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Theodore McCarrick faces new sex abuse lawsuit in New Jersey

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick arrives at Massachusetts' Dedham District Courthouse for his arraignment, Sept. 3, 2021. / Andrew Bukuras/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Three sex abuse lawsuits, including one naming disgraced former archbishop Theodore McCarrick as the alleged abuser, were filed on Thursday, Sept. 16 in a New Jersey court. All three lawsuits also named the Diocese of Metuchen as a defendant.

Jeff Anderson, a prominent attorney who represents sex abuse victims, brought the lawsuits. In an online press conference on Thursday, Anderson called on the Metuchen diocese to release additional information on accusations against current and former clergy. 

“We challenge you to account and take responsibility for each of these cases, and also challenge you to come clean with the full truth,” Anderson said.  “[We] invite you, implore you, to release more names and information that have been kept secret by the Diocese of Metuchen for too long.”

A spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Thursday afternoon that two of the lawsuits involved clergy who were not ordained for the diocese, adding that the diocese would not have access to their personal records or outcomes of investigations against them.

The first lawsuit filed named McCarrick, who served as the first bishop of the diocese from 1981 until 1986, as the abuser in question. According to the lawsuit, McCarrick engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with the plaintiff while he was bishop of Metuchen from approximately 1982 to 1985. The plaintiff was between the ages of 19 and 22 during that period.

McCarrick’s attorney Barry Coburn declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday. 

McCarrick, 91, on July 28 was criminally charged in a Massachusetts court with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14. The incidents allegedly took place with a 16-year-old male in the 1970s. McCarrick appeared for his arraignment on Sept. 3 in Massachusetts’ Dedham District Court, and pleaded “not guilty” to the charges. His next court date is Oct. 28.

He was once an influential and high-ranking figure in the Catholic Church, before numerous accusations against him were made public in 2018, alleging past sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. McCarrick was laicized in February 2019, after a Vatican canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

The second lawsuit filed on Thursday named Fr. John Butler, a laicized priest who died in 2016, as the alleged abuser of a minor. Butler, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, served in numerous dioceses throughout his career including in Metuchen. 

According to the lawsuit, Butler abused a minor between the ages of 9 to 12, from approximately 1995 to 1998. The plaintiff was attending St. John Vianney school in Colonia, New Jersey at the time, where Fr. Butler was employed.

Butler was removed from public ministry in 2002 and was laicized shortly thereafter. He is not on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen, but does appear on the list of accused priests from the Diocese of Richmond, his home diocese. 

The third lawsuit names Br. Regis Moccia, S.C. of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who similarly does not appear on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen. Moccia is accused of abusing a young teen at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, in 1981 and 1982. He died in 2000. 

Moccia was first accused of abuse in a September 2020 lawsuit; Anderson claimed that this suit inspired another alleged victim of his to come forward. 

“It’s also notable that Moccia is not on the list [of credibly-accused clergy] released by the Diocese of Metuchen, even though that suit has been brought by us naming him as an offender of children at St. Joseph’s high school in Metuchen, earlier,” Anderson said on Thursday.  

Anderson called on the Diocese of Metuchen to release additional names of credibly accused clergy, and claimed that there are at least 15 additional names that have not yet been released.

In a statement to CNA on Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the Metuchen diocese promised prayer for abuse survivors, and said that neither Fr. Butler nor Brother Regis were ordained priests of the diocese.

“First and foremost, we hold in prayer all survivors of abuse, among them those survivors who have courageously come forward to bring their past abuse to light,” said Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq., spokesman and chancellor for the diocese.

Regarding the case of Fr. Butler, he was ordained for the Richmond diocese “and is listed accordingly on their list of credibly accused clergy,” Kearns said. Brother Regis was a member of a religious order and not a diocesan priest, he said.

“In both cases, the diocese would not have access to any personnel records nor the outcomes of any investigations that would have resulted from allegations against them,” Kearns said.

“The Diocese of Metuchen has taken more aggressive steps forward since the adoption of the abuse prevention policies in 2002 and was recently found compliant with all audited Articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for the audit period of July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2021,” he said.

New Jersey in 2019 relaxed the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases, allowing for new lawsuits in old cases of child sex abuse and sex abuse of adults. The two-year window for such lawsuits to be filed expires Nov. 30.

Anderson has filed other civil sex abuse lawsuits naming McCarrick. In July, he filed a civil lawsuit in a New Jersey court accusing McCarrick of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy in 1986.

In July 2020, Anderson filed a lawsuit alleging that McCarrick had sexually abused a boy and aided his abuse by several other priests in the early 1980s, characterizing McCarrick as leading a "sex ring."

Anderson has sued many Catholic dioceses and religious orders over the years. While some say he has been an effective advocate for sex abuse victims, critics say he has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation, and that he is a self-promoter.

According to the lawsuit naming McCarrick, the plaintiff’s family resided in the Archdiocese of New York and had contact with McCarrick while he was a representative of the archdiocese. McCarrick was a priest secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke of New York beginning in 1971, and served as auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese from 1977 until 1981, when he was made bishop of Metuchen.

McCarrick later served as Archbishop of the Archdioceses of Newark and Washington, and played an influential role in the global Catholic Church. He helped craft the U.S. Church’s response to revelations of widespread clergy sex abuse in 2002. He also made numerous international trips for peacebuilding and ecumenical causes, and was known as an effective fundraiser.

In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York revealed that a decades-old allegation of sex abuse against McCarrick was “credible.” News reports subsequently detailed more allegations of McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. According to a July 2018 New York Times report, Metuchen was one of the dioceses to have reached a settlement with a former priest, regarding allegations of abuse against McCarrick committed while the priest was a seminarian.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and was laicized in February 2019. He is the first U.S. Catholic cardinal to be criminally charged with sex abuse.

The Vatican in November 2020 released a report of more than 450 pages on the “institutional knowledge and decision-making” regarding McCarrick and his clerical career.

This article was updated on Sept. 16 with a statement from the Metuchen diocese.

Catholics the most vaccinated religious group for COVID-19, new study shows

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2021 / 12:36 pm (CNA).

Catholics are the religious group most vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center. 

The survey of 10,349 U.S. adults found that 82% of self-identified Catholics had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 75% of religiously unaffiliated adults and 73% of White Protestants. Hispanic Catholics were slightly more likely than White Catholics to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Of the major religious groups in the United States, White evangelical Protestants had the lowest vaccination rate, with only 57% saying they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center conducted the survey from Aug. 23-29, more than a year and a half into the pandemic. 

The figures come as U.S. Catholic bishops continue to issue policies regarding vaccine exemptions for religious reasons. Some, including Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, have upheld the rights of Catholics to decline COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience, while also encouraging Catholics to get vaccinated. Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, meanwhile, said “[t]here is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated,” and required all diocesan employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

Some Catholics have raised concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines’ remote connection to aborted fetal tissue, using cell lines derived from fetal tissue of babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of their remote connection with abortion, but if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should be chosen over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested using the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was both produced and tested using the cell lines.

Pew’s survey also found that 73% of Americans aged 18 or older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey found lower vaccination rates among younger adults, as well as among those with lower family incomes and those living in rural areas. Black adults are now about as likely as White adults to say they have received a vaccine, according to the survey. 

Democrats were more likely to have received a vaccine than Republicans, with 86% of Democrats and left-leaning Independents having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 60% of Republicans. 

About half of vaccinated Americans surveyed said that there is too much pressure to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and 88% of unvaccinated Americans answered the same. 

About half of those vaccinated Americans who were surveyed reported difficulty in making sense of information about COVID-19 vaccines. They said they still worried about possible serious health risks from the vaccine. About half of surveyed adults said that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

Federal judicial nominee grilled over 1990s religious freedom case

Hon. Beth Robinson, associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 14, 2021 / Senate Judiciary Committee/live stream

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

Multiple senators accused a judicial nominee of being hostile to religious freedom during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Beth Robinson, nominated by President Joe Biden to be a judge on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, was grilled by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday. They asked her about her representing a woman who sued a Vermont Catholic-owned print shop in the 1990s for not printing business cards of a pro-abortion group.

The print shop, Regal Art Press in St. Alban’s, Vermont, was owned by two practicing Catholics, the Bakers. Robinson’s client, Linda Paquette, sought to order membership cards for the now-inactive organization Vermont Catholics for Choice. The Bakers refused the order, saying that they did not believe Catholics could be in favor of abortion, and Paquette sued, saying that her rights were violated. 

In a legal brief supporting Paquette in state courts, Robinson referred to the Baker family’s pro-life beliefs as “invidious” and “pernicious.”  

Cruz described the brief as containing “strong and even incendiary language” regarding the Bakers’ Catholic faith, and said that she had a “marked hostility” towards religious liberty. 

“How might a litigant in the Second Circuit have any confidence that as a judge you would actually follow the law, and in particular, honor the religious liberty protections in the Constitution,” asked Cruz. 

Robinson explained to Cruz that the case was 30 years ago, during her first year of law practice in the state of Vermont. Her client, she said, claimed that she had been discriminated against as a Catholic who was in favor of abortion rights.

“In particular, she had asked to print cards for Vermont Catholics for Free Choice,” said Robinson. “Her contention was that the Bakers said ‘we won’t print these cards because we don’t think Catholics can be for choice.’ She brought a claim for discrimination on the basis of creed.” 

Robinson acknowledged that Paquette would not have had a case had the Bakers refused to print the cards because of their opposition to abortion, and not because of their religious beliefs. 

Cruz pressed Robinson further, asking her if she was effectively arguing that the Vermont Supreme Court should have been able to rule on how the Baker family decided to interpret their faith. 

“‘We’re going to force you to say that the Catholic Church is pro-abortion, even if you don’t believe it is.’ Is that right?” asked Cruz, paraphrasing the hypothetical argument. 

The case pre-existed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, federal 1993 law that required the government to pass a legal standard when substantially burdening a person’s religious freedom. Cruz reminded Robinson that the act was passed to fill gaps in the legal precedent she cited. 

Missouri senator Hawley raised similar concerns, telling Robinson that he was “troubled by your history of compelling individuals to express pro-abortion viewpoints against their religious convictions,” and that he had “profound concerns” about her nomination.

Hawley noted that in the 30 years since the case was filed, the Supreme Court has stood on the side of religious liberty in similar cases. He asked Robinson if she would acknowledge that “today your client would not have the right to compel other individuals to speak in a way that she favors,” and if she would “stand by” the brief.

Robinson said that she did not remember all of the words in the brief as it had been 30 years. 

The Papal Foundation provides $800K in scholarships for studies in Rome

Cupola of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2021 / 09:34 am (CNA).

The Papal Foundation has awarded nearly $800,000 in scholarships to 96 priests, brothers, sisters, and lay faithful as part of the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Program.

The scholarships will enable the recipients to study at 16 universities in Rome. The recipients hail from five continents.

“We are committed to Saint John Paul II’s vision to prepare Catholic leaders and educators for service,” said Eustace Mita, president of The Papal Foundation Board of Trustees, in a published statement. “We aim to ensure those called to build up the Church all over the world are trained and prepared to lead in their own dioceses.”

Since the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Program launched in 2000, it has provided nearly $13 million in scholarships to over 1,600 recipients. Recipients, known as Saeman Scholars in honor of major donors John and Carol Saeman, are from disadvantaged countries. The aim of the program is to provide recipients an opportunity to study in Rome, after which they will return to their home dioceses and continue to educate others in a manner faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.

David Savage, who became executive director of the Papal Foundation July 12, 2021. The Papal Foundation
David Savage, who became executive director of the Papal Foundation July 12, 2021. The Papal Foundation

David Savage, the executive director of The Papal Foundation, said that the chance to “play a role in the formation of leaders in the Catholic Church is a blessing.”

“Saint John Paul II will always be remembered for the lessons in leadership he personified, which is one reason we at The Papal Foundation are honored to carry forward his vision of training scholars to effectively lead in their communities,” he said in a published statement.

Father Julius Madaki, a priest from the Archdiocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, is one of these leaders. Madaki defended his doctoral thesis in July, after being given a scholarship from The Papal Foundation to study in Rome.

“Words alone cannot express the sentiments of gratitude and appreciation in me,” he said in a published statement. “Studying under the auspices of The Papal Foundation has influenced my life in no small way. I promise to make you proud, be of service to the Church, and keep you always in my prayers. Rest assured that your commitment to spreading the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth will never go unrewarded.”

The Papal Foundation was founded in 1988 in response to calls “for a unique, sustainable way to support the Holy Father and his witness in the world.”

According to its website, the mission of The Papal Foundation is to “serve the Holy Father and the Roman Catholic Church” by means of “gathering in a corporal and cooperative collaboration of laity, clergy and hierarchy within the Church, in witness to one another of our faith, and drawing strength from the witness of the Holy Father.”

The mission statement continues: “We bring and contribute our faith, our energy and our financial resources, to serve those needs of the Church that are of particular significance to the Holy Father, always with a commitment to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church.”

Benedict XVI: Legalization of same-sex marriage is ‘a distortion of conscience’

Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said that the legalization of same-sex marriage in many countries is “a distortion of conscience” which has also entered some Catholic circles.

In an introduction to a new anthology of his writings on Europe, Benedict XVI said that “with the legalization of ‘same-sex marriage’ in 16 European countries, the issue of marriage and family has taken on a new dimension that cannot be ignored.”

“We are witnessing a distortion of conscience which has evidently penetrated deeply into sectors of the Catholic people,” the pope emeritus wrote. “This cannot be answered with some small moralism or even with some exegetical reference. The problem goes deeper and therefore must be addressed in fundamental terms.”

The introduction, published in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio on Sept. 16, was written for the Italian book “The Real Europe: Identity and Mission.”

Pope Francis wrote the preface to the book, which compiles texts from Benedict XVI written both before and during his pontificate, which lasted from 2005 to 2013.

In the preface, Francis wrote that “beyond so many words and high-sounding proclamations, today in Europe the very idea of respect for every human life is increasingly lost, starting with the loss of awareness of its sacredness, that is, precisely starting from the obfuscation of the consciousness that we are creatures of God.”

“Benedict XVI is not afraid to denounce, over the years, with great courage and foresight the many manifestations of this dramatic renunciation of the idea of creation, up to the current, final consequences, described in an absolutely clear and convincing way in the introductory text,” Pope Francis said.

In his introduction, Benedict XVI said it was important to observe that the concept of “same-sex marriage” is “in contradiction with all the cultures of humanity that have followed one another up to now, and thus signifies a cultural revolution that is opposed to the whole tradition of humanity until today.”

He pointed out that there is no doubt that different cultures have varying juridical and moral conceptions of marriage and the family, such as the profound differences between polygamy and monogamy.

But he emphasized that the basic community has never questioned the fact that the existence of the human being in its male and female forms is ordered to procreation, “as well as the fact that the community of male and female and openness to the transmission of life determine the essence of what is called marriage.”

“The basic certainty that mankind exists as male and female; that the transmission of life is a task assigned to mankind; that it is the community of male and female that serves this task; and that in this, beyond all differences, marriage essentially consists -- it is an original certainty that has been obvious to humanity up to now,” Benedict said.

The pope emeritus wrote that the fundamental upheaval of this idea was introduced with the invention of the contraceptive pill and the possibility it gave of separating fertility from sexuality.

“This separation means, in fact, that in this way all of the forms of sexuality are equivalent,” he said. “A fundamental criterion no longer exists.”

This new message, according to Benedict, profoundly transformed men and women’s consciences -- first slowly and now more clearly.

From the separation of sexuality from fertility, he continued, comes the inverse: “Fertility, naturally, can be thought of even without sexuality.”

Benedict XVI noted that it therefore seems right to no longer trust the procreation of humans to the “occasional passion of the flesh, but rather to plan and produce the human rationally.”

Thus a human being is no longer “generated and conceived but made,” the retired pontiff underlined, which signifies that a human person is not a gift to be received but “a product planned by our doing.”

He added that if we can plan to make life, it must also be true that we can plan to destroy it, noting that the growing support for assisted suicide and euthanasia as “a planned end to one’s life is an integral part of the trend described.”

The question of same-sex marriage, he continued, is not a question of being “a little more broadminded and open. Rather, the basic question arises: who is man? And with it also the question of whether there is a Creator or if we are not all just manufactured products.”

“This alternative arises: either man is a creature of God, he is the image of God, he is a gift from God, or man is a product that he himself knows how to create,” Benedict XVI wrote.

He said the ecological movement had established that there are limits to nature that we cannot ignore, and, in the same way, a human person possesses a nature that has been given to him “and the violation or denial of it leads to self-destruction.”

“This is also the case with the creation of man as male and female, which is ignored in the hypothesis of ‘same-sex marriage,’” he stressed.

Pope Francis warns leaders of Catholic movements not to abuse power

Pope Francis addresses the moderators of associations of the faithful, ecclesial movements, and new communities in the Vatican Synod Hall, Sept. 16, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis warned representatives of Catholic movements Thursday that the desire for power and recognition are temptations that hinder their call to serve the Church.

In a meeting with the moderators of lay Catholic associations, movements, and new communities in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, the pope said that it is “treachery” when a leader “wants to serve the Lord, but also serves other things that are not the Lord.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In words, we say we want to serve God and others, but in fact we serve our ego, and we bow to our desire to appear, to obtain recognition, appreciation ... Let’s not forget that true service is free and unconditional, it does not know calculations or claims,” Pope Francis said on Sept. 16.

The pope underlined that governance in the Church is “nothing but a call to serve.” He said that the “desire for power” and “treachery” are two obstacles that prevent a Christian leader from “becoming a true servant of God and of others.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Our desire for power is expressed in many ways in the life of the Church; for example, when we believe, by virtue of the role we have, that we have to make decisions on all aspects of the life of our association, of the diocese, of the parish, of the congregation,” Pope Francis said.

“We fall into the trap of treachery when we present ourselves to others as the only interpreters of the charism, the only heirs of our association or movement ... or when, deeming ourselves indispensable, we do everything to cover lifelong positions; or when we pretend to decide a priori who should be our successor … No one is master of the gifts received for the good of the Church ... no one must suffocate them,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis told the story of a religious institute that became known for “hatefulness” because, he said, “the members realized that the woman was a ‘Hitler in a dress.’”

“Even in the context of consecrated life, there are religious institutes that, by keeping the same persons in positions of governance, have not prepared for the future; they have allowed abuses to creep in and are now experiencing great difficulties,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope said that the Vatican decree issued on June 11 that set term limits for the leaders of international associations of the faithful and new communities was implemented because “the reality of the last few decades has shown us the need for the changes.”

“And I'll tell you something about this experience of the last decades of the post-Council period,” the pope added.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In the congregation for religious, they are studying the religious congregations, the associations, that came into being during this period. It is curious, it is very curious. Many, many of them, with great novelty, ended up in very difficult situations: they ended up under apostolic visitation, they ended up with wicked sins.”

The decree, which came into effect earlier this week, on Sept. 11, limits the terms of office in the central governing body to a maximum of five years, with one person being able to hold positions at the international governing level for no more than 10 years consecutively. Re-election is then possible after a vacancy of one term.

The decree states that founders can be exempted from the term limits at the discretion of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.

“The exercise of government within associations and movements is a theme that is particularly close to my heart, especially considering ... the cases of abuse of various kinds that have also occurred in these realities and which always find their root in abuse of power,” the pope said.

“Not infrequently the Holy See, in recent years, has had to intervene, starting not easy processes of reorganization. And I think not only of these very bad situations, which make noise; but also to the diseases that come from the weakening of the foundational charism, which becomes lukewarm and loses the capacity of attraction.”

The moderators of Catholic associations and movements are meeting in Rome with the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life to discuss responsible governance.

Leaders who were unable to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic connected to the papal audience and other meetings via videolink.

Pope Francis said that lay Catholic movements and associations are “a clear sign of the vitality of the Church.

“We are living members of the Church and for this we need to trust in the Holy Spirit, who acts in the life of every association, of every member, acts in each of us. Hence the trust in the discernment of charisms entrusted to the authority of the Church,” the pope said.

“Be aware of the apostolic power and the prophetic gifts that are given to you today in a renewed way.”

Court date set for Finnish MP facing jail after tweeting Bible verse

Päivi Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015. / Courtesy of ADF International.

Helsinki, Finland, Sep 16, 2021 / 06:10 am (CNA).

A court in Finland has announced the date of a hearing to determine whether a former government minister should be jailed after tweeting a Bible verse.

The Helsinki District Court said that the case involving Päivi Räsänen, a physician and mother of five, will be heard on Jan. 24, 2022.

According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that is supporting her, Räsänen could be given a two-year prison sentence or a fine for the tweet, after the Finnish Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against her on April 29.

The MP could also face additional jail time if convicted of two other alleged offenses relating to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet and on a 2018 television program, the group said.

Räsänen said: “I await the court proceedings with a calm mind, confident that Finland will respect the freedom of expression and religion enshrined in fundamental rights and international conventions.”

“I will not back down from my conviction based on the Bible and I am ready to defend freedom of expression and religion in all necessary courts.”

“I cannot accept that voicing religious beliefs could mean imprisonment. I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.”

The Prosecutor General charged Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, with incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

Finland is a country with a population of 5.5 million people, bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Around two-thirds of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.

The 61-year-old MP, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.

“The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church,” she told the journal First Things last year.

Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.

Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was also charged for publishing Räsänen’s 2004 pamphlet, “Male and Female He Created Them.”

Paul Coleman, ADF International’s executive director, said: “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. The Finnish Prosecutor General’s decision to bring these charges against Dr. Räsänen creates a culture of fear and censorship.”

“It is sobering that such cases are becoming all too common throughout Europe. If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are criminally charged for voicing their deeply held beliefs, it creates a chilling effect for everyone’s right to speak freely.”

The International Lutheran Council issued a statement in July describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”

It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

Will the Swiss Guard allow women soldiers in the future?

The Swiss Guard swearing in ceremony at the Vatican on May 6, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

As the Pontifical Swiss Guard continues with plans to overhaul its Vatican barracks, there have been reports that the new design could accommodate women guards, prompting questions about whether the 515-year-old army could be poised to make a significant change to its admission requirements.

“First of all, let me say that the reactions of the Swiss press to my statements have been excessive,” Jean-Pierre Roth, president of the charitable foundation funding the Swiss Guard’s new building, told CNA via email.

Roth told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger earlier this week that “from the beginning, it was important to us that the new building provide space for women.”

The roughly $60 million building project includes plans to expand the living quarters for guardsmen, some of whom currently sleep in shared rooms or in housing outside the Vatican. The new barracks will allow each guard to have a private room with a private bathroom.

The British newspaper The Telegraph quoted Lieutenant Urs Breitenmoser, a spokesman for the Swiss Guard, who said that the individual rooms meant that “in future, if the decision is taken, we would be able to accommodate women as well.”

Roth explained to CNA that the building foundation is “planning barracks meeting the needs of the Swiss Guard in the coming decades. Who knows whether females will be integrated in the Guard in the future?”

“The decision belongs to the Holy Father. Our Foundation has no information about a possible decision,” he said.

To enter the Swiss Guard, a candidate must be a single Catholic male of Swiss nationality between the ages of 19 and 30 who is at least 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

Guards are allowed to get married while in service, and some of the guards live in family housing with their wives and children.

“A main objective of the project is to offer more apartments for married guardsmen. The barracks will have 25 apartments for families,” Roth said.

The renovation, which has been in the planning stages since 2016, does not yet have a start date for construction, though some reports have cited the year 2023. Roth said that the project is under discussion by the Real Estate Committee of the Vatican and then has to be approved by UNESCO. The work is expected to take several years.

Roth noted that many countries have women soldiers and police officers, so “it might be the case in the Swiss Guard.”

“As careful planners, we had to consider that development as a possible option,” he added. “We have thus foreseen single rooms for all non-married guardsmen and a flexible internal structure of the building allowing the creation of a women sector. It was just good sense and careful planning.”

According to the foundation, the guard’s quarters have only undergone minor changes since their construction in the early 1800s, leading to high maintenance costs and the need for major repairs and updates.

The new barracks are also necessary to accommodate growth, as the army expanded from 110 to 135 guardsmen several years ago.

Roth told CNA that the choice to have private rooms was in part because all day long the soldiers of the Swiss Guard “are in contact with the public or under public eyes. They also need some privacy.”

He added that it was much too early to speak about other changes that would need to be made to accommodate women guards, such as modifications to the uniforms.

“First the decision has to be made (who knows when?), then details will be decided,” he commented.

Catholic diocese rejoices as priest is freed barely 24 hours after kidnapping

Fr. Benson Bulus Luka was kidnapped from his parish residence in Nigeria’s Kafanchan diocese on Sept. 13, 2021. / Kafanchan Diocese

Kafanchan, Nigeria, Sep 16, 2021 / 03:10 am (CNA).

A Nigerian Catholic priest kidnapped at his parish residence on Monday has been freed.

The priest’s liberation was announced on Sept. 15 by Fr. Emmanuel Uchechukwu, chancellor of Kafanchan diocese, in northern Nigeria, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

“With hearts filled with joy, we raise our voices in a symphony of praises as we announce the return of our priest, Rev. Fr. Benson Bulus Luka,” Uchechukwu said.

“Fr. Benson was abducted by armed persons from his residence at St. Matthew’s Parish Anchuna, in Zango Kataf Local Government Area, Kaduna State, on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.”

“Barely 24 hours after his kidnap, our beloved brother priest was released by his abductors.”

Uchechukwu, chancellor of the diocese within the Ecclesiastical Province of Kaduna, thanked those who had prayed for the priest’s release.

“We want to thank all those that have offered prayers and entreaties for the quick release of our brother priest and others who are still in the dens of their kidnappers,” he said.

“We pray to God to hasten the release of those who are still in the hands of their captors.”

Uchechukwu encouraged priests to celebrate Masses of thanksgiving following Fr. Luka’s release.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for us and all those that are still in captivity,” he added.

Fr. Luka’s abduction was announced on Sept. 14.

Nigeria has experienced rising insecurity since 2009, when Boko Haram, one of Africa’s largest Islamist groups, launched an insurgency seeking to turn Africa’s most populous country into an Islamic state.

The group has orchestrated indiscriminate terrorist attacks on numerous targets, including religious and political groups, as well as civilians.

The situation has further been complicated by the involvement of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani Militia, who have clashed frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.

Fr. Luka’s release follows a series of other kidnappings of Nigerian clergy.

In April, gunmen seized Fr. Izu Marcel Onyeocha, a member of the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Claretians). He was later freed.

In May, two priests were kidnapped at St. Vincent Ferrer Malunfashi Catholic parish in Sokoto diocese. One of them, Fr. Alphonsus Bello, a 33-year-old Fidei Donum priest incardinated in Nigeria’s Kaduna archdiocese, was killed. The other, 75-year-old Fr. Joe Keke, was later released.

In July, Fr. Elijah Juma Wada, a priest serving in Maiduguri diocese, was abducted and later escaped after spending nine days in captivity.

Last month, Nigeria’s Catholic bishops decried the rise in abductions, killings, and property destruction, calling on the federal government to “take full responsibility for the present culture of violence.”

“Deaths in the hands of kidnappers, killer herdsmen, bandits, terrorist groups have made Nigeria one of the most terrorized countries in the world,” they said in an Aug. 26 statement.

They underlined the need for the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, “to show more strategic commitment and sincerity in this fight and take full responsibility for the present culture of violence and impunity in the country.”

“The government must be balanced and seen to be so in its response to the challenges of insecurity in every segment of the citizenry,” they said after their plenary assembly in Enugu diocese, southeastern Nigeria.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner, written by Jude Atemanke. It has been adapted by CNA.

Salvadoran president urged to oppose proposed pro-abortion constitutional changes

Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador. / Presidencia SV

San Salvador, El Salvador, Sep 15, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Seventy-five pro-life and pro-family organizations on Monday asked the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, to oppose the changes to the constitution promoted by his vice president, Félix Ulloa, which would open the doors to abortion, euthanasia, and gender ideology, and would threaten religious freedom.

In a petition delivered Sept. 13, the organizations explained that the reform contains proposals that are "attacks against the right to life, the family and freedom, inasmuch as they impose an ideological agenda contrary to the values and cultural identity of Salvadorans.”

The organizations explained that the reform "is opposed throughout its text to the Constitution of the Republic, international treaties, and other laws of the country."

The organizations noted that the reform “opens the door to abortion on demand” since Article 1 of El Salvador’s constitution states that the country “recognizes every human being as a human person from the moment of conception” but the proposed reform would alter the text to read “every human person in general,” using “an exclusionary and selective term.” 

The proposed change then adds “in turn, the right to life of both the unborn and the pregnant person (an ideological term used for mother) is recognized,” which is “unnecessary and redundant … since the current wording of the constitution already includes those rights.”

However, the proposed text "is contradictory because it adds that ‘in the event of a collision of rights, the law will establish what is pertinent.’ In other words, although the right to life of all born and unborn Salvadorans is protected in the Constitution, they want a secondary law, and even a regulation, to decide whether to kill the unborn baby.”

"This obviously opens the door to legalize abortion with pretexts such as the mental health of the mother or deformities of the baby, among others," they stated.

The organizations’ petition also points out that the "supposed ‘collision of rights’ to life does not exist" since “when there is a high-risk pregnancy, currently the Criminal Code in Article 27, which regulates the exclusion of criminal responsibility, includes in nos. 3 and 6 of said article the principle of double effect, allowing doctors to intervene with the aim of saving the lives of both patients, as it should be and not choosing one life over the other. If one of the two dies, the doctor does not commit a crime.”

The organizations explain that the reform "opens the door to ideological colonization" since "Article 3 includes the prohibition of 'non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,' giving constitutional recognition to dangerous ideological terms, which constitute a means to indoctrinate minors, despite the fact that these terms have no scientific basis.”

In addition, they noted that the reform “opens the door to euthanasia” because “in Article 65, an alleged right to a 'previously consented dignified death' is proposed, a term used worldwide to refer to euthanasia, even though its express name and identification is obviated.”

The organizations warned that the reform "redefines marriage and reinvents the family" since "Article 32 states that any legal bond will be considered a family and Article 33 refers to ‘various types that make up a family’".

"This promotes the legal recognition of (LGBTI) lesbian-homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, polygamic, incestuous unions, etc." as well as the adoption by "these groups, which constitutes a very serious violation of children's rights.”  

The reform also “violates the right to religious freedom: Article 26 proposes to create a secondary law to regulate the legal recognition of religions."

“In our country, freedom of worship is not negotiable and must be maintained in the way that the current Constitution regulates it. In no way can this be regulated by a secondary law, but rather it must maintain its Constitutional status,” the organizations stressed.

The reform "violates parental rights" with Article 57, which “proposes that education in official educational centers should be exclusively secular, thus violating the right of parents as the first, primary and irreplaceable educators of their children to decide the education that they consider most appropriate” they said.

"This will also directly affect the Catholic or Christian Students Educational Councils that work with state aid to cover marginal and rural areas," they pointed out.

In addition, they warned, “adding the term 'secular' in that paragraph limits the right to the free exercise of religion, giving rise to the practice of banning expressions of faith, as has happened in other countries with the proliferation of secular ideologies.”