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Nicaraguan priest appeals for intervention to prevent massacre of protesters

Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 20, 2018 / 06:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Nicaraguan priest has called on the international community to intervene to prevent the massacre of protesters by the country's government and its paramilitary supporters.

Protests against president Daniel Ortega which began April 18 have resulted in more than 300 deaths, according to local human rights groups. The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups.

Fr. Augusto Gutierrez, a parish priest in the Monimbó neighborhood of Masaya, fewer than 20 miles southeast of Managua, was recently interviewed by the Spanish radio network COPE. Masaya has been at the center of the country's protests.

Due to government pressure, the priest is in hiding since he has received numerous threats.

“We've gotten death threats because they say we're the ringleaders of this situation, but we have been out in public because what the government of Daniel Ortega is doing is unjust. This is a genocide because there's no other name for it,” Fr. Gutierrez said.

The priest appealed: “Don't let us die. Please, intervene, do something.”

On July 17 the indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó was attacked by paramilitaries with ties to president Daniel Ortega.

In the interview, the priest said that the paramilitaries carried out a four hour attack in Monimbó: “with heavy military weapons, they're desecrating churches and destroying lives.”

The priest explained that the Monimbó neighborhood is made up of simple people and that “for three months the government has lashed out against the population all over Nicaragua, including Monimbó, which has remained steadfast with great courage. But now they're killing us.”

With regards to statements made by the Archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, during another interview with the COPE radio network, Fr. Augusto said that “he supports everything that the Church and the bishops are saying. But they (Ortega's government) no longer want to listen to  reason, so there has to be international support to intervene and save the country.”

“This is not war because the people are defending themselves with what they can, roadblocks, stones, makeshift mortars. They (the government) are determined to celebrate July 19 over the blood of the people. And they can't keep on governing over the dead and ordering to kill,” he stated.

July 19 marked the 39th anniversary of the ouster of the Somoza dictatorship by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, of which Ortega is the leader.

La Vanguardia news reported July 20 that at a pro-government celebration attended by thousands of supporters that day, Ortega charged the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference with complicity in a coup attempt. He based his accusation on the bishops' proposal that he hold early presidential elections in March 2019.

The president challenged the Organization of American States and called on his followers to “not let down your guard” and to exercise“self-defense” in the midst of the grave crisis rocking the country.

Ortega said that he is the victim of “a conspiracy armed and financed by internal and external forces,” and disqualified the bishops as mediators in the crisis because they have “taken sides.”

In a July 14 statement, the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference denounced “the lack of political will by the government to dialogue” and seek real processes that would lead the country to a true democracy.

Finally, Fr. Gutierrez stated that Nicaragua is “in a state of emergency,” and that an “anti-terrorist” law was recently passed such that “all those who support the men at the roadblocks, or according to [the government] are collaborating against them, they're going to put on trial.”

Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout Nicaragua, and clashes frequently turn lethal. Bishops and priests across the country have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014. He was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

Bishop Pineda’s resignation, what it means and what happens next

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The resignation of Bishop Juan José Pineda Fasquelle on Friday morning is the latest in a series of episcopal scandals breaking across the Church. He is accused of multiple counts of sexual and financial misconduct, and how his case is handled will be closely watched.

Pineda is alleged to have made repeated and unwanted sexual advances on seminarians. Other allegations include traveling on expensive holidays with “male companions” and even allowing a “companion” to reside in a purpose-built apartment using church resources. He is also accused of misappropriating more than $1 million in government funds intended for charitable projects.

As auxiliary bishop of the Honduran diocese of Tegucigalpa, Pineda was effectively in charge, acting in place of Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga. Cardinal Maradiaga, himself the subject of allegations of financial impropriety, has been largely absent from his diocese over the last five years while serving as the head of the C9 Council of Cardinals, appointed by Pope Francis to look at overhauling the governance of the universal Church. More recently, the cardinal has been receiving treatment for cancer.

Many of the allegations have been publicly circulating since December of last year and have apparently been common knowledge in the diocese for longer. In a statement, Pineda claims he submitted his resignation “several months ago.” But the timing of its acceptance by Pope Francis, and the renewed scrutiny it brings to Cardinal Maradiaga, arrives in the middle of an unfolding series of sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The still-breaking McCarrick scandal itself comes as Pope Francis struggles to resolve the national crisis of sexual abuse and cover-ups by Chilean bishops, five of whom have now left office.

Many had hoped that Church was seeing an end to the litany of sexual abuse scandals which rocked it during the first ten years of the millennium. Instead, there seems to be a new generation of scandals, in which abuse of adults, especially seminarians, and financial impropriety are the main offenses.

But perhaps the most important difference between today’s scandals and those of the early 2000s is that they concern bishops and cardinals, not priests. The differences between how these cases are handled, and their impact on the Church, is considerable.

Following the clerical abuse scandals of the previous decade, new and robust procedures were instituted in many places, especially the United States. Following the adoption of the Dallas Charter in 2002, and changes to canon law under Pope Benedict XVI, the procedures for dealing with an accusation against a priest were clear.

Today, if an allegation of abuse is made against a priest, diocesan authorities are usually swift to act, often suspending the priest from his parish and publicly announcing the nature of the allegations so that other potential victims can come forward. A formal investigation is held and, if it concerns a serious crime, the results are sent to Rome where it is determined how to proceed.

Yet no such procedure exists, at the practical level, for handling accusations against a bishop.

Victims, especially seminarians, with a complaint to make against a bishop have little reason to hope action will be taken. A disturbingly common thread running through recent allegations has been the extent to which abusive behavior was widely known but never acted on by Church authorities.

A chilling culture of silence regarding allegations of sexual misconduct in the Church has been exposed. In addition to the well-attested fear and shame felt by victims, both accusers and authorities who should have helped them often keep silent for fear of scandal. The hesitation to “hurt the Church” by making allegations public has led in many places to a culture of winking tolerance of sexual misconduct by senior clerics. By allowing more victims to be hurt in the meantime, this silence leads to the eventual scandal being all the more grave.

The lessons of recent history indicate that high profile media attention is the only guarantee of a serious response to an allegation against a bishop.

In 2013, Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned as Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh following allegations that he made repeated sexual advances on clergy and seminarians in the archdiocese. The complaint was presented by three priests and a former priest. While the allegations were formally made to the Apostolic Nuncio in London, which appears to be the closest thing there is to an existing procedure in the Church, the speed with which he left office was widely credited to the men informing the nuncio of their intention to speak to the national press.

The allegations against Bishop Juan Barros, whose appointment to a small Chilean diocese marked the beginning of the crisis in that country, were known in Rome at the time of his appointment, and, as local outcry mounted, Cardinal Séan O’Malley is said to have personally delivered a letter from victims to the pope.

Yet it was only the backlash to Pope Francis’ apparent dismissal of the victims, despite their persistence and credibility, during a papal visit to Chile which finally prompted action.

In the case of Cardinal McCarrick, his predatory behavior towards seminarians was apparently legendary. But despite what everyone seems to have known, no formal action (apart from the out-of-court settlements) was ever taken by Church authorities until an allegation was made by a former altar server in New York.

In the case of Bishop Pineda, despite the seriousness of the allegations and the considerable local scandal, it seems it was only the publicity arising from his close association with Cardinal Maradiaga which prompted Vatican action.

Pineda’s resignation provokes a series of further questions which will test the Holy See’s resolve in seeing episcopal allegations through to the end.

Other prominent accused bishops, like Cardinal McCarrick, have been past, or near to retirement age. Given his advanced age and removal from public ministry, there is little to compel Vatican authorities to take further action. Indelicately put, it is not unknown for the Vatican to simply delay action against elderly bishops, counting on death to precede a process. This will not be an option with Pineda.

In a statement released on Friday, Pineda declared “I continue as a son of the Church; I continue forward as consecrated [a bishop]; I continue as minister of the Church; I continue forward at the disposition of my superiors.” Aged only 58, an indefinite hiatus from active ministry is not likely to be seen as workable solution. Rome will have to decide how to bring the allegations against him to a resolution, possibly through a canonical trial, and how to formally punish him if necessary.

What form such sanctions could take, and following what process, remains unclear.

Despite creating a new legal mechanism for canonical trials for bishops, officials in Rome have indicated that Pope Francis has reserved all abuse complaints against bishops to himself, personally. There is no obvious pattern for dealing with these cases to follow, and what results can be expected are hard to predict. 

While there are understandable calls for abuser-clerics to be laicized, this very unlikely in the case of a bishop.

While laicization clearly expels a bishop from the hierarchy, it effectively ends any oversight church authorities have over him. Contrary to popular conception, a laicized bishop does not cease being a bishop, sacramentally speaking. Once conferred, sacraments like baptism, ordination, and episcopal consecration cannot be undone. If Pineda were laicized and he went on to seek ministry in unauthorized settings, sacraments he administered, including priestly ordinations, would still be valid. The potential damage and confusion which could be done by a rogue bishop, outside of church control, is enough to make laicization highly unlikely.

Bishop Emmanuel Milingo, for example stepped down from the leadership of a Zambian diocese in 1983, at the age of 53, after which time he illicitly but validly consecrated several married men as bishops. He was eventually laicized in 2009, but by that time he had been conducting unauthorized ministry for decades.

If the allegations against Pineda are proven, the most likely outcome is he would be removed from public ministry and assigned to live somewhere away from public view. There is some precedent for this course.

Perhaps the most likely example that could be followed is that of Kieran Conry, who was forced to resign as bishop of the English diocese of Arundel and Brighton at the age of 63 in 2013. Conry’s resignation was prompted by a string of inappropriate relationships with women, which were also common knowledge among the English hierarchy at the time of his appointment. Since then, he has been living in a church-owned house in southern England and out of public ministry. Cardinal O’Brien lived in similar conditions until his death in March of this year; while he resigned the “rights and privileges” of a cardinal, he was allowed to keep the title.

In the meantime, Pineda’s situation remains unclear.

There has been no formal announcement that he has been removed from public ministry - only his office as auxiliary of the diocese - and there has been no indication that he has left the diocese. How formally and transparently his situation is resolved will be telling.

Decisive and public action against Pineda seems called for, but it would set a standard against which other cases would be judged. It would also open the door to further questions about Cardinal Maradiaga’s complicity in, or at least awareness of Pineda’s actions.

Indeed, the great scandal, which remains unaddressed in all these cases - Pineda, McCarrick, Barros, O’Brien, Conry - is the extent to which other bishops were aware of the allegations against them and did nothing. Expressions of surprise, sorrow, and sympathy for the victims seem almost robotic at this point. Until such time as bishops who ignore misconduct among their peers are held to account for their effective complicity, there seems little hope that the cycle of scandals will be broken.

Is Church teaching changing on the death penalty?

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Church has consistently taught that the state has the authority to use the death penalty. But, in recent years, popes and bishops have become more vocal in calling for an end to its use. Many Catholics instinctively favor life over death, even after the worst crimes, and some are left wondering if the Church’s mind is changing.

Two recent cases highlighted an apparent tension between traditional teaching and modern circumstances.

On July 13, the bishops of Tennessee wrote to Governor Bill Haslam asking him to halt a slate of planned executions. In their letter, Bishops Mark Spalding of Nashville, Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Martin Holley of Memphis emphasized the value and dignity of every human life, even those who have committed the worst possible crimes.

One day earlier, on July 12, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, expressed his “support” for the Sri Lankan government’s decision to introduce the death penalty for drug traffickers and organized crimes bosses.

“We will support [Sri Lankan] President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to subject those who organize crime while being in the prison to [the] death sentence,” he told local media. The cardinal went on to add that more needed to be done to prevent drug traffickers and crime bosses from operating with impunity while in jail.

The state’s authority to execute criminals is explicitly sanctioned in the Bible, including by St. Paul. Historically, the Church has recognized the use of the death penalty in a practical way: executions were carried out in the Papal States well into the nineteenth century, with the last official executioner retiring in 1865.

For much the twentieth century, attempted assassination of the pope was a capital crime in Vatican City; Pope Paul VI only removed the death penalty from the law in 1969.

Today, the Church still officially teaches that the death penalty is a legitimate option for states to employ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this: “Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

This formulation contains a heavy qualification. When exactly is the death penalty the only effective means of defending human life? That’s a thorny question.

St. John Paul II was outspoken in his opposition to the use of capital punishment. In an address in the United States, in 1999, he called for Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

That address, given in St. Louis, was credited with helping persuade to Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan to commute the death sentence of inmate Darrell Mease to life in prison.

More recently, Pope Francis has denounced capital punishment in even stronger terms. Speaking in October 2017, he called it “contrary to the Gospel” because “it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.” He has, however, stopped short of revising the official teaching contained in the Catechism.

There is a broad sentiment among American Catholics against the death penalty. It is a point of unusually strong consensus, even among those who normally disagree. In 2015, four Catholic publications with often-divergent viewpoints issued a joint editorial calling for an end to capital punishment.

But Catholic thinkers do not unanimously agree that a total renunciation of the death penalty is appropriate, or even possible.

Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, in his famous “Consistent Ethic of Life” speech delivered at Fordham University in 1983, explicitly recognized the legitimate authority of the state to resort to capital punishment. Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing in 2001, observed that “the Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty.”

While there is real scope for debate about when and how sparingly capital punishment should be used, Dulles concluded that “the death penalty is not in itself a violation of the right to life.”

His conclusion was informed by the constant teaching of the Church that judicial executions are licit, even if regrettable and to be avoided whenever possible.

In the City of God, St. Augustine wrote that the state administers justice under divine concession. “Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”… for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.”

While the trend of recent papal statements has been towards a relegation of the death penalty to, at most, a theoretical possibility, scholars have urged caution about going too far.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that it was important distinguish between changing circumstances and a change in what the Church has always taught.

“The Church has always held that the death penalty is a just option available to the state, even if we do not welcome its use. St. Augustine says that the death penalty is just, but the Church should plead for mercy.”

Pecknold stressed that relationship between mercy and justice is a live concern. In seeking mercy, he said, we must implicitly recognize the validity of justice.

“Mercy isn’t calling something that is just ‘unjust.’ Mercy relieves the punishment properly due to the guilty. As the Catechism recognizes, there can be circumstances in which the death penalty is a legitimate service to justice. This is qualified by a preferential option for other means, whenever they can serve the same ends.”

These alternative means have not been always and everywhere available. “The common and constant teaching of the Church can be applied to different circumstances. Alternatives available to us in modern western countries simply have not been present at other times, or may not be now in other places.”

There is a crucial difference between applying a consistent teaching to changed circumstances and appearing to suggest humanity has evolved beyond a previously valid doctrine, Pecknold said.

“The death penalty is not, and has never been a positive end in itself. It is a means towards serving justice. If we find we can now serve the same ends and express a preferential option for life, this is doubly good.”

“But we should not fall into a false understanding that what was once ‘good' is now ‘bad.’ The Church doesn’t evolve out of a true teaching, nor does humanity progress beyond natural law.”

“We should prize our increasing opportunities to serve mercy and justice together, but be wary of giving ourselves too much credit, we have not progressed to a new, higher level of justice."

Cardinal Dulles agreed. He considered the argument that Church sanctioning of capital punishment was an “outmoded” concession to past ages of “violence” and “barbarity,” one which could yield to “the signs of the times” and “a new recognition of the dignity and inalienable rights of the human person.” He dismissed this as “a tempting simplicity” which found “no echo” among Catholic theologians of the past.

The consensus against capital punishment in modern western nations, it must be observed, has grown in line with increased prosperity, political stability, and states’ ability to deploy credibly effective alternatives to execution.

In the recent Sri Lankan case, the government acted in response to the ineffectiveness of prison sentences, with drug traffickers and crime bosses seeming to continue operating with impunity, even behind bars. Following local complaints at his expression of support, Cardinal Ranjith issued a clarification, making clear his support for the government announcement was not a “carte blanche” advocacy for the death penalty, but noting that he could not “close my eyes and do nothing before this terrible phenomenon our country is faced with.”

“[The drug trade] causes death and violence in the streets and the destruction of the cream of our youth, who become drug addicts at an age as early as their adolescence, being exposed to drugs even in their schools. This is being done by drug cartels operated at times from the prisons,” he said.

For Ranjith, such a context seems to find a place within the Catechism’s criteria that capital punishment be reserved for the final defense of innocent life when other options fail.

In the West, conditions seem to be narrowing the scope for the death penalty’s use, and bishops are responding, which has led to a sense, especially after Pope Francis’ comments last year, that the Church might declare the death penalty absolutely unjust. Yet, as was recently seen in Sri Lanka and Tennessee, things are not yet the same everywhere.

That serves as a good reminder about the importance of understanding the Church’s global perspective, and the importance of distinguishing between teachings which supply criteria through which Catholics must make moral judgments, and teachings which declare that certain actions are, in fact, immoral everywhere and always.

The Church’s teaching on the death penalty expresses, essentially, a criteria by which state authorities should make judgments about the just use of the death penalty. While in the developed West, use of the death penalty may, in fact, be almost completely unnecessary, not all parts of the world are as developed.

The divergence of views from bishops around the world on this issue reflects the role that the circumstances of time and place can play in moral reasoning. That is instructive, and a reminder about the complex richness, and importance, of Catholic moral teaching.

Honduran auxiliary bishop accused of sexual misconduct resigns

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2018 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Juan José Pineda, auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, following a Vatican investigation into accusations of financial mismanagement and sexual misconduct against seminarians.

The bishop, 57, has long been the subject of accusations of financial misdealings, as well as rumors that he offered support to a male companion using archdiocesan funds. He serves under papal advisor and archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, who has also been accused of financial misconduct.

In March, the National Catholic Register reported that two former seminarians had also submitted personal testimonies to the Vatican accusing Pineda of serious sexual misconduct and of attempting unwanted sexual relations.

The July 20 announcement of Pineda’s resignation provided no explanation, stating only that it had been accepted by Pope Francis.

At the pope’s request, in May 2017, the Vatican carried out an investigation into the allegations of financial mismanagement within the archdiocese and the sexual misconduct allegations involving Bishop Pineda.

In an email interview with CNA in December 2017, Maradiaga confirmed there was an apostolic visit made to Pineda but defended the bishop, saying Pineda himself “asked the Holy Father for an apostolic visit, in order to clear his name.”

Maradiaga, who is head of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and one of Francis’ closest advisors, also denied any financial wrongdoing on his own part, calling a report by Italian weekly L’Espresso published Dec. 21, 2017, “defamatory” and “half-truths, that are in the end the worse lies.”

The L’Espresso article said Maradiaga was accused of receiving $600,000 from the University of Tegucigalpa in 2015, as a sort of “salary” for being the chancellor of the University - an unusual although not forbidden practice - and that the cardinal had lost nearly $1.2 million of Church funds through investments in some London financial companies.

The papal investigation was carried out by Argentine Bishop Alcides Jorge Pedro Casaretto, who, according to L’Espresso, interviewed staff of the archdiocese and university, as well as seminarians, priests and the cardinal’s driver and secretary.

Allegations against Pineda include the building of an apartment on the campus of the Catholic University of Honduras to house a male companion. According to the Register, the two seminarians who accused Pineda of unwanted sexual advances also claimed that he took punitive action against them after his advances were not accepted.

Pineda, who was auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa since 2005, had been overseeing the archdiocese since January, while Maradiaga is in the U.S. to receive treatment for prostate cancer.

Born in Tegucigalpa in 1960, Pineda is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious order. He was ordained a priest in 1988.

Papal aides say prosperity gospel is distorted take on the ‘American Dream’

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- After publishing a highly controversial essay in July 2017 alleging the existence of an “ecumenism of hate” between Catholics and Evangelicals in the U.S., close papal confidantes Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ and Marcelo Figueroa in a new article issue a scathing critique of the “prosperity gospel,” which they say is based on a reductionist view of the American Dream.

In the new essay, run July 18 in the Jesuit-run magazine “La Civilta Cattolica,” which is directed by Spadaro, the authors argue that the prosperity gospel, rooted in late 19th century America, is closely tied to the Protestant Evangelical movement in the U.S., and sees power, wealth and success as the result of one's faith, while poverty and misfortune are signs of a lack of faith.

“The risk of this form of religious anthropocentrism, which puts humans and their well-being at the center, is that it transforms God into a power at our service, the Church into a supermarket of faith, and religion into a utilitarian phenomenon that is eminently sensationalist and pragmatic,” they said.

Spadaro and Figueroa, a Protestant who heads the Argentine section of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, said the prosperity gospel is “a reductive interpretation” of the American Dream.

Though historically this dream saw the United States as a heaven for economic migrants seeking better opportunities than were available in their homeland, Spadaro and Figueroa argue that this vision has turned into a distorted religious belief being put forward by big-name Evangelical televangelists.

The authors cited U.S. President Donald Trump's Jan. 30 State of the Union address, in which the president pointed to popular American motto “in God we trust” and spoke of importance of family and the military, a clear indication that they see Trump as an example of this “neo-Pentecostal” brand of theology.

Spadaro and Figueroa said the two main “pillars” of the prosperity gospel are health and economic success – a mentality they said stems from “a literalist exegesis of some biblical texts that are taken within a reductionist hermeneutic.”

Popular televangelist personalities such as Joel Osteen, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton and Joyce Meyer, who are often considered to be key prosperity gospel figures in the United States, were dubbed by Spadaro and Figueroa as “evangelicals of the American Dream.”

“Their growth is exponential and directly proportional to the economic, physical and spiritual benefits they promise their followers,” the authors said, adding that “all these blessings are far removed from the life of conversion usually taught by the traditional evangelical movements.”

Spadaro and Figueroa argued that these preachers take scripture out of context, diffusing a message that God is at the service of humanity, and that one can obtain blessings and prosperity, whether physical or economic, simply through religious conviction.

There is a “lack of empathy and solidarity” on issues like migration from adherents to the prosperity gospel approach, they argued.

In this movement, “there can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God,” Spadaro and Figueroa argued.

Biblical teachings such as “you reap what you sow” or that one will receive “a hundredfold” for their good works have been reduced to a “contract” in which the more one gives, the more they expect to get in return, the authors said.

Under this approach, God is made in the image of man, they said, and people believe that they can earn their own success through their actions, making the thought of poverty “unbearable,” because “first, the person thinks their faith is unable to move the providential hands of God; second, their miserable situation is a divine imposition, a relentless punishment to be accepted in submission.”

When it comes to the prosperity gospel and the American Dream, Spadaro and Figueroa said the problem is that the financial success of the United States has been seen as a direct result of America's faith in God.

“It leads to the conclusion that the United States has grown as a nation under the blessing of the providential God of the Evangelical movement,” they said. “Meanwhile, those who dwell south of the Rio Grande are sinking in poverty because the Catholic Church has a different, opposed vision exalting poverty.”

This view not only “exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity,” they said, but it also “pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook, because faith alone – not social or political commitment – can procure prosperity.”

And the risk in this is that “the poor who are fascinated by this pseudo-Gospel remain dazzled in a socio-political emptiness that easily allows other forces to shape their world, making them innocuous and defenseless,” Spadaro and Figueroa said, adding that “the prosperity gospel is not a cause of real change, a fundamental aspect of the vision that is innate to the social doctrine of the Church.”

The two closed their essay saying the prosperity gospel is product of two ancient heresies – Pelagianism and Gnosticism – which Pope Francis, who has consistently spoken out against the prosperity gospel mentality, warned of in his recent apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.

The prosperity gospel, they said, is “a far cry” from the original American Dream, which they described as a “positive and enlightening prophecy” that has inspired many, and which is embodied in civil rights defender Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.

On 'Humanae vitae'- Pope Paul VI did not act alone

Vatican City, Jul 19, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Humanae vitae is not a “pre-conciliar” encyclical, Bl. Paul VI did not develop the final draft in solitude, and, the pope sought opinions before promulgating the text, according to a new book on the encyclical’s history.
 
The book “La nascita di un enciclica” (The Birth of an encyclical), was written by Professor Gilfredo Marengo, a professor of theological anthropology at the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II for Studies on Marriage and Family.
 
To write the book, Professor Marengo was given access to documents from the archive of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, with special permission from the pope, since archival material from the Holy See is usually made available to scholars only after 70 years.
 
The documents include a series of drafts and instructions and also a never published encyclical draft, De nascendi prolis, which was overturned by a new draft, which ultimately became the final text of Humanae vitae.
 
The study of these documents lead Marengo to a final conclusion: “the idea that Paul VI made his decisions alone is just mythological.”

At the same time, “the isolation in which he found himself” after the promulgation of the encyclical is a different matter, Marengo said.
 
The book is the conclusion of a historical research project on Humanae vitae which initially sparked concern when announced. At the beginning, some speculated that a commission to reinterpret Humanae vitae had been formed, composed of Marengo, along with Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II, and professors Philippe Chenaux and Angelo Maffeis.

Church officials said last June this was not the study group’s intended purpose, and Marengo, at the eve of the publication of the book, told CNA that Paul VI’s encyclical needed no update.

“The journey toward Humanae vitae was not difficult because of Paul VI’s doubts or uncertainties on contraceptive practice. Difficulties came from the seeking of a language able to convey that judgement in a balanced, convincing and pastorally fruitful way,” Marengo said
 
The path toward the publication of Humanae Vitae was long. It started in 1963, when St. John XXIII established a commission for the study of marriage, family and birth control.
 
Shortly after this, St. John XXIII died, and Paul VI was elected pope. He expanded the commission’s membership from 6 to 12, and in 1965 he further expanded the membership to 75, chaired by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office – now named the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
 
Professor Marengo’s book follows step-by-step the development of discussion, from one session of the commission to another. In general, there is at first a pastoral approach, then a more doctrinal one, and then the synthesis offered by Bl. Paul VI.
 
Among the biggest concerns of some commission members was that arguing that the use of a contraceptive pill could be licit in some particular cases would favor the anti-birth policies of the developed West, thus impacting negatively the poorest countries.
 
The issue of birth control was part of the discussion during the drafting of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution Gaudium et Spes. However, Paul VI made the decision to take the birth control issue out of the discussion. Marengo notes that the pope asked to include in Gaudium et Spes sections reiterating the Church’s teaching on issues of marriage and family, opposing contraceptive mentalities and praising conjugal chastity, in order not to raise any doubt about Catholic teaching.
 
Particularly noteworthy is the plenary meeting of the expanded commission that took place March 25 – 29, 1965. The gathering recognized that a public statement on responsible paternity was needed, while it underscored that it had been impossible to reach a shared conclusion about whether the pill could be used licitly.
 
So, they proposed a temporary pastoral instruction, a “provisional solution to face the impossibility of reaching a convincing doctrinal stance.”
 
Paul VI did not like it. Marengo noted that the pope was concerned “to avoid that the Church, and especially the magisterium, seemed unable to say a clear word on such a debated issue in the public opinion.”
 
In addition to that, Paul VI deemed unacceptable “to back a change of the magisterium, not because there were strong and shared reasons, but because of the inability to untie all the knots.”
 
Bishop Carlo Colombo, then auxiliary bishop of Milan, also made his proposal for a pastoral turn, and presented a text which said that “contraceptive practice must not always be considered grave sin,” which was a way in the middle not to detach from Pius XI and Pius XII teachings and at the same time to dissolve conflict of conscience among spouses.
 
Paul VI did not take this suggestion, and started a new path of study, in his constant attempt to find a good balance between pastoral practice and doctrine.
 
Marengo underscored that, at the time, finding the proper language was difficult, as “a certain appeal for pastorality had been used to put in discussion some not-secondary issues of doctrine, and this caused uncertainty and uneasiness in the ecclesial body.”
 
At this point, international pressure started to mount.
 
A document stressing that 70 members of the Pontifical Commission were favorable toward the birth control pill was published simultaneously in the French newspaper “Le Monde,” the English magazine “The Tablet,” and the American magazine “National Catholic Reporter” in 1967.
 
This publication is at the origin of the popular narrative that Paul VI acted alone, and against the opinion of the majority of commission theologians.
 
In 2003, Bernardo Colombo, a professor of demographics and a member of the commission, revealed that the document was in fact “just one of the 12 reports presented to the Holy Father,” in an article he wrote in “Teologia”, the journal of the theological faculty of Milan.
 
Professor Marengo’s book also dismisses the narrative.

Despite pressure, the work toward the drafting of an encyclical proceeded. In 1967, Paul VI askes the Vatican Secretary of State to poll participants in the first Synod of Bishops.
 
Only 26 out of the 199 participants in the Synod respond to a request that they give an opinion on birth control. The majority of them called for openness to the use of contraception, while only seven asked the Pope to reiterate the immorality of contraception, according to Marengo.
 
It was, however, only a minority of surveyed bishops who even responded to the survey.
 
Paul VI’s collegial way of working is proved by the numerous opinions he sought, as well as regular dialogue with theologians and commissions, and that final request to the Synod of Bishops.
 
Marengo stressed that “not a few looked at the encyclical as a decision made by Paul VI in total solitude, without taking in consideration the dynamics of the majority and the minority,” despite ample evidence to the contrary.
 
“Although Paul VI had a strong awareness of the apostolic ministry with which he was entrusted, he never wanted to make the decision alone, and his attempt to involve Synod’s fathers in 1967 is a clear proof of that,” Marengo wrote.
 
In the end, Bl. Paul VI had also the courage to reject De Nascendi Prolis, the first draft of the encyclical, after it was already set and had been sent out for translation. Paul VI took the suggestion of Paul Poupard and Jacques Martin, French and English translators of the text and both of them future cardinals.
 
When they read the text, they both stressed that the draft “seemed to be unfit to the task,” that is “to make the doctrine of the Church intelligible and as much as possible acceptable to the modern world in such a delicate and discussed issue.”
 
Poupard and Martin also sketched their own draft, which started on different basis: De Nascende Prolis was mostly a clear and correct explanation of principles, while the Poupard – Martin draft took the perspective of the faithful that hoped from the Church for an interpretation of the moral law.
 
That was, in general, the discussion that led to the final drafting of the Humanae vitae. From Paul VI’s personal corrections to the text, one sees that it was the pope who wanted to add the adjective “human” to the encyclical’s opening.
 
According to Marengo, the text of Humanae vitae shows “the pope’s will to avoid the idea that the search for a doctrinal clarity might be interpreted as insensitive rigidity.”

Paul VI also wanted to emphasize that the Church was very much eager to share problems and difficulties of couples, but not to the point of “justifying a teaching that was not fully consistent with the totality and integrality of the Gospel’s message.”
 
In the end, Paul VI took every possible outcome into consideration. He did not want to suspend any doctrinal judgment, but in reaffirming the doctrine he also put at the center the pastoral method. This was the spirit of the Council: to keep continuity with the deposit of faith, looking for a new way to present it to the world.
 
 One final note: beyond any pastoral openness or scientific uncertainty, documents and drafts prior to the publication of the encyclical show that the final goal was to publish a text in continuity with the Church’s traditional teaching.
 
Paul VI did not want to make a formal declaration to say the teaching of the encyclical was infallible, as requested by the Cardinal Wojtyla. This does not mean, in the end, that he did not consider this teaching as definitive. Everything was solidly anchored to the teaching of the Church. 

Center for women with crisis pregancies to open in Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jul 19, 2018 / 03:29 pm (ACI Prensa).- Priests who work in the slums of Buenos Aires announced Tuesday a “Home of the Motherly Embrace” to care for women in crisis pregnancies.

The initiative, presented at Christ the Worker parish July 17, seeks to respond  to the needs of women who live in the slums and also is a sign of the commitment of the Church to defending the lives of the unborn and their mothers.

Besides lamenting the progress of the abortion bill which passed in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies and is now being debated in the Senate, the priests explained that the Home of the Motherly Embrace will receive teens and young adult women with at-risk pregnancies who are abandoned and who may be tempted to abort, as well as women who have procured abortions.
 
They will be provided nutrition, medical care and checkups, psychological support, and legal and social counseling during the pregnancy and their babies' first years, until they enter the educational system.

The center will seek to facilitate access to maternity policies and programs, and, if necessary, the process of adoption.

“In a family atmosphere that welcomes, embraces and accompanies (we) will especially seek to encourage and strengthen (the women). The center will also receive and accompany teenage or young adult dads in their growing responsibilities,” the priests said in a statement.

“We choose to take on the  responsibility for these dramatic situations as a community and we're not uncritically awaiting the establishment of an actual throwaway culture of human beings.”

The priests will carry out their work “there (in the slums) where life goes forward despite the difficulties; and every pregnancy, every girl and every boy, is awaited and welcomed as a gift, with the hope that a future different and better than the existing one awaits him or her.”

The proposal was signed by four bishops, more than 20 priests, and two nuns.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Latin American bishops announce day of prayer for Nicaragua

Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 19, 2018 / 01:04 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Council of Latin American Bishops has expressed solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and declared Sunday, July 22, a day of prayer for the country.

The bishops of Nicaragua have also called for a day of fasting on July 20, and a month of prayer including adoration, the rosary, fasting, penance and the renewal of baptismal promises.

In a message released July 18, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean expressed their “closeness and solidarity with the Nicaraguan people and with their pastors, prophets of justice, in the face of the dramatic and painful social and political crisis currently experienced there.”

“In the face of this grave situation, we are called to be the voice of those who have no voice to uphold their rights, to finds ways to dialogue and establish justice and peace, 'so that in Christ all may have life,' especially those who feel disconsolate because of the deaths and violence.”

“We encourage you to continue to defend human rights and to be bearers of hope,” the council told the bishops of Nicaragua.

Since April 18, there have been massive demonstrations in Nicaragua against President Daniel Ortega, who has been in power since 2007 and was reelected in 2016 in elections disputed by the opposition. In January 2014, he oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits.

The demonstrations have been put down by police and paramilitaries, with more than 300 deaths.

The Catholic Church has participated as a mediator and witness to national peace talks convened by Ortega. However, Church officials have also faced attacks from groups with ties to the government.

On July 9, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, and Bishop Silvio Báez were assaulted during a pastoral visit to Diriamba.

Divine Mercy parish in Managua, where more than 100 students had taken refuge, was also attacked by police and paramilitaries during the night of July 13.

The following day, pro-government mobs attacked the car of Bishop Abelardo Mata of Estelí. The bishop took refuge in a nearby house and was able to return to his diocese only after dark, with the help of Cardinal Brenes, who intervened with the government to send police commissioner Ramon Avellan to guarantee Mata’s physical safety.

The Organization of American States condemned the violence in Nicaragua July 18 and urged Ortega to hold early elections in March 2019 to alleviate the crisis. The bishops of Nicaragua made a similar request last June, but Ortega has ruled this out.

In their July 14 statement, the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference denounced “the lack of political will by the government to dialogue” and seek real processes that would lead the country to a true democracy.

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protesters were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protesters are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

Aid to the Church in Need has launched an online global prayer campaign for Nicaragua, stressing that the nation is facing “its bloodiest crisis since the 80s.”

 

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

19th-century Italian teen to be canonized during youth Synod

Vatican City, Jul 19, 2018 / 10:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bl. Nunzio Sulprizio, who died at the age of 19 from bone cancer, will be declared a saint Oct. 14 during the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment, Pope Francis announced Thursday.

The pope announced the date of the young Italian’s canonization during an ordinary public consistory at the Vatican July 19. The canonization will take place alongside six others, including that of Bl. Oscar Romero and Bl. Pope Paul VI, who presided over Sulprizio’s beatification.

At the beatification Dec. 1, 1963, Paul VI said that Bl. Nunzio Sulprizio teaches us that “the period of youth should not be considered the age of free passions, of inevitable falls, of invincible crises, of decadent pessimism, of harmful selfishness. Rather, he will tell you how being young is a grace…”

“He will tell you that no other age than yours, young people, is as suitable for great ideals, for generous heroism, for the coherent demands of thought and action,” the pope continued. “He will teach you how you, young people, can regenerate the world in which Providence has called you to live, and how it is up to you first to consecrate yourselves for the salvation of a society that needs strong and fearless souls.”

Sulprizio said it was “God’s Providence” that cared for him during his short life, and would say, “Jesus endured so much for us and by his merits eternal life awaits us. If we suffer a little bit, we will taste the joy of paradise” and “Jesus suffered a lot for me. Why should I not suffer for him?”

Born in the Italian region of Abruzzo in 1817, Sulprizio learned the faith from a priest at the local school he attended and from his maternal grandmother.

He was orphaned before the age of six, and after the death of his grandmother three years later, went to live with an uncle, who took him on as an apprentice blacksmith, not permitting him to attend school anymore.

His uncle also mistreated him, sending him on long errands, beating him, and withholding meals if he thought things were not done correctly or the boy needed discipline. The young Sulprizio would take consolation in Eucharistic adoration and in praying the rosary.

While still very young, he contracted an infection in one of his legs, causing intense and constant pain, with a puss-oozing sore. Due to a lack of proper medical care, the boy developed gangrene, and was sent to a hospital in Naples. There he would unite his pain with Christ’s suffering on the cross, also helping his fellow patients.

During this time, Sulprizio was introduced to a colonel who treated him like a son and helped pay for his medical treatments. While in the hospital, the young man was visited by a priest who prepared him for his first confession and Holy Communion.

He also met St. Gaetano Errico, an Italian priest and founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who promised him he could enter the religious order when he was old enough.

Though he experienced periods of increasing health, Sulprizio contracted bone cancer. His leg was amputated, but it did not help, and he died from the illness shortly after his 19th birthday in 1836. One of the last things he told his friend, the colonel, was, “be cheerful. From heaven I will always be helping you.”

Besides Bl. Pope Paul VI and Bl. Oscar Romero, the other canonizations to take place Oct. 14 are Bl. Francesco Spinelli, a diocesan priest and founder of the Institute of the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament; Bl. Vincenzo Romano, a diocesan priest from Torre de Greco in Italy; Bl. Maria Caterina Kasper, a German nun and founder of the Institute of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ; and Nazaria Ignazia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, founder of the Congregation of the Misioneras Cruzadas de la Iglesia Sisters.

The 2018 Synod of Bishops, a gathering of bishops from around the world, will take place Oct. 3-28 in Rome on the topic of young people, the faith and vocational discernment.

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The Church is without a camerlengo

Vatican City, Jul 17, 2018 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With the July 5 death of Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the office of camerlengo is now vacant. A sensitive position, above all in the period between the death of a pope and the election of his successor, the Church awaits Pope Francis’ nomination of a new camerlengo.

The camerlengo is one of two head officials of the Roman Curia who do not lose their office while the papacy is vacant. The camerlengo administers Church finances and property during the interregnum.

However, Francis could choose to do as did Ven. Pius XII in 1941 and not nominate a new camerlengo. At the death of Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri, Ven. Pius XII did not nominate a successor, and at his death in 1958, the cardinals elected, at the beginning of the sede vacante, Cardinal Benedetto Aloisi Masella.

The position of the camerlengo is regulated by the apostolic constitutions Pastor bonus and Universi dominici gregis.

Paragraph 17 of Universi dominici gregis establishes that “the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church must officially ascertain the Pope’s death and “must also place seals on the Pope’s study and bedroom”, and later “the entire papal apartment.”

The camerlengo is also responsible for notifying the cardinal vicar for Rome of the pope’s death, who then notifies the people of Rome by special announcement. He takes possession of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican and Palaces of the Lateran and of Castel Gandolfo and manages their administration.

“During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church has the duty of safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See, with the help of the three Cardinal Assistants, having sought the views of the College of Cardinals, once only for less important matters, and on each occasion when more serious matters arise,” the constitution states.

After being appointed, the new camerlengo will swear before the pope, who will give him a scepter, a symbol of the authority of the camerlengo. The current scepter, covered in red velvet, dates to the papacy of Benedict XV.