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Pencil Preaching for Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Dictatorship in Nicaragua sentences priest critical of the regime to 10 years in prison

Father Oscar Benavidez. / Credit: Parish of the Holy Spirit of Mulukukú, Nicaragua

CNA Newsroom, Feb 6, 2023 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

The dictatorship in Nicaragua, led by President Daniel Ortega, sentenced Father Óscar Danilo Benavidez Dávila to 10 years in prison for the alleged crimes of “conspiracy” and “spreading fake news” to the detriment of the regime.

The news site Despacho 505 obtained access to the closed-doors verdict and reported Feb. 4 that the Tenth Criminal Trial District Court of Managua, presided by Judge Nancy Aguirre, had sentenced the priest on Jan. 24.

According to the ruling, after a trial riddled with irregularities, the priest was given five years in prison for the crime of “spreading fake news” and another five for “undermining national security and sovereignty.”

In addition, the Catholic priest was fined 49,917 córdobas, about $1,350. 

Benavidez, 50, known for being a critic of the dictatorship, has been in custody since Aug. 14, 2022, when he was arrested after celebrating a Mass in the Conception of Mary chapel in the Diocese of Siuna.

He was found guilty Jan. 16 and the state prosecution requested a sentence of eight years in prison. However, the court sentenced him to 10 years.

Despacho 505 noted that Benavidez is the first priest sentenced for “conspiracy and cybercrimes, crimes invented by the regime of Daniel Ortega and [his wife, Vice President] Rosario Murillo to imprison opponents.”

According to the priest’s defense, during the trial the alleged “crime” he committed was expressing his opinion in a social media post.

The Nicaraguan news outlet Mosaico reported Jan. 16 that the only trial hearing lasted fewer than eight hours.

In total there are nine Nicaraguan clergy that the dictatorship has accused of the crime of “conspiracy,” including Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was  arrested along with other priests around 3 a.m. on Aug. 19, 2022.

A recent report from the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners, endorsed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), indicated that the number of political prisoners in Nicaragua has risen to 245 as of January 2023.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

3 dead, 20 injured after bus traveling to Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in Mexico overturns

null / Credit: pixelaway/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 6, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Three pilgrims died and another 20 — including at least two minors — were injured Sunday in a traffic accident on the Mexico-Puebla highway as they were traveling to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The pilgrims began their journey from the town of Ajalpan in the Mexican state of Puebla when the brakes of the bus they were traveling in reportedly failed and the vehicle overturned around 6 a.m. on the highway that connects Puebla with Mexico City.

According to the local press, the pilgrims were an hour and a half from their destination in a trip that takes more than four hours.

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Sánchez Espinosa of Puebla included the deceased and injured among the intentions of the Mass he celebrated Sunday. “We join therefore in prayer to God Our Lord, praying for them and for their families,” the prelate said.

The Primatial Archdiocese of Mexico also stated that “we join in prayer after the accident that occurred on the Mexico-Puebla highway, praying to Holy Mary of Guadalupe for our deceased brothers and their families.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Church in Costa Rica to compensate four victims of ex-priest serving 20-year sentence

null / sergign/shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 6, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

The Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference and the Archdiocese of San José announced that an agreement has been reached to compensate four victims of sexual abuse by ex-priest Mauricio Víquez Lizano, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

The bishops said in a Feb. 1 statement that in order to close the legal proceedings for damages against the victims, “an agreement has been reached” that is “satisfactory to all parties.”

“According to what is established in this instrument, the content of this agreement is subject to a confidentiality clause, so no statements will be made in this regard,” the local Church said.

The bishops’ conference and the Archdiocese of San José stated that “the problem of the sexual abuse of minors is a dramatic situation in society” and added that “the Church regrets that cases have occurred in ecclesial contexts and works actively for prevention in order to provide safe environments.”

In August 2022, a court ruled against the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference, San José Archbishop José Rafael Quirós, and the Temporal Assets of the Archdiocese of San José for covering up Lizano’s sexual abuse.

The compensation amounted to 65 million colones, about $114,000.

The Church indicated at the time that it would appeal the sentence, but after several months, an agreement was finally reached with the victims.

The former priest Víquez was sentenced on March 30, 2022, to 20 years in prison for sexual abuse and the rape of an 11-year-old boy in 2003.

The abuse of the victim, who at the time was a minor, took place at St. John the Baptist Parish in Patarrá de Desamparados on the outskirts of San José when Víquez was the pastor there.

According to the local newspaper Delfino, the former priest “was also accused of 29 counts of non-penetrating sexual abuse; 22 for sexual abuse of a minor; one for attempted rape; three for rape; five for the dissemination of pornography; and one for aggravated corruption of a minor involving sexual practices.”

Víquez was captured in Mexico on Aug. 18, 2019, six months after leaving Costa Rica. Interpol had issued an international arrest warrant for him, and following his arrest he was extradited to his home country.

Víquez, who for a time was a spokesman for the Church in Costa Rica, was expelled from the clerical state by a decree dated Feb. 25, 2019.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pope saddened by 'huge loss of life' after earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

Pope Francis expressed his "spiritual closeness" and "solidarity" with those affected by a pair of powerful earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria Feb. 6.

Gregory: World needs African Americans' 'strength of character'; it 'resides within the souls of our people'

Celebrating a Feb. 5 Mass in honor of Black History Month, Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory urged "ordinary people of color" to "vastly improve our world with an understanding of the strength of character that resides within the souls of our people."

European court: Russia violated human rights by not legally recognizing gay unions

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France / CherryX|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2023 / 09:55 am (CNA).

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Jan. 17 that Russia violated the human rights of three homosexual couples because the government did not have any formal legal recognition of those unions under Russian law.

Two female homosexual couples and one male homosexual couple claimed Russia’s failure to recognize their request for homosexual marriages violated the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. One of the couples brought their claims to the court in 2010 and the other two brought their claims in 2014, while Russia was subject to the European Convention on Human Rights because of an international treaty. Although Russia backed out of the treaty on Sept. 16, 2022, the court ruled that it still had jurisdiction because the country was subject to the treaty when the claims were originally brought before the court.

The court ruled in the case of Fedotova v. Russia that Russia did not need to recognize homosexual marriage under the convention but that it needed to have some formal legal recognition of same-sex couples, such as civil unions, as long as the homosexual couples had similar legal rights to married couples. 

According to the court, the Russian government argued that “it was necessary to preserve the traditional institutions of marriage and the family” because they are “fundamental values of Russian society that were protected by the Constitution.” The court ruled against that argument, claiming that the recognition of these unions would not jeopardize the rights of heterosexual couples. 

“There is no basis for considering that affording legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples in a stable and committed relationship could in itself harm families constituted in the traditional way or compromise their future or integrity,” the court ruled.

“Indeed, the recognition of same-sex couples does not in any way prevent different-sex couples from marrying or founding a family corresponding to their conception of that term,” the court ruled. “More broadly, securing rights to same-sex couples does not in itself entail weakening the rights secured to other people or other couples. … The Court considers that the protection of the traditional family cannot justify the absence of any form of legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples in the present case.”

Although Russia does not have an explicit ban on homosexual marriage, according to the court, Article 1 of the Russian Family Code defines marriage as a “voluntary marital union between a man and a woman” and does not include any recognition of homosexual marriages. The court also noted that the form for a notice of marriage contains two fields, one for the man and one for the woman, which means the form’s structure prevents it from being used to marry homosexual couples. There is no alternative legal recognition of homosexual couples in Russia. 

The homosexual couples sought €50,000 (more than $54,000) in damages, but the court stated that its common practice is to only award money to offset the costs and expenses incurred through the proceedings. Because the applicants did not submit any claims for those costs, the court did not award any monetary damages. 

Homosexual unions are legally recognized in 21 of the 27 countries in the European Union and homosexual marriages are legally recognized in only 14 of them. 

The consistent teaching of the Catholic Church is that marriage is between a man and a woman. As Pope Francis noted in Amoris Laetitia, quoting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” 

Pope Francis, Syriac Patriarch call for prayers after devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

A woman reacts as rescuers search for survivors through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Adana, Turkey, on Feb. 6, 2023, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country’s southeast. The combined death toll for Turkey and Syria after the region’s strongest quake in nearly a century is in the thousands. / Photo by CAN EROK/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Feb 6, 2023 / 09:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis and local Church leaders on Monday reacted with dismay and calls for prayer following a devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

According to Reuters, the series of earthquakes — up to 7.8 magnitude — killed about 1,700 people and injured thousands more, with many people still trapped under the rubble Monday. Figures were expected to grow in the coming hours.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the overnight quake struck at a depth of 11 miles.

A “deeply saddened” Pope Francis sent “heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss” in telegrams addressed to the apostolic nuncios of Turkey and Syria.

The telegrams — signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin — said Pope Francis prayed “that the emergency personnel will be sustained in their care of the injured and in the ongoing relief efforts by the divine gifts of fortitude and perseverance.”

The pope also affirmed “his spiritual solidarity” with the “long-suffering Syrian people.”

In Syria, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, countless buildings collapsed Feb. 6, including several Catholic churches, reported ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language partner agency.

Syrian Catholic Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem Josef III Younan is Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and heads the Syriac Catholic Church. Syriac Catholic Patriarchy of Antioch
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem Josef III Younan is Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and heads the Syriac Catholic Church. Syriac Catholic Patriarchy of Antioch

Syrian Catholic Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem Josef III Younan called on the local faithful to pray.

The patriarch is currently on an official visit to Syrian dioceses in Iraq. He is Syriac Catholic patriarch of Antioch and heads the Syriac Catholic Church. 

Patriarch Younan asked the Lord to have mercy on the souls of the victims, heal the wounded, stand by those affected, and support all those who provide aid and assistance to the injured and affected, ACI MENA reported.

Moreover, the Church leader expressed his solidarity — and prayers — for all those affected by the earthquakes.

Among the many victims, the body of Father Imad Daher, a priest of the Greek Melkite Catholic Parish of Our Lady, was found under the rubble — after many hours of searching for the priest.

According to the Catholic humanitarian organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Daher died when the residence of the former archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, collapsed. Jeanbart narrowly escaped and is currently being treated for his wounds in a hospital, though he is said to be stable, ACN said in a statement Monday. Another Christian man who was in the building at the time also died, the organization said.

ACN reported that many cities and towns with a significant Christian population, such as Aleppo, Homs, Lattakia, and Hama, suffered major damage.

Among the buildings damaged were the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of St. George in Aleppo and the Franciscan Church in Lattakia, ACN reported. The ACN-supported Hope Center, also in Aleppo, sustained minor damage, the organization said.

People evacuate their homes following a deadly earthquake that shook Syria at dawn on Feb. 6, 2023, in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district. At least 810 people were killed in Syria as buildings collapsed after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck neighboring Turkey, state media and rescuers said. Photo by AFP via Getty Images
People evacuate their homes following a deadly earthquake that shook Syria at dawn on Feb. 6, 2023, in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district. At least 810 people were killed in Syria as buildings collapsed after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck neighboring Turkey, state media and rescuers said. Photo by AFP via Getty Images

“The Church in Syria is shocked by the catastrophe. Even as far away as Beirut, people went down to the streets, worried that another explosion was about to unsettle their country,” Regina Lynch, director of projects for ACN International, said in a statement Monday.

According to a statement by the Custody of the Holy Land, a Franciscan priest in Aleppo, Father Bahjat Karakach, reported “at least 40 buildings have been destroyed and many people are still trapped under the rubble.”

The friars opened the doors of their convent to the inhabitants seeking help, the priest reported. “We have taken people into the church here, from this morning, then we celebrated Mass and opened the hall to accommodate the people and give them all something to eat; our kitchen, which usually distributes 1,200 meals a day to the poor, will do its utmost today to help everyone who is homeless and cannot eat.”

This is a developing story.

This story was originally published by CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language news partner.

Conservative defense of Humanae Vitae is not just about contraception

Controversy over the Pontifical Academy for Life's book that challenges church teaching on contraception shows why conservative Catholics are so concerned about this issue, say ethicists Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler.

The Jewish roots of the Eucharist

Today's Christian Eucharist is a combination of the Jewish synagogue service and Passover meal as adapted by the early Jewish Christians.