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Retired archbishop disciplined after calling Pope Francis a ‘heretic’

Wloclawek, Poland, Feb 27, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A retired archbishop who accused Pope Francis of heresy has been ordered to cease celebrating Mass in public.

Archbishop Jan Paweł Lenga, the 69-year-old former Archbishop of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, has also been forbidden to preach at Masses or speak to the media.

The sanctions were imposed by the Diocese of Włocławek in central Poland, where the archbishop retired after serving in Kazakhstan.

Archbishop Lenga immediately defied the ruling by giving an interview to WRealu24.tv, in which he insisted that he would continue to speak out.

Fr Artur Niemira, chancellor of Włocławek diocese, told the Polish Catholic news agency KAI  that local Bishop Wiesław Mering had decided to impose the disciplinary measures in order to prevent the spread of scandal among the faithful.

KAI said the archbishop had refused to mention Pope Francis’s name when celebrating Masses. It added that the measures would remain in effect until the Holy See issues a judgment on the case.

The archbishop has repeatedly criticised Pope Francis. Last year the Polish journal Więź reported that he had called Francis a “usurper and heretic.”

Więź said the archbishop had given a book-length interview to the author Stanisław Krajski. The journal quoted the archbishop as saying: "Bergoglio preaches untruth, preaches sin, and does not preach a tradition that lasted so many years, 2,000 years... He proclaims the truth of this world and this is the truth of the devil."

In January, the archbishop appeared on the Polish television show Warto rozmawiać, prompting criticism from the Polish bishops’ conference. The bishops’ spokesman Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik noted that the archbishop is not a member of the Polish bishops’ conference.

“Therefore the statements of Archbishop Lenga cannot be identified in any way with the Polish episcopal conference,” he said. “They cannot be treated as positions of Polish bishops.”

In June 2019, Archbishop Lenga was among of the signatories of the 40-point "Declaration of Truths."

The declaration claimed to address “the most common errors in the life of the Church of our time,” reaffirming Church teaching on topics such as the Eucharist, marriage and clerical celibacy.

Jan Paweł Lenga was born in present-day Ukraine in 1950. He was ordained secretly in 1980 due to Soviet persecution of the Catholic Church. A member of the Marian Fathers, he was appointed apostolic administrator of Kazakhstan in 1991, the year that Kazakhstan became the last Soviet republic to declare independence.

He was appointed to Karaganda in 1998, where he remained until 2011, when Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation under canon 401 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that diocesan bishops may resign “because of ill health or some other grave cause”.

Archbishop Lenga retired to a community of Marian Fathers in Licheń Stary, a village that is home to Poland's largest church, in the Diocese of Włocławek.

Fr Niemira, chancellor of Włocławek diocese, said the bishop had imposed the measures on Archbishop Lenga in accordance with canons 392 and 763 of the Code of Canon Law.

Canon 392 states that, in order to protect Church unity, “a bishop is bound to promote the common discipline of the whole Church and therefore to urge the observance of all ecclesiastical laws”. Canon 763 says that bishops have the right to preach everywhere unless forbidden to do so by a local bishop.
 

 

Catholic parish hosts ecumenical Ash Wednesday service in N Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Feb 27, 2020 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- While Northern Ireland has long faced religious disputes, an ecumenical celebration of Ash Wednesday was held at a Catholic church in Belfast this year, in which Presbyterian, Anglican, and Methodist ministers participated.

Ken Newell, a former Presbyterian Moderator; Elizabeth Hanna, a retired Church of Ireland minister; and Robin Waugh, a Methodist minister, all received ashes at the Feb. 26 service at St. Mary's Church.

Fr. Tim Bartlett led the service. Afterwards, he said it was a “deeply moving” experience.

Fr. Martin Magill, pastor of St. John’s parish, helped to organize the event.

Ahead of time, he said that "In this inclusive service, people from all backgrounds will be offered the ashes, but no one will be pressured to take them.”

"In other parts of the world Christians come together every year to mark Ash Wednesday in this way, so in many other places what we are marking together tomorrow would be a common practice."

Hanna commented, "I thoroughly enjoyed being here, and history has been made. It was great being a part of it.”

Newell noted his joy in participating “in this special service” and emphasized the value of Lent.

He stressed the symbolic value of this event in bringing people together. He said it is also an opportunity to make “space for God,” according to the Belfast Telegraph.

"This will be a symbolic service of healing and reconciliation, of togetherness and not of division,” he said. "It is another opportunity for the churches to walk side by side, and to move on towards a better future for everyone.”

Religious disputes have long been part of the history of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and has been predominantly Protestant, while the majority-Catholic Republic of Ireland declared its independence in 1916.

The region has had ongoing religiously and politically based conflicts, most notably “the Troubles”, which included violent clashes that lasted from the late 1960s until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was struck.

Since 1998, there has been only sporadic sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, though there have been several incidents in recent years.

Infant boy removed from ventilator after controversial 'brain stem death' ruling

London, England, Feb 26, 2020 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- Despite his parents’ protests that he showed “signs of life,” a four-month old boy who was severely brain damaged was legally declared dead and has been removed from a ventilator in the U.K.

Midrar Ali was disconnected from his ventilator sometime after judges agreed with doctors this month that the boy’s brain stem was dead. But the criteria used in the U.K. case is controversial, and “brain stem death” is not accepted for a diagnosis of death in many parts of the world. 

A Catholic bioethicist says Ali’s case deserves careful medical and ethical judgment, and warns that the U.K. has adopted a “problematic” approach to defining death and proper medical care for the severely brain damaged.

“Brain stem death does not necessarily equal death,” said Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., a bioethicist and director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“Britain has adopted an unorthodox and problematic approach whereby they try to classify somebody with irreversible brain stem damage as ‘dead’ even if other, higher centers of the brain manifest integrative functionality.”

“The medical profession outside of Britain does not widely share this perspective, and certainly the medical profession in the U.S. does not,” Pacholczyk, who holds a Ph.D in neuroscience from Yale University, told CNA Feb. 26.

In September 2019, newborn Midrar Ali suffered severe brain damage during birth, when complications involving his umbilical cord starved him of oxygen. He was treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.

News that the boy was disconnected from his ventilator was reported by the BBC Feb. 26. His father called for an inquest and a coroner’s investigation, BBC News reports.

On Feb. 14 an appellate court rejected the legal appeal from the boy’s parents, 35-year-old Karwan Ali and Shokhan Namiq, 28. The court sided with a high court judge who in January ruled that the baby, Midrar, was “brain stem dead.” This meant that doctors could withdraw treatment.

Judges declared that from the court’s perspective, Ali had actually died Oct. 1, 14 days after he was born.

The boy’s father, 35-year-old Karwan Ali, said the judgment was “terrible.”

“They can’t be 100% sure he is dead. He’s still growing. His eyes move. I’ve seen them move,” he said, according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

In December, Ali said the hospital had failed to convince the family of its position.

“We have evidence of him responding,” he said.

“No doctor, no biologist can keep a dead person alive for three months,” Ali said, according to BBC News. “The body does not work without the brain.”

“I’m a biologist, I know that. The body does not work without the brain,” he repeated.

Pacholczyk said there could be merit to the father’s claims.

“To the extent that these observations are a manifestation of upper brain coordinated functioning, the child cannot properly be declared ‘dead’ or ‘deceased’,” he said.

In January, high court Justice Nathalie Lieven had ruled that the boy’s parents did not have an arguable case and doctors could cease the use of mechanical respiration.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said that Midrar no longer had a recognizable brain and there was no other conclusion to be reached other than to withdraw life support.

“The factual and medical evidence before was more than sufficient to justify the findings,” McFarlane said.

Manchester University National Health Service Foundation said the boy’s organs were deteriorating. He had never breathed independently. The foundation said continuing treatment was undignified and said the boy should be allowed a “kind and dignified death.”

Lawyers for the foundation said three tests confirmed brain stem death.

Pacholczyk noted that the U.K. diagnostic focus on brain stem death differs from other medical standards around the world. He said “brain death, understood as the complete and irreversible loss of all integrated neurological function (including brain stem function) is a reliable way medical professionals can determine that a patient has died.”

The parents’ own attorney has noted that the diagnosis of death in the U.S., Canada, Australia and elsewhere is based on “whole brain death,” and not “brain stem death.”

The appellate court’s Feb. 14 ruling cited the testimony of a doctor which said the key point about the U.K. diagnosis criteria is that “no patient has ever regained consciousness or awareness following brain stem death” and that when the brain stem dies it is “impossible for a patient to breathe unassisted.”

Pacholczyk reflected on the standards of care in such cases.

“Brain-damaged individuals are deserving of full respect, and partake fully of human dignity, equally as individuals whose brains are not damaged,” he said. “They deserve to receive reasonable (‘proportionate’) treatments as much as anyone else.”

At the same time, it must be “carefully assessed” whether certain interventions were “extraordinary” in Midrar’s case. Catholic ethics does not require extraordinary medical care.

“The question of whether he eventually will, or maybe already has stabilized in his condition, such that only minor additional treatments beyond the ventilator will be required, will also be important to assess carefully,” Pacholczyk said ahead of news that the boy’s ventilator was disconnected.

Pacholczyk also questioned the hospital’s stated focus on maintaining the boy’s “dignity.” The hospital “appears to be using discriminatory and judgmental language when it declares that continuing to treat Midrar is ‘undignified’,” he said.

“The first role of a hospital is not to be bargaining in ‘dignity assessments’ about a particular patient’s life, nor trying to pass subjective judgments regarding somebody's ‘quality of life,’ but instead to provide care for patients, and to assist in facilitating productive dialog among family, medical professionals and others so that reasonable interventions can be offered to patients,” Pacholczyk told CNA.

Catholic thought on end-of-life care and the medical diagnosis of death is summarized in a February 2015 National Catholic Bioethics Center document “Brain Death.”

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society, Pope St. John Paul II stated that “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem) … if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

Thus, these criteria can be used to arrive at moral certainty that death has occurred, the pope said.

This moral certainty is considered “the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action,” the bioethics center’s summary said.

The Catholic bioethics center noted that determining death by these neurological criteria typically involves bedside testing to assess absence of response or reflexes, apnea testing to assess the absence of the ability to breath, and “possible confirmatory tests to further assess the absence of brain activity (for example, an EEG) or the absence of blood flow to the brain.”

Similarly, the U.S. bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services indicate that “the determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

In a 2008 statement on brain death, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death … ‘is’ death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences said that after brain death “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body.”

“Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life,” the academy continued. “In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”
 

 

Secretary of German bishops' conference steps down

Bonn, Germany, Feb 26, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The secretary of the German bishops’ conference has announced that he will step down from his position ahead of the group’s next general assembly in early March. Fr. Hans Langendörfer, SJ, has held the position since 1996.

Langendörfer made the announcement Feb. 26, through the official media outlet of the Church in Germany. He said that he is stepping down to make way for someone younger.

"I have come to the conclusion that it is now a good time to hand this position over to younger hands," he said Feb. 25. Langendörfer is 68.

According to Katholisch.de, the Jesuit priest noted during his announcement that it was not necessary for his successor to be a cleric and suggested that layperson could fill the role, which would be a first in the 172 year history of the conference.

The announcement comes two weeks after the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and Freising, said he would not seek a second term leading the conference, and that he wanted to see a “younger generation” assume leadership. Marx is 66.

Under the leadership of Langendörfer and Marx, the German bishops’ conference opened a so-called “binding synodal process” to review a range of Church teachings and disciplines including clerical celibacy, the ordination of women, and the blessing of same-sex unions in churches.

In an interview last month, Langendörfer said that it is “unacceptable” for the Holy See to continue to exercise final authority over universal teaching and discipline. Citing the example of the Church in Germany’ “synodal process,” he called on other regions to follow the German’s example and effectively force through a new federal model on the Church.

Shortly after Marx announced that he would step down, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, vice-chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said he would not stand for election to replace Marx. Bode, 69, has been outspoken in favor of substantial changes in Church discipline.

In a 2018 interview, Bode predicted that Pope Francis would allow the ordination of married men for service in remote regions of the Amazon following a synod on the region, convened in Rome last year.

Bode said that if and when the Pope allowed married priests to be ordained in the Amazon, German bishops would insist on the same authorization.

“This is obvious,” Bode said at the time, insisting that the “pastoral emergency” in his diocese of Osnabrück and in other German dioceses is “different but also very severe.”

A possible leading candidate to replace Marx is Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, 56, who is also president of Adveniat, the Church in Germany’s aid organization for Latin America.

Essen, like Bode, predicted that last year’s synod on the Amazon would lead to important changes to universal Church discipline. Before the synod met, Overbeck called the Amazonian synod “a point of no return” for the Church and that “nothing will be the same as it was.”

On Feb. 12, Pope Francis published the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia in which he did not allow for any exception to clerical celibacy in the Amazon.

The German “synodal process” is being conducted in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a group which publicly opposes Church teaching and discipline on the subjects being discussed by the synodal assembly.

Last year, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the whole Church in Germany, warning against a false synodality rooted in making the Church conform to modern secular morals and thought, which he called “a new Pelagianism” which seeks “to tidy up and tune the life of the Church, adapting it to the present logic.”

The result, Francis said, would be a “well organized and even ‘modernized’ ecclesiastical body, but without soul and evangelical novelty.”

Vatican officials subsequently informed the German bishops’ conference that the synodal plans were “not ecclesiologically valid,” and had to be substantially revised. Roman opposition notwithstanding, the synodal process formally began in the first week of Advent, 2019, and the first session was held in January, 2020.

Following the first meeting last month, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Woelki, expressed his disappointment in the “synodal process.”

“I basically saw all my fears confirmed. We witnessed the implementation of a de facto Protestant church parliament,” Woekli said in an interview Feb. 1.

The cardinal said that attempts to democratize Church teaching and discipline, and subvert the authentic teaching office of bishops in the synodal assembly went against “the hierarchical constitution of the Church, as documented again in Vatican Council II and expressed in Lumen Gentium.” Cardinal Woelki is 63.

Woman with Down syndrome aims to change UK abortion laws

London, England, Feb 25, 2020 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- A 24-year-old British woman with Down syndrome has launched a lawsuit against the UK government, seeking to change British laws that allow for babies with Down syndrome to be aborted up until birth.

“At the moment in the UK, babies can be aborted right up to birth if they are considered to be “seriously handicapped.” They include me in that definition of being seriously handicapped - just because I have an extra chromosome,” Heidi Crowter told journalists this week.

“What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others, and I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s downright discrimination.”

Crowter, along with Cheryl Bilsborrow, the mother of a two-year-old with Down syndrome, have sent a letter to the British secretary of state and are hoping to raise the £20,000 necessary to litigate the case.

Bilsborrow said she was strongly encouraged to have an abortion after doctors performed the screening test on her unborn child.

“The nurse reminded me I could have a termination right up to 40 weeks if the baby had Down’s,” Bilsborrow told the Catholic Herald.

“I just said to her: ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,’ but it did make me feel very anxious.”

Abortions are legal in the UK for any reason up until 24 weeks, and most of the country’s 200,000 or so annual abortions take place before 13 weeks.

Abortions after 24 weeks are legal only if a woman's life is in danger, there is a fetal abnormality classified as “severe”, or the woman is at risk of grave physical and mental injury, the BBC reports.

If the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot, abortion is legal up to birth. About nine in ten women have abortions after being given a diagnosis of Down syndrome, the Daily Mail reports.

The “Don’t Screen Us Out” campaign in the United Kingdom has, for the past four years, been drawing awareness to and seeking to change the UK’s abortion laws, seeking to amend Abortion Act of 1967 so that abortions for non-fatal disabilities are outlawed in the third trimester, which starts around 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Lynn Murray, a spokesperson for the group, told CNA in an interview that the campaign began in response to the government’s proposal of a new screening test for Down syndrome that, according to the government, would find an additional 102 cases of Down syndrome a year.

Given the high rate of termination for babies in the UK found to have Down syndrome, the campaign formed in order to try to get the government to assess the impact that the non-invasive prenatal testing technique, called ‘cell-free DNA’ or cfDNA, would have on the Down syndrome community. The campaign attracted attention among Britons with similar concerns, she said.

The group is backing Crowter and Bilsborrow in their lawsuit against the government.

“Launching this case gets people talking about it,” she said, adding that most people don’t even realize abortion is available up until birth in the UK.

"We are keen for people with Down syndrome to advocate for themselves. And this is what Heidi has decided to do...she feels that abortion after 24 weeks suggests that the lives of people like her don't have the same value as everyone else."

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries which provide for abortion on the basis of disability, the group says. In some countries, such as Denmark and Iceland, the abortion rate for babies found to have Down syndrom is close to 100%.

In the United States, there have been numerous attempts at the state level to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Missouri lawmakers passed a law during 2019 that, in addition to banning all abortions after eight weeks, prohibits “selective" abortions following a medical diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or on the basis of the race or sex of the baby. The law is currently blocked in the courts amid a legal challenge.

Ohio lawmakers attempted in 2017 to pass a ban on Down syndrome abortions, but a federal judge in 2019 blocked the legislation from taking effect.

Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Utah have all considered or passed similar bans.

At the federal level, the Down Syndrome Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act has been introduced in Congress, but has not yet been debated. The proposed law would ban doctors from “knowingly perform[ing] an abortion being sought because the baby has or may have Down syndrome.”
 

 

Belgian PM condemns anti-Semitic floats in historic parade

Brussels, Belgium, Feb 24, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Belgian Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmes, has condemned a traditional parade in the country which featured apparently anti-Semitic floats.

For the second consecutive year, organizers of the Aalst Carnival included numerous apparetnly anti-Semitic caricatures and floats in the annual parade. This year the event also included marchers who appeared to be dressed as Nazi soldiers.

“The federal government is sensitive to the reactions to some floats and costumes at the carnival,” said Wilmes in a statement released on Sunday, Feb. 23. “Even though the Aalst Carnival is much more than [anti-Semitic displays], these actions damage our values and the reputation of our country.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Les Juifs sont de la vermine (de la vermine pleine de fric qui contrôle le monde quand même) et les nazis sont des gars sympas que les enfants applaudissent et avec qui on a bien envie de boire une bière. Bienvenue au carnaval d’Alost en 2020, en Belgique, cœur de l’UE. Dégénérés <a href="https://t.co/svFR1MxxZf">pic.twitter.com/svFR1MxxZf</a></p>&mdash; Raphael Glucksmann (@rglucks1) <a href="https://twitter.com/rglucks1/status/1231659321701871619?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 23, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Wilmes, whose mother is Jewish, became Belgium’s first female prime minister in 2019. 

“Belgium is a state of law. It is for the Justice Department and concerned authorities to see if the events during Carnival are in contravention of the law,” she said. 

The parade, held on Sunday, included 12 men dressed in traditional Haredi Jewish clothing augmented with insect legs and body parts attached as costumes. The costume was called “De Klaugmier,” which means “an ant who complains” and is a play off the term for “Wailing Wall” in German.

The parade also featured men dressed as Orthodox Jews with plastic fake noses, wearing red armbands. The armbands were printed with the word UNESCO, in apparent defiance of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which previously listed the Aalst Carnival as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

That designation was stripped in 2019 after the parade at that year’s carnival included multiple anti-Semitic caricicatures of Jewish people, including a float featuring two large Haredi men with exaggerated noses. Men attending that float wore fake pink “sidelocks” along with pink hats. 

The 2020 parade also mocked priests, Muslims, Jesus, and Brexit. According to the New York Times, the vast majority of the floats in the parade were mocking some sort of group or person. 

Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese defended the parade, and said that he thought Wilmes’ statement was “bizarre.” He extended an invitation for Wilmes to come to the 2021 parade in order to “form her opinion based on facts.” 

“I did not see an anti-Semitic or racist parade,” said D’Haese. “To the contrary, I saw a high mass of free speech and creativity.” 

The parade was “display of unity,” said D’Haese, not one of anti-Semitism. 

D’Haese’s spokesperson, Peter Van den Bossche, told the BBC that the parade was “just fun” and not meant to bring harm to anyone. 

“It’s our parade, our humor, people can do whatever they want,” said Van den Bossche. “It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.” 

Van den Bossche said that criticism to the 2019 parade was “over the top,” and insisted that the floats “did not encourage anti-Semitism.” 

“Two hundred percent it’s not anti-Semitic,” he said. 

Van den Bossche did, however, condemn the presence of people in the parade who were dressed as Nazis, saying that “normally we don’t accept that, we condemn that.”  

The Aalst Carnival was first held in the middle ages. The event as it currently exists was first officially celebrated in 1923. It is organized by the Aalst City Council. 

Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism during his pontificate. 

“It is troubling to see, in many parts of the world, an increase in selfishness and indifference, lack of concern for others and the attitude that says life is good as long as it is good for me, and when things go wrong, anger and malice are unleashed,” Pope Francis said Jan. 20.

“This creates a fertile ground for the forms of factionalism and populism we see around us, where hatred quickly springs up,” he added. “Even recently, we have witnessed a barbaric resurgence of cases of anti-Semitism. Once more I firmly condemn every form of anti-Semitism.”

Dioceses in northern Italy suspend Mass during coronavirus outbreak

Milan, Italy, Feb 24, 2020 / 06:54 am (CNA).- Several Catholic dioceses in northern Italy have suspended Mass and other activities this week to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.

The northern regions of Italy saw a dramatic uptick in coronavirus cases over the weekend, prompting some regions to suspend all events or gatherings of any form, in public or private.

In response to the outbreak, dioceses in the area have taken various measures, including cancelling Masses and asking Catholics to receive the Eucharist only in the hand.

Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.

The number of coronavirus infections in Italy has reached 219 as of Monday. Six people have died from the virus in the country, which has the highest number of cases in Europe.

The Archdiocese of Milan suspended Masses beginning in the evening Feb. 23 until further notice. The Milan Cathedral has also been closed to tourists Feb. 24 and 25.

In Venice, Patriarch of Venice Archbishop Francesco Moraglia suspended Masses and other liturgical celebrations including baptisms and Stations of the Cross, until Sunday March 1.

Moraglia invited the faithful to “dedicate a convenient time to prayer and meditation” in place of Mass on Ash Wednesday.

The Italian bishops’ conference released a statement Feb. 24 in which they said they renew Pope Francis’ prayer of closeness to those affected by the virus and their families; prayer for doctors and nurses from healthcare facilities, called to face this emergency at the frontier; prayer for those responsible for taking precautionary and restrictive measures.”

The bishops also said they are committed to doing their part “to reduce bewilderment and fears.”

“This is the time to find reasons for pragmatism, trust, and hope, which allow us to face this difficult situation together,” they said.

Other responses include the Diocese of Turin, where the archbishop cancelled all parish events and meetings for the week of Feb. 24 to March 1 with the exception of Mass, asking that all Catholics receive the Eucharist in the hand and abstain from exchanging the sign of peace.

Bishops in the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Liguria also called for the cancellation of Masses and other parish activities this week in cooperation with civil ordinances against public gatherings.

In Padua, the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony will remain open for prayer, but Masses and other religious functions are suspended. The basilica’s museum will be closed until March 1.

In an announcement, the Franciscan friars who operate the shrine said they “entrust to the intercession of St. Anthony all the people who are suffering from this epidemic, those who have lost loved ones and those who are doing their utmost to assist the sick and to adequately face this health emergency."”

COVID-19, is a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus which originated in Hubei province (which borders Henan) in China.

The new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

In mainland China, the death toll of the coronavirus has reached 2,442, and more than 76,000 have been infected.

The virus has spread to 28 countries, with about 1,769 confirmed cases outside mainland China and 17 deaths.

According to the Chinese health authority last week, 80.9% of coronavirus infections are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical.

 

This story was updated.

L’Arche reports sexual misconduct by founder Jean Vanier 

Paris, France, Feb 22, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- L’Arche International published the results Saturday of an independent investigation detailing sexual misconduct by its founder Jean Vanier with six women without disabilities in the context of spiritual direction.

“We are shocked by these discoveries and unreservedly condemn these actions, which are in total contradiction with the values Jean Vanier claimed and are incompatible with the basic rules of respect and integrity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles on which L’Arche is based,” the leaders of L’Arche International, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates-Carney, wrote in a letter to L’Arche federation Feb. 22.

Vanier was the founder of L’Arche, an international community of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their supporters, and of Faith and Light, an ecumenical Christian association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

The report found that none of the abused women were intellectually disabled.

L’Arche commissioned GCPS, an independent U.K. consultancy specializing in the reporting of exploitation and abuse last April to investigate Vanier’s link to Fr. Thomas Philippe, an abusive Dominican priest sanctioned by Church authorities in 1956, whom Vanier described as his “spiritual mentor.”

During the investigation, the inquiry received “credible and consistent testimonies” from six adult women without disabilities that Jean Vanier initiated sexual behaviors with them often “in the context of spiritual accompaniment” over the period of more than 30 years from 1970 to 2005, according to the L’Arche summary report of the investigation’s findings.

“The women each report that Jean Vanier initiated sexual behaviours with them, usually in the context of spiritual accompaniment. Some of these women have been deeply wounded by these experiences. Jean Vanier asked each of the women to keep the nature of these events secret. They had no prior knowledge of each other’s experiences, but these women reported similar facts associated with highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these sexual behaviours,” a L’Arche International report summary states.

This behavior follows the pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior demonstrated by Fr. Philippe, the report finds. The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) confirmed and completed in December 2019 elements in the inquiry relating to the trial of Fr. Philippe, who died in 1993, and Vanier’s knowledge of the misconduct.

According to archived letters studied in the report, the CDF directed in 1956 that Jean Vanier be informed of the Church’s condemnation of Philippe’s conduct and “mystical doctrine.”

Vanier denied in 2015 and 2016 that he had any knowledge of Fr. Thomas Philippe’s abusive behavior.

Tina Bovermann, the executive director of L’Arche USA, said the results of independent inquiry caused her “pain and resolve.”

“Pain, because of the suffering of innocent lives. Pain, because of the hurt that it might create in you, members and friends. Resolve, because truth matters. Resolve, because the value of every person matters. Always. Unconditionally. Particularly when marginalized and silenced for many years,” Bovermann said in a statement.

She emphasized that the inquiry found no misconduct related to L’Arche in the United States.

Until the late 1990s, Vanier oversaw the entire L’Arche organization, which grew into 154 communities and more than 10,000 members. He penned 30 books, was feted with awards and honors from governments around the globe, and became a sought after speaker. He was a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Vanier died in May 2019 at the age of 90 after a protracted battle with cancer.

L’Arche International has set up an additional centralized reporting procedure for any further information that people may wish to report. This information will be received by a task force composed of people outside of L’Arche.

“We will continue to develop and implement our safeguarding policies and procedures so that they become an integral part of our community life and contribute to the safety and growth of all our members,” Posner and Cates-Carney said.

“In the weeks and months to come, we will be asking our leaders to organize spaces for dialogue and support so that any and all members with or without disabilities will have the opportunity to express their feelings, thoughts and questions,” they stated.

Parts of Notre-Dame plaza, crypt expected to reopen this spring

Paris, France, Feb 21, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- French officials are hopeful that parts of the plaza of Notre-Dame de Paris, as well as the church’s crypt, will be re-opened roughly a year after a fire ravaged the roof and much of the interior of the cathedral.

Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris, said the internationally cherished cathedral’s plaza and crypt should reopen sometime before the summer “if everything goes OK,” the New York Times reported.

Officials told the New York Times that these parts of the cathedral and the surrounding area have thus far remained closed due to lead contamination from the rubble of the burnt roof and spire, which collapsed in the fire.

According to French government information, obtained by the New York Times, lead levels on the cathedral’s plaza following the fire were as high as 1,300 times above French safety guidelines, and on other surrounding areas lead levels were 955 times above safety regulations.

“Obviously this depends on whether the site has been properly cleaned up, but we have been doing regular lead checks,” Karen Taïeb, also a deputy mayor for Paris, told the New York Times. If all goes well, she said the plaza and crypt could be opened as early as the end of March.

On April 15 last year, a fire started in the center of the cathedral’s roof and nearly destroyed the entire building before it was put out.

The church receives more than 12 million visitors each year.

The roof had been undergoing restorative work at the time of the fire, and in the subsequent months, fire officials said they believed either malfunctioning electrical work or an abandoned cigarette butt from a worker caused the fire.

Most of the church’s sacred and artistic treasures, including the Eucharist and a relic of the crown of thorns, were rescued during the fire thanks to a planned rescue strategy that was in place for just such emergencies.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to restore the cathedral within five years following the fire, and nearly $1 billion has been pledged towards its restoration from private donors.

Last summer the French government passed a bill organizing how the restoration funds would be distributed, though debates about whether the cathedral will be restored as it was are ongoing.

Since the adoption of the 1905 law on separation of church and state, which formalized laïcité (a strict form of public secularism), religious buildings in France have been property of the state.

Argentine clergy abuse victims in Rome, one year after Vatican summit

Rome, Italy, Feb 21, 2020 / 12:49 pm (CNA).- One year after the Vatican hosted a summit on the abuse crisis, three former students of an Argentine institute which cared for deaf children, and from which two priests were convicted last year of sexual abuse, have traveled to Rome to ask the Vatican for files on accused priests.

Two Catholic priests were sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted in November of sexually abusing students at the now-closed Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired children in Argentina’s Mendoza province.

Three victims, who are former students of the institute, were accompanied by around 18 other victims of clergy sexual abuse, activists, and lawyers at a gathering near the Vatican Feb. 21.

The group was at the United Nations in Geneva earlier in the week, where they gave presentations to the UN committees against torture, on disability rights, and on the rights of the child, according to Denise Buchanan of advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse.

The Argentina case was presented “so that they can discuss it in the committees and pressure the Vatican to do whatever they need to do to make this stop from that end,” Buchanan told CNA.

One of the young victims from Argentina, Claudia Labeguerie, told CNA they went to the UN to “denounce the pope and the Vatican for cover-up, and then we came here to Rome to tell [about] the report.”

Labeguerie, who is deaf and uses sign language, spoke with CNA through her sister, Erica. Labeguerie said she suffered “abuse and torture by priests and sisters” at the Provolo Institute.

Buchanan, who was in Rome during the 2019 Vatican summit on abuse, said the Argentine victims “want Pope Francis to know that right here, right now is the time for there to be some reparation for them.”

She described reparation as including financial support for the victims, many of whom came from poor families. She also said they are looking for papal acknowledgment and changes to Church law.

The 2019 convictions in Argentina were for crimes which took place from 2004 to 2016. The cases involved 10 students, though around 20 have made abuse accusations.

Noting that some of the abuse occurred as recently as four years ago, Buchanan said they hope “people understand that [abuse is] not a past issue, it’s a present issue.”

Friday’s gathering was held in the square outside the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes of abuse by clergy or religious according to Church law.

Buchanan and others present said they were outside the CDF because they want the Vatican to hand over to Argentine lawyers the files on priests connected with the Provolo Institute and their photos.

Lawyers for the students, who were also present Friday, want the files to aid in their own prosecutions, according to Buchanan.

The CDF does not share information or the case files on ongoing investigations and legal proceedings. After the conclusion, prosecutors in other countries may request access to case files through the Secretariat of State.

Gemma Hickey is the founder of victim advocacy organizations the Pathways Foundation and ACTS-Canada. The Church “has lost its way,” in handling clergy abuse, Hickey told CNA, calling for “ownership, transparency, accountability.”

Hickey, who is a victim of clerical abuse and now identifies as a transgender man, said, “when someone abuses you and they represent God, that never leaves you.”

“As much as you move on, as much therapy as you do, you still carry that with you every day. It’s very difficult. It compromises your faith and your relationship to God, your relationship with yourself.”

Members of SNAP, the ECA network, and BishopAccountability.org were also present at the gathering.

Patricia Dold, a religious studies professor, said she herself is not a victim of clergy abuse, but she is angry and frustrated “to see this Church fail survivors.”

Their presence in Rome “is just one way to make the statement that we want the Church to live up to its moral code.”