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Catholic saints among those to be honored in garden of American heroes announced by Trump

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2021 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- The National Garden of American Heroes will include statues of many notable Catholic figures, including five saints and numerous people who are on the path to sainthood.

President Donald Trump announced in an executive order Jan. 18 that a garden will be built to “reflect the awesome splendor of our country’s timeless exceptionalism,” and to serve as a response to the spate of vandalism on statues during the summer of 2020.

“On (the National Garden’s) grounds, the devastation and discord of this moment will be overcome with abiding love of country and lasting patriotism,” said Trump. “America is responding to the tragic toppling of monuments to our founding generation and the giants of our past by commencing a new national project for their restoration, veneration, and celebration.”

The executive order included a list of names who will be featured in the park; Trump referred to these figures as people who embody “the American spirit of daring and defiance, excellence and adventure, courage and confidence, loyalty and love.”

“Astounding the world by the sheer power of their example, each one of them has contributed indispensably to America’s noble history, the best chapters of which are still to come,” said Trump.

Among those who will be memorialized in the National Garden of American Heroes include St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint; St. Katharine Drexel, the first born-U.S. citizen to be canonized; St. John Neumann; and St. Junipero Serra, the first saint canonized on U.S. soil.

Ven. Fulton Sheen and Ven. Augustus Tolton, one of the first black priests in the United States, as well as Servant of God Dorothy Day, will be honored.

Archbishop John Carroll, S.J., the first Catholic archbishop in the United States, will also be included, as will March for Life founder Nellie Gray, poet and activist Fr. Thomas Merton, OCSO, and Fr. John P. Washington, a US Army chaplain who died helping save soldiers on the sinking Dorchester during World War II.

The first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, is one of the 17 presidents who will be featured in the National Garden. Other Catholic political figures who will be honored include Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence; William F. Buckley; 20th century playwright and Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce; and Antonin Scalia.

Catholic athletes who will be enshrined in the garden include Kobe Bryant, Roberto Clemente, Vince Lombardi, Babe Ruth, and Jim Thorpe.

Not everyone on the list was a U.S. citizen, or even lived in what is now the United States. Christopher Columbus, statues of whom were frequently targeted over the summer of 2020, is set to be honored in the National Garden of American heroes.

“The National Garden will feature a roll call of heroes who deserve honor, recognition, and lasting tribute because of the battles they won, the ideas they championed, the diseases they cured, the lives they saved, the heights they achieved, and the hope they passed down to all of us — that united as one American people trusting in God, there is no challenge that cannot be overcome and no dream that is beyond our reach,” said Trump in the executive order.

Death of pro-life icon on MLK's day is "fitting," family says

CNA Staff, Jan 18, 2021 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- The passing of pro-life icon Joseph M. Scheidler, 93, former National Director of the Pro-Life Action League on Martin Luther King Jr.'s Day, is "absolutely fitting," his son Erik Scheidler told CNA after confirming his father’s death on Monday, January 18.

Joe Scheidler left his career in public relations to devote his life to the pro-life movement in 1973, immediately after the Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade in favor of legalizing abortion. 

He was especially famous for his long legal battle against the National Organization for Women (NOW), which cost him and his wife Anne many years of financial and emotional distress but ended in a landmark decision securing the right to protest abortion facilities around the country.

"The Pro-Life Action League is grieved to report the passing away of our founder, Joe Scheidler, ‘the Godfather of Pro-Life Activism.’ Joe died this morning peacefully, surrounded by the family of which he was so proud," tweeted his organization on Monday.

His son Erik, Executive Director of the Chicago-based pro-life organization, said “He marched with Dr. King in 1965, and the impact it had in him is to see that regular people can have a real in the cause of justice, and thus decided to recruit regular Americans to the fight in favor of life and against abortion.”

Scheidler started the pro-life "direct action" of protesting and witnessing pro-life options in front of abortion clinics, something many early pro-lifers considered as counterproductive. 

He created the Pro-Life Action League to train regular citizens to learn how to organize and protest locally. 

For that purpose he wrote the original book on fighting abortion, "CLOSED: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion" in 1985, which he updated in 1993; and produced the landmark video on sidewalk counseling, "No Greater Joy."

Scheidler was the first proponent of the massive use of large pictures depicting unborn babies and graphic images of aborted babies. The strategy was constantly criticized by the secular media and by some members of the pro-life movement, but Scheidler insisted in its necessity,  arguing that the truth about what actually happens in an abortion was being systematically hidden from the American public. 

To oppose his activism, in 1986 NOW filed a lawsuit against him and other pro-life activists on the basis of  the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO,) a law passed by the US Congress in 1970 with the declared purpose of seeking to eradicate organized crime.

 The lawsuit dragged on for two decades and put the Scheidlers on the verge of financial ruin several times. NOW's argument was that (RICO) could apply to pro-life organizations protesting abortion clinics even without economic motives, since an organization without an economic motive can still affect interstate or foreign commerce, and thus allegedly  satisfying the Act's definition of a racketeering enterprise.

According to the official account of the legal battle from the Pro-Life Action League, Scheidler originally won in the lower courts, but the case was sent back to the Federal Court by the Supreme Court in January, 1994. After a seven-week trial, Scheidler and the other defendants were found guilty of racketeering by a six-member jury. That finding was finally overturned by the Supreme Court in February 2003. 

Unwilling to concede defeat, NOW appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to undo the Supreme Court’s mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case again in November 2005 and issued a unanimous decision in favor of Scheidler in February 2006. However, NOW continued to wrangle over the details of the final judgment in district court and did not finally conclude until 2014, when NOW was ultimatley required to pay final costs to the Pro-Life Action League.

His memoir of more than forty years as a pro-life activist, "Racketeer for Life", was published in November, 2016. 

In a conversation with CNA in 2011, on the occasion of his birthday, Joe Scheidler recalled that “I spent eight years in the seminary, and four years in the monastery, wanting to be a priest. But when I was preparing for ordination, I thought, 'Nope – this is not what I'm called to do.' And then suddenly, everything started to fall together.”

“I read the Roe v. Wade decision, in 1973, and it was an atrocity – it was a great big lie. There is no 'constitutional right' to kill children. I was working as an account executive for a public relations firm at the time, and I just had to quit and do full-time pro-life work.”

“I rented a cheap little office only a block from my house, and started from there. At that time you could go into the clinics to talk to the girls, and try to talk the doctors out of abortion. We'd pass out thousands of leaflets, and then we started making films of what we were doing.”

Erik Scheidler will replace his father in the role of President of the pro-life organization. "I am standing in the shoulder of giants," he told CNA.

Joe was a mentor for me and a great example of a man and father who gave his life for the unborn. His unwavering passion to end abortion, energy, and classic sense of humor will be missed by all those who love him. May he go to his eternal Home in peace.

--Shawn Carney https://t.co/qd1zTW4owL

— 40 Days for Life (@40daysforlife) January 18, 2021 We are saddened to hear about the death of #ProLife hero, Joe Scheidler. He was an inspiration to the movement.

We pray for his family as we celebrate all he accomplished in his life. Rest In Peace. https://t.co/DFK9Ai7Dm0

— Heartbeat Int'l (@HeartbeatIntl) January 18, 2021 Today we mourn with the world upon the passing of Joseph M. Scheidler. We extend our deepest condolences to Joe’s wife, Ann and the entire Scheidler family on behalf of Pro-Life Wisconsin and all our supporters. https://t.co/zz8VV5KKnB

— Pro-Life Wisconsin (@ProLifeWI) January 18, 2021 FOLLOW Youth Ministry extends our deepest condolences to the Scheidler family. Joe Scheidler, founder of Pro-Life Action League, the godfather of the pro-life movement, died Monday at the age of 93. Joe was a such a powerful advocate for the unborn & will be missed.@ProLifeAction pic.twitter.com/cmNZhvZb63

— FOLLOW Youth Ministry (@followyouthmin) January 18, 2021 Today's death of Pro-Life Action League founder Joe Scheidler marks the end of an era. Joe credited his strategy of non-violent protest to the example of Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, with whom he marched with in Selma. Fitting he is called home on the day we honor Dr. King's legacy. https://t.co/9yayOM1w5g

— Mary H. FioRito (@maryfiorito) January 18, 2021 Please pray for the soul of Joe Scheidler, founder of @ProLifeAction and the “Father of the Pro-Life Movement,” as he passed away.

His style of activism is greatly needed today more than ever, and his love for our Lord is something we all should yearn for.

— David Scott Cordaro (@davidcordaro) January 18, 2021

Poland’s Catholics and Jews mark Day of Judaism with psalms, music, and silent prayer

Rome Newsroom, Jan 18, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholics and Jews in Poland observed the annual Day of Judaism with psalms, music, and silent prayer on Sunday.

The main commemorative event took place on Jan. 17 at the Bródno Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, where around 320,000 people are buried.

Polish Catholics have observed the Day of Judaism since 1998. This year, the day was marked with a common Liturgy of the Word followed by remarks from Catholic and Jewish leaders.

The reading was taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, on which the motto of this year’s commemoration was based: “Life and death. ‘Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.’” The quotation is from Deuteronomy 30:15.

Psalm 130, one of the penitential psalms, was also heard at the service. It was first read in Polish and then sung in Hebrew. There was also time for silent prayer.

The prayer concluded with a concert. Music by Symcha Keller’s band was interwoven with stories about members of the historic and present-day Polish Jewish communities.

Bishop Romauld Kamiński of Warszawa-Praga was present, as well as Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, who said last week: “The Day of Judaism in the Church for me, a Rabbi, is a holy day.”

According to a press release from the Polish bishops’ conference, Rabbi Stas Wojciechowski noted in his reflection that the passage from Deuteronomy is usually read at the Jewish New Year, “a time to summarize how we used our freedom, whether we chose life or death.”

“The rabbi emphasized that in the synagogue liturgy these words should be interpreted in the context of conversion, i.e. as long as a person is alive, he can convert,” the statement said.

Bishop Kamiński tied the reading to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and thoughts about life and death, the bishops’ release said. “He stressed that listening to God’s Word is a privilege, but the question arises: am I listening to God speaking to me? Does he have a chance to reach me today with his word?”

The Day of Judaism takes place at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held annually from Jan. 18-25. In Poland, the Catholic Church also observes a Day of Islam at the end of the ecumenical week.

Organized by the bishops’ conference, the Day of Judaism is “aimed at interreligious dialogue and helping to discover the roots of Christianity,” the bishops’ statement said.

Catholic priest in Nigeria found dead after abduction

CNA Staff, Jan 18, 2021 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The body of a Catholic priest was discovered in Nigeria on Saturday, a day after he was kidnapped by armed men. 

Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, reported on Jan. 18 that Fr. John Gbakaan “was allegedly executed with a machete in such a brutal manner that identification was hardly possible.”

The priest of the diocese of Minna, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, was attacked by unidentified men on the evening of Jan. 15. He was traveling with his younger brother along Lambata-Lapai Road in Niger State following a visit to their mother in Makurdi, Benue State.

Fides reported that the kidnappers at first demanded 30 million naira (around $70,000) for the two brothers’ release, later reducing the figure to five million naira (approximately $12,000).

Local media said that the priest’s body was found tied to a tree on Jan. 16. His vehicle, a Toyota Venza, was also recovered. His brother remains missing.

Following Gbakaan’s murder, Christian leaders called on Nigeria’s federal government to take action to stop attacks on clergy.

Local media quoted the Rev. John Joseph Hayab, vice chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in northern Nigeria, as saying: “We are simply pleading to the federal government and all security agencies to do whatever it will take to bring this evil to a stop.”

“All we are asking from the government is protection from evil men that are destroying our lives and properties.”

The incident is the latest in a series of abductions of clergy in Africa’s most populous country. 

On Dec. 27, Bishop Moses Chikwe, an auxiliary of the archdiocese of Owerri, was abducted alongside his driver. He was released after five days of captivity.

On Dec. 15, Fr. Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu, a member of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy, was kidnapped in Imo State en route to his father’s funeral in neighboring Anambra State. He was released the following day.

In November, Fr. Matthew Dajo, a priest of the archdiocese of Abuja, was kidnapped and released after 10 days in captivity.

Hayab was quoted as saying that the spate of kidnappings was discouraging young men from pursuing priestly vocations.

“Today in northern Nigeria, many people are living in fear and many young people are afraid to become pastors because pastors’ lives are in great danger,” he said.

“When bandits or kidnappers realize that their victims are priests or pastors, it seems a violent spirit does take over their heart to demand more ransom and in some cases go to the extent of killing the victim.”

ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, reported that on Jan 10 Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja said that the abductions would give the country “a bad name” internationally.

“Left unchecked by the Nigerian authorities, this shameful and disgusting act will continue to give Nigeria a bad name and scare away visitors and investors to the country,” he said. 

Releasing its annual World Watch List report last week, the advocacy group Open Doors said that security in Nigeria had deteriorated to the point that the country had entered the top 10 worst countries for the persecution of Christians.

In December, the U.S. State Department listed Nigeria among the worst countries for religious freedom, describing the West African nation as a “country of particular concern.” 

This is a formal designation reserved for nations where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place, the other countries being China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

The step was praised by the leadership of the Knights of Columbus. 

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said that “Nigeria’s Christians have suffered grievously at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups.”

He suggested that the murders and kidnappings of Christians in Nigeria “verge on genocide.” 

He said: “The Christians of Nigeria, both Catholic and Protestant, deserve attention, recognition, and relief now. Nigeria's Christians should be able to live in peace and practice their faith without fear.”

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

Pope Francis praises Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘timely’ message of peace

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said on Monday that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream “of harmony and equality for all people” is still relevant today.

“In today’s world, which increasingly faces the challenges of social injustice, division and conflict that hinder the realization of the common good, Dr. King’s dream of harmony and equality for all people, attained through nonviolent and peaceful means, remains ever timely,” the pope said on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In a message addressed to King’s daughter, Bernice A. King, Francis said that it was imperative to see people “in the truth of our shared dignity as children of Almighty God.”

“Only by striving daily to put this vision into practice can we work together to create a community built upon justice and fraternal love,” he said, praying for “divine blessings of wisdom and peace” upon participants in the Beloved Community Commemorative Service, marking MLK Day.

Hosted by The King Center, the streamed service on Jan. 18 featured as a keynote speaker T.D. Jakes, bishop of The Potter’s House, a megachurch in Dallas, Texas.

Quoting his 2020 encyclicalFratelli tutti,” the pope said that “each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths of dialogue.”

 

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On Dr. King's birthday, @Pontifex blessed our 20-21 MLK Nike City Edition jersey to honor our shared commitment to making positive change in social equality, economic empowerment and love.

?: https://t.co/ob7sSp0J9H#EarnTheseLetters pic.twitter.com/Hy8xts7t9y

— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) January 15, 2021  

Last week, Pope Francis blessed a special MLK jersey of the NBA basketball team the Atlanta Hawks. The uniform features the initials “MLK” across the front in honor of King, who was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929.

The Hawks will wear the special edition uniform when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 18.

The jersey sent to the pope had a number one and “Francis” written across the back. After blessing the shirt, the pope also signed it.

The Atlanta Hawks wrote on Twitter that the jersey was in honor of their “commitment to making positive change in social equality, economic empowerment and love.”

Bernice King told Vatican News in June 2020 that she felt a strong sense of harmony between her father and Pope Francis, whom she met twice in 2018.

She said that if Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today he “would be guided by his philosophy of nonviolence, which corresponded with his following of Jesus Christ.”

“He would, as he often did while he was living, share that we cannot cure violence with violence, which he said is a descending spiral. Of course, I believe he would compel us to embrace nonviolence, which is strategic, courageous, love-centered and organized,” she said.

Vatican says trial of Italian woman for alleged embezzlement will begin soon

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced on Monday that the trial of an Italian woman for alleged embezzlement would begin soon. 

A statement issued on Jan. 18 by the Holy See press office also indicated that the Vatican was dropping its request for the extradition of Cecilia Marogna from Italy.

It said: “On Jan. 13, 2021, the investigating judge of the Tribunal of Vatican City State, accepting the request made by the Office of the Promoter of Justice, revoked the precautionary measure previously ordered against Ms. Cecilia Marogna, against whom a trial is about to take place for alleged embezzlement committed in conjunction with others.” 

It continued: “The initiative intends, among other things, to allow the defendant -- who has already refused to defend herself by not appearing for questioning before the Italian judicial authority, requested by the Promoter of Justice through a rogatory procedure -- to participate in the trial in the Vatican, free from the pending precautionary measure against her.” 

The Vatican issued the statement on the day that Italian judges had been due to rule on whether to allow Marogna’s extradition. 

Marogna, a 39-year-old Sardinian, has been accused of misappropriating Vatican funds from payments of more than 500,000 euros (around $600,000) she received from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State through her Slovenia-registered company in 2018 and 2019.

Marogna has said that she worked for the Secretariat of State as a security consultant and strategist. She acknowledged receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican but insisted that the money was for her Vatican consultancy work and salary.

Marogna was held in custody following her arrest on Oct. 13 on an international warrant reportedly issued by the Vatican through Interpol.

A court of appeal in Milan decided on Oct. 30 to release Marogna from the city’s San Vittore jail on condition that she registered her presence daily with local police, the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

In December, the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court, annulled a lower court’s validation of the precautionary measure against Marogna.

Italian media alleged that funds intended for humanitarian purposes were used for personal expenses, including stays at luxury hotels and purchases of designer label handbags. But Marogna insisted that expensive gifts “were used to create cooperative relationships.” 

Media have also claimed that the payments were made under the direction of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the former sostituto of the Secretariat of State and a fellow Sardinian.

Becciu resigned from his curial position and gave up his rights as a cardinal on Sept. 24, reportedly in connection with multiple financial scandals dating back to his time as the second-ranking official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. 

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

In October, lawyers representing Becciu denied Italian media reports that the former curial official had been summoned by the Vatican in connection with payments to Marogna.

“In the interest of His Eminence the Cardinal, the defense attorneys once again reiterate that their client has not received any communication from the competent authority,” said lawyers Fabio Viglione and Agostinangelo Marras.

Australian Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson dies unexpectedly at age 70

CNA Staff, Jan 18, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).- The Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson died on Sunday at the age of 70.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, announced that Wilson had died unexpectedly on the afternoon of Jan. 17.

Coleridge, the archbishop of Brisbane, described Wilson as “a true man of the Church and a good friend who suffered greatly.”

“Beyond the darkness of Calvary may he know the light of Easter,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

Adelaide archdiocese said on Jan. 17 that Wilson had suffered “a series of health problems in recent years, including cancer” but that his death on Sunday was nevertheless unexpected.

Wilson was appointed as coadjutor archbishop of Adelaide in 2000, succeeding Archbishop Leonard Faulkner a year later. 

He attracted international media attention in 2018 when he was convicted of concealing abuse by a priest named Fr. Jim Fletcher who served in Maitland diocese along with Wilson in the 1970s.

After Wilson was sentenced to 12 months of home detention, he submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, which was accepted on July 30, 2018. 

He had initially planned to decide whether to step down following the completion of his appeal process. 

But speaking after his resignation, he said: “There is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of Archbishop of Adelaide, especially to the victims of Fr. Fletcher.”

“I must end this and therefore have decided that my resignation is the only appropriate step to take in the circumstances.”

 

Philip Wilson, Emeritus Archbishop of Adelaide, has died unexpectedly this afternoon...a true man of the Church and a good friend who suffered greatly: beyond the darkness of Calvary may he know the light of Easter pic.twitter.com/OhbLCLH4Rk

— Mark Coleridge (@ArchbishopMark) January 17, 2021  

In December 2018, a district judge overturned the conviction, saying that there was reasonable doubt a crime had been committed.

Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis said that Wilson could not be convicted merely because the “Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in terms of its historical self-protective approach” to clerical sex abuse.

“It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits, or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding Philip Wilson guilty, simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest,” he said.

Wilson was born on October 2, 1950, in Cessnock, New South Wales. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1975, he was appointed assistant priest of the parish of East Maitland.

After pursuing studies in New York City, he was appointed director of religious education in the diocese of Maitland, then vicar general.

He studied canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1990 to 1995.

In 1996, at the age of 45, he became Australia’s youngest bishop when Pope John Paul II named him bishop of Wollongong, which covers the Illawarra and Southern Highlands regions of New South Wales.

At the time of his appointment, Wollongong diocese was engulfed in an abuse crisis. Wilson issued a formal apology to abuse victims on behalf of the Church. 

In 2002, he was invited to address a special session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as the bishops struggled to respond to a wave of clerical abuse cases. 

A USCCB spokesman said at the time that Wilson was invited because he was “wise in matters of faith, skilled in diocesan leadership and experienced in dealing with the scandal and the pain and misfortune that clerical crimes bring upon bishops, the people and the Church.”

“He has faced the same challenges in his own country and has done so with grace, dignity, and confidence,” he commented.

Wilson served as president of the Australian bishops’ conference for two terms, from 2006 to 2010.

Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, who was named Wilson’s successor in Adelaide in March 2020, noted on Jan. 17 that Wilson was much loved by people across Australia. 

“He made major contributions to the Church and the wider communities in which he ministered, and was seen as a valuable part of the bishops’ conference, including during four years as president of the national assembly of about 40 bishops,” he said

Referring to the overturning of Wilson’s conviction, O’Regan continued: “A harrowing period of allegations, charges, conviction and eventually acquittal was a significant chapter on Philip’s life, but his record of supporting and advocating on behalf of victims and survivors is part of his legacy.” 

“Philip knew what pain many people had endured and suffered as a result of the sickening actions of some within the Church. He was part of the solution, and widely recognized as such.”

Lawyer confirms ex-nuncio to France will not appeal court verdict

CNA Staff, Jan 18, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Luigi Ventura will not appeal his suspended 8-month prison sentence for sexual assault, his lawyer has confirmed. 

A Paris criminal court found the former nuncio to France guilty on Dec. 16 of placing his hands on the buttocks of five men while conducting his public diplomatic duties.

He was ordered to pay 13,000 euros ($15,800) to four of the men and 9,000 euros ($10,900) in legal costs, AFP reported.

Ventura’s lawyer, Solange Doumic, confirmed French media reports that the Italian archbishop had decided not to appeal.

“Archbishop Ventura is too weary of this situation and this commotion of which he was the object,” she told CNA.

Ventura was absent for the trial, which took place on Nov. 10. A doctor said it was too dangerous for the 76-year-old Ventura, who is living in Rome, to travel to Paris while the coronavirus was surging in France. He was not present for the verdict.

Doumic had argued that the accusations against her client were minor and had been exaggerated to become “the trial of the Vatican, of hidden homosexuality at the Vatican.”

She said that Ventura touched the hips or backs of the men, but the gestures lasted only a few seconds and were never sexual in intention. She also said that he may not have realized they would be considered inappropriate. She added that after Ventura was operated on for a brain tumor in 2016 he has had some behavioral problems.

Prosecutor Alexis Bouroz asked for a 10-month suspended jail term for Ventura. In France, sexual assault can be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 75,000 euros (about $88,600).

The archbishop was first accused in early 2019 of inappropriately touching a staffer at a Jan. 17, 2019, reception for the New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The accusation was then investigated by Parisian authorities for several months.

In February 2019, a second employee of the City of Paris filed a complaint against Ventura, concerning an incident in January 2018.

Two further complaints were lodged with the authorities, one relating to a reception at a luxury hotel in Paris and another, by a seminarian, connected to a Mass, both of which took place in December 2018. 

The French newspaper Le Figaro reported that a fifth man, a civil servant, reported an incident without lodging a complaint.

The Vatican revoked Ventura’s diplomatic immunity in July 2019, paving the way for a trial in French courts.

He resigned as nuncio to France in December 2019 at the age of 75, having served in the post for 10 years.

Ventura was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Brescia in 1969. He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978 and was stationed in Brazil, Bolivia, and the U.K. From 1984 to 1995, he was appointed to serve at the Secretariat of State in the Section for Relations with States.

After his episcopal consecration in 1995, Ventura served as nuncio to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile, and Canada. He was appointed apostolic nuncio to France in September 2009.

Bishop calls for renewed fight against racism on MLK Day 

CNA Staff, Jan 18, 2021 / 02:49 am (CNA).- As Catholics and other Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, they should renew their commitment to fighting racism, said Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington.

“Through Dr. King's witness and the power of his echoing words, he championed the inherent God-given dignity of all persons, particularly those subjected to bigotry and prejudice,” Burbidge said in a Jan. 15 statement.

“In his courageous fight against racism and bigotry, Dr. King relied upon faith and prayer. Hope and transformative love were central to his message, as he reminded us, ‘hate is too great a burden to bear.’”

Unfortunately, the bishop said, bigotry is still prevalent today, noting that the “sin of racism continues to affect men, women and children in communities across the nation.”

The Virginia General Assembly this week discussed a resolution that would declare institutional racism to be a public health crisis in the state. It was first introduced by Delegate Lashrecse D. Aird (D-Petersburg), during a special session in August, but the topic was postponed until the regular session on Wednesday.

If passed, the resolution would permanently establish the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law, expand the power of Virginia’s Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity, and launch anti-racism training for all state elected officials and employees.

Thirty states, including North Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland, have declared racism to be a public health crisis.

Bishop Burbidge said the diocese has worked to fight racism through prayer, education, and action. He pointed to the diocese’s recent creation of an Advisory Council on Racism.

The council, he said, “works to identify how instances of racism, prejudice and bias have impacted individuals and communities in the Diocese and to develop a plan to bring about positive change in light of the Gospel and the teachings of our Faith.”

“As we work to address this evil, we must remember that what we ultimately seek is a genuine conversion of hearts that will compel change,” the bishop added.

“Together, let us pray that those harboring the burden of hate yield to the Prince of Peace, the source of salvation and love, Jesus Christ.”

 

New book aims to help Catholics find Christ in the coronavirus pandemic

Victoria, Canada, Jan 17, 2021 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- When Father Harrison Ayre looks back on 2020 and the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the phrase that immediately comes to his mind is ‘dazed and confused.’ 

“I look back and I think to myself, ‘Oh, I could have put [that] more pastorally here and there,’” Fr. Ayre said. “But I’m also quite forgiving of myself in that regard because I think we were just all dazed and confused and no one knew what to do, because virtually everyone has no experience with a worldwide pandemic to base this off of.”

Fr. Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria in Canada, and co-host of the podcast ‘Clerically Speaking.’ His diocese initially suspended public Masses in March of 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Despite the early days of lockdown being a challenging and scary time in so many ways, Father Harrison remembers something else that happened during that time.  

“For me personally, it was actually a time of great spiritual renewal,” he said. “My prayer life was never as good as it was in those three months of kind of initial lockdowns and closures. It was a really a time of intimacy with the Lord, and praying - really interceding for the Church.”

A big part of that spiritual renewal involved the Bible. 

“The Bible is not just a historical document that tells us about the past, but rather it's something living. God is speaking to the Church today through the events of scripture. Scripture is always pumping, alive.” 

The situation of global lockdown caused Fr. Ayre to read certain Bible passages with fresh eyes. For example, the story of Israel’s exile to Babylon, in the Old Testament. 

“They lost the temple, they lost the kingship, they lost their land...Everything that made them, the Jewish people, the chosen people of God, was removed from them,” he said.

“And in that process of that absence from everything, they actually came to a deeper appreciation of who God was and it purified them...It helped them see that God is not just the God of our land. This is the God of the universe. This is the true King. And they came back with a renewed energy and a renewed life into their vocation to be the light to the world.”

Fr. Ayre said the Church is a new Israel, and we can look at the events of Israel to help us try to understand what is happening in the Church today. 

“This is not new in the history of God's working with his people. He does this with Israel,” he said. “This has happened in history before too in the Church, with other plagues and churches closed down. This is not a unique moment. This is how God often acts to bring us to an even deeper vigor.”

“There's a deep hope here for renewal, for the Church, if we can open our hearts to listen.”

Fr. Ayre’s experience of spiritual renewal is something he hopes to share with the world through a new book - “Finding Christ in the Crisis: What the Pandemic Can Teach Us.” He co-wrote the book with Michael Heinlein, his editor at the Our Sunday Visitor publication Simply Catholic.

Fr. Ayre said the book was inspired by conversations he and Michael had during the initial lockdowns.

“We were just noticing … reactionism to a lot of things that were happening, instead of quiet receptivity,” Fr. Ayre said. “Sometimes there were perhaps some unhealthy attitudes manifesting itself. That's not always a bad thing, per se. It's not a judgment, it's just a revelation.” 

As the two talked more and more about it, they decided to create a series of articles that could publish on the Simply Catholic website. But Fr. Ayre said it didn’t seem like it was enough. 

“As we kind of talked about more and more, we said, ‘no, this needs to be like a resource that you can hand out to people.’ We just want this to be a tool to help build hope and to build up the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love.”

“Finding Christ in the Crisis” was published in the fall of 2020. The book was written in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but Fr. Ayre hopes it can serve as a resource for Catholics navigating other crises in the life of the Church. 

“The Church is not immune to crises,” he said. “And so we just hope and pray that this is asking that big question, ‘where is Christ in this?’”

Fr. Ayre emphasized that we can be realistic about the difficulties of this time, while still maintaining the virtue of Christian hope. 

“I think there is a balance there... But when we do feel down or alone or discouraged - that those feelings won't go away, per se, but the Christian faith says that this is where the cross is at work,” he said. “Often that's the place where Christ actually might be showing his closeness to us.”

“But the cross is still a cross. When we say that the cross is really the source of hope as a Christian, it doesn't remove the pain of the cross. It just inserts God's presence into that pain.”

“When we're feeling discouraged alone, angry...It only becomes a problem when we don't do that rooted in Christian hope, which is not wishful thinking. But rather to say, I recognize the presence of Christ here. When I'm discouraged, Christ is suffering that with me because he has taken on our humanity to suffer this with me. When I'm feeling alone, the Lord is alone with me, so that I'm actually really not alone.”

“Finding Christ in the Crisis” is available on Amazon and Our Sunday Visitor. 

This interview originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. Listen to the interview below, beginning at 3:30. 

 



CNA Newsroom · Ep. 89: Taking Back the Year