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Msgr. Rossi takes leave of absence from CUA board of trustees

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2019 / 03:12 pm (CNA).- Msgr. Walter Rossi has taken a leave of absence from the board of trustees at The Catholic University of America, while the priest is the subject of a canonical investigation for unspecified allegations of misconduct.

“Last month the chairman of the Board of Trustees approved Msgr. Rossi’s request to take a voluntary leave of absence pending the resolution of the investigation launched jointly by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Scranton. During the leave of absence Msgr Rossi will not participate in any board activities,” Karna Lozoya, spokesperson for the university told CUA Sept. 20.

Lozoya told CNA that the university is “in contact with the Diocese of Scranton and the Archdiocese of Washington, who have jointly launched an investigation. We will cooperate with them as needed. We don’t have any information at this point to warrant our own investigation.”

In August, the Diocese of Scranton told CNA that it had commenced “the process of launching a full forensic investigation into the concerns that have been raised,” about Rossi, who is rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is adjacent to the campus of The Catholic University of America.

Rossi is a priest of the Diocese of Scranton.

“The Diocese of Scranton and Archdiocese of Washington will work jointly and cooperatively on undertaking a comprehensive investigation,” the diocese told CNA Aug. 14.

Concerns were raised about Rossi to Archbishop Gregory Aug. 13, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington. The event was broadcast live on Facebook.

During that session, Gregory called for an independent, forensic investigation of some allegations against Rossi.

Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was made in 2013.

In August, Gregory said he was unfamiliar with the allegation.
 
“That’s news to me. And I am not doubting it, but I have not heard about [this situation].”
 
“I suspect – I hope – that there is a forensic investigation. But in today’s environment, even a forensic investigation that either proves or disproves, will not satisfy the people. But I would like to see that, I would like to see a forensic investigation of those allegations.”

Rossi “is not an employee of Catholic University, nor does he have regular duties or responsibilities to fulfill on our campus. We do have students who are active either as part-time employees or volunteers at the Shrine. We have not received any complaints from our students regarding Msgr. Rossi,” Lozoya told CNA Friday.

“The safety of our students is our first priority. If we ever have good reason to believe the safety of our students is in danger, we will take the necessary action,” she added.

While Rossi is the subject of a canonical investigation, he has not been removed from his post at the National Shrine, and neither the scope nor the timeline of the investigation have been delineated by the Archdiocese of Washington or the Diocese of Scranton.

“If anyone harms a student at The Catholic University of America, we want to know about it. If any member of our community has experienced sexual abuse or assault, or has first hand knowledge of an incident, please contact our Department of Public Safety, the Metropolitan Police Department, our Dean of Students, or our Title IX coordinator,” Lozoya told CNA.

UK rabbi: secular humanists are 'ever-more combative' against religious groups

Madrid, Spain, Sep 20, 2019 / 03:07 pm (CNA).- A top UK rabbi has criticized secular groups in Britain for their remarks against religious practices and faith-based schools.

Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Great Britain and the Commonwealth, spoke at an international interreligious conference held in Madrid this week, addressing comments from groups such as Humanists UK and the National Secular Society.

Mirvis said that “humanism, with a small ‘h’, sits at the centre of what it means to be a Jew. But there is a different Humanism, with a capital ‘H’, which I fear is becoming ever-more combative in the way in which it regards faith communities.”

“We are finding that, often, Humanism, and other secularist approaches, seek out opportunities to attack faith,” said Mirvis, the Jewish News reported.

According to the website for Humanists UK, he said, there has been a campaign against faith-based schools. The charity, which advocates for the rights of non-religious people, is opposed to state-funded religious schools.

“Do I not have the right to educate my children in accordance with the values that I hold dear?” asked Mirvis.

“Those Humanists who campaign against the existence of faith schools are in effect campaigning against my freedom to raise my children in accordance with the tenets of my faith,” he added.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said Mirvis’ reaction was unfair, the Jewish News reported. He said the organization has worked with numerous faith groups in the past to ensure “liberal social values.” He expressed a desire to have a similar dialogue with the rabbi.

“We are ready to engage likewise with the Rabbi Mirvis at any time to explore what we share and how we can work together towards any shared goals and in the cause of greater mutual understanding,” said Copson.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Mirvis also criticized the National Secular Society’s remarks on circumcision. In the past, the group has petitioned to end non-consensual religious surgery, claiming it is genital mutilation forced upon infants.

Mirvis said circumcision is an “essential part” of the Jewish faith and a sign of God’s covenant with his people. “An attack against our right to perform circumcision is an attack against a most fundamental element of our belief,” he added.

He was particularly critical of the organization’s Chief Executive Stephen Evans, who claimed that religious liberty movements were often a demand for “the state to turn a blind eye to the violation of other’s rights.” Evans’ comment was in regards to circumcision.

"Religious practices aren’t beyond reproach and religious groups shouldn’t be given a free pass to carry out harmful practices,” Evans later added, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

“Secularists seek to ensure that the right to religious freedom is always balanced against other considerations, including the protection of children.”

According to the Jewish News, Mirvis respectfully encouraged the group to pursue their convictions, but not to obstruct other pursuits of faith. He said an organization should be defined by “what they live for” instead of identifying themselves by their opposition to other belief systems.

“If it is freedom you seek, please do not campaign against our freedom to practice our faith. If you are calling for tolerance, please do not stoop to intolerance of faith communities and religious practice,” he said.

"If you wish to prevent religion from imposing its values on our society, please don’t do just that, by seeking to impose Humanism on our society.”

Vatican department heads meet to discuss budget deficit

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2019 / 11:50 am (CNA).- The heads of dicasteries and Vatican City State institutions met Friday to discuss finances and how to reverse a reportedly rapidly growing deficit in the Holy See’s budget.

Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, confirmed to CNA that the meeting took place Sept. 20 among heads of dicasteries of the Roman Curia and of institutions connected to the Holy See and Vatican City State.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in May Pope Francis asked Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, coordinator of the Council for the Economy, which oversees Vatican finances, to convoke the meeting to consider solutions and to “inform the respective heads about the gravity of the situation.”

The Holy See sustained a deficit of roughly 70 million euros ($77 million) in 2018, doubled from the previous year, according to Vatican officials, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Sept. 20 meeting was intended to increase awareness of the issue among Vatican officials, many of whom are unaware of the gravity of the situation, according to Joseph Zahra, a Maltese economist who is a member of the Council for the Economy.

Zahra also said the Vatican will be releasing a financial report this fall, the first since 2015.

Vatican finances have been one of the major focuses of Pope Francis’ reform efforts, though he has faced serious setbacks.

Efforts began in 2013, with the creation of an investigatory commission to examine the Holy See's administrative structures. Consisting of seven lay experts, one clerical secretary, and external consultants, the commission met from August 2013 to May 2014.

This work was later overshadowed when, in 2015, two former members of the commission were arrested for stealing and leaking confidential information about Francis’ papacy.

In February 2014, Pope Francis made his first major structural changes to the Roman Curia, establishing the Council for the Economy and the Office of Auditor General, an autonomous office with the power to conduct special investigations.

He also created the Secretariat for the Economy, appointing Cardinal George Pell as prefect, but that office is now vacant, as Pell returned to his home country to defend himself against charges of child sex abuse, of which he was convicted. The cardinal is appealing his conviction.

After Chaput warning, bishops weigh in on Fr. James Martin

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 20, 2019 / 10:40 am (CNA).- After the Archbishop of Philadelphia urged caution regarding the message Fr. James Martin, SJ, other bishops have weighed in on Martin’s message regarding homosexuality and Catholicism, as Martin and the archbishop have continued to exchange views on the matter.

“Father Martin’s public messages create confusion among the faithful and disrupt the unity of the Church by promoting a false sense that immoral sexual behavior is acceptable under God’s law,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, wrote Sept. 19.

“People with same-sex attraction are indeed created and loved by God and are welcome in the Catholic Church. But the Church’s mission to these brothers and sisters is the same as to all her faithful: to guide, encourage, and support each of us in the Christian struggle for virtue, sanctification, and purity,” the bishop added.

Paprocki’s statement came in response to a Sept. 19 column from Archbishop Charles Chaput, that urged caution about “a pattern of ambiguity” in the writing and teaching of Martin.

Chaput’s column raised his concern that “Father Martin – no doubt unintentionally -- inspires hope that the Church’s teachings on human sexuality can be changed.”

Martin is the author of “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” and speaks frequently on issues pertaining to homosexuality and Catholicism. He spoke Sept. 17 at Philadelphia's St. Joseph's University.

“Due to the confusion caused by his statements and activities regarding same-sex related (LGBT) issues, I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims,” Chaput wrote.

“Archbishop Chaput has provided a helpful caution to Catholics about Father James Martin. On the one hand, Father Martin correctly expresses God’s love for all people, while on the other, he either encourages or fails to correct behavior that separates a person from that very love. This is deeply scandalous in the sense of leading people to believe that wrongful behavior is not sinful,” Paprocki’s statement said.

“This matter is not one of opinion, it is our Lord’s own teaching, as we hear in Luke’s Gospel: ‘Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,’” the bishop added.

Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville also weighed in Chaput’s column.

On Twiter, Stika praised Chaput’s “column on the theological and moral errors of Fr Martin. He praises his outreach but challenges his moral and theological thoughts. He also states clearly that this is a great error. I would add the pain it causes by setting people for pain as morally it can never be accepted by the Church. The Archbishop also adds that the vicious attacks on Father is wrong and sinful. It is one thing to disagree but another to be vicious and hide behind a handle.”
 

Martin himself responded to Chaput’s column in an op-ed at CatholicPhilly, the news portal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“I think my main response to his column is that it’s difficult to respond to critiques that I am ‘implying’ things about church teaching, when I am assiduous in my writings and talks about not challenging church teaching on matters of sexual morality (or anything, for that matter).”

“One of the reasons that I don’t focus on same-sex relations and same-sex marriage, which I know are both impermissible (and immoral) under church teaching, is that LGBT Catholics have heard this repeatedly. Indeed, often that is the only thing that they hear from their church,” Martin wrote.

“What I am trying to do instead is encourage Catholics to see LGBT people as more than just sexual beings, to see them in their totality, much as Jesus saw people on the margins, people who were also seen as ‘other’ in his time,” the priest added.

“I remain grateful for the Archbishop’s asking people not to engage in ‘ad hominem’ attacks, and I appreciate the careful tone of his letter and have always appreciated his kind communications with me,” Martin concluded.

Chaput responded Martin’s column.

“I appreciate Father Martin’s typically gracious comments, which are consistent with the man,” Chaput wrote.

“They do not, however, change the need for my column. I’m sure Father Martin would agree that ‘official’ Church teaching (as opposed to some alternative, imagined, unofficial system of belief and practice) is simply what the Church believes based on the Word of God and centuries of experience with the human condition.”

“Moreover, the point is not to ‘not challenge’ what the Church believes about human sexuality, but to preach and teach it with confidence, joy, and zeal. Biblical truth liberates; it is never a cause for embarrassment,” Chaput added.

The archbishop noted that he and Martin agree that “persons with same-sex attraction are children of God and well loved by him. Thus they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. The Church must earnestly seek to do that while remaining true to her convictions.”

“But it is clearly not true that the ‘only thing’ Catholics with same-sex attraction hear from their Church is a message of rejection. Or if it is, perhaps the responsibility can lie as much with the listener as it does with the Church. We each have the freedom to choose. Listening, like teaching, is an act of the will.”

 

Pro-lifers condemn testing of 'chemical coat hanger' on African women

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pro-life advocates have condemned clinical testing of second trimester chemical abortions on women in a developing country in West Africa.

The tests are being conducted by Gynuity Health Projects, a U.S.-based research company, in Burkina Faso. The trials involve drugs which cause accelerated second trimester chemical abortions.

Since 2017, Gynuity has been conducting a clinical trial of second trimester abortions on pregnant women at 13 to 22 weeks gestation, “to examine the effectiveness and feasibility of a mifepristone-misoprostol medical abortion regimen.” The trial, currently in the “Recruiting” phase, is expected to be finished by the end of 2019.

“That’s such a horrible way to use women in Africa,” Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor for The Catholic Association, told CNA.

“These expecting moms are given dangerous abortion drugs and then literally sent off to pass the body of her aborted child in isolation. How is that not a back-alley abortion?” said Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List.

“It’s unthinkable that the abortion lobby is testing this chemical coat hanger on mothers in the second trimester of their pregnancy in Burkina Faso,” she said.

Gynuity conducts research to influence global reproductive and maternal health policies, and advocates for greater access to chemical abortions around the world. It has conducted clinical trials of second trimester chemical abortions in a number of other countries including Armenia, Nepal, Vietnam, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.

The abortions in Burkina Faso are, according to the trial’s description, to be conducted in accordance with “legal indications.” 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, abortion is outlawed in Burkina Faso except in cases of rape, incest, severe impairment of the child, or to save the life or protect the health of the mother.

Officials with Gynuity Health Projects did not respond to CNA’s repeated inquiries.

Pro-life criticism of the Africa trials has focused on two objections: that the abortions would be conducted in the second trimester of pregnancy where there is a higher probability of complications, and that they would be conducted in a country with relatively high maternal mortality rates compared to the rest of the world.

Chemical abortions involve a two-step procedure: administration of the drug mifepristone, which stops the mother’s supply of blood to the placenta and cuts off nourishment to the child; followed by misoprostol, which induces contractions and results in the expelling of the child and the placenta from the mother.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a mifepristone-misoprostol regimen in 2000 but has regulations on its use, including a ban on use after 70 days past the first day of the last menstrual cycle of the mother.  

The FDA lists mifeprex on its REMS list, or “Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy” that are applied to certain drugs considered to be of special concern.

“Drugs are kept on that list because the way they have to be used is so specific,” Christie said.

Side effects of mifeprex include cramping and bleeding—which, in some cases, requires surgical intervention—as well as nausea, fever, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, and dizziness. Medical supervision is critical because some of the complications of chemical abortions can be lethal, Christie said. “Any fever during this process can be a sign of fatal sepsis,” Christie said.

Previous attempts at studying the viability and effects of second trimester chemical abortions in the United States failed due to lack of enrollment. Researchers concluded that future studies would be better conducted in a different part of the world. According to the practice bulletin of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, there was a previous trial at University of North Carolina Hospitals was ended because of “slow enrollment.” 

“We believe that such a trial will need to be done in Europe or Asia, in settings where labour‐induction abortion is standard,” the report concluded.

Gynuity has conducted second trimester chemical abortion tests in other foreign countries, including Armenia, Nepal, Vietnam, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.

“They clearly are trying to conduct studies in other places that might not be as popular here,” Mary Harned, associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA.

Another controversial aspect of the Gynuity trials in Burkina Faso is the “accelerated” pace of chemical abortions. The FDA-approved regimen can last up to two weeks, yet the trials in Burkina Faso are measuring the rates of a successful second trimester abortion—complete evacuation of the unborn child and the placenta—within 24 hours of the first administration of misoprostol.

The FDA guidelines for the two-drug procedure state that 800mcg of misoprostol should be administered 24-48 hours after 200mg of mifepristone, with a follow-up seven to 14 days afterward with the health care provider.

The trials in Burkina Faso involve administration of 200mg of mifepristone followed by repeat doses of 400mcg of misopristol for every three hours until abortion is achieved.

“They’re super-accelerating and making it a much harder thing for the woman,” Christie told CNA. “They’re basically causing severe uterine contractions and they’re precipitating a labor of a very big child.”

The further along in a woman’s pregnancy, the more complicated the chemical abortion process become, she said. “The complication rate would be huge—will be huge—in these poor women in Africa,” Christie said.

By the second trimester of a woman’s pregnancy, when chemical abortions are not approved by the FDA, “you’re inducing the labor of a perfectly-formed baby,” Christie said. “Here in the United States, we wouldn’t even contemplate it.”

It is unclear from the description of the Gynuity study if the abortions are being conducted in highly-supervised settings in medical clinics, with proximity to a local hospital in case of an emergency.

Burkina Faso has a life expectancy of 60 for males and 61 for females, according to the World Health Organization, and its maternal mortality rate of 371 deaths per 100,000 live births is in the top half of African nations according to a 2018 WHO report, but higher than almost all countries on other continents.

The trials being conducted so late in a woman’s pregnancy in a developing country speak volumes about the abortion movement, pro-lifers told CNA.

“The abortion lobby has been sounding the alarm since the beginning of the push for legal abortion that women’s safety is the issue, that women have to have legal places that they can go to without shame to have these procedures,” Christie said. Now, they are pushing for “chemical abortion outside of safety ranges.”

“It just shows that it was never about women’s safety in the first place,” she said.

Furthermore, the test is being conducted in Africa in a developing country with poor health infrastructure. “That’s pure racism,” she said, “that’s just pure abuse.”

Cardinal Marx holds 'constructive dialogue' with Pope Francis on synodal plans

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2019 / 08:25 am (CNA).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Episcopal Conference, has held talks with Pope Francis and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, about the German bishops’ plans for a “binding synodal path.”

The meetings, held in Rome Sept. 19, followed a public exchange between the German hierarchy and the Vatican over the draft statutes for a “Synodal Assembly” to be formed by the bishops in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics.

In a media release issued by the German bishops’ conference on Friday, Marx called the meetings “constructive,” but offered no details about any further instructions given by the pope or the Curia concerning the synodal plans.

“In both talks, a constructive dialogue took place, which will feed into the deliberations of the general assembly of the German Episcopal Conference next week.” The release noted that Marx was in Rome for meetings of the pope’s Council of Cardinal Advisors, and the Vatican Council for the Economy, both of which Marx is a member.

The German bishops will meet in plenary session on Sept. 23-26 and are expected to formally adopt a set of statutes for the synodal process.

Pope Francis wrote to the German bishops in June, expressing a series of concerns with the German proposals, and warning them to proceed in communion with Rome and the whole Church.

That letter was, according to Cardinal Walter Kasper, “set aside” by the executive committee of the German bishops’ conference, who voted in August to endorse a set of statues codifying their previous plans, while rejecting an alternative proposal drafted to accommodate the pope’s concerns.

Earlier this month, Cardinal Ouellet wrote to Marx, presenting a four-page legal assessment of the synodal plans. That document, issued by the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, concluded that the proposed synodal assembly was “not ecclesiologically valid,” and set out to treat matters of universal Church teaching and discipline which “cannot be the object of the deliberations or decisions of a particular Church without contravening what is expressed by the Holy Father in his letter.”

The most recent version of the synodal statues, approved in August and unchanged through September, were due to be adopted by the German bishops at their plenary assembly next week.

In response to Ouellet’s intervention, Marx indicated that the synodal plans would proceed as planned, saying that Rome could not apply a canonical criticism to what he called a “sui generis process” that would be “helpful for the guidance of the universal Church and for other episcopal conferences.”

It is unclear if any changes will be made to that document following Marx’s “constructive dialogue” with the pope and Cardinal Ouellet. It is also unclear if the alternative statutes for a “Francis-model” of the synodal process will be given new consideration by the bishops, despite their rejection by the executive committee last month.

The German synodal process is scheduled to begin on the first day of Advent.