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Vatican diplomat: Catholics can help UN to live up to its principles

Rome Newsroom, Oct 27, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations has said that faith-based organizations need to help the international community to see its “lack of consistency” in implementing its most basic principles, such as respect for the dignity of every human being.

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, apostolic nuncio to the UN, made the remark at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the intergovernmental organization’s founding.

“How can we proclaim the rights of people with disabilities while at the same time permit that children diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are eliminated before they’re born? How can we have beautiful forums on a culture of peace and then permit various countries to construct foreign policy based on the threat of mutually assured destruction?” Caccia said at “A Faith-Based Vision for The UN at 75 and Beyond” in New York Oct. 21.

“How can we say we’re fighting for sex-trafficking victims while at the same time allowing demand for the commodification of women to be driven up through the legalization of prostitution or the promotion of pornography? Or how can we have open-ended working groups on ageing, focused on the dignity of seniors, while looking away when in various countries seniors are suffering involuntary euthanasia?”

“People of faith are called both to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. When various injustices are occurring, we are summoned in a particular way to help the international community to live up to its principles,” Caccia said.

The Vatican’s permanent observer spoke at two events highlighting both faith-based and, in particular, Catholic perspectives on international diplomacy ahead of the anniversary of the United Nations’ founding on Oct. 24, 1945.

At a webinar, “The United Nations at 75: Catholic Perspectives,” the archbishop highlighted the overlap in the UN’s founding pillars and Catholic social teaching in promoting peace, the dignity of the human person, better standards of living, and respect for international law.

While every pope to visit the UN has expressed esteem for it as an institution, there “has been a constant papal call for it to be reformed, so that it will meet the hopes that the peoples of the world place in it,” the Holy See’s permanent observer said Oct. 22.

“John Paul II stressed, for example, that the UN must become a true moral center, and Pope Francis that it must become more effective in applying international norms,” he said.

When the UN Charter was first adopted, Pope Pius XII “expressed concern that, rather than being an institution of equality among all nations, it was continuing the wartime alliance among the winning powers and making five countries patently unequal by giving them a permanent veto on the Security Council,” Caccia said.

“He [Pius XII] was also concerned about the fact that the other institutions of the UN -- particularly the International Court of Justice and the General Assembly -- lacked anything beyond the power of persuasion. Their resolutions and decisions might end up being mere exhortations. As most experts on the UN will tell you, Pius XII’s initial concerns have been validated.”

Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, also spoke at the webinar. She said that every pope since John XXIII had met the UN with “a combination of encouragement and praise with words of caution.”

“Even when support for human rights was probably at its highest point in 1989, Pope John Paul II warned that … the Declaration did not have the anthropological and moral basis for the human rights it contained,” Glendon said.

“Those words of caution of course increased in the 1990s as Holy See officials began to express concerns again about the UN itself. There were the tumultuous conferences in Cairo and Beijing, and evidence was accumulating of certain deficiencies in the UN with respect to the deficiencies of all large bureaucracies: transparency, accountability, susceptibility to bias, and susceptibility to co-option by special interests.”

Archbishop Caccia said that the UN anniversary was “an opportunity to look to the past with gratitude for achievements and with humble resolution to learn from mistakes.”

He pointed out that Pope Francis had called for reform of the UN in his most recent encyclicalFratelli tutti.” 

Pope Francis wrote that reform was needed so that “the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.”

“This calls for clear legal limits to avoid power being co-opted only by a few countries and to prevent cultural impositions or restrictions of the basic freedoms of weaker nations on the basis of ideological differences,” the pope wrote.

The Holy See became an observer state at the UN in 1964. Since then, there have been five papal visits to the UN: by Paul VI in 1965, John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, Benedict in 2008, and Francis in 2015.

Observer states have all of the rights and responsibilities of UN member states except the right to vote, run for office, or sponsor resolutions.

Caccia said that the priorities of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See today were to advocate and work for peace, defend religious freedom, stand up for fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, promote integral development, ensure care for migrants and refugees, and care for our common home.

At the UN, “Catholics are like the leaven in the loaf,” Glendon said. 

She emphasized that Catholic thought was brought into the public square in the past by “men and women who were skilled, dedicated, and courageous enough to do so.”

“For them, as for the Holy See itself, there is of course always a tension between moral witness and ordinary political pressures. But I would suggest that the Catholic contribution has always been greatest and most durable when that tension is resolved in favor of moral witness.”

Financial and operational questions surround Scholas Occurentes pontifical foundation

CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).-  

The Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurentes, which is charged with promoting education in underserved and poor communities, has received millions in donations and agreements with organizations in recent years, without having built any schools in underserved neighborhoods.

The Scholas Occurentes foundation was formally established in 2015, with backing from Pope Francis, who has encouraged throughout his pontificate a “poor Church for the poor.” In 2015 two arms of the foundation were registered, one in Argentina and one in Spain, and were recognized by Pope Francis with the title “Foundation of Pontifical Law.”

Among the foundation’s purposes are “to promote, improve education and achieve the integration of communities, with a focus on those with fewer resources", as well as "promote awareness campaigns on human values."

The organization, focused on education, has not erected or established any schools. It has instead established numerous headquarters offices and reached agreements giving it a presence in schools and universities.

The “University of Sense,” one of Schola Occurentes’ most recent projects, has among its exhibitors well-known supporters of the legalization of abortion and promoters of gender ideology in the world.

The University of Sense project is designed, according to its website, “ to educate in the ultimate responsibility of every human being: to listen to what surrounds us - to listen to the other, to the earth, to life - to give to each moment an original response - that of a new story, that of a new culture. To educate on the possibility of jumping into the open, to fulfill the call of life: the unfolding of its mystery that offers us meaning. Sense that each one names unique and, therefore, that each one embodies beauty.”

Among presenters in the project are the writer Luisa Valanzuela and the philosopher Darío Sztajnszrajber, who have publicly spoken in favor of abortion, and a priest, Fr. Hugo Mujica, who has lamented that Pope Francis has not lived up to expectations of liberalizing sacramental discipline in the Church.

At the end of September, the Catholic University of Valencia in Spain agreed to be the official headquarters of the University of Sense.

The University of Sense is one part of a very broad Scholas Occurentes network.

According to its website, Scholas Occurrentes has offices in Argentina, Chile, Vatican City, Colombia, Spain, the United States, Haiti, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal and Romania. Its presence extends to a “network in 190 countries, integrating more than 400,000 educational centers and reaching more than one million children and young people around the world,” the website says.

The Scholas Occurrentes board of trustees consists of José María del Corral as president, the Argentine member of the Vatican curia Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo as vice president, Enrique Adolfo Palmeyro as secretary, and Marta Simoncelli as vice secretary.

The support of Pope Francis has allowed Scholas Occurrentes , despite its short existence, to enter into agreements and receive donations from large companies and high-level public institutions.

In each of its public financial statements for 2016, 2017, and 2018 there is an agreement with Football Club Barcelona, ​​Lionel Messi's team, valued each year at 30,000 euros. In the 2019 economic report, the 30,000 euros from FC Barcelona were recorded as a donation. Another Spanish sports team, Club Atlético de Madrid, donated 460,000 euros in 2017.

In the organization’s 2015 financial statement, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is recorded to have made a donation of about 324,000 euros.

In 2019 the organization  also registered an agreement with the Ministry of Education of Haiti, for 323,951 euros. In the same year, it also received a donation from the Air Europa airline for about 735,000 euros,

Scholas also has an agreement of almost one million euros with Origen Worldwide, a marketing and communication company based in Madrid, Spain.

Other public and private organizations with which Scholas has entered into agreements or received donations include Paul David Hewson, the singer and vocalist of the rock band U2 known as Bono; the Santander Bank; the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires; PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world's leading consulting firms; Disney Worldwide; the Mexican Agency for international cooperation for development; the Office of the First Lady of the Dominican Republic; the Inter-American Development Bank; Mercedes Benz Argentina; Microsoft and the San Pablo CEU University Foundation.

According to reports not included in the officially published financial statements, Scholas Occurrentes has used millions to pay unspecified fees, and hundreds of thousands to support its offices and the travel of its workers.

According to the document entitled “Fundación Scholas Ocurrentes - Scholas Consolidado (USD): Scholas Argentina. Statement of income and expenses from Jan 2016 to Dec 2016," the organization spent in that year, only in the Argentine headquarters, almost $5.2 million dollars in "professional fees " and another million in "temporary fees."

The document also indicates that more than $448,000 were used for "salaries and social charges."

In “office rentals”, Scholas Occurrentes spent more than $324,000 that year. Another $300,000 went to mobile telephone expenses.

As total income, “gross profit”, the pontifical foundation registered that year in its Argentine headquarters more than $12 million.

In its "Abbreviated Report as of December 31, 2017", which is not published on the group’s website, Scholas Occurrentes indicates that it allocated 903 thousand euros to "travel expenses" in 2016 and more than 912 thousand euros in 2017.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 30.8% of the population of Latin America lives in poverty, below the threshold of $1.90 per day.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 14 million children and adolescents between 7 and 18 years of age are out of the educational system in Latin America.

It is not clear how the projects offered by Scholas Occurents intend to address those populations.

Among the events that can be found in the 2019 Scholas yearbook are concerts, camps, a project “Programming for Peace” that does not explain how students from low-income schools could access technology, as well as an “Online Marathon on Bullying and Cyberbullying.”

The organization’s projects, including the University of Sense, offer online programs, but do not address how those in the world’s poorest groups, which disproportionately lack internet access, should participate.

A UNICEF report from August this year revealed that " at least a third of school-age children around the world did not have access to distance education during the closure of schools due to COVID-19."

One of the main causes for the lack of access to distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico, one of the countries where Scholas Occurrentes has installed a headquarters, was “ the lack of a computer or internet ”, according to a study carried out by the Universidad Iberoamericana .

According to UNICEF, the “minimum percentage of school-age children without access to distance education” is above 40% in Africa, while in South Asia it is 38%. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia it is at 34%, while in Latin America and the Caribbean at 9%.

In total, the United Nations organization indicated, there are 463 million minors who cannot access distance education around the world.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, contacted Scholas Occurrentes on September 15 , through Virginia Priano, director of communications for the pontifical foundation.

After two weeks, with several exchanges of emails, WhatsApp messages and phone calls, the organization's executives did not respond to questions from ACI Prensa about pro-abortion and gender ideology speakers convened for the University of Sense.

On September 29, after the publication of an article on the organization’s classes, ACI Prensa sent new questions to Virginia Priano, this time about the financial management and considerable expenses of Scholas Occurrentes in fees, travel, offices and telephony.

Priano sent a brief greeting message to ACI Prensa on September 30 via WhatsApp, but was not in contact with ACI Prensa again. Days later, the Argentine telephone number through which the communication had been made became inactive. Calls and messages to the Italian telephone of the director of communications of Scholas Occurrentes have not been answered, as well as the various emails sent this month.

ACI Prensa asked Scholas Occurentes how it would explain to poor families with limited access to education that an organization encouraged by the pope to undertake education initiatives has spend millions on fees, and hundreds of thousands on offices and telephones.

ACI Prensa also asked whether the group will develop a specific program for the construction of schools and access to education for poor minors or a scholarship program. It also asked the cost of the University of Sense, and how much Scholas Occurrentes paid to the consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers design of the Ágora Project.

Among other internal documents of Scholas Occurrentes to which ACI Prensa had access is the “Ágora Project. Creation of a World Social Network based on Education: Scholas,” which dates back to 2015 and is marked “strictly private and confidential.”

The Ágora Project proposes a growth and financing model for Scholas Occurentes that sheds light on its current operation.

In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers pointed out that the Scholas fundraising model had been generated “spontaneously and opportunistically”, which is why it proposed new mechanisms to achieve “continue with Scholas' activity, consolidate the countries in which they are present and invest in the generation of other sources of financing. ”

In one of its first pages, the project acknowledges that “the pope is a key asset for Scholas and therefore a development model is necessary that allows Scholas Global to have broad control over the use of his image in all its chapters / venues.”

For this reason, the document indicates, it is important "to maintain control over the image and reputation of the Foundation and the Pope."

"Avoiding reputational risk is, for Scholas (...) a priority task," the confidential document reads.

A version of this report was first published as a series by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Argentine bishops call bill to legalize abortion ‘untenable’

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 23, 2020 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Argentina have blasted a plan to introduce an abortion legalization bill in the country, saying it is “untenable and inappropriate” to prioritize abortion during an ongoing pandemic.

An advisor to President Alberto Fernández announced that an abortion legalization bill would be introduced in the legislature at the end of October, El Día newspaper reported.

Fernández, who took office last year, has pledged to legalize abortion in Argentina. The country currently allows abortion in cases when the mother's life or health is in danger, or in cases of rape.

A legislative debate on the legalization of abortion was originally planned in March, but was postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Just as the dignity of life and the promotion of human rights are central concepts in an authentically democratic agenda,” the Catholic bishops’ conference said in an Oct. 22 statement, “the general public health situation…makes any attempt to introduce and discuss a law like this untenable and inappropriate.”

The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the state’s duty to care for the life and health of its people, the bishops said, and “not taking care of all lives, all Life, would be a very serious fault by a State that wants to protect its inhabitants.”

The bishops called for “political prudence” aimed at fostering unity in a wounded society.

“When the spirit of Argentines overcomes extreme situations with patience, ingenuity and hope –even in the face of families losing their loved ones; when we suffer from the humiliating increase in the number of ever poorer households; in a school year that left a large number of students on the sidelines and exposed the inequality of resources and means; when heroic healthcare workers, exhausted by superhuman effort, cry out to us to care for life; common sense - which abounds in ordinary people - reveals to us that there is no place to think about legislation that contradicts the discourse that says that taking care of all Argentines is a priority,” they said.

Other pro-life groups also criticized the plan to move forward with a legislative debate regarding abortion.

“Seriously, is abortion a priority in the middle of a crisis?” the group Prolife Unity said on social media. “Argentines need a State that takes care of them, that lifts them out of poverty and doesn’t abandon them. Abortion was not and is not a priority.”

Pro-life organizations have planned a pro-life caravan to drive by the Quinta de Olivos presidential residence on October 24 to protest the upcoming debate and possible legalization of abortion.


Latin American bishops express solidarity with Chile after church burnings

CNA Staff, Oct 22, 2020 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Following recent attacks on three churches in Chile, the bishops of Paraguay, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and Argentina expressed their closeness to and support of the Church in Chile.

The Church of the Assumption and Saint Francis Borgia church in Santiago were destroyed by arson Oct. 18. Vandals smashed windows, tagged, and tried to burn down Saint Francis of Assisi Church in La Serena Oct. 19.

The attacks came as demonstrators across the country marked the one-year anniversary of large anti-government protests that took place across Chile last year, and shortly before the Oct. 25 plebiscite on writing a new constitution to replace that written in 1980 under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Bishop Adalberto Martínez Flores of Villarrica del Espiritu Santo, president of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference, expressed the bishops’ "closeness and ecclesial communion" to the Church in Chile.

"The bishops of Paraguay express our solidarity, support and prayer in the face of the aggressive and violent affronts that the Vineyard of the Lord has been subjected to in that part of Chile."

"Every sign of intolerance, disrespect and extreme obfuscation, which threatens the dignity of people and their genuine expressions, reveals the painful distance and cruel folly that evil is capable of generating in the hearts and minds of those who have forgotten God,” the bishops said.

"When the world stops recognizing the presence, action and witness of Christ incarnate in his Church, the certainty of the way of the Nazarene becomes more evident for men and women of faith," they added.

In their message of solidarity, the Brazilian bishops’ conference prayed that the "God of peace would continue to strengthen the brother bishops and other Chilean Christians in the mission of working together so that social peace may be reestablished."

“In fact, there is no way to accept violence as a solution to a nation’s problems Violence dehumanizes, harms people, destroys property and stains history,” they said.

The bishops of the Patagonia-Comahue region in Argentina sent a letter expressing their closeness to the bishops of Chile in "these moments of sadness and anguish."

"We unite with the faithful people of God who are certainly suffering from those acts of violence that destroy the values of coexistence, peace and respect, sought and achieved with so much sacrifice, and now violated and placed in crisis," the bishops said.

In grim accounting, Canadian report says assisted suicide saves health care money

CNA Staff, Oct 22, 2020 / 12:18 am (CNA).- A Canadian report has put a dollar figure on legal assisted suicide, claiming that legalization has saved millions of dollars in health care costs—and that a looming expansion of legal assisted suicide, known by backers as “aid in dying,” would save millions more.

A new Parliamentary Budget Officer report, released Oct. 20, is intended to provide economic and financial analysis of legislation to improve parliamentary debate and promote “greater budget transparency and accountability.”

While the report acknowledged cost savings of assisted suicide, it said “this report should in no way be interpreted as suggesting that (medical aid-in-dying) be used to reduce health care costs.”

At the same time, the report acknowledged the “disproportionately high” health care costs to care for people in their last year of life, especially in their last month. Such patients represent 1% of the population and 10% to 20% of total health care costs.

Access to medically assisted suicide, the report said, reduces health care costs for Canada's provincial governments, the primary health care providers. Since the legalization of assisted suicide in June 2016, the report estimated some $66 million in U.S. dollars have been saved because individuals are helped to die rather than receive health care or palliative care.

A Quebec superior court last year ruled that it was unconstitutional to limit medically assisted suicide only to those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable,” according to the Canadian news site Global News. Canada's Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada chose not to appeal the decision, a decision lamented by Canada's Catholic bishops.

This court ruling required the government to introduce legislation to comply. That legislation would no longer require natural death to be “reasonably foreseeable” for a patient to be eligible for assisted suicide.

Rather, the bill provides easier eligibility rules for people near death and stricter eligibility rules for people who are not near death. It removes a 10-day waiting period for those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

For persons whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, eligibility assessments must take at least 90 days unless loss of capacity to consent is imminent. According to a summary of the bill at the website of Canada's Department of Justice, two independent doctors or nurse practitioners must provide an assessment and confirm the requester is eligible. At least one doctor or practitioner assessing the person's eligibility must have expertise in the medical condition causing his or her suffering.

The bill allows the possibility to waive final consent for assisted suicide for patients whose death is reasonably foreseeable and who are at risk of losing the ability to consent. It would also reduce the number of required witnesses for patient consent from two to one.
Under the legislation, the patient must be informed of options to relieve suffering, including counseling, mental health and disability support, community services, and palliative care. Mental illness as a sole underlying condition would not be sufficient to access legal assisted suicide.

The report's financial analysis predicted an estimated 6,465 assisted suicide deaths in 2021 under the current law, with over $66.14 million in U.S. dollars saved in provincial health budgets due to these deaths. The number of dollars saved is reached by subtracting the costs of palliative care, about $55.4 million, from mean end-of-life costs of about $138.6 million, and then subtracting $17 million in costs to administer that number of assisted suicides.

The new legislation to expand access to assisted suicide will result in another 1,164 assisted suicide deaths in Canada in 2021, the report predicted, with an estimated $46.8 million in health care costs saved. This would increase total estimated savings to some $113.4 million, compared to a situation in which assisted suicide was illegal, the Parliamentary Budget Officer report said.

“While this amount may appear significant, it only represents 0.08% of total provincial health care,” said the report. The cost reduction “represents a negligible portion of the health care budgets of provinces.”

Justice Minister David Lametti introduced the latest assisted suicide bill in February but its progress was halted when the House of Commons adjourned in mid-March because of the coronavirus epidemic.

The bill, numbered C-7, is characterized as a “medical assistance in dying” bill. It would modify Bill C-14, passed by Canada's Parliament in 2016 to legalize and regulate doctor-assisted suicide.

In February the Catholic Bishops of Canada voiced “the greatest concern and dismay” about efforts to expand assisted suicide. They condemned “the lamentable legislative aim” of broadening access to assisted dying, and insisted “that every opportunity for due diligence be taken during the parliamentary process.” They have said better palliative care is needed.

“We unequivocally affirm and maintain the fundamental belief in the sacredness of all human life, a value that we share with many others in our country, including persons of different faiths and no faith at all,” Archbishop of Winnipeg Richard Gagnon, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an October letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Despite the misleading euphemism, ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’ remains simply euthanasia and assisted suicide – that is, the direct taking of human life or the participation in his/her suicide, which can never be justified,” Gagnon added, according to Grandin Media.

A report released by the Canadian government said that more than a third of those who opted for “medical assistance in dying” cited concerns of being a burden to family or carers.

Assisted suicide opponents have warned that legalizing such killings helps increase social or financial pressure on a person to kill him or herself, whether this pressure comes from insurance companies, private or government health care administrations, or relatives. They question how society can campaign against suicide for the healthy or in favor of better palliative care for the ill while justifying assisted suicide at the same time.

They say there is a danger that assisted suicide further marginalizes the disabled, the elderly and the terminally ill and undermines the duty to respect and care for them. People facing treatable conditions could be presented assisted suicide as a better option, they warn.


Diocese in Mexico ordains 34 new priests

Guadalajara, Mexico, Oct 21, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- On World Mission Sunday, October 18, the archbishop of Guadalajara ordained 34 new priests - including 33 diocesan and 1 religious priest - and 11 new deacons.

In his homily, Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega called the ordinations a “gift that the Spirit of the Risen Lord gives to the Church of Guadalajara and to the entire Universal Church.”

The ordination Mass was offered at the Shrine of the Martyrs in the presence of a few faithful in order to observe coronavirus prevention protocols. The shrine is dedicated to the martyrs of the Mexican government’s persecution of the Church that took place in the 1920s and ‘30s.

The image of Our Lady of Zapopan, patroness of the archdiocese, was brought to the shrine and placed on the main altar.

Robles explained in his homily that the ordinations were originally scheduled for Pentecost, but had be rescheduled due to pandemic.
He emphasized that “God wants all peoples to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

“God's will for salvation is not for a people, it’s not for a group, it’s not for a guild. The salvation that God offers is for all peoples and nations, for all races, languages and cultures,” he said.

“We are all called to pass on, to bear witness and communicate the good news of salvation,” he said. “In a special way, some of us are chosen by God to dedicate our entire life, all our energy, all our time and all our qualities in order to dedicate ourselves fully to the proclamation of the Gospel.”

Robles said priests should be “dedicated full time specialists in evangelization.”

The Sacrament of Holy Orders, he said, seals and marks new priests and deacons “by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus to be an apostle, a messenger and to evangelize full time.”

The cardinal called on the newly ordained men “to go before, behind and in the middle of the sheep. That is the consecration that they have received.”

He prayed that they might “hold fast to the greatness of his purpose and destiny, which is to make present the person and saving action of God in Jesus Christ that He wants for all peoples.”

Robles and his predecessor, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, have both placed a heavy emphasis on encouraging vocations. In 2008, Sandoval called on parents not to obstruct their sons’ vocations. In 2014, Robles ordained 48 new priests.

In his October 18 homily, Robles stressed that the gift of ordination is one that should be valued and safeguarded by the entire Church.

“First of all, those who receive the gift directly, but all of us as the Church are called to care for this gift, to make it bear fruit and not devalue or underrate it,” he said.

After parish in Santiago, Chile destroyed by arson, pastor urges hope

CNA Staff, Oct 20, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).-  

The pastor of a parish destroyed by arson in Santiago, Chile on Sunday has urged local Catholics to reject temptations toward revenge, and to place their hope in unity with Jesus Christ.

Fr. Pedro Narbona, pastor of the Church of the Assumption in Santiago, Chile, which was destroyed by arsonists Oct. 18 called on people to open their hearts “without hatred and without revenge” and to “deeply reflect on the Chile that we want to build.”

“Death and pain don’t have the last word, rather hope and life always have the last word. The one who triumphs is always Our Lord and we are upheld by him and united with him,” Narbona told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner.

The priest said he was especially concerned because “with so much destruction, so much hatred and revenge” those most affected are the poor. “And in this case, a specific community that has seen the historic place where they meet and worship vandalized twice, three times.”


El dolor no tiene la última palabra mientras la esperanza y la vida vivan en la humanidad. (Parroquia La Asunción y Parroquia Francisco de Borja tras el ataque del 18 octubre)

— Giselle Vargas ن (@Giselle_VN) October 19, 2020  

“This is a living place,” Narbona said of his parish, where people “trust that Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd leads them through dark valleys and we fear nothing. The certainty and the strength that it gives us now is that, without hatred, without revenge, we may open our hearts to deeply reflect on the Chile that we want to build.”

Narbona was alluding to an Oct. 25 referendum in Chile on a new constitution that would replace the current one written in 1980 under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli tutti “invites us to dream of the world we want, the country we want; we want an open country, a welcoming country, a country where we can all sit at the table, but truly everyone, with no one excluded,” Narbona said.

“Chile, as our bishops say, has a vocation to understanding, not confrontation, Chile is called to be a country of brothers where everyone has his daily bread, respect and joy. That is what’s fundamental, what’s most important. Opening our hearts to hope, to Jesus Christ.”

The priest asked believers to “find light and peace--may the Lord disarm our hands, cool off our heads and open our hearts to dialogue,” which would be the best thing that could happen, Narbona concluded.

Chilean police are investigating the church fire. After that, Narbona and diocesan officials say they will evaluate how to rebuild the parish community spiritually, morally and physically.

The Church of the Assumption had previously been attacked by looters in November 2019. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been difficult for the community to begin rebuilding.

A few weeks ago, Masses and pastoral life resumed, putting in place the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On Sunday, at the same time that Narbona’s parish was lit ablaze, rioters also attacked nearby St. Francis Borgia Church, which serves the national police force. The two churches are located in Santiago’s downtown area near Plaza de Italia, where demonstrations began that day.

Both churches were looted, tagged with slogans, and completely burned,  with bell towers and roofs coming down in the conflagration.

The Chilean Investigative Police and other federal police forces are still investigating the blazes. Some arrests have already been made.

The attacks came as demonstrators across the country marked the one-year anniversary of large anti-government protests that took place across Chile last year, during which riots destroyed supermarkets and other businesses, and reportedly caused more than 30 deaths.

The demonstrations began last October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

Since last October 57 churches and religious buildings have been attacked in Chile.

Adding to that total, a large outdoor statue of the Virgin Mary in Pirque, a town located on the outskirts of Santiago, was doused with red paint and tagged with anti-Catholic abortion slogans on Oct. 18. The green neckerchief adopted by abortion advocates in Latin America was tied around Our Lady’s face.

On Monday night, unidentified vandals smashed windows, tagged, and tried to burn down Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Serena, Chile, about 245 miles north of Santiago. A quick response by the local unit of the national police put the vandals to flight and prevented further damage.

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


In Chile, archbishop condemns arson attacks that destroyed Catholic churches

CNA Staff, Oct 19, 2020 / 10:18 am (CNA).-  

The Archbishop of Santiago de Chile condemned arson attacks that destroyed two Chilean churches Sunday, and called on Catholics to carry out acts of reparation for the attacks.


?VIDEO | On Sunday, Oct. 18, groups of hooded protesters entered two of the oldest churches in #Chile’s capital city, setting fire to the St. Francis Borgia Church and to the Church of the Assumption.
Read more:

— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) October 19, 2020  

On Oct. 18, groups of hooded protesters entered two churches in Chile’s capital city, setting fire to the St. Francis Borgia Church, which is the church of the country’s national police force, and to the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both churches are among the oldest in Santiago.


¿Y a esto le llaman progresismo?
No son buenos días en

— Doña PiIy (@dona_pily) October 19, 2020  

The spire of the Church of the Assumption collapsed as the church burned, drawing cheers from demonstrators protesting outside the building. The interior of the St. Francis Borgia Church was gutted by the fire, and both buildings may be beyond repair.

The attacks came as demonstrators across the country called for a constitution, and marked the one year anniversary of large anti-government protests that took place across Chile last year, during which riots destroyed supermarkets and other businesses, and reportedly caused more than 30 deaths.

The demonstrations began last October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

A number of churches across Chile have been attacked and looted amid the demonstrations in the country.

Rioters have previously set fires inside St. Francis Borgia Church; in January the church suffered heavy damage after fires were set and demonstrators blocked firefighters trying to access the Church.

In a statement published late Sunday, Archbishop Celestino Aós condemned the attacks.

“Violence is evil, and whoever sows violence reaps destruction, pain and death. Let us never justify any violence,” for political or social purposes, the archbishop said.

"The poor are the most affected" by these acts of vandalism, the archbishop said, as he expressed solidarity with parishioners from both churches destroyed by the fires.

Aós called on Catholics not to lose faith or hope, because "love is stronger."

“Let us not justify the unjustifiable. God does not want violence. We will come together to do acts of penance and reparation as a believing community,” he said.


A version of this report was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Belize’s far-reaching gender bill runs aground, and critics warn of international 'gender ideology' pressure

Denver Newsroom, Oct 18, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).-  

A bill purporting to secure equality and anti-discrimination in Belize was withdrawn last month, after Bishop Lawrence Nicasio and other Catholic leaders raised objections to the bill’s treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Nicasio said the bill risked creating a “new colonialism” where international experts are allowed to change the country’s laws, culture and values.

“I think that it was an important battle and that if the bill had passed, it would have had dire consequences for the future of Belize,” Father John Robinson, SOLT, told CNA Oct. 13. “However, I am under no delusion that the war has been won. There is a push in education at all levels to accept the new gender theory and to normalize and promote the LGBT lifestyle.  I am sure that there will be similar proposals in the future.”

“It is important to realize that the Equal Opportunities Bill is only one part of a larger movement of social engineering that is largely promoted and funded by foreign entities,” said Robinson, who has lived in Belize since 1994 and is chairman of Belize’s Guadalupe Media.

“These groups have historically sought to bring about their agenda through education and law.”

Bishop Nicasio, of Belize City and Belmopan, had said the bill was “rushed” despite its great consequences for the country, and warned that it “ореnѕ thе dооr fоr Unіtеd Nаtіоnѕ Соmmіttееѕ аnd ‘ехреrtѕ,’ whо dо nоt lіvе іn Веlіzе аnd dо nоt undеrѕtаnd our vаluеѕ аnd сulturе, tо dісtаtе thе tеrmѕ оf оur lаwѕ.”

“Тhіѕ would bе а nеw соlоnіаlіѕm,” the bishop said in a Sept. 15 letter.

Several international NGO backed the legislation, as part of a global push to change laws in British Commonwealth countries.

In January the Belize government’s press office said the Equal Opportunities Bill was needed “to address and prevent discrimination, stigma, and violence.”

The bill aimed to regulate “specific conduct in areas of public life” regarding employment, education, access to premises or accommodation, provision of goods and services, travel, public services.”

It would have also established an Equal Opportunities Commission, a non-judicial body that would “work with stakeholders to address inequality, resolve disputes, conduct research and education, and develop guidelines to assist the government, businesses and the community in identifying and eliminating systemic discrimination.”

The commission would have been funded by the National Assembly but could also seek funds from domestic, regional and international sources, provided that the funding be disclosed.

Also called for by the bill was an Equal Opportunities Tribunal, a judicial body funded only by the Belize government. An appointed judge of the Supreme Court would compose the tribunal. The tribunal has the power to make declarations, awards and judgment on cases. It would “provide for broad-ranging remedies” and resolve claims not settled before the commission.

Bishop Nicasio, whose diocese encompasses the entire country of 383,000 people, voiced his desire “to end unjust discrimination and all injustice” and pledged cooperation to work towards these ends, but he said the Catholic Church could not support the bill for several reasons.

The bill could infringe on parents' rights, and, given the power of law to form consciences and opinions, the bill would “do much to confuse the youth of Belize regarding the sacredness of sexuality.” Sexuality is “a way toward holy matrimonial union and the conception of children,” he said.

The view of human nature behind the bill also drew criticism from the bishop, who said “the novelty of the anthropology” in it was another reason not to support it. The bill recognizes “intersex” as a sex in addition to male and female.
“The bill introduces the notion that humanity has three sexes instead of two, the notion that subjective gender identity is more important than one’s God-given biological sex and would impose on Belizeans the task of ‘gender mainstreaming’.”
It would give “unparalleled power” to an Equal Opportunities Commission and an Equal Opportunities Tribunal. In the name of fighting discrimination, it could endanger freedom of conscience and religion. While the bill made some exceptions for religious organizations, there were none for “individual believers with deeply-held, Bible-formed beliefs.” He warned the bill could create a “pendulum effect” and enable discrimination against these individuals.

For Fr. Robinson, the bill itself was “not a surprise.” He saw it as “only one manifestation of an ongoing social engineering experiment.”

“However, the extreme nature of the proposals was surprising, especially the creation of an entirely independent judicial branch with the rank of a supreme court and the power invested in the Commission/Tribunal with no real checks or balances.”

After the bill failed to advance, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow told reporters Sept. 16 that the cabinet was “very upset” not to proceed with it and felt it was a good, necessary, and “overdue” bill, PlusTV Belize reported. He said the Belize constitution provides equal opportunity and the bill would have provided an “umbrella of protection”.

He claimed it was a misconception that the legislation would be “rushed” since there would be time for views to be voiced in committee. Barrow insisted that there had been “widespread” consultations.

The Anglican Bishop of Belize, Phillip Wright, in his role heading the Belize Council of Churches, had told the prime minister the council could not support the bill as it was written. The Roman Catholic Church in Belize is also a member of the council.

Backers of the bill were planning to proceed in the face of expected opposition from evangelical Christians, but opposition from other churches was too much, according to Barrow.

“We’re not going to go against all the churches, the evangelicals plus the Belize Council of Churches,” said the prime minister. According to Barrow, Wright seemed to suggest that further work could have resulted in an agreement.

The U.K.-based Human Dignity Trust, an LGBT advocacy group, aided with the drafting of the Belize bill. In an April 17 announcement, the trust said the Belize bill was “the first of their kind for the Caribbean region.” The trust “supported the process of public consultations on the proposed legislation” and translated the legal documents into “digestible explanatory materials for everyday Belizeans.”

The trust is a member of the Equality and Justice Alliance, a consortium of three NGOs which received about $7.25 million from the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office in 2018 for a two-year program. This program aimed to engage Commonwealth leaders, governments and civil society leaders “to advance equality and equal protection before the law in order to secure the rights of all Commonwealth citizens, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression.”

Besides the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office and others, the trust is presently funded by the Canadian government’s diplomatic department Global Affairs Canada; the Tides Foundation’s Equality Without Borders Fund; the Open Society Foundations; and the Sigrid Rausing Trust, among others.

The Human Dignity Trust worked with the Belize National AIDS Commission and Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children “in order to create an enabling environment for the introduction of this progressive legislation.”

Its specific efforts included a “public education campaign” on television, radio, a website and social media. Its public service announcements were “designed to break down stigma and encourage respect and tolerance for LGBT people, women and girls and people with disability,” the trust said.

Belize First Lady Kim Simplis Barrow, wife of Prime Minister Barrow, served as Belize’s Special Envoy for Women and Children through Oct. 1. She has praised the Human Dignity Trust’s work on the Equal Opportunity Bill.

While critics of Belize’s bill see it as a form of ideological colonialism, some backers of this international effort claim they were making amends for the colonial legacy of the British Empire. Then-Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to the Joint Forums of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, voicing “deep regret” that Britain had instituted “discriminatory laws,” including the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations, in its Commonwealth territories.

“It has been a great honor to be entrusted by the British government to provide technical support for law reform that has the power to transform millions of people’s lives across the Commonwealth,” Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust, said in April 2020. “We have been overwhelmed by the commitment of government officials in Belize, Mauritius and St Vincent and the Grenadines to rid their law books of discriminatory laws and enact protective legislation, and assisting them has been a privilege.”

The National Evangelical Association of Belize’s Sept. 9 criticism of the bill appeared to counter claims that there was sufficient consultation in the bill’s drafting. The first announcement of the consultations took place four days before the consultations. The 75-page first draft of the bill was released the same day as the first consultation.

The group said the proposed human rights commission’s ability to investigate someone without a formal complaint would allow “special interest activism in targeting organizations, schools or businesses.” The bill’s definition of “gender identity” has never appeared in Belize law before and would be that of LGBT activists. “Intersex” would also be a term new to Belize law.

The evangelical critics objected that similar anti-discrimination laws have been used in other countries to “arrest pastors, silence those who speak up about their values, sue cake bakers for not doing same sex wedding cakes.” The bill’s religious freedom protections are “severely deficient.”
Because the law aimed to protect “lawful sexual activity” from “discrimination,” a school that fired a teacher for sexual relations with a student age 16 or over would have faced a discrimination complaint if the bill had become law.
The critics also faulted the law’s ambiguity in banning “unintended,” “undirect,” “unaware,” and “partial” discrimination. The tribunal system established an “alternate independent judicial path” that undermines protections like presumption of innocence and provision of legal representation, they sad.
Robinson told CNA that advocates who campaigned to remove Belize’s little-enforced anti-sodomy law used success there to press for further changes.
“I am very grateful to those who vigorously opposed this bill and who sounded the alarm,” the priest said. “I found it very concerning that many Catholics were oblivious to the harm that this bill would have done to Belize and (that there) was reluctance in the Church to take action.  I am grateful especially to the Evangelical churches who were largely responsible for opposing and helping to defeat this bill.”

Another point of controversy in the country is the Ministry of Education’s “Belizean Studies” program in non-denominational secondary schools.
“This program has been rejected by the denominational schools because of its relativism, its subtle Marxism and its gender theory which promotes an anthropology that is in direct conflict with a Christian anthropology,” Robinson said.
In 2012 controversy focused on a Health and Family Life Education manual promoted by the U.S. Peace Corps through the Ministry of Education. Before its distribution through all primary schools in Belize, evangelical and Catholic critics objected to what Robinson characterized as “highly inappropriate sexual content” and its promotion of “sexual indulgence.” Objections from critics halted the program.

The United Nations is another area where Belizean leaders are encouraged to advance LGBT causes like the equal opportunity bill.

LGBT issues in Belize were a topic at a Nov. 12, 2018 review of Belize’s human rights record conducted by a working group of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. At that meeting several countries pressed Belize to pass anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and some sought the legalization of abortion.
The Belize delegation said some recommendations were aligned with the government’s priorities. The delegation also voiced support for sex education and HIV prevention programs developed by UNESCO.


Managua archdiocese urges free elections in Nicaragua

CNA Staff, Oct 13, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Managua has expressed its concern over new threats to freedom and personal safety in Nicaragua, and urged the country’s board of elections “to guarantee free elections" in 2021.

In an Oct. 5 statement the archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission warned of "new threats to freedom”, in response to bills introduced in the National Assembly aimed at "protecting national sovereignty."

Regarding the general election scheduled for Nov. 7, 2021, it said that “elections must first have the necessary and adequate conditions," including freedom of information.

"Citizen participation is unthinkable without the necessary information provided by independent media, which are increasingly being harassed.”

It said the board of elections needs to be “renewed in accordance with established norms so that it is independent and can be trusted.”

The commission also lamented “the increase in violence in the most vulnerable sectors of society: the elderly, children, women” and said that this is due to “the absence of adequate education in family and civic values for decades.”

Some bills have been perceived as intended to support the re-election of president Daniel Ortega, who has been in office since 2007.

In 2014, he oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits.

On Oct. 7 Ortega approved the “National Cyber Security Strategy” which, he said, seeks “the sovereign and secure use of cyberspace that can be trusted.” This measure was criticized internationally because it could be used to censor independent journalists and social media users who express opinions contrary to the government.

The “Law Regulating Foreign Agents” was introduced in the National Assembly to oblige every person and organization funded from outside the country to register with the Ministry of the Interior as a foreign agent and to refrain from participating in “internal politics.” Critics say this law could be used against the independent foreign press.

Following the murder of two girls, the government also announced a reform in the judicial system calling for life imprisonment for people who commit “hate crimes” and crimes “against the peace.”

The measure was approved Sept. 15 by Ortega, who said he would go after those who continue “committing murder and placing bombs” and causing “more destruction than done in April 2018.”

It was then that a socio-political crisis erupted in Nicaragua sparking a wave of protests against Ortega’s government that was violently put down, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators.

Since then several churches and bishops have been attacked by paramilitary groups aligned with the government. In July, a man threw a firebomb into a chapel of the Managua cathedral.

The 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.

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.