 'I don't hate anybody. I was raised Catholic'

Washington D.C., Dec 5, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Thursday rejected the suggestion that she “hates” President Donald Trump, and said that her Catholic faith prevents her from hating anyone. 

"I don't hate anybody. I was raised in a Catholic house, we don't hate anybody—not anybody in the world,” said Pelosi. She had been asked by a journalist during her weekly press briefing if she “hates President Trump.”

Pelosi had earlier announced the House Democrats would begin drafting the articles of impeachment. 

"As a Catholic I resent you using the word 'hate' in a sentence that addresses me," a visibly angered Pelosi said, pointed her finger at the journalist. She went on to claim that she prays for Trump “all the time.” 

“So don't mess with me when it comes to words like that," she added. The Speaker said that any disagreement with Trump was rooted in policy, not in who he was as a person. 

Pelosi has in the past encouraged people to pray for President Trump. In October, Pelosi said that people should pray for the president’s health after she abruptly left a meeting with the President. In September, Pelosi said that she prays for the Trump family “all the time,” and that she “wish(es) that he would pray for the safety of other families and do something courageous on guns.” 

On Twitter, Trump said that he did not believe Pelosi prays for him, “not even close,” and that Pelosi had suffered a “nervous fit” during her briefing. 

“She hates that we will soon have 182 great new judges and sooo much more,” said Trump. “Help the homeless in your district Nancy,” he added. 

Pelosi has repeatedly cited her Catholic faith in the political realm, and used it to justify her positions, especially her long-standing support for abortion. Pelosi’s statements have occasioned significant pushback from members of the Catholic hierarchy at different times. 

In 2008, in her second year as Speaker of the House, Pelosi stated on an August 24 episode of “Meet the Press” that "as an ardent, practicing Catholic, [abortion] is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition,” and that her faith “shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.” 

At least 22 bishops released statements correcting Pelosi on this statement, and clarified the Church’s teachings on abortion. 

“While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development,” said a statement published Aug. 25, 2008 by Cardinal Justin Rigali and then- Bishop William Lori. 

At the time, Rigali was the chair of the USCCB’s pro-life activities committee, and Lori led the USCCB Committee on Doctrine. Lori is now the Archbishop of Baltimore and Rigali retired in 2011. 

In June 2013, Pelosi opposed a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation and said that the bill was an effort to ensure that “there will be no abortion in our country.”

“As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this,” she said at the time. “I don't think it should have anything to do with politics.”

Diocese of Rochester confirms it requested Fulton Sheen beatification delay

Peoria, Ill., Dec 5, 2019 / 12:50 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Rochester confirmed on Thursday that it had requested a delay of the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, which had been scheduled for Dec. 21 until it was postponed indefinitely earlier this week.

But an official in the Diocese of Peoria said the Rochester diocese has not disclosed all of its interventions to delay the beatification.

“A person’s cause for beatification must entail a review of the person’s entire life. In this regard, the Diocese of Rochester has considered the tenure of Archbishop Sheen as the Bishop of Rochester,” the diocese said in a statement Dec. 5.

The diocese noted it had particularly considered the issue of Sheen’s role in “priests’ assignments.”

“The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen’s cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification,” the diocese said.

The statement came one day after CNA's first reported Dec. 4 that Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester had asked the apostolic nuncio to the United States to delay the beatification, citing concerns about an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into the dioceses of New York state.

Sources told CNA that Matano was especially concerned that the attorney general could time the release of an announcement concerning Sheen to coincide with the beatification, potentially marring the celebration with allegations of scandal.

The Dec. 5 Rochester statement said the diocese had requested a delay “prior to any announcements of the beatification.”

The diocese said it had “provided the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for  the Causes of Saints through the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio with documentation that expressed concern about advancing the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen at this time without a further review of his role in priests’ assignments.”

Msgr. James Kruse, an official in the Diocese of Peoria involved in advancing Sheen’s cause, told CNA that while the Rochester diocese had raised those concerns before the beatification date was set, it also raised them again in recent weeks. Two other officials connected to the beatification cause confirmed Kruse's statement.

Kruse said the Rochester press release did not acknowledge that fact.

The priest told CNA that Matano sent a letter to the apostolic nuncio Nov. 19, after the beatification was announced, saying that he could not support the scheduled beatification and requesting that it be delayed.

“They did not agree with the fact the beatification date was set and announced, and asked that further consideration be done,” Kruse told CNA Dec. 4.

CNA requested a copy of the Nov. 19 letter from the Diocese of Rochester. The diocese told CNA Dec. 5 that “it is not appropriate to release a letter addressed to the Apostolic Nuncio.”

Kruse told CNA Dec. 4 that the issue in question is the case of Gerard Guli, a former Rochester priest.

“Guli is the issue,” he told CNA.

The priest was ordained in 1956, and from 1963 to 1967 served in parishes in West Virginia. According to a document issued by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, in 1963 the Diocese of Rochester received an allegation that in 1960 Guli committed abuse or misconduct against adults, not minors.

Kruse told CNA that the priest “returned from Wheeling to help his sick parents” in 1967.

Sheen became Rochester’s bishop in October 1966.

Some have claimed that Sheen gave Guli an assignment in the Diocese of Rochester, despite the 1963 allegation against him, Kruse said, and that Bishop Matano was concerned the NY attorney general would identify this issue in any report or announcement.

But Kruse said that Sheen never assigned Guli to ministry.

“We have studied extensively Sheen’s administrative decisions regarding Guli, and he never put children in harm’s way,” Kruse said.

“And in talking with Guli, assignments that some say Sheen gave him, Guli says ‘I never served there.’”

“And so this whole concept that Sheen appointed a pedophilic priest, that’s just not true,” Kruse added.

“The documents clearly show that Sheen’s successor, Bishop Hogan, appointed Guli, and it’s at that assignment that Guli offended again.”

“It’s [Bishop] Hogan who appointed Guli to the parishes in the towns of Campbell and Bradford where Guli offended, and it’s part of the reason that led to his ultimate removal and laicization, as well as other issues.”

Hogan was Sheen's successor.

In 1989, Guli was arrested for an incident of abuse involving an elderly woman. The priest was serving at Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish at the time. He was subsequently laicized.

Guli was not mentioned in the Diocese of Rochester’s Dec. 5 statement, and the diocese declined to answer questions about the priest Dec. 4.

“We have known about the Guli issue for quite a long time and all of that has been thoroughly examined…that all of the life and everything has been vetted, and in the end, Sheen is exonerated in things. And likewise, Rome has vetted all of that also,” Kruse told CNA.

The Rochester diocese said Dec. 5 it “appreciates the many accomplishments that Archbishop Sheen achieved in his lifetime in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide through media, thereby bringing the message of Jesus to a vast audience.  His legacy in the area of communications made him a prophet in the future use of mass media to advance the teachings of Jesus, a phenomenon recognized by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”

On Dec. 3, the Diocese of Peoria said the delay of Sheen’s beatification is “unfortunate especially because there continue to be many miracles reported through Sheen’s intercession.”

“Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision. In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and will be affected by this news. He is firmly convinced of the great holiness of the Venerable Servant of God and remains confident that Sheen will be beatified. Bishop Jenky has every intention of continuing the Cause, but no further date for Beatification has been discussed.” the diocese added.

For its part, the Diocese of Rochester said that “a beatification process reminds us that we are all called to be saints to live with the Lord eternally in heaven, praying that the Lord judges us worthy to behold Him face to face in that beatific vision that brings everlasting joy. From his place with the Lord, Archbishop Sheen enjoys eternal peace and joy in the everlasting presence of God, Our Father, whom he did serve with dedication and zeal for the salvation of souls.”

 

 

Sex abuse accusation against Tulsa priest 'unsubstantiated'

Tulsa, Okla., Dec 4, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- An accusation that a priest sexually abused a minor during an assignment nearly 30 years ago was “unsubstantiated” and the accused priest may return to ministry, the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma has said after a third-party investigation was completed.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa thanked the accused priest, Father Joe Townsend, for “his cooperation and patience during this difficult ordeal.”

The accusation stemmed from his service as associate pastor from June 1988 to June 1991 at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Tulsa.

“After a thorough investigation that was both victim-centered and respectful of the rights of the accused, Bishop Konderla, in agreement with the third-party investigators and in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board, a board of primarily lay persons, has found the allegation against Fr. Townsend to be unsubstantiated,” Harrison Garlick, chancellor and in-house counsel of the Diocese of Tulsa, said in a Dec. 3 memorandum.

Townsend was put on administrative leave after the allegation in mid-2019. The diocese announced the accusation and asked anyone with possible knowledge to come forward.

The ruling means the priest is removed from administrative leave and may again exercise public ministry in the Tulsa diocese.

Garlick said the priest will enter “a season of healing and rest” and will not be considered for a pastoral assignment until summer 2020.

“The diocese has notified law enforcement of the findings of this investigation and remains committed to cooperating with civil authorities,” Garlick said. “Bishop Konderla extends his gratitude to all who participated in this investigation, everyone who came forward to share information, and those who generously kept all involved in their prayers.”

Open windows for reporting expected to trigger avalanche of new abuse cases

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Open windows for reporting incidents of child sexual abuse regardless of when they occurred could lead to a wave of thousands of new abuse cases against Catholic clergy and billions of dollars in lawsuits, a recent report from the Associated Press estimated.

“A trickle becomes a stream becomes a flood,” James Marsh, a New York lawyer who represents abuse victims, told the AP. “We’re sort of at the flood stage right now.”

In total, eight states have opened “look back” windows, which allow adult victims of sex abuse to come forward with allegations from their childhoods, even if they have passed the statute of limitations. Seven more states have significantly relaxed their statutes of limitations, allowing victims to come forward much later in life than previous laws had allowed.

In August of this year, New York opened up such a window for one year, as part of the Child Victims Act. Prior to this, victims had until the age of 23 to come forward with cases of childhood sexual abuse. After the open look back window closes, victims will now have until the age of 55 to come forward.

New Jersey opened a two-year window for victims Dec. 1. After that window closes, a new law extended the statute of limitations on reporting childhood abuse from 20 years of age to 55.

California’s three-year “look back” window will open Jan. 1, 2020, and victims will be awarded triple in damages if they can prove there was an attempt on the part of the Church to cover up the abuse. Once the window has closed, victims will be able to come forward with childhood abuse cases up until the age of 40, instead of the previous limit of 26 years of age.

According to AP interviews with lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups, the number of cases that will come from just those three states could lead to at least 5,000 additional cases of abuse, with lawsuit payouts that “could surpass the $4 billion paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.”

The other states that have opened up look back windows are Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Carolina, along with the District of Columbia. Most states have temporary look back windows, though Vermont’s window will never expire, allowing anyone to come forward with an allegation of childhood sexual abuse at any time.

Seven other states have increased the age at which adults may come forward with cases of childhood abuse; in many cases, the increase was by more than a decade.

The relaxed or temporarily eliminated statutes of limitations have victims cheering, lawyers competing for sex abuse clients, and the Church preparing for another onslaught of cases.

“I was sitting in my living room and someone came on TV, ‘If you’ve been molested, act now,'” 57-year-old Ramon Mercado told the AP. “After so many years, I said, ‘Why not?’”

Mercado told the AP that he had been quiet about the abuse he had suffered as a child in the 1970s so as not to upset his mother, who recently died.

Many of the cases being brought forward include priests already on the public “credibly accused” lists that many dioceses have.

But some cases, like Mercado’s, name priests who are dead, and are not already on such lists, complicating the possibility of defense on the part of a diocese.

“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the AP.

“There is also no one there to be interviewed. If a diocese gets a claim that Father Smith abused somebody in 1947, and there is nothing in Father Smith’s file and there is no one to ask whether there is merit or not, the diocese is stuck,” he added.

Steven Alter, a lawyer who has represented multiple sex abuse victims and is collecting more clients, insisted to the AP that “it’s not a cash grab.”

“They (victims) want to have a voice. They want to help other people and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I haven’t had one person ask me about the money yet,” he said.

The new wave of abuse cases comes after several years of sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in the United States, including the allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailing decades of abuse cases, which triggered an avalanche of victims to come forward and investigations of clergy sex abuse in dioceses across the country.

The newly relaxed or eliminated statutes of limitations in these 15 states will further strain diocesan finances, with dioceses looking to victim compensation funds or selling valuable real estate as ways to pay victims.

Victim compensation funds are currently being used in several dioceses, including the Archdiocese of New York, every diocese in the states of New Jersey and Colorado, and several dioceses in Pennsylvania and California.

These funds offer to settle with victims outside of court, which means that victims are compensated more quickly, but at a lower amount than what they might have won in court, according to the AP. Compensation funds are formed by donations taken up specifically for that purpose, and are not funded by donations made to Catholic schools, seminaries, or other ministries.

Since setting up its fund in 2016, the Archdiocese of New York has paid “more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each,” the AP reported.

In a 2018 op-ed for the New York Daily News, Dolan said that the use of victim compensation funds “surpasses endless and costly litigation — which can further hurt the victim-survivors; it insures fair and reasonable compensation; and prevents the real possibility — as has happened elsewhere — of bankrupting both public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

Still, bankruptcy may be in the future for some already financially strained dioceses, which also leads to less compensation for victims than if they were to win at a trial. A Penn State study cited by the AP of 16 dioceses and other religious organizations that had recently filed for bankruptcy were able to settle with sex abuse victims for an average of $288,168 per case.

Paul Mones, a Los Angeles lawyer who has successfully prosecuted millions of dollars worth of sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church, told the AP that if these newly-revealed cases are taken to trial, the amount that the Church will owe in victim compensation could be “astronomical.”