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Update: Puerto Rican governor's actions set off 'time bomb,' bishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The president of the Puerto Rican bishops' conference said the actions of Gov. Ricardo Rossello and his administration were the final straw for residents of the U.S. commonwealth who have suffered through years of financial mismanagement, corruption and the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service July 23, Bishop Ruben Gonzalez Medina of Ponce said the massive protests in the island's capital, San Juan, were "a manifestation of the people and their outrage, as well as their exhaustion from having been 'cogido de bobos' ('taken for idiots')."

The July 10 arrest of two former senior officials of Rossello's administration who were charged by the FBI with corruption, as well as the release of offensive text messages between the governor and his staff, have left Puerto Ricans questioning "what kind of a person do we have leading our people."

"This was all a time bomb and it exploded," he said.

Rossello is facing an onslaught of criticism after the Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of private chats July 11 between the governor and his staff in which they make light of the victims of the 2017 hurricane as well as make several violent, homophobic and misogynistic remarks aimed at political and public figures.

Although the governor said he would not seek re-election and no longer lead his party, his refusal to resign sparked further outrage, causing hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to march in protest July 22 to "La Fortaleza," the governor's mansion.

Despite the indignation and anger felt by his compatriots, Bishop Gonzalez told CNS he was impressed by the unity and respect felt at an event "that was not organized by a specific group but rather a reality that began among the people."

The bishop attended the protest, along with Bishop Eusebio Ramos Morales of Caguas, secretary of the bishops' conference. Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, he said, was "unable to attend because he is still recovering from surgery."

"The words that I heard the most were, 'Thank you for being with us; thank you for being present,'" Bishop Gonzalez recalled. "We are not the protagonists of these protests, we are not going there with a flag that says, 'Here is the bishop. We are Catholics.'"

Instead, he said, the presence of the bishops at the protest was meant to accompany Puerto Ricans who are rediscovering values that "the church has proclaimed and that has been sown into the hearts of men and women."

The unity shared among all men and women on the Caribbean island, he added, is a commitment to "establishing a better Puerto Rico."

Nevertheless, Bishop Gonzalez told CNS that true change can only come if Rossello listens and accepts the growing demand for his resignation by those he was elected to serve.

Rossello, he added, has lost "the trust of the people." The bishop questioned whether the governor is fit "to lead a dialogue if nobody wants to listen to him, not even members of his own party."

"Yes, I do believe" he should resign, Bishop Gonzalez said. "Forgiveness is one thing, and no one is opposed to forgiving him. But he must also realize that actions have consequences, and one of those consequences is that the people have lost trust in him. This is what the people are asking. How are they going to be governed by someone whom they can't trust?"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Brennan named to head West Virginia diocese

IMAGE: CNS photo/Colleen Rowan, The Catholic Spirit

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Mark E. Brennan of Baltimore to head the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.

A native of Boston, Bishop Brennan, 72, has been a Baltimore auxiliary since his episcopal ordination Jan. 19, 2017.

In West Virginia, he fills the vacancy left by the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield last September; he turned 75 Sept. 8, 2018, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. When Pope Francis accepted his resignation Sept. 13, 2018, he left under a cloud of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. The same day, Pope Francis named Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori apostolic administrator of the statewide diocese.

Bishop Brennan's appointment was announced July 23 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States.

He will become the ninth bishop of the diocese, which had been the Diocese of Wheeling from its founding in 1850 until 1962, when it became the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. His installation Mass will be celebrated Aug. 22 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling.

Archbishop Lori offered his "deepest gratitude" to the pope for appointing Bishop Brennan, adding: "The Archdiocese of Baltimore has been blessed these past two years by his service as auxiliary bishop. During that time, I have witnessed his pastoral love for the people of God, who have accepted and embraced him for his kindness, humility and joyful witness to the faith."

"These gifts and so many others will bring healing and hope to the church in West Virginia, which deserves a shepherd who bears so many of the qualities possessed by Bishop Brennan," the archbishop said in a statement. "While we are saddened to lose him here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we extend our gratitude and prayers to him in his new role."

Bishop Brennan said, "I am deeply honored to be appointed the new bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and am grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his confidence in me to now lead the Catholic faithful here in West Virginia in a spirit of true Christian service."

He noted that his parents, now deceased, retired to the state, so "I am no stranger and, in fact, a great admirer of the beauty of its landscape and people.

"Even as we work toward bringing about true healing and renewal here in this local church -- work begun so well by Archbishop William Lori -- I am full of hope and confidence for what we can accomplish together," he said.

Bishop Brennan said he was "very, very surprised" upon hearing the news from Archbishop Pierre that he had been selected for the post.

He said, "My reaction was: I grew up thinking lightning never struck twice in the same place." But for him it did. "Once was an old dog like me being made a bishop. But it happened again. Bishop of a diocese? Who can believe it?"

He said he asked the nuncio if he was sure that he was the choice, and the archbishop confirmed it.

Bishop Brennan talked with Archbishop Lori at length after receiving the news and the archbishop noted that priests and bishops have to put personal preferences behind the needs of the church, and the diocese needs someone who can go there soon. "It's been dragging on a long time. ... The archbishop is willing that I go," he said.

"I've accepted it," Bishop Brennan added. "I'm going and I'll try to go with a good spirit and do the best I can."

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has about 78,000 Catholics, or 4 percent of a total state population of over 1.8 million people.

Bishop Brennan will face important issues as the diocese's bishop. He acknowledged that West Virginia is an epicenter of the nation's fight against opioid addiction. It also is home to some of the poorest people in the country.

In addition, he follows Bishop Bransfield, who will be prohibited from living in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and prohibited from presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of the liturgy. He also is obligated "to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused; the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston."

These disciplinary actions were imposed by Pope Francis and announced July 19; they were based on the findings of the investigation into Bishop Bransfield overseen by Archbishop Lori as apostolic administrator.

In March, the archbishop announced the results of the investigation had been forwarded to the Vatican. He also announced restrictions on Bishop Bransfield, saying he was not authorized "to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore."

Bishop Brennan understands that an important part of his ministry will be healing.

"I hope I can be a bishop who listens to people and tries to help them make sense of their experience and honors what they've gone through, and who works with them to try to get to a better place," he told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan news outlet.

"Can I personally bring healing? I don't know -- and I believe God's the one who brings healing -- but can I be an instrument in doing that? I hope and pray I can," he added.

Bishop Brennan earned a bachelor of arts degree from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1969. He pursued seminary studies at Christ the King Seminary in Albany, New York, 1969-1970. In 1972, he received a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, 1972; he also earned a graduate degree from the Gregorian in 1974.

He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington May 15, 1976. He spent 14 months in 1985 and 1986 studying Spanish language and culture, principally in the Dominican Republic and Colombia. He also speaks French.

He has spent a lot of his time addressing the needs of immigrant communities. During his 13-year tenure as pastor at St. Martin Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in the Washington Archdiocese, he was involved in welcoming people of many cultures and reaching out directly to the poor and marginalized.

In 2016, reflecting on his vocation when he marked the 40th anniversary of priestly ordination, then-Msgr. Brennan told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, that he felt an "overwhelming sense of God's faithfulness. ... The Lord is always there for me, giving me the help I need."

When he was named an auxiliary bishop for Baltimore in December of that year, he said he was humbled by the appointment "at this stage in my life and being simply a parish priest."

His episcopal motto is "Docente omnes gentes" ("Teach all nations").

At a reception following his episcopal ordination as a Baltimore auxiliary, friends and parishioners from St. Martin recalled the bishop's pastoral nature.

Deacon Kenneth Barrett, whose family was for a time one of two African American families at the parish, called him "a people's servant."

Tina Kent and her husband, Leo Motter, brought four of their five children to the ordination. Kent said Bishop Brennan had a profound impact on her faith, leading her to be received into the Catholic Church.

"He taught me a lot about Catholicism, the Eucharist and confession," Kent told the Catholic Review, noting that then-Father Brennan presided at their wedding.

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Contributing to this story was Christopher Gunty, associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Program gives educators tools to teach about Holocaust, anti-Semitism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Elizabeth Bachmann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of 35 teachers from Catholic middle and high schools around the country went back to school briefly this summer to learn how to better approach anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in the classroom.

In its 24th annual summer conference, Bearing Witness -- a partnership between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Catholic Educational Association, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Georgetown University-- hosted the teachers for five days, beginning with an opening ceremony at the Holocaust museum July 15.

Throughout the week, Bearing Witness addressed the historical relationship between Catholics and Jews, the ideas that led up to the Holocaust, the Holocaust itself, and how the relationship between Catholic and Jews has changed. They also explored ways to bring these theoretical ideas into the classroom and to encourage students, not to stand by and accept anti-Semitic bullying, but to stand up for and ally with victims.

Samantha Parker came all the way from Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she teaches middle school language arts and religion at Holy Cross Catholic School.

"Some of the big takeaways for me are especially when I teach the book 'Night' to the eighth graders," Parker told Catholic News Service. "When I teach the book, our focus is of course so much on the activities in the Holocaust, but I have learned at this training that I need to include the 'before' life to show my students that these are people, people like them who had a house belongings, faith rituals, daily rituals, family rituals, to have my students see them as humans and not just victims."

"Night" is a 1960 memoir by Elie Wiesel, who wrote about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz, in occupied Poland, and Buchenwald, Germany, in 1944-1945.

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory spoke to the teachers during the program, affirming the importance of educating kids about treating people with love and kindness despite differences. He maintained that prejudice and intolerance are learned, and that educators are the very people with the greatest power to unteach hate.

Jen Cabigas, a teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland, said she felt the tools Bearing Witness gave her during the week were universally applicable.

"I think we started the program talking about the importance of religious literacy and being able to dialogue with one another and examine our own bias and I think that's sort of the starting point," Cabigas said. "It goes beyond just the Holocaust or anti-Semitism, it is a tool we can use to address any kind of discrimination."

The group visited Georgetown University to learn practical methods to prevent anti-Semitic sentiments from growing among students. Participants also went to the French ambassador's house to celebrate France's dedication to supporting the Jewish people in Europe.

The program also is a testament to the cooperation that has developed between the Catholic Church and Jewish leadership since the Second Vatican Council document "Nostra Aetate," the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. In the declaration, the Vatican officially affirmed its shared patrimony with the Jewish people and acknowledged that the Jews are neither cursed nor rejected by God for helping to fulfill the passion of Jesus Christ.

Seth Gordon-Lipkin, education director for ADL in the District of Columbia regional office, explained that ADL seeks to take a proactive, rather than reactive approach to "Nostra Aetate," bringing those messages to Catholic communities preemptively, rather than responding to incidents of anti-Semitism.

"It's good that the proclamation was made in the '60s, but it takes time for change to unfold and a lot of the messages haven't fully trickled down to our communities," Gordon-Lipkin said. "So, being a little more forward thinking, and doing that more proactively than reactively is something that's really critical."

Bearing Witness is one of ADL's many outreach programs intended to do just that.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Audit firm, other financial controls announced for West Virginia diocese

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Christopher Gunty

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, has selected a new external auditor as part of the progress that has been made since Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield as head of the diocese in September 2018.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, apostolic administrator since that time, announced the selection of CLA (CliftonLarsonAllen) LLP -- a national financial auditing firm that serves more than 30 dioceses across the country -- in a decision made in coordination with the diocesan finance council.

The archbishop said the audit would be published on the diocese's website when it is completed and received.

"I am grateful to the members of the finance council who are working to identify best practices nationally that will help strengthen our financial protocols and procedures and ensure the trust and confidence of all," Archbishop Lori said. "A commitment to responsible financial stewardship must be a non-negotiable as we deploy diocesan resources to advance the work of the Gospel across the state of West Virginia and to serve critical needs."

In a letter sent July 17 to Catholics in the diocese, which encompasses the whole state of West Virginia, the archbishop acknowledged the breach of trust.

The archbishop said he hears many questions about Bishop Bransfield's extravagant spending and credible allegations that he regularly sexually harassed young priests and seminarians, wondering how behavior could go unchecked for so long a time. People also ask whether there is a process to check a bishop's behavior. The archbishop noted that such questions must be confronted locally and nationally.

In June, at their general assembly in Baltimore, "the U.S. bishops took some important steps to do just that by voting to establish a third-party reporting system and other procedures to make it easier to report abuse, harassment and malfeasance by bishops," Archbishop Lori wrote in the letter.

"I had already put into place a similar system in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and one is now being established in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as well," he noted.

He said that a metropolitan archbishop does not serve in a supervisory role with the bishops with other dioceses in the province, called "suffragan sees."

"The measures adopted by the U.S. bishops call for metropolitan archbishops to investigate complaints about suffragan bishops only when mandated to do so by the Vatican," he said.

"That is why when I received a small number of complaints from parishioners in West Virginia regarding the very visible renovations being done to Bishop Bransfield's residence and to the chancery office," he continued, "I was not authorized to conduct an investigation, nor still less to demand a comprehensive financial review."

Instead, the archbishop said, he raised these concerns with Bishop Bransfield, who assured Archbishop Lori that the renovation of his residence, which had been damaged by fire, and to the chancery, which was being converted from a school to an office, were necessary and that these projects were approved by diocesan finance authorities.

"At the time, I had no reason to doubt the bishop's assurance that appropriate diocesan procedures and safeguards had been followed," he said.

Archbishop Lori said the situation changed dramatically in August 2018 when he received firsthand, credible allegations of sexual harassment and factual evidence of excessive spending and misuse of diocesan funds.

"Though not authorized to investigate the matter myself, I immediately concluded that I needed to bring this direct evidence to the appropriate church authorities in Rome and did so that very same day. I also reported it to the apostolic nuncio, the pope's representative to the United States," Archbishop Lori said.

The Vatican responded by announcing the acceptance of Bishop Bransfield's letter of resignation the following month and appointing Archbishop Lori as apostolic administrator while charging him to oversee a preliminary investigation of the former bishop so that the Holy See could make a judgment regarding his conduct.

Upon completion of that investigation and the results being sent to the Vatican in February, Archbishop Lori restricted Bishop Bransfield from exercising any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

On July 19, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has taken disciplinary actions against the bishop as a result of those findings. Bishop Bransfield is prohibited from living in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, prohibited from presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of the liturgy and "must make personal amends for some of the harm he caused."

In his July 17 letter to the people of the diocese, Archbishop Lori noted that when a bishop is appointed to lead a diocese, it is expected that he will be a wise and honest steward of its resources, and that the church has put into place structures to ensure funds are used well and wisely, including lay-comprised finance councils, a group of priest consultors, investment committees and auditors.

"But here in Wheeling-Charleston, these procedures and processes did not prevent the bishop from misusing diocesan funds," he said.

The archbishop outlined several steps he said are underway, will be taken or are completed to strengthen financial protocols, including: hiring the new external audit firm; reviewing and strengthening diocesan financial policies; and having a more review of all capital projects.

"Reports of Bishop Bransfield's lifestyle and spending habits have also raised questions, not only about his own situation, but also about other bishops," Archbishop Lori noted in the letter.

He explained that diocesan priests and bishops, unlike priests who belong to religious orders, do not take a vow of poverty. They are provided with the basics of food, housing and healthcare but otherwise "their salaries are rightly modest and follow a scale typically set by a diocesan personnel board." They are expected to manage their own finances, rather than sharing all their resources with the community, as religious orders do.

Some priests and bishops have additional means of support, including family members, book publishing, speeches, etc. As an example, the archbishop noted he also is compensated for his service as the supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, as are other officers of the international organization.

"Excessive financial expenditures and the personal use of diocesan funds by any bishop stands in contrast to those bishops who engage in responsible stewardship of the resources entrusted to them and who abide by the fiscal policies and controls in place to ensure a fiscally healthy church," Archbishop Lori said.

"I join you in praying for the appointment of a new bishop, a shepherd who will lead the church in West Virginia by reflecting in his own life Christ's example of humility, selfless love and service," Archbishop Lori said in closing the letter.

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Gunty is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope writes Syrian president, urging him to protect civilians, seek peace

IMAGE: CNS photo/White Helmets, social media via Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to put an end to his country's eight-year-long conflict and seek reconciliation for the good of the nation and its vulnerable people.

"The Holy Father asks the president to do everything possible to put an end to this humanitarian catastrophe, in order to protect the defenseless population, especially those who are most vulnerable, in respect for international humanitarian law," said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

The Vatican press office said July 22 that Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, met that morning with Assad in Damascus.

During the meeting, Cardinal Turkson gave the president the pope's letter, which expresses "Pope Francis' deep concern for the humanitarian situation in Syria," particularly for civilians in the province of Idlib, said a written statement from the new director of the Vatican press office, Matteo Bruni.

The United Nations said conditions in Syria were "alarming" for millions of civilians.

Nearly 12 million people were in need of humanitarian aid and 5 million more were in serious need, Najat Rochdi, senior humanitarian adviser to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, said July 21. The increased crisis was due to intensified fighting between the government and rebels in Idlib, where the 3 million people who live there have essentially become trapped in a battle zone.

Needed infrastructure has been destroyed, at least 350 civilians reportedly have been killed and more than 330,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, the U.N. said.

In an interview with Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for the Dicastery for Communication, Cardinal Parolin said the pope wrote the letter because of his concern for the "emergency humanitarian situation" there.

"The pope follows with apprehension and great sorrow the tragic fate of the civilian population, children in particular, caught up in the bloody fighting. Unfortunately, the war grinds on -- it has not ended: The bombings continue, various health facilities have been destroyed in that area, while many others have had to suspend their activities, either completely or partially," Cardinal Parolin said.

Detailing some of the specific requests the pope made in the letter to the president, the cardinal said the pope renewed his appeal "for the protection of civilian life and the preservation of the main infrastructures, such as schools, hospitals, and health facilities."

"What is happening is intolerable and inhuman," the cardinal said.

The pope's concern is not politically motivated, he added, but reflects a desire for a "climate of fraternity" in the hopes that reconciliation "may prevail over division and hatred," Cardinal Parolin said.

He said the pope asked Assad to make a number of concrete gestures to promote reconciliation, such as, "creating the conditions needed for the safe return of exiles and internally displaced persons, and for all those who wish to return to the country after having been forced to leave. He also mentions the release of prisoners and the access of families to information about their loved ones."

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published a report about the plight of political prisoners, saying "there are tens of thousands of people who have been arbitrarily detained," the cardinal said.

Sometimes "they are allegedly subjected to various forms of torture without any legal assistance or contact with their families. The report notes that, unfortunately, many of them die in prison, while others are summarily executed," he added.

Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican has long been advocating the need for "an appropriate political solution to end the conflict, overcoming partisan interests."

"This must be done using the instruments of diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation, along with the assistance of the international community," he said.

"We are concerned about the stalemate in the negotiation process -- especially that seen in Geneva -- for a political solution to the crisis. That is why, in the letter sent to President Assad, the Holy Father encourages him to show goodwill and to work toward finding viable solutions, putting an end to a conflict which has lasted far too long and which has led to the loss of numerous innocent lives," the cardinal said.

He said the pope reminded Assad that war only generates more war and violence incites even more violence.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Agencies 'appalled' by reports U.S. could end refugee admissions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giorgos Moutafis, Reuters

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- News that officials in the Trump administration are considering "zeroing out" the number of refugees accepted by the United States brought an immediate outcry from the chairman of the U.S. bishops' migration committee and leaders of Catholic and other faith-based agencies that resettle refugees.

They all implored the government to reject such a move.

"This recent report, if true, is disturbing and against the principles we have as a nation and a people, and has the potential to end the refugee resettlement program entirely. The world is in the midst of the greatest humanitarian displacement crisis in almost a century," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas. "I strongly oppose any further reductions of the refugee resettlement program."

"Offering refuge to those fleeing religious and other persecution has been a cornerstone of what has made this country great and a place of welcome," said the bishop, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration.

"Eliminating the refugee resettlement program leaves refugees in harm's way and keeps their families separated across continents," he added in a statement released late July 19.

Politico, a Washington-based news outlet, first reported on the possible stoppage on refugee admissions the evening of July 18. Based on information from three people it said were familiar with the plan, it said the proposal was discussed a week ago at a meeting of security officials on refugee admissions.

Since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, the U.S. had admitted on average 95,000 refugees annually. In recent years, the U.S. has accepted between 50,000 to 75,000 refugees per year. The number was capped at 45,000 after Donald Trump became president in 2017 and was scaled back to 30,000 refugees for fiscal year 2019.

Before admission to the U.S., each refugee undergoes an extensive interviewing, screening and security clearance process.

"Every refugee resettled in the United States goes through an extensive vetting process that often takes 18 months to two years to complete," Bishop Vasquez noted in his statement. "(The process) incorporates live interviews and several extensive checks by multiple departments within the government. Many of these refugees have familial ties here and quickly begin working to rebuild their lives and enrich their communities."

A U.S. State Department report said that in fiscal year 2019, the top 10 countries of origin for refugees admitted into the U.S. to be resettled were: Congo, Myanmar, Ukraine, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Burundi and Colombia.

Setting caps on the number of refugees to be accepted from five global regions is done at the beginning of each fiscal year by the president, in consultation with Congress. The deadline for this consultation is Sept. 30, according to Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service. She told reporters during a phone briefing midday July 19 that the U.S. secretary of state "makes the final decision."

In its story, Politico said the State Department "declined to discuss the possible cap."

Other refugee advocates on the briefing with reporters included Michael Breen, a former Army officer, who is president and CEO of Human Rights First. He called it a "misguided and terrible" proposal.

He noted that resettlement of refugees is vital to the "national security and stability" of the U.S., makes this country a world leader and also has been an essential foreign policy tool, allowing into this country, among others, dissidents fleeing their own governments, those persecuted for their religion and Iraqis who have helped the armed forces as translators.

Anne Richard, a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration in the Obama administration, who is now at Georgetown University, told reporters that "it's pretty clear the Trump administration is trying to drive the U.S. refugee program into the ground."

"Zeroing it out" will end public-private partnerships that work with refugees and get them started on a new life in this country and all related services, she said. People will lose their jobs in this field, the institutional memory as to how these resettlement programs work "will disappear" and the U.S. "will be turning its back on this great need," Richard added.

"The last couple of years have been historically low in terms of refugee resettlement here in the U.S.," said Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services. "Of the millions of refugees around the world, only about 1% will be resettled, that number will decrease and leave more people vulnerable if these actions come to fruition."

"I would implore the decision-makers to reconsider these devastating cuts," Canny said July 19 in remarks to Catholic News Service. "Our military relies on the work of interpreters while in the field and those interpreters are putting their lives and their families lives on the line. To not open our arms to them when they have done so for us, would go against who we are as a nation."

In a statement late July 18, Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said: "It is horrifying to think that, by the stroke of a pen, the president can make a decision that will destroy a legacy of welcome that has been centuries in the making."

LIRS and MRS are two of nine voluntary agencies currently charged with refugee resettlement in the U.S.

"LIRS has been doing this work for 80 years. We have seen firsthand the life-changing impact of this crucial program," Vignarajah added. She herself is a former refugee, having come to the U.S. with her family from Sri Lanka when she was 9 months old.

"Setting the U.S. refugee ceiling at zero would be an egregious assault on fundamental American values. And quite frankly, the humanitarian implications of this decision would be enough to nullify our global reputation as leaders of the free world," Vignarajah said. "(Trump) simply cannot afford to move forward with this proposal -- not if he seeks ongoing support from people of faith all across the United States."

Refugee Council USA, a coalition of organizations committed to refugee resettlement and protection which includes MRS and LIRS, said July 18 it was "appalled" by the proposal to "zero out" the refugee number.

"The administration has all but confirmed that our country will reach the 30,000 refugee admission goal for FY2019," Canny, of MRS, said in a statement released by the council, which he chairs. "We have been relieved by that important sign of the program getting back on track after a couple of extremely difficult years. In light of that hopeful sign, reports of further reducing the refugee goal to zero make no sense at all."

He added: "There continue to be refugees who need the protection that resettlement provides, including refugees who are fleeing religious persecution. Faith based communities and volunteers across the U.S. have the desire, capacity and resources to return to at least our historically normal level of welcoming refugees."

Bishop Vasquez ended his statement referring to Pope Francis' words that "we must work for 'globalization of solidarity' with refugees, not a globalization of indifference."

"Rather than ending the program, we should work instead to restore the program to its historic norms of an annual resettlement goal of 95,000," the bishop added.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Pope issues sanctions against former West Virginia bishop

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tim Bishop, Catholic Spirit)

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced July 19 sanctions from the Vatican -- including taking away the faculties of celebrating Mass -- against a former West Virginia bishop who stepped down last year under a cloud of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.

In a posting on its website, https://dwc.org, the diocese said that retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield can no longer reside in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, nor participate "anywhere in any public celebration of the liturgy" and has an obligation to make amends for "some of the harm he caused."

The brief statement said the disciplinary measures were made based on the findings of an investigation but did not release details.

"The Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston," the statement said.

The statement, released under the letterhead of the Apostolic Nunciature of the United States of America, references a "preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and of financial improprieties" by Bishop Bransfield.

 

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Update: Catholics focus on migrant children with rally, civil disobedience

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few hundred Catholic activists, including dozens of women religious, gathered outside at the foot of the U.S. Capitol July 18 urging politicians to stop its "inhumane treatment" of immigrant children at the border and reminding people of faith to take a stronger stand against current U.S. border policies.

The rally, on a sweltering Washington morning, included times of prayer, a few songs and several speeches. At one point, someone in the crowd started chanting, "Where are the bishops?" which was echoed by many participants, but later in the program, speakers read excerpts from messages that had been sent to the group from several U.S. bishops, thanking them for participating and urging them to continue to speak up about the border crisis.

A message from Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said in part: "We stand in a moment when our government has weaponized fear -- the fear being sown within our nation as a whole that refugees and immigrants, who have been America's historic lifeblood, have now become the enemy; and the even more reprehensible fear being unleashed upon the hearts and souls of immigrant mothers and fathers that they will be separated from their children purely as an act of intimidation."

Many of the speakers at the "Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children," organized by the groups Faith in Public Life and Faith in Action, were primarily women religious who stressed the need to end the current practice of placing children in detention centers at the border and emphasized that the need to start a new wave of protest against these policies should be viewed as a pro-life stance.

Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told the group: "Catholic sisters have a long history with immigrant communities. We have seen the pain, suffering, fear and trauma firsthand. In recent months, as the humanitarian crisis has escalated, we have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific situation at our southern border."

She pointed out that women religious have been ministering to those in need and donated money to support those seeking safety, freedom, security and a better life for their families. "We are here today because of our faith. The Gospel commands, and the values of our homeland demand, that we act," she added.

The message of urgency was essentially speaking to the choir because these activists, who showed their support with rounds of "Amens!" were clearly not new to this issue and many attended the rally particularly for its finale: when the arrests of 70 people for civil disobedience took place at the adjacent Russell Senate Office Building.

Those arrested were charged with "incommoding, crowding, and obstructing" and had to each pay a $50 fine or request a court date. They were released that afternoon.

During the morning action, a young mother from El Salvador held her baby as she addressed the crowd in Spanish. In remarks, which were translated, she thanked the group for their efforts to help immigrants and said she is seeking sanctuary, but she is afraid she will be separated from her baby.

As groups of tourists walked by and men and women in business attire headed toward Capitol Hill, they couldn't help but see the signs held aloft with messages such as "Franciscans for Justice," "Let Children Be with their Parents" and "Catholics for Families: Together and Free" as well as placards with images of children who have died in U.S. custody at the border.

Mercy Sister Patricia Murphy, a 90-year-old from Chicago, who came to the event to take part in the civil disobedience, told Catholic News Service right before the rally that she "couldn't not be here."

The sister wore a purple shirt identifying her as a Sister of Mercy, a pin that said: "You are my Neighbor" and carried a placard with the face of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old from Guatemala who died from illness while in U.S. immigration custody after crossing the border with his father.

Sister Patricia said this would be her sixth arrest and she hoped the action would move others to do more. For the past 12 years, she has kept vigil, praying and protesting outside an immigrant detention center in Chicago every Friday morning.

Prior to the civil disobedience arrests at the Russell Senate Office Building, participants continued to hold signs with their message and speak out in protest. After warnings from police that they would be arrested if they stayed in the building's rotunda, those who chose to stay recited the Hail Mary as they waited to be handcuffed and escorted out by police.

Moments before the arrests, Sister Donna Korba, a Sister of the Servants of Mary in Scranton, Pennsylvania, said her participation at the day's gathering stemmed from her life of activism including recently volunteering at the U.S.-Mexico border with other sisters last December and the 12 years she spent in Guatemala.

"There are no easy answers, but we need to look at root causes of immigration," she said, recalling that when she asked one father from Guatemala why he would make the arduous journey to the United States he told her: "Because my children are hungry."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Dialogue with indigenous: Understanding that 'we are simple stewards'

IMAGE: CNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- By convening a special synod on the Amazon at the Vatican in October, Pope Francis will be giving greater exposure to the church's deep concern for the people and the ecosystem on which they depend.

Like other synods with Pope Francis, the assembly is about listening and understanding the actual reality on the ground in order to find new paths for evangelization, meet people's pastoral needs, be a voice for the voiceless and promote greater respect and protection for all life, according to its working document released last month.

But this working document triggered fears in a few that it was somehow a call to changing church doctrine and to heresy -- an accusation made recently by German Cardinals Walter Brandmuller, retired president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, and Gerhard Muller, who served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017.

The document "lacks theological reflection" and creates "great confusion" if it puts as the focus, not Jesus, but "human ideas to save the world," Cardinal Muller said July 11 in an interview with La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, an Italian Catholic online news site. He also critiqued the document in a more detailed 3,000-word essay published online July 16.

While the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica, published an article about the synod by Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, July 18, it was not a direct rebuttal of the German cardinal's doctrinal or theological concerns.

Emphasizing the importance of dialogue, Cardinal Barreto wrote the church believes that, "apart from any attitudes of suspicion," examining the "richness" in the Amazon region -- including its unique cultures, practices and spiritualities -- would help provide "a better understanding of a reality crying out" for attention.

One theologian from the Amazon region in Brazil said examining other cultures and what people believe and do is not a threat to the Catholic faith or doctrine, particularly when their practices help sustain and protect the so-called "lungs of the earth," as the Amazon rainforest produces about 20% of the earth's oxygen.

Jesuit Father Adelson Araujo dos Santos told Catholic News Service that being open to what indigenous cultures and spiritualities can teach about caring for "our common home" has "nothing to do with a return to paganism, nor does it deny the centrality of Christ and of humanity in the history of salvation."

"On the contrary, it helps us grow in our understanding that we are simple stewards of the gifts and resources that are not ours, but are works of God," he said in an email response to questions July 19.

Father dos Santos, a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University's Institute of Spirituality in Rome and at its center for teaching formators to the priesthood and religious life, also served as Jesuit regional superior of the Brazil-Amazon region.

"In their indispensable mission as evangelizers, Christians must be able to embrace, dialogue and respect these other religions and cultures, being enriched by them without losing their own identity," he said.

When St. John Paul II met with indigenous communities in Guatemala in 1983, he told them, "The work of evangelization does not destroy, but it is incarnated in your values," helping to grow that seed that was already sown "by the Word of God, who, before he became flesh in order to save all and to sum up all in himself, was already in the world."

Recognizing and preparing these seeds already sown has a kindred spirit in Ignatian spirituality that seeks to find God in all things.

St. Ignatius' spiritual exercises encourage contemplating the Incarnation as God's compassion and concern for "the situation of the human being," Father dos Santos said.

"God's compassionate eye does not see only what is bad in the world, it sees the possibility for transformation, growth toward the good," he said.

"From this perspective, all beliefs and cultures can be seen as having been touched by God in the Incarnation of his Son," he added.

While sacred Scripture and tradition make up the one sacred deposit of the Word of God, theology also teaches that the deepest most foundational layer that upholds the Christian identity lies not in texts or concepts, but "in the religious experience," Father dos Santos said.

"The great theologian, Pope Benedict XVI, said 'being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.'"

The triune God created humanity in his likeness, so that every person is "one, the same, but open to others and the world, including nature," Father dos Santos said.

That is why anything that "fractures this identity" or hinders a harmonious relationship with others, "hurts us profoundly."

Concerns about the environment and people's relationship with it are not calls to deny God or idolize nature, but rather are rooted in "the biblical prophesies warning against any disobedience to God's plan for the world he created," he said.

"This is the reason why dialogue with the religious views of the world's indigenous peoples, with their care and respect for other living things, help us restore, in our Christian faith and spirituality ... our identity as beings in relation with God, with others and with the world -- the place where we encounter Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation and history," Father dos Santos said.

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Ignatian “Summer-Soul” Workout Plan: Part 2

Time for round two! Coach St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us five more spiritual exercise tips to continue getting that soul “Kingdom-ready”!