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Families of Iran's prisoners beg Congress to advocate for their release

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Family members of American citizens imprisoned in Iran pleaded with members of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for their safe release.

“Please help me bring my father and brother home. I am losing my entire family. We are simply running out of time,” Babak Namazi, who has both a brother and a father in Iranian prisons, told members of the House Subcommittee on North Africa and the Middle East in a July 25 hearing.

Family members of four prisoners in Iran testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the subcommittee in the hearing “Held for Ransom: The Families of Iran’s Hostages Speak Out,” pleading for Iran to release their loved ones in custody.

Bob Levinson, who formerly worked for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the longest-missing of the four, and is the “longest-held hostage in American history,” according to his son Douglas who testified on Tuesday.

Three days after his father went missing, an Iranian news outlet reported that he was “in the hands” of state officers. Yet “Iran has repeatedly changed their story,” Douglas Levinson said. “Iran is responsible, and they know exactly where he is.”

On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution, H. Res. 317, which called on Iran to unconditionally release the Americans who are being detained for political reasons. It also calls on President Donald Trump to prioritize their release.

Currently, there are four Americans (three citizens, one legal permanent resident) who are being detained by the state because of alleged spying or working with a hostile foreign government: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Xiyue Wang, and Nizar Zakka.

Robert Levinson has been missing from Iran’s Kish Island since 2007, and despite its commitment to his safe return to the U.S., “the regime has not remotely fulfilled its commitments to help bring him home,” Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated on Wednesday.

“Iran continues to engage in the despicable practice of detaining foreigners on fabricated criminal charges,” he said, and according to former political prisoners there are reports of “electric shock, forced drug withdrawal, whippings, and solitary confinement.”

“We stand in solidarity with these Americans and their families as we call for their release,” Royce said.

Iran holds many political and religious prisoners, including political dissidents and members of religious minorities. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has labeled Iran a “country of particular concern” as one of the countries with the worst records of protecting religious freedom.

The commission noted in its most recent annual report that the number of religious prisoners has increased since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.

Iran held Pastor Sayeed Abedini in custody from 2012 until January 2016 when he was released in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. A Christian pastor who became an American citizen, Abedini worked with house churches in Iran and was arrested after working at an orphanage for allegedly threatening Iranian national security.

Religious freedom advocates claimed he was arrested by the state because of his Christian faith. During his time in prison there were reports of his torture and abuse suffered at the hands of the regime.

The three witnesses who testified on Tuesday expressed serious concern for their loved ones in Iran.

Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak was arrested in Iran in October of 2015 and whose father Baquer was detained in February of 2016 during a trip to Iran where he tried to see his son, told of how both have suffered while in prison, including while in solitary confinement.

His 81-year-old father has a “severe heart condition that requires medication and may shortly require a pacemaker,” Namazi said, and “has been twice been hospitalized for a week at a time” in recent months.

“It is obvious that his condition, both physical and mental, is rapidly deteriorating. My father’s prison sentence is a death sentence,” Namazi said.

Meanwhile, his brother has suffered in “horrific” conditions, he said, including prolonged isolation and regular beatings and tazings.

Omar Zakka testified about his father Nazir who has been imprisoned in Iran for two years. Nazir, who has suffered physical abuse in prison, is currently on a hunger strike, Omar said.

“All of this pain and suffering has led my dad to this ongoing hunger strike; he told me the other day that we do not put our heads down for anyone,” Omar said.

“My dad said that he would rather die for his cause than live with injustice and what they are doing to him. In fact, he said this phrase to us, in Arabic, that translates to ‘liberty or death’.”

Douglas Levinson said his father, due to his long absence, has missed several of his children’s weddings and graduations, and has never met five of his grandchildren.

“We need Bob Levinson, we need my father back now,” Douglas said on Tuesday. “It’s been 10 years. He’s missed so much.”

 

As vote looms, here's what bishops think about Trump's border wall

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Congress prepares to vote on whether to fund the further construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have been outspoken against such a policy.

“While countries have a duty to ensure that immigration is orderly and safe, this responsibility can never serve as a pretext to build walls and shut the door to migrants and refugees,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas said in his July 18 pastoral letter on migration, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away.”

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” the bishop wrote, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”

The House will reportedly vote this week on approving $1.6 billion in funding for construction of a wall along part the U.S.-Mexico border, as requested by President Donald Trump in his FY 2018 budget proposal.

Trump had campaigned for president by repeatedly promising to build a wall on the border. Around 700 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long border is already fenced.

In a January executive order on immigration, President Trump stated:

“It is the policy of the executive branch to…secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.”

He also called for the allocation of federal funding “for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall along the southern border” and to “project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall.”

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border, however, said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas said he was “disheartened” by the President’s request.

“This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm's way,” he said.

“Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers,” he said. “Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted after the executive order was issued: “Walls only impede and put at risk the poor and children, because those who have resources always find other options.”

The Mexican bishops’ conference responded as well to the call for the further construction of the wall. In their Jan. 26 statement “Value and Respect for Migrants,” they expressed “pain and rejection” at the announcement and said that the wall would interfere in the multi-cultural societies that have developed where there are cities directly across the border from each other.

“We express our pain and rejection over the construction of this wall, and we respectfully invite you to reflect more deeply about the ways security, development, growth in employment, and other measures, necessary and just, can be procured without causing further harm to those already suffering, the poorest and most vulnerable,” the conference stated.

For over 20 years, the statement added, the bishops in dioceses including both borders have worked to achieve “the best care for the faithful that live in the sister countries, properly seen as a single city (from a faith perspective); communities of faith served by two dioceses (such as Matamoros and Brownsville, or Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, for example).”

“What pains us foremost is that many people who live out their family relationships, their faith, work or friendships will be shut out even more by this inhuman interference,” the conference said.

The bishops also said that the U.S. has a right to enforce its own border, but that “a rigorous and intense application of the law” would “create alarm and fear among immigrants, breaking up families without further consideration.”

President Trump requested $1.6 billion for a wall in his FY 2018 budget request. He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to spend $100 million of existing appropriations on “border security, fencing and infrastructure.”

Tom Homan, director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, told reporters on June 28 that “the border wall is one tool to help control the border,” among other actions like the presence of border patrol agents and law enforcement.

When asked by a reporter after a July 7 bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto if he still wanted Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall, President Trump responded “absolutely.”

Bishop Seitz explained in his pastoral letter “When Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away” that the construction of a border fence poses harm to migrants in forcing them to cross the border in more dangerous areas.

“The burning sands of our desert are an unmarked grave for too many migrants who have died attempting to cross,” he wrote. “Increased militarization and more walls will only make this journey even more dangerous.”

And, he said, walls that separate cities directly across the border from each other – like El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – interfere in the societies there and separate loved ones.

“Misguided policies and walls are widening the divide between us and our sister city of Ciudad Juárez,” he said. “I am pastor of a diocese divided by walls and checkpoints that separate individuals from loved ones.”

Pope Francis said Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border in February 2016 at Ciudad Juárez. He asked all those in attendance to pray for “the gift of tears” amidst the hardships of migrants and their “exploitation.”

“Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts,” Pope Francis said at the Feb. 17 Mass. “No more death! No more exploitation!”

 

Pro-life groups praise new Missouri bill curbing abortion

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:35 pm (Church Pop).- Pro-lifers lauded a bill that will restrict abortion access in Missouri, granting the state attorney general more power to prosecute violations, and requiring both stricter health codes and proper fetal tissue disposal.

“Today is a great victory for pregnancy care centers that help women and children all over the state,” Governor Erik Greitens said in a statement according to the Associated Press.

“I'm proud that many of Missouri's lawmakers stood strong to protect the lives of the innocent unborn and women's health.”

The bill passed through the state's Senate 22-9 on July 25. Missouri's Catholic Conference supported the move by promoting it at the parish level and encouraging Catholics to contact their senator.
 
Greitens said the bill was in response to local ordinances aimed at curbing so-called reproductive health “discrimination,” which affected the state capital's pregnancy centers and religious organizations. The bill was also in response to the ruling of a federal judge which struck down some of Missouri's previous anti-abortion laws.

The legislation overturns a previous move that made St. Louis an “abortion sanctuary city,” which added abortion and contraceptive use to existing non-discrimination laws. It also prohibits St. Louis forcing religious schools from hiring abortion advocates and landlords from renting to abortion clinics.

Josh Hawley, the state's attorney general, will now have the power to prosecute abortion legislation violations, in order to balance concern surrounding a left-wing prosecutor who may not pursue abortion offenses. The bill also ditched a provision which would have forced the attorney general to notify prosecutors 10 days before action is taken.

Additional provisions include mandatory inspections by Missouri's health department once a year and stricter requirements on how clinics dispose of fetal tissue after the abortion.

The bill will also restrict which medical staff may refer women for an abortion and may have state-mandated discussions about the procedure. Before inducing an abortion to save the mother's life, the clinics must also get approval from the health department.

The law will be sent to the republican governor next, who is expected to sign into effect soon.

Court to decide if Charlie Gard's parents can take him home

London, England, Jul 26, 2017 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After ending their legal fight to seek further treatment for their 11-month-old son, the parents of Charlie Gard are now in a dispute with Great Ormond Street Hospital over whether they may take the boy home to live out his final days.

The judge in the case, Justice Peter Francis, is set to pass down a decision by noon on Thursday. However, he said that “(i)t looks like the chances are small” of the boy being brought home. His parents hope to have a week with him after he has been moved to a final location.

On Monday, Christ Gard and Connie Yates, the boy’s parents, announced that they were ending their legal fight for additional treatment for their son. Their lawyer told the High Court that “time had run out” for Charlie. They have expressed the desire that he be moved home “for a few days of tranquility” before life support is withdrawn on July 31, four days before Charlie’s first birthday.

Great Ormond Street Hospital has said that it is impossible for Charlie to receive life support at home, arguing that his ventilator “cannot fit through the family’s front door.” It has instead offered a hospice space for Charlie. Previously, the hospital had promised that they “won’t stand in the way,” according to Grant Armstrong, the couple’s lawyer, but now they were setting up “obstacles.”

Katie Gollop, lawyer for the hospital, said that while the hospital wished to fulfill the parents’ final wishes, the reality of bringing the child home is not “practically” possible. The parents have offered to pay any expenses of Charlie being brought home. The couple has raised nearly $1.75 million in funds for Charlie’s care.

On Tuesday, the Vatican-owned Pediatric Hospital Bambino Gesu, commonly called “the Pope’s hospital,” issued a statement on Charlie. In early July, the hospital had offered for the child to be transferred to its facilities for life support and treatment after Pope Francis stated his support of the Gard family.

The hospital said that experimental therapy “could have been an opportunity for Charlie and it will be an opportunity for all the patients with the same or a similar rare disease.” However, the child’s progressive muscular deterioration had “ma(de) it impossible to start the experimental care plan.”

“Much to our regret, we realized that we probably arrived too late,” the hospital said. Additionally, “(w)e are not in a position to know what might have happened 6 months ago. We cannot know if Charlie would have responded to the experimental therapy.”

“What we know is that we did what Charlie's mother asked us to do.”

The Vatican hospital also noted “another result: an in-depth international confrontation at the clinical and scientific level: an extraordinary event, of great importance for the future of rare diseases.”

“For the first time, the international scientific community has gathered around a single patient, to carefully evaluate all the possibilities. The clinical and scientific international community created a synergic network, fighting together for the life of a little boy.”

They called this “the true legacy of Charlie.”

Charlie Gard was born last year on August 4. His condition was discovered in October, and he was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

In April, Justice Francis ruled that the hospital could allow the child to die after doctors and the court had deemed treatment futile, against the wishes of the child’s parents.

In May, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, and judges for the European Court of Human Rights declined to intervene in June. Charlie’s case began garnering international attention after this, with some ethicists comparing the situation to that of euthanasia.

The child’s case grew more complicated in early July, however. On July 2, the Pope stated his support of the parents, and Bambino Gesù offered to take Charlie the next day, an offer which was ultimately not accepted. On July 17, Charlie was examined by U.S. neurologist who claimed that an experimental therapy could provide up to a 10 percent chance of improvement in the child’s condition. This came after unpublished research suggested there was a chance for some reversal in Charlie’s brain damage.

However, after new medical reports were revealed in court last week, Yates and Gard conceded that Charlie no longer has a chance for improvement, and on Monday withdrew their legal fight.

The child suffers from permanent brain damage and cannot breathe on his own. His mother has expressed hope that he can spend a week in hospice before life support is withdrawn.

 

WYD Unite event brings together youth from across the nation

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 10:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On one of the hottest days of the year, more than 1,300 young people from around the country gathered together for WYD Unite, bringing together alumni of former World Youth Days as well as pilgrims from at least 52 Catholic dioceses around the nations.

They gathered for the all-day event at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, named for the Pope who in 1984 began the World Youth Day celebrations to bring together millions of young people from around the globe to share and grow in their Catholic faith. From their starting place in Rome, World Youth Days have traveled across the world to six continents, most recently in 2016 to Pope John Paul II’s homeland of Poland.

The smaller United States gathering focused upon the theme, “The Mighty Has Done Great Things for Me and Holy is His Name.” The gathering explored the radical “Yes” Mary gave at the Annunciation, as well as gratitude for how God has acted in our lives.

Throughout the day, pilgrims toured the exhibits of the National Shrine, and had opportunities for Reconciliation and spiritual direction. The day also featured performances by Tony Melendez and Audrey Assad. Melendez is a master guitarist who was born without arms, but learned to play guitar using his feet. Previously he has performed before Saint Pope John Paul II in 1987. Assad, a daughter of a Syrian Christian refugee, is an acclaimed musician and songwriter who also often speaks on behalf of persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

Childcare and children’s catechesis was provided both by the event and by the Sister Servants of the Lord.

The first keynote message of the day was given by Bishop-elect Nelson Perez, who will soon take over the Diocese of Cleveland. He reminded attendees that “God meets us where we are in our brokenness, lowliness.”

While encounter with Christ may inspire a person to be kind or compassionate or have a loving family, these traits are not a mark of a Christian themselves, he continued. Instead, the Christian holds to the truth that Jesus “moved, He rose from the dead, and He continues to move in us and through us and about us.”

Bishop-elect Perez also urged the young Christians present to embrace gratitude for all that God has given, and to view one’s life as not only a gift but a tool for God to use. He recalled a personal story of a young woman he had spoken to rudely. Three years later, the bishop said, as the same young woman lay on her deathbed, she told Bishop-elect Perez it was the closest she had ever felt to God.

“Never underestimate the power of God’s spirit working in you, through you and despite you, and most of the time unbeknownst to you and to me,” the bishop reflected.

Later, the participants attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., told attendees to bring their neighbors and peers “into the ongoing mission of the Church.” He warned the youth not to be discouraged by the threat of modern secularism, instead placing hope in and offering a witness of God’s love.

Returning in a procession to the Saint John Paul II Shrine, participants were joined by an image of “Our Lady Undoer of Knots,” which was present for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and blessed by the Pope during his visit there.

A second keynote was then delivered by Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn.

Bishop Caggiano focused on the radical message of the Annunciation and Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan. “It was her ‘yes’ that allowed ourselves to come here, and her ‘yes’ that enabled us to say yes to her Son,” he said.

He challenged the young people to accept God’s love of them, but also noted that that acceptance of God’s love compels us to bring that love “to everyone you and I meet.”

“Life will give you a thousand reasons to doubt God’s love,” he warned the youth, but to be missionary disciples, Christians need to “say yes to the fact that Jesus is extending his hand to us in friendship.”

After the keynote, the night ended with Eucharistic Adoration and prayer, accompanied by music.

Bishop Paprocki explains Catholic teaching: Repentance is for everyone

Springfield, Ill., Jul 26, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A prominent media priest who criticized Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s restatement of norms regarding church funerals “gets a lot wrong,” the bishop said in a response noting the importance of repentance for everyone.

Bishop Paprocki explained his decree in a July 9 video on the Diocese of Springfield’s website. He reminded everyone with a ministry in the Church that “while being clear and direct about what the Church teaches, our pastoral ministry must always be respectful, compassionate and sensitive to all our brothers and sisters in faith, as was the ministry of Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd and our everlasting model for ministry,” the bishop said.

“People with same-sex attraction are welcome in our parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois as we repent our sins and pray for God to keep us in his grace,” he said.

On June 12 the Bishop of Springfield had issued an internal decree discussing same-sex marriage and pastoral issues in his diocese. The decree was leaked.

Father James Martin, S.J., an editor-at-large of America Magazine, had claimed on Twitter that the bishop’s diocesan norms regarding a ban on church funeral rites only focused on “LGBT people” and would not be applied to others living in public sin, such as a man and a woman in an irregular union, or private sin, such as users of birth control. Fr. Martin suggested such a focus constituted unjust discrimination.

Bishop Paprocki had said his decree was “totally consistent with Catholic teaching.” The decree was “a rather straightforward application of existing Catholic doctrine and canon law” in a new situation where same-sex couples are receiving a legal marital status in civil law, contrary to Catholic teaching.

“Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those tweets, since canon law prohibits ecclesiastical funeral rites only in cases of ‘manifest sinners’ which gives ‘public scandal,’ and something such as using birth control is a private matter that is usually not manifest or made public,” the bishop said.

Bishop Paprocki rejected the characterization of his decree as focusing on “LGBT people.” Rather, he said, it focused on “so-called same-sex marriage, which is a public legal status.”

“No one is ever denied the sacraments or Christian burial for simply having a homosexual orientation,” the bishop continued. “Even someone who had entered into a same-sex marriage can receive the sacraments and be given ecclesiastical funeral rites if they repent and renounce their marriage.”

The bishop said the priest-commentator missed the key phrase in the decree: the section saying that ecclesiastical funeral rites are to be denied to those in same-sex marriages “unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death.”

“This is a direct quote from canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law, which is intended as a call to repentance,” Bishop Paprocki said.

He cited Christ's public proclamation in the Gospel of Mark: “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

The bishop further explained the Church’s response to church burial rites.

“This does not mean that unrepentant manifest sinners will simply be refused or turned away,” he said. “Even in those cases where a public Mass of Christian Burial in church cannot be celebrated because the deceased person was unrepentant and there would be public scandal, the priest or deacon may conduct a private funeral service, for example, at the funeral home.”

Bishop Paprocki did find a point in the priest’s criticism.

“Father Martin’s tweets do raise an important point with regard to other situations of grave sin and the reception of Holy Communion. He is right that the Church’s teaching does not apply only to people in same-sex marriages,” he said.

Citing canon law, the bishop said everyone conscious of grave sin should not receive Holy Communion without first going to confession and receiving absolution. This is relevant to everyone who has committed a grave sin, whether it is sexual sin, missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation without grave cause, procuring an abortion, or having attempted remarriage after a divorce without obtaining a decree of nullity.

The bishop noted that a couple who agrees to live as brother and sister in an irregular union, if there is no public scandal, could receive Holy Communion after repenting, going to confession, and amending their lives. This similarly would apply to two men or two women who live chastely with each outher.

Bishop Paprocki’s decree drew significant media coverage.

“The fact that there would be such an outcry against this decree is quite astounding and shows how strong the LGBT lobby is both in the secular world as well as within the Church,” he said.

Citing Pope Francis’ comments against judgementalism, the bishop noted that the Pope had warned against any form of lobbies, including a “gay lobby.”

Burial rites were only one part of the June 12 decree, which concerned topics including the use of Catholic facilities and diocesan personnel in same-sex ceremonies, as well as the response to people in same-sex unions and to any children who live with such couples and are presented for the sacraments or Catholic education.

Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to abuse charges in Australia

Vatican City, Jul 26, 2017 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a brief hearing in a court in Melbourne Wednesday morning, Cardinal George Pell said he will be pleading not guilty to charges of multiple counts of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Pell did not address the court, but his lawyer, Robert Richter, QC, told the Melbourne Magistrates Court July 26 that "for the avoidance of doubt...Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to all charges, and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has."

In the less than 10-minute-long hearing, the judge, Magistrate Duncan Reynolds, read a prepared statement outlining the reason for the hearing and noted that it was purely administrative.

The senior prosecutor of the case, Andrew Tinney, SC, addressed a packed courtroom with a statement emphasizing the need for "fair and accurate reporting" by media.

Prosecutors have a deadline of Sept. 8 to prepare their brief of evidence, but Tinney indicated that it would likely be ready as early as late next week. The next step in the trial will be a preliminary hearing – called the committal mention – which is set for Oct. 6.

Wednesday’s hearing follows the announcement at the end of June that the police of Victoria, Australia were charging Cardinal Pell on multiple counts of past sexual abuse.

As the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy since 2013 and a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell is the most senior Vatican official to ever be charged with abuse.

With the permission of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell has taken leave from his responsibilities in the Vatican in order to return to Australia for the court proceedings.

Both walking in and out the hearing Wednesday, Pell was surrounded by a dozen policemen as media and victims of abuse and their supporters crowded around him. Cardinal Pell did not respond to questions from media.

Supporters of Cardinal Pell were also present outside of the courthouse.

Following the announcement of the charges, Pell held a news briefing with journalists June 29, maintaining his innocence and saying he takes leave from his position as the Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy in order "to clear my name."

"I am looking forward, finally, to having my day in court. I'm innocent of these charges, they are false," he said, adding that "the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me."

"News of these charges strengthens my resolve, and court proceedings now offer me the opportunity to clear my name and then return here, back to Rome, to work," he continued.

Pell was ordained in the diocese of Ballarat in 1966, where he served as a priest and later as a consulter to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who oversaw the diocese from 1971-1997. He was appointed auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987, and was named archbishop in 1996.

In February 2016, the cardinal testified for the third time before Australia's Royal Commission regarding claims that surfaced in 2015 accusing him of moving “known pedophile” Gerald Ridsdale, of bribing a victim of the later-defrocked priest, and of ignoring a victim’s complaint.

Established in 2013, the Royal Commission is dedicated to investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges, Pell again offered to give his testimony, which he did via video conference from Rome.

Shortly before the hearing, abuse allegations surfaced accusing the cardinal of multiple counts of child sexual abuse dating as far back as 1961, which he has continued to fervently deny.

Cardinal Pell has also been supported by the Vatican, which issued a June 29 communique from Holy See spokesman Greg Buke echoing Pell’s statement and affirming that Pope Francis had granted the cardinal an absence from his duties "so he can defend himself."

On behalf of the Holy See, Burke also voiced respect for the Australian justice system, which "will have to decide the merits of the questions raised."

However, at the same time, he said "it is important to recall that Card. Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors" and has cooperated with Australian authorities in the past, specifically with his depositions before the Royal Commission.

Moreover, the cardinal has been supportive of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and as a diocesan bishop in Australia, introduced systems and procedures "both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse."

Burke closed by noting that Cardinal Pell will no longer be attending public events while facing the charges.

These Chicago Catholics have a game plan for evangelization

Chicago, Ill., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Taking its cue from the recent and massive Convocation of Catholic Leaders in the U.S., one Chicago-based organization is partnering with parishes to form missionary disciples.

The convocation took place in Florida July 1-4, drawing several thousand participants. Aimed at equipping and invigorating Catholic leaders, the event addressed challenges that inhibit parishes from evangelization, especially the deflating attendance of parishioners in Catholic churches.

In a July 20 interview with CNA, president of L'Alto Catholic Institute Tim Glemkowski said “the way this New Evangelization is going to be accomplished is by forming each lay Catholic as a missionary disciple, for normative Catholicism to be heroic Catholicism.”

Established this year, L'Alto works closely with the parishes of Chicago to form disciples according to each community, taking into account the goals and people of each parish rather than imposing a generic formula without understanding specific needs.

Glemkowski said the organization's goal is to walk with parishes who long to develop this culture of discipleship but face obstacles or do not know where to begin. Developing disciples is a lifelong process, he said, adding L'Alto may give parishes a starting boost, and help chart a course during a church's beginning stages.

Additionally to working closely with parishes, the organization has developed three other initiatives: a school of prayer, a bi-weekly discipleship group for high school women, and a three-day parish event filled with the sacraments and geared toward a personal encounter with Jesus.

When asked about his reference to a quote by Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI, stating that true conversion follows an encounter with Christ as a person and not just as an ethical solution, Glemkowski said the Christian faith must contain a personal encounter with Christ because “the reality is, though, that people will find it difficult to die for a detached notion.”

“Catholicism requires sacrifice, at times the ultimate sacrifice of the martyrs, but even just every day sacrifices that result from living according to a belief system that runs contrary to the world.”

At the convocation, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Barron, said that every era's crisis is met by a movement of the church, a movement which Glemkowski believes will arise from a commitment to the “New Evangelization” by the clergy, religious, and especially the lay people.

“It is not the role of the clergy alone to form disciples. It is the task of the entire Church, lay included.”

Glemkoswki said that indifference and relativism are major problems within our culture today, noting a lack meaning in hearts of people which is substituted by inadequate things.

“The human heart cannot live without meaning. Where meaning is not found, all kinds of strange substitutes take its place, and what we are seeing in the world are the strange reactions to billions of human hearts desperately craving a reason to live.”

Even within the Church, there are a number of Catholics who do not know its teachings and are not interested. He referenced a 2008 study by Pew Research Center that showed that less than 50 percent of Catholics believe religion contains a personal relationship with God. Additionally, he said about six Catholics leave the Church per every convert who comes into the Church, according to another study by Pew Research Center in 2015.

The decrease in numbers and zeal paints a picture of a church that hasn't been creating disciples to spread the message of the Gospel, Glemkoswki said. He also pointed towards the encounter of the faith as identified in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles – saying that this is not a reality for people at Catholic parishes today, leaving the guest or parishioner to wonder if it's even the same faith.

“Community, shared life, joy, apostolic zeal; these things should be the normative experience for Catholics, and often, our communities just don't measure up,” he said.

“I don't think when most people walk into your average Sunday liturgy, they feel like they're worshiping God with a multitude of saints.”

Glemkowski said this was a major concern for the convocation in Florida. In reference to Pope Francis' 2013 encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, the conference strongly recognized the need for developing missionary disciples to spread the Gospel within the culture.  

“To be a disciple means to adopt the yoke of Christ meaning you have an active and growing prayer life, you participate frequently in the life of the Church, and you are attempting to conform your every moment to His teachings through ascesis and purgation.”

However, creating discipleship is more than an ethical problem – and Catholicism is more than “an intellectual system with a moral code attached to it.”

He said he understands why the Church at times mistakenly pushes a stringent morality as a response to a perceived ethical laxity on the part of Catholics.

But the faith can't be sustained solely as an idea, or even as the sacrifice required in the Christian life and as seen in martyrs and saints, he said. Rather, it's sustained through the love of the person of Christ.

Glemkowski quoted Saint John Paul II, saying: “It is necessary to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ. Only from a personal relationship with Jesus can an effective evangelization develop.”

Migration and sustainable development – what's the link?

New York City, N.Y., Jul 26, 2017 / 12:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Why do people migrate in the first place? And what if there was a way we could address the international crisis better by going after the root problems?

A priest at the United Nations spoke of the connection between migration and sustainable development, calling on the international community to help make migrants' homelands safer and the immigration process more welcoming.

“All of us know that poverty and the lack of prospects for development frequently spur so many individuals and families to seek ways to survive in distant lands,” said Fr. Michael Czerny, the Undersecretary of the Section for Migrants and Refugees Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“The profound linkages between migration and development can first be seen, sadly, in the absence or breakdown of many of the pillars of sustainable development that have compelled millions to go on the move,” he said, pointing to hunger, violence, and poverty as many of the reasons why citizens have been uprooted from their homes.

Fr. Czerny's words were addressed to the UN session titled “Contributions of migrants to all dimensions of sustainable development: the linkages between migration of development” on July 24 at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Throughout his address, Fr. Czerny underscored the importance of the “right to remain” in sustainable development, saying that it is the duty of the international community to help citizens remain in their homeland by promoting efforts to improve the conditions within these countries.

“That makes migration a choice, not a necessity,” he said.

He also encouraged efforts that would allow citizens to actively participate in the sustainable development of their own countries, so that local individuals could contribute their talents to rebuilding their own communities.

Additionally, Fr. Czerny believes that when individuals do leave their homelands, they must be welcomed and treated with dignity when they enter a new country.

“Migrants must first be received and treated as human beings, with dignity and full respect for their human rights, and protected against all forms of exploitation or from being permanently socially, economically or legally cast-away,” he said.

Fr. Czerny noted that the success of migrants hinges on “whether they are helped to transition from objects of emergency care to dignified subjects of their own development.”

Because of this, when countries do receive migrants they should make efforts to welcome, protect, promote and integrate them in their community, Fr. Czerny said.  But he also noted that this endeavor should not take away from other, on-going efforts to help those in need on a local level.  

“One way to do this is through the adoption of development and donor policies that set aside a percentage of the direct assistance provided to migrants and refugees for local infrastructure and for the benefit of local families and communities experiencing economic and social disadvantages,” he said.  

He also encouraged migrants themselves to adopt an attitude of openness, saying that they should “respect the values, traditions and laws of the community that takes them in.”

Fr. Czerny then quoted Pope Francis, who recently said that “the presence of so many brothers and sisters who experience the tragedy of immigration is an opportunity for human growth, encounter, and dialogue between cultures in view of the promotion of peace and fraternity among peoples.”

By encouraging sustainable development in countries, Fr. Czerny believes that the international community will not only boost the success of local economies, but also help citizens stay in their homelands and eventually make migration a choice – not an emergency.

“No one should ever be forced to leave his or her home due to lack of development or peace.

Vatican conference aims to build momentum for nuclear disarmament

Vatican City, Jul 25, 2017 / 08:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nuclear disarmament will be the focus of a Vatican conference this Nov. 10-11, following recent progress toward international bans on nuclear weapons.

Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi told CNA that “the Holy See is working to create a public opinion convinced that the world is safer without nuclear weapons, rather than with them.”

The archbishop is delegate secretary to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which is working to organize the disarmament conference.

The Holy See has invited Antonio Gutierres, Secretary General of the United Nations, to address the conference. It is not reported whether he has accepted the invitation.

Archbishop Tomasi said that the conference is conceived as a follow-up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, passed July 7 at the United Nations.

Until the treaty, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not explicitly banned by any international document.

The treaty passed with 122 votes in favor and one abstention, Singapore. However, 69 countries, namely all nuclear weapons states and all NATO members excepting the Netherlands, did not take part in the vote.

The U.N. decided to start negotiations for the treaty after a series of three conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The first conference took place in Oslo, Norway in March 2013. The second was held in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014.

The third conference, held in Vienna, Austria, Dec. 8-9, 2014, was the first meeting on nuclear weapons attended by some nuclear weapons states.

At the end of the Vienna conference, 127 states formally endorsed a humanitarian pledge, with 23 more voting to approve a resolution in its favor. The endorsing states said they were aware that the risk of nuclear weapons use and their “unacceptable consequences” are avoidable only “when all nuclear weapons have been eliminated.”

The pledge called on all nuclear powers to take concrete measures to reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons and remove them from deployment. It called on nuclear powers to diminish nuclear weapons’ role in their military doctrines and to make “rapid reductions of all types of nuclear weapons.”

Archbishop Tomasi, who attended the Vienna conference in his former position of Holy See Permanent Observer to the U.N. in Geneva, told CNA that the Vienna conference is “particularly important, because it underscores that just being in possession of nuclear weapons is already not ethical.”

The November 2017 conference at the Vatican aims to be another step on the path towards nuclear disarmament.

It would build on the conference to negotiate the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, which took place in New York in March 2017.

Pope Francis sent a message to that conference saying that the doctrine of nuclear deterrence has become ineffective against 21st century threats like terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, environmental problems and poverty.

These threats, the Pope stressed, are “even greater when we consider the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would follow from any use of nuclear weapons, with devastating, indiscriminate and uncontainable effects, over time and space.”

To Pope Francis, the elimination of nuclear weapons is both “a challenge and a humanitarian imperative.” The Pope also asked attendees to promote “reflection on an ethics of peace and multilateral and cooperative security that goes beyond the fear and isolationism that prevail in many debates today.”

As a permanent observer to the United Nations, the Holy See took part in the negotiations. It was granted the possibility to participate at procedural votes during the negotiations, a right that the Holy See usually does not use.

The Holy See is a founder and member state of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and has always praised the developments in nuclear technology while strongly opposing the development of such technology for military purposes.

This was evident in the May 3 remarks of Monsignor Janusz Urbanczyk, the Holy See’s representative to the IAEA.

Addressing the first meeting for the 2020 review conference of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, he stressed that “the Holy See cannot but lament the fact that the potential devastation caused by the use of nuclear weapons so clearly identified over 40 years ago has not been relegated to history.”