Four sisters dead in attack on Missionaries of Charity home in Yemen

Aden, Yemen, Mar 4, 2016 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At least 16 people are dead after two gunmen attacked a Missionaries of Charity convent and nursing home for elderly and disabled persons in Aden, the provisional capital of Yemen, on Friday. Four of the victims were sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the community founded by Blessed Mother Teresa. They have been identified by the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia as Sr. Anselm from India, Sr. Margherite from Rwanda, Sr. Reginette from Rwanda, and Sr. Judith from Kenya. A March 4 statement from the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia stated that Bishop Paul Hinder has “expressed his shock at the incident and prayed that the Lord may accept the sacrifice of these sisters and convert it into a sacrifice for peace.” The convent’s superior is unhurt and in police custody, the vicariate stated. Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest from India who had been staying with the sisters since his church was attacked and burned last September, was abducted from the chapel, a source told CNA. Agenzia Fides reported that he has been missing since the attack. Other victims of the attack included volunteers at the home, at least five of whom were Ethiopian. Many were Yemenis. The nursing home had around 80 residents, who were unharmed. The gunmen gained entry to the Missionaries of Charity home by telling the gatekeeper their mothers were residents, The Associated Press reported. “On entering inside, (they) immediately shot dead the gatekeeper and started shooting randomly,” Vikas Swarup, the spokesman of India’s External Affairs Ministry, told the agency. Khaled Haidar told the AP that when he arrived on the scene he saw that each victim, including his brother Radwan, had been handcuffed and shot in the head. The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia said the Missionaries of Charity have been present in Yemen since 1973 after the then Government of North Yemen formally invited them to care for the sick and elderly. The home in Aden has been open since 1992. Three Missionaries of Charity were killed by a gunman in Al Hudaydah, 280 miles northwest of Aden, in 1998. Yemen is in the midst of a civil war that began in March 2015. That month Houthi rebels, who are Shia Muslims, took over portions of Yemen seeking to oust its Sunni-led government. Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen’s north, has led a coalition backing the government. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have set up strongholds in the country amid the power vacuum. The civil war has killed more than 6,000 people, according to the United Nations. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Missionaries of Charity home. Read more

God did not create us to remain crushed by sin, Pope says

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2016 / 01:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leading his annual penitential service on Friday, Pope Francis told attendees to stand tall and be open to forgiveness, and not to let themselves remain under the heavy burden of sin. “Let us cast off…all that prevents us from racing towards him, unafraid of leaving behind those things which make us feel safe and to which we are attached,” the Pope said March 4. He told attendees not to “remain sedentary, but let us get up and find our spiritual worth again, our dignity as loved sons and daughters who stand before the Lord so that we can be seen by him, forgiven and recreated.” Pointing to the word “recreated,” Francis said it arrives to the heart of each person present, because it’s a reminder of what God said when he created man: “Rise! God has created us to stand. Arise.” The Pope’s homily was part of the annual “24 Hours for the Lord” event, which takes place the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent inside St. Peter’s Basilica. A worldwide initiative led by Pope Francis, the event points to confession as a primary way to experience God’s merciful embrace. It was launched in 2014 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. 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. As part of the penitential service, Pope Francis went to confession himself before administering the sacrament himself to a number of individuals. Following the service in the Vatican, Churches throughout Rome will remain open for 24 hours to give pilgrims the opportunity to go to Confession and take part in Eucharistic Adoration. In his homily, the Pope focused on the Gospel passage from Mark Chapter 10, in which a blind man named Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is passing by and calls out to him. As those around try to silence him, Bartimaeus cries out even louder. Jesus hears him, stops and asks his disciples to bring Bartimaeus to him. When Bartimaeus arrives and asks to receive his sight, Jesus heals him immediately. Pope Francis said the passage “has great symbolic value for our lives,” since each person finds themselves in the place of Bartimaeus. “His blindness led him to poverty and to living on the outskirts of the city, dependent on others for everything he needed,” the pontiff said, explaining that sin has the same effect: “it impoverishes and isolates us.” The blindness of sin leads us little by little to concentrate on what is superficial and to be indifferent to others, he said, noting that there are many temptations which have the power “to cloud the heart’s vision and to make it myopic!” The Pope admitted that it is easy to be misguided, but cautioned that when we give into the temptation of only looking at ourselves, “we become blind, lifeless and self-centered, devoid of joy and true freedom.” Jesus, however, passes by us and stops to listen in the same way that he did in the Gospel, the Pope said, explaining that like Bartimaeus, “our hearts race, because we realize that the Light is gazing upon us…which invites us to come out of our dark blindness.” The closeness of Jesus makes us realize that something is missing when we are far away from him, Pope Francis said, adding that it is the presence of God which makes us feel the need for salvation and which “begins the healing of our heart.” However, Francis lamented that there are always people like those in the Gospel who don’t want to stop when they see someone else suffering. These people, he said, prefer “to silence and rebuke the person in need who is only a nuisance.” Francis said that by brushing these people off, we not only keep ourselves far from the Lord, but others as well. He prayed that everyone would realize that “we are all begging for God’s love, and not allow ourselves to miss the Lord as he passes by.” The Pope then turned to role of pastors in the confessional, saying they are called in a special way “to hear the cry, perhaps hidden, of all those who wish to encounter the Lord.” He encouraged them to re-examine behaviors that can get in the way of helping others draw close to Jesus, and to ask themselves if they are putting schedules, programs and regulations ahead of the desire for forgiveness. Touching on the topic of God’s tenderness, the Pope said pastors must “certainly not water down the demands of the Gospel,” but at the same time they can’t risk “frustrating the desire of the sinner to be reconciled with the Father,” he said. “We have been sent to inspire courage, to support and to lead others to Jesus,” he said, adding that their ministry “is one of accompaniment, so that the encounter with the Lord may be personal and intimate” and without fear. Pope Francis concluded by noting how at the end of the Gospel, Bartimaeus immediately received his sight after speaking with Jesus, and then followed him. When we draw near to Jesus like Bartimaeus did, “we too see once more the light which enables us to look to the future with confidence,” and which gives us the strength and courage to move forward, he said. Francis encouraged attendees to follow Jesus “as faithful disciples,” so that they help everyone they meet to have the same experience of joy in receiving God’s his merciful love. After “the embrace of the Father, the forgiveness of the Father,” in confession, the Pope told attendees to “celebrate in our hearts, because he is celebrating.”   Read more

Vatican: the Church has been anything but indifferent to clerical abuse

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2016 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi cautioned Friday that the recent Oscar-win for “Spotlight” and the lengthy deposition of a top Vatican official on institutional responses to clerical sex abuse could paint a false picture of how the Church has responded to the issue. “The sensationalistic presentation of these two events has meant that, for much of the public, especially if less informed or of short memory – thinking that the Church has done nothing or done very little to respond to these horrible tragedies,” Fr. Lombardi said in a March 4 statement. An objective consideration of the facts, he said, “shows that this is not true.” Fr. Lombardi referred to the media frenzy garnered by the film “Spotlight,” which recently won the Oscar for best picture for its portrayal of a journalistic investigation of the sex abuse crisis in Boston, as well as the Feb. 29-March 3 deposition of Cardinal George Pell before Australia’s Royal Commission. As prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy and a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on reform of the Roman Curia, Cardinal Pell is the most senior Vatican official to have testified before a legal body on clerical sexual abuse. In his statement, Fr. Lombardi said the events shouldn’t lead people to think that the Church has remained silent on the issue, and outlined several initiatives and reforms that have taken place since the Boston crisis broke out in 2002. He said that we ought “to give credit” to Cardinal Pell and the group of 15 abuse survivors who traveled from Australia to Rome for the deposition, both for the cardinal’s “dignified and consistent” testimony, as well as the survivors’ willingness “to establish a constructive dialogue.” Three of the abuse survivors from Catholic Diocese of Ballarat – David Ridsdale, Andrew Collins and Peter Blenkiron – took time to meet with Fr. Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, while in Rome. They met with him twice, once Wednesday before meeting with Cardinal Pell, and then Friday morning before returning to Australia. In a March 4 statement on the encounters, Fr. Zollner said the victims wanted to meet primarily to discuss ideas they have about “healing and the future to protect children from institutional abuse.” Although they admitted that the problem of abuse is “wider than the Catholic Church,” they are most familiar the problems related to Church structures, and are eager to form partnerships to help address the issue. Fr. Zollner said the victims spoke at length about models of education for children, parents and teachers so that effective changes can be made to ensure the safeguarding of children. On his end, Fr. Zollner discussed his work on the commission in the areas of abuse prevention within the Church and outside of it, as well as his role as president of the Center for Child Protection at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.  The Ballarat survivors were also able to meet with a number of the students enrolled in of the Diploma-program in Safeguarding of Minors currently being offered at the Gregorian University. Fr. Zollner ensured that he will take the victims’ proposals to the rest of the commission in order to both learn from their experience, and to “better understand how to prevent sexual abuse by those in service to the Church from happening again in the future.”Below is CNA’s full English translation of Fr. Lombardi’s statement: Cardinal Pell’s deposition before the Royal Commission in direct transmission from Rome to Australia and the simultaneous administration of an Oscar for Best Film of Spotlight, on the role of the Boston Globe in denouncing the cover of numerous crimes of pedophile priests in Boston (primarily in the 1960s-80s), have been accompanied by a new wave of media attention and public opinion on the dramatic topic of the sexual abuse of minors, in particular on the part of clerics. The sensationalistic presentation of these two events has meant that, for much of the public, especially if less informed or of short memory – thinking that the Church has done nothing or done very little to respond to these horrible tragedies and that we have to start again. An objective consideration shows that this is not true. The former archbishop of Boston (Cardinal Bernard Law) resigned in 2002 following the events which Spotlight speaks about (and after a famous meeting of American cardinals gathered in Rome by Pope John Paul II in April 2002), and since 2003 (13 years) the archdiocese has been governed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, universally known for his rigor and wisdom in dealing with issues of sexual abuse, so much so that he was nominated by the Pope as one of his counselors and as President of the Commission he founded for the protection of minors. The tragic events of sexual abuse in Australia are also the subject of investigations and legal and canonical procedures, (and have been) for many years. When Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008 (8 years ago) he met a small group of victims from the same archdiocese governed by Cardinal Pell, given that the story was already a strong topic and the Archbishop (Pell) felt that such a meeting was highly appropriate.  Just to give an idea of the attention with which these problems were followed, the only section of the Vatican website dedicated to “Abuse of Minors: The Church’s response,” was started around 10 years ago, and contains some 60 documents or speeches. The courageous commitment popes have dedicated to confronting the crisis manifested in different countries and situations – such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the Legionaries of Christ – has been neither small nor indifferent. The renewal of procedures and universal canonical norms; guidelines requested and formed on the part of episcopal conferences, not only to response to abuses committed but also to prevent them adequately; apostolic visits to intervene in the most serious situations and the profound reform of the Legionaries of Christ have all been actions intended to respond in-depth and with foresight to a plague that was manifested in surprising and devastating severity, above all in certain regions and certain periods. Benedict XVI’s letter to Irish faithful from March 2010 probably remains the most eloquent reference document, well beyond just Ireland, to understand the attitude and the judicial, pastoral and spiritual response of popes to these tragedies of the Church of our time: the recognition of the serious mistakes made and asking forgiveness; priority attention and justice for the victims; conversion and purification; commitment to prevention and renewed human and spiritual formation. The meetings of Benedict and Francis with groups of victims have accompanied this now long path with the example of listening, of asking for forgiveness, of consolation and of the personal involvement of popes.  In many countries the results of the commitment for renewal are encouraging; cases of abuse have become very rare and so the majority of cases we are dealing with today and which continue to come to light belong to a relatively distant past, from several decades (ago). In other countries, usually for reasons of cultural situations that are very different and still characterized by silence, there is still a lot to do and there is not lack of resistance and difficulty, but the way forward has become clearer.  The formation of the Commission for the Protection of Minors announced by Pope Francis in December 2013, composed of members of every continent, indicates the maturity of the Catholic Church’s path. After having established and internally developed a decisive response to the problems of the sexual abuse of minors (on the part of priests or other Church workers), the problem arises systematically of not only how to respond well to the problem in every part of the Church, but also of how to more broadly help the societies in which the Church lives to confront the problems of abuse and violations committed against minors, given that – as everyone should know, even if there is often still a considerable reluctance to admit it – in every part of the world the vast majority of abuse cases don’t come from ecclesial contexts, but outside of them (in Asia one can speak of dozens of millions of abused children, certainly not in Catholic contexts). Therefore, the Church, wounded and humiliated by the plague of abuse, intends to act not only for her own recovery, but also to make available her strong experience in this field, to enrich her educative and pastoral service to society as a whole, which generally still has a long way to go to realize the seriousness of the problems and to address them.  In this perspective the events in Rome the past few days can in the end be read in a positive light. We must give credit to Cardinal Pell for a dignified and consistent personal testimony (some 20 hours of dialogue with the Royal Commission!) which shows once more an objective and lucid picture of the mistakes made in many ecclesial environments (in this case Australia) in past decades. And this acquisition is not useless in the perspective of the common “purification of memory.” We must also give credit to different member of the group of victims who came from Australia for having shown a willingness to establish a constructive dialogue with the same cardinal and with the representative of the Commission for the Protection of Minors Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, from the Pontifical Gregorian University – with which they deepened the prospects for an effective commitment for abuse prevention. If therefore the appeals followed by Spotlight and the mobilization of victims and organizations for the deposition of Cardinal Pell contribute to supporting and intensifying the long march in the fight against child abuse in the universal Catholic Church and in the world today (where the dimension of these tragedies is boundless), they are welcome.    Read more

What the Church has done about sex abuse

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2016 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The movie Spotlight’s Best Picture win at the Academy Awards has brought renewed attention to the Catholic sex abuse scandals that broke in 2002. But while the Church’s failures are wel… Read more

Why there’s hope for Catholic liturgical music

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2016 / 12:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For decades, there’s been concern in many corners of the Church that Catholic music is in crisis. The 1992 book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” outlined a history of modern Catholic Liturgical music and a rapid shift away from traditional chants and hymns in the later part of the 20th Century. Writer Damian Thompson decried “Bad Catholic Music,” such as folk-and-jazz-inspired “worship songs” in a 2015 essay in the British publication the Catholic Herald. Most recently, in a February column for Aleteia, Tommy Tighe raises concerns that some common Catholic hymns are not only musically lacking, but doctrinally questionable. Much of the critique of contemporary liturgical music lies in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and how they were carried out. Critics attest that when interpreting the changes of Vatican II, many dioceses and parishes cut out important parts of the Church’s liturgical heritage, displaced the rich history of chant with other forms of music, and substituted suggested sung prayers with hymns resembling popular performance songs. While this may certainly be the case in many places, other musical scholars affirm that it is actually the reforms of Vatican II that not only preserve the rich liturgical history the Roman Catholic Church has used for centuries, but allow that tradition to grow. While they may share many of the same critiques of some popular works and trends in certain kinds of liturgical music, they also say that Mass music is getting better – and that it is getting better because the Church has preserved what is good from centuries past and is also providing avenues for worthwhile contributions from other traditions and the modern day. Rather than detract from the Church’s musical heritage, the Church is now in a place to restore and add to it. “The abundance of music composed over the centuries and still apt for the liturgy is staggering,” Catholic University director of Sacred Music, Leo Nestor, told CNA. “It is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s continuing inspiration to artists throughout human history.” In the tradition and with the help of guidelines laid down in the Second Vatican Council, the Church has all it needs for beautiful liturgical music. New music, scholars say, is an important part of this revival of musical traditions the Church has saved.   “The Church admits all worthy art into Her liturgy and the Second Vatican Council makes that clear,”  said Fr. Vincent Ferrer Bagan, OP, Choir Director for the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. “New compositions have always come into the Church.” But in order to see where liturgical music is going, it’s important to understand where it came from.The roots of sacred music Music isn’t just an important addition to the liturgy, added as an extension of praise and worship. For much of the Church’s history, music has been an essential part of the liturgy itself. The inclusion goes back to the very earliest days of the Church – to the Last Supper, Nestor said. “We know that Christ and his disciples sang a hymn at the Last Supper,” he told CNA. Singing quickly was “mandated” during many parts of early Church celebrations. Over the centuries, Catholic theology developed to explain why the union of sacred music and text was such an important element of worship that arose from these early traditions. The Roman Catholic Church also continued to intertwine music and prayer into nearly every part of its liturgy. Within the Roman Catholic Church, there are sung elements that change to reflect both daily prayers and readings and set elements of the liturgy that remains steady throughout the year, Nestor said. The parts that change daily are called the “Proper,” and the elements which remain the same are called “the Ordinary.” Yet, within recent decades, some of these elements are rarely heard because their use is highly suggested, but not mandatory. While the parts of the Mass Ordinary, such as the Kyrie, Sanctus or Agnus Dei, remain largely constant and cannot be omitted from the Liturgy except under specific circumstances, many parts of the proper have fallen from daily use.  When these elements from the propers are dropped, parishes leave out important music that has special relevance to the prayers of the day. And these propers are “the words the Church wants us to hear sung today,” Nestor said. “The specificity and messages of these texts and their accompanying psalms is mirrored in every other proper text of the liturgy.” While many parishes neglected the propers after the reforms of Vatican II, many churches are starting to bring them back into popular use. “In our day, the propers, specifically the Entrance and Communion Antiphons, are making a very strong return, not only in the major churches, but in many parishes.”Evolving Traditions While the Church proscribes that some parts of the liturgy should be sung when possible, how a congregation places these parts to music can vary by a parish’s cultural and its own liturgical traditions. “The Church in her rites accommodates the languages and select elements specific to individual cultures, a custom extending back to the early Church,” Nestor said. The practice of incorporating appropriate cultural elements into the liturgy, also called “inculturation,” is “a two-way street,” he said. In the process, authentic cultural values and traditions are integrated into Christianity and Christianity impacts culture. Authentic accommodation of culture and tradition must respect the essential unity of the liturgy, and the balance between culture and liturgy must be done carefully Nestor cautioned. When this respect for both liturgy and culture takes root, however, it “can be a manifestation of the Church’s universality.” Nestor recalled the example of a friend who was active both at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and at a local African-American parish, St. Augustine’s Church, in Washington D.C. Her advice, he said, encapsulated the Church’s guidance on the integration and respect for various cultural traditions. “In her maternal wisdom, she said, ‘I want my son to be comfortable at St. Augustine’s, here at the Shrine, at Notre Dame in Paris and at St. Peter’s in Rome,’” Nestor relayed. This attitude, he said, strikes at the heart of the universality of the Church. Various cultures and peoples are no the only ones with their distinct traditions within the Church; many religious orders also have their own liturgical and musical traditions. Fr. Bagan directs the choir at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., where student brothers prepare for religious vocations with the Dominican order. He told CNA that in the brothers’ latest musical album seeks to illuminate the unique musical tradition of their religious order.   When the Dominican order was founded and its liturgy formed, there was no standard liturgy for the whole Church, Fr. Bagan explained. When the order organized its own liturgy, the Dominicans began their own independent liturgical tradition that is “slightly different” from the Mass and liturgy prayed in the rest of the Roman Catholic Church. From this quirk of liturgical history, Dominican chant also evolved into its own distinct tradition. Like the relationship between the Roman rite and the Dominican rite of the liturgy, the Dominican chants for Mass parts and prayers are only “slightly different” from other chants used within the Roman Catholic Church, like Gregorian chant, even though they developed separately. While the Dominicans now use of the Roman Rite for the ordinary celebration of the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours after the Second Vatican Council, the order still maintains the right to celebrate its own rite and incorporate elements of its own tradition  – such as some of its unique chants and propers –  into its celebrations. “The Church, I think, was happy to say, ‘Yes, Dominicans, you have these traditions and they are beautiful. Yes, let’s keep them alive,’” Fr. Bagan said. The brothers’ projects, like its album, are opportunities for the Dominicans to share both the richness of the tradition as well as the message of the Gospel with others, said Fr. Bagan. “In the end, we’re really happy to be able to do this because it’s very important to get all of these treasures from the Church’s musical tradition into people’s hands.”Moving Music Forward While eight hundred years old, the Dominican musical tradition is still an evolving one. This fact is an element which the student brothers recording tried to bring forward through new compositions on the album, Fr. Bagan said. Among the older works are new pieces written by brothers, which range in style. Among the new works are more traditional hymn-like settings as well as pieces that include “wilder” harmonies and musical tension and other elements from 20th century music. In his view, Fr. Bagan says that modern liturgical pieces, such as the ones the brothers sing, “take what’s best in the music in our own time and what can be made fitting for the Temple of God and Divine Worship.” “Generally of course, music for Church needs to be a bit more stylistically timeless than music for the secular sphere,” he stipulated, “not to say that good things can’t be brought in.” In addition, he clarified, music intended for the liturgy should remain focused on its purpose and role. “They can be challenging of course, but should never be jarring or distract from the meaning of the divine text or from the purpose of worship for which music is made.” Chris Mueller, a contemporary Catholic composer, also seeks to incorporate modern musical elements into appropriate liturgical settings. Mueller, who has a background in jazz music, has written numerous liturgical pieces, including his “Missa pro editione tertia,” a setting of the 2011 English translation of the Mass, which has been used by parishes around the world. In writing his Mass for the 2011 translation, his goal was to create a piece that was singable and was clearly liturgical, and yet was in conversation with he current state of the musical world.   “I was trying to write in a way that was modern and contemporary, but also liturgically appropriate,” Mueller reflected. While he’s “not trying to write music that sounds like Mozart or Bach, I’m trying to write music that sounds modern,” he also doesn’t want his music to sound just like secular jazz or modern music played in concert halls or jazz clubs. Finding the “balance” between modern elements and liturgical music, Mueller said, is “an interesting challenge.” The key in writing the “Missa pro editione tertia” and other liturgical pieces has been using modern elements and tones as “part of my palette of approaches,” he commented. For Mueller, drawing on jazz music for inspiration means using “surprising” turns and harmonies that don’t “really sound like anything else” It’s important, Mueller said, for Mass music to sound different from other kinds of music we may hear. “What happens at the Mass when God becomes present at the altar is not something that happens in any part of the rest of your life. The truth of what’s happening at Mass is so different than everything else that the music needs to be reflect that somehow.” For Mueller, creating these works is ultimately about giving his gifts back to God. “In Vatican II it says that sacred music is the most valuable treasure of all the artistic treasures the Church has, then if I can be a small part of that, then what better use of my skills could there be?” But as Church music moves forward in the third millennium, how does all of this translate for the average parish? For Thomas Stehle, how to choose good liturgical music is not only a theoretical issue but a practical one. As director of music for St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C, Stehle is in charge of planning liturgies for six English and Latin-language Masses for a diverse community within the Archdiocese. For him, Stehle told CNA, the challenge – as it would be at any parish – is balancing music that is both of quality and liturgically appropriate as well as easily accessible for prayer. He said there’s a “legitimate question” not only about a given piece’s quality but also its style. Not every pleasant piece is appropriate for Mass, he cautioned, and this guideline cuts across genres of music. On the other hand, he noted, many pieces that are not considered “high art” are worthy of being sung at Mass. “Does it get beyond, ‘oh I love this’ to ‘I can pray with this?’” Steel said. The approach he’s settled on when searching for music is to look for “really legitimate things that come from people’s culture, but do it very carefully and as high-quality as possible, within the style,” he said. Stehle also added that music directors should consider both the liturgical season and the Church’s daily readings, propers and prayers in order to create the “highest degree” of unity between liturgy, prayer and music. “It’s important when we’re asking people to embody that prayer in song that it’s coming from very informed choices.” “(T)hat is the goal; that what you put in people’s mouths is worthy, is appropriate, is liturgically appropriate, is pastorally appropriate and is musically appropriate.”  This article was originally published March 4, 2016. Read more

Majority in Brazil reject abortion for babies with microcephaly

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 4, 2016 / 12:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The majority of Brazilians are opposed to abortion in cases where the baby exhibits microcephaly, a new survey finds. The poll comes amid continued concerns over the possible role of Zika virus in causing microcephaly. Released by Brazil’s Datafolha Institute, the survey indicates that 58 percent of Brazilians reject the practice of abortion in cases of pregnant women infected with the Zika virus. Just 32 percent think the woman should have an abortion and 10 percent had no opinion. Even in cases where it is confirmed that the baby will be born with microcephaly, 51 percent of respondents were against ending the baby’s life. About 39 percent approved of an abortion. The first case of the Zika virus in the Americas was recorded in Brazil in May 2015. Since then, the virus has spread through half of South America, much of Central America and Mexico. Some cases have been reported in the southern United States. The Zika virus is most often transmitted by a certain species of mosquito. Usually infection does not cause serious illness. However, some reports from Brazil suggest a connection between virus infections and microcephaly in babies developing in the womb. The infection appears to be passed from a pregnant mother to her unborn child. The Centers for Disease Control in its Feb. 26 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, has said “laboratory evidence from a limited number of cases with microcephaly” has supported a link between virus infection and microcephaly. Microcephaly is a medical condition in which babies have small heads. Accompanying conditions can range from mild to severe. Severe problems may include seizures, vision or hearing problems, and developmental disabilities, the Centers for Disease Control said.   Abortion advocates have used the virus’ possible connection with microcephaly to push for expanded legal abortion in South and Central America. On Feb. 5, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, headed by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, released a statement urging countries suffering from the epidemic to provide women “quality sexual and reproductive health services and information.” This included “safe abortion services.” Pope Francis, on his return flight from Mexico to the Vatican, rejected this push. He said that abortion is “a crime” since it means “throwing one out to save another.” “That’s what the mafia does. It’s a crime, an absolute evil,” the Pope said Feb. 18. Several Latin American countries with laws restricting abortion rejected demand for abortion, including Brazil. The Brazilian Secretary of Health, Marcelo Castro, said that the position of his office is “upholding the law.” “Brazilian legislation only allows abortion in three cases, and they don’t include (microcephaly),” he said. Fernando Llorca Castro, Costa Rica’s Secretary of Health, took a similar position. In a statement to the Costa Rican daily La Nación, he explained that the country is considering legal abortion “when the mother is at risk, which is not the case for babies with microcephaly.” He added that “there’s not even any convincing evidence that Zika is causing microcephaly.” Last month, a Brazilian journalist with microcephaly slammed the push for abortion, explaining that some people with the condition – including herself – are able to live normal lives.   Read more

Cardinal Pell shares emotional meeting with abuse survivors

Rome, Italy, Mar 3, 2016 / 09:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal George Pell and a dozen survivors of clerical sex abuse met in Rome on Thursday, where they shared an emotional encounter and drafted a joint statement committing to work toward peace and healing. “I just met with about a dozen of the Ballarat survivors, support people and officials and heard each of their stories and of their sufferings. It was hard; an honest and occasionally emotional meeting,” Cardinal Pell, who is prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, said in the March 3 statement. Cardinal Pell read the statement aloud to reporters outside Rome’s Hotel Quirinale, where for the past four days he has been giving his testimony before Australia’s Royal Commission investigating institutional responses to child sex abuse cases. He assured his commitment to working with members of the survivors group, many of whose families he knows from his time as a priest in Ballarat, a city in Australia’s state of Victoria. “I know the goodness of so many people in Catholic Bellarat; a goodness which is not extinguished by the evil that was done.” It is everyone’s desire to make things better on the ground, he said, and promised his personal commitment in helping the survivors to work effectively with the various agencies in Rome dedicated to fighting clerical sexual abuse, particularly the recently-established Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. At the hearing the cardinal testified on claims which resurfaced last year accusing him of transferring notorious abuser Gerald Ridsdale; of attempting to bribe David Ridsdale, a victim and nephew of the later-defrocked priest; and of failing to act on victims’ complaints. Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges, Pell offered to testify again and was summoned to return to Australia for deposition in December. However, the cardinal’s doctor advised against the long flight due to health issues. As a result, Cardinal Pell volunteered to appear by way of video conference from Rome, which took place Feb. 28 – March 3. David Ridsdale was present in Rome for the cardinal’s hearing alongside 14 other abuse survivors from Australia and their families, who launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise the money to send them, so that Cardinal Pell would have the same sort of public hearing as he would have in Sydney. Cardinal Pell arranged for the group to meet with Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, president of the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, after the hearing finished. After talking to Fr. Zollner, the survivors returned to Hotel Quirinale for their meeting with Cardinal Pell. In comments to the media after the encounter, David Ridsdale described it as “extremely emotional,” but was happy they were able to meet “on a level playing field; we met as people from Bellarat.” Cardinal Pell was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966, where many of the abuse survivors in Rome are from and where he served as a priest and later as a consulter to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who oversaw the diocese from 1971-1997. Among the many survivors present were Anthony and Chrissie Foster, the parents of two clerical abuse victims. After two of the Fosters’ three daughters were abused by Fr. Kevin O’Donnell, one committed suicide, while the other became an alcoholic and was struck by a car while intoxicated, leaving her severely disabled.      Suicide has been common among victims of clerical sex abuse in Ballarat, and is something both Cardinal Pell and the survivors spoke out against in their statement. “One suicide is too many. There have been many such tragic suicides,” Cardinal Pell said while reading it aloud. He committed to working with the survivor group to try to stop suicides after abuse, and to make it so that “suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering.” Despite the vast distance between Rome and Ballarat, the cardinal said he wants to continue contributing to making the city a model and a place of healing and peace. He voiced his support to begin investigating the feasibility of creating a research center dedicated to enhancing the healing of abuse survivors and to improving the protection of youth, and expressed his faith in the loyalty and charity of the church-going community in Ballarat. “I urge them to continue to cooperate with the survivors to improve the situation,” he said, and noted how much he owes on a personal level to the Ballarat community.   “It would be marvelous if our city became well-known as an effective center and the example of practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse,” he said. Read more

Cardinal Müller: Can’t receive Communion? You can still participate in Church’s life

Cologne, Germany, Mar 3, 2016 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A focus on the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced-and-remarried misses the larger point of pastoral care: participation in the Church’s whole life, Cardinal Gerhard Müller said in an interview on Tuesday. “The Pope always says that it is not about Holy Communion alone, but about integration within the life of the Church,” Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told German daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger in an interview published March 1. The final step of this process, he said, may be the reception of Holy Communion, “after a process of conversion and repentance, if the generally valid prerequisites for this are fulfilled.” “A second marriage or a second spouse, as long as the rightful spouse is still alive, is not possible according to the Catholic interpretation of the words of Jesus.” “The Pope and all of us however want to carefully avoid people ‘drifting away’ from the Church as community of salvation,” he reflected. There are other forms of participation in the life of the Church that are “valuable and legitimate,” the cardinal noted. “Community with God and the Church is not only constituted in the oral reception of Holy Communion.” In addition to discussing pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried, the interview touched on Islam, the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the United States presidential election, clerical sex abuse, and the cardinal’s relationship with Pope Francis. Concluding with a discussion of divorce-and-remarriage and the reception of Holy Communion, Cardinal Müller acknowledged that “one may indeed struggle with the best way of handling a difficult situation.” “But what certainly is not possible is putting the teaching of Jesus Christ up for negotiation,” he said. “And that teaching is, after all: ‘What God therefore has joined together, let no man separate’. There can be no compromise there, by which we as humans would turn the clear word of God into something vague. A sound pastoral approach is the opposite of relativizing the words of Christ.” The cardinal defended the role of bishops in ensuring clear teaching. He compared this to motor vehicle inspections to ensure cars are roadworthy “so as to avoid accidents with serious consequences.” “If the matter at stake is the salvation of humans and endangering eternal life, then bishops have an even bigger responsibility. And the word of God is in fact very clear. There is but one faith, even if there are legitimately different schools of theology.” The Cologne newspaper asked the cardinal whether his explanation of the teaching on marriage and Holy Communion was a step back from the German bishops’ position at the 2015 Synod on the Family,  characterizing it as finding participation in Communion being conceivable for the divorced-and-remarried after a discussion with a priest in the internal forum. In response Cardinal Müller noted that this is possible only if the divorced-and-remarried take on the duty to live in complete continence. He said this citing St. John Paul II’s reminder “regarding the perennially valid teaching of the Church on marriage in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.” He added that reception of Holy Communion by the divorced-and-remarried must also take “into consideration the manifold situations upon which the process of reconciliation is predicated.” “The Church is not able to dissolve or suspend a valid and truly sacramental marriage.” One of the German leaders at the center of the remarriage controversy is Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger noted Cardinal Kasper’s description of a “battle” in the Vatican over the future of the Church. Cardinal Müller responded: “He retracted that problematic metaphor.” “A battle is aimed at destroying the enemy. But this is neither about the subjugation of others nor certainly about enmities. The subject was the teaching on marriage,” he explained. The interviewer cited Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who, he said, considers unrealistic the expectation of sexual abstinence in an irregular union. Cardinal Müller commented: “That is also what the apostles thought, when Jesus explained to them the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Matthew 19:10). But what seems to us human beings to be impossible, is made possible by the grace of God.” Read more

Satanist ploy fails in Phoenix as city council reinstates prayer

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 3, 2016 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a heated debate last month, the decision to replace public prayer with a moment of silence at Phoenix City Council meetings has been reversed. Yesterday, the city council voted 7-2 to allo… Read more

As abuse hearing ends, Cardinal Pell says he ‘should have done more’

Rome, Italy, Mar 3, 2016 / 10:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking to an Australian committee investigating institutional responses to child sex abuse cases, Cardinal George Pell has expressed his regret for failing to take more action against abusive priests in the 1970s and ’80s. One of the things Cardinal Pell has most lamented throughout the process is that he “should have done more” as a priest-advisor to his bishop, and as an auxiliary bishop. He expressed regret “that I didn’t do more at that stage,” adding that “in retrospect I might have been a little more pushy” when issues came up and he didn’t seem to have all the facts. On March 3 Cardinal Pell completed the fourth and final day of his hearing before Australia’s Royal Commission, facing a six hour cross-examination by 11 legal counsels, including his own. The other counsels represented victims who had been abused by Catholic priests in both Ballarat and Melbourne in the 1970s and ’80s. He was confronted with evidence brought by the commission earlier in the hearing that as a priest in 1974, he had received information from a student at St. Patrick’s College in the Diocese of Ballarat that Br. Edward Dowlan, who taught at the school, was “misbehaving with boys.” The cardinal said that the comment was not confided, but was “casually mentioned,” and that the student never asked him to do anything. Although he went to the school’s chaplain about the incident shortly after, Cardinal Pell never followed up, since the chaplain told him the issue was being looked into and “I believed him.” Cardinal Pell maintained that had “no idea” abuse was being covered up the way it was at the school, and that the accusation he could have stopped hundreds of other abuses had he been more vocal was a “vast overstatement” given the “meager evidence” he received, and which he never withheld. However, “with the experience of 40 years later,” and after learning that Br. Dowlan’s transfer later that year was made to cover up his abuse, Cartinal Pell said he couldn’t dispute his own “comparative inaction,” and confessed that “certainly I would agree that I should have done more.” He said the consciousness of his own personal responsibility and obligations in such situations grew as he continued through his priesthood, becoming an adviser to the Ballarat bishop, then later as both auxiliary bishop and Archbishop of Melbourne. Cardinal Pell is now prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, which oversees Vatican finances, and is a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on reform of the Roman Curia. March 3 marked his final appearance before Australia’s Royal Commission regarding claims accusing the cardinal of moving “known pedophile” Gerald Ridsdale; of bribing David Ridsdale, a victim and nephew of the later-defrocked priest; and of ignoring a victim’s complaints. Established in 2013, the commission is dedicated to investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges, Cardinal Pell offered to testify again and was summoned to return to Australia for deposition in December. However, the cardinal’s doctor advised against the long flight due to health issues. As a result, Cardinal Pell volunteered to appear by way of video conference from Rome, which took place Feb. 28 – March 3. A group of 15 abuse survivors and their family members traveled from Australia to Rome in order to be present for the hearing. The hearing largely focused on Cardinal Pell’s time as a priest in Ballarat and how the Melbourne archdiocese responded to abuse accusations, including during the time that the cardinal served as its auxiliary bishop. Cardinal Pell was ordained a prest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966, later serving as a consulter to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who oversaw the diocese from 1971-1997. He was appointed auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987, and was named its archbishop in 1996. Cases touched on throughout the four-day hearing were those of Gerald Ridsdale; Fr. Paul David Ryan, who in 2006 was imprisoned for three charges of indecent assault; Fr. Bill Baker; Fr. Peter Searson; and on numerous accusations against members of the Christian Brothers who were teaching in Catholic schools at the time, including Br. Dowlan and Br. Leo Fitzgerald. Pell began the hearing by stressing, “I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” and acknowledging that the Church “has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those.” He stressed throughout the hearing that in each case he had acted in accordance with the expectations that came with his responsibilities, and that abuse cases in both Ballarat and Melbourne had been hidden from him by his superiors. On the second day he maintained that though he had been an adviser to Bishop Mulkearns in the 1970s and was aware that Gerald Ridsdale had changed parishes more than was usual, the bishop had not told him the moves were made due to allegations of pedophilia. Pell said the situation was similar as auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, and that while accusations of pedophilia had been made against Fr. Searson to the Catholic Education office in the diocese, neither the office nor Archbishop Little told him the allegations were of that nature when he was briefed. “In both cases for some reason, they were covering up,” the cardinal said March 2, explaining that he was under the impression the accusations were related to other topics. “People did not want the status quo to be disturbed,” he said, suggesting that one reason he was kept in the dark could be “because they would have feared that I would not accept the status quo.” Cardinal Pell said he was “not cut from the same cloth,” and that as a bishop who was known for being outspoken, he would have gone against the expectation to cover up at the time. With hindsight, he expressed regret “that I didn’t do more at that stage,” adding that “in retrospect I might have been a little more pushy” when issues came up and he didn’t seem to have all the facts.      On the last day of the hearing Cardinal Pell denied accusations that he had attempted to bribe David Ridsdale to stay quiet. Ridsdale has alleged that when he phoned Pell, then auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, for help in 1993, Pell attempted to bribe him not to go to the police. Cardinal Pell insisted that compensation never came up in the conversation but that David had confided that he had been abused by his uncle and wanted help from the Church. He maintained that David asked for a “quiet process” within the Church, due to the stress a public investigation would place on his grandmother when she found out about her son Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes. The cardinal said he was “eager to help” David in any way he needed and that the topic of financial difficulties arose, but wasn’t discussed at length. Cardinal Pell also said that after that initial phone call, David never called back. He said he made a few calls to David’s house to check on how he was doing, but that the youth never responded. Cardinal Pell’s own lawyer spoke last, pointing out that when he was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, he pushed for the resignation of Fr. Peter Searson, about whom the archdiocese had received numerous complaints of abuse and violent behavior.   Cardinal Pell approached Searson with an official letter requesting his resignation, the lawyer said. Searson fought the request in a case that went all the way to Rome. Although Rome initially ruled in favor of Searson, Cardinal Pell said, “I just ignored the Roman decision, and Rome didn’t push the point.” He voiced his sorrow for the effect of clerical abuse on victims and their families, many of whom now have difficulty setting foot in either a Church or confessional. “One of the things I regret as a Catholic priest is the damage that these crimes do to the faith of survivors, of the victims, and their friends and family, and generally throughout the society,” he said. Before the hearing began, Cardinal Pell expressed his willingness to meet with the abuse survivors who traveled from Australia to be present at the hearing. He met with them collectively on March 3 after the hearing had concluded, and drafted a joint statement with them condemning clerical abuse and promising to continue assisting the recovery process of victims in both Ballarat and Melbourne. The survivors also requested a meeting with Pope Francis, though there has been no confirmation of a time. Cardinal Pell met with the Pope on Monday, and arranged for him to receive a summary of the contents of each day’s hearing sessions. He is the highest ranking Vatican official to have testified before a legal body on clerical sex abuse. Although the Royal Commission can’t bring any charges against the cardinal, they may give their opinion when presenting their findings to judicial bodies. Read more