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Polish bishops ask forgiveness of sexual abuse victims

Czestochowa, Poland, Nov 20, 2018 / 11:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Poland published Monday a statement on the sexual abuse of minors by some clerics, asking forgiveness of the victims and calling for action, prayer, and penance.

When sexual abuse “appears among the clergy, it becomes the source of a particular scandal,” the bishops said in their Nov. 19 statement, prepared during their plenary assembly at Jasna Gora.

“The disillusionment and the outrage are all the more painful because children, instead of receiving caring love and accompaniment as they seek the closeness of Jesus, experience violence and the brutal detachment from their dignity as children.”

The bishops made frequent reference in their statement to the words of Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, as well as of St. John Paul II.

“For many believers, especially for young people who are sincerely looking for God, sexual scandals involving clergy are becoming a hard test of faith and a reason for great scandal,” they said.

“The Church in Poland wants to be increasingly effective so that the safety of children and young people, according to the will of the Lord, will become a priority for all communities and families,” they added.

The bishops said they have begun collecting data on sexual abuse of minors by clerics in Poland, and said that such an act is “an extremely grave sin.”

“We ask God, the victims of abuse, their families and the Church community for forgiveness for all the harm done to children and young people and their relatives by clerics, consecrated persons and lay workers in the Church. We ask the Lord to give us light, strength, and courage to resolutely combat the moral and spiritual corruption that is the main source of sexual abuse against minors. We ask the Lord to make our efforts to create an open and child-friendly environment in the Church effective.”

They said they have acted for many years to eliminate such crimes from among the clergy: “Any sign of possible criminal acts leads to a preliminary investigation, and if the probability is confirmed, the Holy See and the prosecutor's office are informed. We ask those who have been harmed by the clergy to report the damage suffered to ecclesiastical superiors and to the appropriate state authorities.”

The bishops noted that each dioceses has a delegate to receive reports of abuse, who will “help the victim to get psychological, legal, and pastoral support” so as “to help the victims to take the steps necessary to overcome the consequences of the damage suffered.”

The bishops' conference has, for five years, appointed a child protection coordinators who “organizes many formation meetings for the diocesan and religious clergy that are slowly but effectively changing attitudes and raising awareness. We are also preparing in dioceses, orders and religious congregations a prevention system to help to protect children and adolescents from potential sexual abuse. We want ecclesial communities to be a safe place for children and young people and to make their safety a priority for the whole society. On this occasion, we appeal to all those who take this to heart to effectively combat threats against children and young people, especially in the sphere of the Internet.”

“We are also more attentive to the human and spiritual formation in the seminaries and to priestly formation. For this purpose, for several years, formation is given the educators in the seminaries so that they may work competently on the formation of future priests and avoid admitting immature people, unable to faithfully pronounce their vows and promises, to become members of the clergy.”

They urged prayer and penance to “open our hearts to the spirit of authentic conversion; let us live in harmony and love with all people of good will and fight against all abuses of power, sexuality, and conscience, in all environments, especially in the Church communities where children live and grow.”

The bishops urged perpetrators to repentance: “Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.”

“May Mary, the Mother of Beautiful Love, ask her Son to give us his grace so that we may express our sincere sorrow and act with determination in a courageous struggle against every kind of danger, coming from some clerics, inflicted on children and young people,” the Polish bishops concluded.

“Let us not forget to ask for conversion for the perpetrators of these wrongs. Let us also ask for the entire Church, both clergy and laity, the spirit of unity and Christian love of our neighbor. Let us be strengthened by the example and intercession of martyr priests who gave their lives in defense of human dignity.”

Russian icons, spiritual masterpieces on display at Vatican

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2018 / 10:05 am (CNA).- “Art, spirituality, beauty,” are the three words Vatican Museums director Barbara Jatta used to describe a visiting exhibition of 54 Russian icons and masterpieces, which opened at the Vatican Tuesday.

The exhibit, which has no cost to visit, is called a “Pilgrimage of Russian Art: From Dionysius to Malevich” and will be on display in the Vatican’s Braccio di Carlo Magno Museum, the entrance to which is in St. Peter’s Square, until Feb. 16, 2019.

The paintings and icons, many of which have never before been exhibited outside their home gallery, were brought to the Vatican following a successful visit of Vatican Museum masterpieces – including works by Raffaello and Caravaggio – to Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery in 2016.

Jatta told journalists Nov. 19 that part of the idea of an exhibit “on Russian spirituality, the Russian soul,” is that beauty can build bridges between cultures, places, and religions.

The 54 pieces, spanning the 15th to 19th centuries, include works such as Dionyius’ 16th-century icon, “The Crucifixion,” Vasily Perov’s 1872 “Portrait of the Author Feodor Dostoyevsky,” and Kasimir Malevich’s 1929 version of “The Black Square.”

A goal of the show, according to its Russian curators, is to “present the cultural and spiritual message of Russian art in the heart of the Western Christian world.”

The works are not presented in chronological order, but in a loosely thematic way, to show how Russian art, though different in style over the centuries, was and continues to be influenced by the same cultural and spiritual principles, according to Zelfira Tregulova, director of the Tretyakov Gallery.

For example, a 15th-century icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus, called “Theotokos Kikkotissa,” is hung beside Nikolay Yaroshenko’s 19th-century painting, “Life is Everywhere,” which also depicts a mother and child.

In “Life is Everywhere,” a train car of convicted criminals is waiting to be transported to exile in Siberia; among them, a woman is holding her child, who is reaching out the barred window to feed breadcrumbs to birds outside.

Tregulova wrote in her introduction to the show’s 266-page catalogue that the exhibit demonstrates the “deep, inner relationship between icon painting and Russian realism of the 19th century.”

Icon painting was a living art in the 19th and 20th centuries in Russia, and a familiar part of life for every Russian, she explained.

“The masterpiece, in Russian understanding, should not just be a work of art of the highest quality, but a global utterance on a theme that is of universal importance,” she wrote. “The mastery and quality of pictorial art are not negated, but they take second place to the spiritual value of the work.”

A look at 25 years of RFRA

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2018 / 03:14 am (CNA).- Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

While the law is well-known within legal circles, many Americans may not realize that RFRA is one of the primary legislative pillars upon which religious freedom arguments have rested in the last quarter century.

What exactly is RFRA? What does it say, how did it come to be passed, and what are the primary challenges that it faces today?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act clarifies the standards that should be used in judging religious freedom disputes involving the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. That clause says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

But what are the limits to what may be carried out in the name of free exercise of religion? What is to stop an individual or group from carrying out acts of rape, theft, or human sacrifice, and claiming that they are exercising their protected religious beliefs in doing so?

RFRA helps answer that question. It says that the federal government may not “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion, unless there is a “compelling government interest” in doing so, and it is carried out in the “least-restrictive” manner possible.

Over the last 25 years, courts have used these standards to evaluate various religious freedom claims that conflict with established laws. In one case, courts upheld the right of an Arkansas inmate to grow a beard as required by his Muslim faith. In another, a Native American feather dancer was allowed to use eagle feathers in a religious ceremony.

In a high-profile 2014 case, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and similar employers could not be forced to comply with the federal contraception mandate against their religious beliefs. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the federal government had failed to prove that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of advancing its goal of providing free birth control to women.

RFRA was initially passed in response to two high profile cases involving American Indians. In one case, the Supreme Court ruled against the use of an illegal hallucinogen – peyote – in a Native American religious service. In the other, the court upheld the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts to build a road through land considered sacred by several tribes.

At the time of its passage, RFRA enjoyed wide bipartisan support and was not considered controversial. Introduced by Democrats Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy, it passed unanimously in the House and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law Nov. 16, 1993.

In recent years, however, RFRA has drawn criticism, particularly as it relates to same-sex marriage and the provision of free contraception. These clashes with claims of women’s rights and LGBT rights have led some people to question RFRA, or call for it to be limited or repealed.  

The National LGBT Bar Association has warned of the “dangerous results” of RFRA. In recent years, Democrats in the House and Senate have made several failed attempts to introduce legislation that would limit RFRA in cases where religious freedom comes into conflict with other civil rights. Chai Feldblum, appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under both Obama and Trump, has said that when religious liberty conflicts with sexual rights, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”

RFRA applies only to the federal government, although in recent years, similar laws have increasingly been proposed or passed in many state legislatures as well. State RFRAs have also faced heated objections. Most notably, then-governor of Indiana Mike Pence faced threat of boycotts from CEOs, celebrities, major sports events and leaders of some city and state governments in 2015 over a state RFRA law that mirrored the federal legislation.

Despite these criticisms, however, RFRA remains today as an established law with a solid precedent in the court system.

Last year, the Trump administration affirmed the significance of RFRA in its government-wide religious freedom legal guidance, issued to govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work.

The guidance said that RFRA “applies to all sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and the government does not have the authority to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious conviction.

What’s in store for RFRA over the next 25 years? The answer is uncertain. If its opponents have their way, RFRA could see significant restrictions at both the state and federal levels. For now, however, the law remains as a key standard for judging free exercise claims, with the current administration insisting that RFRA continue to be taken seriously and interpreted robustly.


After years of controversy, HHS reconsiders fetal tissue funding

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2018 / 12:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Health researchers need alternatives to using fetal tissue, Department of Health and Human Services leaders have said after several years of controversy and investigations into whether fetal tissue procured from aborted babies was sold illegally.

HHS Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the Freedom Caucus, saying HHS did too little to find alternatives under previous administrations and there need to be “adequate alternatives” to scientific research involving human fetal tissue.

The letter, which a source shared with the news site Politico, said HHS is “fully committed to prioritizing, expanding, and accelerating efforts to develop and implement the use of these alternatives.” He described HHS as “pro-life and pro-science” under President Donald Trump.

The letter appears to back “scientifically validated and reproducible” models as among possible alternatives.

Scientists who back fetal tissue research say there are few alternatives. They argue the tissue would otherwise be discarded, and there are already ethical safeguards in place. They say fetal tissue research has been instrumental in developing vaccines and understanding phenomena like how the Zika virus affects the brains of unborn children. They say fetal tissue aids Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease research, as well as research in childhood developmental disorders.

A 1993 federal law allows the use of fetal tissue from elective abortions that would otherwise be discarded. However, the sale of such tissue is also barred by law.

Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List told Politico her group would continue to advocate defunding fetal tissue research “as soon as possible.” She said her group is hopeful “that HHS will reach a new policy consensus that better reflects the administration’s pro-life position.”

Caitlin Oakley, an HHS spokesperson, said the agency has not made an official decision on whether to fund more fetal tissue research.

“We continue to go through a thoughtful, deliberative process given the scientific ethical and moral considerations involved,” she told Politico. “When we receive inquiries from members of Congress, we respond.”

A series of undercover investigations from journalists with the Center for Medical Progress, first released in 2015, appear to show several leaders in the abortion industry involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The investigation has had legal consequences for some procurers of fetal tissue.

DV Biologics and DaVinci Biosciences, two bioscience companies, admitted fault, ceased California operations and agreed to meet the terms of a legal settlement close to $7.8 million in value for violating state and federal laws against the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

Following two investigations, Congressional committees have made criminal referrals for both Planned Parenthood and Advanced Bioscience Resources, a non-profit company, for alleged involvement in illegal fetal tissue sales. There is an active Department of Justice investigation based on the criminal referrals.

There are also criminal charges against the Center for Medical Progress investigators, as well as civil lawsuits. These allegations include claims that the videos were filmed illegally in violation of privacy laws.

Federal funding for fetal tissue is now under review. As part of the review process, senior officials at HHS held an off-the record, invitation-only listening session on Nov. 16 with leaders in medical research fields.

Participants included leaders with the American Society for Cell Biology, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the Society for Neuroscience and the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The inquiry has prompted opposition from pro-abortion rights groups.

Mary Alice Carter, director of Equity Forward, which backs fetal tissue research and monitors pro-life groups, charged that HHS secretary Alex Azar “continually kowtows to anti-abortion groups while ignoring the scientific and medical communities,” Science magazine reports.

The National Institutes of Health gave out about $103 million in 2018 for research involving fetal tissue.

In July 2018 the Food and Drug Administration gave a $15,900 contract to Advanced Bioscience Resources for “fresh human fetal tissue,” which would be transplanted into mice in order to create human-like immune systems for research purposes. It is the eighth contract between the FDA and the company since 2012, and seven of the contracts appear to relate to the same or similar programs.

HHS cancelled the contract after receiving protests and criticism from several Members of Congress, who said they were alarmed that the tissue procurement contracts continued despite the “serious unresolved questions” uncovered by House and Senate investigations.

In 2010 a federal judge ruled that federally funded human embryonic stem cell research was against the law. That ruling resulted in a 19-day halt on related in-house National Institutes of Health projects, but NIH funds that had already been given to external researchers were not affected, the magazine Science reports.

Young man healed by Padre Pio recounts story of miraculous cure

Madrid, Spain, Nov 19, 2018 / 07:46 pm (ACI Prensa).- Matteo Pio Colella was just 7 years old when he contracted a deadly disease. Doctors believed there was no hope for the boy, but he made a full recovery. His cure was the miracle that paved the way for the canonization of St. Padre Pio by Pope John Paul II in June 2002.

Colella, now 27, gave an exclusive interview to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, on the occasion of the pre-release of the film “El Misterio del Padre Pío” (The Mystery of Padre Pio) in Madrid.

The documentary is directed by writer and filmmaker José María Zavala and includes Colella's testimony.

“I wasn't feeling well,” he recalled. “I told my mother that I didn't want to go to school, but she made me go because at that time I didn't like school. That same night, when my mother came to say goodnight, I didn't recognize her, and so they immediately took me to the hospital.”

On Jan. 20, 2000, Colella was diagnosed with acute fulminant meningitis, caused by bacteria. The disease had affected his kidneys, his respiratory system and blood clotting. He was immediately admitted to the hospital founded by Padre Pio, the “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” (Home for the Relief of Suffering), located in San Giovanni Rotondo where the saint's monastery is.

The following day, Colella went into a coma. His health deteriorated drastically, and doctors considered him a lost cause, thinking he would die within a few hours.

While Colella was in this critical condition, his mother Maria Lucia went to pray over the tomb of Padre Pio to ask for her son's healing.

“During the coma,” Colella recounted, “I saw Padre Pio in a dream on my right and three angels on the left. One with golden wings and a white tunic and the two others with white wings and a red tunic. Padre Pio, on my right, told me not to worry because I would soon be cured. In fact, my cure was like the resurrection of Lazarus.”

And that's exactly what happened. The doctors considered Colella to be clinically dead, but he came back to life.

The young man is grateful to Padre Pio for his intercession. He said he considers the saint to be like a grandfather in whom he can confide.

“I have always thought that I have received an enormous grace for which I must be thankful. When I talk to someone who doesn't believe, I tell him 'I'm here. For science it's inexplicable, but there is another explanation that we can't understand'.”



This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.