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Youth synod deserves in-depth Catholicism, not LGBT lobbying, critics say

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- A coalition of secular and dissenting Catholic LGBT groups aims to influence the Church’s upcoming Synod on Young People by rallying the like-minded to write to the synod to contend that the “rules” of the Catholic Church are causing “damage” to those who self-identify as LGBT.

But this effort misunderstands the more profound Catholic approach to human nature and identity, commentators have said.

Ann Schneible, communications director for the Courage apostolate, said Catholic teaching insists that everyone has the fundamental identity “to be the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

“Seen from this perspective, it becomes clear that the Church’s approach provides the most compassionate response to people, including youth and young adults, who experience same sex attractions,” Schneible told CNA. “Far from being a misfortune or a disappointment, their identity as sons and daughters of God – who are made in his image and likeness, and have received divine grace and a call to holiness – is a profound and life-giving joy.”

Those who experience same-sex attraction deserve compassionate outreach from Catholics, she said, adding, “we do so in the belief and hope that following God's plan will always lead one to happiness and ultimate fulfillment.”

Schneible spoke in response to a messaging effort from the Equal Future website, launched Aug. 22 at an event held parallel to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. It is soliciting Catholics and non-Catholics to send messages to their regions’ delegates to the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocations, to be held Oct. 3-28.

The default text for the message alleges that there is “damage done to children when they are given the sense that to be LGBT would be a misfortune or disappointment.”

The website instructions ask writers to “respectfully explain why you feel children are still getting that sense, and the role played by the rules of the Catholic Church and/or of other organizations in society.”

It says letters to the delegates should ask them to consider the letter-writer’s story at the synod, and should ask for a reply. The letter submission form asks whether the writer was baptized Catholic. Answers include “prefer not to say.”

Daniel Mattson, a Catholic speaker and author of “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay,” reflected on the Equal Future campaign.

“I think the Church needs to do a much better job in reaching out to those who identify as LGBT. As one who used to see myself as a gay man, I’ve come to realize how empty the promises of the LGBT movement are,” he told CNA.

According to Mattson, the Church must proclaim her teachings as “truly good news, even when we fear that truth might be offensive.” He cited Christ's encounter with the rich young man, in which Christ's  response made the young man go away sad.

“For a time, I went away sad, but I’m grateful no one in my life who truly loved me ever told me that the life I was living was morally acceptable! We never love anyone by not inviting them to live a moral life. Not all will go away sad, either.”

Mattson stressed the need for a “call to conversion” and to remember, “we can never be more compassionate than Jesus.” He also warned against “the willful refusal to speak about the health damages of living out a life of active homosexuality, particularly among men.”

“In nearly every area of both mental and physical health, the LGBT community suffers more profoundly than their heterosexual counterparts,” he said.

At least 60 groups from around the world are backing the Equal Future campaign. These include secular groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, GLSEN, Music4Children.org, and ALL OUT.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, the U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, and Dignity USA are also named as backers of the project. Catholic authorities including the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago have rejected New Ways Ministry’s self-identification as a Catholic group.

The director of the Equal Future campaign is Tiernan Brady of Ireland, who was director of the successful referenda in Ireland and Australia to give legal recognition to gay marriage. He told the Financial Times that his campaign targeting the Catholic Church will draw on practices from the Irish and Australian campaigns.

“I think one of the things we’ve found in all these campaigns is we can talk about rights all we want, but it’s human stories that people understand and that appeal to people’s humanity,” Brady said.

He said the initial inclusion of same-sex couples’ photos in literature for the World Meeting of Families suggested that there was already sympathy for such couples at the Vatican, even though the photos were later removed. Brady argued the Church will end up campaigning “against the sons and daughters of the men and women in your pews,” and churchgoers won’t understand it.

For Schneible, it is important to let each person tell their story.

“But we do not stop there,” she said. “As Catholic Christians, we believe that we must always seek to understand our own stories in light of the Gospel, the story of salvation”

The wider discussion often ignores people who have same-sex attractions and embrace chastity, she said.

“Too often they are dismissed by members of the LGBT community as being dishonest, or self-hating, or deluded,” Schneible continued. “On the contrary, these courageous men and women testify that, as much happiness and pleasure as they seemed to have when they were pursuing same sex relationships, they have found a deeper joy, peace and freedom by embracing the call to chastity. They make many sacrifices in order to remain faithful, but many of them speak of the closeness they have found with Christ as they walk this path to holiness.”

One backer of the Equal Future campaign, Dignity USA, has taken several six figure grants from Jon Stryker’s Arcus Foundation to support the Equally Blessed Coalition, which includes New Ways Ministry. A 2014 grant targeted the Synod on the Family and World Youth Day, aiming “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.”

The foundation has given more than $390,000 to the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups for several activities, including advocacy related to the Synod on the Family. These activities include the forum’s response to “homophobic Catholic church family synod decisions” and efforts to “pursue its successful strategy of shifting traditional views.” The grants also fund the drafting, testing, and use of “a counter-narrative to traditional values,” according to the forum’s annual report and grant announcements from the U.S.-based foundation.

The foundation is also a grant maker to the Catholics United Education Fund, Catholics for Choice, and the Center for American Progress. It funded groups in ecclesial communities, including Episcopalian groups amid the breakup of the Anglican Communion over issues such as ecclesial authority and homosexuality.

The working document for the 2018 synod discusses increasing cultural instability and violent conflicts, but also that many young people, both inside and outside of the Church, are divided when it comes to topics related to sexuality, the role of women, and the need to be more welcoming to members of the LGBT community.

The document only briefly addresses the issue of homosexuality and related topics, saying that some LGBT youth who offered contributions to the synod’s general secretariat said they want to experience “greater closeness and greater care on the part of the Church.”

In their responses, bishops’ conferences also questioned how to respond to young people who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle, but who also want “to be close to the Church.”

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of faith outreach and training, writing June 29 at the campaign’s website, has contended that aligned Catholics and LGBT activists “oscillate between hope and frustration” under Pope Francis. She said they have found some of his comments to be hurtful, such as the nature of the family as based on the union of man and woman.

At the same time, she welcomed Father James Martin, S.J.’s appearance at a workshop on LGBT bridge-building held at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which was organized by Cardinal Kevin Farrell.

For Rivera, the addition of “LGBT” as a descriptor in the working document for the upcoming Synod on Youth was “perhaps the most important development in recent weeks.”

Nigerian bishops: Prayer, especially the rosary, will 'save our country'

Benin City, Nigeria, Sep 20, 2018 / 11:53 am (ACI Prensa).- In a strong critique of Nigeria’s governing administration, the country’s Catholic bishops have said that Nigeria must find a new approach to self-governance as it prepares for its 2019 general election. The bishops added that prayer for Nigeria is essential to the country’s future.

“As we look forward to the elections of 2019, we refuse to give up on our hope for a great, prosperous and peaceful nation. For our dreams to be achieved, we must embrace a new way of governing ourselves. There is need for genuine repentance and sincere moral transformation,” the Nigerian bishops’ conference said in a statement released at the conclusion of their September plenary meeting.

The Nigerian bishops have spoken frequently to criticize Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, whom they have admonished for failing to respect the religious freedom of Christians, and for being slow to address attacks on farmers by nomadic Fulani herdsmen. They raised that issue again in their September communique.

“We observe with deep sadness how unarmed Nigerians are brutally slaughtered, owing to religious and political differences, boundary disputes, and other such reasons. We equally observe that Government is often slow in responding to these violent occurrences and often allows many of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to go unpunished, thus creating a culture of impunity. We totally condemn these killings and call on Government to defend the life and property of every Nigerian citizen.”

“We have in our past communiqués and other statements condemned the spate of violence and high level of insecurity in our land. Yet, to our greatest dismay, these have continued unabated,” the bishops said.

Buhari will campaign for reelection before the country’s Feb. 16, 2019 general election. Nigeria’s bishops called for free and fair elections, condemning vote trafficking and calling on civil authorities to respect election results.

“We encourage all registered voters to ensure that they are equipped with their voter’s card, reject and denounce the illegal practices of selling and buying of votes,” the bishops said.

“Despite the deception and defections, Nigerian voters must be wise enough to show some of our politicians, who may have so much to hide, that ‘they can run, but they cannot hide.’”

The bishops’ call for free elections stems from controversy surrounding the 2015 election, in which Buhari was elected. That election stoked protests in the country, as the election commission struggled to distribute voter identification cards, and after the election was postponed amid outbreaks of Boko Haram violence in the country’s northern regions. Although the election was eventually held, many suspected the postponement was politically motivated, and reports of voter intimidation in the country were rampant. The process was roundly condemned by politicians and journalists.

“It is the right of Nigerians to fully participate in the electoral process without intimidation and violence. The responsibility for this lies on all of us. We demand that the choice of the electorate, once made, be respected by all,” the bishops said.

The bishops also called for a great respect for the rule of law in Nigeria, and for an expanded sense of religious liberty. “At the same time, we enjoin everyone to avoid acts of religious fanaticism in order to promote peaceful co-existence and harmony. Religion is a matter of conviction, not coercion,” they added.

Their communique also called for the release Leah Sharibu, a Christian kidnapped in February by the Boko Haram terrorist group, along with more than 100 other children. While the other children have been returned to their families, Sharibu has not, reportedly because she has refused to convert to Islam. The bishops have repeatedly called for government intervention, and criticized what they say is a slow response from Nigerian authorities.

“We demand that the Federal Government secure the unconditional release of Leah Sharibu. She is still being held captive because she refused to denounce her Christian faith,” the statement said.

Addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, the bishops said that they “reaffirm our commitment to priestly celibacy and chastity as well as our unity with the universal Church under the Holy Father. As Church, we must see in all these scandals a wakeup call to stand up for the truth and grow stronger in witnessing to the Kingdom of God.”

Concluding, the bishops said that they “wish to show that it is still possible for all Nigerians to join hands across religious, ethnic and political divides in order to build one, united and robust Nation that all of us would be proud of.”

“Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated the power of prayer during his earthly life.  He prayed incessantly, especially, at very decisive and significant moment of his life. Following in his footsteps, we direct that our Church at various levels, parishes and families, intensify the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary and practice other forms of devotion to save our country,” they said.

“We urge all Nigerians to continue to pray for our nation. It is our firm belief that our collective prayers will never go unanswered.  We therefore say to all Nigerians: Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.”

 

Catholic Charities is collecting airline miles to reunite refugee families

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2018 / 11:14 am (CNA).- Catholic Charities USA has announced a new initiative to help refugees and people seeking asylum to reunite with their family members through donated airline miles.

The national charity organization is partnering with Miles4Migrants, a volunteer-run nonprofit that works to reunite families separated by conflict and persecution through donations of both money and miles.

Catholic Charities agencies will work to help Miles4Migrants identify refugees and people seeking asylum who have received government approval for migration travel but are in need to airfare to be reunited with their loved ones.

Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, emphasized that the organization’s work is focused on “caring for the most vulnerable among us.”

“It is in that spirit that we support our agencies’ efforts to assist immigrants and refugees who arrive in this country,” she said in a Sept. 20 statement. “We are excited for the increased opportunity this partnership provides to reunite families separated at our borders.”

Catholic Charities USA represents 166 diocesan Catholic Charities agencies, many of which work locally with immigrants and refugees, through resettlement asssitance, foster care and other services.  

Seth Stanton, CEO and co-founder of Miles4Migrants, said he is excited about the partnership with Catholic Charities.

“Our shared mission and values around keeping families together create a strong foundation, and we look forward to working together to reunite many refugee and asylum seeking family members in the years to come,” he said in a statement.

Miles4Migrants has recently expanded its domestic operations to aid families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Update: In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, and he defended taking the title "pope emeritus."

In two private letters from the retired pope to German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, the pope defended the way he handled his resignation and warned the cardinal of the negative impact his public comments could have.

The German newspaper, Bild, obtained copies of the letters written in November 2017, but blurred Cardinal Brandmuller's name in photos. The New York Times named the cardinal and also published translated excerpts from the letters Sept. 20.

The first letter from the retired pope was a response to a comment Cardinal Brandmuller made in a lengthy interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Oct. 28, 2017.

The interviewer had asked what the cardinal thought about the "construction" of "pope emeritus" -- the title the retired pope has taken on. The cardinal responded that the figure of a "pope emeritus" had never existed in the church's history and having a pope "withdrawing now and overturning a 2,000-year tradition totally astounded not only us cardinals."

Referring to that portion of the newspaper interview, the pope wrote that Cardinal Brandmuller should certainly be aware that other popes had -- though rarely -- stepped down.

Pope Benedict wrote that by using the title "pope emeritus," he would be away from the media spotlight and make it thoroughly clear there was just one pope.

"If you know of a better way, and therefore think that you can judge the (title) chosen by me, please tell me," the retired pope wrote.

In the second letter, the pope acknowledged the cardinal responding to his first letter, and he said he was grateful that it seemed the cardinal would no longer discuss his resignation in public.

"I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has caused you and many others," Pope Benedict wrote. "However, for some people and -- it seems to me -- also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole."

With such an attitude, he wrote, his whole papacy "is now being devalued and conflated with sadness about the situation in which the church currently finds itself."

Cardinal Brandmuller had already postulated the idea that an "emeritus" pope figure could threaten church unity in his essay, "Renuntiatio papae: Some Historical Reflections," published online in July 2016.

Cardinal Brandmuller was also one of four cardinals, including U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who publicly released in September 2016 a critical set of questions, known as "dubia," asking Pope Francis for clarification about his teaching on the family.

Pope Benedict, a noted theologian, had described his decision to be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years as the result of intense prayer and an examination of his conscience before God.

In the last two days of his pontificate, he pledged obedience to his successor and noted that he was leaving the "active exercise of the (Petrine) ministry." While promising to remain "hidden" in retirement, he also said he was "not returning to private life" but would belong "always and totally to everyone, to the whole church" and "remain, so to speak, within St. Peter's precincts."

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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.

Benedict XVI defends resignation and title ‘pope emeritus’ in private letters

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2018 / 09:35 am (ACI Prensa).- In newly-surfaced letters from Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus has defended his abdication, and warned that continued anger at his decision risked undermining the papal office. The private correspondence, excerpts from which were carried in a German newspaper, was reportedly addressed to Cardinal Walter Brandmüller.

According to the letters, Benedict said he understood “the deep-seated pain” the end of his papacy caused the cardinal and others. At the same time, the pope emeritus wrote, he recognized that for some people the pain had “turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole.”

German newspaper Bild carried the excerpts in a story published Sept. 20. The letters were originally sent in November, 2017.

Bild did not name the recipient but referred to him only as “a German cardinal” who had made critical comments about Benedict’s resignation in an interview. On the same day, The New York Times reported that it had received a copy of the two letters in their entirety from Bild, and named Cardinal Brandmüller as the recipient. 

Addressing the ongoing dissatisfaction some individuals had with both his resignation and his subsequent life as “pope emeritus” - a title not previously used - Benedict cautioned that these sentiments were undermining the effectiveness of the petrine ministry.

“In this way the pontificate itself is being devalued and conflated with the sadness about the situation of the Church today,” he wrote.

According to Bild, Benedict defended his decision, writing that if the cardinal knew “a better way” for him to have acted, “and therefore think that you can judge the one chosen by me, please tell me.”

In an interview with a German newspaper in October of last year, Brandmüller expressed dismay over the idea of a “pope emeritus,” which he said, “does not exist in the entire history of the Church.”

“The fact that a pope comes along and topples a 2,000-year-old tradition bowled over not just us cardinals,” he said.

The two private letters from Benedict have been reported to be a response to these comments. In the first, sent Nov. 9, 2017, Benedict wrote “you said that with ‘pope emeritus,’ I had created a figure that had not existed in the whole history of the Church. You know very well, of course, that popes have abdicated, albeit very rarely. What were they afterward? Pope emeritus? Or what else?”

Benedict alo cited the example of Pope Pius XII, who considered stepping down in 1944 in the event of his arrest by the Nazis authorities then occupying Italy. Pope Pius had considered returning to the rank of a cardinal in the event of his resignation.

Benedict wrote that, unlike Pius XII’s situation, “it would certainly have not been sensible” for him to return to being a cardinal as he would have been “constantly exposed to the media as a cardinal is – even more so because people would have seen in me the former pope.”

The pope emeritus added that “whether on purpose or not, this could have had difficult consequences, especially in the context of the current situation.”

Benedict explained that he was concerned with avoiding the impression that there were two popes, with his comments being sought on the ministry and decisions of his eventual successor.

“With ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope.”

In the second letter, dated Nov. 23, 2017, Benedict wrote that he was concerned by the conclusion of Cardinal Brandmüller’s interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, given the previous month. The pope emeritus said that it could promote the sort of agitation which had inspired “the Abdication,” a book by Fabrizio Grasso which argued that having emeritus popes could destroy papal authority.

Cardinal Brandmüller is one of four cardinals to have submitted five formal questions or “dubia” to Pope Francis, asking the pope to clarify some points of Church teaching in the wake of differing interpretations of Amoris laetitia, Francis’ 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

The letters from Benedict were reported by Bild two years and one day after the dubia were sent.

Brandmüller submitted the questions, together with Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, on Sept. 19, 2016.

Some cry 'scandal' to cover their own failings, pope says at Mass

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While God's holy church is made up of sinners, it also has its share of hypocrites who love to cry "scandal" to point out the failings of others and make themselves appear pure, Pope Francis said at morning Mass.

"The devil doesn't have anything to do with repentant sinners because they look to God and say, 'Lord, I'm a sinner. Help me,' and the devil is impotent," the pope said Sept. 20 during Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"But with the hypocrites he is strong," Pope Francis said. "He is strong, and he uses them to destroy, to destroy people, destroy society, destroy the church."

The devil's "battle horse is hypocrisy because he is a liar. He shows off as a powerful, handsome prince, but inside he's an assassin," the pope said, according to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In his homily, Pope Francis looked at key figures discussed in both of the readings at the Mass: 1 Cor 15:1-11 and Lk 7:36-50.

St. Paul, in the first reading, and the woman who anoints Jesus' feet in the Gospel reading both realize they are sinners, the pope said, but they are moved by love for Jesus.

And Jesus, recognizing their love, "forgives, receives, is merciful -- words we often forget when we speak ill of others," he said. "Think about this: We must be merciful like Jesus and not condemn others."

The Pharisees are the third group present in the Gospel story, the pope said. They are shocked, "scandalized," that Jesus would allow his feet to be anointed by a woman the Gospel describes as "sinful."

They were "doctors of the law" who were always watching Jesus "to see if they could find him in error" or could "set a trap for him," the pope said. "They had an attitude hypocrites often use: They were scandalized. 'Oh look, what scandal! You cannot live like that. We have lost all values. Now everyone has a right to come to church, even those who are divorced, everyone. But where are we?'"

Theirs is "the hypocrisy of the 'righteous,' the 'pure,' those who believe they are saved through their own merits," the pope said. But "Jesus calls the hypocrites 'whitewashed tombs.' They look like beautiful cemeteries, but inside they are putrid and rotten."

Pope Francis ended his homily by requesting, "Let us ask Jesus always to protect our church, which is a holy mother but full of sinning children like us. And may he protect each one of us with his mercy and forgiveness."

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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.

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, a culmination of four years of listening to and empowering Catholics of Hispanic background throughout the U.S.

“For the Church in the United States, not only did we see the leadership of our beautiful, diverse Hispanic community, but we see a leadership for the entire Church,” Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre said in a video released ahead of the meeting.

The National V Encuentro (Fifth Encounter), to be held in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 20-23, is the culmination of four years of consultation and workshops at the parish, diocesan, and regional levels of the Church in the U.S.

This year’s theme is “Discípulos Misioneros: Testigos del amor de Dios” or “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God”.

Delegates to the Encuentro were selected from the 165 dioceses and the nearly 250,000 people that participated in the local process over the past year. They will discuss topics already explored at the local levels that particularly pertain to Hispanics, such as the accompaniment of immigrants, access to higher education, lay leadership formation, and community outreach and evangelization.

The five main objectives of the meeting are: to encounter the needs and aspirations of Catholics of Hispanic background; to promote leadership opportunities for them; to develop new ways to form and encourage them in their vocations; to invite all Catholics to accompany Catholics of Hispanic background; and to develop “initiatives that prepare Hispanic Catholics to share and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ and to become leaven for the Reign of God in society.”

Speakers at the National V Encuentro include Auxiliary Bishop José Arturo Cepeda Escobedo of Detroit, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Sr. Ana María Pineda from Santa Clara University in Calif., Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R. of Newark, and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus.

The National V Encuentro also includes daily Mass, a daybreak rosary, a bishop and young adult dinner encounter, and regional, inter-regional, and ministerial small group sessions.

Parish and diocesan leaders are hopeful ahead of the meeting that it will continue to bear the good fruit they are already seeing at the parish and diocesan level.

“It inspired people who may have been not as active in the parish...they’re really taking the leadership position seriously, it’s the missionary discipleship that we’re all called to,” Thomas Lyons, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said in a video about local Encuentros.

Local Encuentro participant Alejandra Mancilla from Pelican Rapids, Minn. said the local Encuentro helped her to understand her English-speaking brothers and sisters, and to see more opportunities to serve with them.

“Even though we were at the same parish, we didn’t have many joint activities,” she said in the video.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which held their diocesan Encuentro in January, reported that 3,000 people participated in the V Encuentro process at 65 parishes throughout the archdiocese.

In his reflection at the L.A. Encuentro, Archbishop Jose Gomez encouraged other Hispanics to see themselves as leaders and members of the Church, and not outliers.

“We are not new-comers or late-comers or outliers,” Gomez said. “The first Catholics in this country were Latinos! From Spain and from Mexico! Never forget that, my brothers and sisters!”

The National V Encuentro comes at a time when Hispanics make up one of the largest contingents of the Catholic Church in the country, representing about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016.

The Hispanic population is particularly large among youth and young adults in the Church in the US: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic, and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanics in the Church in the US is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

Hispanics have also contributed to religious renewal in the Bible Belt, where some Protestant churches are closing doors while some Catholic churches are bursting with new, mostly Hispanic, members.

The first National Encuentro in the United States was held in 1972, and it is a process that has continued at local, regional, and national levels ever since. The most recent Encuentro prior to the Grapevine meeting was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

According to a letter issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference, the V Encuentro is an opportunity “to listen with profound attention to the needs, challenges and aspirations that the growing Hispanic/Latino population faces in daily life. It especially prepares us as a Church to better recognize, embrace, and promote the many gifts and talents that the Hispanic community shares in the life and mission of the Church and in the society.”

“The main objective (of Encuentro) is to find new ways of responding to the Hispanic and Latino presence in the Church, and for Hispanics and Latinos to better respond as missionary disciples in service to the entire Church,” Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, Assistant Director of Hispanic affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a video message produced by the bishops’ conference.

In his 2016 message for the V Encuentro, Pope Francis said that it was a way for the Church to discern how to “best respond to the growing presence, gifts, and potential of the Hispanic community.”

“Mindful of the contributions that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of the American society and for the Church´s apostolate in the United States.”

Update: Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 outlined actions to address the abuse crisis, including approving the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.

It also instructed the U.S. bishops' canonical affairs committee to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults.

It initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual misconduct with a minor or adult or "negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases."

The committee also said it supported "a full investigation into the situation" surrounding Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington, "including his alleged assaults on minors, priests and seminarians, as well as "any responses made to those allegations."

The statement, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, came out of the committee's semiannual meeting held Sept. 11-12 at USCCB headquarters in Washington.

The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB. The committee, which meets in March and September, is the highest authority of the USCCB outside of the full body of bishops when they meet for their fall and spring general assemblies.

"This is only a beginning," the committee said in its Sept. 19 statement. "Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice.

"We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable," the committee said.

The committee acknowledged its members had assembled for their meeting in Washington at a "time of shame and sorrow."

"Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the church as a whole," the committee said. "They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others.

"They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers," it continued. "For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better."

Full descriptions of the actions the committee took are as follows:

-- Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop. It will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.

-- Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.

-- Initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.

-- Supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well any responses made to those allegations. "Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services."

As the initiatives get underway, the Administrative Committee asked all U.S. bishops "to join us in acts of prayer and penance."

"This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the church has been sufficient. Scripture must be our guide forward. 'Be doers of the word and not hearers only,'" it said, quoting the Letter of James.

"In all of this," no one -- including the bishops -- can "lose sight of those who have suffered from those who have acted or failed to act as the Gospel demanded," it said.

"For survivors of sexual abuse, these days may reopen deep wounds. Support is available from the church and within the community," it emphasized.

The committee reminded all in the church that victims assistance coordinators are available in every diocese to help victim-survivors and their families find resources.

Since the bishops first adopted "the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" in 2002, the committee said, "hundreds of dedicated people ... have been working with the church to support survivors and prevent future abuse."

It said anyone who has been abused must "never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement."

"If you don't feel comfortable for any reason with the church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services," the committee said. "With compassion and without judgment, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us."

The committee concluded: "Acting in communion with the Holy Father, with whom we once again renew our love, obedience and loyalty, we make our own the prayer of Pope Francis in his Aug. 20 letter to the people of God, 'May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.'"

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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In homily, Calif. priest says he was abused, hears from dozens of victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Father McGuire

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- To be a voice for victims of clerical sexual abuse, Father Brendan McGuire realized he had to come to terms with the abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest when he was 18. It was a secret he had held for 35 years.

He told the story of his abuse in a homily delivered at five weekend Masses Sept. 8-9 at Holy Spirit Church in San Jose, California, where he is pastor.

In a Sept. 18 interview with Catholic News Service, Father McGuire said that although he always writes his homilies for distribution via email and social media, it was the first time he read it word for word from the pulpit so he wouldn't overlook anything he wanted to say.

Parishioners responded with "thunderous applause" at two Masses and "three standing ovations" at the others -- atypical post-homiletic behavior, he said.

Since the homilies, Father McGuire said, he has heard from 45 men who told him they also had been abused. Five of the men were priests, he added, and four of those had been abused while they were seminarians.

"One man was 95 years old. He'd been holding it for 60-plus years, 70-plus years," the priest said. "I thought 35 was a lot."

Growing up in Bray, Ireland, near Dublin, Father McGuire said he first met his priest-abuser when he was 14, and did not recognize the four years of "grooming" by the priest for his "final play," with the priest saying during the attack that he had waited until young McGuire had turned 18 "so it wouldn't be child abuse."

While the future priest successfully fought off his abuser -- "I was one of the lucky ones," he said in his homily -- others were not so lucky. The priest, who was not named in the homily, had preyed on dozens in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, was imprisoned in 2004 and died in prison two years later.

Father McGuire added he was driven to write his homily after reading the first 400 pages of the Pennsylvania grand jury's report on abuse allegations in six dioceses in the state dating back to 1947. Father McGuire sighed and said, "There was a whole other level of detail that I had forgotten about. Especially grooming." Having read that far, he noted, "I just got so angry about it all over again, how these guys were so systematic about it."

Father McGuire told CNS he almost didn't go through with the homily because of the celebrity it would bring.

"I didn't want it. That's one of the reasons I held back," he added. "I'm a man of deep prayer, I pray for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening. ' I'm a big discerner. I wrote this homily days in advance. I prayed over it for a long time. I didn't want this to be about me. I really didn't."

Father McGuire wants to be more than merely an effective voice for abuse victims. He wants to see change in the church.

In his homily, he listed ways the church needs to change.

Father McGuire wants bishops to "listen attentively" to victims. "The pain never fully leaves us. That's OK but your acknowledging it helps us heal," he said. He also urged bishops to disclose the names of all accused priests, past and present, and to agree what he called "an attorney general-like investigation."

"Let them verify that you are doing all you can to protect the children now," he added. The priest also wants bishops to perform "some act of repentance, like promising to not wear the miter for a year of mourning."

He further wants bishops to "work with the pope to reform the governance of the church so that women have a voice of authority. I do not believe this travesty of justice would have happened if we had mothers and fathers at the decision-making tables; they would not have allowed other people's children to be put in harm's way because they would see their own child in them."

Father McGuire asked parishioners to press bishops for accountability and to advocate for victims and "create a place of healing" to build "a community of true belonging where all the wounded are welcomed, as Pope Francis calls it, 'a field hospital' here in San Jose."

In a Sept. 13 letter to Catholics in the San Jose Diocese, Bishop Patrick J. McGrath said the diocese would conduct three "listening sessions" for abuse victims and their families and for Catholics "on the pathway to reform"; release in mid-October of names of all credibly accused priests who ministered in the diocese; and open an independent examination of abuse allegations by a firm headed by Kathleen McChesney, the highest-ranking woman in the FBI before leaving to become the first executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection in 2002.

"We cannot defend priest-perpetrators and those bishops and others who enable or protect them," Bishop McGrath said. "The only way that we can address the failed leadership of so many in the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world is for the Diocese of San Jose to do what we know is right and just."

"We've done more than any California diocese. We've gone from nothing to full disclosure to full investigation in a matter of couple of weeks. I'd say that's traction," said Father McGuire, who worked in Silicon Valley before being ordained to the priesthood in 2000.

"I cooperate with God's grace. Fundamentally, that's what I want the church to do," he added. "If the darkness has a hold on me, it doesn't feel good. There's a parallel to that with the church. Let us speak the truth."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being more protected than the victims. And you could see the pain in his face."

Bono met the pope Sept. 19 to sign an agreement between his charity, ONE, and the Scholas Occurentes educational charity supported by Pope Francis.

During the half-hour meeting, Bono said, he brought up Pope Francis' recent trip to Ireland and the concerns there about the sexual abuse crisis.

The pope was "aghast," Bono said. "I thought he was sincere."

"I think he is an extraordinary man for extraordinary times," the singer said.

ONE is a campaign and advocacy effort working to end extreme poverty, especially in Africa. One of its current focuses, Bono told reporters Sept. 19, is education for girls and young women. Some "130 million girls around the world do not go to school, because they are girls," he said.

"Poverty is sexist" is the campaign slogan, he said.

Scholas began in Pope Francis' Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, supporting education in poor neighborhoods by pairing their schools with private schools and institutions in wealthier neighborhoods. The organization has grown to other countries and supports a variety of exchange programs aimed at promoting education, encouraging creativity and teaching young people about respect, tolerance and peace.

"We haven't figured out what we are going to do together," Bono said, "but we sort of have a crush on each other."

Describing Jose Maria del Corral, president of Scholas, Bono said that "honestly, he is quite a radical thinker and I felt quite old-fashioned sitting next to him." Bono was talking about teaching children how to read and write and "get to advanced math and art later. And he was like, 'Start with art. And start with the creative life and you'll get a better result.'"

Bono said the conversation with the pope touched on many topics, including poverty, commerce and meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

They spoke, he said, "about how we have to rethink the wild beast that is capitalism and how, though it is not immoral, it is amoral and it requires our instruction. He's very keen on that."

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