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What does it actually mean for a priest to be 'laicized'?

Rome, Italy, Dec 14, 2017 / 10:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In discussions about penalties for priests found guilty of abusing minors, questions often arise over what it means for a priest to be dismissed from the clerical state, or “laicized.”

To clear up some of the grey area on this topic, CNA spoke with a canonist, Fr. Damián Astigueta, SJ.

A professor at the Faculty of Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University with a specialty in criminal proceedings, Fr. Astigueta offered insights on what dismissal from the clerical state is, why the Church doesn’t always choose to dismiss from the clerical state priests who are guilty of abuse, what those condemned to a life of prayer and penance actually do, the role of bishops in abuse cases, the lessening of sentences, and more.

What is dismissal from the clerical state?

While frequently used in the media, the term “laicization” doesn't really exist anymore among canonists, Fr. Astigueta said, and has been widely replaced by the term “loss of the clerical state.”

When a priest loses his clerical state, either because he requested it or because it was taken from him, he is “‘dismissed from the clerical state,’ because this is a juridical status,” Fr. Astigueta explained.

“He remains in a situation judicially as if they were a layperson. This is where the term ‘laicization’ comes from.”

He clarified that when this happens, it doesn’t mean that a priest is no longer a priest: “the sacrament of Holy Orders isn’t lost; it imprints an ontological sign on the being of the priest that can never be lost.”

What happens instead is that exercising the rights proper to the clerical state are prohibited, such as saying Mass, hearing confessions, and administering the sacraments; as are the obligations, such as that of reciting the Liturgy of the Hours and obedience to their bishop.

However, since a man dismissed from the clerical state remains a priest, there are times at which the Church continues to oblige him to act as a priest.

For example, if he finds someone in danger of death who asks for the sacraments, even though he is no longer in a clerical state, he “must hear (the person’s) confession because the most important thing is the salvation of that person.”

Fr. Astigueta also emphasized the importance of not misinterpreting the process to mean a “reduction to the lay state.” This phrase is not correct, he stressed, since it inaccurately treats laity “in a derogatory way, as if they were lesser.”

Why not all priests guilty of abuse lose the clerical state

For Fr. Astigueta, the answer to the question of why not all priests found guilty of abuse are dismissed from the clerical state has two primary components: not all acts of abuse are the same in terms of severity, and the situation of the priest himself varies.

“Why doesn’t the Church dismiss from the clerical state all abusers? Because not all abuses are the same entity,” he said. Even civil law recognizes a difference in severity between pedophilia – which involves prepubescent children – and ephebophilia – which involves mid-to-late adolescents. In other cases, there may be the appearance of consent with an older teen, he said, which can further complicate the matter. The penalty assessed to the priest takes these factors into account, he added.

When it comes to priests who are found guilty of abuse, there are different types of punishments, including dismissal from the clerical state, or a life of “prayer and penance,” depending on the situation.

“There are certain cases in which dismissal would be the just punishment,” Fr. Astigueta said.

But there are also cases – even with several instances of serious abuse that have caused a lot of damage – when the Church decides against this dismissal, he said, pointing to Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel as an example.

Fr. Maciel was a person “who was proven to have committed a series of very serious crimes, a person who when one knows what he did truly realizes they are in front of a very disturbed person,” the priest said. “Can a disturbed person be punished with the maximum penalty?”

At times the Church prefers to use a different system, prohibiting the person from ministry, particularly in public. Instead, the person is isolated at home, dedicated to prayer “and nothing more.” This means no visits from people, at times not even friends or their congregation.

In the case of Fr. Maciel, even his funeral, whch should have been large and public, was instead closed to the public.

“Is it a gilded prison? In a certain way, yes,” Fr. Astigueta said. However, he said the Church at times chooses this punishment, which is less strong, because at a certain point, “when I give a person a sanction that destroys them, it’s not a sanction, but revenge.”

Fr. Astigueta also spoke of the importance of mercy in the process, particularly when it comes to elderly priests and the Church’s own responsibility toward her members.  

Even in a tragic case when a child has been abused, “the Church is still a mother, and mercy is used for the victims and the priest,” he said, noting that abusers often have serious psychological problems that require treatment.

If a priest chooses to renounce his clerical state, he is often inserted into society without a problem; but when it comes to those who have been dismissed, it can be a lot harder, Fr. Astigueta said, explaining that there is a canon (c. 1350 §2) establishing “that there exists a duty of charity toward them.”

This means “helping them and taking care of them in the measure that the person lets themselves be helped,” he said.

If an 80-year-old priest is dismissed from the clerical state, “where do we send him? Can he find work? He’ll end up living on the street as a homeless man. How long will he last? He won’t last anything,” he observed.

To put a man on the street in this circumstance, unless he has relatives ready to take him on, “is practically to kill him.”

Often, despite the harm done, something good in the person remains, he said, explaining that because of this, sometimes a more just penance is to let him “live with his conscience.” While a life of prayer and reflection might sound comfortable, Fr. Astigueta asked: “reflecting with whom? With your memories before God, with your regrets.”

He noted that in order to avoid pressure from the media in these cases, the Church “is obliged at times to punish, in my view, more seriously than it should.”

Offering help to victims and bringing about justice is always the Church’s top priority when it comes to clerical abuse, but concern must also be shown to the sinner, he said, explaining that if the Church were to immediately dismiss from the clerical state every abusive priest, it could cause more harm.

“Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that if these people are thrown out on the street, I am leaving a possible serial killer,” Fr. Astigueta said, referring to pedophiles. The Church, he said, must also take this into account.

Fr. Astigueta stressed that when it comes to mercy in abuse cases, it “never goes against justice,” and that the first act of mercy is “to tell the truth.”

Once the truth is known, the measure in which the offender can be sanctioned must be taken into account “in order to avoid that the penalty is a revenge,” because this helps no one.

“The pain of the victim is never cured with revenge; the only way to heal the victim’s pain is forgiveness offered freely,” he said, noting that “this can never be forced on anyone; but certainly neither can the spirit of revenge be forced.”

What a life of prayer and penance actually means

Many priests found guilty of abuse, instead of being dismissed from the clerical state, are instead sentenced to a life of “prayer and penance.”

But while the sentence is fairly common, among elderly priests in particular, what it actually involves is at times a bit obscure to the public eye, and it can seem like the priest is getting off easy despite committing heinous crimes.

Fr. Astigueta explained that on a practical level, “the person is isolated, sometimes more, sometimes less.”

Often “the person is isolated, possibly without having direct access to the telephone or the TV, and must dedicate himself to reading, praying and walking around inside the house.”

At times the person might even be barred from leaving the house without permission, under pain of incurring further punishments.

He pointed to the recent case of Luis Fernando Figari, a layman and founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, who was found guilty of an extreme, authoritarian style of leadership as well as several accounts of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.

As a punishment, the Vatican didn’t expel Figari from the community, but ordered that he live alone, and barred him from any contact with the community's members and from receiving people.

If a priest who receives this sentence doesn’t want to follow the rules, the Church in this case “can impose the full dismissal” from their clerical status, Fr. Astigueta said, noting that many priests who choose this life are people who “want to be helped and recognize that this penalty is a table of salvation for them.”
 
“It’s strong, yes, but at least I have something to eat and I can live my final years in peace,” Fr. Astigueta said, noting that in general it is elderly priests who end up in this situation, whereas younger ones with some sort of major mental health disorder are typically sent to a therapeutic communities.

At times they are able to celebrate Mass with others, but “always with the very clear ban that ‘from here, you cannot go away without permission.’”

The Church, Fr. Astigueta said, “is not a prison … it doesn’t have penitential system like a state, but someone must keep watch over those removed from ministry.”

And this implies “a very heavy duty for the Church, because who is the one that supervises? Who is responsible for him? It’s not so easy, it implies a lot of obligations.”

Fr. Astigueta also noted that there’s a different canonical process for lay founders such as Figari, versus priests who abuse.

“Technically speaking, the case of a layman doesn’t enter into the canon on abuses like the priests,” he said.

Clerics who commit sexual abuse are charged under a canon (c. 1395 §2) which criminalizes those offenses against the sixth commandment which are committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of 16.

But when it comes to the laity specifically, “this lack in the code must be thought of,” because unfortunately “the times are those in which we can’t only think about priest founders, but of many laity who have a position in the Church … who can abuse minors,” such as school directors or professors.

In these cases, he said, the Church applies a canon (c. 1399) which covers the situation in which the criminal “goes against a divine or ecclesiastical law with harm or danger of grave scandal.”

Cases in which the victims are mentally disabled must also be taken into consideration, he said, as well as many other forms of abuse “that should be considered crimes,” and are in many states.

The role of the bishop in cases of abuse

When it comes to the responsibility of bishops in abuse cases, Fr. Astigueta said that while expectations might have been murky in the past, they are clear now, and require the bishop to act immediately.

“When the bishop is informed, when he receives the news that an abuse has been committed, he has the obligation, a serious obligation, to intervene.”

A bishop must first intervene on a judicial level, alerting civil authorities, but also on the pastoral level, he said, explaining that the process looks different for every nation.

On a pastoral level, bishops must from the start turn their immediate attention to the victims “in order to welcome them and to help them understand that we are not against them and we are looking for the truth,” he said.

After the initial investigation has begun, the bishop may, but is not obliged to, apply a “precautionary measure,” which is a type of disciplinary measure enforced in order to avoid “the process from being polluted.”

Giving a theoretical example, Fr. Astigueta said a priest might try to pressure a victim into retracting their statement, so the bishop could decide to “distance” the priest from the process. This choice might also be made in situations where there is risk of a serious scandal, he said.

Once a priest is found guilty, the bishop will have to carry out the sentence, and it may even be the bishop himself to enforce the decree of dismissal from the clerical state with the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fr. Astigueta explained.

Victims must be helped to live a “process of reconciliation, of accompaniment” and one in which they are made to feel that “they are part of the Church,” he said, but stressed that this is at a pastoral level, which must always remain separate from the judicial level.

Fr. Astigueta also spoke on cases of negligence on the part of a bishop, which Pope Francis in his 2016 motu proprio Come una madre amorevole established as grounds for removal from office.

The canon behind the rule (c. 1389 §2), the priest said, states that “A person who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function with harm to another is to be punished with a just penalty.”

The issue is also dealt with in a canon (c. 193 §1) which speaks of removal from office “for grave causes.” Removal from office, he explained, is “the act through which a person loses a series of rights which are part of an office.”

“So this person who was the bishop had rights and duties regarding the community. As he has not fulfilled them, this office is removed,” Fr. Astigueta said.

Removal in this sense can either be for disciplinary or penal reasons, Fr. Astigueta said, explaining that in the case of penal removal for negligence, the bishop is dismissed because “he didn’t act as he should have.”

While in the past bishops moved abusive priests around in part because they didn’t understand the severity of the problem, “today no one can say that they don’t know what abuse is and the magnitude of the problem.”

In cases of abuse, then, “it’s already so severe that there is no need for another cause, negligence is enough.” Part of this negligence, Fr. Astigueta explained, could be moving priests, not acting immediately, or letting time pass until more accusations arise: “Here we would have a case of negligence.”

Another instance, he said, would be failing to take precautionary measures against a priest accused of abuse, and it is later discovered that the priest had committed other abuses during that time. Other reasons for removal of office due to negligence could be that the bishop didn’t follow the protocol requested by the state.

He noted that there are a variety of situations, but “the Pope wanted to say that this negligence in itself so important because the damage to the other produced due to negligence, which is almost – even if it can’t be said in a clear way – an act of complicity due to negligence.”

Stronger punishment isn’t always the best way to prevent abuse

No matter the situation of the priest or the bishop, Fr. Astigueta stressed the importance of pursuing the just punishment given the particular situation, and warned against the temptation to immediately impose the maximum punishment – dismissal from the clerical state – on all cases.

To do so, he said, “would be an injustice, it would be a type of witch hunt, and this produces fugitives. If everyone is punished with the maximum, with this you resolve nothing.”

It’s a fact, he said, that all states which have attempted to toughen the penalties in order to prevent further crimes “have failed to do so.”

The only thing that actually makes the crimes diminish, he said, are preventative measures and “the consciousness of the people, the intervention of the people,” specifically through education.

“If the people within the Church were all to work so that there were a healthy environment, not one of suspicion, but healthy and prudent,” these delinquent act would diminish. “Not because the maximum penalty is applied.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA March 15, 2017.

MLK's niece: Pro-life work continues my uncle's legacy

Rome, Italy, Dec 14, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and longtime pro-life advocate, has it in her blood to fight for the causes she believes in, one of which is to promote “civil rights” for the unborn.

King, 66, grew up in the heat of the civil rights battle led by her uncle, and surrounded by the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Eager to stand for a cause she believed would liberate women, she joined the budding “pro-choice” movement at a young age.

But after experiencing the crushing physical and emotional effects of two abortions, and receiving what she believes was a prophetic intervention from her grandfather, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., she had a change of heart. She became pro-life and committed herself to carrying forward what she feels is a mission to defend the rights of the unborn.

King spoke to a small group of journalists, including CNA, after arriving in Rome for a Dec. 11-13 conference organized by the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs, titled “Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World.”

The event drew a swath of representatives from various NGOs around the world, including non-Catholics, to discuss how Catholic-inspired organizations can help safeguard core Christian values and ensure that a proper integral human development is achieved in the context of a rapidly changing global society.

King was present on behalf of her project “Civil Rights for the Unborn,” which she directs in partnership with Priests for Life. She is also in charge of Priests for Life’s African-American outreach branch, and is involved with various other pro-life entities, including Rachel's Vineyard.

On the last day of the gathering, King had the chance to meet Pope Francis, who often cites her uncle in his speeches.

She told CNA that she was honored to meet the Pope, and when she told him that she was related to Martin Luther King Jr., his face lit up and “he seemed very happy.”

She was also moved by the fact that Pope Francis asked her to pray for him, saying it was “a delightful moment,” and that she was “very blessed to of course do that. I do pray for him and for all who are in authority, that we can live a peaceful life.”

Although King is Protestant, she is a firm believer in working with the Catholic Church, which she sees as a “natural ally.” She said that she is inspired by the Pope’s spontaneous spirit, engagement with everyone he meets, and defense of life at all stages.

Francis, she said, “doesn't take one issue and make that his issue, he seems to be able to connect it and see that it all belongs together...I appreciate his work.”

“The Catholics were very supportive of the civil rights movement (of the) 20th century,” she said, adding that her uncle and father both “worked very closely with the Catholic community.”

When it comes to her own advocacy, life issues have always hit home for King, whose parents in 1950 became pregnant with her before they were married.

At the time, The Negro Project launched by Margaret Sanger in 1939 was continuing to gain steam. Among other things, the project worked to promote contraception and abortion in the black community.

King said her parents had considered getting an abortion until her grandfather, Martin Luther King Sr., “prophetically” intervened. Though they didn't have ultrasound machines at the time, King said her grandfather had strongly rejected the claim that the fetus was “just a lump of flesh.” He said that the baby was a granddaughter whom he had seen in a dream three years prior.

After hearing Martin Luther King Sr. describe how his granddaughter would look, Alveda King’s parents decided against the abortion and she was born in 1951.

Despite hearing this story many times in her youth, King took a different path after her father and uncle died. She had been married, divorced, and no longer had the support system she once did, so when the pro-choice women’s movement began to grow, “I joined it because I'm a freedom fighter.”

However, she said, following the birth of her first child, she was coerced into having two abortions. When she became pregnant again, and was planning to have another abortion, her grandfather gave her the same message he had given her mother: “That's not a lump of flesh, that's my great-grandchild.”

She decided to keep the baby. Seeing her baby's heartbeat on the sonogram confirmed that decision.

“I heard with new ears,” she said, explaining that her uncle's words, “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,” began to take on a new meaning in her mind.

“He also said the Negro cannot win if he's willing to sacrifice the future of his children for immediate comfort and safety,” she said, and recounted how, after being “born again” in 1983, she immediately began advocating for life.

In addition to her famous family ties, King had a career in law, was a college professor and served in the Georgia State House of Representatives. In law classes she taught, King said she would bring up the abortion issue and make the argument that “a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body, but the baby's not her body. Where's the lawyer for the baby?”

“It began to rock everything,” she said, explaining that she began to face resistance from Sanger's Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, which had been re-named as “Planned Parenthood.” The organization objected to her pro-life views, arguing that her uncle had received the group’s “Maggie Award” in 1966.

However, King said that Martin Luther King Jr. had never supported the organization's agenda. He declined to attend the award ceremony, she noted. It was his wife and secretary – both of whom were more sympathetic to the cause at the time – who attended and wrote a thank you note to the group instead.

“Martin Luther King Jr. never accepted the agenda of Planned Parenthood,” Alveda King said. “They lie. They lie today. They put their abortion mills on or near streets that are named after Martin Luther King, and they want to attach that to the civil rights movement of the 20th century, (but) it doesn't belong.”

Part of why the Negro Project grew as fast as it did, she said, is that it funded scholarships and grants for the black community that were tied to support for the abortion movement.

Additionally, the organization promoted abstinence, while also handing out condoms and advertising abortions, she said.

“If you tell a kid…yeah, be abstinent, but let's give you Cosmo magazine with teens having sex and let's give you free condoms, then they knew they were going to get all those abortions,” she said.

“So that's how you ended up with a whole culture of abortion-minded people. It was slick, very slick. Evil.”

She added that the target group was initially the black community, “then it became the Latinos and then...the Caucasians with the money became a big target because they could pay.”

King said that if her uncle were alive today, she has no doubt that he would be adamantly pro-life. And while she works most directly with the African-American community in the United States, “its not just a black and white issue, its a human issue.”

“With one blood God made all people. Regardless of our color...we all bleed red,” she said. “So where's the lawyer for the little ones, where's the lawyer for the sick or the elderly?”

Looking ahead, King is encouraged by the millennial generation, whom she sees as being able to speak to modern society in a direct, passionate, and fresh way.

“The millennials get it,” she said, adding that “the (pro-life) fight has had a shot in the arm (from) millennials.”

She also noted the importance of fertility awareness and care for post-abortive women, two issues that she would like to see receiving more attention.

Several movie stars from her youth “went to their death” with the regret of abortion, she said, giving the example of singer Kenny Rogers, whose music voices regret over an abortion he and a former girlfriend decided to have.

Despite obstacles, King is hopeful that the level of awareness and resistance in the United States could indicate a turning point on the issue of abortion.

“Do I believe there's going to be an end to the barbaric practices of killing our weakest, which are the babies and the sick, elderly and poor? I do,” she said, pointing to the March for Life events held across the globe, often filled with young people.

These events show the strength of the pro-life community, she said. “The world is taking note.”

 

Former priest to serve life for 1960 murder in Texas

Brownsville, Texas, Dec 13, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 60 years after Irene Garza disappeared after going to confession in her Texas hometown, the last person who saw her – who was a priest at the time – has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

John Feit, an 85-year-old former priest has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Garza on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1960.

Irene Garza was a 25-year-old schoolteacher, former beauty queen, and figure in the McAllen Tex. Catholic and Mexican-American communities. Friends and neighbors remember her as a young woman of faith.

“Remember the last time we talked, I told you I was afraid of death?” Garza wrote to her friend mere days before her death. The letter was later published by Texas Monthly. “Well I think I’m cured. You see, I’ve been going to communion and Mass daily and you can’t imagine the courage and faith and happiness it has given me.”

Six days later, Garza went to go to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church before Easter services. She never returned. Her body was discovered days later in a ditch.

Later, police determined that she had been raped, physically restrained, and beaten for several days before suffocating to death.

Feit, who was a 27-years-old visiting priest at the time, was a main suspect early on in the case: he was the priest who heard Garza’s confession, and his portable slide viewer was found alongside Garza’s body.

Suspicion grew after Feit was charged and pled “no contest” to assaulting and the attempted rape another young woman, Maria Guerra. Guerra was attacked while she was praying at another church in a nearby Texas town only three weeks before Garza’s death.

However, Feit was not charged with Garza’s murder until over five decades later.

Feit left the priesthood in 1972, and afterwards married and worked for the St. Vincent de Paul charity in Phoenix.

After Feit left the priesthood, two priests told the authorities of their suspicions that Feit murdered Garza, with one claiming the priest had scratches on his face after Garza’s disappearance, and another saying that Feit told the priest that he had murdered a young woman, and offered details on how he committed the crime. At the time, however, the then-priest (who himself also left the priesthood) did not know the crime Feit described was Garza’s murder.

After the priests’ statements to authorities in the 2000s, the case was re-opened in 2015. Feit was arrested and charged in 2016, and the trial began Nov. 28, 2017 after several setbacks. He was sentenced Dec. 8.

Pennsylvania governor promises veto of 20-week abortion limit

Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 13, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would limit abortions to 20 weeks into pregnancy and ban dismemberment abortion, but Gov. Tom Wolf intends to veto it.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, criticized the governor’s pledge to veto.

“His extreme pro-abortion stance is radically out of step with Pennsylvanians as he prepares to face the voters in 2018,” she said Dec. 13.

The Susan B. Anthony List cited a 2013 Harper Polling survey that said 82 percent of Democratic primary voters in the state think abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the legislation, Senate Bill 3, by a vote of 121-70 on Dec. 12. Six Republicans opposed the bill, while 12 Democrats voted in favor.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 32-18 in February. There are likely not enough votes to override a veto.

Wolf opposed the bill, saying it violated the doctor-patient relationship. He objected to its lack of exceptions for abortion in cases of pregnancy by rape or incest.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I will veto <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SB3?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SB3</a> because I stand with every woman in Pennsylvania who deserves to make her own health decisions. <a href="https://t.co/QHoKydPy9a">https://t.co/QHoKydPy9a</a></p>&mdash; Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorTomWolf/status/940739354355519488?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 13, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

“These women deserve our support, not to be maligned by politicians in Harrisburg for making medical decisions about their bodies for their families with their doctors,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Dannenfelser had another view.

“The Pennsylvania legislature just took a bold step to protect unborn children and their mothers,” she said. “We are encouraged by the legislature’s action and look forward to the day when all unborn children are protected under the law.”

The state currently bars abortions 24 weeks or later into pregnancy.

Backers of the bill cited progress in medicine that allows premature babies to survive earlier in pregnancy than before.

The bill would preserve current exemptions for when a mother’s life is at risk, or if she is at risk of a serious permanent injury, the Associated Press reports. It would not allow exemptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities.

Dawn Keefer, R-York, said the issue should not be framed only in terms of women’s rights. Rather, she asked, “what about the rights of those pre-born women in the womb being exterminated?”

Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, characterized the bill as an attempt to control women “by imposing the views of some legislators on women, and I think that's wrong – that's morally wrong.”

The dismemberment abortion ban would in effect ban dilation-and-evacuation abortion, the most common method of abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy.

“Dismemberment abortion is completely inhumane, it's barbaric,” said Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York.

Federal legislation to bar abortion after 20 weeks has made some progress. On Oct. 3 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act late by a vote of 237 to 189, largely along party lines. It was expected to fail in the Senate.

Dannenfelser, however, claimed, “Momentum is building to pass a national ban on late-term abortion more than halfway through pregnancy.”

Archbishop Gomez: Find God's voice in the flames

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 13, 2017 / 03:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While fires in southern California continue to threaten thousands of homes, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles reflected that God can be found even amidst the violent flames, if we just listen for his message.

“Always it is the same question: Where is God to be found when natural disasters strike and bad things happen to good people?” he said in a Dec. 12 column, published at Angelus News, the archdiocese’s multimedia publication.

“God is speaking in every moment, in every circumstance. But sometimes he speaks in a whisper. He asks us to listen, to have ears to hear.”

The Thomas Fire began on Dec. 4 in Steckel Park, near St Thomas Aquinas College in southern California. Within nine hours, strong winds pushed the fire to engulf 31,000 acres, moving at a rate of an acre per second, CNN reported.  

The fire has destroyed more than 237,000 acres and more than 1,000 structures. More than 95,000 residents have been evacuated. The fire was only 25 percent contained as of Tuesday night and still poses a risk to thousands of structures in the Ventura and Santa Barbara County regions.

“The stories of loss are heartbreaking – families and small business owners who have lost everything,” said the archbishop.  

These disasters often force people to turn to faith and science for answers, he said, noting how the fire has also prompted his own reflection of scripture.

Gomez recalled the story of the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God on the holy mountain. The prophet found that “the Lord was not in the fire,” but was in a “tiny whispering sound” after the flames went out. To encounter the Lord, he had to listen carefully.

In a similar way, the archbishop said, natural disasters can contain a message about the preciousness of life, which if heard, allows for greater solidarity in the suffering community.
 
While there can sometimes be a human tendency to separate ourselves from those in pain, he said, disasters break down the barriers of pride and enable opportunities for “extraordinary heroism and ordinary human kindness.”

“The Lord is in the fire!” Gomez proclaimed, noting that he has seen the presence of God in the volunteers of organizations like Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

“He is there in all these stories of sharing and self-sacrifice, in all those who are opening their homes to strangers, in all those who are risking their lives to save others.”

God has asked his people to comfort the vulnerable, he said, and encouraged Christians to be the ones who stand by the afflicted, weep with the sorrowful, and help rebuild the broken.

Turning to the Blessed Mother, he asked her to intercede for California that the community may recognize the whisper of the Lord.

 

Peruvian prosecutor requests jail for Sodalitium founder

Lima, Peru, Dec 13, 2017 / 03:08 pm (CNA).- Criminal prosecutors in Peru have requested that Luis Fernando Figari be incarcerated by a court order, while he is investigated for charges of psychological and sexual abuse.

Figari is the founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a religious community of men, and the Marian Community of Reconciliation, a community of women.  In 2002, he was named a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and served in subsequent consultative roles at the Vatican.  

He has been the subject of abuse allegations since 2011.

According to local press reports, the Peruvian prosecutor requested that other former members of the SCV also be incarcerated while they are subject of investigations. Virgilio Levaggi, Jeffery Daniels and Daniel Murguia are also suspected of sexual and psychological abuse of Sodalitium members, and of collusion with Figari in covering up abuse.

The prosecutor also requested that Ricardo Treneman and Oscar Tokumura, members of the Sodalitium, be subject to travel restrictions.
 
Peruvian law permits judges to remand suspects of criminal activity to incarceration while they are being investigated, if they are considered flight risks, or a risk to pose grave danger. A criminal investigation against the men began in January 2017.

A judge must decide within 48 hours whether to grant the prosecution’s request for temporary incarceration.

In February of this year, a team of independent investigators commissioned by the Sodalitium reported that  "Figari sexually assaulted at least one child, manipulated, sexually abused, or harmed several other young people; and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others.”

The investigative team included a former FBI agent, and several experts on sexual abuse. All details of the independent investigation were given to the media and to Peruvian authorities.

The report concluded that "between 1975 and 2000 and once in 2007, five members of Sodalitium, including Figari, sexually abused minors."

The five members alleged to have committed sexaul abuse are Figari, German Doig, who died in 2001, Virgilio Levaggi, Jeffrey Daniels and Daniel Murguía.

Of these five, only Figari remains a member of the Sodalitium. In February 2017, the Vatican’s congregation for religious life issued a decree forbidding him from any contact with the religious community, and banning him from returning to Peru without permission from the current superior of the Sodalitium. Figari was also forbidden to make any public statements.

The executive director of CNA and ACI Prensa, Alejandro Bermudez, is a member of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.

This story was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. CNA has adapted it and provided additional reporting.

Vatican communications department will soon unveil new website

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2017 / 11:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals met this week to continue discussions on reform of the Roman Curia and unveiled a new communications system for the Secretariat for Communications.

Taking place at the Vatican Dec. 11-13, all members were present for the meetings, apart from Cardinal George Pell. Pope Francis was present except for Wednesday morning during the general audience, as is ordinary.

Fr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, presented the new communications system, including a new website and logos, during the 22nd round of meetings.

According to a Dec. 13 statement, the “the Vatican media system adopts a new production model based on integration and unified management, in full harmony with the reform desired by Pope Francis.”

The center of the communications system will be new multimedia publishing center, which will present a unified structure for the daily production of content, including audio, text, video, and graphics, in multiple languages.

This system is the result of consolidation on both an economic and technical level, and will be available soon (in a beta version) at vaticannews.va, the press release stated. This replaces the previously used informational websites and aims to streamline the image and channels of communication.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s photo service, and the Vatican Typography will merge with the secretariat.

It will start with a team of 70 people divided into six language divisions – English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese – in four thematic areas: Pope, Vatican, Church, and world. It will all be overseen by an editorial directorate in coordination with other support groups.

The new system draws its inspiration from the words of Pope Francis to the Secretariat for Communication during their first plenary earlier this year: that “reform is not ‘whitewashing’ things: reform is to give another form to things, organize them in another way.”

Viganò also reported on the final stretch of the reform of Holy See communications, including the achievement of goals to reduce costs and consolidate personnel.

The meetings also included an update from Cardinal Kevin Farrell on the work of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, which is preparing for the 2018 synod on youth.

The cardinals also listened to presentations by Fr. Michael Czerny and Fr. Fabio Baggio, the under-secretaries of the Migrant and Refugee section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The section is developing a global strategy to implement in cooperation with the Secretariat of State, bishops’ conferences, NGOs, and religious congregations.

As usual, Cardinal Sean O’Malley also provided an update on the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Members of the commission are appointed for a term of three years, which may be reconfirmed. The terms of the present 15 members of the commission end Dec. 17. Pope Francis will decide whether to reconfirm current members and whom to appoint as new members.

Peter Saunders, founder and former Chief Executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood and a member of the commission since Dec. 2014, told the Tablet Dec. 13 he plans to step down from the commission at the end of the week. He has been on a leave of absence from the advisory body since early 2016.

Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the Council of Cardinals – also known as the “C9” – serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus, the apostolic constitution which governs the Roman Curia.

The council’s next round of meetings will take place Feb. 27-29.

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