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Santa Fe archbishop weighs in on papal discussion of Fr. James Martin

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2020 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has offered his recollections of a meeting between Pope Francis and the American Southwest, especially as regards a discussion during the meeting of Fr. James Martin, SJ.

CNA reported Feb. 20 that Martin was discussed during a Feb. 10 meeting between the pope and bishops of the USCCB’s Region XIII, who were with the pope as part of their ad limina visit.

Martin, an American Jesuit, is well known for his writing and speaking on LGBT issues and the Church. His work has been a subject of controversy; it is criticized by some bishops and praised by others.

Wester confirmed that Martin and his Sept. 30 visit to the pope had been discussed in the meeting, in a Feb. 21 commentary published by the National Catholic Reporter.

The Santa Fe archbishop, who was appointed to his post in 2015, is one of seven U.S. bishops to have endorsed “Building a Bridge,” Martin’s 2017 book on the Church and homosexuality.

“This courageous work is necessary reading for all who wish to build up the Christian community and to give witness to the Gospel message of inclusion,” Wester wrote of Martin’s book.

In his Feb. 21 commentary, the archbishop indicated that a broader discussion of Martin had taken place than was previously reported. Wester said bishops raised to the pope questions about a recent speech Martin delivered to the presidents of Catholic universities, “and his work in general with the LGBT community.”

The pope’s visit with Martin “was only mentioned in passing and was not the main point of the questions” bishops raised to the pope about Martin, Wester wrote.

The archbishop did not indicate what he saw as the “main point” of the bishops’ questions, nor did he indicate the response of Pope Francis to questions raised about the issues he mentioned.

While it would be “difficult for anyone to remember with precision anything that was said” in such a lengthy meeting, Wester said that he did not recall “the pope saying or implying that he was unhappy with Father Martin or his ministry.”

Regarding the pope’s visit with Martin, one bishop told CNA Feb. 20 that Pope Francis “made his displeasure clear” about the way the meeting was interpreted, and framed by some journalists.

Wester’s commentary confirmed that report. The archbishop added that from his viewpoint, “it was not Father Martin the Pope was talking about, but the way others tried to use that encounter, one way or the other.”

The Archbishop of Santa Fe did take issue with a bishop who told CNA that “the Holy Father's disposition was very clear, he was most displeased about the whole subject of Fr. Martin and how their encounter had been used. He was very expressive, both his words and his face -  his anger was very clear, he felt he'd been used."

Speaking of that bishop’s description, Wester said “the language subtlety, yet incorrectly, leads the reader to believe that Father Martin was the issue while in fact, it was how others used their meeting that was in play.” Wester said he did not think the pope had been “angry, upset or annoyed.”

In his commentary, Wester disagreed with reports from other bishops that the pope said Martin had received some correction about the way the Sept. 30 visit was framed.

"Not at all true from my vantage point," Wester said.

Wester conceded that there was some discussion of raising issues with Martin's superiors, though he was not specific about what was said.

“I vaguely remember some mention of people in leadership trying to clarify any misunderstandings about his ministry,” the archbishop wrote. Wester said he thought that reference had to do with an article Martin had written in America Magazine, and not with the pope's meeting with Martin, although he did not indicate what factors led him to that conclusion.

Martin himself, after Wester’s commentary was published, tweeted that he has “never heard anything negative from Jesuit superiors, nor was I ever given a ‘talking to.’”

The archbishop said he could not recall other aspects of reports about the meeting.

“I believe that I have an obligation to offer my perspective on those matters contained in the CNA article about Father James Martin, SJ, since my understanding of the facts differs from what was reported anonymously,” Wester concluded.

The bishops who spoke with CNA reported that Martin’s work in regards to the LGBT community was also discussed with the heads of numerous Vatican congregations, and that some officials expressed concern about aspects of the priest’s work. Wester did not comment on those reports.

 

Parts of Notre-Dame plaza, crypt expected to reopen this spring

Paris, France, Feb 21, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- French officials are hopeful that parts of the plaza of Notre-Dame de Paris, as well as the church’s crypt, will be re-opened roughly a year after a fire ravaged the roof and much of the interior of the cathedral.

Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris, said the internationally cherished cathedral’s plaza and crypt should reopen sometime before the summer “if everything goes OK,” the New York Times reported.

Officials told the New York Times that these parts of the cathedral and the surrounding area have thus far remained closed due to lead contamination from the rubble of the burnt roof and spire, which collapsed in the fire.

According to French government information, obtained by the New York Times, lead levels on the cathedral’s plaza following the fire were as high as 1,300 times above French safety guidelines, and on other surrounding areas lead levels were 955 times above safety regulations.

“Obviously this depends on whether the site has been properly cleaned up, but we have been doing regular lead checks,” Karen Taïeb, also a deputy mayor for Paris, told the New York Times. If all goes well, she said the plaza and crypt could be opened as early as the end of March.

On April 15 last year, a fire started in the center of the cathedral’s roof and nearly destroyed the entire building before it was put out.

The church receives more than 12 million visitors each year.

The roof had been undergoing restorative work at the time of the fire, and in the subsequent months, fire officials said they believed either malfunctioning electrical work or an abandoned cigarette butt from a worker caused the fire.

Most of the church’s sacred and artistic treasures, including the Eucharist and a relic of the crown of thorns, were rescued during the fire thanks to a planned rescue strategy that was in place for just such emergencies.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to restore the cathedral within five years following the fire, and nearly $1 billion has been pledged towards its restoration from private donors.

Last summer the French government passed a bill organizing how the restoration funds would be distributed, though debates about whether the cathedral will be restored as it was are ongoing.

Since the adoption of the 1905 law on separation of church and state, which formalized laïcité (a strict form of public secularism), religious buildings in France have been property of the state.

Fla. bishops laud parental consent for abortion bill as it goes to governor

Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 21, 2020 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- The Florida bishops applauded Thursday the passage through both houses of the state legislature of a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking to procure abortion. The governor has said he intends to sign the bill.

The Florida House of Representatives passed SB 404 by a 75-43 vote Feb. 20. It had cleared the Senate by a 23-17 vote earlier this month.

“We praise our state’s legislative leaders for advancing this pro-life legislation, especially bill sponsors, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and Representative Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), who took on the difficult task of guiding it through the committee process and onto the floor of the Senate and House,” the Florida bishops' conference said Feb. 20.

“We also commend the Democratic lawmakers who courageously crossed party lines and voted to ensure vital protections for parents and their children.”

The bill would require minors to received notarized approval from a parent or guardian, or to get consent from a judge after a hearing, before procuring an abortion.

Under the bill, minors seeking an abortion will be required to receive notarized approval from at least one parent, guardian, or from a judge. Doctors who perform abortions without the parental consent of a girl under 18 would face up to five years in prison for a third-degree felony.

The permission requirement would not apply in cases of “medical emergencies” when there is not sufficient time to obtain written permission from a parent.

The bishops noted that “Parental consent is required prior to a minor's medical treatment in most every instance, this includes simple medical interventions such as taking an aspirin or getting one’s ears pierced. This legislation is a common-sense measure that holds abortion to the same consent requirements as most every other medical decision involving a child.”

Ingrid Delgado, associate director for social concerns and respect life for the Florida bishops' conference, commented that “standards that relate to children's health care should apply especially in the context of abortion, which critically affects the lives of two children.”

Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, voted for the measure, calling it “a good bill for our children,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, a sponsor of the measure, said: “It is indisputable that abortion ends a life, and the decision to end a life is permanent and life-altering not only for the baby, but for the girl, the father and the family.”

Those opposed to the bill said it will create more difficulties for young girls who are already in a desperate situation, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said that “we don't live in a Utopia where parents always love and advise their children and young girls never get pregnant.”

The Florida legislature first enacted a parental consent law in 1979, but the state Supreme Court struck it down a decade later, saying it violated privacy rights.

Governor Ron DeSantis has said he thinks parental consent “deserves to be reconsidered” at the court, adding that parents “want to be involved with what’s going on with their kids.”

The Florida House passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to make it out of Senate committees for full debate.

Existing Florida law requires a minor seeking to procure abortion to give notice to their parent, or a judge.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, 1,398 minors, 193 of whom notified a judge rather than her parents, procured abortion in the state in 2018.

Twenty-six states require parental consent for a minor's abortion.

Sri Lankan cardinal calls for full investigation into Easter bombings

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb 21, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, has called for a full investigation into the bombing attacks on Easter Sunday 2019, and introduced a program to pray for the victims of the attacks. 

“The people of this country have a right to know the truth about the Easter bomb attacks,” said Ranjith on Feb. 18. “We hope that our political leaders will work to fulfill that obligation.” 

The Easter bomb attacks killed 259 people and injured more than 500. Two Catholic churches, one evangelical Christian church, four hotels, and a housing complex were hit by a total of nine suicide bombers. 

The suicide bombers, who were all Sri Lankan citizens, belonged to an Islamist group known as the National Thowheeth Jama’ath. They attacked the three churches in the middle of Easter Sunday services. 

"Anybody who had dealings with these people who set off the bombs, even their bank accounts and their telephone calls, has to be investigated," the cardinal said.  

Ranjith has criticised past inquiries into the attacks. 

“It is difficult for us to say what happened based on the reports of former government commissions. We believe [the commissions] may have worked to cover up what happened,” said Ranjith. 

“We are pleased with the new presidential commission. They are trying to explain every aspect of the issue.” 

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who assumed office in November 2019, has worked with Ranjith on the investigation into the attacks, and asked him to appoint a representative to the commission. Ranjith did not nominate a representative, and instead appeared before the commission himself on December 6 and 7. 

Ranjith said that he wished to represent the concerns of both the victims and the country’s Catholic community. The Archdiocese of Colombo, which he leads, is the only Catholic diocese in the country and also includes the Maldive islands. Christians make up approximately 7% of Sri Lanka’s population, but roughly eight out of 10 Christians in Sri Lanka are Catholic. 

In addition to the request for a further investigation, Ranjith also announced prayer services to mark the anniversary of the attack. 

“It is the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Colombo to never forget all those who lost their lives in this tragic attack on that day,” he said. 

Two of the prayer services will be held at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kotahena and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, the locations of the attacks. 

Ranjith has been increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan authorities’ failure to prevent the attacks. It has been reported that Indian intelligence services repeatedly warned Sri Lanka about the possibility of an attack occurring on Easter Sunday, including the morning of the attacks. 

“Nobody took serious note,” said Ranjith in June. “This disaster could have been prevented because if I knew that there was an attack planned I would have closed the churches and told the people to go home.”

Argentine clergy abuse victims in Rome, one year after Vatican summit

Rome, Italy, Feb 21, 2020 / 12:49 pm (CNA).- One year after the Vatican hosted a summit on the abuse crisis, three former students of an Argentine institute which cared for deaf children, and from which two priests were convicted last year of sexual abuse, have traveled to Rome to ask the Vatican for files on accused priests.

Two Catholic priests were sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted in November of sexually abusing students at the now-closed Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired children in Argentina’s Mendoza province.

Three victims, who are former students of the institute, were accompanied by around 18 other victims of clergy sexual abuse, activists, and lawyers at a gathering near the Vatican Feb. 21.

The group was at the United Nations in Geneva earlier in the week, where they gave presentations to the UN committees against torture, on disability rights, and on the rights of the child, according to Denise Buchanan of advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse.

The Argentina case was presented “so that they can discuss it in the committees and pressure the Vatican to do whatever they need to do to make this stop from that end,” Buchanan told CNA.

One of the young victims from Argentina, Claudia Labeguerie, told CNA they went to the UN to “denounce the pope and the Vatican for cover-up, and then we came here to Rome to tell [about] the report.”

Labeguerie, who is deaf and uses sign language, spoke with CNA through her sister, Erica. Labeguerie said she suffered “abuse and torture by priests and sisters” at the Provolo Institute.

Buchanan, who was in Rome during the 2019 Vatican summit on abuse, said the Argentine victims “want Pope Francis to know that right here, right now is the time for there to be some reparation for them.”

She described reparation as including financial support for the victims, many of whom came from poor families. She also said they are looking for papal acknowledgment and changes to Church law.

The 2019 convictions in Argentina were for crimes which took place from 2004 to 2016. The cases involved 10 students, though around 20 have made abuse accusations.

Noting that some of the abuse occurred as recently as four years ago, Buchanan said they hope “people understand that [abuse is] not a past issue, it’s a present issue.”

Friday’s gathering was held in the square outside the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes of abuse by clergy or religious according to Church law.

Buchanan and others present said they were outside the CDF because they want the Vatican to hand over to Argentine lawyers the files on priests connected with the Provolo Institute and their photos.

Lawyers for the students, who were also present Friday, want the files to aid in their own prosecutions, according to Buchanan.

The CDF does not share information or the case files on ongoing investigations and legal proceedings. After the conclusion, prosecutors in other countries may request access to case files through the Secretariat of State.

Gemma Hickey is the founder of victim advocacy organizations the Pathways Foundation and ACTS-Canada. The Church “has lost its way,” in handling clergy abuse, Hickey told CNA, calling for “ownership, transparency, accountability.”

Hickey, who is a victim of clerical abuse and now identifies as a transgender man, said, “when someone abuses you and they represent God, that never leaves you.”

“As much as you move on, as much therapy as you do, you still carry that with you every day. It’s very difficult. It compromises your faith and your relationship to God, your relationship with yourself.”

Members of SNAP, the ECA network, and BishopAccountability.org were also present at the gathering.

Patricia Dold, a religious studies professor, said she herself is not a victim of clergy abuse, but she is angry and frustrated “to see this Church fail survivors.”

Their presence in Rome “is just one way to make the statement that we want the Church to live up to its moral code.”