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Church in Nicaragua asks for continued prayers for abducted bishop and priests

Bishop Rolando Álvarez / Photo credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

Denver Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Matagalpa has asked the faithful to continue praying for its bishop, Rolando Álvarez, the priests, seminarians, and the layman who were arrested and abducted in the middle of the night by the police of the Nicaraguan dictatorship, led by President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

In a Sept. 26 Facebook post, the Diocese of Matagalpa asked the faithful to continue “praying for our pastor, Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, priests, and laity who were with him in the Matagalpa chancery until the early hours of Aug. 19” when they were taken away by police.

“Bishop Álvarez, in his pastoral work in the Diocese of Matagalpa, of which he took possession on April 2, 2011, has chosen the preferential option for the poor, the sick, the young, those who suffer adversity, and the rural population, to whom he has shown his closeness through prayer and pastoral visits,” the post said.

“We’re praying for him,” the diocesan post concludes.

Álvarez, along with the others, was prevented by the Ortega riot police from leaving the chancery in Matagalpa from Aug. 4 to Aug. 19, when the police abducted him and took him in the dead of night to Managua, where he remains under house arrest.

According to local media, the prosecutor has supposedly indicted the bishop, but the charges against him are unknown.

On Sept. 15, the European Parliament approved a resolution by a vote of 538 to 16 demanding the immediate release of the bishop.

The night the bishop was taken into custody, other priests, seminarians, and a layman were also arrested and are currently being held in the El Chipote prison, known for torturing opponents of the regime.

Those imprisoned there are Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Diaz, Sadiel Eugarrios, and Raúl González; seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas, all from the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Another priest who is being held in El Chipote is Father Oscar Benavidez of the Diocese of Siuna.

These prisoners have also reportedly been indicted, but for what crimes it is unknown.

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

Archbishop calls on consecrated to wear religious dress as a ‘revolutionary’ gesture

Archbishop Luis Argüello of Valladolid, Spain / Screenshot, CEE/YouTube

Denver Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The archbishop of Valladolid, Spain, Luis Argüello, called it “revolutionary” in our times to make the supernatural present in the streets by wearing in public the clothing proper to consecrated religious or ordained men.

The prelate gave this reflection in his homily for a diaconal ordination, noting that the deacons will wear specific vestments.

“You are going to wear clothing proper to you. A diaconal stole and a dalmatic will be placed on your alb. And you can also wear clerical dress, you can wear a symbol so that it can be seen in the public square that you are men consecrated to the Lord,” the archbishop explained.

“There was a time when the novelty appeared that had to do with our taking off the cassock and the Roman collar. Today there is a time in which surely what is revolutionary, novel, the presence of the supernatural in the streets and squares, is friars wearing a habit, nuns being recognizable, and those of us who have been ordained also being recognizable,” he added.

The archbishop also considered the promises made by deacons at their ordination to be “revolutionary.” 

“Brothers, what these friends are going to promise today is a revolutionary novelty that our world needs,” the prelate said referring to the commitment to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to be celibate, and to obey.

Argüello explained that praying of the Liturgy of the Hours ensures that “in the Church from morning to night, from sunrise to sunset, the name of the Lord is praised” and warned that “without praise the heart shrinks and without praise the hands close.”

Living the spousal dimension of every human being

Regarding the new deacons’ promise of celibacy, the prelate stressed that it’s a matter of living the “spousal dimension that every man and woman has.”

“How countercultural!” he exclaimed. “At a time of extraordinary trivialization of sexuality, at a time when the spousal dimension seems to have lost its place, you promise to live in celibate love!”

It’s also “a promise to love that wants to open itself up to fruitfulness,” he said, stressing that “the greatest test for your celibacy in this time of the mission of the Church may be the sterility of apostolic works.”

The freedom to love unconditionally

The archbishop of Valladolid also highlighted the promise of obedience to the bishop and his successors in an era dominated by “self-referentiality, of ‘I decide,’ of the right to decide, of the proclamation of rights, without the flip side of rights that is, inevitably, duties.”

With the promise of obedience, deacons place their freedom “in the hands of the Church, so that communion may shine forth and so that freely given freedom may shine forth. The freely given freedom of not seeking ourselves, the freely given freedom of loving without reciprocation, without conditions.”

“It’s a revolutionary proposal to live in God from morning to night, to live in celibate love, to live in obedience,” the archbishop summarized.

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

Religion is ‘interruption,’ not continuity, German bishops’ president says

Bishop Georg Bätzing / Photo credit: Synodaler Weg / Maximilian von Lachner

CNA Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 12:33 pm (CNA).

The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said that the shortest definition of religion is “interruption,” and that some forms of continuity people seek from religion are “frankly suspect.”

Bätzing spoke in a live-streamed Mass on Tuesday on the occasion of the bishops’ plenary assembly, which is being held in the central German town of Fulda from Sept. 26–29, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In his homily the bishop of Limburg said, “all too surely asserted continuities, i.e., seamless connections according to the motto ‘that has always been so; that has always been believed so; what was wrong yesterday cannot be right today’ ... are frankly suspect.”

Bätzing spoke of the “great images in which God’s people spelled out their historical experiences with faith and recognized God’s guidance in them.”

The German prelate, who expressed his disappointment in Pope Francis in May, said it was indeed “in our human nature to seek bridges between yesterday and tomorrow, to draw temporal lines and discover meaningful connections — which is often only possible in retrospect. We seek continuity. But the shortest definition of religion is and remains ‘interruption,’ as Johann Baptist Metz put it.”

Metz was an influential German priest and theologian who died in 2019.

This year’s fall plenary meeting of the German bishops is overshadowed by the recent turbulent meeting of the Synodal Way and the abuse report in the Osnabrück diocese with strongly incriminating statements about Bishop Franz-Josef Bode.

Bode announced he refused to resign despite a report published Sept. 20 saying he mishandled abuse cases.

The 71-year-old bishop has been vice president of the German bishops’ conference since 2017. He is also vice president of the German Synodal Way.

He has publicly supported women deacons and the development of a Church ceremony for blessing same-sex unions. At the latest meeting of the Synodal Way, participants voted to change the Church’s teaching on a number of related topics, including homosexuality and the ordination of women.

Church and contraception: Experts expose errors in Pontifical Academy for Life book

null / Image credit: Simone van der Koelen / Unsplash

Denver Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 10:07 am (CNA).

Nine international experts have pointed out in an open letter the serious errors contained in a book published a few weeks ago by the Pontifical Academy for Life, which promotes a change in the Catholic Church’s teaching on the use of contraceptives.

“It is not possible to take good care, give spiritual advice, counsel, and accompany a married couple by applying a pastoral approach that does not take the experience of medical studies into account,” the experts pointed out to the academy.

Proposing that Catholics be able to resort to contraceptives, as the document published by the academy does, “is, beyond a theoretical intellectual exercise, an affirmation that does not take the reality of the studies on the coaching of married couples nor the experience of so many marriages into account.”

The open letter, titled “Pastoral care that does not take into account experience is no longer pastoral care,” was signed by Spanish doctor Jokin de Irala, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Michèle Barbato of Italy, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology; Dr. Jacques Aimé Bazeboso of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, president of the African Federation for Family Action; and Italian physician Maria Boerci, national president of the Italian Confederation of Centers for Natural Fertility Regulation.

Also signing were Italian doctor Paolo Bordin, a specialist in Internal Medicine; Serena Del Zoppo, a gynecologist with experience in natural family planning and infertility, as well as a consultant in Naprotechnology; French physician Isabelle Ecochard, former president of the European Institute for Family Life Education; Belgian doctor Pierre Hernalsteen, a professor with experience in Belgium, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Rwanda; and Italian doctor Furio Pesci, a professor at the Sapienza University of Rome.

The experts’ open letter is a response to the book “Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges” published this year by the Pontifical Academy for Life by Librería Editora Vaticana, the publishing house of the Holy See.

The book compiles in 528 pages the conferences that were held as part of a theological seminar sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2021 and has an introduction by its president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.

According to Paglia, the book, which proposes that Catholics may resort to contraceptives, presents a “paradigm shift” in moral theology.

“The text makes a radical change, going, so to speak, from the sphere to the polyhedron,” he said.

The Church’s position on contraceptives ‘hasn’t changed’

The experts in health, fertility, and accompaniment for families lamented that after the publication of the book by the Pontifical Academy for Life, “There has been some confusion in some ecclesial circles and in the media for interpreting this as a change from the Holy See on these issues.”

“But the position of the Catholic Church has not changed,” the experts stressed.

“The proposals in the manuscript are from a group of experts; they do not reflect the position of the academy,” they added.

The experts noted that “St. John Paul II warned against confusing the ‘law of gradualness’ with the ‘gradualness of the law’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.”

“The law of gradualness supposes that we are all invited to fully live the proposals of the Church, even if we manage to reach them little by little, from our personal capacities and circumstances, counting on grace and being accompanied to overcome difficulties,” they explained.

“Pope Francis guides us along these lines, strongly emphasizing the importance of accompaniment and merciful discernment of the spouses: ‘It is necessary to face all these situations in a constructive way, trying to transform them into an opportunity for a journey towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. It is a matter of welcoming and accompanying them with patience and gentleness’ (Amoris Laetitia, 294).”

For the experts, “the gradualism of the law would mean, on the contrary, that there are different laws for different people and in different circumstances.”

After noting that “pastoral care should take medical knowledge into account,” the experts stressed that “some of us have been working and coaching married couples for 40 years. Our work covers responsible parenthood, their marital sexuality, and during their use of modern natural methods (MNM), in reciprocal respect for their fertility and in permanent dialogue, to favor, space, or avoid pregnancies.”

What we know about contraceptives after 60 years

After six decades of contraceptive use, they said, “the proven results” shed light on “the effects that this ‘new’ pastoral approach would have.”

“In the 1960s, couples were taught that the pill would solve the so-called overpopulation problem. After 1968, women were taught that the pill would protect them from ‘unwanted’ pregnancies and prevent abortions. In the 1970s, artificial insemination techniques were developed to help childless couples to get their ‘desired child.’”

“Later, in the 1980s, it was claimed that the condom would prevent infections and also ‘unwanted’ pregnancies,” they added.

“The result, the breakdown of the family and the coercion of governments, was predicted by the encyclical Humanae Vitae: in addition to the worsening situation of women who were supposed to be ‘liberated’ by these methods and the increase in marriage failures, we are now suffering a ‘demographic winter’ and epidemics of sexually transmitted infections are on the rise,” they lamented.

In these decades, the experts stressed in their open letter, “we have learned and confirmed” that the natural method known as “symptothermal double-check” is “five times more effective than the condom” in preventing pregnancy.

It’s also known that “the current contraceptive pill has, as one of its mechanisms of action, the early elimination of embryos by preventing their implantation,” they pointed out, noting that “many women would not want to use it if they knew that the destruction of an embryo was possible.”

According to the “best study to date on the relationship between the pill and breast cancer, published in The New England Journal of Medicine,” the experts noted, it’s known that “oral contraceptives raise the risk of breast cancer in an epidemic scale.”

“They reduce some types of cancers, but it is not comparable to the risk of breast, liver, and cervical cancer,” they stated.

In addition, “oral contraceptives raise the risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack] and stroke by 60%.”

The use of these substances, they continued, is linked to “an increased risk of depression and suicides and suicide attempts.”

Science has also shown, they added, that methods such as Natural Procreative (NaPro) technology “obtain results similar to those of artificial methods of assisted reproduction, without their bioethical drawbacks and side effects,” including “the problem of all frozen embryos.”

According to the experts, “If only the proposals of Humanae Vitae had been followed, countless deaths from the causes described above could have been avoided in the last 50 years.”

“To question today the pastoral application of Humanae Vitae on the grounds of problems in the use of NFP could lead to one of the greatest public health scandals of all times, because it would affect the health of millions of women,” they warned.

“On the other hand, it would be an unprecedented victory for the pharmaceutical industry that seeks to silence the current medical evidence on the contraceptive pill, in order to continue increasing its business at the expense of women’s health,” they said.

The success of natural methods

The experts said that the use of “modern natural methods promotes marital autonomy; it is effective, environmentally friendly, and healthy,” and they highlighted that over the years their development has presented “increasingly better effectiveness rates, with the help of smartphone applications that include symptom-thermal algorithms with individual teaching and with the support of centers that promote them worldwide with more success and professionalism.”

After noting that those who work in health and family care with natural methods, are accompanying “the grandchildren of the first users of oral contraceptives,” the experts pointed out that “the pastoral approaches proposed by the previously mentioned working group are not new, and have been applied in some places for 60 years, probably because they did not believe in [Humanae Vitae] or because they did not know how to help married couples in other ways or were overwhelmed by the influence that Big Pharma had on the media and on health workers.”

“Now we hear very different voices in our daily practice. Young women — mostly nonbelievers —- are sad, even angry, because they were never told they could live without contraception. Sometimes they have even had to go through an abortion, simply because they blindly trusted those contraceptives,” they lamented.

After discovering the natural methods, they said, the young women “feel good as women again; they feel truly emancipated for the first time, connected to their bodies and sexuality.”

These young women, they continued, “no longer want a pastor who assumes that the ‘ideal’ is not for them, who approves of contraception, minimizes abortion, and considers divorce inevitable. The pastoral approaches that have been applied in many places over the years [have] lost meaning for them because they have endured their physical and psychological consequences. They want to fulfill the dream that the Church has maintained for centuries.”

“Instead of continuing to live in the tow of false hopes of the 60s that are old and have failed, the Church can embrace with more strength the experience and advances achieved by those who work in this field: to have a renewed pastoral role; be a hopeful sign for a youth hungry for the Truth; and who want to live to the fullest their projects as couples,” they said.

For the experts, applying the law of gradualness to family planning “would mean proposing NFP to those who want to space their pregnancies and, if difficulties arise, accompanying them while they resolve their problems so that they can live like others the good news proclaimed by the Church.”

“On the contrary, the gradualism of the law and these ‘new’ proposals would be tantamount to telling them: ‘This ideal is not for you. In your circumstances, use condoms or other contraceptives,’” they said.

The experts also highlighted the need for “a greater commitment so that lay people, health professionals, and universities with a Christian inspiration do more, much more, to facilitate and improve the care of these couples.”

“It is time to abandon the failed paradigms of the sexual revolution,” they pointed out, and stressed that “it is time for the Church to develop a true and renewed pastoral care that is sustainable, following an integral ecology, centered on free and responsible men and women.”

“The Church’s teaching is healthy and promotes public health,” they said, stressing that natural methods favor “dialogue in marriage and respect for the other, in addition to strengthening the couple’s bonds and goals.”

“When they come from love, they increase true love; when they come from freedom, they increase freedom. Our experience and science confirm that it is possible to follow and apply the teachings of the Catholic Church and accompany couples in their specific situations without departing from the teachings of Humanae Vitae,” they concluded.

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

Andrea Bocelli to sing in St. Peter’s Square this Sunday

Andrea Bocelli / Jakub Janecki / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rome Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Andrea Bocelli will sing at the Vatican this Sunday as a special guest for the inauguration of a new light display on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Italian tenor is scheduled to perform on Oct. 2 a song from his new album, set to be released at the end of October.

The performance at 8 p.m. will kick off a two-week nightly video display at the Vatican. From Oct. 2 to Oct. 16, an eight-minute video, “Follow Me: The Life of St. Peter,” will be projected onto the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The video tells the story of the Church’s first pope using video renderings of Renaissance artwork found in the Vatican Museums and inside the basilica. 

It will be shown in Italian with English subtitles on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica every 15 minutes between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. each night during the first two weeks of October.

According to a press release from the Vatican, Bocelli is slated to sing “The First Noël” from his new album A Family Christmas and other songs.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, will also speak at the opening night, along with Italian actor Flavio Insinna and TV presenter Milly Carlucci.

It will not be the first time Bocelli has performed at the Vatican. The internationally renowned artist sang “Ave Maria” and “Panis Angelicus” in St. Peter’s Square in July 2015 for an evening of prayer with Pope Francis.

He also led a children’s choir from Haiti in a surprise performance at the end of one of the pope’s Wednesday audiences in August 2017.

Bocelli performed the hymn for the Great Jubilee of 2000 for St. John Paul II and joined Benedict XVI and 300,000 young Catholics pilgrims in Loreto, Italy, in 2007.

7 things to know about Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s likely new Catholic prime minister

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), speaks at a press conference at the party electoral headquarters overnight on Sept. 26, 2022. in Rome. Italy’s national elections on Sept. 25 saw voters poised to elect Meloni, a Catholic mother, as the country's first female prime minister. / Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Italy’s national elections on Sept. 25 ended with Giorgia Meloni, a Catholic mother, poised to become the country’s first female prime minister. 

In the snap elections — called after former prime minister Mario Draghi’s unity government collapsed due to economic and military tensions — Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party captured the most votes at around 26%, skyrocketing from a roughly 4% share four years ago. 

Before and amid her party’s electoral victory, Meloni’s views have been described in the media as “far-right” and even as “fascist.” Here’s what you need to know about her:

She’s not the prime minister yet.

It’s worth noting that although Meloni’s party garnered the most votes in the recent election, it’s not yet certain that she will be Italy’s prime minister. 

It is up to Italian President Sergio Mattarella to nominate someone from the winning coalition as prime minister, a process that could take several weeks. The nominee is likely to be Meloni, who will then be tasked with assembling a majority in Parliament. Brothers of Italy was the leading party in a center-right coalition that now must form an alliance to govern. 

Meloni comes from a working-class Roman background. She worked various jobs, including as a waitress and as a nanny, before becoming a full-time politician. In 2008, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appointed her the country’s minister for youth, the youngest person to be appointed to that position. 

She made her faith a major part of her campaign.

Meloni has described herself in speeches as a Christian and has publicly expressed her admiration for St. John Paul II. She keeps a photo of John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta on her desk and has expressed a desire to meet Pope Francis in person — a virtual certainty when and if she becomes prime minister. 

“I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian, and you can’t take that away from me,” Meloni said in a speech in 2019. 

Meloni — who was raised by a single mother in Rome — now has a daughter with her partner Andrea Giambruno, though the two have never married. 

She supports several pro-life and pro-family policies.

In a speech to the Vox party in Spain earlier this year, Meloni summarized her pro-life and pro-family platform: “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death.”

In Italy, abortion is legal through the first 90 days of pregnancy, with exceptions after that point for fetal anomalies and risks to the mother’s life. Access to legal abortions is limited, however, due to widespread opposition from Italian doctors — 68.4% as of 2017, according to the Italian Ministry of Health — who oppose performing abortions due to conscience objections. 

Meloni has not said she will attempt to change Italy’s abortion laws. She has, however, proposed pro-life and family policies to encourage motherhood, including free child-care services. She has cited Italy’s extremely low birth rate as a problem.

“I want our families to have children,” she said in a speech to supporters in Milan earlier this month. 

She has committed to opposing LGBTQ policies and gender ideology.  

Meloni has made her views against same-sex unions widely known, referring to LGBTQ content as “woke ideology” and promising to continue opposing policies allowing homosexual couples to adopt or have children through surrogacy. 

Italy has legalized same-sex civil unions but it does not afford them the same legal protections as it does marriages. Surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are banned for same-sex couples, for example, who must travel outside the country for such procedures. Meloni proposed an amendment in 2018 to extend the surrogacy ban to same-sex couples who seek it abroad, which was not approved.

The amendment called surrogacy an “example of the commercialization of the female body and of the very children who are born through such practices, who are treated like commodities.”

Meloni said earlier this year that her opposition to such policies is not because she is “homophobic” but that she believes every child has the right to have a mother and a father for “stability.” 

She cited her personal experience growing up in a single-parent home, saying, “I lived [in] a family condition that [made] me see this.”

Meloni is strongly against illegal immigration.

Meloni has made it clear that she opposes the practice of migrants sailing from places such as North Africa to the Italian shore. In August, Meloni posted a video on social media saying she would introduce a naval blockade to patrol the Mediterranean and return migrants to their countries of origin, NPR reported. 

Meloni’s anti-immigration stance puts her somewhat at odds with Pope Francis, who has frequently spoken about the need to welcome migrants and refugees. 

Meloni is a Eurosceptic, and supports Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Meloni has been critical of the European Union (EU), saying her first priority is to defend Italy’s national interests.

“We want a different Italian attitude on the international stage, for example in dealing with the European Commission,” Meloni said in an interview with Reuters this month on her party’s Eurosceptic views.

Still, Meloni has taken pains to assure world leaders that Italy would not leave the EU. 

“This does not mean that we want to destroy Europe, that we want to leave Europe, that we want to do crazy things,” she said. “It simply means explaining that the defense of the national interest is important to us as it is for the French and for the Germans.”

Since Russia’s invasion in February, Meloni has come out as a strong defender of Ukraine, promising to continue supplying arms to the country.

Meloni has also taken a hardline stance against China and called on Italian athletes to boycott Beijing in the 2008 Olympics.

She has rejected the “fascist” and “far-right” labels often attributed to her.

Meloni has been branded as “far-right” and “fascist” by media outlets, pro-abortion and LGBTQ activists, and world leaders — a label she has rejected. 

“Everything that defines us is now an enemy for those who would no longer like us to have an identity,” Meloni said in a widely shared speech on Sept. 26. “Like it or not … we will defend God, country, and family.” 

In an interview with Reuters last month, she dismissed any suggestion that her party was nostalgic for the fascist era and distanced herself from comments she made in 1996, as a teenager, which some critics took as a praising Benito Mussolini. 

Meloni has received a warm welcome from other conservative European leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who shares her traditional family views and immigration policy.

A handful of Catholic leaders and others voice support for Cardinal Zen as his trial begins

null / Screenshot from livestream of Mass

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

As Cardinal Joseph Zen begins his trial in Hong Kong, a number of Catholic leaders and human rights activists have come out with statements of support for the 90-year-old bishop emeritus.

Zen and five others are charged with failing to register properly a fund that provided legal aid to pro-democracy protesters. An outspoken critic of Beijing’s communist regime, Zen served as a trustee of the “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” which helped pay legal and medical bills for protesters arrested and hurt during the 2019 demonstrations in Hong Kong.

These are the Catholic leaders, scholars, and human rights activists who have publicly expressed their solidarity with Zen as his trial commences:

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, wrote in support of Zen in Avvenire Sept. 23.

“Cardinal Zen is a ‘man of God’; at times intemperate, but submissive to the love of Christ, who wanted him to be his priest, deeply in love, like Don Bosco, with youth,” Filoni wrote.

He concluded his statement, which he called “a testimony to the truth,” by saying: “Cardinal Zen is not to be condemned. Hong Kong, China, and the Church have a devoted son in him, not to be ashamed of.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, made an appeal for prayers on Twitter on Sept. 19 as Zen’s trial was scheduled to begin (it was postponed because the judge contracted COVID-19):

“Today be sure to remember our brother in faith, 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, who is on trial in China, and also the Church in China, which is regularly attacked and restricted by the government. And pray for Christians everywhere who are being persecuted for their faith,” he wrote.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, wrote on Sept. 18:

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco shared his prayer for Zen on Twitter on Sept. 26:

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan, offered his prayers on Twitter Sept. 26:

On Sept. 1, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, shared his disappointment that Zen was not present at the meeting of the College of Cardinals in August.

“Perhaps the Church should be freer and less bound to power-based, worldly logic, consequently freer to intervene and, if necessary, to criticize those politicians who end up suppressing human rights. In this case, I wonder why not criticize Beijing,” Müeller said.

“Zen is a symbol and he was arrested on a pretext, he did nothing, he is an influential, courageous, and much-feared figure by the government,” he said. “He is over 80 years old and we have left him all alone.”

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), offered his support shortly after Zen’s arrest in May:

In a statement, he wrote: “My brother Cardinal, His Eminence Joseph Zen, was arrested and faces charges simply because he served as a trustee of a fund which provided legal aid to activists facing court cases. In any system where the rule of law exists, providing assistance to help people facing prosecution meet their legal fees is a proper and accepted right. How can it be a crime to help accused persons have legal defense and representation?”

Words of support and criticism of communist Beijing came from scholars, human rights activists and those who have fought for religious freedom around the world. 

Father Benedict Kiely, founder of Nasarean.org, shared his assessment of Zen’s trial with CNA:  

“I would say that Cardinal Zen joins a long list of ‘white martyrs’ — those who suffer for the faith. Often, like Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty in Hungary, they are abandoned by the Church that should be defending them. Cardinal Zen is a fighter for freedom and religious liberty — and a great inspiration for all those who work for religious freedom. I fear the Church in Hong Kong, like in mainland China, is facing a time of deeper struggle and persecution.” 

Human rights advocate David Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, posted on Twitter on Sept. 26: 

“As Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng, and others stand trial in Hong Kong recall how the CCP arrested and imprisoned Shanghai’s Bishop Kung... same old CCP, same old kangaroo courts, hatred of dissent. And the same courage in response.”

Benedict Rogers, the founder of Hong Kong Watch, wrote on Twitter Sept. 26:

And Paul Marshall, the director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team, told CNA that Zen’s trial confirms that Beijing is cracking down on dissent:

“The prosecution and trial of 90-year-old Cardinal Zen for peacefully raising funds shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government will go to crush any vestiges of dissent and free religion in Hong Kong or the mainland. It further undercuts China’s 1997 promise of ‘one country, two systems’ when Hong Kong was returned to its rule and shows the government cannot be trusted to keep its agreements.”

Cardinal Arinze explains why Belgian bishops can’t bless same-sex couples

Cardinal Francis Arinze. / Padre Mimmo Spatuzzi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Belgian bishops’ introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples has drawn rebuke from Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former head of the Vatican’s liturgy office. 

The cardinal said Belgium’s bishops have taken an erroneous and pastorally flawed approach.

“Human beings have no power to change the order established by God the Creator,” Arinze said in a Sept. 24 message included in the email newsletter of Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan.

“Even if the aim is to be pastorally helpful to homosexual couples, this is an error on the part of the bishops,” Arinze said.

The Nigerian-born cardinal, now 89 years old, served as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship from 2002 to 2008. Even in retirement, the cardinal has responded to the Belgian Catholic bishops’ open defiance of the Vatican and Catholic teaching.

On Sept. 20 Belgium’s bishops announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses. The bishops of Flanders also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions for the Flemish-speaking parts of the bilingual country.

Arinze criticized the bishops’ statement, citing its title “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons: for a welcoming Church that excludes no one.”

The cardinal said their approach is not pastoral and ignores Catholic teaching.

“Holy Scripture presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” he said, adding that Church tradition, as represented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

“While persons with homosexual inclination are to be respected and not unjustly discriminated against, they, like every Christian and indeed every human being, are called to chastity,” Arinze said. He cited Christ’s words in Matthew 5:8: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He also cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual persons are “called to chastity.”

“By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,” says the Catechism, as quoted by Arinze.

The cardinal also referred to a recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, though he did not go into detail.

The CDF addressed the question on March 15, 2021. The congregation said that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex relationships. The Vatican statement was issued with the approval of Pope Francis.

The CDF statement made clear that blessings can be given “to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

“(T)he Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him ‘we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit,’” the congregation said. “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.’”

The CDF statement came amid an effort in the Church in Germany to push for blessings of same-sex unions. The statement sparked protests and open defiance in the German-speaking Catholic world. German priests and pastoral workers also openly defied the Vatican and conducted blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

LGBT advocates who believe Catholic teaching can and should change are active in the U.S.

In 2015, the American dissenting Catholic groups Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry called for the blessings of same-sex unions as marriages within the Church.

Amid outcry, FBI disputes account of raid at pro-life Catholic family’s home

An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The FBI is disputing published accounts of a “SWAT” raid on a pro-life Catholic family’s home in Pennsylvania last week.

The alleged circumstances of the Sept. 23 arrest of Mark Houck, a 48-year-old father of seven, have led to a public outcry about what many view as an unnecessarily aggressive show of force.

Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA that a large contingent of federal law enforcement officials arrived early that morning outside the family’s home in Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” she said.

“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.

On Monday the FBI disputed her account.

“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said in a statement.

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.

An FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

Brian Middleton, who has acted as the Houck family’s spokesperson, responded to the FBI’s statement.

“They’re turning this into a technical conversation about the representation of a woman who on Friday morning was awakened by a bunch of FBI agents armed with automatic weapons, some of them with body armor … pointing automatic weapons at her and her husband when they arrived in front of their children,” Middleton told CNA.

“This is absurd. If they’re not going to tell us the number, what they’re trying to do is make it look as if the Houcks aren’t telling the truth,” he said. “This isn’t a math contest. The issue is excessive force for the crime of maybe pushing another person.”

Middleton noted that publicist Tom Ciesieka will be taking over the role of family spokesman.

Altercation on video

Mark Houck, the founder and co-president of a men’s spiritual formation apostolate called The King’s Men, faces the possibility of 11 years in prison if convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The law carries stiff penalties for those who engage in “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice.

A federal indictment accuses Houck of twice assaulting a Planned Parenthood client escort, identified in the document as “B.L.,” outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 23, 2021.

Houck regularly prays the rosary, hands out literature, and “does some sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic, his wife told CNA.

Mark Houck maintains that he pushed the clinic escort away from Houck’s then 12-year-old son because the man was verbally harassing the boy, Middleton told CNA.

The man fell down but was not seriously hurt, Middleton said, requiring only “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family
Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family

Middleton said the altercation was captured on camera, though he said Sunday that the Houcks were still trying to locate the video.

Middleton said after local authorities declined to press charges, the escort pressed charges in Philadelphia municipal court, but the case was dismissed when the man repeatedly failed to show up for court dates.

As of Monday afternoon, an online fund drive for the Houck family has raised more than $191,000.

Defended by Thomas More Society

Houck’s arraignment on the charges is scheduled for Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia. In a press release issued Monday, the Thomas More Society nonprofit legal firm announced it is representing Houck.

The law firm said one-on-one altercations like the one involving Houck do not fall under the federal FACE Act, citing a decision in a similar case Thomas More lawyers won in June 2019 on behalf of a sidewalk counselor.

“This case is being brought solely to intimidate people of faith and pro-life Americans,” Peter Breen, a Thomas More vice president and senior counselor, said in a statement. “Mark Houck is innocent of these lawless charges, and we intend to prove that in court.”

The law firm said it informed the Department of Justice in June that if Houck were charged he would turn himself in voluntarily.

“Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make an unnecessary show of potentially deadly force, sending 20 heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn this past Friday,” Breen said.

“In threatening form, after nearly breaking down the family’s front door, at least five agents pointed guns at Mark’s head and arrested him in front of his wife and seven young children, who were terrified that their husband and father would be shot dead before their eyes.”

Accounts of how Houck was taken into custody have been met with sharp criticism from GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

“I want to know from Merrick Garland directly why Biden’s DOJ is arresting Catholic protestors like terrorists — complete with SWAT-style tactics — while letting actual terrorist acts like firebombings go unpunished,” Hawley said in a tweet.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, wrote a letter to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary, imploring him to “get to the bottom of this duplicity.” 

“I am not in a position to judge the veracity of the account offered by the FBI or Houck. But it surely seems that the FBI overreacted in its handling of this matter. Houck had seven children at home as the SWAT team pounded on his door, showing up fully armored, yelling at him to open it,” Donohue wrote.

“This kind of overreaction for a minor infraction of the law is deeply troubling, and it becomes even more troubling when paired with the underreaction by the Department of Justice when the pro-life side is targeted,” the letter said.

Donohue wrote in June to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to “immediately deploy the full resources of the Department of Justice to apprehend and prosecute domestic terrorists who have recently attacked Catholic individuals, vandalized Catholic churches, and torched Catholic-operated crisis pregnancy centers.”

“Not only did I not receive a response from the attorney general, there have been no news stories on SWAT teams crashing the homes of abortion-rights terrorists,” Donohue said in the letter to Grassley.

Authorities reach agreement to reopen Catholic chapel at Colombian airport

The Catholic chapel in El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Colombia. The airport announced Aug. 26, 2022, that the space would be modified and used as a place “where all religions will be welcome.” / Photo credit: Pexels

Denver Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic chapel that had been closed at the El Dorado International Airport will reopen after an agreement was reached between Church authorities in Colombia and the administrators of the air terminal, the bishop of Fontibón, Juan Vicente Córdoba, announced Sept. 22.

OPAIN, the management company that operates the airport located in Fontibón, a Bogotá suburb, announced Aug. 26 that the oratory that used to function as a Catholic chapel was going to be converted into a “neutral” place of worship.

The Diocese of Fontibón, which served the chapel, was forced to remove all liturgical furnishings and symbols and vacate the premises.

Representatives of the Catholic Church as well as politicians and civil society leaders criticized the decision. Catholics opposing the move organized a march to the airport and the recitation of the rosary outside the closed chapel to demand it be reopened.

At the time, Córdoba pointed out in a video that the diocese had an agreement with OPAIN to operate the chapel until 2037. The bishop  disclosed that it was closed after the Government Secretariat of the Bogotá Mayor’s Office requested and notified OPAIN “to get the Catholic Church out of there and apportion it to all religions.”

Now, almost a month later, Córdoba confirmed that the Catholic oratory will remain there and that a place will be opened for other religions.

The agreement was reached after a meeting between the president of the board of directors of OPAIN, Mauricio Ossa, and his work team, and Córdoba and the president of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Luis José Rueda of Bogotá.

In his statement, the bishop of Fontibón said that “after calmly, openly, clearly, and humbly analyzing everything related to the topic of the Catholic Oratory of El Dorado Airport, we reached a very good agreement for the glory of God and the good of the citizens.”

“After hearing from each other the necessary clarifications,” OPAIN decided to continue to lease free of charge to the Diocese of Fontibón “the El Dorado Airport Catholic Oratory and the Air Bridge Oratory,” the prelate explained.

Córdoba also announced that an interreligious room will be built for other creeds. The prelate expressed his gratitude for the solidarity of Catholics and non-Catholics.

The Catholic chapel will open in the next few days, as the place is currently undergoing renovations.

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