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Six lay men installed as acolytes in Spokane

Spokane, Wash., Dec 14, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane installed six laymen who are not in formation for holy orders as acolytes Wednesday.

“The men were chosen for their dedication to the cathedral family, and their service at the Altar reflects their commitment to service in the wider community,” Fr. Darrin Connall, vicar general and rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes,  said Dec. 12.

The six men insalled as acolytes are Dave Gibb, Gene DiRe, Justin Bullock, Dennis Johnson, Thomas Lavagetto, and Rick Sparrow.

The installation of acolytes is effected by the bishop praying over the candidates, and then giving each the Eucharistic vessels.

The ministry of acolyte is most often conferred upon men in who are in formation for the diaconate or priesthood, but the Code of Canon Law does provide that “Lay men who possess the age and qualifications … can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.”

Becoming an acolyte does not grant one the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

In the dioceses of the US, the qualifications to be installed as a lector or acolyte are having completed one's 21st year, and possessing the skills necessary for an effective service at the altar, being a fully initiated member of the Church, being free of any canonical penalty, and living a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken.

Lay persons who are not installed acolytes can supply certain of their duties, when the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking.

However, installed acolytes are permitted to purify the Eucharistic vessels, which task cannot be supplied by another lay person.

The installation of lay men not in formation for holy orders as acolytes is not common among dioceses in the US, though the Diocese of Lincoln is among those which do so.

Bishop Daly, 58, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1987. He was consecrated a bishop in 2011, serving as auxiliary bishop of San Jose until he became Bishop of Spokane in 2015.

Gun deaths in US reach record-high

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 06:44 pm (CNA).- The number of gun deaths in the United States reached almost 40,000 last year, the highest number since firearm deaths were first recorded in mortality data nearly 40 years ago.

According to an analysis from CNN, 39,773 people died by guns last year.

The analysis, using CDC data, found that nearly 24,000 people died from suicide by guns in 2017. This number is the highest in 18 years, and a more than 7,000 death increase from 1999.

“In 2017, nearly 109 people died every single day from gun violence,” said Adelyn Allchin, director of public health research for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

“Gun violence has been part of our day-to-day lives for far too long. It is way past time that elected leaders at every level of government work together to make gun violence rare and abnormal.”

The U.S. bishops have long called for more restrictive gun legislation.

In their 2000 statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration,” on crime and criminal justice, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supported certain gun laws in the name of safety.

“As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns,” the bishops stated.

In April of 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook school shooting, then-chair of the domestic justice and human development committee Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton wrote members of Congress.

Among the policies Bishop Blaire cited for support were “universal background checks for all gun purchases,” restrictions on civilian purchases of “high-capacity ammunition magazines,” and an “assault weapons” ban. He cited Pope Francis’ call “to ‘change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace’.”

A similar statement encouraging public debate on gun control was released last year after mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas,

Earlier this year, after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people, the heads of the bishops’ committees on domestic justice and Catholic Education released another statement on gun laws.

“Once again, we are confronted with grave evil, the murder of our dear children and those who teach them. Our prayers continue for those who have died, and those suffering with injuries and unimaginable grief. We also continue our decades-long advocacy for common-sense gun measures as part of a comprehensive approach to the reduction of violence in society and the protection of life,” they said.

Last month, after a shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago left four dead, including the gunman, the president of the U.S. bishop’s conference again reiterated the call for “reasonable gun measures.”

“In our desire to help promote a culture of life, we bishops will continue to ask that public policies be supported to enact reasonable gun measures to help curb this pervasive plague of gun violence,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Nov. 20.

After China deal, two underground bishops step down at Vatican's request

Beijing, China, Dec 14, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two underground bishops in China have agreed to step aside in favor of bishops of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, in the wake of a deal signed between the Holy See and the Chinese government.

AsiaNews reported Dec. 13 that Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin of Mindong (Ningde) has agreed to become auxiliary bishop and that Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu will become Bishop of Mindong.

The agreement was made at a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, in the presence of Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

At the same meeting, Archbishop Celli announced that Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou will give way to Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang.

Both Bishop Zhan and Bishop Huang had been excommunicated, and were reconciled to the Holy See as part of a September agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China.

According to AsiaNews, at the meeting Archbishop Celli gave Bishop Guo a letter from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and from Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, asking that he give up his role as Bishop of Mindong in favor of Bishop Zhan.

“Also according to the report of the priests of Mindong, Msgr. Celli would have told Msgr. Guo that Pope Francis himself asks for this gesture of obedience 'and of sacrifice for the general situation of the Chinese Church',” the news outlet reported.

AsiaNews also noted that in previous cases in which a bishop of the CPCA was reconciled to the Holy See, he would become auxiliary bishop to an existing bishop of the underground Church.

Bishop Guo, 59, was detained by the Chinese authorities overnight in March. While he was released after only a short detention, he was ordered not to officiate as a bishop while saying Mass because he is not recognized by the government.

He was taken away because he refused to concelebrate with Bishop Zhan at a Chrism Mass.

Bishop Guo was also detained ahead of Holy Week in 2017.

In January, Asia News reported that a Vatican delegation asked Bishop Guo voluntarily to accept a position as coadjutor bishop under Bishop Zhan. This was also among the conditions Chinese officials had proposed to Bishop Guo during his 2017 detention.

Bishop Guo told the New York Times in February that “we must obey Rome's decision,” and that “our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”

But he also indicated that while “the Chinese government doesn’t say explicitly that we need to disconnect” from Rome, “in some circumstances it has such an implication.”

In March, at the Chinese Communist Party's annual meeting, Bishop Zhan told China's Sing Tao Daily: “There are no obstacles [to a China-Vatican deal] if everyone just thinks of the benefit of the church for the sake of peace.”

Bishop Zhuang, 88, was asked to retire in late 2017 by the Holy See, but he reportedly refused the request at that time. He was consecrated a bishop in 2006, with the approval of the Holy See.

In December 2017 Bishop Zhuang was reportedly escorted to Beijing, where he met separately with leaders of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, officials from China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, and the Vatican delegation.

If Bishop Zhuang resigned, the Holy See delegation reportedly said at that time, he could nominate three priests, one of whom Bishop Huang would choose as his vicar general. “Bishop Zhuang could not help his tears on hearing the demand,” Asia News’ source said, explaining “it was meaningless to appoint a vicar general, who is still a priest that Bishop Huang could remove him anytime.”

 

Catholic groups support prison reform bill

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic groups expressed optimism at a criminal justice reform bill, as the “First Step Act”  legislation makes its way through the U.S. Senate.

The full title of the bill is “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act.”

The bill, which has received bipartisan support, including from President Donald Trump and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), aims to reform the country’s prison system and better assist with integrating former prisoners into society after they have served their sentence.

Among other things, the bill will increase credits for good behavior and for participating in “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming”and other “productive programming.”

A total of $250 million would be authorized for the creation of educational, vocational and other skill-building programs for those in prison. Nonprofit organizations, including faith-based groups, would be permitted to assist with the creation and implementation of these programs.

These provisions would only apply to prisoners who were incarcerated for certain crimes. Those in prison for violent offenses, such as assault of a spouse, arson, or sex trafficking, are not eligible to receive these earned time credits.

The First Step Act would also ban the practice controversial practice of shackling pregnant women, and require that feminine hygiene products be provided to female prisoners free-of-cost. The bill also mandates that prisoners be held no more than 500 driving miles away from their families, because evidence suggests that increased time with loved ones assists with societal reintegration.

Under the bill, prisoners deemed to be “low” or “minimum” risk would be instead be held in either a halfway house or home confinement. The minimum age for “compassionate release” would be lowered from 65 to 60.

Two Catholic organizations told CNA that they are optimistic about the bill and that they feel as though it is a way to improve the country’s criminal justice system.

“The First Step Act is exactly what it sounds like: an important first step by the federal government as part of our ongoing national conversation about draconian punishments, disparate sentencing, and collateral consequences,” Griffin Hardy, a spokesperson for anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, told CNA.

While Hardy acknowledged that there is still much work that can be done in terms of easing re-entry for those who were incarcerated, “it’s even more important to remember that passage of this bill would mean that real people get to return home to their families.”

“You just can’t overstate that,” he added.

Hardy’s comments were echoed by the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), an organization that promotes restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.

CMN “considers the First Step Act an important piece of legislation deserving of the collective attention of U.S. Catholics and all Americans,” a spokesperson for the organization told CNA in a statement.

“The timing of the bill coincides with the recent release of the Catholic bishops pastoral letter against racism, which highlights the ways in which racial prejudice has become enshrined in our social structures, especially prisons,” they added.

This bill is a “modest but critical foundation” for confronting these issues, and “creates an opportunity for faithful Catholics to respond to the bishops’ call to ‘shape policies and institutions for the good of all.’”

 

 

New Mexico upholds textbook lending for private schools

Santa Fe, N.M., Dec 14, 2018 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to uphold a book-lending program that gives school children at public and private schools equal access to state-approved textbooks.

The Becket law group, which represented the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, called the decision a victory for low-income students and against religious discrimination.

“In shutting the book on religious discrimination, the New Mexico Supreme Court has opened access to quality textbooks for all students,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement on the ruling.

“All kids deserve an education free from discrimination,” he added.

When it comes to public education, New Mexico consistently ranks poorly in comparison to other states. A 2017 report from Education Weekly ranked them second-to-last among the 50 states for quality of public education. A U.S. News report from the same year put them in last place.

Becket said in their statement that stopping the textbook loan program had most disadvantaged minority and low-income students living in rural areas.

In its Thursday, the state Supreme Court sided with Becket, and ruled that the textbook program “furthers New Mexico’s legitimate public interest in promoting education and eliminating illiteracy.”

In 2011, two parents challenged the 80-year-old textbook lending program. They claimed that New Mexico’s state constitution bars education funds from being used “for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.” This language is commonly known as a “Blaine Amendment.”

A 2015 New Mexico Supreme Court decision, Moses v. Ruszkowski, sided with the plaintiffs and ended nonpublic school students’ participation in the program.

In May, Becket challenged the ruling’s reliance on the Blaine Amendment, saying that the 19th century law was “originally designed to disadvantage New Mexico’s native Catholic citizens” and “was all about anti-Catholic animus.”

Becket appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which urged the Supreme Court of New Mexico to reconsider it in light of a ruling on a similar case in 2017, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which granted public funds to help update a Lutheran school playground.

In their Thursday statement, Becket added that the Blaine Amendment has historically been used for discrimination in everything from trying “to stop children with disabilities from attending schools that best meet their needs, to prevent schools from making their playgrounds safer, to stop food kitchens from helping the poor, and to close service providers that help former prisoners successfully reintegrate into society.”

Becket said that the state Supreme Court acknowledged on Thursday the Blaine Amendments’ “malicious history, noting that ‘New Mexico was caught up in the nationwide movement to eliminate Catholic influence from the school system.’”

“New Mexico’s kids are better off today because the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected 19th Century religious discrimination,” John Foreman, state director of the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, said in a statement on the ruling.

The court’s ruling has effectively reinstated the textbook lending program.

 

After guilty verdict, questions raised about Pell trial

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- After reports of a guilty verdict emerged in the trial of Australian Cardinal George Pell, some in Australia have questioned the integrity of a process undertaken under the veil of a media blackout.

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11 on five charges that he sexually abused two altar servers while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s. The unanimous verdict followed an earlier mistrial in which, CNA has confirmed with multiple sources, a jury was deadlocked at 10-2 in favor of a “not guilty” verdict.

The guilty verdict comes ahead of a second trial, scheduled for February 2019, in which Pell will face further accusations of abuse dating back to the 1970s, during which time he served as a priest in Ballarat.

Reporting restrictions imposed by the County Court of Victoria mean that the progress or outcomes of the trial cannot be covered by local media or broadcast electronically into Australia. No media discussion of the accusations or Pell’s defense is permitted in the country.

Those who violate the gag order could be subject to contempt of court charges by Victoria prosecutors.

Nevertheless, CNA has spoken to several sources familiar with the Pell case, all of whom expressed disbelief at the verdict. The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the legal gag order imposed by the court.

“They have convicted an innocent man,” one source directly familiar with the evidence told CNA. “What’s worse is that they know they have.”

An individual who attended the entire trial in person but is unconnected with Pell’s legal team, told CNA that Pell’s lawyers had made an “unanswerable defense.”

“It was absolutely clear to everyone in that court that the accusations were baseless. It wasn’t that Pell didn’t do what he’s accused of - he clearly couldn’t have done it.”

The allegations are understood to concern Pell assaulting the two choristers in the sacristy of Melbourne cathedral on several occasions immediately following Sunday Mass.

The defense presented a range of witnesses who testified that the cardinal was never alone in the sacristy with altar servers or members of the choir, and that in all the circumstances under which the allegations are alleged to have taken place, several people would have been present in the room.

The sacristy in Melbourne’s Cathedral has large open-plan rooms, each with open arches and halls, and multiple entrances and exits, the defense noted.

Defense attorneys also produced a range of witnesses who testified that Pell was constantly surrounded by priests, other clergy, and guests following Sunday Masses in the cathedral, and that choristers had a room entirely separate from the sacristy in which they changed as a group, before and after Mass.

Observers also questioned whether some courtroom tactics used by state prosecutors were intended to stoke anti-clerical feelings in jury members.

One priest, a Jesuit, was called as an expert witness by the defense, but was consistently referred to as a “Christian Brother” by prosecutors - a move, the court observer told CNA, that seemed calculated to invoke the religious order at the center of a widely known clerical sexual abuse scandal in the country.

“It was a blatant move, but it sums up the sort of anti-Catholic, anti-clerical drift of the whole trial,” CNA’s courtroom source said. “The jury were being winked at.”

Full discussion of the charges and the evidence laid against Pell remains impossible because of the media blackout. The gag order was imposed at the request of prosecutors in June, who argued that media attention could bias the case.

“It’s absurd,” another source directly familiar with the trial told CNA. “Any Catholic in Victoria can tell you that our media has been steeped in anti-Catholic, anti-clerical and especially anti-Pell coverage for more than two decades. The prosecutors were perfectly happy with all of that leading up to the trial, and for it to carry on now.”

“The only thing you can’t talk about are the facts of the case,” the source said.

In a May 2015 column for The Australian, journalist Gerard Henderson said that Pell was the victim of a “modern-day witch hunt.” Henderson drew specific attention to what he called biased and inaccurate coverage of Pell by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The lack of balance in the media’s reporting of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church reflects the fact many journalists detest Pell’s conservatism,” Henderson wrote.

Henderson also noted that as Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell brought in a new program to deal with accusations of sexual abuse and to compensate victims within months of his arrival.

“On all the available evidence, Pell was among the first Catholic bishops in the world to address the issue of child sexual abuse by clergy,” Henderson concluded.

The cardinal’s legal team is said to be scrupulously complying with the gag order as lawyers work towards filing an appeal against the guilty verdict.

While open discussion of the case remains impossible in Australia, concerns about a biased jury pool in the second trial have begun to surface indirectly.

On December 13, Victoria state Attorney-General Jill Hennessy told the Australian newspaper The Age that she had asked her department to examine the option of judge-only trials in high profile cases, where an impartial jury might be difficult to find. The state of Victoria is one of the few jurisdictions in Australia not to permit the option of a bench trial in cases like Pell’s.

Earlier this year, former Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was tried and convicted before a magistrate’s court in the state of New South Wales, on the charge of failing to report clerical sexual abuse. His conviction was overturned on appeal. Appellate judge Roy Ellis noted that media portrayals of the Church’s sexual abuse crisis might have been a factor in the guilty verdict.

Such portrayals “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes,” he said.

Victoria has faced sustained criticism for the use of suppression orders by the state’s courts. Despite an Open Courts Act passed in 2013 aimed at improving judicial transparency, Victorian courts issued more than 1500 suppression orders between 2014-2016.

One source close to Pell told CNA that the cardinal’s treatment during his trial had been “Kafka-esque.”

“Prosecutors can retry him - in secret - until they get a conviction, but there can’t be any discussion of what he’s accused of, no scrutiny of the evidence against him, and no questioning the verdict. On what planet is this justice?”

Cardinal Pell is expected to be sentenced in January. He can appeal the guilty verdict to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

 

Faith advocates see victories in new farm bill

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The farm bill that passed both houses of Congress by wide margins doesn't have money in it to protect endangered species, but it did preserve one that had been on the threatened list: bipartisanship.

"We were so excited that the Senate acted like grown-ups," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

"They actually did governance, and they had hearings, and Sen. (Pat) Roberts (a Republican) from Kansas: I rarely agree with him on anything, so this was an amazing project he led, focused on the needs of the people involved," Sister Campbell said Dec. 13. "It was far beyond partisanship in actually trying to make government work."

Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, was happy Congress acted relatively swiftly. This was the first time a farm bill passed without needing an extension of the expiring version since 1990, when George H.W. Bush was president.

Not all farmers will reap benefits from the farm bill. "We've got lots of folks hurting in rural communities," Ennis told CNS Dec. 14, "but you can't put everything in one bill. You just can't."

Sister Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, gave Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, credit for "listening to many of the agricultural workers in Kansas who use SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the off-season."

Farmers who hire the farmworkers, she said, "depend on their workers being able to eat," and Roberts saw this "through the eyes of the farmworkers and the farmers."

She added Roberts was "helped by the changing politics in Kansas, which has moved significantly away from the hyperpartisan, punitive approach. ... I think it was a combination of his experience, the experience of his people, and the November election."

Sister Campbell also lauded Roberts' Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan: "She has worked hard to put together a very collaborative relationship with him, so together, they could create a bill they could be proud of."

The Senate passed the farm bill in a 87-13 vote Dec. 11. The House passed it 369-47 Dec. 12. The bill was awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump.

One point of contention between the original House and Senate versions was a provision in the House bill that would have imposed stricter work requirements for SNAP eligibility, with stretches of SNAP ineligibility growing longer each time a recipient failed to report their work, or looking for work, in a timely manner. The House ultimately removed that from its version of the bill.

"We actually got most of the stuff that we wanted," Sister Campbell told CNS in a telephone interview. While she said she sees farm subsidies as "a little excessive," the final bill "maintained pretty much the existing protections for farm runoff and the fertilizers used and that sort of thing. So I don't have complaints on that side. Certainly, after what we were facing in the House, I'm certainly not complaining about the nutritional title.

"It's a rare day for me to not complain about something."

"They decided we can't keep doing that to our farmers," Ennis said of the extensions lawmakers passed in all the previous farm bills over close to the last 30 years.

"It helps, too, that the (Republican-led) House felt under pressure due to the change in leadership (in January)," he told CNS. "They have the control now, but in the future, they would be losing control. So they made some concessions, but passed something they can live with."

Having a farm bill in place, he added, gives farmers "stability for planning for next year."

Dairy farmers, while they will see gradual opening of Canadian markets as sources for their goods under this bill, would be one focus of a future bill should one be submitted, Ennis said.

"There are a lot of dairy farmers hurting right now because of low prices," he added. "It's just very difficult to find markets that will pay a reasonable price."

Ennis said the future of family farms, with a focus on dairy farmers, will be the main topic in a future issue of Catholic Rural Life's quarterly magazine.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of the Christian citizen anti-hunger lobby Bread for the World, praised the bill for its inclusion of added funding for employment and training pilot projects -- including funding prioritizing specific populations such as older Americans, former prison inmates, people with disabilities and families facing multigenerational poverty.

It also makes and funds a new program allowing health care providers to give prescriptions for low-income people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

The farm bill eliminates a requirement in the federal Food for Peace program to sell U.S. food commodities overseas to pay for life-saving food and nutrition programs; the complicated requirement had been cutting about $70 million from food aid each year. The legislation also gives the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program more flexibility to purchase from local farmers and markets, which will improve the nutritional quality of the food for preschool and school feeding programs in foreign countries.

The farm bill, the Rev. Beckmann said, "will be an important lifeline for millions of families experiencing hunger in both the United States and around the world."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Catechism revision adds impetus in death penalty abolition fight

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Changes in law and public opinion have had their role to play in the quest to end capital punishment in the United States, but Catholic teaching also has played a part, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"Pope Francis went there last year, when Pope Francis says the question is not is there a humane way of carrying out executions. There is not a humane way of carrying out executions, he said," Dunham told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 13 telephone interview. "At the same time, Pope Francis was stressing what he called inadmissibility because it is inherently in conflict with human dignity."

The revision to section 2267 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which took effect Aug. 2, calls capital punishment "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," and commits the church to work "with determination" for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

It was not the first time the catechism had been revised in conjunction with capital punishment.

The 1992 catechism originally said: "The traditional teaching of the church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty." At the same time, it said "bloodless means" that could protect human life should be used when possible.

However, following publication of St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"), section 2267 was revised in 1997 to say that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

"The revisions to the catechism are very significant for abolitionists. And they're significant both symbolically and in a practical manner. Symbolically, Pope Francis has become a moral beacon on this issue, even more so than John Paul," Dunham said.

"I was talking with Cardinal (Blase J.) Cupich (of Chicago); we did a podcast with him. He and I were on a panel in Chicago -- the date, coincidentally, the date the catechism was changed -- and Cardinal Cupich was explaining the evolution of Catholic theology on this issue. What Pope Francis has done is not just consistent but is the logical extension of John Paul's teaching about the death penalty and Pope Benedict's statements against the death penalty," he added.

"The thing that is, I think, critically different in Pope Francis' pronouncement and the new catechism is that it closes the door on excuses or exceptions that would have allowed the death penalty to take place," he continued. "The practical importance of the new catechism is that it commits the church itself as an institution to formally opposing capital punishment. And on the ground, that will mean more active involvement by the bishops, by the cardinals, by the priests and the laity."

Dunham told CNS the real-world effects of the revision are being felt.

"We've already heard stories of public officials trying to grapple with their moral qualms about capital punishment, and their prior public stance for the death penalty as a policy," he said. "I don't think that we're going to see a change overnight; it's not as though Pope Francis waves an encyclical wand and the laws will change. But we were already seeing a dialogue, and it is a dialogue that is changing attitudes and views one at a time among people in power who will be making decisions on life and death."

Dunham added, "I think that what we are going to see is a continued erosion of death penalty support among formerly pro-death penalty Catholics, and while that's not a huge portion of the population in the United States, it's a portion that is disproportionately on the bench, in prosecutor's offices and in the halls of Congress and the legislature."

The difference between "abolition and nonabolition," he said, is "changing a few votes in a few states."

"So one state at a time, we may see the death penalty abolished," he said. "In retrospect, we can speculate how many of the changed votes are a product of the new catechism. We'll never know for sure. But we can be certain that it will have an effect, because it has already had an effect. We know from discussions with public officials that it has already had an effect."

The center Dec. 14 issued "The Death Penalty in 2018: Year-End Report." In it, it noted that only Oklahoma, Missouri and the U.S. government increased the number of prisoners it had on death row in 2018. The number of prisoners on death row nationwide went down, a streak that started in 2001.

Even in states where the death penalty is permitted, it requires prosecutors in counties to seek it in criminal trials. According to the report, 11 county prosecutors of the 30 counties where capital punishment is most often sought have been removed since 2015, including six this year in Dallas and Bexar (San Antonio) counties in Texas, Orange and San Bernardino counties in California, St. Louis County in Missouri and Jefferson County (Birmingham) in Alabama.

Washington became the 20th state to outlaw capital punishment when a court banned it Oct. 11.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Education key to solving migration crisis, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the celebration of Christmas draws near, the plight of the Holy Family calls to mind the sufferings of the many men, women and children escaping war and persecution, Pope Francis said.

Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the holy season is an invitation to come together to help those in need, especially young migrants who "instead of sitting in school desks, like many of their peers, spend their days doing long marches on foot, or on makeshift and dangerous means of transportation."

Educating young migrants will give them the tools to find "work in the future and participate in the common good as informed citizens. At the same time, we educate ourselves in order to welcome and show solidarity so that migrants and refugees do not meet indifference or, worse, intolerance on their journey," he said Dec. 14.

The proceeds of the Dec. 15 concert, which is sponsored by the Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations: Scholas Occurrentes in Iraq and the Don Bosco Mission in Uganda.

According to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Don Bosco Mission aids refugees from South Sudan escaping civil war and is invested "in the training and professional development of young people."

Scholas Occurrentes, the congregation added, will use proceeds from the benefit concert to continue their educational initiatives in Irbil, Iraq, where, "for thousands of children and young people who live in refugee camps, going to school is their only chance for liberation."

The many musicians and artists scheduled to perform at the Christmas concert included U.S. singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Anastacia, as well as Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano and Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi.

During the papal audience, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the education congregation, said initiatives that help migrants and refugees are a reminder that humanity has a duty "to protect the civilian population, especially children, from the effects of war."

"The languages of music and art, linked to the Christmas season that celebrates the coming of the Son of God, help to manifest our generous support" for those most in need, Cardinal Versaldi said.

In his address, Pope Francis said that Christmas is a time that awakens charity and "calls us to reflect on the situation of so many men, women and children of our time -- migrants, refugees and displaced persons -- who are marching on to escape wars and misery caused by social injustice and climate change."

Just like many migrants and refuges today, he added, the Holy Father experienced "the anguish of persecution" when fleeing to Egypt.

"Little Jesus reminds us that half of today's refugees in the world are children, blameless victims of human injustice," the pope said.

The pope said that initiatives, like those in Iraq and Uganda, are an opportunity for the church to respond to the tragedies that countless men, women and children face and to offer them a chance not only to receive an education, but also the means for them "to get back on their feet" with dignity, strength and courage.

He also thanked the artists and the event organizers for donating their time and talents to "light in every heart the warmth and tenderness of Christmas."

The mission of the church, the pope said, "has always been manifested through the creativity and genius of artists because they, through their works, are able to reach the most intimate areas of the conscience of men and women in every age."

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Ignoring reality of abuse, resisting responsibility must end, says Jesuit

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who still believes the abuse crisis is an "American" or "Western" problem must become properly informed, face reality and realize problems may be hidden and explode in the future, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

And those who think too much talk and attention about abuse only blows the situation out of proportion or that it is time to change the topic are following "a mistaken path," he said in the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica.

"If the issue is not fully confronted in all of its various dimensions, the church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, the credibility of (the church) and all of her priests will remain seriously wounded and, above all, the essence of her mission will suffer -- that of proclaiming the Gospel and its educational work for children and young people, which for centuries has been one of the most beautiful and precious aspects of her service for humanity," he wrote.

The article, "In the Run-up to the Meeting of Bishops on the Protection of Minors," was sent to journalists Dec. 13 ahead of the issue's Dec. 15 publication date. The Rome-based biweekly magazine is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

Father Lombardi, who served as head of the Vatican press office from 2006 to 2016, is president of the board of directors of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation and is a contributing writer to the Jesuit journal.

The article, which as of Dec. 13 was available only in Italian, looked at the aims and intentions of the summit Pope Francis convoked at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 for the presidents of bishops' conferences, representatives of religious orders and heads of Vatican dicasteries.

A major focus, he wrote, will be on helping participants understand they are being encouraged to join together -- not as representatives of their own people -- but as leaders of the people of God on a journey that requires the input and collaboration of lay experts so that there may be "a united response on the universal level."

"The entire church must feel in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with their church communities that have been wounded by the scandals," he wrote.

Pope Francis, he added, has also widened the scope of abuse to include not just sexual abuse but the abuse of power and of conscience and the corruption of authority, which is no longer lived as service but as the wielding of power.

The February summit will give people a chance to share experiences and best practices, he said, and to strongly encourage everyone to make "new urgent steps forward."

While many lessons already have been learned, "there are also many open questions" left to address, he said.

One is recognizing that even though a number of countries have done much in the area of prevention and formation, "it must be recognized that in many other countries, little, if anything, has been done."

Every bishops' conference, bishop and religious superior must recognize their responsibility before God, the church and society, he said.

In many cases, the seriousness of the problem of abuse and the deep amount of suffering it causes still have not sunk in, Father Lombardi wrote.

People do not need a theoretical understanding, but actual concrete awareness of the damage caused, and that will push people to overcome "laziness, fears and very dangerous resistance" and to leap into action.

"Often one continues to delude oneself that it is mainly a 'Western' or else an 'American' or 'Anglophone' problem and with incredible naivete, thinks that (the problem) may be marginal in one's own country," he wrote.

People must look carefully and never avoid the presence of problems, which are "sometimes still hidden, but are such that future dramatic explosions are possible," Father Lombardi wrote. "Facing reality is necessary and adequate information will help a lot in this regard."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.