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Age verification to access online porn arriving in UK next month

London, England, Mar 7, 2019 / 03:36 am (CNA).- Next month, the United Kingdom will roll out new online restrictions in an attempt to protect children under the age of 18 from accessing pornography.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock signed a commencement order for the Digital Economy Act in 2017. After two years of development, the program will be released on April 1.

To view online pornography, internet users will need to confirm their age by entering information from a driver’s license, credit card, or passport. If users do not wish to input their personal information, they may purchase a special ID card, available at thousands of retail shops across the nation for under £10.

Websites that fail to follow the age verification rules may face a nearly $330,000 fine or be blocked by the country’s internet service providers.

Matt Fradd, author of The Porn Myth and creator of the new 21-day porn detox STRIVE, voiced support for increased restrictions surrounding pornography.

“If it’s something as simple as age verification, I’m all for it,” he told CNA. “It just sounds like we are expecting the same thing of people online that we already expect of them offline.”

Among the available age verification services is AgeID, built by MindGeek, which operates and owns several common pornographic sites.

Some critics of the new UK policy say it violates the privacy and safety of pornography users. Others argue that it does not go far enough to protect minors.

“It may make it harder for children to stumble across pornography, especially in the younger age range, but it will do nothing to stop determined teenagers,” said Dr. Victoria Nash, deputy director of the Oxford Internet Institute, according to BirminghamLive.

Dr. Joss Wright, senior research fellow at the institute, added that the new policy raises “privacy issues - you're requiring people to effectively announce the fact they are looking at this material to the credit card authorities. And there's serious security issues from requiring people to enter their credit card details into untrusted sites.”

The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the age verification is a valuable first step, but that other measures need to be taken alongside it.

“The NSPCC is calling for social networks to be required by law to give under-18s safe accounts with extra protections built in, so that children are kept as safe online as they are in the real world,” read a statement from the organization, according to BirminghamLive.

Fradd said the restrictions are enforcing age requirements that are already established offline. He said there is often confusion among parents about the seriousness of material viewed online compared to explicit material accessed in stores or movie theaters.

“Imagine a 17-year-old going to watch 50 Shades of [Grey] and being turned away and within five minutes looking at something a hundred times worse on their phone. So either allow children to watch 50 Shades of Grey and buy pornography from stores, or be consistent and require age verification,” he said.

Children’s access to online pornography has been identified as a significant problem: A 2016 study by internet security company Bitdefender found that about 1 in 10 visitors to porn video sites is under age 10.

Fight the New Drug, an organization that works to educate on the harmful effects of pornography, has highlighted numerous studies showing the negative impact of pornography on underage users, including the creation of addictions, changes in sexual taste, and physical impact on the brain.

“Just more broadly, I would say pornography perverts a child’s understanding of human intimacy and sexual life, which is a very beautiful thing,” Fradd stressed.

“It’s as pernicious as sex is beautiful and human intimacy is worthwhile. Since those two things are beautiful and worthwhile, the corruption of it [in regards to] a child is all together something despicable and horrid.”


First Ash Wednesday service held in Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh, Scotland, Mar 6, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- The Scottish Parliament hosted a Blessing and Distribution of Ashes for the first time this year, with Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh presiding.

Archbishop Cushley reflected during the March 6 service on the gesture of receiving ashes, which he said reminds us “that we are dust.”

“[A]nd, yes, it is about sinfulness, it is about acknowledging that we need God’s help, that we are fragile, that we are mortal, that we have been disobedient and that we want to regain our relationship with Almighty God,” he continued.

The Ash Wednesday service took place in a committee room in the parliament’s Queensberry House, according to a press release from the archdiocese.

It was sponsored by Member of Scottish Parliament Elaine Smith, who said in a statement that “it was lovely to have the Archbishop come and distribute ashes to those who work within the Scottish Parliament.”

Anthony Horan, parliamentary officer for the Scottish Bishops Conference, said he was pleased to see “such a cross-party representation” of members of parliament and their staff.

“I believe the Church has something good and positive to offer society,” he said in an archdiocesan statement, adding that it was an honor “to be invited and welcomed to the Scottish Parliament in this special way.”

Horan said he hopes more Catholic events will take place in Parliament in the future. Last year, Mass was celebrated for the first time in Parliament during Holy Week.

Smith also commented on the good turnout at the Ash Wednesday event, saying she would like “repeat this service every Lent, if possible, as well as hosting a Mass during Holy Week.”

In reflecting on the meaning of the ashes distributed at the start of Lent, Archbishop Cushley stressed the importance of recognizing the sin in one’s life and having a desire to repent and be reunited with God.

“I think that is a very good and very wholesome thing for us to do and it takes genuine human maturity to be able to do that sincerely and to wish to improve oneself in order to become the Child of God we were always meant to be.”

Pope on Ash Wednesday: Lenten fasting a 'wake-up call for the soul'

Rome, Italy, Mar 6, 2019 / 09:59 am (CNA).- Fasting from food or other things during Lent is a chance for Catholics to reorient their material attachments, Pope Francis said on Ash Wednesday, as he urged people to slow down and turn to Christ during the penitential season.

“Jesus on the wood of the cross burns with love, and calls us to a life that is passionate for him, which is not lost amid the ashes of the world; to a life that burns with charity and is not extinguished in mediocrity,” the pope said during Mass March 6.

“Is it difficult to live as he asks? Yes, it is difficult, but it leads us to our goal,” he continued. “Lent shows us this. It begins with the ashes, but eventually leads us to the fire of Easter night; to the discovery that, in the tomb, the body of Jesus does not turn to ashes, but rises gloriously.”

Quoting the day’s first reading from the prophet Joel – “Blow the trumpet … sanctify a fast” – Francis called the piercing blast of a trumpet “a loud sound that seeks to slow down our life.”

“It is a summons to stop, to focus on what is essential, to fast from the unnecessary things that distract us. It is a wake-up call for the soul.”

This wake-up call, he said, includes a message from the Lord: “Return to me.” “Return to me, says the Lord. To me. The Lord is the goal of our journey in this world. The direction must lead to him.”

He advised Catholics to fix their gaze upon the Crucified Christ, because “from the cross, Jesus teaches us the great courage involved in renunciation.”

“We will never move forward if we are heavily weighed down,” he continued. “The poverty of the wood, the silence of the Lord, his loving self-emptying show us the necessity of a simpler life, free from anxiety about things.”

To mark the start of the Lenten season, Pope Francis prayed the Stations of the Cross at St. Anselm Church in Rome before processing the short way to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for the celebration of Mass, benediction, and the imposition of ashes.

The traditional procession is composed of cardinals, bishops, priests, the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican friars of Santa Sabina, and lay people. As the Catholics make their way between the two churches, they sing the Litany of the Saints.

The practice of the pope beginning the Lenten season of prayer and penance in this manner was started by St. John XXIII when he established the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at St. Anselm's in 1961.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the three areas the Lord invites Catholics to focus on during Lent – almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. “What are they for?” he asked. “Prayer reunites us to God; charity, to our neighbor; fasting, to ourselves.”

The season of Lent is an invitation to focus first on God, he continued, then on charity toward others, and “finally, Lent invites us to look inside our heart, with fasting, which frees us from attachment to things and from the worldliness that numbs the heart.”

Comparing the heart to a magnet, which always “needs to attach itself to something,” he said if it always “attaches” to things of the world, “sooner or later it becomes a slave to them.”

By comparison, if people turn their hearts to the things which abide, which do not pass away, that is where they will find true freedom, he said.

The ashes, he explained, are a sign of this detachment – “a sign that causes us to consider what occupies our mind.”

“The small mark of ash, which we will receive, is a subtle yet real reminder that of the many things occupying our thoughts, that we chase after and worry about every day, nothing will remain,” he stated.

“Earthly realities fade away like dust in the wind,” he said, reminding Catholics that no material possessions or wealth go with them past the grave.

“Lent is the time to free ourselves from the illusion of chasing after dust,” he urged. “Lent is for rediscovering that we are created for the inextinguishable flame, not for ashes that immediately disappear; for God, not for the world; for the eternity of heaven, not for earthly deceit; for the freedom of the children of God, not for slavery to things.”

“We should ask ourselves today: Where do I stand? Do I live for fire or for ash?”

Lenten fasting advice from the Pope who faced Attila the Hun

Rome, Italy, Mar 6, 2019 / 03:10 am (CNA).- As Christians prepare to engage in the fasting and abstinence of Lent, they can find guidance in the words of Pope St. Leo the Great’s sermons.

Stressing Lenten discipline as a way to struggle against our sins and against the devil’s temptations, the fifth century pope advised self-scrutiny, purification, forgiveness of enemies and almsgiving to the poor.

“Let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations, and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents,” he said in his Lenten sermons, elsewhere adding “there are no works of power, dearly-beloved, without the trials of temptations, there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict.”

Pope Leo I was involved in the theological questions of the fifth century, most famously affirming Christ’s two natures, human and divine, for the Council of Chalcedon.

He also led a delegation which successfully negotiated with Attila the Hun to turn his invading forces away from Rome.

He was named a Doctor of the Church in the eighteenth century. His writings and sermons proved enduring and influential. While some of his comments are specific to his time, as a whole he offers special advice for Lent.

True peace and true freedom come only “when the flesh is ruled by the judgment of the mind, and the mind is directed by the will of God,” he said in his sermons.

For St. Leo the Great, the Christians’ enemies are often our vices, disordered desires and sins.

“We cannot otherwise prevail against our adversaries, unless we prevail against our own selves,” he counseled. The contrary desires of flesh and spirit must be disciplined, and the mind will lose to the body if bodily desires become too strong.

When the mind is subject to God and delights in heavenly gifts, when it has “trampled underfoot the allurements of earthly pleasure” and has not allowed sin to reign, Leo says, “reason will maintain a well-ordered supremacy, and its strongholds no strategy of spiritual wickedness will cast down.”

“Christian people, whatever the amount of their abstinence, should rather desire to satisfy themselves with the Word of God than with bodily food,” said Leo the Great.

He counseled self-scrutiny to root out discord and wrong desires and to be attentive to God’s commandments. Citing St. Paul, he said Lenten fasting is a time to cleanse ourselves “from every defilement of flesh and spirit.”

“Now let godly minds boldly accustom themselves to forgive faults, to pass over insults, and to forget wrongs,” he said in one sermon.

“Let all discords and enmities be laid aside, and let no one think to have a share in the Paschal feast that has neglected to restore brotherly peace,” he said in another.

Care for the poor and others in need should be an even greater priority.

“Let us not pass over the groans of the poor with deaf ear, but with prompt kindness bestow our mercy on the needy, that we may deserve to find mercy in the judgment,” said the saint, later adding “let each bestow on the weak and destitute those dainties which he denies himself.”

“Let our humaneness be felt by the sick in their illnesses, by the weakly in their infirmities, by the exiles in their hardships, by the orphans in their destitution, and by solitary widows in their sadness: in the helping of whom there is no one that cannot carry out some amount of benevolence,” he continued.

Warning against the dangers of spiritual pride and hypocrisy, he also gave advice on how to follow Lenten disciplines.

“The self-restraint of the religious should not be gloomy, but sincere; no murmurs of complaint should be heard from those who are never without the consolation of holy joys,” he said, adding “no one is so holy that he ought not to be holier, nor so devout that he might not be devouter.”

At times, the foes of Christians are not simply the flesh, but even the demonic, he said. The approach of Easter makes the devil grow “furious” and “consumed with the strongest jealousy and now tortured with the greatest vexation.”

It is a time when “the Christian army has to combat him, and any that have grown lukewarm and slothful, or that are absorbed in worldly cares, must now be furnished with spiritual armor and their ardor kindled for the fray by the heavenly trumpet.”

The approaching baptism of new Christians at Easter, and the growing penitence of lapsed Christians, is also a target of the devil’s anger.

“For he sees whole tribes of the human race brought in afresh to the adoption of God’s sons and the offspring of the New Birth multiplied through the virgin fertility of the Church,” St. Leo the Great said. “He sees himself robbed of all his tyrannical power, and driven from the hearts of those he once possessed, while from either sex, thousands of the old, the young, the middle-aged are snatched away from him, and no one is debarred by sin either of his own or original.”

The devil sees, too, those who have lapsed, “deceived by his treacherous snares,” now becoming “washed in the tears of penitence” and seeking mercy and reconciliation in the Church.

Leo the Great also promoted fasting as a way to prepare to conquer earthly foes.

When the Hebrews and Israelites were oppressed by the Philistines “for their scandalous sins,” they restored their mental and physical powers by commanding a fast in order to be able to overcome their enemies.

“For they understood that they had deserved that hard and wretched subjection for their neglect of God’s commands, and evil ways, and that it was in vain for them to strive with arms unless they had first withstood their sin,” he said.

Abstinence from food and drink was “the discipline of strict correction,” he said. In order to defeat their foes, they “first conquered the allurements of the palate in themselves.”

Similarly, those of us who face opposition and conflict “may be cured by a little carefulness, if only we will use the same means.”

Though all seasons of the year are full of God’s blessings, St. Leo the Great said, Lent is a time when “all men's minds should be moved with greater zeal to spiritual progress.” Lenten discipline “should heal us and restore the purity of our minds, during which the faults of other times might be redeemed by pious acts and removed by chaste fasting.”

Ambassadors to Vatican partner with women religious to combat modern slavery

Rome, Italy, Mar 5, 2019 / 10:12 am (CNA).- Embassies to the Holy See are teaming up with religious sisters to address the problem of modern slavery, which affects an estimated 40 million people around the world today.

“Religious women are important to us in our foreign policy objectives,” British Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy said March 5.

“There are things that governments are good at and things that governments are not good at. It is a challenge to work with [human trafficking] victims worldwide … this is where religious orders excel,” she said at a conference organized by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations in Rome.

A veteran diplomat, Axworthy explained that while not a Catholic herself, she has witnessed how religious sisters have the “moral authority” that governments lack in some parts of the world in the fight to change a culture on this topic. Religious sisters can gain the trust of victims and commit to their long-term rehabilitation and healing, she said.

The British ambassador said that she admired the way that so many religious orders “constantly ask themselves if they are providing help where it is most needed.”

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich has similarly expressed her admiration and support for women religious “in their efforts to advance peace and stability” on other occasions, remarking that “too often, their work goes unnoticed and is underappreciated.”

Diplomats, religious sisters, and other laywomen came together for the conference in Rome in anticipation of the United Nations’ International Women’s Day, which will be celebrated March 8.

“Women are promoters of hope in a world that seems less and less humane,” Ambassador of Peru to the Holy See María Elvira Velásquez Rivas-Plata said.

Catholic women can “heal, in some way, the gaping wounds in the crucified” Christ in our world today, the president of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations Maria Lia Zervino said.

Throughout the conference, speakers remarked on what female Catholic leaders can bring in addressing global issues such as human trafficking, education, migration, and the promotion of a full understanding of human rights on the international stage that includes the protection of the most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, and the unborn.

“This is what our society and our Church need from us: women capable of spreading mercy from our inner selves, that seek to give life and never cancel or diminish it, that reach out to those who suffer the most and accompany the most in need with a maternal love,” Zervino, a consecrated woman from Peru, said.

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