Pa. bishop urges prayers for victims after major sex abuse report

Pittsburgh, Pa., Mar 3, 2016 / 12:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown is calling for prayers after a Pennsylvania grand jury released its report on the alleged sexual abuse of hundreds of children by priests in the diocese in past d… Read more

Pakistani diocese opens cause for Shahbaz Bhatti to be declared a martyr

Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Mar 2, 2016 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Marking the fifth anniverary of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti on Wednesday, a Pakistani diocese has opened a process of enquiry towards declaring the late politician a martyr. Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, worked as the federal minister for minorities and spoke out against religious persecution, and particularly the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. He was gunned down by members of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan while driving in Islamabad on March 2, 2011, after more than a year of death threats. “He spoke with faith and demonstrated courage. Thanks to him the voice of Pakistan’s Christians was heard. He paved the way for us. He was a good Catholic and gave his life for his mission,” Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said at a March 2 ceremony marking the anniversary of Bhatti’s death. The Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi has begun collecting testimonies about Bhatti to enquire into his martyrdom and sanctity. Among the testimonies is that of Bishop Anthony Lobo, who died in 2013. Bishop Lobo entrusted his testimony to the Vatican’s missionary news agency Fides in 2012, in which he said that Bhatti, “although he had little desire to so … decided to play an active part in politics in order to protect the country’s Christians and other minorities. A man of great commitment he decided not to marry. He lived a life of celibacy. He had no possessions and saw his activity as a service. I believe that Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was a dedicated lay Catholic martyred for his faith.” Shahbaz’ brother Paul succeeded him as Pakistan’s Minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs. Paul spoke to CNA in 2013, saying he has “no doubt he is a martyr, because his whole life was dedicated to the teaching of the Bible and he was a strong believer of Our Lord Jesus Christ … we are getting help from him.” Shahbaz “never negotiated his faith, and he expressed his faith openly everywhere, even when he knew he could be killed,” Paul said. “He believed so strongly that he laid down his life for his Christian principles and for Jesus Christ.” Before his death, Shahbaz Bhatti told Fides that “I am a man who has burnt his bridges. I cannot and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.” On March 1, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert George, called Bhatti “a close friend” and marked the anniversary of his death by calling for an end to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which he said “conflicts with fundamental human rights protections.” “It is long past time for the Pakistani government to bring to justice Bhatti’s killers, reform and then repeal the blasphemy law, and release, pardon and ensure the safety of all individuals imprisoned for blasphemy,” George added. Read more

Divided bench, emotional victims – Supreme Court hears Texas abortion case

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2016 / 03:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Supreme Court heard arguments about a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet higher medical standards, advocates outside the court said the regulations are about protecting women&rs… Read more

Pope Francis will hear confessions on Friday at St. Peter’s

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2016 / 02:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The office of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations has announced that Pope Francis will hear confessions from the faithful at St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, March 4. At 5:00 p.m., the Holy Father will preside over the Rite of Reconciliation with individual confession and absolution of penitents, the Vatican office said. The Pope’s participation at the penitential celebration is part of a “24 Hours of Reconciliation” initiative in Italy, which is celebrated once a year on a Lenten Friday. Cardinals, bishops, priests and religious are invited by the Vatican to participate in the event by gathering around the Altar of the Confession inside the basilica. Pope Francis has led several penitential celebrations during his pontificate. During one of them, celebrated on March 28, 2014, he personally went to confession.   Read more

Pope Francis: The Church doesn’t need ‘dirty money’

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2016 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis issued a harsh condemnation of those who exploit others and then donate to the Church, telling them their “dirty money” isn’t wanted. Taking his cue from the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Pope Francis said March 2 that God doesn’t like “the blood of bulls and lambs, especially if the offering is done with hands dirty with the blood of their brothers.” Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience. He has dedicated the catechesis of the weekly address to the theme of mercy as seen in Scripture, as part of the Jubilee of Mercy. In his speech, he said that when Isaiah tells the Israelites to “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me…when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood,” he thinks of certain Church benefactors. There are some people, he said, who come with a generous offering, but which is “a fruit of the blood of so many people who are exploited, mistreated and enslaved by poorly paid jobs!” “I say to these people: please, take back your check, burn it,” he said, adding that the Church “doesn’t need dirty money, it needs hearts open to the mercy of God.” Pope Francis centered his address on the image offered by Isaiah of God as a father who corrects his children for rejecting him and doing evil, but who is also merciful and welcomes them back when they repent, never disowning them. In the first chapter of Isaiah, God is seen as “an affectionate but attentive and strict father” who calls Israel out for their infidelity and corruption, but only “in order to bring them back to the path of righteousness,” Francis said. It is the educative mission of parents to help their children grow in freedom and learn to be responsible in carrying out good acts both for themselves and for others, he said. However, the Pope noted that, thanks to sin, this freedom can also become a pretense for autonomy and pride, which in turn leads to opposition and “the illusion of self-sufficiency.” Instead of living our relationship with God in fidelity and obedience and with the knowledge that everything is a gift, Francis noted that too often we are privy to vanity, foolishness and idolatry. One suffers as a consequence of sin, he said, explaining that when God is rejected, “life is no longer possible, existence loses its roots and everything seems perverted and destroyed,” like what happened to Jerusalem. However, he noted that even these painful moments are tests so that people can feel “the bitterness of those who abandoned God, and therefore confront themselves with the desolate face of the choice of death.” When God recognizes that this is the choice his people have made, he intervenes and tells them they have taken the wrong path, Francis said, adding that God “never disowns us.” When the suffering caused due to one’s poor decisions leads the sinner to open themselves to conversion and forgiveness, “this is the path of divine mercy,” the Pope explained. “God doesn’t treat us according to our faults,” but uses his chastisements as a means to cause reflection, he said, adding that salvation implies making the decision “to listen and allow ourselves to be converted, but to always give thanks.” In reference to Isaiah, Francis noted that instead of accepting Israel’s ritual sacrifices, he uses the prophet to tell them he wants justice instead. This, he said, is not because the offerings were bad in themselves, but because they had become a distraction from growing close to God and accepting his love. “Many times we don’t go to the Lord, but prefer a mistaken path, looking for an excuse, justice, peace outside of him,” he said, explaining that this is like a sick person who decides to visit “a sorcerer” instead of a doctor: “they are not healed.” Pope Francis pointed to Isaiah’s instruction for the people to wash and purify themselves by turning away from evil and choosing to do good instead. “Sins, even if they bleed scarlet, become white like the snow, and pure white like wool, and the people will be able to nourish themselves on the goods of the earth and live in peace,” he said, quoting the passage from Isaiah. This, he said, “is the miracle of the forgiveness of God; the forgiveness which God as Father wants to give to his people.”   Read more

Priests can’t be forced to break seal of confession, La. judge rules

Baton Rouge, La., Mar 2, 2016 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Louisiana law can’t force Catholic priests to violate the seal of the confessional, a judge in the state reaffirmed on Friday. State District Judge Mike Caldwell said in court Feb. 26 that a state law requiring clergy to report sex abuse of minors violated a priest’s religious freedom protections for confidential confessions. The ruling concerns a lawsuit filed by Rebecca Mayeaux, now 22, against Father Jeff Bayhi and the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Mayeaux charges that in 2008, at the age of 14, she told the priest during confession that a 64-year-old parishioner was abusing her. The priest was pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton, 35 miles northeast of Baton Rouge. Her lawsuit charged that the priest was negligent in reporting abuse and that the diocese failed to train him properly in mandatory abuse reporting law. Mayeaux claims that the priest responded to the abuse report by telling her to “sweep it under the floor and get rid of it,” the Associated Press reports. Fr. Bayhi said that if he revealed anything said in confession, he would face automatic excommunication. “If we ever violate the seal, it’s over. It’s finished,” he said in court, adding that he would “absolutely not” knowingly violate the seal of confession. “If that’s not sacred, no one would ever trust us.” Louisiana law requires clergy to report sexual abuse. Parts of the law grant an exception when abuse allegations are revealed during confidential religious communication such as confession. However, other parts of the state code require mandatory reporting “notwithstanding any claim of privileged communication,” the New Orleans Advocate reports. Caldwell’s ruling struck down the latter requirement. “We’re just always happy when the court upholds religious liberties,” Fr. Bayhi said when he left the courthouse. Bishop Robert Muench of Baton Rouge discussed the case in a statement. “I extend my compassion and offer prayer not only for the plaintiff who may have been harmed by the actions of a man who was not an employee of the church, but also for all who have been abused by anyone,” he said. Bishop Muench expressed his appreciation of the ruling, adding that “the court’s decision to uphold the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is essential.” The ruling can be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The judge made other decisions about the lawsuit, ruling that Mayeaux may testify to a jury about what she allegedly told the priest in 2008. However, her attorneys may not argue to the jury that Fr. Bayhi was required by law to report the allegations. The case had gone to the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2014, which returned it to a lower court to determine more facts in the case. The lawsuit has not yet gone to trial. The alleged abuser died in 2009. The plaintiff’s attorney said he does not intend to call Fr. Bayhi to testify. CNA contacted the Diocese of Baton Rouge for comment but did not receive a response by deadline. Read more

Denver-based Augustine Institute receives accreditation

Denver, Colo., Mar 2, 2016 / 12:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Augustine Institute, a Denver-based Catholic graduate school for the laity, has announced this week that the Commission on Accrediting of Theological schools has granted it full accreditation…. Read more

The other side of ‘Spotlight’: how the Church changed to fight sex abuse

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2016 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While the movie “Spotlight” won Best Picture for portraying a journalistic investigation of the sex abuse crisis in Boston, the story is incomplete without recognizing the reforms th… Read more

Amid firestorm of publicity, Mount St. Mary’s president resigns

Emmitsburg, Md., Mar 1, 2016 / 03:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After fierce controversy during his short-lived term at Mount St. Mary’s University, president Simon Newman has stepped down, the school’s board announced Feb. 29. “I am proud of what I have been able to achieve in a relatively short time, particularly in helping the University chart a clear course toward a bright future,” Newman said in a statement from the university. “I care deeply about the school and the recent publicity relating to my leadership has become too great of a distraction to our mission of educating students,” he said, adding that he believes this decision to be the “right course of action for the Mount at this time.” Immediately following Newman’s resignation, the university appointed Karl Einolf, Ph.D., as acting president. Einolf is the Dean of the Richard J. Bolte, Sr., School of Business at Mount St. Mary’s and had previously served as a professor of finance and the Director of the Mount’s Honors program. He graduated from Penn State and John Hopkin’s University, and earned his doctorate from Lehigh University. Mount St. Mary’s University, the second oldest Catholic university in the United States, hired Newman as president in 2015. Previously a private-equity chief executive officer and entrepreneur, Newman brought his business experience to the university. But the new president also sparked a media frenzy over his comments on struggling students and for firing two faculty members – one with tenure – soon after his role as president began. Since late January, Newman had been the focus of controversy. The school’s student newspaper ran a story about the president’s alleged plan to pursue the dismissal of 20-25 freshman students based on results from a survey predicting their future success at the school. A number of faculty members reportedly objected to the plan. In the article, a faculty member quotes Newman as saying, “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.” Newman also reportedly called some students “Catholic jihadis” and had planned to belittle the university’s Catholic roots, saying “Catholic doesn’t sell.”According to the Washington Post, Mount St. Mary’s faculty had voted 87-3 for Newman to resign by Feb. 15, but he did not do so. Further outrage over the situation eventually resulted in Newman reinstating the fired faculty. Among Newman’s critics were faculty, alumni, and students. Newman’s new leadership also raised eyebrows from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education – the organization that accredits the university. Despite Newman’s experience with the school, the Board of Trustees and some students stood by their new president. The board of directors had called Newman’s words “unfortunate,” but continued their support of his leadership. It wasn’t until Feb. 29 that the university officially announced Newman’s resignation.   “The board is grateful to President Newman for his many accomplishments over the past year,” said Chairman of the Board of Trustees, John Coyne, in a statement from the university. “We thank him for his service.” Read more

For papal theologian, freedom is defining factor in US Church

Denver, Colo., Mar 1, 2016 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “What can the Church in the United States offer the Universal Church and the world?” On the cusp of Super Tuesday and in the midst of an already-heated election year, Papal Theologian… Read more