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McCarrick abuse trial: A CNA timeline

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2019 / 02:14 am (CNA).- Theodore McCarrick has been laicized, nearly 10 months after sex abuse allegations against him were first made public. Here is a timeline of major events since last summer.

 

June 20 – The Archdiocese of New York announces that an allegation of sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found to be “credible and substantiated.” 

July 19 – The New York Times reports a new allegation by a man who says he was serially abused by McCarrick beginning in 1969, when he was 11 years old.

July 28 – Pope Francis accepts the resignation of McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and suspends him from the exercise of any public ministry. He directs McCarrick to observe a life of prayer and penance, pending the canonical process against him.

August 16 – The U.S. bishops’ conference calls for a Vatican-led investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up surrounding McCarrick.

August 17 – CNA interviews reveal numerous Newark priests claiming McCarrick had a widely-known reputation for sexual advances toward seminarians.

August 25 – Former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano releases a “testament” claiming that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

August 26 – Asked during an in-flight interview about Vigano’s letter, Pope Francis says he “will not say a single word” on the subject and instructs journalists to use their “journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”

August 30 – Archdiocese of Washington confirms that seminarians were permitted to serve as assistants to McCarrick while the archbishop was being investigated for the alleged sexual abuse of a teenager.

September 12 – Pope Francis calls for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to address the protection of minors.

September 19 – The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announces new accountability measures, including a code of conduct for bishops and the creation of an independent reporting mechanism for complaints against bishops. The committee also calls for a full investigation into the allegations against McCarrick and the Church’s response to these allegations.

September 28 – The Diocese of Salina and Archdiocese of Washington announce that Archbishop McCarrick has begun his life of prayer and penance at St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.

October 6 – The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has ordered a review of all Holy See files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick.

November 12 – U.S. bishops gather for annual fall meeting in Baltimore; the Vatican instructs them to delay until after the February meeting a vote on two proposals intended to be the foundation of the U.S. Church’s response to the abuse crisis.

November 14 – The U.S. bishops fail to pass a resolution that would have “encouraged” the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of misconduct against McCarrick.

December 27 - James Grein testifies in a canonical deposition by the Archdiocese of New York, saying he was serially sexually abused by McCarrick, beginning when he was 11 years old.

January 14 – Archbishop Vigano writes open letter urging McCarrick to publicly repent of the sexual abuse and misconduct of which he has been accused.

February 11. - McCarrick is laicized. Also known as losing the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death. In addition, he no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church.

February 13 - McCarrick appeals decision against him.

February 15 - Appeal rejected and decision confirmed.

McCarrick laicized by Pope Francis

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2019 / 01:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered this week the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop emeritus of Washington, and a once powerful figure in ecclesiastical, diplomatic, and political circles in the U.S. and around the world.

The decision followed an administrative penal process conducted by the CDF, which found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” according to a Feb. 16 Vatican communique.

The conviction was made following an “administrative penal process,” which is a much-abbreviated penal mechanism used in cases in which the evidence is so clear that a full trial is unnecessary.

Because Pope Francis personally approved the guilty verdict and the penalty of laicization, it is formally impossible for the decision to be appealed.

According to a statement from the Vatican Feb. 16, the decree finding McCarrick guilty was issued Jan. 11 and followed by an appeal, which was rejected by the CDF Feb. 13.

McCarrick was notified of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis “has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse.)”

CNA contacted this week McCarrick’s canonical advocate, who declined to comment on the case.

McCarrick, 88, was publicly accused last year of sexually abusing at least two adolescent boys, and of engaging for decades in coercive sexual behavior toward priests and seminarians.

The allegations were first made public in June 2018, when the Archdiocese of New York reported that it had received a “credible” allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s, while serving as a New York priest. The same month McCarrick stepped down from all public ministry at the direction of the Holy See.

In July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, ordering McCarrick to a life of prayer and penance pending the completion of the canonical process concerning the allegations. Since the end of September, McCarrick has been residing at the St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.

Key among McCarrick’s accusers is James Grein, who gave evidence before specially deputized archdiocesan officials in New York on Dec. 27.

As part of the CDF’s investigation, Grein testified that McCarrick, a family friend, sexually abused him over a period of years, beginning when he was 11 years old. He also alleged that McCarrick carried out some of the abuse during the sacrament of confession - itself a separate canonical crime that can lead to the penalty of laicization.

The CDF has also reportedly received evidence from an additional alleged victim of McCarrick - 13 at the time of the alleged abuse began - and from as many as 8 seminarian-victims in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen, where McCarrick previously served as bishop.

As emeritus Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and before that Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark, McCarrick occupied a place of prominence in the US Church.

He was also a leading participant in the development of the 2002 Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms, which established procedures for handling allegations of sexual abuse concerning priests.

Though laicized, McCarrick does not cease to be a bishop, sacramentally speaking, since once conferred, the sacrament of ordination and episcopal consecration cannot be undone.

The penalty of reduction from the clerical state - often called laicization - prevents McCarrick from referring to himself or functioning as a priest, in public or private. Since ordination imparts a sacramental character, it cannot be undone by an act of the Church. But following laicization he is stripped of all the rights and privileges of a cleric including, in theory, the right to receive financial support from the Church.
 

 

NJ bill would expand window for sex abuse victims to sue

Trenton, N.J., Feb 15, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- The New Jersey legislature is considering expanding the legal window to file civil actions for sex abuse against both individual perpetrators and institutions.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference backs expanding the statute of limitations for civil actions related to future crimes. However, it is arguing that only individual offenders, not institutions, should face civil action for past acts of abuse.

“The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey are committed to keeping our teaching, worship and ministry spaces safe for everyone, especially children,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

“All of our dioceses have committed to assisting victims of abuse whenever and however we can,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At present, criminal cases of sexual assault have no statute of limitations under state law. The statute of limitations for civil action is two years.

If the proposed New Jersey bill becomes law, victims of sex assault would have an expanded statute of limitations for civil action against both individuals and institutions.

The bill would allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later. Adult victims of sexual assault would have a seven-year time frame after the incident to file a civil lawsuit, or until seven years after they become aware of the abuse, the Wall Street Journal says.

Further, the bill would create a one-time two-year legal window for civil complaints for anyone previously barred from filing civil actions due to the time limit.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy backs the proposed law.

“Victims of sexual abuse, especially those victimized in childhood, deserve to find doors held open for them as they seek justice against their abusers,” he said Feb. 14.

Bill sponsors are Sen. Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, both Democrats. Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a Democrat, supports the legislation, the Wall Street Journal said.

The New Jersey State Senate’s Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation March 7.

Similar legislation in New York, passed Jan. 28, met with some initial resistance from New York’s bishops, who had expressed concern about retroactive provisions in the bill. Once those provisions were amended, the state’s bishops dropped their concerns.

New Jersey dioceses have set up their own victims’ compensation fund as an alternative to civil lawsuits. According to Brannigan, the fund has “significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” It promises “an attractive alternative to litigation” and “speedy and transparent process.”

After agreeing on and receiving a settlement, abuse survivors will not be able to pursue additional legal action against the diocese. All settlements will be funded by the dioceses themselves.

On Feb. 13, all the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey released lists of clergy who had been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940.

On the list is disgraced former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who headed New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen from 1981 until 1986 and the Archdiocese of Newark from 1986 until 2000. He retired as Archbishop of Washington.

A total of 188 clerics, including deacons, were listed. The Archdiocese of Newark list had the most names, with 63, and the Diocese of Metuchen had the fewest with 11.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said in a statement that the release of the list of names of credibly accused clergy was part of “an effort to do what is right and just.”

“It is our sincerest hope that this disclosure will help bring healing to those whose lives have been so deeply violated,” said Tobin. “We also pray that this can serve as an initial step in our efforts to help restore trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after being credibly accused of abusing two minor boys. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades.

A verdict following McCarrick’s canonical process for his abuse of minors is expected at any time. Many expect the punishment to remove him from the clerical state.

Aid agencies highlight Christian persecution on anniversary of 'Coptic Martyrs'

Denver, Colo., Feb 15, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Four years after the so-called Islamic State released a propaganda video showing the beheading of 21 abducted Coptic Christians in Libya, aid workers and politicians continue to highlight the dangers facing Christians in the Middle East and across the world.

 

On Feb. 15, 2015, a video was released showing IS fighters beheading Egyptian workers,as they knelt on a Libyan beach wearing prison-style orange jumpsuits. The Egyptian government and the Coptic Church later confirmed the video’s authenticity.

 

Edward Clancy, director of outreach for Aid to the Church in Need USA, told CNA that the killing of the Coptic martyrs helped to bring the issue to Christian persecution into focus for the wider Western culture and media, and spurred an outpouring of donations for charitable aid.

 

"It definitely brought the Christian persecution to the forefront and put it on page one," Clancy told CNA in an interview Feb. 15.

 

Soon after the video’s release, the Coptic Church announced that the men would be commemorated as martyrs in its Church calendar. In October 2018, authorities found a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of the 21 men.

 

"Seemingly every day at that time there was a story of something going on, whether it was the fall of Raqqa; the enslavement of women; obviously the killing of the Coptic martyrs. And all of these did bring this [issue] into focus, and people did respond. Obviously it touched a lot of people's hearts, and because of that they were very generous," Clancy said.

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been working to help persecuted Christians since its founding in 1947. Clancy told CNA that while the public martyrdoms brought the dangers facing persecuted Christians to wider attention, Aid to the Church in Need had considered the issue a core concern for some time.

 

"I wouldn't say that the videos changed much as far as [ACN’s priorities] go; our commitment to the Christian community there was as high before and after;" Clancy said.

 

"And that was because we saw the existential threat to the Christian communities by what was going on, by the violence, by the terrorism...The videos strengthened our resolve, I guess, to say we're not going to let this happen."

 

To this day, Clancy said, ancient Christian communities in the Middle East are at risk of disappearing. In Syria alone hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in places like Nineveh, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.

 

Last December, a mass grave of 34 Ethiopian Christians was unearthed. That grave is believed to contain the bodies of Christians killed by IS forces in a propaganda video posted on social media in April 2015, two months after the first video was released.

 

That video, similar to the first one, appeared to show the Islamic State members shooting and beheading the Ethiopian Christians, who were all wearing orange jumpsuits, on a beach.

 

Clancy told CNA that ancient Christian communities in the Middle East remain at risk of disappearing. In Syria alone hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in places like Nineveh, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.

 

"We've been able to support $55 million in aid over the years in Iraq and probably about $40 million in Syria in different programs to help keep the Christian communities alive," Clancy said.

 

"Unfortunately though, even with all of those efforts, there's been a great decline in the number of Christians. Iraq is down to about 20% of its Christian population as compared to 2000. And Syria's down probably something like 40% since that time too."

 

Clancy highlighted the continued dangers faced by Christians all over the region and the world, and noted the moral imperative on the international community to remember and support them.

 

"For us here in the United States, in the West, in the sort of 'safe world,' we actually take for granted that our faith is part of our lives. There, it's part of their lives, but it could also be a reason for their death. So we should do our best to pray for them, to be aware of what's going on and to support them by financial means and also for advocating on their behalf in the public arena.”

 

Clancy highlighted the recent announcement that the United States would withdraw troops from Syria as a source of fear among some in the Christian community. The move, he said, raised anxiety that terrorist forces might be emboldened by the decision.

 

"I think we have to be fair enough to say that when there's a need for [military] protection that we should do it," he said.

 

"It's really all dependent on international governments, on the United States, the West, Europe, to stand up and say we're not going to allow Christianity to die there. As Catholics, we can't be afraid to say that, " Clancy said.

 

One such advocate in the United States is Arkansas Congressman French Hill, who introduced a resolution Jan. 16 supporting the religious freedom of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

 

Hill’s resolution called on the Egyptian government to “end the culture of impunity” with which Christians were attacked and to “make examples by arresting, prosecuting, and convicting those responsible for attacks on Christians.”

 

"We forget that it's not wrong to say that Christians belong [in the Middle East] and Christians should stay there. That's what I always ask people to remember," Clancy said.

Kentucky Senate approves fetal heartbeat bill

Frankfort, Ky., Feb 15, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

The bill passed 31-6 on Feb. 14. It will now head to the state’s House, which has a Republican majority.

During a committee review of the measure earlier on Thursday, the heartbeat of a Kentucky resident’s unborn baby was played live through an electronic monitor. The woman, April Lanham, is a resident of the district of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Matt Castlen (R).

“That child in her womb is a living human being,” said Castlen, according to the Associated Press. “And all living human beings have a right to life.”

Lanham, who is 18 weeks into her pregnancy, told reporters that she thought her baby’s heartbeat would be a “powerful noise” for lawmakers ahead of the vote.

If the law passes, an examination would be required before an abortion to determine whether the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected. If so, an abortion would be illegal, unless the mother’s health is determined to be in danger.

The Kentucky bill is one of several similar heartbeat bills being considered throughout the country.

Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have also introduced fetal heartbeat bills this year. A handful of states have passed similar bills in recent years, although they generally face court challenges.

Opponents of the bill promised similar legal challenges if Kentucky’s legislation becomes law.

“This law is patently unconstitutional,” said Kate Miller, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “The second it is signed, the ACLU of Kentucky will file a lawsuit. And much like the other laws you have passed, we expect that you will be held up in litigation unsuccessfully for years.”

Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood and now pro-life activist, spoke in favor of the legislation at the committee hearing on Thursday.

“Abortion can never, on its face, be safe, because in order for an abortion to be deemed successful, an individual and unique human with a beating heart must die,” Johnson said, according to WDRB.

McCarrick has 'private income' in the event of laicization

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- Ahead of an expected decision in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, new details have emerged about his likely financial status in the event that he is laicized.

Sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that McCarrick has previously declined an income from the Church, and that he has private means of support in place.

McCarrick’s conviction and possible laicization have been the subject of consistent media speculation and expectation in recent days. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades. A decision in the case is widely predicted to be announced ahead of a Vatican summit on child sexual abuse, which begins Feb. 21.

While no decision or penalty has yet been announced, sources close to the archbishop told CNA Friday that, in the event he were defrocked, he would still have a personal income.

This could prove significant, as clerical offenders of advanced age or poor health are often kept in a penitential assignment, in recognition that they might otherwise have no means of support. If McCarrick were known to be able to provide for his own living outside of Church support, it could weigh against him in any deliberation about imposing a penalty of laicization.

As a cleric and former archbishop of Washington and Newark, and former bishop of Metuchen, McCarrick currently has a right to financial support from the Church. At present, expenses at the Kansas monastery where McCarrick is living in “prayer and penance” are being met by the Archdiocese of Washington which, as the last diocese of his assignment, has an ongoing obligation to provide basic “sustenance” under canon law.

That right would cease, along with many others, if he were expelled from the clerical state - laicized - following a conviction for sexual abuse.

But sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that he never drew either a salary or a pension from any of the three dioceses he led. They said that he declined to take remuneration from his former dioceses, but that he does have a private income from savings and monthly annuities.

“While he is not without resources, they are modest, in keeping with what one might expect of a parish priest,” one source close to McCarrick told CNA.

The same source told CNA that the annuities had been privately purchased over a period of years.

Questions remain, however, about the scale and sources of McCarrick’s private income. If, as those close to him have indicated, he declined any formal remuneration from the dioceses he led as a bishop, what was the source for any savings he might have, and how did he come to purchase the annuities to give himself a private income in retirement?

One source close to McCarrick speculated that the annuities could have come from “friends or benefactors” of the archbishop before his fall from grace.

The web of formal and informal financial networks around him remains hard to untangle, but what is known gives a strong indication of his access to funds.

In 2001, McCarrick established the Archbishop’s Fund, which he continued to personally oversee during his retirement, only ceding control to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in June last year.

According to the Archdiocese of Washington, that fund was designated for McCarrick’s personal “works of charity and other miscellaneous expenses.”

McCarrick also sat on the board of numerous grant-making bodies during his time in office, at least two of which combined to donate more than $500,000 to his personal charitable fund. These included nine grants of $25,000 each from the Minnesota-based GHR Foundation designated for the “former archbishop’s fund” or the “former archbishop’s special fund,” according to tax records.

The Virginia-based Loyola Foundation made grants of $20,000 - $40,000 per year to the archbishop’s fund for at least a decade. According to the foundation, the sums were “specifically designated by Archbishop McCarrick” who as a trustee could allocate “limited discretionary grants” to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations.

While the archdiocese told CNA in August 2018 that the fund was audited annually and that “no irregularities were ever noticed,” it would not confirm the balance of the fund at the time McCarrick turned over control, or how much money had passed through the fund over the years, or where it had gone.

McCarrick was known for producing sizable donations for projects and funds with which he was associated, including the Papal Foundation, as well as individual projects in dioceses around the world. At the same time, he was also well known for his more personal acts of generosity.

In September 2018, a cardinal who formerly served as a curial official recalled McCarrick’s habit of doling out large sums, in cash, to senior officials in Rome.

“When he would visit Rome, Cardinal McCarrick was well-known for handing out envelopes of money to different bishops and cardinals around the curia to thank them for their work,” the cardinal told CNA.

“Where these ‘honoraria’ came from or what they were for, exactly, was never clear – but many accepted them anyway.”

Given that McCarrick has access to a private income, unconnected to the Church, it is unlikely that any of the three dioceses which he once led would put themselves forward to offer him additional support in the event he were laicized.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed to CNA that McCarrick had not received a pension from the diocese but could not confirm if he drew a salary as bishop, citing diocesan files on salaries which only date back seven years.

Both the Archdiocese of Newark and the Archdiocese of Washington declined to comment on McCarrick’s private financial circumstances. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington referred CNA to the archbishop’s personal attorney.

Bishops 'deeply concerned' by Trump border emergency declaration

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. Trump made the declaration as part of an attempt to secure full funding for the construction of a border wall.

 

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” said the statement, which was jointly written by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

 

The two bishops said they were against the use of additional funds for the construction of a border wall. In the latest appropriations bill, Congress allocated $1.3 billion to erect barriers along parts of the southern border, but included several exceptions for locations where the funding may not be used to construct barriers.

 

Trump had requested $5.7 billion to fund the entire project.

 

On Friday, in an effort to supplement the funding allocated by Congress, the president declared a national emergency on the southern border. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

 

“The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency,” said Trump in a declaration announcing the state of emergency.

 

“The southern border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics,” Trump said.

 

The president asserted that illegal immigration is a worsening problem on the border, and therefore action must be taken to address this issue.

 

The bishops disagreed with the president's assessment of the situation at the border, and on the suitability of a border wall.

 

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall was a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

 

“We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls,” they added.

 

On Feb. 14, the House of Representatives and Senate both passed a bill to provide $1.3 billion in funding for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but which contained a list of five specific places where these funds cannot be used to build a wall. One of these was the site of La Lomita Chapel in Mission, TX, in the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

The Brownsville diocese has been contesting government attempts to survey public land around the chapel ahead of a border wall being erected.

 

The diocese filed suit against the federal government arguing that the construction of a border wall restricting access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

 

On Feb. 6, U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane ruled that allowing the federal government to survey the land surrounding the chapel to determine if a wall could be built would not interfere with the exercise of religious freedom rights.

Update: Catholic bishops, groups oppose Trump's call for national emergency

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic bishops near the U.S.-Mexico border, joined by other U.S. prelates, voiced opposition immediately after President Donald Trump's Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency so he can order construction of a barrier along parts of the border between the two countries.

"In our view, a border wall is first and foremost a symbol of division and animosity between two friendly countries," the bishops said.

"Furthermore, the wall would be an ineffective use of resources at a time of financial austerity," they said. "It would also would destroy parts of the environment, disrupt the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers, weaken cooperation and commerce between border communities, and, at least in one instance, undermine the right to the freedom of worship."

Speaking at news conference in the Rose Garden, Trump said he was going to sign a national emergency declaration to stave off a flow of drugs, human trafficking, gang members and illegal immigration coming across the southern border.

The president later signed a spending bill that provides $1.375 billion for fencing and other measures along the border -- a fraction of the $5.7 billion he had been asking from Congress for construction of the a barrier. Declaring the national emergency could grant him up to $8 billion for his project.

The promise of a wall on the southern border was key to his presidential campaign, but as a candidate he said neighboring Mexico, not the U.S., would pay for the structure. When Mexico refused to pay for the wall, he turned to U.S. lawmakers for funding, but they have largely refused to grant U.S. taxpayer money to build it, which led to a partial government shutdown earlier this year.

In a separate bishops' statement following Trump's announcement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said they were "deeply concerned about the president's action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall."

"We oppose the use of these funds to further the construction of the wall," Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said. "We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls."

In their statement, the border bishops and the other prelates who joined them said that while they agree with the president that there is a "humanitarian challenge" at the border, "erecting a wall will not solve the problem," they said, and they asked Congress to step in with more humanitarian responses.  

This statement was signed by Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego; Texas Bishops Mark P. Seitz of El Paso and James A. Tamayo of Laredo and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio; Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Arizona; Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey; New Mexico Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces and retired Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who is apostolic administrator of Las Cruces; Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky; and Cardinals Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

In his speech, the president said he wanted to build the wall "not just because it was a campaign promise," but because "everyone knows a wall works" and national emergencies such as the one he is calling for had been used by presidents previously without problems. Such declarations are common and at least 31 declared emergencies remain in place, but the current one seems to be designed to get around Congress.

The dozen or so bishops in their statement said they worried that a wall would drive migrants to more remote regions of the border and risk great loss of life.

When a wall was constructed in the San Diego area in the mid-1990s, for example, migrants were driven, often by smugglers, to the desert of Arizona and other remote regions in order to cross the border, they said, citing U.S. Border Patrol statistics that showed that over 7,000 migrants died in those areas from 1998 to 2016.

"The truth is that the majority of persons coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are asylum-seekers, many of whom are women and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries," the bishops' statement said. "Along their journey to safety, they encounter many dangers. A wall would not keep them safe from those dangers. Rather, a wall would, further subject them to harm by drug cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers."

They said that while the country had a right to control and secure its borders, "border enforcement must protect and preserve the human rights and life of all persons, regardless of their legal status." Instead of a wall, they said, Congress should focus on more humane policies, such as reforming the immigration system "in a manner that is just, protects human rights and reflects American values."

"It is powerful that the bishops on the border are speaking against a wall. They, more than anyone in the church, know firsthand the reality along the border, and the suffering endured by families and children at the hands of recent U.S. policies," said Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York in an email to Catholic News Service.

The Center for Migration Studies and the Ignatian Solidarity Network in Ohio joined in a statement signed by more than 40 faith leaders questioning the morality of structure.

"History has shown that border walls constructed to restrict human rights, such as the Berlin Wall, cause harm to human beings, all of whom possess God-given rights and are equal to us in the eyes of God. Because of this injustice, they eventually come down," the statement said.

Other Catholic groups such as the Sisters of Mercy and the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach also voiced early opposition to Trump's declaration.

"We unequivocally oppose the president's decision to declare a state of national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and divert funding to pay for construction of a border wall. This decision is immoral and unnecessary. The real emergency is the dehumanization of migrants and the utter disregard for border communities and the environment. Construction of a wall and further militarization is not a solution," said a statement from the Columban center.

"A declaration of a national emergency aimed at funding an immoral wall will not correct years of failed immigration policy or ameliorate the U.S. role in root causes of migration," said Mercy Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in a statement. "The real one is of disinformation and misplaced values. President Trump fans a fear of asylum seekers by mischaracterizing them as criminals when the vast majority are people fleeing unspeakable atrocities for safety and a better life."

Trump said he expected lawsuits over the declaration but hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately rule in his favor. He defended his actions and said such declarations have been made in the past "for far less important things."

"I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster," Trump said, while voicing frustration that seemed directed at former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, whom Trump seemed to blame for Congress' early failure to fund his proposed border wall.  

"I'm very disappointed in certain people, one in particular for not having pushed this faster," Trump said. A reporter then asked: "Are you referring to former Speaker Paul Ryan?"

"Let's not talk about it. What difference does it make?" the president responded.

 

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Pope Francis: Be not afraid of migrants

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2019 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said Friday that people need to overcome their fear of migrants and refugees, and look for the face of Christ in each immigrant arriving in their countries.

“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to let Him free us from our fears,” Pope Francis said in a homily Feb. 15 at the Fraterna Domus di Sacrofano, a Catholic retreat center north of Rome.

In fear, we tend to become closed off, Pope Francis explained. “This withdrawal into ourselves, a sign of defeat, increases our fear of ‘others,’ the unknown, the marginalized, the strangers.”

“It is not easy to enter the culture of others, put yourself in the shoes of people so different from us, understand their thoughts and experiences. And so often we give up the meeting with the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves,” he continued.

“Faced with the wickedness and ugliness of our time, we … are tempted to abandon our dream of freedom. We feel legitimate fear in front of situations that seem to us with no way out. And the human words of a leader or prophet are not enough to reassure us,” he said.

However, when fear holds one back from encountering the stranger, it is a missed opportunity to practice charity, the pope explained.

“The meeting with the other, then, is also an encounter with Christ. He told us himself. It is He who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted,” he said.

“It is really Him, even if our eyes [struggle] to recognize Him: with broken clothes, with dirty feet, with a deformed face, with a wounded body, unable to speak our language,” Pope Francis added.

Pope Francis celebrated the opening Mass for a Feb. 15-17 gathering called, “Freedom from Fear,” a meeting of people and organizations dedicated to welcoming migrants. The event was organized by the Italian bishops conference and Caritas Italiana.

In the Mass, Pope Francis prayed that all pastors “know how to train all the baptized to welcome to migrants and refugees.”

Vatican ambassador under investigation for sexual assault

Paris, France, Feb 15, 2019 / 08:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Luigi Ventura, apostolic nuncio to France since 2009 and a long-time Vatican diplomat, is under investigation for alleged sexual assault.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported Friday that Ventura, 74, is being investigated by Paris authorities after he was accused late last month of having inappropriately touched a young male staffer of Paris City Hall.

A Vatican statement Feb. 15 said that it was made aware of the French authorities’ investigation of the envoy through the press and is “awaiting the outcome of the investigations.”

The alleged assault is said to have taken place in Paris’ City Hall Jan. 17, during a reception for the annual New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The address is usually given to diplomats, religious leaders, and civil society members, with a role by the apostolic nuncio.

The claim against Ventura was brought to French authorities by Paris City Hall six days after it allegedly took place. The alleged victim has not been identified.

Ventura, who comes from the northern Italian region of Lombardy, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Brescia in 1969.

He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978 and was stationed in Brazil, Bolivia, and the UK. From 1984 to 1995 he was appointed to serve at the Secretariat of State in the Section for Relations with States.

After his episcopal ordination in 1995, Ventura served as nuncio to the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile, and Canada. He was appointed apostolic nuncio to France by Benedict XVI in September 2009.

The allegation comes just days before a special summit convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the sexual abuse crisis facing the Church worldwide.

While organizers of that meeting, which will include the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences, have stressed that the agenda will focus on the specific issue of the sexual abuse of minors, some bishops and commentators have suggested it should also treat allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of adults by clerics.

The investigation against Ventura also comes amid expectations that the Vatican is soon to announce a decision in the canonical process handling the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick is accused of sexually abusing a number of minors and adults, including seminarians, over a period of decades.