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CRS official opposes Trump's action to seek foreign spending cuts

President Donald Trump's decision to ask Congress to rescind billions of dollars in foreign aid spending is "extremely ill-advised," said a senior Catholic Relief Services official.

Catholic leader sees growing support for ending death penalty in Virginia

The executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, said he was pleased bipartisan support is growing for ending Virginia's death penalty.

Breaking: March for Life 2021 goes virtual

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2021 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The 2021 March for Life will take place virtually, organizers announced Friday.

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund, the organization behind the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., said the decision was made due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of unrest in the nation’s capital. This year’s march, now virtual, will take place Jan. 29.

In a Jan. 15 statement announcing the decision, Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life, said, “The protection of all of those who participate in the annual March, as well as the many law enforcement personnel and others who work tirelessly each year to ensure a safe and peaceful event, is a top priority of the March for Life.”

“In light of the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic which may be peaking, and in view of the heightened pressures that law enforcement officers and others are currently facing in and around the Capitol, this year’s March for Life will look different,” Mancini said. “The annual rally will take place virtually and we are asking all participants to stay home and to join the March virtually.”

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, with over 383,000 deaths to date in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. faces the aftermath of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Organizers said participants will be able to follow the march and participate virtually on its website.

The march will still happen, Mancini said, but in-person attendance will be confined to a small number of pro-life leaders who will represent the movement.

“We will invite a small group of pro-life leaders from across the country to march in Washington, DC this year,” she said. “These leaders will represent pro-life Americans everywhere who, each in their own unique ways, work to make abortion unthinkable and build a culture where every human life is valued and protected.” 

A representative for the March for Life told Catholic News Agency that this small group of pro-life leaders will carry roses with them, which they will leave at the Supreme Court, in honor of the lives lost to abortion.

Mancini said the March for Life “is profoundly grateful for the countless women, men, and families who sacrifice to come out in such great numbers each year as a witness for life – and we look forward to being together in person next year. As for this year’s march, we look forward to being with you virtually.”

The March for Life, which organizers describe as the world’s largest annual human rights demonstration, takes place every year on or near Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

As of Friday, law enforcement officials locked down huge portions of the nation’s capital city following the attack on the U.S. Capitol building last week and in anticipation of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20. The National Mall is closed to the public through at least Jan. 24, just days before the planned March was to take place on Jan. 29. According to the Associated Press, the number of National Guard troops in Washington to secure the locked down area is about 21,000.

Mancini told Catholic News Agency, “I welcome the prayers of my fellow Catholics during this unique moment in history as we work together to build a culture of life in our country. ‘With God all things are possible.’”

Vatican court due to hold sentence hearing for ex-Vatican bank president

Rome Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican court is due to hold a sentence hearing next week in a criminal trial against the former president of the Institute for Religious Works.

Angelo Caloia, the 81-year-old ex-president of the institute commonly known as the “Vatican bank,” has been on trial for two years for money laundering and self-laundering, and embezzlement.

The HuffPost reported last month that the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, is seeking an eight-year jail term for Caloia, the first time the Vatican has sought a prison sentence for financial crimes.

The Jan. 21 hearing is reportedly being held to issue the court’s sentence after the two-year trial.

Caloia was president of the institute -- also known by its Italian initials, IOR -- from 1989 to 2009.

The Jan. 21 hearing will also include Caloia’s lawyer, the 96-year-old Gabriele Liuzzo, and Liuzzo’s son, Lamberto Liuzzo. The lawyer was tried on the same charges as Caloia and is also facing a possible eight years in prison. His son was tried for money laundering and self-laundering and may get up to six years in prison, according to the HuffPost.

Diddi also reportedly asked for the confiscation of 32 million euros ($39 million) already seized from the accounts of Caloia and Gabrielle Liuzzo also at the institute.

In addition, Diddi is said to have requested the confiscation of the equivalent of a further 25 million euros ($30 million).

The Vatican court ordered Caloia and Liuzzo to stand trial in March 2018. It accused them of participating in “unlawful conduct” from 2001 to 2008 during “the disposal of a considerable part of the institute’s real estate assets.”

The HuffPost said that the two men allegedly sold the IOR’s real estate assets to themselves through offshore companies and firms in Luxembourg via “a complex shielding operation.”

Former IOR director general Lelio Scaletti, who died on Oct. 15, 2015, was part of the original investigation, launched in 2014 after complaints were lodged by the IOR.

In February 2018, the institute announced that it had joined a civil suit, in addition to the criminal proceedings, against Caloia and Liuzzo.

The trial began on May 9, 2018. At the first hearing, the Vatican court announced plans to appoint experts to assess the value of properties that Caloia and Liuzzo were accused of selling at below-market rates, while allegedly making off-paper agreements for higher amounts to pocket the difference.

Caloia was present at the nearly four-hour hearing, though Liuzzo was absent, citing his age.

According to the HuffPost, hearings over the next two and a half years drew on appraisals by the Promontory Financial Group, at the request of Ernst von Freyberg, IOR president from February 2013 to July 2014.

The hearings also reportedly considered three letters rogatory sent from the Vatican to Switzerland, with the most recent response arriving on Jan. 24, 2020. Letters rogatory are a formal request from courts in one country to the courts of another country for judicial assistance.

The Institute for Religious Works was founded in 1942 under Pope Pius XII but can trace its roots back as far as 1887. It aims to hold and administer money designated for “religious works or charity,” according to its website.

It accepts deposits from legal entities or persons of the Holy See and of Vatican City State. The IOR’s main function is to manage bank accounts for religious orders and Catholic associations.

The IOR had 14,996 clients as of December 2019. Nearly half of clients are religious orders. Other clients include Vatican offices, apostolic nunciatures, episcopal conferences, parishes, and clergy.

'We are better than this,' deacon says before Johnson's execution

The Supreme Court Jan. 14 cleared the path for the federal government to execute Corey Johnson after denying his two last-minute appeals.

Vatican ambassador Callista Gingrich has farewell meeting with Pope Francis

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2021 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- The United States ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, met with Pope Francis Friday as she prepares to leave Rome in tandem with the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.

She will leave the post Jan. 20 to return to the United States. Deputy Chief of Mission Patrick Connell will be Chargé d’ Affaires until a new ambassador is appointed, an embassy official confirmed to CNA.

Gingrich was nominated for the position by President Trump in May 2017, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the following October.

During her three years in Rome, Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, drew attention to issues such as human trafficking, Christian persecution, and religious freedom, by hosting symposiums and other events.

On Twitter, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See said Jan. 15 the “Ambassador and Speaker Gingrich were honored to have a farewell visit with Pope Francis today.”

Ambassador and Speaker Gingrich were honored to have a farewell visit with Pope Francis today. (Vatican Media Photos) pic.twitter.com/c4pDIY6n6M

— U.S. in Holy See (@USinHolySee) January 15, 2021 The two also met with other Vatican officials Friday. Gingrich wrote on Twitter Jan. 15 that she had a “beautiful visit today with Cardinal Parolin” and a “beautiful visit” to the Apostolic Palace.

In an interview on the website of the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, published in September 2020, Gingrich said “it has been an incredible and fulfilling experience serving as our nation’s ambassador to the Holy See.”

“The United States and the Holy See collaborate on many important foreign policy objectives. From advancing religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, to combatting human trafficking, to delivering humanitarian assistance, to preventing conflict and violence, our partnership with the Holy See is a worldwide force for good,” she stated.

Gingrich, who is a life-long Catholic, also noted that working in Rome and the Vatican had “greatly strengthened” her faith.

“Every time I participate in a meeting at the Vatican or attend a papal liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica, I feel honored and blessed,” she said.

In May 2020, Gingrich called attention to the role of faith-based organizations in delivering U.S government relief funds to assist people who were suffering due to the coronavirus in Italy.

“The United States is funding NGOs and faith-based organizations that can effectively deliver critical assistance,” she told EWTN News.

“It’s important that American money be put to good use. Faith-based organizations are effective and trustworthy partners. They’re inspired by a sense of purpose and dedication to help those most in need,” the ambassador said.

In a column for CNA in 2019, Gingrich reflected on 35 years of diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

“Although our embassy was officially established in 1984, ties to the Holy See date back to our nation’s founding,” she said.

“Throughout our history, U.S. presidents have recognized the important role of the Holy See in advancing peace and justice,” she continued. “From 1870 to 1984, several personal envoys were dispatched to the Vatican for discussions on humanitarian and political issues. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt’s envoy to Pope Pius XII worked with the Holy See to feed European refugees, provide aid to Eastern Europe, and assist allied prisoners of war.”

Gingrich said that with the Cold War and the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II “realized that an unofficial relationship between the United States and the Holy See was no longer adequate to meet the dangers posed by Communism.”

The two leaders met in Vatican City in 1982, and within two years, official diplomatic relations had been established, she recounted.

“When Ambassador Wilson presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II on April 9, 1984, the Pope told him that renewed collaboration between the United States and the Holy See should mean ‘exerting common efforts to defend the dignity and the rights of the human person,’” Gingrich said.

“For the last 35 years,” she said, “this unique partnership has done just that. It has existed, in President Reagan’s words ‘to the benefit of peace-loving people everywhere.’”

Callista Gingrich is the president of both Gingrich Productions in Arlington, Va. and the charitable non-profit Gingrich Foundation, and is a former Congressional aide.

She is also a long-time member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and explained, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com, how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.

The couple worked on a documentary together that was released in 2010, “Nine Days That Changed the World,” that focused on Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland when the former Soviet bloc country was under a communist government.

Joanne Rogers, widow of ‘Mr. Rogers,’ dead at age 92

"Joanne was a brilliant and accomplished musician, a wonderful advocate for the arts, and a dear friend to everyone in our organization," said the account of Fred Rogers Productions on Twitter.

EarthBeat Weekly: Fossil fuels fade, but pipeline protests persist

Worldwide, opposition to pipelines, especially those crossing Indigenous territories, raises issues that are not just political and legal, but also cultural and spiritual.

Your thoughts on Biden as Catholic Newsmaker of the Year

Your thoughts: Letters from readers responding to NCR's choice of President-elect Joe Biden as the 2020 Catholic Newsmaker of the Year. 

Impeaching Trump (again) was easy compared to defeating Trumpism

Distinctly Catholic: Those who care about the future of the republic need to be politically adept, not just morally right. We cannot risk a repeat.