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Doctors, bishops oppose decriminalization of euthanasia in Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal, Feb 20, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers in Portugal debated five pieces of legislation Thursday to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, and doctors in the country are joining with the Catholic Church in opposing the potential change.

Each of the bills, which are not substantially different, were approved by the unicameral parliament Feb. 20.

“The most dignified option against euthanasia is in palliative care as a commitment to proximity, respect and care for human life until its natural end,” the Portugese bishops' conference said Feb. 11, urging support for a referendum on the topic rather than a legislative change.

The Portuguese Doctors' Association says the legislation violates key principles of the medical profession, MailOnline reports.

“Doctors learn to treat patients and save lives. They are not prepared to take part in procedures leading to death,” PDA president Miguel Guimaraes said after meeting with Portugese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who has expressed reluctance to signing the legislation.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Australian state of Victoria, while Switzerland and some U.S. states allow assisted suicide.

The Socialist Party, one of the left-of-center parties leading the charge to push the legislation in Portugal, also led proposals to permit same-sex marriages and abortion in Portugal, the AP reports.

Hundreds of protestors gathered Thursday outside the parliament building in Lisbon to oppose the changes.

The bill would apply to patients over 18 who are “in a situation of extreme suffering, with an untreatable injury or a fatal and incurable disease.” According to the AP, two doctors, at least one of them a specialist in the relevant illness, and a psychiatrist would need to sign off on the patient’s request to die. The case would then go to a Verification and Evaluation Committee, which could approve or turn down the procedure.

The bills also stipulate that those seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide must be Portuguese citizens or legal residents.

Pope Francis speaks out frequently against the practice of euthanasia; in September 2019 he called it “a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”

This is not the first time Portugal has considered decriminalizing euthaniasia and assisted suicide.

After heated debate, the Portuguese Parliament voted during May 2018 to reject multiple proposed laws that would legalize euthanasia in the country, drawing praise from local bishops.

Pro-life groups had been protesting the euthanasia bills in the weeks leading up to the vote in the nation’s capital of Lisbon, where they held signs saying, “We demand palliative care for ALL,” and “Euthanasia is a recipe for elder abuse.”

UK health service clarifies policy to deny care to 'homophobic' patients

London, England, Feb 19, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Britain’s National Health Service has clarified a new policy that will allow patients found to be homophoic, racist, and sexist to be denied non-emergency treatment. 

Under the new rules, medical professionals can refuse non-emergency care to patients who harass, bully, or discriminate against them. The policy was announced on Feb. 18, and will go into effect in April. 

Previously, a medical professional was only permitted to deny non-emergency care to verbally aggressive or physically violent patients. The new policy will expand this criteria to include any harassment, including homophobia, sexism, and racism. 

The U.K.’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote to NHS staff announcing the change on Tuesday, stating “no act of violence or abuse is minor,” and that “being assaulted or abused is not part of the job.”

A 2019 survey of NHS staff revealed that more than one in four NHS workers have reported being “bullied, harassed or abused” in the last year. Approximately one in seven NHS workers said they had been physically attacked.

Hancock said that “Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out,” and that “I’ve seen it for myself in [emergency rooms], on night shifts, and on ambulances.” 

The survey also found that NHS staff who worked in patients in emergency wards, with mental health issues or learning disabilities experienced more abuse and violence than workers at other NHS locations.

CNA asked the NHS to clarify how a patient would be deemed racist or homophobic, and if they could be denied care due to a staff member’s perception or inference of their religious beliefs. CNA questioned if someone such as a Catholic priest or Imam could be removed from an NHS trust due to their religious opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexual activity. 

An NHS spokesperson told CNA that the policy would only extend to people who made discriminatory comments to a member of the staff while they were receiving treatment. 

“A person’s personal beliefs or any historical views are entirely irrelevant for this policy – a person would only be refused treatment if they made openly discriminatory remarks to a staff member at that time,” a spokesman for NHS England, said to CNA. 

Taylor also clarified that certain medical conditions that may impact a person’s decision making skills or verbal filter would be considered when making a decision to deny care. 

“Things like the patient’s mental health, any sort of cognitive impairment will also be taken into account,” said the spokesman. “So someone showing obvious signs of dementia would not be refused treatment in this circumstance.”

Court evidence suggests abuse cover-up by high ranking Legionaries of Christ

Milan, Italy, Feb 18, 2020 / 12:01 am (CNA).- Evidence to be presented in an upcoming criminal trial suggests an elaborate cover-up of sexual abuse allegations against a former priest of the Legionaries of Christ whom an Italian court has convicted of sexual abuse of a minor.

The case, set to begin in March, names four Legion priests and a Legion lawyer who are accused of attempting to obstruct justice and extort the family of a sex abuse victim, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

The names of the priests and lawyer in question have not been released, and the Legion did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

The Legion of Christ, a religious congregation consisting of fewer than 1,000 priests worldwide, was long the subject of critical reports and rumors before it was rocked by Vatican acknowledgment that its charismatic founder, Father Marcial Maciel, lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children. Maciel abused at least 60 minors.

In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age, and he died in 2008.

Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Valasio De Paolis, a highly respected canon lawyer, to lead the religious order in 2010.

De Paolis, who died in 2017, has faced criticism for leaving much of the leadership of the congregation from Maciel’s time in place and failing to investigate claims of cover-up.

The present case chiefly concerns Mexico native Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez, who was ordained a priest in 2006 and immediately was sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary near Italy's border with Switzerland, the AP reports.

The Legion has said it first recieved allegations of sexual abuse against Reséndiz during March 2011. An Austrain boy reported the allegation to a church ombudsman’s office in Austria that receives abuse complaints, according to the AP.

In addition, the son of Yolanda Martinez, a church employee in Milan, revealed in 2013 during sessions with his psychologist that Reséndiz had abused him at the Gozzano youth seminary in 2008.

In October 2013, the Legion offered a settlement of 15,000 euros to Martinez, but in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to prosecutors that Reséndiz had repeatedly assaulted him, the AP reports.

Martinez called De Paolis to complain about the proposal. According to their wiretapped Jan. 7, 2014 conversation, De Paolis told Martinez not to sign the deal and to negotiate a different deal, without lawyers.

Authorities obtained the tape of the conversation, as well as numerous documents to be presented at the trial, during a 2014 raid of the Legion’s headquarters in Rome.

Documents obtained during the 2014 raid suggest that Reséndiz was known to the Legion as a risk to children even when he was a teenage seminarian in 1994, with his novice director writing that he believed Reséndiz to be “a boy with strong sexual impulses and low capacity to control them.”

A lawyer for the Legion is accused of recommending various schemes to Legion leaders aimed at covering up Reséndiz abuses.

The lawyer recommended in a March 2011 email that Father Gabriel Sotres, a Legion priest who was tasked with revising the congregation’s constitution a decade ago, go to Austria to convince the alleged victim not to tell their parents or the authorities.

Documents also suggest that Legion knew about another possible victim in Venezuela, where Reséndiz had been moved in 2008. The lawyer proposed a plan to report only Reséndiz’s name to Venezuelan police to comply with local reporting laws, leaving out that he was a priest, that he was accused of a sex crime against a child, and the name of the Legion, as well as noting that he no longer lived in Venezuela, the AP reported.

All of this would be done in order to mitigate the possible damage to the order.

That same month, Reséndiz was removed from priestly ministry after his religious superior questioned him, but documents suggest he hearing confessions in schools and celebrating Mass in Colombia while he was supposedly suspended, and later assigned to an administrative position.

Evidence to be presented at the trial suggests that although De Paolis opened a canonical investigation of Reséndiz within the congregation, he did not alert the police.

Authorities in Milan did not learn of the abuse allegations against Reséndiz until March 2013, when Martinez’s son’s psychologist reported them.

Reséndiz eventually confessed to his crimes in a letter to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller in 2012. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dismissed Reséndiz from the clerical state during April 2013, the Legion says.

An Italian court convicted Reséndiz in absentia during March 2019, and during Jan. 2020 an appeals court confirmed the conviction. Reséndiz faces a sentence of six and a half years in jail. He is believed to be living in Mexico.

The Legion reported in December 2019 that since its founding in 1941, 33 priests of the Legionaries of Christ have been found to have committed sexual abuse of minors, victimizing 175 children, according to the 2019 report.

The preliminary hearing for the present criminal trial in Milan is scheduled for March 12.

First Mass since Reformation to be held in Swiss cathedral

Geneva, Switzerland, Feb 17, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The first Catholic Mass in nearly five hundred years will be celebrated at a cathedral in Geneva later this month. Mass will be said in the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre de Genève on Feb. 29, in a decision announced by the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg’s episcopal vicariate for the city.

The cathedral was the seat of the Catholic bishops of Geneva from the fourth century until the Protestant Reformation. The last Mass celebrated at the cathedral took place in 1535. After the Reformation, the building was taken over by John Calvin’s Reformed Protestant Church, which destroyed the cathedral’s statues and paintings, and banned Catholic worship.

Fr. Pascal Desthieux, the Catholic episcopal vicar for Geneva, described the cathedral as the “central and symbolic location of Geneva’s Christian history” in a letter published on the vicariate’s website. 

Following the reformation, the cathedral became a location “emblematic of the Calvinist reform,” he said. 

John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, lived in Geneva, and the city was a destination for French Protestants who were forced to flee France due to persecution. Saint-Pierre de Genève was Calvin’s home church and his chair is displayed next to the cathedral’s pulpit. 

The Diocese of Geneva was eventually absorbed into the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg. Today, just under 40% of Switzerland is Catholic. 

At the request of Geneva’s Protestant population, Desthieux will celebrate the Mass and not Bishop Charles Morerod of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg. But, Desthieux said, Bishop Morerod views the Mass as an historic “local event.” 

While acknowledging that the return of Catholic Mass to the cathedral is a cause for rejoicing, Desthieux warned against any “triumphalism,” as well as any language suggesting the Catholics are looking to “take over” the building. 

“With our Protestant brothers and sisters, who welcome us in their cathedral, we want simply to make a strong ecumenical gesture, a sign that we all live together in Geneva,” he said. The Mass is a “gesture of hospitality” within the Christian community of the city, said the priest. 

“Our Protestant brothers will welcome us, and we will let ourselves be welcomed,” Desthieux said. 

The date and timing of the Mass was chosen to coincide with the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. The Mass will be celebrated at 6:30 p.m., making it the vigil Mass of the first Sunday of Lent. 

“We have chosen to have this historic Mass at the beginning of Lent, to include a penitential process where we ask forgiveness for our sins against unity,” he said in the letter. 

All other Saturday vigil Masses in the city of Geneva will be cancelled on Feb. 29, in order to encourage all of the city’s Catholics to attend the Mass at the cathedral. 

Some media reports have suggested that Protestant attendees at the Mass will be invited to receive Communion, though this is prohibited by canon law. 

According to Daniel Pilly, president of the Saint-Pierre de Genève parish council, it is common in Geneva for Protestants to receive Communion during ecumenical services.

“Protestants receiving Communion is already done locally in many parishes during ecumenical celebrations, where Protestants and Catholics invite each other to the Lord’s Supper and to Communion,” said Pilly to Protest Info, a Swiss press agency that reports on news related to the Reformed Churches. 

In the Catholic Church, only baptized Catholics in a state of grace are permitted to receive Communion. 

According to an article in the Geneva Tribune, a Swiss newspaper, Protestants who attend the Mass on Feb. 29 will not be encouraged to receive Communion. 

“People of a faith other than Catholic will not be formally invited to Eucharist, the sharing of bread and wine,” said the paper in a news article about the Mass published on February 12. 

Speaking to the Geneva Tribue, Desthieux quoted Redemptionis Sacramentum, the 2004 document published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments regarding the proper practices regarding the Eucharist, and explained that Protestants who attend Mass are not generally permitted to receive Communion.

“However, in such special circumstances, we practice what we call eucharistic hospitality by welcoming all people who come forward to receive the Body of Christ,” he said. Desthieux did not explain what “eucharistic hospitality” means in this case, or if and on what basis Communion would be knowingly distributed to Protestants.

“And anyway,” Desthieux said, “everyone is welcome to this Mass.”

Vatican, Chinese diplomats discuss deal on bishop appointments

Munich, Germany, Feb 14, 2020 / 04:13 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, met Friday with Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, discussing their states' 2018 agreement on episcopal appointments.

The Feb. 14 meeting took place in Munich on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“In the course of the colloquy, which took place in a cordial atmosphere, the contacts between the two parties were evoked, which have developed positively over time,” according to a Holy See press office communique.

“In particular, there was highlighted the importance of the Provisional Accord on the nomination of bishops, signed 22 September 2018, renewing the willingness to continue the institutional dialogue at the bilateral level to promote the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people,” the Holy See press office wrote.

The press office also said that “appreciation was expressed for the efforts being made to eradicate the coronavirus epidemic as well as solidarity with the affected population.”

The Vatican has sent between 600,000 to 700,000 face masks to three provinces in China since Jan. 27 to help contain the spread of coronavirus, and Pope Francis prayed for those infected during his Jan. 26 Angelus prayer.

The press office communique closed saying that “a desire for greater international cooperation to end of promoting civil coexistence and peace in the world was called for, and considerations on intercultural dialogue and human rights were exchanged.”

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

The September 2018 agreement between the Holy See and Beijing was intended to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and unify the underground Church and the CPCA. The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

Cardinal Zen told CNA Feb. 11 that “the situation is very bad” in China, and added that “the bad things come from [Parolin].”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin is Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Gallagher is one of his top deputies.

According to Cardinal Zen, Cardinal Parolin is so optimistic about the so-called ‘Ostpolitik’, the compromise.”

But, the cardinal told CNA, “you cannot compromise” with the Chinese Communist Party, whom he called “persecutors” of the faith.

“They want complete surrender. That’s communism.”

“More and more, the Church [is] under persecution,” Cardinal Zen said, “both the official Church, and the underground.”

Guidance from the Vatican recognizes the choice of those who feel that they cannot in good conscience register with the government and accept sinicization. However, reports indicate that those who decline to register are facing harassment and persecution.

A report by the Congressional China Commission, issued in January, noted that human rights abuses intensified in China during the 2019 reporting year, and the persecution of Catholics worsened after the Vatican-China deal was reached.

“After the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Holy See in September 2018 paving the way for unifying the state-sanctioned and underground Catholic communities, local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increasing persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy” the report read.

In December 2019 Bishop John Fang Xingyao of Linyi, president of the CPCA, said that “love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.” He was speaking at a Beijing meeting sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party.

New restrictions on religious groups in China went into effect Feb. 1. These include a mandate to implement socialst values, spread the principles of the Chinese Communist Party and support its leaders, and adhere to the path of Chinese socialism.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The Sinizication of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.

In 2017, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country’s government, and therefore must become more “Chinese-oriented.” Since he took power, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 church buildings.

And a government official who oversees religious affairs said in April 2018 that government restrictions on bishop appointments are not a violation of religious freedom, as he emphasized that religions in China must “adapt to socialist society.” The official, Chen Zongrong, added that “I believe there is no religion in human society that transcends nations.”

Restrictions put in place in February 2018 made it illegal for anyone under age 18 to enter a church building.

Muslims, too, have come under pressure from the Chinese government. It is believed that as many as 1 million Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnoreligious group in China's far west, are being detained in re-education camps where they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination.

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