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It's our duty to fight racism, Pope tells international conference

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2018 / 05:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- All people have a responsibility to fight new forms of racism in the modern world, Pope Francis told more than 200 participants at a Rome-based conference this week.

“We are living in times in which feelings that many thought had passed are taking new life and spreading,” the pope said Sept. 20.

The international conference on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” concluded Thursday. It had been promoted by the Vatican's Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

Addressing those present, Pope Francis warned that the modern world appears to be seeing an increase in “feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups judged for their ethnic, national or religious identity.”

These individuals are “considered not sufficiently worthy of being fully part of society's life,” and such sentiments “all too often inspire real acts of intolerance, discrimination or exclusion,” he said.

Exclusion of foreigners can also become enshrined in political policy, as some lawmakers exploit fears and misgivings for political gain, he said.

Faced with these social changes, “we are all called, in our respective roles, to cultivate and promote respect for the intrinsic dignity of every human person,” the pope said.

He emphasized the role of religious leaders, educators, and media in this endeavor to promote a culture that respects human life and dignity.

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the World Council of Churches, told Vatican News that the conference was intended to show a strong ecumenical commitment to addressing the global issues of racism and xenophobia, to hear from voices across the globe about the issue, and to create common text that can be used as the basis of further efforts.

He stressed the importance of supporting politicians who are standing up for the human rights of migrants, and emphasized the role of religious leaders in upholding human dignity in public discussions surrounding migration.

“There is no easy political answer to all of this: it is a very complex political situation, but we believe that the churches, with our values but also with our networks, our communities, as human beings and as people of faith, can contribute a lot,” he said.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying he regrets having failed to report the abuse of a minor, WBAY reported Thursday.

“I failed to report to local authorities an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest in 1979 and, as a result, this priest was able to abuse again several years later,” Bishop Morneau wrote in a letter to Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, which WBAY says was published in The Compass, the Green Bay diocesan paper.

“I intend to spend my time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and I will do corporal works of mercy in reparation for what I failed to do,” Bishop Morneau wrote.

Bishop Morneau, 80, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay in 1966, and appointed auxiliary bishop of the diocese in 1978. He was consecrated a bishop Feb. 22, 1979. He remained auxiliary bishop until 2013, when he reached the age of 75.

WBAY reports that Bishop Morneau says he mishandled the case of former priest David Boyea, who was convicted of child sexual assaul in 1985.

“Looking back, I should have handled this situation differently than I did at the time. At the time, I was asked by the family of the victim to arrange an apology from the offending priest, which I did. I felt at the time I had done what was asked of me by helping the parties to reconcile,” the bishop wrote.

“The measures taken were ultimately insufficient to protect others from abuse from this same priest. I very much regret and apologize for this, especially to those victimized following my mistake in this regard.”

Bishop Ricken wrote in The Compass, according to WBAY, that “Bishop Morneau is a good and faithful man who did what he felt was right at the time, realizing now that he could have and should have done more to protect the innocent.”

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis, he has grown “impatient” while awaiting a decision from the pope on a request made by U.S. bishops more than one month ago.

Speaking at a press conference Sept. 21, Cardinal Timothy Dolan called for a formal investigation- an apostolic visitation- of the Church in the United States in response to allegations that have surfaced in recent months regarding decades of sexual immorality on the part of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

“Part of my people saying ‘we're beginning to lose trust in bishops’ is their legitimate question as to how could a man continue to rise in the Church with a background like that?’ And that’s a darn good question, that I share. We have got to get to the bottom of that.”

“How [that happens] is an ongoing question. I think particularly an apostolic visitation from the Holy See that included lay professionals would be a particularly effective way to do that. We’ve proposed that to the Holy See and we wait.”

An apostolic visitation was formally proposed to the Vatican in an Aug. 16 statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. It has since been reiterated by several U.S. bishops.

While DiNardo and other leaders of the bishops’ conference met with Pope Francis Sept. 13, there has not yet been any announcement from the Vatican regarding an apostolic visitation.

Within the Church, only the Vatican has the authority to order an investigation into the conduct of those bishops who stand accused of covering up the sexual coercion and assault McCarrick is alleged to have committed.

Dolan said that if an apostolic visitation “doesn’t happen, there has to be an equally effective way” to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ecclesiastical career of Archbishop McCarrick, though he did not offer particular suggestions.

Asked by a reporter why approval for an apostolic visitation had not been forthcoming, Dolan answered: “I tend to get as impatient as you obviously are, so I don’t know the answer to that.”

The cardinal was also asked if the pope is doing enough to address concerns about sexual abuse and misconduct in the Church in the United States.

“So far,” Dolan said in response.

“I mean, you won’t be surprised that I love him and trust him very much and know that he’s on our side. So I think...I mean he has a beautiful posture of reflection, of ‘let’s not act impetuously,’ you know- he’s spoken with prophetic fire in condemning this.

“I trust that he’s going to come through,” Dolan said. “But I don’t mind admitting that I get a little impatient too.”

 

Irish doctors question readiness to introduce legal abortion

Dublin, Ireland, Sep 20, 2018 / 04:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Most physicians in the Republic of Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions despite the repeal of an amendment which legally protected the unborn, and many are also concerned about whether there are adequate preparations for the procedure.

“There are concerns about capacity and resourcing issues such as staffing, facilities, training,” Dr. Mary Favier, vice president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, told the Oireachtas Health Committee Sept. 18, the same day the Irish president signed a bill formally repealing the Eighth Amendment.

“They are concerned about the potential lack of appropriate specialist support, the possibility of medical complications for their patients, what will be the public reaction to those who don't provide and those who do,” the Irish News reported Favier stating.

“They have a fear of litigation, they wish to see an acknowledgement of conscientious objection and how to accommodate this in the clinical pathway but also an acknowledgement of conscientious commitment and how to support this.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadker has said that Catholic hospitals will not be permitted to opt out of performing abortions, though individual medical professionals may.

The removal of the Eighth Amendment follows the decisive result of the national referendum held in May. Only one county, Donegal, voted to keep the amendment.

While it has not yet been determined under what circumstances abortion will become legal, the government is proposing that it be allowed throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Legislation to this effect will be introduced by the government next month.

It is unknown when Ireland’s first abortion facility will open, but Varadkar said this will likely be by 2019.

Favier noted to the health committee that “there are actually very few clinicians who are trained to deliver this care pathway unless they have received training outside of the jurisdiction,” and Dr Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said that introducing abortion by 2019 would be “challenging”.

Boylan noted there is not enough access to ultrasound, and that permitting abortion “without adequate scanning facilities is fraught with risk.”

Experts respond to new policies for handling allegations against bishops

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- Following the announcement of new policies for bishops by the USCCB, experts in the fields of law and child protection have been considering their potential effectiveness. The measures were formulated by the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Administrative Committee in response to the recent scandal involving Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

In a statement released Sept. 19, the bishops’ conference said that in addition to backing a full inquiry into the McCarrick scandal, they would establish a third-party mechanism for reporting allegations of misconduct against bishops.

A Code of Conduct for bishops, and a clear policy for handling “restricted” bishops who had resigned or been removed from office following accusations would also be produced.

Ed Mechmann, a civil lawyer and head of public policy and director of the Safe Environment Office for the Archdiocese of New York, welcomed the plans.

“The USCCB’s announcement is a good first step,” he told CNA. While hailing the measures as progress, Mechmann said that the Church needed to get better at ongoing reform.

“Adapting to changed circumstances is a hard thing. Some organizations are more nimble than others and the U.S. bishops are not by nature very nimble. I think we need to see, and will see, a better process of incremental change emerge.” 

Mechmann specifically singled out the proposed independent reporting system as an encouraging reform.

“The third-party reporting mechanism is a great idea. All Catholics, especially victims, need to be able to have faith that when they report something, action will be taken.”

Much of the criticism from the current scandal has focused on what actions bishops took - or did not take - in response to allegations made against one of their peers. Addressing what has been seen as an accountability gap for bishops has been a crucial priority for Church authorities.

While the Essential Norms adopted by the U.S. bishops’ conference in 2002 have contributed to a sharp downturn in the number of cases of abuse involving priests, those norms did not extend to bishops. Only the Holy See, as an exercise of papal authority, can impose disciplinary measures on bishops, and this has hampered efforts by the American hierarchy to self-police.

Mechmann suggested that the application of current standards and procedures to bishops as well as priests should be a priority.

“We do not know how many complaints against bishops, as bishops, are likely to be received. I would suggest that if the complaint concerns actions committed while he was a priest - as was the case with some of the McCarrick allegations - there shouldn’t be anything stopping the current Essential Norms and the Dallas Charter being applied, since both of those concern priestly ministry.”

But Mechmann acknowledged that extending the reach of existing norms would require Roman approval.

“In a sense all bishops are priests too, and ideally the norms and charter would already be applied to bishops, though this seems to need the approval of Rome. I think American Catholics as a group tend to be impatient with technicalities like this, they want to see progress and the USCCB’s plan is a solid beginning.”

Fr. Giovanni Capucci, a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver who teaches canon law at St. John Vianney Seminary, told CNA that the difficulty lay in the U.S. bishops’ conference having to deal with issues it was never intended to handle.

“The challenge facing the USCCB, or any bishops conference, is that they were not created to be legislative bodies. The areas in which they can make binding rules for all the bishops of a country is very narrowly limited and prescribed explicitly by the Holy See,” Capucci told CNA.

“Trying to arrive at new norms or processes, even in response to grave scandals, is simply not what they were created to do.”

He explained that while many Catholics would like to see swift, decisive action from the American bishops, as an institution, the USCCB is geared more towards being a communal forum than a deliberative body.

“From that perspective, the proposals are a commendable effort and a necessary one. But they probably also reflect the farthest they can go within the limits of their authority,” Capucci said.

Both Capucci and Mechmann agreed that further reforms were likely, noting that the statement of the Administrative Committee underscored that the announced measures were only a first step in a continuing process.

Capucci told CNA that “it is up to the Holy See to determine if the USCCB will be given more authority to act, and they seem to have been clear that they consider this a first step. Time will tell what else may be achieved.”

Ed Mechmann pointed out that, in the meantime, more could be done by U.S. dioceses themselves.

“Currently, the charter and norms are working, but the outcomes and applications are not uniform across all dioceses. Even the terms ‘sexual misconduct’ or ‘abuse’ don’t necessarily mean the same thing in all dioceses,” he said.

“What’s misconduct in New York needs to be misconduct across the river in Newark. I think working on a better process of incremental and ongoing reform will yield better results, near and long term, than becoming locked into a cycle of responding to major crises.”

Some Catholics, including members of the pope’s own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have advanced the idea of regional or national tribunals to handle sexual abuse  cases. The impetus for this is the known backlog of cases facing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has not - as yet - been given the resources and manpower required to process its caseload effectively.

More than that, Mechmann said, giving local authorities the power to try local abuse cases would demonstrate accountability.

“We want to get to a place where American problems are being handled locally, and the bishops here need to ask for and receive the authority to deal with our own issues,” Mechmann said.

Mechmann also told CNA that “people don’t want to hear that our issues are being palmed off on a handful of hard-working but clearly over-stretched priests in Rome. That looks like shifting responsibility for our own messes, and it extends the time it takes to deal with these matters. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Fr. Capucci sounded a note of caution about the concept of regional or national tribunal, saying that the idea is “not entirely novel, and it’s not clear if this is necessarily the best way forward. The American experience of special norms for marriage tribunals, for example, was not a universally positive experience,” he told CNA.

“The important thing is that cases of abuse are dealt with, dealt with swiftly, and handled by qualified staff who can deliver an outcome people can have faith in - always keeping the needs of victims at the front of their work” Fr. Capucci said.

The extent to which individual bishops welcome and adopt the reforms willingly could prove crucial to their effectiveness. In response to the new policies, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles praised them as an effective point of departure for an ongoing process of reform.

“It is only the beginning of what needs to be done. But I believe it is a good, solid beginning,” he said in a statement released Sept. 20.

“This is a time for prayer and penance and purification for those of us who are bishops and priests. And as we work for the renewal and reform of the Church, we are asking humbly for your assistance and expertise — as mothers and fathers, and as faithful Catholics in all walks of life.”

Catholics in Korea look to martyrs amid nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang

Seoul, South Korea, Sep 20, 2018 / 03:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As nuclear negotiations with North Korea continue, Catholics in South Korea are encouraging devotion to their martyr saints and renewing prayers for peace on the peninsula.

South Korea’s bishops applauded the successful completion of the third inter-Korean summit of Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, North Korea earlier this week. The meeting resulted in Kim promising to take steps towards denuclearization in exchange for concessions from the United States.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded with a statement that the U.S. is prepared to “engage immediately in negotiations” with North Korea, and invited North Korea’s foreign minister to meet with him at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City next week, where Moon will also meet with US President Donald Trump.

“This will mark the beginning of negotiations to transform U.S.-DPRK relations through the process of rapid denuclearization of North Korea, to be completed by January 2021, as committed by Chairman Kim, and to construct a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” Pompeo said Sept. 19.

Before heading to Pyongyang the First Lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, attended Mass with Korean bishops in Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral and asked for prayers for the upcoming diplomatic negotiations.

The Mass was part of a week-long celebration of Korea’s martyr saints. On Sept. 14, the Vatican approved 'Seoul's Catholic Pilgrimage Routes’ as a World Pilgrimage Site.

Monsignor Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, traveled to Seoul for the pilgrimage route’s dedication ceremony.

“These routes can help not only pilgrims coming from Asia and all over the world, but whoever else chooses to walk them, to reflect on the fact that human life laid down out of love and to open their hearts to the transforming power of God’s grace which bestows the gift of faith,” said Fisichella at the Seosomun Martyrs Shrine.

More than 100 Koreans were martyred at Seosomun Park, where Pope Francis prayed before celebrating their beatification Mass in his visit to South Korea in 2014.

"Stained in the blood and sweat of the martyrs, these pilgrimage routes are not just a legacy of the Church in Korea alone,” said Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul. They are a “sacred patrimony … for all citizens on the Korean Peninsula.”

Along the pilgrimage route is Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, where Korea’s first priest, Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, was tortured and beheaded at age 25.

Saint Andrew Kim was born 1821 into an aristocratic Korean family that eventually included three generations of Catholic martyrs.

Kim traveled over 1,000 miles to attend seminary in Macau. While Kim was away at seminary, his father, Ignatius Kim Chae-jun, was martyred in 1839.

After Kim was ordained in Shanghai in 1845, he returned to his homeland to begin catechising Koreans in secret. Only 13 months later, he was arrested.

In his final letter from prison before his execution, Kim wrote to Catholics in Korea: "When he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful … I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together. I embrace you all in love."

The feast of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon and his companions is celebrated Sept. 20.

'Leave no stone unturned,' Cardinal Dolan tells NY archdiocesan investigator

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York has announced the appointment of an archdiocesan special counsel, who will be tasked with an independent review of protocols for responding to allegations of sexual abuse.

At a press conference Sept. 20, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that retired federal Judge Barbara Jones will undertake “an exhaustive study of our policies, procedures, and protocols on how we deal with any accusation that comes to us about an alleged abuse of a young person by a priest, deacon, or a bishop.”

“I have promised her complete access to our records, personnel, and to me personally,” Dolan said.

The cardinal said that in recent months clergy members, Catholics, and other community members have conveyed to him the importance of “accountability, transparency, and action.”

“I also hear them honestly say to me something that stings me very much: ‘Cardinal Dolan, we’ve been so let down that we’re beginning to lose trust in you bishops.’”

“If I lose the trust of my people and this community, I don’t have a lot left,” Dolan said.

Dolan said that Jones would “conduct an independent, scrupulous review to see if there are gaps, if there are things we should be doing and are not, and, hopefully, to affirm that we are doing our best to live up to the promises we bishops made to our people in 2002.”

Jones has also been asked to “enhance and strengthen our protocols for accusations of inappropriate behavior by anyone abusing his or her position of authority,” he added. She will also be tasked with reviewing policies and protocols related to workplace sexual abuse and harassment.

“Even our many critics do admit we’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with abuse of minors; now we need to be certain we are doing the same for responding to allegations of abuses of position and power.”

During the press conference, Jones told Dolan that she is “ready to help,” adding that “the cardinal has told me to leave no stone unturned.”

“My review will focus on the efficacy of [archdiocesan] programs, and whether the archdiocese has followed its existing protocols in addressing reports of abuse. Where I see deficiencies or gaps or non-compliance with current procedures, I will identify them to the cardinal for his review and remediation.”

In her work for the Archdiocese of New York, “I will also review the procedures followed in every new case of abuse to ensure that the Archdiocese has followed its protocols. I will make the results of those reviews available to the cardinal before he makes a final adjudication in each case,” Jones said.

Jones has a long record of investigating complex organizations. She began her legal career in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, serving as a part of the agency’s Manhattan Strike Force in the 1970s. She was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York from 1977 to 1987, leading an organized crime unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, before becoming a high-ranking prosecutor in the New York district attorney’s office.

In 1995 Jones was appointed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She retired from the court in 2013.

During her time on the bench, Jones presided over U.S. v. Windsor, a case that challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In a 2012 decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Jones found that definition violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“I approach this importance assignment with an open mind and an understanding of the scope and scale of the issues that challenge the archdiocese. I have already begun an initial review of the archdiocese’s past efforts,” Jones said Thursday.

“Based upon this review I certainly see a robust infrastructure in place with the archdiocese but my job now will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing programs and policies in that infrastructure.”

Dolan told reporters that he has asked Jones to provide a public report on her findings at the conclusion of her work.

“The cardinal has asked me to be rigorous in my examination and to call out deficiencies as I see them. He has assured me that he will take appropriate action as expeditiously as possible, based upon my recommendations,” she added.

“I would not have taken this assignment without these assurances.”

 

N Ireland court hears challenge to prosecution of woman over abortion pills

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sep 20, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The High Court in Belfast began hearing a challenge Thursday to the decision to prosecute a woman who allegedly procured abortifacient medication five years ago for her daughter, who was 15-years-old at the time.

The hearing is taking place Sept. 20-21, and a ruling is expected in the coming months.

Abortion is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health. Abortion pills are illegal in Northern Ireland.

Seanin Graham wrote in the Irish News that the woman “faces two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying the pills with intent to cause a miscarriage” under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

The pills were purchased online in July 2013.

Elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, and Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

If she is is successfully prosecuted, the woman could face imprisonment. But another Belfast woman who was prosecuted for buying abortion pills online and procuring an abortion thereby was given a three-month suspended sentence in April 2016.

She is being supported in her challenge by Amnesty International, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Family Planning Association, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and the Abortion Support Network.

Grainne Teggart, an Amnesty International spokesperson, said the case “is a direct challenge to the criminalisation of women and abortion in Northern Ireland.”

A pro-life spokesperson, Bernie Smyth of Precious Life, countered that Northern Irish women are already provided “all genuine medical treatment”, and pointed out that the Northern Ireland Assembly has voted against “any change to our pro-life laws”.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the assembly in 2016.

The woman's legal challenge is one of several efforts to relax Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

The UK Supreme Court threw out a case challenging Northern Ireland's abortion law in June 2018, saying the commission which brought the case does not have standing to do so. However, the judges also said the current law violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Mance, delivering the judgement June 7, said that had the commission the competence to bring the challenge, “I would have concluded … that the current Northern Ireland law is incompatible with article 8 of the [European human rights] convention insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest but not insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of serious foetal abnormality.”

Four of the seven judges agreed that Northern Ireland abortion law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, and incest. A fifth agreed it is incompatible only in cases of fatal fetal abnormality.

But the court unanimously agreed that banning the abortion of unborn children with serious, but not fatal, abnormalities is compatible with the ECHR.

Yet Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, who is supporting the woman's legal challenge to her prosecution, called the case an “extremely important case; it is the first time that local courts will be able to consider how our laws criminalise termination of pregnancy since the Commission’s Supreme Court judgement in June.”

He said the Supreme Court had “outlined that Northern Ireland’s laws on termination of pregnancy are contrary to human rights standards,” and argued that “the court in Belfast should follow the judgement of the Supreme Court when coming to its decision in this case.”

“Women and girls continue to face being criminalised in what should be solely a healthcare matter,” Allamby claimed. “We are supportive of the growing public and parliamentary momentum calling for change on this issue.”

Northern Ireland's abortion law could be taken up by either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is currently suspended. The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party, is opposed to changing the law. Sinn Féin, another prominent party in Northern Ireland, backs a liberalization of the abortion law.

British prime minister Theresa May has said abortion should be a devolved issue for Northern Ireland. But Labour MP Diana Johnson is expected to introduce next month into the British Parliament a bill to decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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