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Catholic adoption agency in Michigan wins settlement allowing it to operate in accord with the faith

Chad and Melissa Buck. Image via Becket Fund. / null

Lansing, Mich., Jan 25, 2022 / 14:34 pm (CNA).

A Catholic adoption agency in Michigan reached a settlement with the state on Tuesday which will allow the agency to continue to place children in homes in a manner consistent with its Catholic identity. 

A 2019 requirement imposed by Michigan that adoption agencies must match children with same-sex couples in order to receive state funding had meant the possible closure of St. Vincent Catholic Charities, one of the oldest adoption and foster care agencies in the state.

“The teaching of the Catholic Church and, hence, the adoption policy of Saint Vincent is rooted in both faith and reason: That children, on the whole, do best in life when they grow up with a mom and dad who are married to each other,” said Rich Budd, Director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Lansing. 

“To have punished or proscribed that common-sense approach by law would have cruelly prevented Saint Vincent from being of service to couples who yearn for children and to vulnerable children who yearn for parents – hence we celebrate today’s agreement.”

Legal group Becket had in 2019 filed a lawsuit on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities as well as people who have benefitted from their work: Shamber Flore, a former foster child placed with a family by St. Vincent, and Melissa and Chad Buck, a married couple who adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent.

In a settlement submitted to U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker for approval Jan. 25, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services agreed not to take any action against St. Vincent, and also agreed to pay $550,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to Becket. 

The settlement comes after a major ruling from the Supreme Court last year in which the court found that the city of Philadelphia had violated a Catholic adoption agency’s First Amendment rights by refusing to work with the agency unless it agreed to place children with same-sex couples. 

The Bucks expressed elation at the state’s decision. 

“We are overjoyed that the State of Michigan has now recognized the important role religious adoption and foster care agencies like Saint Vincent Catholic Charities play in helping children find loving homes,” said Melissa Buck. 

“We are relieved to know that Saint Vincent, in partnership with the State of Michigan, can now, finally, get back to placing vulnerable children with families like ours without the threat of closure.”

In 2018 Becket said St. Vincent Catholic Charities found more new foster families than almost 90 percent of other agencies within its service district, with particular success in finding homes for hard-to-place children such as those with special needs, larger sibling groups, or older children.

“Today's settlement is good news for heroic foster families and the faith-based agencies that partner with them to serve kids,” said Will Bloomfield, General Counsel for the Diocese of Lansing, in a Tuesday statement.

“The Supreme Court's unanimous decision last year was clear: faith-based foster agencies play an important role and shouldn't be excluded from serving children and families.”

Pope Francis: ‘The Lord wants us to trust one another’

Pope Francis presides at the celebration of Second Vespers of the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, Jan. 25, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Tuesday that God wants Christians to trust one another, “despite the errors of the past and our mutual wounds,” as he marked the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The pope was preaching on Jan. 25 in Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, which contains the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle, in the presence of Orthodox and Anglican leaders.

“On our journey of fellowship, may we never fail to hear [Jesus’] words of encouragement: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Matthew 28:5.10),” he said.

“Let us not fear to put our brothers and sisters ahead of our own fears! The Lord wants us to trust one another and to journey together, despite our failings and our sins, despite the errors of the past and our mutual wounds.”

The live-streamed ceremony fell on the last day of the 55th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, dedicated to the theme “We saw a star in the East, and we came to worship him,” inspired by Matthew 2:2.

At the start of the service, the Second Vespers of the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul, the pope venerated the saint’s tomb, with Metropolitan Polykarpos, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Archbishop Ian Ernest, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative to the Holy See and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Pope Francis began his homily by thanking the two men for their presence. He also greeted students from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Switzerland and Anglican students from Nashotah, Wisconsin.

He reflected on the example of the Magi — also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings — who came with gifts to worship the Child Jesus shortly after his birth.

“Dear brothers and sisters, the decisive stage of the journey towards full communion requires ever more intense prayer, it requires worship, the worship of God,” the pope said.

“The Magi, however, remind us that worship demands something else of us: first, we must fall to our knees. That is the way: bending low, setting aside our own pretenses in order to make the Lord alone the center of everything. How many times has pride proved the real obstacle to communion!”

“The Magi had the courage to leave behind their prestige and reputation in order to humble themselves in the lowly house of Bethlehem; and as a result, they found themselves “overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2:10).”

“To humble ourselves, to leave certain things behind, to simplify our lives: this evening, let us ask God for that courage, the courage of humility, the one way to come to worship God in the same house, around the same altar.”

At the end of Vespers, before the Apostolic Blessing, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, addressed the pope.

He referred to Paul Couturier, a French priest who helped to establish the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Koch said: “The ecumenical movement, as Paul Couturier, the great protagonist of spiritual ecumenism, so beautifully put it, is like an invisible monastery where Christians of different Churches in many countries and continents pray together for the unity of the Church.”

“This evening we too participate in this invisible monastery, gathering together with you, Holy Father, to pray and adore the Child in Bethlehem.”

“We thank you most sincerely, Holy Father, for your constant encouragement to tread the path of unity and reconciliation.”

The Swiss cardinal thanked the pope especially for proclaiming St. Irenaeus of Lyon a Doctor of the Church with the title ‘“Doctor unitatis.”

“Your decision is also a promising sign for ecumenism,” he said.

Pope Francis honors newly beatified El Salvador martyrs for their ‘heroic example’

Four martyrs are beatified at a Mass in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Jan. 22, 2022. / Camilo Freedman/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images.

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has commended the “heroic example” of four martyrs killed in the 1970s and 1980s who were recently beatified in El Salvador.

Franciscan Father Cosme Spessotto, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, and two lay companions were declared blessed at a beatification Mass in San Salvador on Jan. 22.

“They stood by the poor, bearing witness to the Gospel, truth, and justice even to the point of shedding their blood,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address the following day.

“May their heroic example inspire in everyone the desire to be courageous workers of fraternity and peace.”

Blessed Cosme Spessotto was shot by a machine gun while kneeling in a pew near the tabernacle on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on June 14, 1980.

The Franciscan priest, who had come to El Salvador as a missionary from Italy, had offered Mass earlier that evening for a university student who had been killed by the military. He remained in the empty church in prayer when two people entered the parish and killed him.

According to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Spessotto did not support either the left-wing guerillas or the right-wing paramilitary groups that were clashing in El Salvador at that time, but sought dialogue and reconciliation between the parties and tried to help the weakest and the poor.

Despite this, Spessotto had received death threats. His superiors suggested that he leave El Salvador, but he expressed a desire to stay.

Spessotto wrote: “To die a martyr would be a grace I do not deserve. To wash away all my sins, faults, and weaknesses with the blood shed for Christ would be a free gift from the Lord for me. As of now I forgive and pray for the conversion of the authors of my death."

Born in 1923 in the northern Italian province of Treviso, Spessotto entered the minor seminary at the age of 12 and made his religious profession as a Franciscan as Europe was engulfed in World War II in 1940.

After he was ordained a priest in 1948, he expressed a desire to his superiors to be sent to China as a missionary but was sent instead to El Salvador in 1950.

He built a parish church in San Juan Nonualco, where he served as a missionary for 30 years before he was martyred at the age of 57.

The Vatican decree on his martyrdom was published on May 26, 2020.

The three other beatified martyrs were all born in El Salvador.

Father Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest and professor of pastoral theology educated in Europe, spoke out boldly to condemn the repressive action of the military and the ruling oligarchy against the poor and the marginalized, according to the Vatican.

He was driving back with five other people in the car on March 12, 1977, from a Mass offered as part of a novena in preparation for the feast of St. Joseph, when the vehicle was attacked by armed men.

The priest was instantly killed, along with a 16-year-old boy named Nelson Rutilio Lemus, who often assisted at Mass, and Manuel Solórzano, a 72-year-old catechist and father of 10.

St. Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador at the time, was deeply shaken by the assassination and personally presided over the funeral Mass.

“In the motivation of love, there cannot remain absent justice, there can be no true peace and true love on the basis of injustice, violence, intrigue,” Romero said, according to the Vatican’s martyrdom decree.

“True love is what brought Rutilio Grande to his death together with two farmers. This is how he loved the Church, he died with them, and with them he presented himself to the transcendence of heaven.”

About 5,000 people, 25 bishops, and 600 priests were present at the beatification Mass in San Salvador’s Plaza del Divino Salvador del Mundo, according to Suyapa Medios.

Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, an auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, gave the homily at the Mass.

"Our martyrs can help us recover memory and hope so that we do not give up the dream of a reconciled and peaceful country, a country as our God wants it: just, fraternal, and supportive,” the cardinal said, according to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

Vatican finance trial: Prosecutors again charge Cardinal Becciu with subornation of perjury

President of the Vatican City State Tribunal Giuseppe Pignatone / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Prosecutors in the Vatican’s ongoing financial fraud trial have requested subpoenas for four defendants who were excluded from the trial late last year, and will reintroduce a charge of subornation of perjury against Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

The Jan. 25 hearing was the latest in the Vatican’s historic trial to prosecute Vatican collaborators and officials in connection to the Secretariat of State’s investment in a London property for 350 million euros ($396 million).

The trial, which began in July 2021 with 10 defendants, had encountered procedural problems. In October, the court ruled that the office of the prosecutor — called the Promoter of Justice — needed to re-do part of the investigation into several of the defendants.

Meanwhile, the trial had proceeded with six defendants, including Becciu, the highest-ranking cleric to be tried by the tribunal of Vatican City State in recent history.

On the morning of Jan. 25, the Promoter of Justice submitted paperwork for the re-indictment of Raffaele Mincione, Fabrizio Tirabassi, Nicola Squillace, and Msgr. Mauro Carlino.

The charge of embezzlement against Tommaso Di Ruzza, the former director of the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog, has been dropped.

Becciu, who for the first time was not present in the courtroom during a hearing, will again be charged with subornation of perjury, the crime of persuading a person to commit perjury.

Becciu is also charged with embezzlement and abuse of office. He has vigorously denied all the charges.

The start of Tuesday’s hearing was delayed for over two hours due to the filing of the requests for subpoenas.

Court President Giuseppe Pignatone said at the 40-minute hearing that the next court date, scheduled for Feb. 18, would be the first with the parallel investigations reunited into one trial.

Pignatone is also expected to give his decision on Feb. 18 regarding objections presented by defense lawyers on Tuesday.

Becciu’s lawyer is still calling for the trial to be thrown out, and complained on Tuesday that out of 255 computer files seized by prosecutors, only 16 have been released for examination by defense lawyers. And of those 16, the lawyers said, none would qualify as “forensic copies.”

Defense lawyer Fabio Viglione also asked the court to nullify the charges because, he said, in questions to star witness Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, prosecutors insinuated there was an immoral relationship between Becciu and another defendant, Cecilia Marogna.

According to Viglione, the defendant has the right not to be questioned on matters of morality.

Judge Pignatone asked the promoter of justice to confer with the defense attorneys on what documents they were missing by Jan. 31.

Munich abuse report: Cardinal Wetter apologizes for mishandling case

Cardinal Friedrich Wetter. / Whuke via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0 de).

Munich, Germany, Jan 25, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1982 to 2007, apologized on Tuesday for mishandling an abuse case highlighted in a more than 1,000-page report on the archdiocese in southern Germany.

In a statement issued on Jan. 25, the 93-year-old cardinal said he was filled “with shame and sadness” that he had not fulfilled his duty “to protect children and young people to the necessary extent” in the case of a cleric identified in the German media only as “Priest H.”

Priest H. came to the archdiocese as an already identified abuser, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. He was permitted to engage in pastoral ministry and committed further offences.

“Through theology and canon law, powers in the Catholic Church are concentrated almost exclusively on the local bishop. This reflects a personal responsibility that cannot be delegated,” Wetter said.

“For my part in the inadequate handling of the H. case, but also of other reports and cases of abuse during my time in office, I must therefore also accept personal responsibility and I apologize.”

The report on the handling of abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, published on Jan. 20, accused the emeritus archbishop of mishandling 21 cases in his more than 24 years in charge.

The cardinal, who was interviewed for the report by the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, took issue with parts of the study.

He said: “In the press I am accused of ‘misconduct in 21 cases.’ In fact, I was questioned by the law firm about 21 people. I gave my answer to each person.”

“As a result, the following facts emerged for me: In 6 cases, there was no abuse. In 8 cases, abuse was committed, but not during my term of office and/or my area of responsibility. Abuse in 2 cases was committed by religious who were immediately sent back to their respective orders.”

“1 case involved a priest who had behaved incorrectly and uploaded child pornography on his computer. I suspended him immediately. In 1 case, I learned of the abuse at the end of my tenure. In this case, charges were filed. In one case, I did not learn of any abuse that had taken place. I only became aware of it through the investigation. One name was completely unknown to me.”

“These are the facts of the 21 cases, which in no way provide blanket proof of ‘misconduct in 21 cases.’”

Wetter succeeded the future Benedict XVI, who was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he led the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982. The report accused Benedict of mishandling four cases, including that of Priest H., who arrived in the archdiocese in 1980.

The 94-year-old pope emeritus, who strongly denies cover-up allegations, sent 82 pages of observations to researchers compiling the report.

He apologized on Jan. 24 for mistakenly saying that he did not attend a disputed meeting where the transfer of Priest H. to the Munich archdiocese was discussed.

Wetter was succeeded by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who was accused of mishandling two cases by investigators.

Cardinal Nichols: Traditional rite confirmations no longer permitted

Cardinal Vincent Nichols celebrates a Pontifical Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament at Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane, London, Sept. 11, 2021. / Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

London, England, Jan 25, 2022 / 06:55 am (CNA).

English Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said that confirmations in the traditional rite are no longer permitted in the Archdiocese of Westminster.

In a Jan. 20 letter to the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, the cardinal noted that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship recently issued a ruling on the topic.

The document, known as the “Responsa ad dubia,” answered questions about the application of Pope Francis’ 2021 motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which placed tight restrictions on the celebration of Traditional Latin Masses.

Responding to a Dec. 14 letter from the Latin Mass Society inquiring about confirmations in the traditional rite, the archbishop of Westminster wrote: “I apologize for the delay but I have wanted to absorb the implications of the ‘Responsa ad dubia’ issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship ...”

“One of the questions posed to the Congregation concerned the celebrations of sacraments according to the pre-Vatican forms. The Response given by the Congregation was negative. Indeed, all use of the pre-Conciliar Pontificale is now prohibited. This means that Confirmation must be celebrated using the form approved for the whole Latin Church on Aug. 15, 1971.”

“We will, of course, continue to reflect on the provisions established by the Holy See in these matters and on the importance of the liturgical renewal to which we are being called as well as to the pastoral needs of the faithful.”

Nichols is the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales but signed the letter as the Archbishop of Westminster.

For almost 20 years, the Latin Mass Society (LMS) has organized annual confirmations in the traditional rite at St. James’s Catholic Church, Spanish Place, in central London. Westminster archdiocese has provided an auxiliary bishop for the ceremonies since 2004.

The LMS said that it understood that another scheduled traditional rite confirmation ceremony, involving Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England, had been canceled.

LMS chairman Joseph Shaw said: “The cessation of these celebrations implies the loss of much that the Bishops of England and Wales have sought, and achieved, in establishing a serene co-existence between the new and old liturgical forms.”

“Confirmation is above all a sacrament for young people and converts. It will cut off many from accessing it in a form ‘particularly suited to them’ (as Pope Benedict expressed it). Others will be driven to seek it outside the structures of the Church.”

Traditionis custodes, which entered into force on July 16, 2021, the day it was released, said that it is a bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize Traditional Latin Masses in his diocese.

The document made sweeping changes to Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which had acknowledged the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962 without having to seek their bishop’s permission.

Nichols told the clergy of Westminster archdiocese in July 2021 that he intended to grant faculties to priests seeking to celebrate Traditional Latin Masses as long as they fulfilled the conditions of Pope Francis’ motu proprio.

Correspondence about Traditionis custodes between Nichols and Archbishop Arthur Roche, the English prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, was published in November 2021.

The “Responsa ad dubia,” issued on Dec. 18, 2021, placed further limits on the use of pre-Vatican II liturgical books.

One of the questions it answered was whether it was possible, “according to the provisions of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, to celebrate the sacraments with the Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum which predate the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council.”

The Pontificale Romanum contains the rites and ceremonies usually performed by bishops and the Rituale Romanum is one of the official ritual books used by a priest or deacon for rites not found in the Roman Missal, which is used for Mass.

In its response, the Congregation for Divine Worship said: “After discernment, the diocesan bishop is authorized to grant permission to use only the Rituale Romanum (last editio typica 1952) and not the Pontificale Romanum which predate the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council.”

“This permission is to be granted only to canonically erected personal parishes which, according to the provisions of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, celebrate with the Missale Romanum [Roman Missal] of 1962.”

“It should be remembered that the formula for the Sacrament of Confirmation was changed for the entire Latin Church by St. Paul VI with the apostolic constitution Divinæ consortium naturæ (Aug. 15, 1971).”

Referring to observations by the LMS about the status of the “Responsa ad dubia” in canon law, Joseph Shaw urged Cardinal Nichols and his fellow bishops in England and Wales to review their stance.

“In light of the canon law guidance which we have published, which confirms that the recent Responsa ad dubia issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship, which appear to prohibit the use of the 1962 Pontificale, does not have the force of law, we call on His Eminence, Cardinal Nichols, and the Bishops of England and Wales, to reconsider their position, before real pastoral harm is done, and damage to the fabric of unity which will not easily be repaired,” he wrote.

NY auxiliary appointed by Pope Francis will be one of world’s youngest bishops

Bishop-elect Joseph A. Espaillat. / Screenshot from Centro Católico Carismático YouTube channel.

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 05:49 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed two new auxiliaries for the Archdiocese of New York, one of whom will be one of the world’s youngest bishops.

The Vatican announced on Jan. 25 that Father Joseph A. Espaillat and Father John S. Bonnici will be ordained as bishops.

Born on Dec. 27, 1976, Espaillat will be the youngest bishop in the United States once he is consecrated.

The 45-year-old is the director of the Hispanic Catholic Charismatic Renewal for New York archdiocese.

Espaillat launched a podcast and YouTube series called “Sainthood in the City” in 2021.

In a video promoting the launch, Espaillat, who also goes by Father J, said that the podcast would include discussions on faith, music, sports, fashion, and pop culture.

“We’re going to talk about Pop Smoke. We’re going to talk about Kanye. We’re going to talk about Kim Kardashian. We’re going to talk about everything under the sun, and Cardi B,” Espaillat said.

Bishop-elect Joseph A. Espaillat takes part in the podcast and YouTube series ‘Sainthood in the City.’. Screenshot from Centro Católico Carismático YouTube channel.
Bishop-elect Joseph A. Espaillat takes part in the podcast and YouTube series ‘Sainthood in the City.’. Screenshot from Centro Católico Carismático YouTube channel.

A featured speaker at Steubenville Youth Conferences, Espaillat says that he loves ministering the sacraments, playing softball and basketball, writing poetry and rapping.

He was ordained in 2003 and has served as the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish in the South Bronx since 2015.

Espaillat attended Cathedral Preparatory School in Manhattan before studying at Fordham University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 1998.

While in St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, Espaillat earned a Master of Divinity degree in Theology and a Master of Arts degree in Theology, specializing in Church history.

He has served as a director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of New York, a pastor at St. Peter’s parish in Yonkers, and as a parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Manhattan.

Bonnici, 56, has served as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York for 30 years.

He holds a doctorate from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington (1995) and a licentiate degree from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute (1992) in Rome, where he also studied at the Pontifical North American College and the Gregorian University (1987-1990) before his ordination.

Bonnici previously served as director of the archdiocese’s Respect Life Office for six years and as the pastor of St. Columba in Chester from 2008 to 2021.

He was born in New York on Feb. 17, 1965, and earned a Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and philosophy from St. John’s University in Queens, New York in 1987.

Bonnici’s most recent assignment was as pastor of St. Augustine parish and Saints John and Paul parish in Larchmont.

Bonnici and Espaillat’s episcopal ordinations will take place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on March 1.

The Archdiocese of New York has a total population of 6.2 million, 2.81 million of whom are Catholic. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has served as the archbishop of New York since 2009.

"Pope Francis has selected two outstanding priests, both experienced pastors, to serve the people of God of this archdiocese as auxiliary bishops," Dolan said in a statement on the archdiocese's website.

"I look forward to working even more closely with Bishop-elect Bonnici and Bishop-elect Espaillat, as they undertake this new role in their priesthood."

With the addition of Bonnici and Espaillat, there will be a total of five active auxiliary bishops serving the Archdiocese of New York.

The youngest bishop in the world is 40-year-old Bishop Cristian Dumitru Crişan, an auxiliary in Romania, according to Catholic-hierarchy.org.

Bishop Andriy Rabiy, an auxiliary bishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, is the current youngest bishop in the United States at the age of 46.

German Catholic bishops welcome initiative seeking change in Church teaching on sexuality

Bishop Helmut Dieser, chairman of the Synodal Way forum on ‘Living in Successful Relationships,’ welcomes the #OutInChurch campaign, Jan. 24, 2022. / Screenshot from Deutsche Bischofskonferenz YouTube channel.

Aachen, Germany, Jan 25, 2022 / 04:15 am (CNA).

German Catholic bishops on Monday welcomed an initiative that is calling for a change in Church teaching on sexuality and gender identity.

The initiative titled “#OutInChurch — For a church without fear,” launched on Jan. 24, appealed for the revision of what it described as “defamatory and outdated” expressions of Catholic doctrine, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In a seven-point list of demands, the organizers wrote: “Defamatory and outdated statements of Church doctrine on sexuality and gender need to be revised on the basis of theological and human-scientific findings.”

“This is of utmost relevance especially in view of worldwide Church responsibility for the human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons.”

The initiative, backed publicly by 125 people including priests, religion teachers, and Church employees, also appealed for blessings and “access to the sacraments” for same-sex couples.

The campaign — launched with a blaze of publicity in Germany, with an accompanying television program — was welcomed on behalf of the bishops’ conference by Bishop Helmut Dieser, chairman of the “Synodal Way” forum on “Living in Successful Relationships.”

The bishop of Aachen, western Germany, told reporters on Jan. 24 that the Synodal Way — a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss power, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women in the Church — was approaching the issues raised by the initiative in “a new way.”

He said: “No one should be discriminated against, or devalued, or criminalized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Because with the Synodal Way, we learn to understand more deeply that sexual orientation and gender identity are part of the person, and we have an image of the human being that tells us that the person is absolutely loved by God, and from this, we approach the topics of sexual orientation, identity, but also sexual fulfillment in a new way with the Synodal Way.”

“And I’m convinced that with the Synodal Way, especially in our forum that deals with these questions, we have the space to respond to these questions in a constructive way, so that precisely what this group that has now shown itself most wants, freedom from fear, is actually achieved.”

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, northern Germany, also welcomed the campaign.

He said: “I have respect for the people who confess their sexual orientation in this initiative. A Church in which people have to hide because of their sexual orientation cannot, in my opinion, be in the spirit of Jesus.”

“We are always called to authenticity and transparency before God and, of course, before each other. There must and should be no fear of this.”

He added: “This topic is also being discussed at the Synodal Way of the Catholic Church in Germany. That is where I am participating in the discussion. It should lead to a further development of the Church’s sexual morality and also of the Church’s labor law.”

The initiative is calling for an overhaul of employment laws in the Catholic Church in Germany, the country’s second-largest employer after the state.

“An open life according to one’s sexual orientation and gender identity, even in a partnership or civil marriage, must never be considered a breach of loyalty or a reason for dismissal,” reads one of its demands.

Heße’s comments were echoed by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, northwest Germany, who said that he appreciated the campaign as “a courageous step by 125 queer employees of the Catholic Church from all over the country.”

He added that the initiative called for a “long overdue debate” on Church labor law.

“Under labor law, the loyalty of Church employees is closely linked to their lifestyle. Individual arrangements are possible, and these are sought sensitively and to the best of our ability in our diocese,” he said.

“But individual solutions always create uncertainties. It is urgently necessary to find reliable solutions for all sides. The Synodal Way reform process is working on this.”

He said that the topic would be discussed at the next meeting of the Synodal Assembly, the Synodal Way’s supreme decision-making body, on Feb. 3-5.

“The basic message of the Church is God’s unconditional love for all people — in their diversity and uniqueness. This must also apply to all relationships, provided they are based on love and mutual respect,” he commented.

Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden-Meißen, eastern Germany, said that he was “very grateful” for the “impressive testimonies” gathered by the campaign.

Several German Catholic associations also expressed their support.

Priests and pastoral workers across Germany defied the Vatican in May 2021 by conducting blessing ceremonies attended by same-sex couples.

Organizers held a day of protest in response to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s declaration that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

The Vatican statement, issued with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world.

Several bishops expressed support for blessings of same-sex couples, while churches displayed LGBT pride flags, and a group of more than 200 theology professors signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.”

“This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

“These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

It adds: “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.”

Cardinal Czerny leads prayer service after Tonga volcano

Heavy ash fall is seen over Tonga, Jan. 17, 2022, several days after a volcanic eruption. / NZ Defence Force via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Rome, Italy, Jan 24, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Michael Czerny on Monday led a prayer service for Tonga, after an underwater volcanic eruption caused a devastating tsunami earlier this month.

“Tonga is a little known name, and for us it is a distant reality. Yet, those who suffer are never far from us who in Jesus recognize ourselves as ‘children always loved’ by the Father, called to share together with the human family a unique destiny, in the common home that is the earth,” Cardinal Czerny said Jan. 24 in Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Seen in satellite images from space, scientists have called the volcanic blast in the South Pacific on Jan. 15 the largest eruption in the world in three decades.

Some of the archipelago’s outlying islands were hit by 49-foot-high waves which destroyed homes, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 19.

Communications from Tonga were cut off after the eruption. Reuters has reported at least three known deaths from the tsunami waves.

“The majority of the population miraculously managed to avoid the worst as only three people lost their lives,” Czerny, 75, said during the prayer service. “However, the material damage is so enormous that it will take a long time to return to normal life. People have lost houses, plantations, machinery and materials for fishing and agriculture.”

“The government, the population, the Church and other entities are assessing the impact of this disaster in order to begin the work of reconstruction, inviting the international community to contribute,” he said.

The prayer service was hosted by the Catholic Sant’Egidio community. 

Cardinal Czerny serves as the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, pending the appointment of new leadership following the resignation of Cardinal Peter Turkson, 73, in December.

Czerny has been under-secretary of the dicastery’s Migrants and Refugees Section since 2017.

The prayer service included the reading of a passage from the 38th chapter of the Book of Job.

The chapter begins: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said: Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth?”

“In the passage we have heard, God speaks to Job from the storm, subjecting him to the pressure of the unexpected, the unexpected upheaval of atmospheric phenomena, and challenges him as a human being to measure himself against the fundamental questions of existence,” Czerny said.

“Instead of answering his questions, of throwing light on what for Job remains obscure and indecipherable, God widens the field of the unknown and increases the questions,” Czerny explained: “‘Who are you?’, ‘Where were you?’, ‘Can you?’, ‘Do you know?’. It challenges every obvious answer, every cliché, every pre-understanding and forces him to recognize his own inability to have answers and control over everything.”

Society, the cardinal said, has been living under two great illusions in recent decades.

“On the one hand, as Pope Francis reminded us in his prayer in St. Peter’s Square during the pandemic, we have deluded ourselves ‘to remain always healthy in a sick world,’ in a world wounded by predatory exploitation; on the other hand, we have also deluded ourselves that we are almost omnipotent, that we dominate nature, the world, as if it were our own work,” he said.

“In this sense,” Czerny said, “Job’s story can be very revealing for us, because it shows us how presumption in the face of reality, and therefore also in the face of God, is an attitude inherent in the human heart, even in the most just and religious.”

Pope Francis offered prayers for the people of Tonga during his weekly audience on Jan. 19. 

“I am spiritually close to all the afflicted people, imploring God for relief for their suffering. I invite everyone to join me in praying for these brothers and sisters,” he said.

NYC pro-abortion activists curse at churchgoers, beam 'God loves abortion' onto St. Patrick's Cathedral

Pro-abortion demonstrators yelled obscenities at people leaving a pro-life vigil at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Jan. 22, 2022. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

New York City, N.Y., Jan 24, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Barricades and a line of police protected pro-life attendees entering and exiting the Archdiocese of New York’s Prayer Vigil for Life at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Saturday night, as members of the activist group New York City for Abortion Rights chanted insults and screamed vulgarities at them.

“Go to h*** b****,” one protester screamed at a churchgoer. Multiple other demonstrators screamed “F*** you” and made obscene gestures as a range of people from young children to elderly men and women exited the midtown Manhattan church. 

In addition to the vulgarities, demonstrators chanted “Shame,” “Thank God for abortion,” “Go home fascists, go home,” and “New York hates you,” along with pro-choice slogans aimed at churchgoers.

Toward the end of the protest, pro-abortion slogans including "God loves abortion," and "Abortion forever" were illuminated up on the exterior of the cathedral as demonstrators cheered. On Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C., another activist group, Catholics for Choice, projected pro-choice slogans on the facade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during a Mass and Holy Hour on the eve of the March for Life.

Approximately 100 demonstrators attended the New York City rally, which organizers dubbed "F*** the March for Life" in an Instagram post. Many of the participants used drums, shakers, and other noisemakers, which were audible to those inside the cathedral.

The Prayer Vigil for Life marked the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. In accord with the U.S. bishops' call for penance and prayer for violations against the dignity of the unborn, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York celebrated the Vigil Mass at 5:30 p.m., which was followed by an hour of Eucharistic adoration.

"When a nation founded on the right to life and the equal protection of law for all life finds such violence to be legal, as it did 49 years ago today in legalizing abortion, boy that’s tragic," Dolan said during his homily. "That’s not right. That’s not natural. That’s not the way God intended it. That’s not the way our country intended it."

Nathan Long (in white cap) and his teenage son have a brief interaction with one of the demonstrators at a pro-abortion rally outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Jan. 22, 2022. Joe Bukuras/CNA
Nathan Long (in white cap) and his teenage son have a brief interaction with one of the demonstrators at a pro-abortion rally outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Jan. 22, 2022. Joe Bukuras/CNA

Among those who were screamed upon exiting the vigil were Nathan Long and his teen-age son. The two had a brief interaction with one of the demonstrators.

“I looked at him and I was just kind of praying,” Long told CNA afterward. “He’s just uninformed and I think he’s lost the spirit of Christ.”

Long, a father of seven from Dallas, Texas, said he thinks most of the protesters aren’t educated on the issue of life. “We’re living in a society where people just want to pick up the torch and be angry at anything,” he added.

One of the many slogans that protesters chanted at churchgoers was “Stop harassing patients!”

The chant referred to a recurring pro-life day of prayer called Witness for Life, which consists of Mass and Eucharistic adoration, followed by a rosary procession to the nearby Planned Parenthood and then a vigil in front of the clinic. 

The pro-abortion demonstrators on Saturday handed out flyers that state that many attendees at the Prayer Vigil for Life are Witness for Life attendees as well. The flyers claim there is “nothing peaceful” about the Witness for Life.

“They intimidate patients by praying, holding offensive signs, [and] impersonating clinic escorts to coerce patients,” the flyer states.

New York City for Abortion Rights often protests the Witness for Life. The pro-abortion group made headlines in July for standing in front of the rosary procession in order to block their path to the Planned Parenthood. Police officers were required to escort the rosary procession and separate the demonstrators. 

Toward the end of Saturday’s rally, a woman who appeared to be an organizer announced to the demonstrators that the group would be protesting the next Witness for Life event Feb. 5 by slowing down participants' rosary procession “with our bodies.”