Existing norms remain for Roman Curia, Pope says

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2015 / 02:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has clarified that while the Roman Curia is in the process of being reconstructed, it doesn’t mean there is an absence of law or regulations – the existing rules are still in place, for now. In a letter (dated Oct. 14 and released Oct. 27) addressed to the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis noted that since the institution of the Council of Cardinals in 2013, “certain problems have emerged,” which he intends to take “prompt action” in addressing. The first point he made is that “the current period of transition is not a time of vacatio legis (absence of law),” and confirmed that St. John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus and its subsequent amendments “remain in full force, along with the General Regulations of the Roman Curia.” Pope Francis’ public reminder that Pastor bonus remains in force follows upon his announcement last week that three existing bodies in the Roman Curia are to be consolidated into one dicastery. Pope Francis formally established the Council of Cardinals – also referred to as the “Council of 9” – on Sept. 28, 2013, in order to advise him in matters of Church governance and reform. The structure of the Roman Curia has followed criteria laid out in Pastor bonus, which regulates and defines responsibilities, duties and the composition of the offices of the Roman Curia. Under Pastor bonus the Roman Curia is broken up into a number of dicasteries (called either congregations or pontifical councils); three tribunals; and the Secretariat of State. While congregations have executive power, pontifical councils do not, and remain in the background of their own spheres of influence. When the Council of Cardinals first started meeting, the question as to whether Pastor bonus would be modified was one of the first things to be asked. Although there was an initial rumor that no changes would be made to the document, members of the council stressed that they would be discussing the matter at length, and would unite their efforts to find the best method to execute the reform. It has since become clear that the intention of Pope Francis’ reform is to replace Pastor bonus with a new document which will describe and govern a reformed Roman Curia. Pope Francis’ latest reform move came during the synod of bishops, when, during the afternoon session Oct. 22, he announced his decision to establish a new office in the Roman Curia that will deal with issues of laity, family, and life. The new office merges the pontifical councils for the family and the laity, as well as the Pontifical Academy for Life. The move was significant because it streamlines three offices into one, and is also meant to give greater attention to issues relating to the laity in the Church. The Pope’s program of curial reform has already established both a Secretariat for the Economy and a Secretariat for Communications. In his letter to Cardinal Parolin, the Pope also ordered that “to ensure equitable treatment of employees and collaborators, also in economic terms,” the rules of Pastor bonus as well as the regulations for laity and their recruitment in the Vatican and the Holy See “be scrupulously observed.” Francis made a point to reiterate that the hiring or transfer of employees in the Roman Curia and all other organizations within the Vatican and the Holy See ought to be carried out according to current staff limits. He noted that both the hiring and transfer of employees requires the authorization of the Secretary of State, and recalled that their salaries must also respect current parameters set within the Vatican City State. The Pope closed his letter asking that Cardinal Parolin inform the Governorate and the heads of all departments, offices and organizations in the Roman Curia on the letter’s contents, “highlighting in particular the aspects requiring special attention, and that supervision of compliance be exercised.” Read more

Pope Francis grieves loss of life in Afghanistan-Pakistan quake

Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct 27, 2015 / 12:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a massive earthquake rocked Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday killing hundreds, Pope Francis on Tuesday voiced his sorrow and solidarity for victims and their families, assuring them of his prayers. “His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a result of the earthquake in the region,” an Oct. 27 telegram addressed to Archbishop Ghaleb Bader, apostolic nuncio to Pakistan, read. Signed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the letter relayed the Pope’s “heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this disaster,” and assured Francis’ prayers for the dead, injured, and those still missing. “Upon all those who mourn the loss of loved ones and upon the civil authorities and emergency personnel involved in the relief efforts, Pope Francis invokes the divine blessings of consolation and strength.” The 7.5 magnitude earthquake tore through north-eastern Afghanistan Oct. 27. The quake’s epicenter was in the country’s Badakhshan province, an estimated 220 miles northeast of Kabul. The quake has so far killed more than 300 people, 12 of whom are schoolgirls who tried to escape their building. Most of the casualties have taken place in Pakistan’s northern mountainous regions, BBC News reports. Authorities on the ground have said that in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone, at least 179 people were known to have died, with more than 1,800 injured. The death toll is expected to rise in both countries, since the places most affected are remote areas where communication has been cut off. Tremors were also felt in surrounding countries, including India and Tajikistan. With a depth of 200km – 124 miles – in the earth, yesterday’s quake marks the latest in a series of serious earthquakes in South Asia this year. In April eastern Nepal was devastated when a 7.8 magnitude quake ripped through the country, which was followed by a 7.3 magnitude aftershock in May. On record, 9,000 people were killed, and roughly 900,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Read more

Pope Francis expected to visit Italian diocese of Milan in May

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2015 / 09:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Milan’s archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola, made an informal announcement Tuesday that Pope Francis will visit the archdiocese May 7, marking the first papal visit there since 2012. &ldquo… Read more

Pope advises Gypsies to cultivate responsibility, openness

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2015 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with Rome’s Romani, or Gypsies, on Monday, asking them to take a new direction and embolden their efforts towards a life of inclusion, dignity, and responsibility. “Time has come to uproot secular prejudice, preconceived ideas and the reciprocal diffidence that are often at the base of discrimination, racism and xenophobia,” Pope Francis stated Oct. 26. The Pope addressed thousands of Romani in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, saying the nomadic ethnic group should “turn the page” and begin to build bridges of “peaceful co-habitation” with other peoples and cultures. The Holy Father spoke these words on the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s meeting with Romani in a camp near Rome. The Romani people originated in northwestern India, and emigrated to Europe by the twelfth century. Their itinerant lifestyle meant they traditionally lived in wagons, and they have long been persecuted in Europe, and pressured to assimilate to the wider culture. Pope Francis told the community that “no one must feel isolated, no one is entitled to trample on the dignity and the rights of others,” saying this attitude of respect also applies to the education of Romani children. “Your children have the right to go to school, do not stop them from doing so!” he urged, calling children the “most precious treasure.” The Romani people have a responsibility to provide education for their children, the Pope continued, saying their youth must be given the proper tools to become fully integrated within society. The Romani are often not fully formed in education, holding them back from careers within the local economy. In addition, Pope Francis also encouraged local civil institutions to welcome these children so that they may be incorporated into the social and economic life of the country, giving them an opportunity to partake of education, healthcare, and dignified work. “We do not want to have to witness any more family tragedies in which children die from cold or are burnt in fires,” the Holy Father noted, saying that youth depravity, drugs, and human trafficking must also come to an end. The Roman Pontiff encouraged the Romani toward an attitude of openness, ready for dialogue and integration with the people around them. He said they must responsibly hold themselves accountable for their present and future, and urged them to be examples of fraternity rather than individualism. “You can do this if you are good Christians, avoiding all that is not worthy of this name: lies, frauds, swindles, altercations,” Pope Francis stated, saying they should ward off any occasions for the media to speak poorly about the Romani people. The Pope also pointed to Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla, a Spaniard who is regarded at the patron saint of the Romani. He was born into a Catholic Romani family in the 1860s, and was a catechist. During the Spanish Civil War he was arrested together with a priest by Republican forces, who executed him Aug. 8, 1936. Blessed Giménez should be a role model for the Romani, Pope Francis said, believing that his example of faith and virtue could inspire the group to a life of inclusion, fraternity, and faith.   Read more

‘Protect our common home’, world’s bishops ask climate change conference

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2015 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Negotiators of a global agreement on climate change must take effective action to protect creation, leading bishops from around the world said on Monday. “This agreement must put the common good ahead of national interests. It is essential too that the negotiations result in an enforceable agreement that protects our common home and all its inhabitants,” said the bishops’ Oct. 26 appeal. The bishops’ appeal addressed negotiators at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will take place in Paris in Nov. 30 – Dec. 11. The bishops said negotiators must secure an agreement that is “fair, legally binding and truly transformational,” Vatican Radio reports. “The building and maintenance of a sustainable common home requires courageous and imaginative political leadership,” the bishops continued, calling for legal frameworks which “clearly establish boundaries” and ensure protection for the ecosystem. Signers of the declaration include Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States bishops’ conference, and Bishop David Crosby of Hamilton, president of the Canadian bishops’ conference. Other signers were the heads of the regional bishops’ conferences of Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Oceania: Cardinal Gracias of Bombay; Archbishop Mbilingi of Lubango; Cardinal Erd? of Esztergom-Budapest; Cardinal Marx of Munich and Freising; Archbishop Ribat of Port Moresby; Cardinal Salazar Gómez of Bogota; and Cardinal Rai, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch. The bishops said scientific evidence indicates that accelerated climate change is due to “unrestrained human activity” and “excessive reliance on fossil fuels.” “The Pope and Catholic Bishops from five continents, sensitive to the damage caused, appeal for a drastic reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases,” the bishops said. They called on the climate change conference to forge an international agreement to limit global temperature increases as suggested by the scientific community in order “to avoid catastrophic climatic impacts, especially on the poorest and most vulnerable communities.” “The need to work together in a common endeavor is imperative,” they said. The bishops advised that the global climate change agreement recognize “the need to live in harmony with nature” and the need to guarantee human rights for everyone, including indigenous peoples, women, youth and workers. The conference should “develop new models of development and lifestyles that are climate compatible, address inequality and bring people out of poverty.” “Central to this is to put an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions, including emissions from military, aviation and shipping, and providing affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy access for all,” the bishops said. The bishops asked the conference to “set a goal for complete de-carbonization by mid-century” to protect communities most threatened by climate change, such as Pacific islanders and coastal communities. The agreement should also ensure access to water and land, while enabling the participation of the poorest and most vulnerable in the discussions. The bishops said their policy proposals draw on “the concrete experiences of people across the continents.” The bishops linked climate change to “social injustice and the social exclusion of the poorest.” The bishops cited Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on care for our common home, Laudato si’, which said climate change is one of the principal challenges now facing humanity. The Pope stressed that the climate is a common good that is meant for everyone, with the natural environment being part of humanity’s patrimony. The Pope stressed the need to find a consensual solution that is universal in a solidarity that extends across generations. The bishops’ appeal to the climate change conference echoed these concerns. “We call for an integral ecological approach, we call for social justice to be placed center stage ‘so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’,” the bishops said. The bishops’ statement included a prayer that God will “teach us to care for this world our common home.” They asked that God would inspire government leaders gathered in Paris “to listen to and heed the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” and to “protect the beautiful earthly garden you have created for us.” The bishops wrote their appeal in collaboration with Caritas Internationalis and the network of Catholic development agencies, CIDSE. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace sponsored the effort. Read more

How one US archdiocese is revamping its marriage prep program

New Orleans, La., Oct 26, 2015 / 05:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Aiming to provide uniform spiritual and social support for engaged couples, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has made several changes to its marriage preparation process. “It’s su… Read more

Catholics in Mexico thankful Hurricane Patricia did not cause major damage

Mexico City, Mexico, Oct 26, 2015 / 01:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During Mass on Sunday at the cathedral of Mexico City, the celebrant thanked God that Hurricane Patricia – the strongest recorded in the western hemisphere – did not in the end … Read more

Pope visits elderly prelate who broke leg at Sunday’s Mass

Vatican City, Oct 26, 2015 / 11:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Sunday evening paid a private visit to an elderly cardinal who is in hospital after having fallen and broken his leg in St. Peter’s Basilica that morning. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 93, lost his balance and fell while the Pope was greeting prelates following Mass for the closing of the Synod, according to an Oct. 25 statement by the Vatican Press office. The Holy Father visited the French prelate at 7:30 p.m. for about a quarter of an hour at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, and bestowed his blessing. The cardinal also wanted to thank Pope Francis for the Synod which officially concluded with Sunday’s Mass. The Vatican statement said the prelate fractured his left femur in the fall. It added that while he is in generally good condition, he will require surgery to repair the fracture. This is not the first time Cardinal Etchegaray has been injured during a papal celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica. In 2009, a mentally unstable woman jumped the barriers and attempted to tackle Pope Benedict during the procession for Christmas Eve Mass, knocking both the pontiff and the cardinal to the ground. Although the Pope was uninjured, the cardinal sustained a broken leg and hip in the incident. Raised to the cardinalate in 1979, the retired Cardinal Etchegaray in the past has served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. This year’s Synod on the Family, which ran from Oct. 4-25, was the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops was the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”   Read more

Amid calls for reform, a look at stats – and stories – from the US prison system

Washington D.C., Oct 25, 2015 / 04:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Saul Green wanted to turn his life around. Green was caught stealing out of a subway station vending machine and charged with larceny 24 years ago. After the judge tossed out the case, he was later sentenced to prison on a crack cocaine conviction. Following his year in prison, he found employment as a concierge for three months in Washington, D.C. But when his employer wanted to move him to a security guard position, they found out about his prison term and then parted ways with him. “Ever since that time, it’s been hard,” he told CNA in an interview. He lost his apartment and had to take everything he owned to the streets. Green currently lives in a men’s shelter in Washington, D.C. and is still waiting for calls back from employers after more than 125 interviews for potential jobs. Green’s story is one example of the struggles ex-prisoners face when they look for a job. For years, Catholic leaders have been calling for criminal justice reform to help avoid similar situations, which can result in homelessness, drug abuse, gang activity, or a return to crime.   Now, the U.S. bishops believe that a new Senate bill is a good first step to achieving reform. “Our Catholic tradition supports the community’s right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good,” stated a recent letter from Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Sister Donna Markham, OP. “But our faith also teaches us that both victims and offenders have a God-given dignity that calls for justice and restoration, not vengeance,” they continued. Archbishop Wenski chairs the U.S. bishops’ committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Sister Donna Markham is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, USA. Their letter, sent to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the committee, applauds the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. It hails the bill as a “modest bipartisan first step” in criminal justice reform, praising it overall while finding the addition of some new mandatory minimum sentences “problematic.” The bill is “comprehensive,” according to Anthony Granado, a policy advisor to the U.S. Bishops Conference on issues involving civil rights and the death penalty. “We need to move away from this mentality of punishment for its own sake and look at smarter sentencing, smarter ways of doing incarceration that in the end, not only protect society, but also lift up human life and dignity,” he told CNA. Reform of the criminal justice system has now become a thoroughly bipartisan initiative. Presidential candidates from both parties have talked about the issue. The new Senate bill enjoys three co-sponsors from each party. Some reform advocates believe that a push for tougher stances on crime in the 1980s and ‘90s culminated with a legal system that houses too many prisoners for too long a time and at unnecessary expense to society. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s overall population but 25 percent of the prison population. The federal prison population has seen a 790 percent increase since 1980, according to the Congressional Research Service. And minorities are more likely to be behind bars, another reason why advocates insist upon reform of the justice system. One in nine black children has a father in prison, according to 2009 statistics from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Over a third of young black males without high school diplomas are in jail. One in three black males born now will at some point serve time in jail. “Really, I think, what the bishops have been saying for quite a while now is it’s a long-overdue conversation in our country about how to fix our broken criminal justice system,” Granado said, “one that promotes mass incarceration, particularly for poor individuals, minorities.” “This (bill) is a step in the right direction,” he added. As a first step in a reform initiative, the Senate bill addresses sentencing reform but also anti-recidivism programs and solitary confinement reform. The bill cuts some mandatory minimum sentences for many non-violent and low-level drug offenders, while at the same time adding other mandatory minimums. Some of the mandated sentences stretch to 15 or even 25 years. Debi Campbell, a Virginia resident who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the bill on Monday, argued that she deserved jail time for using and selling methamphetamine with her husband in the 1990s – but not almost 20 years, which was her sentence. One of her clients had gone to the police, and Campbell was charged with conspiracy to sell 10 kilos of meth. “I never even saw that much drugs, much less sold it,” she said in her written testimony, but she was being charged for both her own crimes and those of her clients, plus for their allegations made against her. Campbell pled guilty in 1994 and received a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, plus an extra sentence of almost 10 additional years. Her client received probation in return for being an informant. “I needed to go to prison because I desperately needed a wake-up call,” she said in her testimony. “But I did not need nearly 20 years in prison to learn my lesson.” “The worst part was not being able to be with my four daughters,” she said. “I had already failed them once, and now they were growing up in the foster care system.” Mandatory minimums “don’t really take into account” the particular circumstances of a person’s case, Granado said. “They’ve been applied so disproportionately, particularly for non-violent offenses.” The bishops oppose “one size fits all” laws like that because they don’t deal with the “subsidiarity” of taking each human case as it comes, he added. The proposed bill also expands “safety valves” to give judges more flexibility in determining whether a defendant merits less than the mandatory minimum sentence. Those with a serious drug offense or a violent offense would not be eligible. In addition, the bill reduces the penalty in the federal three-strike law from life imprisonment to 25 years for drug offenders. The three-strike law applies when a person is convicted of a “serious violent felony” and has been previously convicted twice in federal or state court of a “serious violent felony” and another offense, which can be a “serious drug offense.” The legislation also encourages prisoners to participate in “anti-recidivism programs” which can reduce their sentences. These programs would include job-training, mental health counseling, and drug treatment, which Granado argues helps get to the root of the problem of why they’re in prison. Preventing recidivism – a return to prison for someone who has been released – is critical, Granado insisted. However, it is “very difficult for these persons to find jobs,” he said. Unemployment is the biggest cause of recidivism, maintains Judith Conti of the National Employment Law Project. She advocates for persons who cannot get a job because of their previous criminal record. The best-case scenario for a former inmate who is unemployed, she says, is that he receives public benefits. The worst-case scenario – and all too common – is that he reverts back to crime. “They’ve paid their debt to society,” Granado said. “It makes no sense to return a person to the community with no assistance, just so they can go back and commit crime.” Yet despite support from churches, friends, and organizations, such assistance may not be enough for an ex-inmate to land a job, as exemplified by the story of Saul Green. Reform advocates say serious efforts are needed to turn things around. On another note, the proposed Senate bill contains “strong regulations and restrictions” on solitary confinement for juveniles, Granado said. Bernard Kerik, former police commissioner for New York City who pled guilty to tax evasion and fraudulent statements in 2009 and served three years in prison, spent 60 days in solitary confinement. “That 60 days, to me, was like 10 years,” he described it in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in May. Kerik said that during his time in solitary, he started hallucinating and talking to himself. To pass the time he would count everything – “the number of bedsprings, steps, cracks in the walls, lines and mudsplats on the windows.” He said that after spending time in solitary, someone will “admit to anything…to get out of that cell.” The proposed Senate bill enacts “modest” reform, and Granado says that this should be rooted in the “Golden Rule” of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which Pope Francis referenced before Congress: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. (Mt. 7:12).” When so many are tempted to say of prisoners “lock them up and throw away the key,” we must treat them as we would want to be treated, he insisted. The teaching “goes back to the classical Greek thought of Aristotle, it’s been a part of the Church’s social teaching going back to day one.” Pope Francis “reminds us that we’re all capable of committing grave sin and evil, but at the end, we’re redeemed by Christ’s love,” Granado added, “through the Cross and the Resurrection.” Photo credit: Fresnel via www.shutterstock.com   Read more

In Myanmar, Salesians celebrate seminary’s 25th anniversary

Lashio, Burma, Oct 25, 2015 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the tribal hills of Myanmar’s (Burma’s) far northern Shan State, Catholics celebrated an important double anniversary for two Salesian institutions. Spiritual catechesis and cultural celebrations commemorated the silver jubilees of both the Salesian Parish in the Diocese of Lashio and the Don Bosco Seminary in the town of Hsipaw, located almost 50 miles southwest of Lashio. Both were established in 1990.   “We thank the Lord for these twenty five years. It is a remarkable length of time which could be taken as the lifespan of a generation,” said Fr. Leo Mang, S.D.B, head of social communications of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar. Fr. Mang explained that the Salesian missionaries and their friends have stood strong in faith despite the difficult moments of trials, persecutions and the lasting effects of World War II.   “The Don Bosco Seminary in Hsipaw had truly sown seeds of vocations which are now flourishing throughout the country wherever the Salesians are serving the Church in various regions in the service of youth,” Fr. Mang further added. The seminary has educated 21 priests, two lay brothers and many other people. Cardinal Charles Bo, who is now the Archbishop of Yangon, has a history in the area. He was the apostolic administrator of the region, then named apostolic prefect. He was then appointed as the first bishop of the Diocese of Lashio in 1990. Bishop Philip Za Hawng of Lashio presided over the thanksgiving Mass with Fr. Charles Saw, SDB, the provincial of the Salesian in Myanmar. Over 25 priests, religious, seminarians, novices attended the celebrations, which included the liturgy, traditional cultural processions, and prayer dances in the events held Oct. 16-17. Bishop Philip’s homily asked the parish to be united in faith. He further encouraged the community to keep the faith alive. He thanked the Salesians missionaries who had cared for the Lashio diocese “from its inception.” He praised the Salesians as benefactors of the region. The celebrations also marked the inauguration and the blessing of a memorial hall.   The Salesians of Myanmar have been active in youth formation, skill development and education in one of Asia’s poorest regions, known for its hilly terrain.  The people there have suffered under the military junta and have faced religious persecutions. The country will hold elections in November. The Salesian missionaries arrived in what was then called Burma in 1939. They gradually established their mission. They lost their schools in a period of nationalization when the government took control of all Christian-run schools in 1965. All foreign missionaries serving in the country were asked to leave the country. Since then, the local church has grown. It makes a significant contribution to the country through its work in education, healthcare and social welfare.   Myanmar is home to about 800,000 Catholics who live in 16 dioceses. Several thousand committed catechists carry on the work of evangelization and help the Church to serve families and the faithful. In recent years the Catholic Church in Myanmar celebrated the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the country. Read more