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Pope Francis: It's time to rediscover amazement, surprise, gratitude

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2018 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has said Christians should model the amazement, surprise and gratitude of Elizabeth and Zechariah - and their community - at the birth of their son, John.

“The whole event of the birth of John the Baptist is surrounded by a joyful sense of amazement, surprise and gratitude,” the Pope said in his weekly Angelus address in Rome.

“Looking at this, let us ask ourselves: how is my faith? Is it a joyful faith, or is it always the same faith, a ‘flat’ faith? Do I have a sense of amazement when I see the works of the Lord?”

Francis centered his Angelus on the solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.

In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoice at the birth of their son, whom they name John. Elizabeth and Zechariah were past childbearing age, so their community was shocked and amazed by the miracle of John’s birth.

The pope said Elizabeth and Zechariah’s community “immediately understood that something great - although humble and private - had taken place.”

Pope Francis then reflected on the miracle of life. He said married couples act as collaborators of God when they have children; and every child has an imprint of God.

“[It is] a truly sublime mission that makes every family a sanctuary of life and awakens - at every birth of a child - joy amazement and gratitude.”

He also said the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah illustrates God is beyond our imagination.

“God does not depend on our logic and our limited human capacity,” the pope said.

“It is necessary to learn to trust and remain silent before the mystery of God and to contemplate in humility and silence his work, which reveals itself in history and which often surpasses our imagination.”

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis noted the June 23 beatification in Paraguay of the Carmelite nun Maria Felicia de Jesus Sacramentado. The 20th-century nun is remembered for her enthusiastic service of the elderly, sick and imprisoned. She died at the age of 34.

“Her witness is an invitation to all young people, especially those from Paraguay, to live their lives with generosity, gentleness and joy.”

Meet Sair Del Toro: Hispanic evangelist extraordinaire

Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 24, 2018 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- If you ask Sair del Toro to tell you her story, she tells you the stories of other people. Women who have escaped abusive relationships. Gang members who have given their lives to Jesus. Teenagers who found healing after abortion.

She hardly mentions her role in those stories. But her role should not go unnoted. Those stories of conversion, or healing, or freedom, have one thing in common: Sair del Toro.

“I think when you give yourself freely to the Lord, beautiful graces and things come out, you can be a witness,” Del Toro told CNA.

Del Toro is director of Magnifica, the Spanish-language apostolate of Endow, a ministry that forms study and fellowship groups for women. She also hosts a daily radio show on Radio Guadalupe in Los Angeles, where she talks about theology, philosophy, Mary, the saints - “any subject.”

But Del Toro wasn’t always working for the Lord.

From wedding planner to bride of Christ

Although she grew up with a Catholic mother, Sair and her siblings withdrew from the faith. At one time she hated the Church, she said, because she was only paying attention to the bad news about it.

By the time she was 28, Del Toro was a well-known secular radio personality and wedding planner in Seattle, Washington. She drove a new Mercedes and had an apartment on the top floor with a view of the lake.

“Everything was perfect,” she said, “But I had something missing, I didn’t have love, I just had money. So every time that I was walking in my condominium I was like oh my God, I’m missing something.”

It was then that she started to ask God: “Where are you? Who are you?”

She started going back to church. Someone told her that if she wanted to find God, she should look to the Blessed Sacrament. So one day, she says she snuck into the adoration chapel to hug the tabernacle, wanting to see if God was really in “the little box.”

“I walked in there, I hugged Jesus Christ, and he came out and he hugged me. And I felt the presence of him in my heart and in my brain and in my soul - he was hugging me. It was the biggest hug of my life,” she said, and that love that she felt would forever change her life.

She left her high-paying job and swanky apartment and decided to join a convent in Omaha, Nebraska.

Del Toro’s mother was not so convinced of her quick conversion.

“My mom thought that I was crazy,” she said. So crazy, in fact, that she says her mother took her to be examined at a psychiatric hospital, which turned out to be run by nuns.

Del Toro said she was questioned by the doctor about whether she listened to God, heard his voice, loved him - questions she was afraid to answer honestly, if it meant she’d end up in a psych ward.

Still, she felt God urging her to tell the truth, so she responded - “Yes.” The doctor concluded that she wasn’t crazy - she was just in love with God.

After spending a few years in religious life, Del Toro felt God calling her to marriage. She left the convent and moved back to her home in Mexico, where she worked for several Catholic ministries, including the Mission for the Love of God, a ministry that aims to consecrate political leaders to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Over the course of three years, she says the ministry helped convince 75 percent of Mexico’s governors to consecrate themselves, their families and their work to Jesus.

“Most of the governors are secular, they’re totally opposite of what we do in the Catholic Church,” Del Toro said. “I used to somehow convince them to consecrate their work, family and all their soul to the Lord, which is crazy in Mexico because the majority of them are Masons.”

In 2013, Del Toro moved back to the United States to teach Theology of the Body to couples in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, before taking her current position with Magnifica.  

Converter of gang members

When Del Toro isn’t converting governors, she’s converting rooms full of hardened ex-gang members.

A few months ago, Del Toro was asked to give a presentation to a group in Houston - 200 people, mostly Hispanic men, who were hardened, tattooed ex-gang members and drug dealers.

“It’s very hard when you walk into a room like that,” Del Toro recalled. “I was thinking - ‘What is God going to do to me now?’”

She was scheduled to speak for two hours. She spoke for four - “because they needed more help than we were thinking.”  But by the end, she says, God had converted the room.

“We consecrated all of these people which was a miracle, because most of these people...have killed people, they were involved in very dirty and heavy business, they sold drugs, so for them to say yes to the Lord, it’s not like for you and for me, it’s a completely different thing,” she said.

“These people that we never thought would be consecrated to the Lord, they’re changing their lives and their families too,” she added. Del Toro said she looked for common ground with the ex-gang members, and told them that the hierarchy of the Church was much like the hierarchy of a gang - but on the side of the Lord rather than on the side of death and despair.

“So when you teach them how the church works, how God works, how the respect works, it’s actually the same thing but into the army of God,” she said.

“I’m telling them...your life is going to change, because you’re going happier than ever, you’re going to be with the truth of grace, and you’re going to live forever. So they feel like they really have something now, they’re worth something...we give them the hope of life, of eternity,” she added.

Del Toro takes little credit for her own efforts - it’s the work of God, she says.

“I can’t convince them, that was God doing his work.”

Magnifica miracles

Del Toro says she gets a front-row seat to the work of God through her work with Magnifica. One woman, Rachel (whose name has been changed), approached Del Toro recently to tell her the story of her life.

When Rachel was just 14, she snuck out of her parents house to go to a party. That night, she was kidnapped and brought from Mexico City to the U.S. border, where she was sold to a man who kept her in captivity for 10 years.

Rachel had two little girls by her captor, and was never allowed outside. Eventually, a neighbor called the police, and Rachel and her daughters were rescued. She connected with Del Toro through her Theology of the Body classes, and is now finding help and healing in the Church through her Magnifica group.

“The beauty of this one is that they were never mad at anyone,” not even their captor, Del Toro recalled. “She’s always happy, always smiling, thanking God for everything.”

There are many other stories like this, of women like Rachel who have experienced domestic violence and don’t know where to turn until they start building trust with people like Del Toro. According to the National Latin@ (sic) Network, one in three Latinas have experienced domestic violence.

Another woman, Monica (whose name has been changed), approached Del Toro after meeting her through Magnifica.

Like Rachel, Monica had been kidnapped for several years by her ex-husband. He abused her and used her body to extinguish cigarettes; he also drove screws into her skin.

Although she was able to leave him, her second husband was also abusing her “almost every day,” recalled Del Toro. “Her body is completely destroyed, but you never see that because she’s always covered,” Del Toro said. “But every time that I think about her, I feel like she is like Jesus Christ, she was put...on that cross.”

Monica’s husband is now in jail, and she now works to help other women that she meets through Magnifica groups.

“She helps others with smaller problems without (talking about her past),” Del Toro said.

“She is absolutely amazing, and that’s when God shows you hope for humanity, because when you see someone in bad shape with that kind of problem, you’d think they would want nothing to do with God, but that’s not true,” she said. “These people want everything to do with God and they want to help others.”

“So there’s always hope out there,” she added, “and God through these programs has been giving us so much grace to help others without doing too much. He does his work and he does it well, so you just need to sit next to him and enjoy the miracles that he’s doing all around us in our Church.”

Del Toro said Magnifica groups have been specifically designed to meet the spiritual, and practical, needs of Hispanic women, especially those who are immigrants to the United States.

When she approaches Hispanic women about Magnifica, Del Toro first gets to know them, asking them about their families and their lives. Most women who begin attending Magnifica are looking for a community, she said. “We meet and read for an hour and a half and then we have food, we have a party, all of us together with the kids,” she said.

She also has to train her Magnifica facilitators to be prepared to help women who are dealing with domestic violence, post-abortion trauma, and other serious issues that are prevalent among women participating in Magnifica groups.

“Hispanic mothers, they have a harder time here, they’re coming from the low class... so we have to be patient, we have more single mothers in our program, we have more abortions,” she said, because abortion clinics often intentionally build facilities in lower class neighborhoods.

“I have to make sure my facilitators understand all of this, because they are not jumping into a regular reading group, we’re talking about serious problems,” she said. “And I always say to them, you might find out horrible things, but no matter what you find out, it’s always the Lord next to you, and next to them. That’s why these girls are walking into your group, so give thanks to the Lord because these girls are getting into your groups.”

Lessons for the Church

Del Toro’s ministry experiences with Hispanic Catholics offer lessons for the Church in the United States, which is increasingly made up of people of Latin American origin.

Hispanics made up about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016, with especially large representation among youth and young adults: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the US is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

Del Toro is a leader with V Encuentro (Fifth Encounter) a national gathering of U.S. Hispanic leaders and ministers held in order to consult with Hispanic Catholics and respond to their pastoral needs, the next of which will be held in Texas in September.

“The culture is completely different,” Del Toro said of Hispanic/Latino culture versus white Americans.

For example, and as evidenced partly by her own success stories, “A Latin opens their heart very easily and they give themselves to the Lord right away,” she said. “They’re more affective than Americans, Americans have to think. A Latin is just like, this is what I feel, so I’m jumping, no matter if it’s right or wrong.”

There’s also a stronger cultural devotion to the faith - and particularly to the Blessed Virgin Mary - beginning in the home for many Hispanics, she said.

“You listen to your mother pray the rosary your whole entire life,” she noted. “Americans in general, they’re not very close to the rosary, but for us it’s normal to always have a rosary and pray it throughout the day your whole life.”

In fact, she said, Mary is usually the best place to begin the evangelization of Hispanics.

“Our Lady is always around us, Our Lady of Guadalupe is in every single street corner, you have her in houses, everywhere, we are very connected to her. So when you work through her, very few people will close the door to her...sometimes they reject Jesus, but if you work through Our Lady? Piece of cake.”

In her work with V Encuentro, Del Toro said she tells her groups to be aware of the different problems that Hispanic women face, like domestic abuse, increased rates of single motherhood, and abortion.

“They need help and they need big protection, because if we don’t protect these women, the next generation is going to become worse and worse, so this is the time to do something real.”

Del Toro said the two biggest mistakes she sees the Church making today, especially when it comes to evangelizing to Hispanics, are failing to be direct about sin, and not taking the time to develop real relationships with people. When Catholics stop talking about what “the Church” should be doing and instead focus on what they can be doing as Christians, it’s much more effective, Del Toro said.

“You think that a program will change them? No, they need to feel the love, and if you don’t feel the love from someone else in there, you’re not going to change,” she said. “Another thing is stop to talk about the Church only. Why not give the example? Why not live the life you’re supposed to live? Because to talk about the Church is very easy. But follow the Gospel? That’s the hard part.”

“Listen to them first of all,” she said, to understand them and their lives. Only after you listen can you talk to them about God.

“Give them a good example. Hug them. Ask them - what can we do for you? How can I help you? How often do we ask that?” she said.  “We don’t want to have the trouble, we don’t want to have one more thing because (we’re) so busy, so we forget very easy things that are the basic things. Simple things like that would make a huge change in the community.”

That’s what Del Toro has been striving to do during her many years in ministry.

“The people that know me know that what I do I do through my heart, otherwise I could be doing different things for a lot of money,” she said. “But my (goal) is heaven and I want to be a saint, I really want to be a saint. So I just relax, letting God do whatever he wants to do with me.”

But she’s called in a special favor from heaven. She needs Mary’s protection.

“I told Mary - don’t leave me alone my entire life!”


Why hundreds are still drawn to the powerful legacy of the 'Rosary Priest'

Easton, Massachusetts, Jun 24, 2018 / 06:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly three decades after his death, Father Patrick Peyton still receives fan mail.

People from all over the world submit letters and electronic notes - intercessory prayer requests and stories of prayers answered in the name of Father Peyton - to the desk of Father David S. Marcham.

Marcham, who is now vice postulator for the Cause of Venerable Patrick Peyton and director of the Father Peyton Guild, first discovered the many prayer requests and gratefully triumphant notes during a chance visit to Holy Cross Ministries in Easton, Massachusetts. The prayerful notes inspired him to join the effort in spreading Fr. Peyton’s message by advancing his cause for sainthood.

“Fr. Peyton has the ability through his message and through his intercession to work on the level of our individual families, but also to work worldwide,” he said.

Father Patrick Peyton (1909-1992) was a dynamic advocate for family prayer and a trailblazer in radio broadcast and televised evangelization.

Like many Irish families, Peyton grew up praying the Rosary. His devotion to Mary deepened when he was healed of advanced tuberculosis with no explanation, shortly after his ordination. He credited the intercession of the Blessed Mother for his recovery, and became committed to spreading the importance of prayer through Mary.

In doing so, he caught the attention of Hollywood.

After World War Two ended, Peyton began a radio show to pray in thanksgiving for peace. His show reached wide audiences with his passionate calls for family prayer, and it featured prominent public figures, from President Harry Truman to New York’s Archbishop Spellman. A strong proponent of the Rosary and a firm believer in its power, Peyton had each guest pray the Rosary for the world to hear.

However, executives of the radio station wanted to explore the idea of bringing in Hollywood stars. Peyton ambitiously called Bing Crosby, who had just seen his big break in Going My Way--a movie about a priest who created a church choir to help a group of boys reorient their lives.

“After Father Peyton explained what he was doing, [Bing Crosby] said, ‘Of course I’ll be on the program!’” said Father Willy Raymond, the current Holy Cross Family Ministries president and previous director of Family Theater Productions, both of which Father Peyton began.

“With [Crosby’s] name on it, it really got the nation’s attention,” Raymond added.

Family Theater Productions continues Peyton’s legacy in the film industry, providing a community for Hollywood Catholics and producing spiritual content. One of its most recent efforts, The Dating Project, was recently released in April, and the program Catholic Central provides short, informative films geared toward young people.

Along with promoting prayer in his shows, Peyton held “Rosary Rallies” around the world - from Peru to the Philippines to Papua New Guinea - earning him the title that he still bears to this day of “The Rosary Priest.”

Last December, Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of Fr. Peyton, declaring him “Venerable.” The priest’s information is currently under review for further advancement toward canonization.

An event celebrating the declaration of Fr. Peyton as Venerable drew a crowd of around 700 people to Holy Cross Family Ministries in North Easton, Massachusetts earlier this month.

Attendees - families, notable Catholic figures and international dignitaries alike - took part in the festivities. Auxiliary Bishop Arthur Colgan of Lima, Peru, celebrated the June 10 Mass. Raymond Flynn, former mayor of Boston and former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, was also present, along with Shane Cahill, Irish Consul General in the U.S., and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y.

Included in the celebration were three key parts of Father’ Peyton’s faith-based daily routine: a Eucharistic Procession, a celebration of the Mass and the praying of the Rosary.

“Every day, no matter how busy he was, Father Peyton prayed the Rosary many times during the day… he always made a holy hour with Eucharistic Adoration as a part of his day,” said Fr. Marcham. “And he also, every day, celebrated the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”

Everyone present at the June 10 prayer event was given a blessed Rosary, and many took Rosaries for their loved ones who could not make it, said Marcham. Each family was also provided with a Rosary prayer kit.

Marcham was inspired by the turnout at the event. He said many attendees found it “spiritually uplifting to hear that Father Peyton’s cause is progressing… they also found it was spiritually uplifting to be part of it.”

The sweeping commonality that “every one of us comes from a family” - along with the late priest’s zeal for holiness - is what still draws people to Fr. Peyton, said Marcham.

Many, he said, speak of the “realization of how something is going on in every person’s family - even the ones that look like they’re perfect from the outside.”

“Father Peyton offers a way for us to have God’s grace help us to reconcile, to heal, to move through challenges.”

Like the families of the post-World War era, modern families face difficulties, said Marcham.

“We basically have schedules and structures of life today that have family members going in all different directions,” he said, adding that many modern families struggle with high divorce rates, opioid addictions, misuse or overuse of technology and a demanding corporate culture.

“Making sure that God is welcome in the home is absolutely essential to give meaning and purpose to people’s lives,” Fr. Raymond added. When a family is rooted in prayer, he said, children “grow up knowing and trusting that God is real, that he’s present, that he loves them, and he’s going to be with them through thick and thin.”

Both priests recalled Fr. Peyton’s popular saying, “The family that prays together stays together.”

“We need the biggest promoter of this message we could get, and he’s the one,” Father Marcham said.

Marcham and his colleagues’ mission is “not to glorify Father Peyton,” he clarified. “It’s to make people aware of him and his holiness and his efficacy of his intercessory prayer. And really, the purpose of all this is to draw all of us and invite everyone to this to grow closer to our Blessed Mother and our Lord.”

“I’m encouraging everyone and inviting everyone to join me.”

#BigFertility: New documentary aims to shed light on the surrogacy industry

San Francisco, Calif., Jun 23, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Becoming a surrogate mother seemed like a natural option for Kelly Martinez, who enjoyed helping people and liked being pregnant.

Just 20 years old, she thought working with big surrogacy agencies was a safe way for her to help couples have a family.

Instead, however, she says she was instructed to lie to the French consulate about being the biological mother of the children she was carrying. She was told to sign legal papers in French, which she did not understand. She did not receive a copy of the documents, and no translator was offered to her.

Ultimately, Martinez says she was manipulated, lied to, locked in a legal battle, and left with a stack of medical bills. She now sees the surrogacy industry differently – as an industry centered on profit.

Martinez’s story is being turned into a feature-length documentary called #BigFertility, a film produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, which aims to show the dangers behind the big money involved in the surrogacy industry.

“Kelly’s story is particularly unique because of the international dimension and how the industry exploited her over and over again,” said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.

“Her story shows how she was lied to, lied about, financially ruined and almost lost her life,” Lahl told CNA.

Martinez became a three-time surrogate mother. She became a surrogate for a French couple and a Spanish couple, despite the practice being illegal in all forms in the couples’ home countries. She also became a surrogate mother for a couple in the U.S. Throughout the documentary, Martinez talks about the medical risks, exploitation, and abuse she says she faced during the surrogacy process.

“I have now had my eyes opened to the fact that this is really about money, not about the children,” Martinez says in the trailer for #BigFertility.

The international scope of Martinez’s experiences, Lahl said, points to the overarching concerns that surrogacy around the globe presents. Martinez has now become an advocate against “big surrogacy,” and has spoken at various events around the world about her experience, including to members of Spanish Parliament and the United Nations.

Surrogacy has long been a controversial topic because of its connection with exploitation, abuses, and ethical concerns. The #BigFertility documentary is hoping to bring more of these concerns to light through Kelly’s story and experiences.

“Pushing back on the false narrative that surrogacy can be regulated and prevent problems, #BigFertility will show that the industry cares most about profits and least about the women used as paid breeders,” Lahl said.

The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network is also running a kickstarter page to finalize and market the documentary, which will be launched this fall.

Ex-Vatican diplomat found guilty of child porn charges

Vatican City, Jun 23, 2018 / 06:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the close of his civil trial in the Vatican, former Holy See diplomat Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella was found guilty of possessing and distributing child pornography and given a five-year prison sentence.

The priest was also asked to pay a fine of 5,000 euro. The penitentiary where he will serve his prison term is unknown.

Capella, 51, a former Vatican diplomat, was recalled from the U.S. nunciature in Washington, D.C. last September after the U.S. State Department notified the Vatican of a “possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images” by a diplomat.

His June 23 sentence came after the priest admitted his guilt in the trial’s opening session the day before, saying he committed his crimes during a period of “personal crisis” and weakness after being transferred to Washington D.C.

During the trial, Capella admitted to opening an account on Tumblr, where he obtained and exchanged lewd images and videos of children online. Some 40-55 images were found downloaded onto his cell phone, computer and a cloud storage device.

The images were divided into two primary categories, one for images from Japanese comics, and the other for images of children aged 14-17. At least one video showed a child depicted in an explicit sex act with an adult.

At the start of Saturday’s hearing, Vatican Promoter of Justice, Gian Piero Milano, asked that Capella be jailed for 5 years and nine months, paying a fine of 10,000 euro since he “knowingly and willingly” acquired “huge quantities” of pornographic images involving children, shared them and downloaded them to his devices.

The images of the comics, Milano said, were worse than other images found, since they were hand drawn and thought out with intent and creativity.

However, Capella’s lawyer asked that the sentence be reduced to the minimum, arguing that the priest was psychologically unstable due a personal crisis at the time his crimes began, and that Vatican law does not specify what the term “huge quantities” means.

The final sentence of 5 years and a fine of 5,000 euro brought the two-day trial to a close.

In his closing remarks before receiving the sentence, Capella said the errors he made “are evident” and happened in the context of a “period of fragility.”

“I am very sorry,” he said, “because my weakness has shamed the Church, my diocese, the Holy See, and my family.”

Capella said he viewed his crime as “a bump in the road of my priestly life,” and voiced hope that his case would help to others in the future.

Originally from Capri, Capella was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan and in 1993 was asked by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini to enter the diplomatic service of the Holy See.

In 2004, after studying at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, he was sent to the apostolic nunciature in India, and three years later, in 2007, was transferred to the nunciature in Hong Kong. He was then transferred back to the Vatican in 2011, and worked in the Secretariat of State's office for Relations with the States.

In June 2016 he was asked to move to Washington D.C., and was upset by the decision, but said nothing. Capella began using Tumblr shortly after his arrival to the U.S. in July 2016, to look at memes, and eventually started viewing pornography and child pornography.

The U.S. State department flagged Capella's activity and informed the Vatican of a possible violation Aug. 21, 2017.

In September of that year, Canada issued a nationwide arrest warrant for the priest, who was then recalled to the Vatican. Police in Ontario said he had accessed, possessed, and distributed child pornography while visiting Windsor over the 2016 Christmas holiday.

Prior to his trial, Capella had been held in a Vatican jail cell since April 9, 2018, and was indicted by the Holy See June 9.

Filipino bishops hesitant about priests seeking gun permits

Manila, Philippines, Jun 23, 2018 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After three priests were murdered during the last six months, Philippine officials say they have received gun carry permit applications from nearly 250 religious workers, including 188 Catholic priests – but some of the country’s bishops have raised concerns about a priest carrying a weapon.

In the Philippines, a person is only permitted to carry a firearm outside of their residence if they are under threat or if their life is in “imminent danger.” Normally, this would require a “threat assessment certificate” from the Philippine National Police (PNP), but certain professions – including priests, rabbis, journalists, and doctors – are exempt from this requirement as their jobs are considered to be inherently dangerous.

PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde said it was uncertain if the permit applications had increased as a reaction to the recent string of murders.

All legal gun owners in the Philippines are licensed, and a license to own a firearm is separate from a license to actually carry the weapon outside of the home.

Despite the obvious threat to the clergy in the Philippines, many Filipino bishops, including the head of the country’s bishops' conference, are not on board with the idea their priests carrying firearms.

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao said in an interview that being a priest in the country means being comfortable with the possibility of being murdered on the job.

"We are men of God, men of the Church, and it is part of our ministry to face dangers, to face deaths if one may say that way,” said Valles.

Bishop Pablo David of Kalookan said it was immoral and “unpriestly” for a priest to carry a weapon for self defense. He also said that a priest who wanted to carry a firearm should leave the priesthood and enter the military, as well as receive “serious counseling.” Priests in the Philippines will not be permitted to carry a firearm without the express permission of their bishops.

Archbishop Rolando Tirona of Caceres suggested that worried priests learn some form of martial arts in lieu of carrying a firearm. Even still, Tirona said that these skills should only be learned as a preventative measure.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga will not allow the priests of his diocese to carry arms, saying, “Sacrifices and sufferings are part and parcel of being priests. It is our calling, that is, to carry the cross and even to be crucified on the cross.”

Although concerned priests may not have their bishops’ support when it comes to self-defense, they do have the full backing of the country’s police director general.

Albayalde said that all Filipinos, including the clergy, have the right to own and carry a firearm provided they meet the legal requirements to do so. The PNP is willing to offer training for any priest seeking to carry, Albayalde said, and will offer help with the licensing process.

Nothing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church prohibits protecting one’s life, even if that results in the death of the aggressor.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologiae that it is lawful for a person to kill another in an act of self defense. The doctrine of double-effect would permit this as a person was seeking to preserve their own life first and foremost, not kill another. However, in a reply to an objection in the same article, he notes that while a cleric who kills a man in self-defense committed a sinless act, he is nevertheless irregular.

And elsewhere in the Summa Theologiae, while discussing war, St. Thomas argues that clerics should not take up arms even in self defense, because by nature of their vocation it would be unfitting for them to shed blood, “and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry.”

Speaking of the carrying out of capital punishment, St. Thomas wrote that “It is unlawful for clerics to kill, for two reasons. First, because they are chosen for the ministry of the altar, whereon is represented the Passion of Christ slain 'Who, when He was struck did not strike'. Therefore it becomes not clerics to strike or kill: for ministers should imitate their master … The other reason is because clerics are entrusted with the ministry of the New Law, wherein no punishment of death or of bodily maiming is appointed: wherefore they should abstain from such things in order that they may be fitting ministers of the New Testament.”

The 1917 Code of Canon Law (which has been superseded) barred clerics from carrying arms, except in case of just fear (canon 138). The 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is now in force, does not include any such prohibition.

Pa. court indefinitely blocks release of clergy sex abuse report

Harrisburg, Pa., Jun 22, 2018 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The release of a Grand Jury report detailing cases of clerical sex abuse in six of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania has been blocked by the state’s Supreme Court for unspecified reasons.

The court released the unsigned order June 20, but did not state which individuals or groups had applied for the stay or the reason behind the application. It also does not state for how long the stay applies or when the report could be published in the future.

“And now, this 20th day of June, 2018, the Applications for Stay are granted. The Honorable Norman A. Krumenacker, III, and the Office of the Attorney General are enjoined from releasing Report No. 1 of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury pending further order of this Court,” the order, issued by the state’s Supreme Court, reads. Krumenacker is a Cambria County judge who has overseen the Grand Jury proceedings.

The stay indefinitely delays the release of a report that has been more than two years in the making, during which time victims of past abuse have recounted incidents of sexual abuse to the jury. Legal experts have told local news sources that the depth and breadth of this investigation is almost unprecedented among clerical sex abuse investigations that have taken place in the United States.

The two non-participating dioceses in the report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, have already undergone similar investigations.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has headed the investigation, said in a May 21 statement that he believed dioceses and bishops were behind the push to block or delay the publication of the report.

However, the participating dioceses - Allentown, Erie, Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Harrisburg, and Scranton - and their bishops have all said that they did not apply for the stay, and that they support the publication of the report.

“We anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter, and support the release of the report which will give victims a voice,” Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie said in a statement. “Until the report is released, we will continue our efforts to identify abusers and provide counseling and assistance to victims.”

“The contents of the report will be painful, but it is necessary for the report to be released in order for us to learn from it and to continue in our efforts to be responsive to victims and to create safe environments for our children,” the Diocese of Scranton said in its statement. “With regards to the stay, it's important that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take all the steps it deems necessary.”

“The Diocese of Harrisburg has fully cooperated with the Office of the Attorney General. The Diocese and Bishop Gainer strongly support the release of the Grand Jury report and have not filed anything to cause the stay ordered (Wednesday),” spokesman Mike Barley said in a statement. “However, as we have stated before, it is critical that this report is accurate.”

Diocesan officials told CNA that they were unaware whether those who had applied for the stay had ties to the Church.

Ed Palattella, a reporter for the Erie Times, wrote that it is believed that those who filed for the stay petition were not diocesan officials, but others who were named in the report.

Because the majority of those named in the report would be priests, it is likely that a priest or group of priests named in the report filed for the stay.

According to an order from Krumenacker written earlier this month, anyone who is named in the Grand Jury report is given notice of their inclusion in the report and is allowed to file a rebuttal. However, once approved by a Grand Jury, written reports cannot be amended. All documents regarding the report remain sealed and so the identity of the party or parties who filed for the stay cannot be confirmed.

Victims said that the delay of the release of the report is causing further harm to those who have experienced clerical sex abuse.

State representative Mark Rozzi told The Inquirer that the stay order was a “travesty of justice and insult to all victims of childhood sex abuse.”

“It’s just like it’s been since Day One with me, kick us to the curb. Let the trash on the curb get old, maybe we’ll rot and die and go away. We’re not going away. I’m not going away, and I can promise that to all the victims across the commonwealth,” he said.

Last month, Krumenacker rejected an attempt by defense lawyers to stall the publication of the report. Defense lawyers said that the state’s interest in protecting their unidentified clients’ reputation and due process were enough to halt the publication of the report.

Krumenacker dismissed the request, arguing that “The commonwealth’s interest in protecting children from sexual predators and persons or institutions that enable them to continue their abuse is of the highest order.”

The request was appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, which ordered the stay June 20.

During trial, former Vatican diplomat admits viewing child pornography

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At the start of his Vatican City trial Friday, Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella, a former diplomat for the Holy See, admitted to charges of the possession and distribution of child pornography while working in the U.S.

Capella, 51, a former Vatican diplomat, was recalled from the U.S. nunciature in Washington, D.C. last September after the U.S. State Department notified the Vatican of a “possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images” by a diplomat.

The first hearing in the civil trial was held the afternoon of June 22. Present alongside Capella were his psychologist, Tommaso Parisi; the Vatican's Promoter of Justice, Roberto Zannotti; and judges Giuseppe Della Torre, Venerando Marano, and Carlo Bonzano.

In his testimony, Capella outlined the history of his diplomatic service to the Holy See and admitted his guilt, saying his crimes were the result of a “personal crisis” stemming from his transfer to Washington D.C.

Originally from Capri, Capella was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan and in 1993 was asked by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini to enter the diplomatic service of the Holy See.

In 2004, after studying at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, he was sent to the apostolic nunciature in India, and three years later, in 2007, was transferred to the nunciature in Hong Kong.

Capella was then transferred back too the Vatican in 2011, and worked in the Secretariat of State's office for Relations with the States.

In his testimony, Capella said he was happy there and enjoyed his work, and that prior to his time in Washington D.C., he had never viewed pornography or expressed interest in that type of content. But when he received a call June 30, 2016, asking him to move to D.C., Capella said he was unhappy with the move, but did not say anything.

“Unfortunately out of respect to the hierarchy, out of the sense of duty, I did not create problems. Instead of making my discomfort known to them, I thanked them for the transfer,” he said during the trial.

After arriving to the U.S., Capella said he had no enthusiasm for his work. The first four months, he said, were “bland,” and he felt “empty” and “useless.”

Problems began to arise, Capella said, when he started looking for funny memes and pictures of animals online to relieve his boredom. Referring to the use of pornography, he said “this kind of morbidness was never part of my priestly life” before this time of desolation.

When questioned by the Vatican's prosecutor and lead judge about how this boredom led to the use of child pornography, Capella said he had started to use the micro-blogging site Tumblr July 23, 2016, to find the amusing images, which led to a slow slide into pornographic images.

This eventually turned into child porn, Capella said, explaining that he began using Tumblr's chat function to exchange images, and had “vulgar” conversations with other unmarried persons.

The U.S. State department flagged Capella's activity and informed the Vatican of a possible violation Aug. 21, 2017.

In September of that year, Canada issued a nationwide arrest warrant for the priest, who was then recalled to the Vatican. Police in Ontario said he had accessed, possessed, and distributed child pornography while visiting Windsor over the 2016 Christmas holiday.

Msgr. Capella has been held in a Vatican jail cell since April 9, 2018, and was indicted by the Holy See June 9.

In his own testimony during the hearing, Parisi said he met Capella after the priest had come back to the Vatican in October 2017, and that the priest had specifically asked for his services.

Capella had trouble sleeping when he first came back, Parisi said, explaining that he prescribed medication to help the priest sleep. The two have held counseling session twice a week since the priest came back to Rome.

According to Parisi, Capella is “aware of his role” in the crimes he committed, and has admitted his errors.

Gianluca Gauzzi, a computer engineer who works for the Vatican Gendarme, said that during the investigation he looked through three cell phones, two USB drives, and several hard drives.

In addition to the images he found on these, Gauzzi said he found additional images on a cloud storage which had been deleted from other devices, totaling in 40-55 images in all.

Gauzzi said he divided the images into two primary categories, one for images from Japanese comics, and the other for images of children aged 14-17. At least one video showed a child depicted in an explicit sex act with an adult.

The images, Gauzzi said, had been exchanged in chats.

Capella's trial will resume the morning of June 23.

'Not one more death' - Nicaraguan bishops appeal for peace

Masaya, Nicaragua, Jun 22, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Amid continued unrest in Nicaragua, Church leaders traveled to the city of Masaya Thursday to pray and appeal for peace.

Protests began April 18 after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

More than 200 in the country have been killed in the violence, according to estimates.

On June 19, government-linked paramilitary groups entered Masaya, clashing with protesters. Six people were killed and 35 wounded. Masaya is one of the cities in the west of the country which has shown resistance to the paramilitaries and pushed for Ortega to be removed from office.

With reports of government forces surrounding Masaya again on Thursday, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes, Bishop Silvio José Báez and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Stanislaw Waldemar Sommertag traveled to the city in hopes of mediating the situation there and calling for an end to the violence.

Bishop Báez, who was born in Masaya, led a procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets filled with hundreds of people, some crying and on their knees. When they arrived at San Sebastián church in the Monimbó neighborhood, he spoke to the crowds, voicing solidarity and grief.

The bishop called Masaya a “martyred” city and compared it to “Jesus crucified,” according to the Managua archdiocese’s Facebook page. He said that like Jesus, the city will rise again.

Bishop Báez said that as they were walking through the city streets, he heard cries for justice but reminded the people that justice is not vengeance.

“Here at the church of San Sebastián I want to remind [everyone] of one of the commandments of God: ‘Thou shalt not kill’.”

The bishop then appealed to “those who came to the city to kill… not one more death in Masaya.”

Archbishop Sommertag echoed the call for peace.

“We cannot respond to violence with…more violence, because remember that any death here is an outrage to God, that is why you have to become aware, it's a call to everyone to be responsible for your actions small or great.”

In a follow-up to the day's events, the Archdiocese of Managua posted on Facebook that Cardinal Brenes spoke for an hour with the police commissioner, who “committed to stop the attacks.”

The cardinal and the nuncio asked for the release of all those who had been arrested, presenting a list of detainees, and the police commissioner agreed to release them.



This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Give space peace a chance, Holy See says

Vienna, Austria, Jun 22, 2018 / 02:37 pm (CNA).- After U.S. President Donald Trump called Monday for a new military branch referred to as the “space force,” the Holy See has encouraged a unified, peaceful approach to space exploration.

“The Holy See wishes to stress the importance of ensuring that outer space remains peaceful and that all outer space activities and efforts protect and promote this goal,” said Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory.

“The potential for development through space technology is immense and that the best way to make use of this potential is through international cooperation,” he said, in a June 21 statement to United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

Brother Guy is also the president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and led the Holy See’s Delegation at UNISPACE+50, a conference which took place at the Vienna International Centre in Austria from June 18-21.

UNOOSA described the purpose of the symposium as to “consider the future course of global space cooperation for the benefit of humankind.”

The conference occurred shortly after President Trump directed Pentagon officials to move toward establishing a “space force” in support of national security. He said the branch presence would create jobs and that the regulation of space traffic management should not fall to other countries.

"I'm hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” he announced at a June 18 meeting of the National Space Council.

“It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.”

“There’s no place like space,” Trump added.

The sixth branch of military would have to be approved by U.S. Congress before it was established. President Trump also challenged rich Americans to pursue private, commercial space industry on U.S. soil.

Brother Consolmagno encouraged a different approach to space study and exploration. “The Holy See wishes to stress the importance of ensuring that outer space remains peaceful and that all outer space activities and efforts protect and promote this goal,” he said in remarks at the conference.

“It would be a most dangerous and alarming development, and one that could impact every single man and woman on Earth, if outer space were to become another theatre of armed conflict, just as the land, sea and air before it.”

“When the Earth is viewed from space, the atmosphere is the only border that matters, he said. “In seeing the Earth from space, we realize that our own borders are insignificant in comparison. The Earth’s atmosphere is a global environment that needs to be protected by a global vision of this limited, shared natural resource and must be utilized for the benefit of all humankind,” he added.

Consolmagno said the benefits of space exploration, and the data from space research, should be publicly available. Space travel, he continued, should be made more affordable, and viewed as a benefit to mankind and the planet.

“We need to reflect on how we can transform the space economy from one of very expensive space services and products available to a few, to one that harnesses the abundance of space-derived data and services for the good of all, creating opportunities to engage more actors and opening up new markets for space-derived data and services to meet the needs of the poor in a financially sustainable way.”