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Guam archdiocese files for bankruptcy following sex abuse lawsuits

Hagatna, Guam, Jan 16, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Agaña has filed for bankruptcy in federal court in the wake of numerous sex abuse allegations. The move, decided upon in November, allows the archdiocese to avoid trial and to begin to reach settlements in millions of dollars' worth of abuse lawsuits.

"This path will bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims," Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes said in November. "That's the heart of what we're doing."

The bankruptcy decision was made following mediation efforts.

Leander James, an attorney working with alleged victims in the territory, also said in November that filing for bankruptcy would provide “the only realistic path to settlement of pending and future claims."

There are approximately $115 million in lawsuits from more than 180 abuse claims pending against the Agaña archdiocese.

Some of these claims were brought against the archdiocese’s former leader, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who has been found guilty of certain unspecified accusations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Among those who have accused Archbishop Apuron of sex abuse is his nephew, Mark Apuron. This week, Mark named the Holy See as a defendant in a $5 million abuse lawsuit filed in local court. According to Kuam News, the suit states that the Vatican failed to implement recommendations from a 1985 report entitled: "The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner."

The archdiocese has announced plans to sell its chancery property and move offices, as part of a broader move to liquidate and sell property to settle sex abuse cases.

In 2016, Guam's territorial legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.

Coadjutor Archbishop Byrnes has implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that he said will “help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese.”

Byrnes adopted in February 2017 the US bishops' conference's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

The Archdiocese of Agaña serves Catholics in Guam, a U.S. island territory in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.

Pro-life Congress members ask Trump to veto any bills that expand abortion

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2019 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life members of Congress this week sent U.S. President Donald Trump two companion letters requesting that he veto any legislation that would weaken current federal pro-life policies and promising to sustain any such veto.

A total of 169 members of the House of Representatives and 49 Senators signed the respective letters.

“We ask President Donald Trump to continue to his work in defense of life. My colleagues and I are also committed to protecting both unborn children and their mothers from the violence of abortion,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who led the House letter, in a statement.

Smith added that he was “deeply encouraged” that there were 169 members of the House of Representatives who signed the letter willing to sustain a veto “on the grounds that any pro-life provision has been weakened or removed.”

“We will not allow hard fought protections for the unborn to be undone,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). “I stand strongly in defense of the President’s pro-life victories and will continue to work with my colleagues to advance our pro-life agenda.”

Daines was the leader of the Senate letter.

While both letters offered praise for Trump’s various pro-life policies throughout his time in office, the House letter emphasized the importance of the Hyde Amendment and the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, both of which restrict taxpayer funding for abortions domestically and abroad.

Recently, House Democrats passed a spending bill containing language that would overturn the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy. They have also pledged to work to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which prevents taxpayer funding of abortion in most cases.

The Senate letter focused on conscience rights for healthcare professionals, and requested that taxpayer funding under Title X (family planning) not go to “facilities that perform or refer for abortion.”

In May, the Trump administration instituted new policies that forbade Title X funds from going to organizations like Planned Parenthood. This move was touted as a “major victory” by pro-life advocates.

Similar pro-life letters were sent to Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush when they were in office. President H.W. Bush then proceeded to issue three pro-life vetoes, and all three were upheld by the House of Representatives.

Small, well-funded LGBT group to challenge Catholic teaching at World Youth Day

Panama City, Panama, Jan 16, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- A U.S.-based coalition of dissenting Catholics, whose backers include wealthy non-Catholic funders, is sending a small group of LGBT activists to World Youth Day in Panama to engage with media and pilgrims and to challenge Catholic teaching and practice they say is “harmful.”

The six pilgrims are backed by the Equally Blessed Coalition, currently composed of the groups Call to Action, Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry. The group Fortunate Families had belonged to the coalition for several years but left it in 2018.

This year’s World Youth Day, a major international Catholic young adult event, will take place in the Panama City area Jan. 22-27. It is expected to draw 3 million people, including 200,000 Panamanians, according to local papers. Pope Francis will take part in the events and celebrate a penitential liturgy with juvenile detention center detainees, a Way of the Cross with young people, a prayer vigil with youth, and a Mass for World Youth Day participants.

The Equally Blessed Coalition’s November 13, 2018 announcement cited Pew Research Center and Public Religion Research Institute polling that they said showed two-thirds of American Catholics backed “gay marriage” and a majority oppose “so-called ‘religious freedom’ laws that allow businesses and other public service providers to discriminate against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“While we raise awareness about issues of gender and sexuality in the lives of Catholics, we will challenge harmful teachings and pastoral practices that dehumanize us rather than celebrate the gifts that we LGBTQI people bring to the church and to the world,” said the coalition on its website. “While our church has repeatedly villainized LGBTQI people as ‘disordered,’ our pilgrims will counter this with a message of love and radical inclusion.”

The Equally Blessed Coalition previously sponsored pilgrims to World Youth Day in 2011 and 2013 and to the World Meeting of Families in 2015 and 2018. Its website says it has raised around $6,000 from about 60 donors for this year’s group visit.

The Arcus Foundation, an LGBT advocacy funder launched by billionaire heir Jon Stryker, is among the coalition’s major backers.

In 2014 the foundation gave a $200,000 grant to Dignity USA for the Equally Blessed Coalition “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.” The effort was linked to both the Church’s Synod on the Family and World Youth Day and aimed to “amplify pro-LGBT voices within the Catholic Church.”

According to the foundation, the funding was part of an effort to engage “open-minded religious leaders who can use their influence to shift public views away from prejudice.”

In 2016 the foundation gave a $250,000, two-year grant to Dignity USA to fund the Equally Blessed Coalition, in order to “support and give voice to the growing majority of Roman Catholics who support full acceptance and equality for LGBT people.”

Another grant of $125,000 to Dignity USA for the Equally Blessed Coalition was earmarked for “advocating for LGBTQ acceptance and for an end to harmful religious exemption policies within Catholic communities,” according to the June 2018 grant announcement.

Dignity USA was among the backers of a messaging effort called the Equal Future project, which sought to influence the Catholic Church’s 2018 youth synod. The project contended that the “rules” of the Catholic Church are causing “damage” to those who self-identify as LGBT.

Ann Schneible, communications director for the Courage apostolate, commented on Equal Future last year. She told CNA that Catholic teaching insists that everyone has the fundamental identity “to be the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

“Seen from this perspective, it becomes clear that the Church’s approach provides the most compassionate response to people, including youth and young adults, who experience same sex attractions,” Schneible said. “Far from being a misfortune or a disappointment, their identity as sons and daughters of God – who are made in his image and likeness, and have received divine grace and a call to holiness – is a profound and life-giving joy.”

Those who experience same-sex attraction deserve compassionate outreach from Catholics, she said, adding, “we do so in the belief and hope that following God’s plan will always lead one to happiness and ultimate fulfillment.”

Equally Blessed claims World Youth Day typically “includes sessions sponsored by organizations that oppose any advancement of civil rights for LGBTQI people.” It said the pilgrimage aims to “create the space now for LGBTQI people within the Catholic Church.”

Its objections included the recent synod on young people discussion about LGBT issues “where only (mostly older) cisgender men were allowed to vote.” It objected to what it said was “a recurrence of rhetoric that blames child sexual abuse on homosexuality” and protested what it said was the “attempted erasure of LGBTQI Catholics and same sex couples from the church.”

Equally Blessed objected to “unjust treatment of LGBTQI church workers, “including violence and threats of violence,” citing the case of a pastoral worker at San Diego’s St. John the Evangelist Parish who resigned from his position after he became the focus of strongly critical internet coverage from fringe Catholic blogs and news sites, which said he was in a same-sex union and backed LGBT advocacy. The pastoral worker said he had endured “physical and emotional violence” due to the internet sites and their readers. Extreme harassment, including death threats placed on the man’s car, were reported to police and the FBI, an associate pastor at the parish told Fox 5 San Diego.

Equally Blessed claimed that Pope Francis had shown “public silence” after all these developments.

The Equally Blessed contingent to World Youth Day includes Melissa Barber, who quit her job as a religious education director in Indianapolis to contract a same-sex union; Catherine Buck, an adjunct professor from New Jersey who writes for New Ways Ministry’s blog; and Keith Hall, a federal employee from Washington, D.C. who co-chairs the Dignity Young Adult Caucus.

The self-described Catholic groups in the coalition reject Catholic teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts and have called for same-sex unions to be recognized as sacramental.

In a February 12, 2010 statement, then-U.S. bishops’ conference president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said New Ways Ministry’s claim to be Catholic “only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination.” He rejected claims that it provides “an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice.” The group has no approval from the Church and “they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States,” he said.

In 2016 New Ways Ministry awarded its Bridge Building Award to media commentator and America magazine editor Father James Martin, S.J., who based his book on LGBT outreach on his acceptance speech.

In 2012 the Equally Blessed Coalition issued a report attacking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus for their work to maintain the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The report’s funders included the Human Rights Campaign and the report acknowledged Arcus Foundation funding for the Equally Blessed Coalition.

The Arcus Foundation is also a grant maker to the Catholics United Education Fund and the pro-abortion rights group Catholics for Choice. It has funded groups in other Christian communities, including Episcopalian groups ahead of the breakup of the Anglican Communion over issues such as ecclesial authority and homosexuality.

It has been a partner of the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund.

Missionary families evangelize indigenous towns in Paraguay

Fuerte Olimpo, Paraguay, Jan 16, 2019 / 03:32 pm (ACI Prensa).- Some 60 people belonging to the Communities of Missionary Families conducted a mission beginning Jan. 1 in a series of towns on the Paraguay River.

The families, who come from across Paraguay and also include a Cuban couple, gathered in Porto Murtinho, Brazil, to embark on the week-long evangelization project. They were accompanied by four priests, a religious sister, and Archbishop Edmundo Ponziano Valenzuela Mellid of Asuncion.

They held a Mass together before separating into groups to go on mission to eleven towns situated downstream from Porto Murtinho.

Under temperatures reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the missionaries settled into tents, mats, inside of chapels, and in the homes of the locals. There they had catechism, Mass in the native language, fraternal sharing, confessions, and even mediated in a local labor dispute with a company

“The missionaries went in an atmosphere of prayer which allowed dialogue and the almost immediate solution of a long conflict. I admired the courage of the missionaries because they announced the love of Christ that transforms lives and when that love is taken seriously, it rebounds in human and labor relations,” Archbishop Valenzuela said.  

“The joy of these families is awesome, and especially that of their young children. Their faith, preparation, and conviction are awesome. It is part of being a witnessing Church,” the archbishop said at the end of the mission.

The Communities of Missionary Families was founded in 2010 by the couples Carmen and Aldo Fanego, and Kika and Vidal Benítez.

Encouraged by Archbishop Valenzuela, who was at the time Vicar Apostolic of Chaco Paraguayo, ten years ago they began doing river missions in the area, inaccessible except by the river, where indigenous peoples live, sustained by farming and the extraction of tannin, a substance used for curing hides and making certain pharmaceuticals.

 

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

Religious liberty innate to every human person, Trump says

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2019 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- Religious freeom is innate and must be protected, US president Donald Trump said in his proclamation for Religious Freedom Day, which is observed Wednesday.

“On Religious Freedom Day, we celebrate our Nation’s long-standing commitment to freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith,” Trump said in his proclamation for the Jan. 16 observance. “The right to religious freedom is innate to the dignity of every human person and is foundational to the pursuit of truth.”

He said many of America's settlers, including the Pilgrims, “fled their home countries to escape religious persecution. Aware of this history, our Nation’s Founding Fathers readily understood that a just government must respect the deep yearning for truth and openness to the transcendent that are part of the human spirit. For this reason, from the beginning, our constitutional republic has endeavored to protect a robust understanding of religious freedom.”

Trump noted that Virginia enacted a Statute for Religious Freedom Jan. 16, 1786, “to protect the right of individual conscience and religious exercise and to prohibit the compulsory support of any church.”

The statute “set forth the principle that religious liberty is an inherent right and not a gift of the state,” and was the model for religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment, the president stated.

“Unfortunately, the fundamental human right to religious freedom is under attack,” he said. “Efforts to circumscribe religious freedom — or to separate it from adjoining civil liberties, like property rights or free speech — are on the rise.”

Trump added that legislative attacks on religious liberty “have given way to actual violence,” citing the October 2018 attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and saying that “attacks on people of faith and their houses of worship have increased in frequency in recent years.”

He said his administration is acting “to protect religious liberty and to seek justice against those who seek to abridge it.”

The president noted that the Department of Justice “is aggressively prosecuting those who use violence or threats to interfere with the religious freedom of their fellow Americans”; and that last January the department raised the profile of religious liberty cases in its Justice Manual, and the Health and Human Services department adopted more robust conscience protection regulations.

Trump also noted international religious freedom problems, saying his Secretary of State convened a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July 2018 to “[listen] to the voices of those risking their lives for their religious beliefs, and … to the families of people who have died fighting for their fundamental right of conscience.”

“Our Nation was founded on the premise that a just government abides by the 'Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.' As the Founders recognized, the Constitution protects religious freedom to secure the rights endowed to man by his very nature,” he concluded.

“On this day, we recognize this history and affirm our commitment to the preservation of religious freedom.”