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People of Praise hacked before Amy Coney Barrett nomination

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2020 / 08:50 pm (CNA).-  

Days before Judge Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court, the website of the People of Praise was hacked, CNA has learned. The hack breached the membership database of the charismatic community, in which Barrett and her family are reportedly members.

“On September 23, 2020, our security staff identified an incident via our website involving unauthorized access to contact information in our membership directory,” Sean Connolly, a spokesman for the group, said Tuesday night in response to questions from CNA about the hack.

“No further details, such as parties that may have initiated this incursion, are known, and we have provided our members with resources should they notice suspicious activity,” Connolly added.

Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court Sept. 26.

By Sept. 23, the federal judge had emerged as a front-runner for the Supreme Court seat that was vacated when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Sept. 18.

Amid speculation regarding Barrett’s possible appointment, numerous media reports focused on the People of Praise, the Indiana-based ecumenical charismatic community to which Barrett reportedly belongs.

The group was characterized by some pundits as a cult, falsely reported to be the inspiration for a dystopian novel, and erroneously reported to require members to adhere to a secret agreement, which is in fact posted on its website.

People of Praise was also criticized by some pundits because it does not disclose its membership, which defenders say is a common policy among religious organizations.

In that context, sources told CNA that the group’s membership database was hacked, which Connolly confirmed Tuesday night.

While the People of Praise declined to speculate about who might have been responsible for the hack, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNA that some “community members were contacted by national media outlets within 36 hours of the [database] incursion,” which the source called an “alarming coincidence.”

Connolly told CNA that “steps were immediately taken to address the incident, including notifying appropriate federal law enforcement and our members.”

“We take the security and privacy of all members of our community seriously,” he emphasized.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of the era's “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” Bishop Peter Smith, who belongs to an affiliated association of Catholic priests, told CNA in 2018.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant”- an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Covenant communities- Protestant and Catholic- emerged across the country in the 1970s, as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity.

While most People of Praise members are Catholic, the group is officially ecumenical; people from a variety of Christian denominations can join. Members of the group are free to attend the church of their choosing, including different Catholic parishes, Smith explained.

“We're a lay movement in the Church,” Smith told CNA. “There are plenty of these. We continue to try and live out life and our calling as Catholics, as baptized Christians, in this particular way, as other people do in other callings or ways that God may lead them into the Church.”

Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearing and a Senate vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court are expected to take place later this month, shortly before the Nov. 3 presidential election.


Nigerian priest, kidnapped for a second time in two years, has been released

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Gunmen kidnapped a Catholic priest in Nigeria’s Delta State on Saturday, the second kidnapping that same priest has experienced since 2018. The kidnappers released him Tuesday, though it is not yet clear whether the kidnappers were paid a ransom.

Father Jude Onyebadi, a priest at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Issele-Azagba, about 10 miles southeast of Issele-Uku, was kidnapped from his farm Sept. 26, Premium Times reported.

Onyebadi, 54, had apparently gone to inspect his farm and pay the staff their salary, and the gunmen trailed him. The gunmen also abducted three workers from the farm along with the priest, but released them later that evening.

Fr. Charles Uganwa, communications director for the Issele-Uku diocese, told CNA that the gunmen released Father Onyebadi around 4:30pm local time Sept. 29.

Uganwa said the priest was not badly injured, though he had suffered a beating as the gunmen abducted him. Uganwa said he has not been able to confirm whether any ransom was paid for his release.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims, though the ratio varies widely throughout the country with Muslims dominating in some areas, and vice-versa.

Delta State, where Issele-Uku is located, is overwhelmingly Christian, but small bands of Muslim militants who hide in the dense bush are an ongoing threat. Many of them appear to be Fulanis, a Mulsim ethnic group that are primarily nomadic herders.

Kidnapping is an ongoing issue throughout Nigeria, particularly in the country’s north. Before the abduction of Father Onyebadi, at least six priests of the Issele-Uku diocese had been kidnapped since 2018.

One kidnapping that happened in June left an Issele-Uku priest badly injured.

“He was released after about four days in captivity. He was so injured. He was beaten with clubs and with stones, with the butt of their guns. He was seriously injured. He had to be in the hospital for many weeks,” Uganwa told CNA in August.

Uganwa told CNA that in addition to anti-Christian motivations, widespread unemployment, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, is one of the drivers of the unfortunately profitable phenomenon of kidnapping.

“There's gross unemployment in Nigeria, so the youths are not occupied...They're making so much money on kidnapping,” Uganwa said.

“It's easier to kidnap priests, and give him little torture, and money will come out of it.”

Priests are vulnerable to kidnapping for several reasons, Uganwa said. They are often a visible and well-known member of a community; they rarely carry weapons; and often are found in predictable places, such as their rectory or church.

The Nigerian bishops' conference last year announced that the diocese ought not pay ransom for a priest’s release, so oftentimes well-meaning parishioners will pool together their money to get their priest back.

“By and large, no priest comes out of captivity without ransom being paid,” Uganwa told CNA.

In a high-profile kidnapping case from earlier this year, gunmen abducted four seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, holding them for random. The kidnappers eventually released three of the seminarians, but killed 18-year-old Michael Nnadi after he refused to renounce his faith.

In the northern part of the country, Fulanis often clash with Christians in land disputes. The radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which emerged around 2009, is still active and has carried out devastating terror attacks on Christians in recent years.

Such incidents include attacks in late July on four Christian villages in southern Kaduna, in which more than 62 Christians were killed by Islamic terrorists. Also in July, an Islamic extremist group boasted of killing five international aid workers, three of whom were known employees of Christian aid agencies.

Boko Haram is affiliated with the Islamic State, and to date has displaced more than 2 million people from their homes. The name Boko Haram roughly translates to: “Western education is forbidden."

Father Joseph Bature, a priest of the Diocese of Maidugui, told CNA in August that he estimates that since 2009, Boko Haram has driven out half of the 300,000 Catholics who used to live in the diocese. The region around Maiduguri is where Boko Haram first emerged.

Though Catholics there still celebrate Mass openly, they have to take stringent security measures against suicide bombers.

“Boko Haram is still very active, not in the city so much [as] in the outskirts...They still do the kidnapping, they still do the bombing. They still set mines on the road,” Bature said.

The problem of internally displaced persons, mostly Christians who have been driven from their homes, is especially acute in the north, where thousands of the destitute live in refugee camps.

“Around here, around Maiduguri, over 1.2 million are displaced. About 1.4 million, and the number keeps rising on a daily basis. [In] the entire country, you have over 2.4 million people internally displaced. Now that's quite huge,” Bature said.

Part of the problem, Nigerian Christians have told CNA, is that the Muslim-dominated government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

“The most important issue is that unfortunately, the government in Nigeria does not show enough will, either in speech or in action, to help to curb the violence and the bloodshed that we see, either from the terrorists or from bandits or from a headsman, because we have so many sorts of groups running riots all over the Northeast of Nigeria,” Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo told CNA.

Bishop Badejo said although his diocese is more peaceful than some in the north, with Muslims and Christians largely co-existing peacefully, there are some means of persecution that are more systemic and subtle, with government appointments and written laws seeming to favor Islam over Christianity.

“It's no secret that in Nigeria, especially with the Buhari government, there are all written laws that have not favored Christians at all, that have favored, in other words, the Muslims,” Badejo said, noting that Buhari is himself of Fulani ancestry.

“The Christian Churches have protested, Christian leaders have protested, but the federal government has not said any word in order to show any desire to protect the Christian religion.”

The bishops of Nigeria have announced a 40-day period of prayer for an end to the persecution, which they have often described as a genocide. The 40 days end Sept. 30.

This week’s episode of the CNA Newsroom podcast is about Christian persecution in Nigeria. Click here to listen.

'A consensus-builder': Amy Coney Barrett's legal rulings

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a “consensus-builder” who applies the law as written without consulting her own religious beliefs, according to her colleagues and fellow lawyers.

“Judge Barrett’s judicial views, the record reflects, are not anomalous. They’re squarely mainstream,” Stephanie Barclay, a Notre Dame law professor who has also worked at the religious freedom law firm Becket, told CNA.

More than 95% of Barrett’s majority opinions on the Seventh Circuit court were unanimous, Barclay said, emphasizing her ability to unite colleagues around her conclusion. 

Carter Snead, another Notre Dame law professor, wrote in the Washington Post recently that Barrett “has an incandescent mind that has won the admiration of colleagues across the ideological spectrum.”

“Time and again, I have seen her gently reframe a colleague’s arguments to make them stronger, even when she disagreed with them. And she is not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth, as I have seen in several of our faculty seminars,” he wrote.

As far as Barrett’s legal philosophy, it is that of “judicial restraint,” Notre Dame law professor Paolo Carozza told CNA.

When being considered for the Seventh Circuit court in 2017, Barrett was asked in writing by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) how she defined her approach to the law. Barrett replied that she would apply relevant Supreme Court precedent—previous rulings by the Court—to determine a case; if the existing precedent was insufficient to settle the case, she said she would apply the text of the Constitution.

“Where precedent applies, it controls. If precedent does not settle an issue, I would interpret the Constitution with reference to its text, history, and structure,” she said.

This legal reasoning leaves the crafting of law to democratically-elected legislators and not judges, Carozza said.

In 2017, the influence of Barrett’s religious beliefs on her legal reasoning were questioned, with Sen. Feinstein notably telling her in person that “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”

A 1998 article Barrett co-authored as a law student with law professor John Garvey was also the subject of questioning from Democratic senators. In the article, Barrett addressed the possibility of Catholic judges recusing themselves in capital cases, where the death penalty may be legal but their conscience might be opposed to its use.

Democratic senators asked her if she would rule in favor of the death penalty despite her conscience—or if she would recuse herself in another case where she might experience a conflict of conscience, such as an abortion case.

Barrett said in her response to written questions from Sen. Feinstein that “I cannot think of any cases or category of cases, including capital cases, in which I would feel obliged to recuse on grounds of conscience if confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit.”

She added that, as a clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, she worked on capital cases.

Barrett is strongly opposed to reaching a legal conclusion via any religious belief, Carozza said.

She believes that it is the “fundamental responsibility of the judge to do everything she can to keep her personal commitments from getting in the way of fidelity to what the law actually says, and what it meant to those who adopted it,” he said.

“And I think Amy takes that very seriously. So she will not interpret a provision of the Constitution or a federal statute in a way that’s simply designed to align with whatever her moral and religious beliefs are. She will be quite determined to set that aside.”

Asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) about abortion in 2017, Barrett responded that, if confirmed, she would “resolve any case, including abortion cases, by engaging in the judicial process, which includes examining the facts, reading the briefs, conducting necessary research, hearing argument, consulting with colleagues, and writing and/or reading opinions.”

Barrett has been involved in multiple abortion cases at the Seventh Circuit, joining opinions or dissents that focused on Supreme Court precedent.

She heard a challenge to Chicago’s eight-foot “buffer zone” rule, barring pro-life sidewalk counselors from approaching within eight feet of an abortion facility.

Barrett joined the court majority in upholding the city’s rule, because of Supreme Court precedent in Hill v. Colorado. “While the Supreme Court has deeply unsettled Hill, it has not overruled the decision. So it remains binding on us,” stated the majority opinion to which Barrett joined.

Barrett also joined Judge Frank Easterbrook’s dissent in the case Planned Parenthood v. Commissioner of Indiana in June of 2018. Indiana had banned abortions that were based on the sex, race, or disability of a child, and had also required that the remains of aborted babies be cremated or buried.

Easterbrook—joined by Barrett—argued that Supreme Court precedent has not overturned sex-selective abortion or similar race or disability-based abortions. Regarding the fetal remains law, the court could not strike it down just by ruling that an unborn baby is not a person, Easterbrook said, noting that the courts elsewhere have upheld animal-welfare statutes out of respect for animals.

Barrett’s religious beliefs have been the subject of some discussion and criticism of late. In her 2006 commencement address to Notre Dame Law graduates, she exhorted graduates to “always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end,” and “that end is building the kingdom of God.”

Barrett is also a member of the ecumenical group People of Praise, that has been described in the media as a “cult” where, according to a former practice, husbands and wives were given the Scriptural references of “heads” and “handmaidens.” Members originally formed a covenant where they agreed to tithe, live according to Christian beliefs, and meet regularly for acts of service.

Barclay, who previously worked at the religious freedom law firm Becket, has represented people of various faiths, and said that the practices of People of Praise “are totally commonplace across a lot of different religious practices.”

The group’s beliefs—and Barrett’s statement about “building the Kingdom of God”—are not uncommon, she said.

“Most religious people I know, and many non-religious people I know, view the work that they’re doing as part of something greater than themselves, as a means of trying to give back to their community, trying to rise above their own self-interests,” Barclay said.

“If we’re going to cast aspersions on that, we’re disenfranchising the majority of religious people and many non-religious people in America,” she said.

Catholic University president John Garvey, who taught Barrett at Notre Dame Law School, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that Barrett’s religious beliefs cannot disqualify her from public office, under the Constitution.

“After she graduated from law school, I wrote a one-line letter of recommendation for her to Justice Antonin Scalia: ‘Amy Coney is the best student I ever had.’ He was wise to hire her as a clerk,” Garvey wrote.

The Constitution, he said, guarantees “a tolerant pluralism in our country.”

Barrett’s opinions and dissents show that she focused on Supreme Court precedent and the text of existing laws to examine individual cases.

In one recent case on the court, Barrett ruled against the Trump administration in the case of an immigrant applying for a U visa.

In Yeison Meza Morales v. Barr, decided on June 26 and amended on Sept. 3, Barrett considered the case of a Mexican citizen who entered the United States as a child and applied for a U visa as an adult. When Morales was ordered removed by an immigration judge as his application was still ongoing, he appealed.

Barrett ruled that the order of removal was wrongly decided and allowed Morales’ petition for the case to be reviewed.

In another immigration case, Barrett denied the asylum appeal of an El Salvadoran citizen, saying that his asylum claim based on a fear of torture in El Salvador was too speculative and she could not over rule an immigration court under the existing legal standards.

In a fair wage case involving GrubHub drivers and overtime pay, Barrett authored the majority opinion that ruled against them.

The drivers had pressed for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and argued in court that they could not be compelled to arbitration under an agreement they had signed, as they were engaged in interstate commerce.

Citing Supreme Court precedent, Barrett ruled that the workers did not meet the definition of interstate workers actively involved in moving goods across state lines, and thus were not exempt under existing law from court-ordered arbitration.

While she never ruled directly on the Affordable Care Act, she was critical of the 2012 decision that upheld the law’s individual mandate, in a 2017 article in Constitutional Commentary. She wrote that Chief Justice John Roberts interpreted the law “beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”

San Francisco to allow up to 100 people at indoor worship services

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The office of San Francisco's mayor announced Tuesday that places of worship will be permitted to hold services indoors at 25% capacity, up to 100 people, beginning Wednesday.

Restaurants will also be allowed to reopen for indoor dining at 25% capacity, up to 100 people.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco thanked the mayor, as well as the thousands of Catholics who urged that they be permitted to attend Mass.

“I want to thank Mayor London Breed for recognizing that faith is essential. As well, I want to thank the thousands of San Francisco Catholics and others who joined the processions, the more than 35,000 who signed the petition … came to St. Mary Cathedral’s outdoor plaza to witness to our faith, wrote letters to the editor or op-eds, and who generally spoke up with one united voice under the banner: We are essential! Free the Mass,” the archbishop said Sept. 29.

Breed's office announced Sept. 29 that the expanded limits on places of worship will take effect Sept. 30.

The release attributed the changes to San Francisco's move from California's red, or substantial risk, tier, to the orange, or moderate risk, tier.

The California government's Covid-19 website says that “counties in the Widespread (purple) tier may open some businesses and activities with modifications, including all retail, shopping centers at maximum 25% capacity, and hair salons and barbershops indoors.”

San Francisco authorities have been allowing capacities of between 10 and 50% at venues like gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares.

The US Department of Justice had on Sept. 25 warned San Francisco officials that its restrictions on public worship in the city may be unconstitutional.

The city has been allowing only one worshipper at a time in places of worship, regardless of the building's size, while allowing multiple patrons in other indoor establishments.

Until Sept. 14, public worship in the city was restricted to 12 participants outdoors, with indoor services prohibited. Beginning Sept. 14, 50 people were allowed at outdoor religious services.

Beginning Sept. 30, outdoor worship services may have up to 200 people. Singing or chanting indoors will be prohibited, and “the place of worship must conduct a health check of patrons before they enter the facility.”

Archbishop Cordileone said that “respect for each other’s rights and compassion for each other’s needs are core San Francisco values. God bless Mayor Breed for responding to her constituents’ call.”

He added, however, that “California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building is still unjust. We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols. But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities.”

'Virus' of anti-Catholicism behind criticism of Amy Coney Barrett, says Chaput

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Criticism of Amy Coney Barrett is part of a “virus” of anti-Catholic “bigotry,” retired Archbishop Charles Chaput said on Monday. The archbishop warned that pubic attacks on the Supreme Court nominee’s faith constitute a wider threat to religious liberty.

Chaput, long considered a leading intellectual among American Catholic bishops, retired as Archbishop of Philadelphia in January. Since then he has mostly refrained from public speaking. In his essay on Monday, he addressed the public criticism of Judge Barrett, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump on Saturday. 

Writing in the magazine First Things, Chaput said that “those who value our First Amendment right to religious freedom should realize that tests about belief are attacks on religious liberty.” 

Criticism of Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven children, has focused on her faith, and her family life.

Several media outlets have focused on Barrett’s membership of People of Praise, a charismatic ecumenical community founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1971. 

This line of criticism, said Chaput, is “a harbinger of future attacks on the Church itself and on any Catholic who holds with [the Church’s] enduring moral witness.” 

Barrett previously came to national attention during her 2017 Senate confirmation hearings after she was nominated by the president for the U.S. Court of Appeals. During that process, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated that “the dogma lives loudly” within Barrett and “that’s a concern.” 

The archbishop described Feinstein’s “concern” as “Know Nothing-style vulgarity,” and said she is “hardly alone in her bigotry”.

“Disdain for vigorous religious convictions, especially the Catholic kind, is a virus that’s going around,” said Chaput.

“It seems to infect a number of Democratic senators, including Sen. Kamala Harris, Feinstein’s California colleague and vice presidential nominee, who saw looming peril in that dangerous national conspiracy otherwise known as the Knights of Columbus.”  

But, Chaput said, Feinstein’s comments “help us see clearly how some in our political class now view Catholics who are more than merely ‘nominal’ in their faith.”

Everyone who is baptized Catholic is, in the technical sense, a Catholic regardless of their actions, said Chaput, and “in the eyes of the Democratic party, that’s not a problem.” 

“If you’re photographed with your rosary beads at prayer--even better,” he continued, noting that overt cultural religious affiliation was seen by many as acceptable, as long as it did not imply doctrinal adherence. 

“But if you’re the kind of Catholic who seeks to discipline his or her life around Catholic beliefs regarding marriage and family, religious freedom, sex, and abortion—well, that’s a different matter,” he said, noting that observant Catholic Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) lost his seat in a primary earlier this year that centered mainly on his pro-life views. 

“Catholics in this country spent more than a century fighting their way into the American mainstream. The cost has been high,” said Chaput. 

The current Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joe Biden, is a Catholic but has taken several political positions that run counter to Church teaching but are in line with his own party’s platform, such as support for legalized abortion until birth, and support for same-sex marriage. Biden has pledged to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, precluding state limits on abortion. 

“To the degree that self-described Catholic political leaders are indistinguishable in their views and actions from their colleagues with no faith at all, the cost has been far too high,” said Chaput. 

“A politics of democratic pluralism requires that differences of belief must be respected,” he said. “Catholics do rightly demand civility and respect for the teachings of their Church, especially from a Senate supposedly informed by a spirit of service to the whole nation.”

The archbishop said that “positioning dissenting Catholics as ‘mainstream Americans’ and believing Catholics as ‘extremists’” is now a “common and thoroughly dishonest culture war technique,” and “a particular affront to the free exercise of religion.” 

Chaput said that the present “hostility toward those who support Catholic teaching” should not only concern Catholics in the United States, but also “anyone who values the First Amendment.”

“If attacks on belief are an acceptable standard by which to impugn judicial nominees today, then tomorrow they’ll be used on the rest of us who uphold the teachings of our faith,” he said. “It puts the rights of far more Americans at risk than will ever be nominated for the court.”

Cardinal Becciu's lawyer resigns over social media photos

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).-  

The lawyer representing Cardinal Angelo Becciu has resigned over criticism of his social media activities.

Ivano Iai, who had been handling legal and media matters for the cardinal and his family, announced that he had withdrawn from the case after criticism of pictures he posted on social media.

Iai, apparently a recreational body-builder, posted a series of photographs of himself in revealing swimwear on different social media sites, including Instagram and Twitter. In the photos, Iai appears in seaside settings, and strikes a number of attitudes and poses, including arching backwards across a rock and sporting playfully in the surf.

The attorney's Instagram account has now been set to private.

Iai served as attorney and spokesman for Cardinal Becciu and his family after the cardinal's resignation last week. The lawyer confirmed to CNA Sept. 29 that he had quit the role.

“I gave up the job," Iai said in a statement sent to CNA on Tuesday, saying he was “sorry” that his social media presence had added to the difficulties of the cardinal and his family.

“With great sorrow I communicate that I have renounced the mandate given to me by the Becciu family who honored me with their uncommon trust and affection,” Iai said.

Iai’s resignation comes after mounting criticism and mockery online of his social media presence, including by the tabloid site Dagospia.

The lawyer told Italian news site Adnkronos that images he posted of himself were meant to be “lighthearted” and he “never ever” imagined they would create a problem for his high-profile clients.

“It saddens me to have had to be the cause of further affliction which adds to the unjust sufferings suffered in these days by His Eminence Cardinal Becciu and his family members,” Iai said in his statement to CNA.

The lawyer called the Becciu family “examples of uncommon honesty and correctness - and worthy of having the best defense in a matter so very complex.”

Becciu, the former head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, resigned on Thursday following an unscheduled meeting with Pope Francis in which the pope told the cardinal he had lost his trust and ordered him to step down. The following morning, Italian newspaper L’Espresso published a story accusing Becciu of using his positions in the curia to funnel money to members of his own family.

The cardinal's resignation followed more than a year of reporting by CNA and other news outlets on various financial scandals involving Becciu and the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, where he served as sostituto for seven years, until he was made a cardinal and placed in charge of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2018.

Many of those reports stemmed from the Secretariat’s controversial investments, including the purchase of a London property for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Since October, investigators in Vatican City have conducted several raids on different Vatican departments in connection with the London property deal and connected investments. Investigators raided offices at the secretariat and the AIF, the Vatican’s financial watchdog, seizing computers and phones and resulting in the suspension of several members of staff.

After those raids, investigators also raided the home and offices of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, who worked closely with Becciu at the Secretariat of State.

In June, Vatican authorities arrested Italian businessman Gianluigi Torzi, who helped broker the final sale of the London building.

In July, Italian police served a search and seizure warrant on Raffaele Mincione, an associate of Torzi’s, through whom the Vatican invested hundreds of millions of dollars. The warrant was issued at the request of Vatican prosecutors. Investigators took away cell phones and tablets for examination in relation to the case. Mincione has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and earlier this year filed a lawsuit against the Secretariat of State in a U.K. court, asking a judge to rule he acted in good faith in his dealings with the Vatican.

Iai’s most recent communication on behalf of Cardinal Becciu, released Monday, announced that he had filed complaints on behalf of the Becciu family “for violation of the criminal provisions on slander and aggravated defamation and prohibition of disclosure of office and investigation secrets, [and] cases of corruptive malpractice.”

Iai said that “the illegal leakage of confidential information and documents continuously disclosed by the media in a distorted and disparaging form” had “led to the committing of further crimes and the infringement of the rights of various interested parties.”

Iai did not specify which media were the subject of his complaints, or to what authority he had submitted them.

English Catholic bishops lament attacks on civilians in Cameroon

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops in England appealed Monday for an end to human rights abuses in Cameroon. 

Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth signed an ecumenical statement issued Sept. 28 denouncing attacks on civilians in the Anglophone region of the majority French-speaking West African state.

“We hear the cry of our sisters and brothers in Cameroon’s Anglophone region, who are facing daily violations of their human dignity. Recent reports of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and attacks on civilians demand a response from the international community,” the statement said.

English-speakers in Cameroon have accused the government of discrimination since 1961, when the formerly British Southern Cameroons joined French Cameroon to create the Republic of Cameroon.

In 2017, Anglophone leaders declared independence, renaming the territory of Southern Cameroons as the state of Ambazonia. Paul Biya, president of Cameroon since 1982, responded by sending government forces to suppress the secessionist movement. Human rights groups have accused both separatists and the government of human rights abuses.

More than 3,000 people -- including Catholic priests -- have died since the fighting began. According to the UN, there are an estimated 679,000 internally displaced people in Cameroon, and 60,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria.

In February this year, Catholic bishops from around the world urged Biya, Africa’s second longest-serving head of state, to agree to peace talks to end the conflict.

Earlier this month demonstrators took to the streets after Biya announced that regional elections would be held in December. Opposition leaders argued that elections could not be conducted freely given the insecurity in the Anglophone region. 

In the ecumenical statement, also signed by Anglican and Methodist leaders, the two Catholic bishops said: “We call on the UK government to work with other European countries on robust diplomatic action to halt the violence and help bring about a negotiated settlement that protects the rights of all Cameroon’s people.”

“We also express our closeness to the churches that are working with local communities to reject violence and pursue the path of dialogue, and we assure them that they have not been forgotten.”

Cardinal Burke: Biden should not receive Holy Communion

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 01:02 pm (CNA).-  

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a canon lawyer and formerly the prefect of the Church’s highest court, has said that Catholic politicians supporting abortion should not receive Holy Communion, including pro-choice Catholic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Biden “is not a Catholic in good standing and he should not approach to receive Holy Communion,” Burke said in an Aug. 31 interview with Thomas McKenna, who as head of an organization called Catholic Action for Faith and Family periodically conducts interviews with the cardinal.

“This is not a political statement, I don’t intend to get involved in recommending any candidate for office, but simply to state that a Catholic may not support abortion in any shape or form because it is one of the most grievous sins against human life, and has always been considered to be intrinsically evil and therefore to in any way support the act is a mortal sin.”

Asked specifically about Biden, Burke said he “has not only been actively supporting procured abortion in our country but has announced publicly in his campaign that he intends to make the practice of procured abortion available to everyone in the widest possible form and to repeal the restrictions on this practice which have been put in place.”

“So, first of all, I would tell him not to approach Holy Communion out of charity toward him, because that would be a sacrilege, and a danger to the salvation of his own soul.”

“But also he should not approach to receive Holy Communion because he gives scandal to everyone. Because if someone says ‘well, I’m a devout Catholic’ and at the same time is promoting abortion, it gives the impression to others that it’s acceptable for a Catholic to be in favor of abortion and of course it’s absolutely not acceptable. It never has been, it never will be.”

Buke was the Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Archbishop of St. Louis before in 2008 he was appointed prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest canonical court in the Church. The cardinal was the Signatura’s prefect until 2014 and remains a member of the court.

In 2007, Burke published in the prestigious canonical journal “Periodica” a scholarly article on the admission of Catholics in grave public sin to Holy Communion. The article is regarded by many canon lawyers as the definitive scholarly and technical treatment of the subject.

In the interview, obtained by CNA Tuesday, Burke said it is the historic teaching of the Church that those in a condition of grave sin should not be admitted to Holy Communion, citing St. Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians, that anyone who “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty” and “eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

The cardinal discussed the notion of scandal, saying that “scandal means that you lead others into wrong thinking and wrong acting by your example.”

“If people were perhaps questioning in their mind about abortion, and they see this man who pronounces himself to be a devout and he’s promoting abortion in the strongest possible way, this leads people into error thinking well it must be morally acceptable to commit abortion and so the person then bears responsibility — not only the person who gives the scandal, not only for his own wrong actions in supporting abortion but also for leading others into thinking that abortion is acceptable,” Burke said.

“I can’t imagine that any Catholic wouldn’t know that abortion is a grievous sin, but if they don’t, once they’ve been told, then they either have to cease to support abortion or accept the fact they are not a Catholic in good standing and therefore should not present themselves for Holy Communion,” he added.

Burke explained that when he, as a diocesan bishop, became aware of pro-choice politicians in his dioceses, it was his practice to contact them “to make sure that they understood.”

If, after a conversation about the Church’s teaching on human life, they were “still unwilling to act accordingly then I simply had to tell them ‘you may not present yourselves for Holy Communion,’” the cardinal explained.

Burke’s comments drew from canons 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law, which explain that a person conscious of grave sin should not approach Holy Communion without first making a sacramental confession, and that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Among U.S. bishops, disagreement over the meaning of the canon, and its application to pro-choice Catholic politicians, has been ongoing since John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Church’s doctrinal office, wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops, explaining the application of canon 915 to the question of pro-choice politicians.

The case of a Catholic politician who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter explained.

In such cases, “his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

If the individual perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

Shortly after Ratzinger wrote that memo, the U.S. bishops agreed the application of those norms should be decided by individual bishops, rather than by the bishops’ conference, largely under the influence of Theodore McCarrick, then-Archbishop of Washington, who paraphrased the letter, which was not yet publicly available, but did not present it in its entirety to the bishops.

Some bishops have prohibited politicians advocating for “permissive abortion laws” from receiving communion, but others have demurred, or said outright they would not deny such politicians the Eucharist.

Asked by a journalist, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in October that he would not deny Biden Holy Communion. Before that, in January 2019, Dolan had said that he would not deny the Eucharist to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed into law one of the most permissive abortion laws in the country’s history.

Biden’s own shepherd, Bishop William Malooly, has said in the past that he does not want to “politicize” Holy Communion by denying it to politicians. Washington, D.C.’s ordinary, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, has said that the Eucharist should be denied only as a last resort, and is not on record as ever having done so.

Biden was in October 2019 denied the Eucharist at a South Carolina parish.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, told CNA after Biden was denied Holy Communion.

CNA reported after Biden was denied Holy Communion that the policy of the Charleston diocese requires priests to withhold the sacrament from politicians and political candidates who support legal protection for abortion.

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

In the interview released this week, Burke responded to those who say that Catholics ought not judge the interior dispositions of pro-choice poltiicians, among them Fr. James Martin, SJ, who was mentioned specifically by McKenna.

“We judge people on the basis of objective facts. On their actions, their public record, their public statements, and certainly, Vice President Biden hasn’t left any doubt in anyone’s mind what his position is. He clearly knows what the Church’s teaching is,” Biden said.

“God put an order into the world, killing, directly killing an unborn human life is evil no matter how you look at it….and of course the conscience can’t justify it in any way,” Burke added.

“Our heart isn’t something that’s hidden, our heart manifests itself in our actions. As our Lord said, we know the tree by its fruit,” the cardinal said.

Speaking on scandal, Burke recounted the story of a non-Catholic government official he knew who said he expected that Catholic teaching might change, or that the Church must not take it seriously because, Burke said, of the number of Catholics in Congress who voted for permissive abortion legislation.

“Catholics going around announcing themselves, and then on the other hand being 100% in favor of abortion, or in favor of abortion in any way, give a great scandal,” Burke said.

“The Church’s teaching on aboriton will never change because it’s part of the natural moral law. It’s part of the law which God has written on every human heart, namely that human life is to be safeguarded, and protected and promoted.”




Catholics in Belarus ask St. Michael the Archangel’s intercession for end to crisis

Rome Newsroom, Sep 29, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Amid strife in their country, Catholics in Belarus attended a Mass Tuesday with a revered statue of St. Michael the Archangel, praying for an end to the persecution of the Church in Belarus and a resolution to the political crisis.

“The main heavenly patron of the Catholic Church in Belarus is St. Michael the Archangel, the victor over the evil spirit. In our churches a special prayer is recited daily through his intercession,” Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz wrote in a letter announcing a month of prayer dedicated to the saint.

The statue of St. Michael, a replica of the one found in the Basilica of St. Michael in Gargano, Italy, has traveled across Belarus this month to cathedrals across four dioceses, culminating in the Mass in the capital, Minsk, on the Feast of the Archangels Sept. 29.

Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, an auxiliary bishop in Minsk-Mohilev archdiocese, offered Mass on the feast, preceded by prayers in the Cathedral of the Blessed Name of Mary.

The prayer intention for the procession of St. Michael across Belarus was for a resolution to the socio-political crisis currently gripping the country and to stop the persecution of the Church, according to a report on the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus, which provided a livestream of the Mass.

The archdiocese invited Catholics to stop by the cathedral to spend a minute in prayer, asking the archangel to protect Belarus from evil.

The Catholic Church honors the archangels Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael -- mentioned by name in the Bible -- on Sept. 29. St. Michael, in particular, is invoked for protection from the devil and is a patron saint of the Church in Belarus.

In an Aug. 30 letter announcing the St. Michael procession, Kondrusiewicz wrote: “Christianity teaches to defeat evil with good.”

“From the very beginning of the socio-political crisis in Belarus, the Catholic Church has called for solutions to problems through dialogue and encouraged prayer, remembering the words of Christ that without him we can do nothing,” he said.

Since writing this letter, Kondrusiewicz has been denied entry to Belarus. Kondrusiewicz, a Belarusian citizen, was turned back without explanation by border guards when he attempted to return Aug. 31 following a trip to Poland.

The president of the Belarusian Catholic bishops’ conference had spoken out in defense of protesters after they were targeted by police following the election in which the incumbent, Alexander Lukashenko, claimed victory with 80% of the vote in August.

Fifty days after the disputed election, an estimated 100,000 protesters took to the streets on Sept. 27 to call for Lukashenko to step down, according to AP.

Kondrusiewicz participated in a virtual meeting of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) held Sept. 25-26, where the bishops expressed hope for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Belarus.

Kondrusiewicz said after the meeting that he understood that Belarus was “the only country in Europe where churches were not closed during the pandemic, and the Eucharist, other sacraments and services were regularly celebrated.”

Arizona pot proposal takes a hit with pushback from Catholic bishops

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Arizona bishops have registered their opposition to a ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, saying it would be harmful to families and children.

“It is anticipated that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona will lead to more abuse by teens, increase child fatalities, and result in more societal costs,”  they said in a Sept. 23 statement.

“Accordingly, due to these detrimental effects, we strongly oppose this dangerous proposal.”

Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, will appear on the ballot in the state in November. It would allow persons 21 and older to possess one ounce of marijuana, and provide for the sale of the drug.

The bishops noted that “Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana sends a message to children that drug use is socially and morally acceptable. As people of faith, we must speak out against this effort and the damaging effects its passage would have on children and families.”

They said that “problematic marijuana use is 25 percent higher among teens in states that legalized recreational marijuana,” and that self-reported use of marijuana by middle- and high-schoolers in the state “has already increased over the past four years as perceptions of risk have fallen.”

They added that Arizona's most recent child fatality report “listed marijuana as a direct or contributing factor in almost as many child deaths as alcohol.”

The Arizona Supreme Court in August rejected a legal challenge to the initiative. Opponents of the measure argued that the summary of the measure its backers put on petitions was misleading and had omissions.

A 2016 report showed that traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits, and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot in Colorado.

Released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in September, the report compared marijuana-related statistics from previous years in Colorado to data from 2013-2015, the first years after the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state, through ballot initiative, in November 2012.

Bishops across the US, as well as in the territory of Guam and in Canada, have also oppposed proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use in their jurisdictions.