A figurine of the baby Jesus is seen as people gather in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus led by Pope Francis at the Vatican Dec. 12, 2021. Children brought their Nativity figurines of baby Jesus to be blessed by the pope. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – With Christmas just over a week away, Christians should prepare for Jesus’ birth by serving those in need rather than focusing on what awaits them under the Christmas tree, Pope Francis said.

“We are so busy with all the preparations, with gifts and things that pass,” the pope said Dec. 12 during his Sunday Angelus address. “But let’s ask ourselves what we should do for Jesus and for others! What should we do?”

Many children along with their families came to St. Peter’s Square with their baby Jesus figurines for a traditional blessing by the pope.

Assuring them that he would bless their statues after praying the Angelus, Pope Francis greeted the little ones and asked them to take “my Christmas greetings to your grandparents and all your dear ones.”

In his main address, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke which recalled the crowds of people who, after being moved by St. John the Baptist’s preaching, asked him, “What should we do?”

Their question “does not stem from a sense of duty” but from their hearts being “touched by the Lord,” and their being enthusiastic for his coming.

Just like the preparations people make to welcome a guest to their home by cleaning and preparing “the best dinner possible,” Christians must do “the same with the Lord,” he said.

St. Luke’s Gospel, the pope added, also encourages one to ask, “What should I do with my life? What am I called to? What will I become?”

“By suggesting this question, the Gospel reminds us of something important: Life has a task for us. Life is not meaningless; it is not left up to chance. No! It is a gift the Lord grants us, saying to us: Discover who you are, and work hard to make the dream that is your life come true!”

The pope encouraged Christians to prepare for Christmas by continuously asking God what should they do for themselves and others in order to contribute to the good of the church and society.

St. John the Baptist’s answers, he said, responded to each individual in a way that fit his or her situation in life, a reminder from the Gospel that “life is incarnated” in concrete situations.

“Faith is not an abstract theory, a generalized theory; no!” he said. “Faith touches us personally and transforms each of our lives. Let us think about the concreteness of our faith. Is my faith abstract, something abstract or concrete? Does it lead me to serve others, to help out?”

Pope Francis said there are several ways people can serve others during Advent, including by doing “something concrete, even if it is small” to help others,” especially by visiting the lonely, the elderly, the sick or someone in need.

Then the pope added to the list: “Maybe I need to ask forgiveness, grant forgiveness, clarify a situation, pay a debt. Perhaps I have neglected prayer and after so much time has elapsed, it’s time to ask the Lord for forgiveness.”

“Brothers and sisters,” he said, “let’s find something concrete and do it!”

 

Pope Francis is greeted by young people as he arrives at the international airport in Larnaca, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. The pope was beginning a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (CNS) – The Catholic Church is a mosaic of different rites and cultures and must show the world the beauty of welcoming all people as brothers and sisters, Pope Francis told the Catholics of Cyprus.

Beginning his Dec. 2-4 visit to the island with a meeting with bishops, priests and religious rather than with government officials, the pope highlighted the religious value of welcoming and diversity in a nation struggling with migration.

Located on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and just south of Turkey, Cyrus has a large Orthodox majority, but also centuries-old communities of Maronite and Latin-rite Catholics, whose numbers have grown because of foreign workers, especially from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India.

On the flight from Rome to Larnaca, a city on the sea about 30 miles from Nicosia, Pope Francis told reporters, “It will be a beautiful trip, but we will touch some wounds.”

One of those wounds — the fact that for more than 40 years the island has been divided between the mostly Greek Cypriot south and the mostly Turkish Cypriot north — explained why the pope landed in Larnaca. The Nicosia airport is now mainly the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force that patrols the “green line” between the north and south.

The other wound – migration – was the center of the pope’s attention even before he left his residence Dec. 2. He met with 12 refugees from Syria, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan now living in Italy. Some of them, the Vatican said, came to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos with the pope in 2016. The pope is scheduled to make his second visit to Lesbos Dec. 5.

And, before arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, he stopped at the nearby parish of St. Mary of the Angels and greeted the 15 refugees the parish is supporting.

On the plane, a French reporter gave the pope a gift from a Catholic parish in Calais, France: a kite made from the tattered tents of asylum-seekers stuck in Calais but hoping to get to England. It included the name, Aleksandra Hazhar, of a baby girl born prematurely on the Calais beach in 2020; she died a few days later.

Meeting with the bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in the Maronite Cathedral, which is located on the “green line” and has the blue-bereted peacekeepers patrolling out front, Pope Francis described Cyprus as “a land of golden fields, an island caressed by the waves of the sea, but above all else a history of intertwined peoples, a mosaic of encounters.”

“The church, as catholic, universal, is an open space in which all are welcomed and gathered together by God’s mercy and invitation to love,” the pope said. “Walls do not and should not exist in the Catholic Church. For the church is a common home, a place of relationships and of coexistence in diversity.”

“Who is the source of unity in the church?” the pope asked. “The Holy Spirit. And who is the source of diversity in the church? The Holy Spirit.”

And, encouraging the bishops and priests to be patient with their people and sensitive to their cultural differences, Pope Francis said “proselytism within the church” can be just as harmful as proselytism outside. Guiding and correcting people is one thing, he said, but must be done gently and with great mercy.

“We need a patient church,” he said, “a church that does not allow itself to be upset and troubled by change, but calmly welcomes newness and discerns situations in the light of the Gospel.”

“The work you are carrying out on this island, as you welcome new brothers and sisters arriving from other shores of the world, is precious,” he said. Like the apostle Barnabas, described in the Acts of the Apostles as a Cypriot, “you, too, are called to foster a patient and attentive outlook, to be visible and credible signs of the patience of God, who never leaves anyone outside the home, bereft of his loving embrace.”

“The church of Cyprus has these same open arms: It welcomes, integrates and accompanies,” the pope said, after listening to St. Joseph Sister Perpetua Nyein Nyein Loo speak on behalf of the four women’s congregations that work on the island.

In addition to running schools, she said, “much of our work consists in defending the basic human rights of those in need and of migrant workers, who frequently must bear the burden of disproportionate debts as well as harsh and unfair treatment, including unpaid wages, excessively long working hours, verbal and physical abuse and other forms of discrimination.”

Pope Francis also encouraged the Catholics to show “respect and kindness” for the nation’s other Christian communities.

Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Lebanon-based patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, welcomed the pope to the cathedral and told him that the main Christian communities on the island — Cypriot Orthodox, Maronite and Latin-rite Catholic and Armenian Orthodox — have “optimal relations.”

But Pope Francis said that same kind of patience and acceptance is needed within the church as well.

“We are brothers and sisters loved by a single Father,” he told them.

Arguing is normal, the pope said, adding as an aside that he and his four siblings argued almost every day when he was growing up, but they still came together as a family around the dinner table.

“This is what fraternity in the church means: We can argue about visions, sensibilities and differing ideas,” he said. “Yet let us always remember: We argue not for the sake of fighting or imposing our own ideas, but in order to express and live the vitality of the Spirit, who is love and communion.”

 

A pro-life activist holding a crucifix joins a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington Dec. 1, 2021, ahead of the court hearing oral arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal from Mississippi to keep its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee Dec. 1 urged Catholics, people of other faiths and all people of goodwill to unite in prayer that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade in its eventual ruling on Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

His statement was issued the same day the court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal from Mississippi. Its ban was struck down by a federal District Court in Mississippi in 2018 and upheld a year later by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

The Mississippi law is being challenged by the state’s only abortion facility, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It’s the first major abortion case the court has heard in decades.

“In the United States, abortion takes the lives of over 600,000 babies every year,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health could change that.”

“We pray that the court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion, and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act,” he added. “We invite all people of goodwill to uphold the dignity of human life by joining us in prayer and fasting for this important case.”

If the court’s ruling, expected in July, upholds the ban, it possibly also could overturn Roe and send the abortion issue back to the states to decide laws on it.

Archbishop Lori directed people to www.prayfordobbs.com for Catholic and ecumenical prayers and resources for community engagement and action “as we await the court’s decision in this case.”

Pro-life advocates and supporters of keeping abortion legal gathered outside the Supreme Court rallying for their respective positions on the issue as the justices heard oral arguments in the case inside the court.

Beyond the court building’s steps, statements about the Mississippi law and predictions about the outcome of the case came from all quarters.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., predicted there would be “a revolution” if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Shaheen, who is on record as a supporter of widespread access to abortion, said that young people in particular would find it unacceptable if the court strikes down the legal precedent set by Roe in 1973 legalizing abortion nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called on the Senate to Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The measure, passed by the House Sept. 24, codifies Roe and establishes the legal right to abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy in all 50 states under federal law.

“The Mississippi case brought before the Supreme Court is a product of Republican attacks on reproductive rights spanning decades,” said DeLauro, a Catholic. If Roe is overturned, the court will be “depriving individuals across the country of their right to choose to have an abortion,” she said.

Many pro-lifers hoping Roe will be overturned emphasized how many scientific advances have been made in the nearly 50 years since that decision was handed down, advances they argued that have led to unprecedented information on the developmental stages of the unborn child from conception to birth.

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, pointed to what he called the “utterly weak and time-worn arguments” that he said were made by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor, considered the liberal members of the court.

Among their comments was Sotomayor’s claim that only “fringe” doctors believe in the existence of fetal pain as a reason to restrict abortion.

“They do not acknowledge that the changes in science are real, or that the confusion thrust upon judges and legislators by the court’s approach to abortion is also real,” Father Pavone said in a statement.

“These and other objective reasons have led us to the day when Mississippi, and other states, believe it is time to enact stronger protections for the unborn, and for unelected judges to stop imposing policies that the legislatures should be responsible for instead,” he said.

At the rally outside the court, Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiologist and a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, similarly commented that “incredible advances in science and fetal medicine have rendered viability a totally incoherent legal standard.”

“Science and common sense tell us children in the womb are as undeniably human as the rest of us,” remarked Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, an independent political advocacy group. “We know for instance that by 15 weeks they already have beating hearts, can suck their thumbs, and even feel pain.”

“It is time to overturn Roe and allow Americans to once again pass laws that reflect these basic values,” he said in a statement.

He added that “millions of faithful Catholics across the nation are hopeful after today’s oral arguments that the Supreme Court of the United States will restore sanity to its abortion jurisprudence which has enabled over 62 million American children to be aborted since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided.”

“Protecting innocent life is the preeminent moral issue for Catholics but it is also the condition of any just society, and abortion robs our most vulnerable citizens of that most basic human right,” Burch said.

Not all eyes on the court were in the nation’s capital.

In Illinois, Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said the country has “the first real legal opportunity in over a decade to topple” Roe, which “has left a tragic trail of human carnage: more than 62 million dead children and countless broken families and wounded souls.”

He said the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, has assisted thousands of clients, including some of the nation’s leading pro-life figures, “all of whom have either spoken to the opportunity now facing the Supreme Court or are actively engaged in the cry to ‘Overturn Roe.'”

Louisiana Right to Life associate director Angie Thomas said that while no one can predict the outcome of a Supreme Court case on the basis of oral arguments, she was heartened that at least six of the nine justices asked questions that seemed to support Mississippi’s ban.

In a news conference outside the pro-life organization’s New Orleans headquarters, Thomas noted that Justice Brett Kavanaugh stressed the court should remain “scrupulously neutral” on issues “that are just this complicated and this divisive,” allowing those issues to be decided by individual states and their elected representatives.

In addition, Thomas said, Justice Samuel Alito interjected during the nearly two hours of oral arguments that the rights of the unborn child had to be considered along with the rights of the mother.

“Alito mentioned that the fetus has an interest in life, too, when the other side was talking about the women’s interest,” she said. “He mentioned how there are two interests there that actually are difficult to hold together.”

“These justices are really digging into the difficult issues of where there is an objective line of protection (for the unborn child) and how do you truly balance these interests, and should the court even be doing that?” Thomas said after the news conference. “It’s more important that the Supreme Court just remain neutral and allow the states to work this out.”

“New York is going to be very different than Louisiana, but it is the power of the people to make that decision,” she told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Thomas said advances in science have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt about the humanity of the unborn child from its earliest stages.

“At 15 weeks, the child is moving, the child has a beating heart and the child’s organs are formed,” she said.

“We have the chance to protect that child. … We could have a significant change in abortion law in America today,” Thomas added. “And, if that change happened, in Louisiana we are ready to be a post-Roe, abortion-free community where women are truly helped and babies are protected.”

 

Father John C. Maria prays over the Eucharist at the altar of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown, Pa., March 9, 2020. According to Catholic teaching, the bread and wine, upon consecration, become the body and blood of Christ. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

BALTIMORE (CNS) – The U.S. bishops approved their statement on the Eucharist with 222 “yes” votes Nov. 17, the second of two days of public sessions during their Nov. 15-18 fall general assembly.

Their OK came a day after their discussion of the document – a discussion that took a drastically different tone than their previous debate about what the document could potentially contain during their virtual assembly five months ago.

At that June gathering, a major focus highlighted whether it would address denying Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion.

Some bishops said a strong rebuke of President Joe Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, should be included in it because of Biden’s recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while others warned that this would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.

The document the bishops discussed and approved does not specifically call out Catholic political leaders, but it does more generally point out the seriousness of the sacrament.

The discussion, just prior to the vote, focused on some of the statement’s wording. Specific amendments were approved and additional comments about wording changes, that were raised on the floor, did not.

One of the bishops, for example, wanted to add the word “etcetera” after a list of vulnerable people the church was responsible for in order to show its broad inclusion, but the bishops, who had already added to the list to include the unborn, chose not to add the additional descriptor.

As points of discussion, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, outgoing chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, stressed the prelates must not forget the responsibility they have to “take care of the souls” of Catholic politicians who do not publicly support church teaching on abortion.

And Bishop Donald E. DeGrood of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, noted that there is a healthy tension for the bishops, to call out what isn’t right but to do so in love and to be united as they find ways to apply this new document in their dioceses.

The document on the Eucharist states: “One should not celebrate Mass or receive holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without having sought the sacrament of reconciliation and received absolution.”

It also says that if a Catholic in his or her personal life has “knowingly and obstinately” rejected the doctrines of the church or its teaching on moral issues, that person should refrain from receiving Communion because it is “likely to cause scandal for others.”

Back in June, at the end of the bishops’ discussion of the document, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee, said the draft would not focus on denying Communion to people but would emphasize the importance of the sacrament.

And in his Nov. 16 presentation of the 26-page statement titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” Bishop Rhoades said it “addresses the fundamental doctrine about the Eucharist that the church needs to retrieve and revive.”

In his short presentation to U.S. bishops, followed by just a handful of comments from the floor, the bishop said the document is addressed to all Catholics in the United States and “endeavors to explain the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the church.”

He also said it is intended to be a theological contribution to the bishops’ strategic plan and to the bishops’ planned eucharistic revival “by providing a doctrinal resource for parishes, catechists and the faithful.”

Discussion from the floor included a request from Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico, that the document include more about the paschal mystery, or the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, wondered how the document would be understood by college students, high schoolers or children, noting that “a lot of it’s over their heads” and they would have to have some kind of theological foundation to grasp it.

“We have these beautiful, beautiful documents that sometimes are just ignored,” he said, suggesting that it should be made “more readable and understandable.”

In response, Bishop Rhoades said the document “as it stands is really meant for adults,” but he could see it being used in high schools with a teacher who would explain it better. He also said it could be developed by publishers as a resource for catechesis for grade school students.

Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, said the work put in “laboring over texts should not discourage us,” pointing out that often language falls short but that the church has many other means at its disposal to express the faith such as music, dance, poetry and visuals.

The draft of the document explains the importance of Communion, often calling it a gift, and uses references from Scripture, prayers of the church and Second Vatican Council documents to back this up. It also explains, citing words of the saints, how Communion is not just a symbol but the real presence of Christ.

This transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the document says, is “one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith” which is a “doorway through which we, like the saints and mystics before us, may enter into a deeper perception” of God’s presence.

It notes, almost halfway through, that the Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium” (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) describes the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” It also says that as Catholics understand what the Eucharist means, they should more fully participate in Mass and also reach out to serve those in need, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says: “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”

It concludes with examples of saints who were transformed by their reception of the Eucharist and their deep understanding of what it means.

This heavily footnoted statement also has a pastoral message urging those who have left the church to come back. It ties this return back to the Eucharist quoting St. Teresa of Kolkata, who said: “Once you understand the Eucharist, you can never leave the church. Not because the church won’t let you but because your heart won’t let you.”

What this document might say and how it could specifically call out Biden and other Catholic politicians has been disputed for months and has not just been a topic for the U.S. bishops and Catholics across the country, but also involved the Vatican.

Prior to the bishops’ initial discussion of this document, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, urged the bishops in a letter to proceed with caution in developing a national policy “to address the situation of Catholics in public office who support legislation allowing abortion, euthanasia or other moral evils.”

And Pope Francis said on a Sept. 15 flight back from Bratislava, Slovakia, that he preferred not to comment directly on the issue of denying Communion, but he urged U.S. bishops to take a pastoral approach rather than wade into the political sphere.

More recently, after the pope and Biden met at the Vatican Oct. 29, Biden was asked by reporters in Rome if abortion was one of the topics of their meeting and the president said: “We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic, and I should keep receiving Communion.”

 

This is the cover of the October 2021 report on the implementation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” released Nov. 9, 2021, by the USCCB, the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board. (CNS photo/courtesy USCCB)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – More than 4,200 allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and others were reported during the year ending June 30, 2020, a slight decline from the previous auditing period, according to a report on diocesan and eparchial compliance with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

Released late Nov. 9, the 18th annual report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection stated that 3,924 child sexual abuse survivors filed 4,228 allegations.

In the 2019 report, covering the 2018-2019 audit period, 4,220 adults filed 4,434 allegations.

The charter was adopted in 2002 by the U.S. bishops following widespread reports of clergy abuse and has been revised several times since to adapt to changing situations surrounding the question of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Conducted by StoneBridge Business Partners of Rochester, New York, the new report covers the year from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.

While the number of allegations remained high during the audit period, the report said only 22 allegations involve current cases of abuse.

The report said the number of allegations remained high in part because of changes in statutes of limitations on reporting abuse in several states. “It should be noted that the vast majority of these reports were historical in nature,” the report said.

The report attributed about 66% of allegations to lawsuits, compensation programs established by dioceses and other entities and bankruptcies. In addition, 1% of allegations emerged after a review of clergy personnel files, according to the report.

Of the 22 allegations for the current year, six were found to be substantiated. The report said they originated from five dioceses.

Of the remaining reported allegations, seven continued to be investigated, two were unsubstantiated, three were determined to be “unable to be proven,” and four were classified as “other.”

The report said nine of the allegations involved the use of child pornography. Seven of those cases remained under investigation, one was substantiated and one was referred to a provincial or a religious order.

The allegations involved 2,458 priests, 31 deacons and 282 unknown clerics, statistics in the report show.

The report indicated that 195 of 197 dioceses and eparchies participated in the audit. Auditors conducted 61 onsite visits with 10 in person before the pandemic erupted in early 2020. The other 51 were conducted online. Data also was collected from 135 other dioceses and eparchies.

The Syro-Malankara Eparchy of St. Mary Queen of Peace of the United States and Canada and the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of San Diego did not participate in the audit.

Of the 61 entities undergoing onsite audits, two dioceses and two eparchies were determined to be in noncompliance.

The dioceses of Fort Worth, Texas, and Helena, Montana, were noncompliant with charter’s requirement for not having their respective Diocesan Review Board meet during the audit period. Subsequent to the audit, the boards in each diocese were convened, making them compliant with the charter, the report said.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago and the Syriac Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance, which covers the United States and is based New Jersey, were found noncompliant with charter provisions that require background screening and training of adults working with minors.

The report also acknowledged the continuing work of church entities to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. The USCCB said that expenditures on protective services rose 15% in 2020 with more than 2.5 million background checks of adults and training in safety measures for 3.1 million children.

Suzanne Healy, who chairs the National Review Board, said that as the charter enters its third decade of implementation it becomes important to continue evaluating incidents of abuse as well as understand trends of abuse and why they change.

In a letter to Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, USCCB president, that accompanied the report, Healy said a board committee is examining the safe environment education programs for adults and children in dioceses throughout the country.

“The research is an attempt to determine which elements or combination of elements of these training programs is most effective in mitigating the occurrence of child abuse and ensuring that any suspicion of abuse is reported to authorities,” Healy wrote.

She also said the board recommended two procedures be added to the audit process and welcomed their edition for the 2020-2021 audit cycle. The first is “a three-year look-back window, which will eliminate any gaps that existed regarding the reporting of case resolution,” Healy said.

The second relates to onsite visits by StoneBridge that finds auditors meeting with all or most diocesan review board members rather than one or two individuals.

“The ministries of safe environments and victim assistance are here to stay. The protocols and procedures for letters of suitability, background checks, and safe environment training are the norm,” said Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

“By the grace of God, the church is working toward being accessible, accountable, and safe. We continue to rely on the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Our Mother to guide our efforts as we promise to protect and pledge to heal,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Archbishop Gomez and Healy that was included in the report.

In his preface to the report, Archbishop Gomez said: “As we know, one allegation of abuse is too many. But my brother bishops and I remain firmly committed to maintain our vigilance in protecting children and vulnerable adults and providing compassion and outreach to victim-survivors of abuse.”

Speaking for himself and the body of bishops, the archbishop expressed their “sorrow and apologies to every person who has suffered at the hands of someone in the church.”

“While we cannot give you back what has been taken from you,” Archbishop Gomez said, “we do commit ourselves to doing everything in our power to help you to heal and to fight the scourge of abuse in the church and in the wider society.”

Note: The full annual report on compliance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops can be found online at https://bit.ly/3CYMQdX

 

A cross is silhouetted outside a Catholic church near Nantes, France, Oct. 5, 2021. French bishops have unveiled new measures against sexual abuse by clergy in the wake of an independent report released in October. (CNS photo/Stephane Mahe, Reuters)

LOURDES, France (CNS) – France’s Catholic bishops have unveiled new measures to counter sexual abuse by clergy after an October report by an independent commission estimated more than 330,000 children had been abused since the 1950s.

Among 26 measures finalized during the bishops’ plenary and announced Nov. 8, a new national independent unit for recognition and reparation will be headed by jurist Marie Derain de Vaucresson, while diocesan properties and assets will be sold to finance compensation payments.

The bishops also will establish a national canonical criminal court and external audit for victim support units, while arranging a confession facility for clergy and “systematic judicial record verification” for anyone working with minors. The third Sunday of Lent will be marked in France as a day of prayer for victims of “violence, sexual assault and abuse of power and conscience within the church.”

The new measures, expanding on 11 adopted at the bishops’ previous March plenary, will be accompanied by the formation of lay-led working groups on priestly formation, lay involvement, church governance and other reform areas recommended by the report. The bishops also asked Pope Francis to send a “visitor team” to evaluate the bishops’ mission.

In the future, the bishops said, seminary councils must include at least one woman with voting rights, while a charter of good conduct and “national repository of preventive measures” will be set up for dioceses, movements and communities.

Laypeople will serve on all bishops’ conference commissions and councils, while the bishops’ doctrinal commission will examine doctrinal issues highlighted in the abuse report, including sexual morality, anthropology, ministerial priesthood, and the “distinction between power of order and power of government” in time for a March follow-up plenary.

“This commission’s report into sexual abuse showed a reality we hadn’t been able to see,” said Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the French bishops’ conference president.

“It put before our eyes and those of the world that our Catholic Church in France was a place where acts of violence and sexual assault against minors had been committed in terrifying proportions. … We must recognize our church is a site of serious crimes, of formidable attacks on life and integrity. This cannot be a church of Jesus.”

The archbishop spoke at the close of the Nov. 2-8 plenary of the 120-member conference at the national shrine of Lourdes.

He said he was shocked by the image, displayed at the plenary, of a “petrified child” weeping alone under a cathedral vault, knowing it had been “multiplied thousands of times.”

Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort said the conference was grateful to those who had helped expose abuse in the church, adding that he and other French clergy had “not become priests to take part in murderous acts” or “increase our power and train up our regiments.”

The bishops’ conference president said the CIASE report had highlighted the need to “redouble our vigilance, be clear-sighted, not let ourselves be deceived by the words we use,” adding that he believed the “metaphor of fatherhood” in Christian teaching should now be “scrutinized from all angles” as the French church began a “new phase in its history.”

“These decisions mark our liberation — we can now demonstrate the church we belong to and wish to serve cannot be an institution be preoccupied with itself and hunched in self-glorification,” the 59-year-old archbishop said.

“We have everything to gain from concluding protocols with prosecutors, from relying with confidence on our country’ justice and police services. … It will undoubtedly have been worth the trouble of being humiliated, impoverished and diminished if this helps us better meet the poor, the excluded and the despised.”

 

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass marking World Day of the Poor in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 15, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis plans to prepare for his celebration of the World Day of the Poor by meeting with and listening to some 500 poor people making a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, Nov. 12.

Two days later, on the World Day of the Poor, the pope will celebrate a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with about 2,000 poor people and those who assist them, the Vatican said. Everyone will be offered a hot meal after Mass.

The Assisi pilgrims, assisted by a French and several Italian Catholic charitable organizations, will go home from Assisi with new backpacks containing winter sweaters, scarves, hats and jackets as well as fabric anti COVID-19 masks.

The Vatican said Nov. 8 the gifts will be packaged by the +Three project, “which promotes products made in respect of environmental and economic sustainability within an ethical and socially useful supply chain.”

The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, which promotes and organizes the World Day of the Poor, said Pope Francis will pay particular attention this year to 40 groups homes that care for children or children and their mothers, delivering a two-month supply of personal care products and food, especially baby food.

With donations from a grocery store chain and a pasta manufacturer, it said, the group homes and local parishes and charities will share five tons of pasta, one ton of rice, two tons of tomato puree, 1,000 liters of oil and 3,000 liters of milk.

The Vatican also has prepared 5,000 kits filled with common over-the-counter medications for distribution to the poor through Rome parishes, the council said. And an Italian financial services company has made a donation that will allow the office of the papal almoner to help 500 families pay their gas and utility bills, the council said.

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People experiencing depression often need someone to talk to, and they can benefit from psychological counseling and reading what Jesus has to say, Pope Francis said.

“Let us pray that people who suffer from depression or burnout will find support and a light that opens them up to life,” the pope said.

In a video message released by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network Nov. 3, the pope offered his prayer intention for the month of November, which he dedicated to people experiencing depression. November and the start of shorter and colder days for the Northern Hemisphere sometimes trigger “seasonal affective disorder” and depressive symptoms, according to many medical experts.

In his video message, the pope said, “Overwork and work-related stress cause many people to experience extreme exhaustion — mental, emotional, affective and physical exhaustion.”

“Sadness, apathy and spiritual tiredness end up dominating the lives of people, who are overloaded due to the rhythm of life today,” he added.

The pope said, “Let us try to be close to those who are exhausted, to those who are desperate, without hope.”

“Often, we should just simply listen in silence because we cannot go and tell someone, ‘No, life’s not like that. Listen to me, I’ll give you the solution.’ There’s no solution,” he said.

“And besides, let us not forget that, along with the indispensable psychological counseling, which is useful and effective, Jesus’ words also help,” he said, such as, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

Pope Francis has spoken candidly in interviews about his own mental health.

He found help from a psychiatrist for how to manage his anxiety and “to avoid rushing when making decisions” when he was a priest in Argentina during the dictatorship, he has said. The stress and anxiety built as he was secretly taking people into hiding to get them out of the country and save their lives, he has said.

“I had to deal with situations I didn’t know how to deal with,” he recalled.

This edition of The Pope Video was created with the support of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, an association which offers spiritual support to people suffering some form of mental illness, and which fosters actions to prevent any kind of discrimination that would impede them from participating fully in the life of the Church.

A study published this year estimates that about one in ten people worldwide lives with a mental health disorder—that is to say, about 792 million people, or 11% of the population. Among the various disorders that exist, the study identifies depression (264 million, 3%) and anxiety (284 million, 4%) as the most prevalent in people’s lives.

The Pope’s message is shared by the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, a lay association of the Christian faithful founded in the United States, whose members are called to be a healing presence in the lives of people with mental illness. Its president, Deacon Ed Shoener from the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton, explained the need to respond to Pope Francis’ call.

“Our mission is to support the growth of mental health ministry in the Church. Pope Francis has said that we need to fully overcome the stigma with which mental illness has often been branded in order to ensure that a culture of community prevails over the mentality of rejection. We are committed to following the Pope’s call to build a community of warmth and affection where people who live with depression and other mental health challenges can find hope and healing,” Deacon Shoener said.

 

About the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers

The Association for Catholic Mental Health Ministers is a Lay Association of the Christian Faithful whose members are called to be a healing presence in the lives of people with mental illness. The Association works to make mental health ministry an integral and common ministry in the Church that is available in every Catholic parish and community. Mental health ministry provides spiritual support to people living with a mental illness to assist them to live in holiness and educates and informs the Catholic community about the issues, struggles and joys that can be found in people living with a mental illness. The Association provides the tools, methods and insights that allow catholic leaders to confidently minister to people with a mental illness without fear or prejudice. You can learn more about mental health ministry by visiting the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers at: catholicmhm.org

 

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The proposed Build Back Better Act has much-needed provisions “uplifting the common good,” but “it is completely unacceptable” the current House version of the bill “expands taxpayer funding of abortion,” the chairmen of six committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Nov. 3.

“We have been consistent in our position and reiterate that it would be a calamity if the important and life-affirming provisions in this bill were accompanied by provisions facilitating and funding the destruction of unborn human life,” they wrote in a joint letter to all members of the House and Senate.

The six prelates commended “the bipartisan efforts that led to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” which will create millions of jobs, improve global competitiveness and provide new funds for roads, bridges, the electric grid and other major projects.

The bishops also outlined their support for social policies and programs in the Build Back Better Act that would strengthen the social safety net, support workers and families, increase affordable housing, provide affordable health care coverage and protect the environment.

They renewed their requests to Congress — outlined in at least four other letters to lawmakers over the last several months — “to work together toward legislation that promotes the common good and the dignity of every person.”

The Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act was passed by the Senate in August and awaits action in the House, whose members have refused to pass it without also holding a vote on the Build Back Better Act at the same time. The latter measure is still being negotiated in the Senate.

The USCCB chairmen who signed the Nov. 3 letter were: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Committee for Religious Liberty; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, Committee on Catholic Education; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, Committee on Migration.

In addition to their opposition on abortion funding in the bill, the bishops also expressed concern about provisions that could effectively exclude faith-based providers from child care and pre-K programs.

Several provisions “do not align” with preserving religious liberty and expanding access to early childhood education, the bishops said.

“Expanded access to early child care and pre-K would be beneficial for many working families,” they said, but “current provisions to do so — in a departure from the approach in existing federal programs — explicitly make providers recipients of federal financial assistance and attach new and troubling compliance obligations.”

They also pressed Congress to include a provision in the Build Back Better bill that would provide for the full integration of people in this country without documents by legalizing their status and providing them with a pathway to citizenship.

“We strongly urge you to adopt provisions in this measure that would achieve this goal,” they wrote.

“While we remain opposed to the existence of a ‘double society,’ in the event that parliamentary constraints preclude permanent protections for the undocumented from being included in this bill,” they said, “we would affirm the value of enacting temporary protections, with the expectation that Congress will work expeditiously to enact permanent relief in subsequent legislation.”

The committee chairmen praised the Build Back Better bill’s expansion of health care coverage, which they have long supported at the federal and state levels, they said.

These provisions include the provision of health care coverage to those in the “Medicaid gap” through Affordable Care Act premium tax credits, the extension of Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months and other investments to address the high rates of preventable maternal deaths in the United States, and support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.

“We are pleased to see the addition of funding for training of health professionals in palliative medicine and hospice care,” they said, but they also strongly urged “the addition of language to ensure that this funding cannot be used for training or promotion of assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

Their letter concluded with reiterating the “fundamental problem” of expanded abortion funding in the measure.

This “must be remedied before the bill moves forward,” they wrote.

Editor’s Note: The full text of the bishops’ Nov. 3 letter, with links to previous USCCB committee letters to Congress, can be found at https://bit.ly/3mJKHwQ

 

Pope Francis places a white rose on a grave at the French Military Cemetery before celebrating Mass for the feast of All Souls at the cemetery in Rome Nov. 2, 2021. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

ROME (CNS) – The tombstones of soldiers killed in war cry out to people today to end all wars and to stop the production of weapons, Pope Francis said.

“I am sure that all of those who went with goodwill (to war), called by their country to defend it, are with the Lord,” he said, celebrating Mass on the feast of All Souls, Nov. 2, at the French Military Cemetery in Rome.

“But we, who are journeying (on earth), are we fighting enough so there will be no more wars, so there will be no more domestic economies fortified by the arms industry?” he asked.

An easing of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed Pope Francis to resume his usual practice of celebrating Mass on the feast of All Souls in a cemetery — in Rome or nearby — but only about 250 people were in attendance. Last year he presided over a private Mass in a chapel and then visited and blessed graves in a small cemetery inside the Vatican.

The Italian government established the French Military Cemetery to honor the French soldiers who fought against Nazi and fascist forces on Italian soil from 1943 to 1944. Nearly 2,000 French soldiers are buried here, many of them Moroccan soldiers who served under French officers. Among those present at the Mass was Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, prefect of the Vatican’s highest court, who was born in Marrakech, Morocco, to French parents.

The pope arrived by car to the hilltop cemetery just a few miles north of the Vatican and placed white roses on several graves. He prayed in silence before walking slowly through one of the rows marked by marble crosses.

“These tombs that speak, they cry out, cry out by themselves, ‘Peace!'” he said during his off-the-cuff homily at the Mass.

“These graves are a message of peace,” urging people today to stop all war and calling on weapons manufacturers to cease production, the pope said.

As people visit cemeteries on the feast day, he said, they should take time to pause and realize they are on a journey that will end someday.

The journey of life should not be a leisurely “stroll” in the park nor is it an impossible “labyrinth,” he said, but it is a journey that involves effort and understanding there will be “a final step” at the end of that earthly path.

Everyone is on a journey which entails facing “many historical realities, many difficult situations,” and cemeteries are a reminder to take pause and reflect on the nature of one’s own journey and where it is heading, he said.

Looking at the gravestones, the pope said he sees “good people” who died at war, “died because they were called to defend their country, to defend values, ideals and, many other times, to defend sad and regrettable political situations.”

“And they are victims, victims of war which devours the sons and daughters of a nation,” he said, recalling a number of deadly battles fought in the 20th century.

The graves marked “unknown” instead of with a name show “the tragedy of war,” even though God always keeps the name of everyone in his heart, he said.