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School district can't hide student gender identity 'transition' from parents, Wis. judge says

CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 05:43 pm (CNA).- A temporary injunction has halted the Madison School District from following gender identity guidance that critics said concealed from parents whether teachers and staff were affirming students in transgenderism.

Judge Frank Remington of the Circuit Court of Dane County issued a Sept. 28 court order barring the district “from applying or enforcing any policy, guideline, or practice reflected or recommended in its document entitled ‘Guidance & Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary & Gender-Expansive Students’ in any manner that allows or requires district staff to conceal information or to answer untruthfully in response to any question that parents ask about their child at school, including information about the name and pronouns being used to address their child at school.”

Attorneys from both the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and the Alliance Defending Freedom national legal group initially represented 14 individual parents from eight families in their challenge to the guidance and policy.

“It should go without saying that school district staff should be honest with parents, especially when it comes to critical matters concerning their children, but we are pleased that the court has issued an order now requiring it,” Roger Brooks, senior counsel with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, said Sept. 29.

Brooks said attorneys will continue to argue for their clients’ “legitimate concern” over the policy of “deceiving parents” and “excluding them from profound decisions involving the well-being of their own children.”

Luke Berg, deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the order is “a big win” that shows the policy is “concerning and problematic.” However, he argued the order did not go far enough because it does not require parents to be proactively notified of a child’s request to adopt a transgender identity.

“Our argument is you can’t facilitate a transition without parental consent,” he said.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys said the school district guidance instructs district employees to help children of any age adopt a transgender identity at school if the child requests it, without notifying parents or securing their consent. The request would be concealed from parents unless the child consents to parents being told.

The 33-page book on guidance and policies regarding support for transgender, non-binary and “gender expansive” students bears the label of the school district and begins with a message from Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. However, the policy has not formally been adopted by the school board.

In response to Judge Remington’s order, the school district has said the guidance isn’t designed to “misrepresent or conceal anything from parents.”

The district said the guidance “prioritizes working in collaboration with families to support our students and it is always our preferred method of support.” The district said it will “continue to prioritize the safety and well-being of every individual student to the best of our ability.”

The school policy book section on family communication appears to take two approaches depending on whether a student’s family supports or does not support a self-identified gender identity.

The policy book says the district works to “include families in the process of supporting a student’s gender self-determination, including transition.” Families should be made aware of policies that support and protect their child. It discusses a “gender support plan” meeting and a communication plan that “meets the needs of the family-school team.”

However, the guidance and policy book also outlines responses that appear to show skepticism towards families that might not support a student’s self-identification as “transgender, non-binary and gender-expansive.”

“Disclosing a student’s personal information such as gender identity or sexual orientation can pose imminent safety risks, such as losing family support and housing,” the book said. All staff correspondence and communication to families regarding students must use their names that are recorded in school district systems “unless the student has specifically given permission to do otherwise.”

“This might involve using the student’s affirmed name and pronouns in the school setting, and their legal name and pronouns with family,” the guidance and policy book said. If a student insists on “maintaining privacy from their family,” then student services staff “shall discuss with the student contingency plans in the event that their privacy is compromised.”

“Students will be called by their affirmed name and pronouns regardless of parent/guardian permission to change their name and gender,” said the book.

Defenders of the guidance include attorneys representing three Madison high school student groups focused on gender and sexuality.

The plaintiffs submitted an expert affidavit challenging gender transition in minors.

The affidavit was by Dr. Stephen B. Levine, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association with specialties in sexuality and therapies for sexual problems.

Levine said “therapy for young children that encourages transition cannot be considered to be neutral, but instead is an experimental procedure that has a high likelihood of changing the life path of the child, with highly unpredictable effects on mental and physical health, suicidality, and life expectancy. Claims that a civil right is at stake do not change the fact that what is proposed is a social and medical experiment.”

Such experimentation must follow appropriate ethics, and involvement of one or both parents in the large majority of cases is “essential” for responsible, effective and ethical diagnosis and treatment of those who may be suffering from gender dysphoria or a related condition, he said.

His affidavit said there are “widely varying views” among experts about the causes and appropriate therapeutic responses to gender dysphoria in children. A majority of children with gender dysphoria will outgrow it by puberty or adulthood, and it is not known how to distinguish children whose condition persists from those who do not. Some recent studies suggest that actively affirming transgender identity in young children will “substantially reduce” the number of children who later cease to self-identify as transgender, possibly increasing the number of people who suffer “the multiple long-term physical, mental, and social limitations” of those who live as transgender, the affidavit said.

The number of plaintiffs challenging the policy has dropped from 14 to six as parents have moved out of the school district or have pulled children from its schools.


Michigan AG to announce new abuse charges against Catholic priests

CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).-  

Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel told local news this week that she plans to announce new charges against “a dozen or more” priests in the state, as part of a now two-year long investigation into abuse by Catholic clergy.

Nessel had most recently announced on Sept. 29 charges against a 78-year-old laicized priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Gary Berthiaume, who is accused of abusing a 14-year-old victim.

Nessel announced one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct against Berthiaume, which could lead to a 15-year prison sentence if he's convicted, the Detroit News reported.

Spurred by the release of a grand jury report out of Pennsylvania in 2018, which documented hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse that took place over several decades in almost every diocese in the state, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the state’s own investigation in August that year.

So far, the state’s investigation has led to charges against 11 people, and Nessel says she hopes to complete the investigation within the next six months, WoodTV reports. Nessel has in the past suggested the investigation could uncover as many as 1,000 sex abuse victims, though she has not discussed how her office estimated that number.

In May 2019, Nessel announced that five priests would be charged with 21 counts of sex abuse for abusing a total of five victims. None of the priests were in active ministry and one had already been removed from the clerical state.

After the announcement of the state’s investigation, Michigan’s dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation. In Oct. 2018, police executed search warrants at all seven of the state’s dioceses.

To date, the Michigan investigation team has reviewed hundreds of tips, as well as 1.5 million paper documents and 3.5 million electronic documents seized the raids. Most of the tips have come through a hotline established specifically for abuse.

Early in 2019, Nessel claimed that the state’s dioceses are “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements to quiet allegations, and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

In response, the Archdiocese of Detroit reaffirmed its commitment to reporting sex abuse allegations to authorities. 

In 2018 Michigan extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years in criminal cases, and 10 in civil. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim's 28th birthday.

In March of last year, Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the abuse investigation, which is expected to last two years.

Similar clergy sex abuse investigations have been launched in multiple states throughout the country, including in Georgia, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Nebraska.


Los Angeles archbishop to lead 'virtual rosary' for US

CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles will lead a 'virtual rosary' Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, to seek Mary’s intercession for the United States.

“Our hope is to unite Catholic people from across the country in a moment of prayer for our nation, at a time when there is so much unrest and uncertainty,” Gomez said in a Sept. 30 column.

Gomez said Mary offers Catholics maternal care, and Catholics should seek to understand “her way of seeing and her way of living.”

“Everything that Mary does points us to her Son — to his commandments, to the mysteries of his life, to giving up our own will to follow him and share in his mission,” he wrote.

“As we seek our Blessed Mother’s intercession for our nation, I hope that we will also make this a moment to deepen our own commitments to Mary — to dedicate ourselves to her and to let her teach us how to offer our hearts to serve Christ and his beautiful plan of salvation history. Let us live all for Jesus through the heart of Mary!”

Gomez noted that the Franciscan missionaries who evangelized California— including St. Junipero Serra— were deeply devoted to Mary, particularly to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who since 1999 has been formally recognized as Patroness of all America.

“[Our Lady of Guadalupe] was sent by God to the people of Mexico at a time of great uncertainty and political unrest. Plague and earthquakes were devastating the population, and there was violence and racial conflict, and widespread suffering and injustice,” Gomez said.

“Into this historical and cultural moment, Our Lady came as a mother bearing a message of hope.”

Gomez earlier this year led the bishops of the United States in reconsecrating the nation to Mary.

Reconsecrating the country, the US bishops said in an April 23 announcement, is meant to serve as a reminder to the faithful of Mary’s witness to the Gospel, and as a way of asking for Mary’s intercession before Christ on behalf of those in need.

The act of consecration to Mary, Archbishop Gomez said at the time, “will give the Church the occasion to pray for Our Lady’s continued protection of the vulnerable, healing of the unwell, and wisdom for those who work to cure this terrible virus.”


Pope Francis: St. Jerome gave ‘uncompromising witness to the truth’

Vatican City, Sep 30, 2020 / 02:18 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis Wednesday highlighted the life and figure of St. Jerome in an apostolic letter for the 1,600th anniversary of the Doctor of the Church’s death.

St. Jerome “emerges as a model of uncompromising witness to the truth that employs the harshness of reproof in order to foster conversion,” the pope wrote Sept. 30. “By the intensity of his expressions and images, he shows the courage of a servant desirous not of pleasing others, but his Lord alone ... for whose sake he expended all his spiritual energy.”

The pope's letter, Scripturae sacrae affectus, detailed the life, work, and personality of St. Jerome, and considered how Catholics can learn from him today.

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, told CNA that “there is much to savor in Pope Francis’s marvelous letter on St. Jerome.  But what I found most uplifting was his insistence that young people, following the example of the great saint, should see the intellectual exploration of the faith as a true spiritual path.”

“The Pope wants Catholic schools, universities, and catechetical programs to inculcate in young searchers the tools necessary to plumb the depths of the great theological tradition, at the heart of which is study of the Bible,” Barron added.

By his letter, “Francis is reiterating the call of Dei Verbum, the great Vatican II document on Revelation, that there should be a revival of Biblical study in the life of the Church,” Bishop Barron said.

In the letter, Pope Francis said that the anniversary of the saint’s death “can be seen as a summons to love what Jerome loved, to rediscover his writings and to let ourselves be touched by his robust spirituality, which can be described in essence as a restless and impassioned desire for a greater knowledge of the God who chose to reveal himself.”

“How can we not heed, in our day, the advice that Jerome unceasingly gave to his contemporaries: ‘Read the divine Scriptures constantly; never let the sacred volume fall from your hand’?” the pope asked.

Jared Staudt, an associate professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado, told CNA that the pope's letter recognizes an important saint for contemporary Christians.

“I’m very happy to see Pope Francis highlighting the 1600th anniversary of Jerome’s death. There are certain personalities that rise above the ebb and flow of history. Jerome truly stands as a man for all times, and has much to teach us about learning, culture, and holiness. A feisty personality, who could enter into a strong disagreement, he remained above all a faithful man of the Church,” Staudt said.

“Francis has called for greater literacy of the Gospel and the great heritage of Catholic culture. Following St. Jerome, Catholics should enter more deeply into the study of the Bible, as well as the great works of classical and Christian literature, overcoming our culture’s lack of substance to be able  to serve as ‘credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition,’” the theologian added.

In his letter, Pope Francis made a particular appeal to young people, challenging them to explore their intellectual and spiritual heritage as Christians.

“Christianity makes you heirs of an unsurpassed cultural patrimony of which you must take ownership,” he urged. “Be passionate about this history which is yours.”

The pope's letter said that many people in contemporary society lack religious literacy; that “the hermeneutic skills that make us credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition are in short supply,” he argued.

Young people, he said, should be given the opportunity to learn “how the quest of religious truth can be a passionate adventure that unites heart and mind; how the thirst for God has inflamed great minds throughout the centuries up to the present time; how growth in the spiritual life has influenced theologians and philosophers, artists and poets, historians and scientists.”

Staudt affirmed the pope's recognition of the intellectual life.

“The intellectual life remains a crucial element of the Christian apostolate. Christ is the Word and our own minds must become attuned to his truth. St. Jerome reminds us in Catholic education of the importance of understanding words  and meaning so that we can enter into the revelation of the Word of God. Attention to the words of Scripture requires effort and is meant to lead us into an encounter of prayerful contemplation,” Staudt explained.

“St. Jerome used his extensive classical learning, purified by years of fasting and penance, at the service of the Church. With the huge spike in classical education in recent years, Jerome provides a model of integrating a robust intellectual life with an ardent pursuit of holiness,” the theologian explained. “His grasp of grammar and rhetoric were profound, yet he used them in humble service of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis said there are two dimensions which characterize St. Jerome and help his personality to be understood: one is his “absolute and austere consecration to God” and the other is his “commitment to diligent study, aimed purely at an ever deeper understanding of the Christian mystery.”

St. Jerome also serves as a model for monks and for scholars, “who should always keep in mind that knowledge has religious value only if it is grounded in an exclusive love for God, apart from all human ambition and worldly aspiration,” Francis noted.

Jerome lived from around 345 to 420. He spent much of his life in Rome or in the Holy Land, where he died.

The Doctor of the Church translated, among many other works, the books of Scripture into Latin, giving the Church what is known as the “Vulgate.”

“Francis points out that Jerome’s Vulgate stimulated the development of Christian culture. As Catholics return more and more to the study of Scripture, we can hope that this will reorder our minds, imaginations, and hearts to guide us in our own needed work of rebuilding. Like Jerome, we must translate and transmit the Gospel to our generation, allowing the Word of God to shape our efforts in the New Evangelization,” Staudt said.

In addition to his Scriptural translation, St. Jermone also wrote numerous letters on Scripture and is known to have used somewhat polemical language.

Pope Francis explained that “if, as a true ‘Lion of Bethlehem,’ he could be violent in his language, it was always in the service of a truth to which he was unconditionally committed.”

He added that the polemical dimension of the saint’s writings can be best understood if read in light of the authentic prophetic tradition of the time.

Jerome studied Scripture because it “led him to know Christ,” the pope also noted. “Jerome saw his studies not as a pleasant pastime and an end unto itself, but rather as a spiritual exercise and a means of drawing closer to God.”

The pope’s letter also urged Catholics to rediscover Scripture with St. Jerome as a guide, because “he leads every reader to the mystery of Jesus.”

In his writings, the saint did this, he stated, by “responsibly and systematically providing the exegetical and cultural information needed for a correct and fruitful reading of the Scriptures.”

St. Jerome had many skills, the pope said: “competence in the languages in which the Word of God was handed down, careful analysis and examination of manuscripts, detailed archeological research, as well as knowledge of the history of interpretation… This outstanding aspect of the activity of Saint Jerome is also of great importance for the Church in our own time.”

Pointing to Dei verbum, one of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council, dedicated to Divine Revelation, he said if “the Bible constitutes as it were ‘the soul of sacred theology’ and the spiritual support of the Christian life, the interpretation of the Bible must necessarily be accompanied by specific skills.”

“Sadly, the richness of Scripture is neglected or minimized by many because they were not afforded a solid grounding in this area,” he said.

“Together with a greater emphasis on the study of Scripture in ecclesiastical programmes of training for priests and catechists, efforts should also be made to provide all the faithful with the resources needed to be able to open the sacred book and draw from it priceless fruits of wisdom, hope and life.”

Catholic Florida State student ousted from student senate alleges religious discrimination

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 30, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).-  

A federal court heard arguments on Tuesday in the case of Jack Denton, the Catholic student ousted from Florida State University’s student senate in June.

Denton, the former head of the student senate, sued university and student officials Aug. 31, alleging that his religious freedom was violated when he was removed from his position for remarks he made in a private chat forum of Catholic students.

On Tuesday, at the Northern District of Florida federal court, lawyers for Denton and for university administrators and student representatives presented their arguments.

“Jack cannot be deprived of an educational benefit, the right to participate in the student senate on the same grounds as everybody else, simply because his beliefs are not popular on campus,” his attorney Tyson Langhofer, with the group Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA after the hearing.

“No student should ever feel forced to silence their deepest convictions” in order to keep a student government position, he said. “He [Jack] may not have popular beliefs. That doesn’t mean he can be excluded from participation and they can impose a religious test on him.”

Denton, a rising senior at the university, was removed from his position as head of the university’s student senate in early June over remarks he made in a GroupMe chat forum of the school’s Catholic student union in late May.

As students discussed racial justice and financially supporting various organizations, Denton outlined concerns with policy positions of the groups ACLU,, and Reclaim the Block which he said conflicted with Church teaching.

Denton said that “ fosters ‘a queer-affirming network’ and defends transgenderism,” while the ACLU “defends laws protecting abortion facilities and sued states that restrict access to abortion.” The Black Lives Matter Global Network in September removed a page from its website which had previously promoted the positions Denton challenged in May.

The group Reclaim the Block, Denton said, “claims less police will make our communities safer and advocates for cutting PD’s budgets.” The claim “is a little less explicit,” he said, “but I think it’s contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good.”

Later, in an interview with CNA, Denton said that he intervened in the GroupMe chat because he felt a “responsibility to point out this discrepancy, to make sure that my fellow Catholics knew what they were partaking in.”

One of the students in the forum took a screenshot of Denton’s comments and sent them to a member of the student senate. A student senate motion of no-confidence in Denton failed on June 3, but on June 5 the senate held another vote and removed Denton from office.

Langhofer told CNA on Tuesday that Denton’s removal was unlawful; the FSU student senate is a state actor by virtue of both its incorporation at a public university and its creation by a state statute. Denton could not be removed from this position simply for taking an unpopular policy stance, he said.

“There is very, very strong law with a lot of precedent saying very clearly that students don’t forfeit their religious freedom when they step on to a public university campus,” he said.

The defendants in the case—FSU president John Thrasher and two other officials, as well as the president and president pro tempore of the student senate—“don’t dispute that Jack was removed unconstitutionally because of his religious beliefs,” Langhofer told CNA. They did, however, dispute that they were personally liable in Jack’s case, he said.

Denton is pushing for a preliminary injunction on his removal, which the judge did not indicate when he would rule on it, Langhofer said.

In the seven-hour hearing which resulted in Denton’s removal, he showed “incredible courage and incredible resilience,” Langhofer said.

“Jack listened to every one of those students saying bad things about him simply because of his religious beliefs, and when he was given the opportunity to respond, what he said was, he said that every one of you are created in the image of God and you are loved, and you’re valued more than the entire universe,” Langhofer recounted.


Bishop: Claims that Church in Belarus being used by US 'complete nonsense'

CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- The Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev on Tuesday denied reports from Russia's foreign intelligence agency that the Church in Belarus is being used by the US, calling them “complete nonsense, fake information.”

“Some media outlets published information provided by the head of Russia's foreign intelligence service Sergey Naryshkin. This is a fake, this is nonsense. He spoke about some provocations, about the fact that the United States, the CIA and other organizations are trying to use the Catholic Church to undermine the state system in our country. This is complete nonsense, fake information, lies that have nothing to do with the truth … This is information that should be treated with a touch of irony,” Bishop Yury Kasabutski said during his homily at a Sept. 29 Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Minsk.

Naryshkin is director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service. The Russian news agency Interfax reported Sept. 29 that Naryshkin had said, “the United States is also unceremoniously interfering in the religious situation in Belarus … The clergy of the Roman Catholic Church are being asked to openly criticize the Belarusian authorities and to use religious events, including sermons, prayers, religious processions, to conduct opposition political propaganda among believers.”

The Russian foreign intelligence director added that “According to the plan of the Americans, this should force Minsk to take harsh retaliatory measures against the Roman Catholic Church.”

Naryshkin said the Belarusian opposition is planning a “resonant provocation” during which a high-ranking cleric “would be arrested or even wounded or killed,” with the intention of increasing opposition sentiment among Catholics in the country.

Belarus has seen widespread protests in recent weeks following a disputed presidential election. Protests began Aug. 9 after president Alexander Lukashenko was declared to have won that day's election with 80% of the vote. Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since the position was created in 1994.

The US and the EU no longer recognize Lukashenko as the Belarusian president. Canada and the UK placed sanctions on Belarus Sept. 29.

Lukashenko secured a $1.5 billion loan from Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this month, and Putin has denounced “external pressure” on Belarus.

The president of the Belarusian bishops' conference, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mohilev, has been exiled. His passport was invalidated, and he was blocked from returning from Poland by border guards Aug. 31. The archbishop has spoken in defense of protests following last month’s presidential election.

Lukashenko has suggested the archbishop might be a citizen of more than one country. The archbishop told CNA Sept. 1 that “today I was accused that I received from Warsaw some instructions, or something, but I didn’t visit Warsaw.” He said he had visited eastern Poland to celebrate the First Communion of a relative.

Bishop Kasabutski told Sept. 29 that “Our clergy do not receive any instructions from anyone, and not only of a political nature … No one makes any calls to the priests for an open statement during the divine services of one or another attitude to the authorities. This information has no real basis.”

He added that the claim the US or other states are trying to influence the Church “sounds completely unrealistic.”

“Perhaps these statements have something to do with the Church's position. Today the Church in Belarus speaks the truth about the situation in the country, opposes violence, encourages people to solidarity, unity, harmony, peace, and forgiveness,” the bishop reflected.

Bishop Kasabutski continued: “Maybe in this way we are preventing someone from implementing certain scenarios aimed at division in society, at the bloody development of events. Maybe someone is trying to use this situation to divide people on the principle of religion to accuse us of what we are trying to avoid by praying to God for peace and harmony in our society. But we do not succumb to such 'brainwashing' and remain faithful to the commandments of love left to us by Christ.”

He added that relations between Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox in Belarus are warm, and that “we now see a very strong solidarity of people regardless of religion.”

Protests have taken place across Belarus since the August election, and thousands of protesters have been detained. At least four people have died in the unrest.

Electoral officials said that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earned 10% of the vote. The opposition claims that she actually garned at least 60% of votes.

Tsikhanouskaya was detained for several hours after complaining to the electoral committee. She and several other opposition leaders are now in self-imposed exile in Lithuania or other nearby countries.

Pompeo: Nowhere is religious freedom more under assault than in China

Rome, Italy, Sep 30, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Rome Wednesday that the Chinese government is the world’s worst persecutor of religious believers and that the Church is in a unique position to stand up for those whose religious freedom is being oppressed.

“Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today,” Pompeo said Sept. 30.

“The United States can and does play its part in speaking up for those oppressed, although we too can do more. … But for all that nation-states can do, ultimately, our efforts are constrained by the realities of world politics. … The Church is in a different position. Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths. And as history shows, Catholics have often deployed their principles in glorious, glorious service of human dignity,” the secretary added.

The U.S. Secretary of State’s remarks at a religious freedom symposium came a day before he was expected to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin at the Vatican to discuss the renewal of the Holy See’s provisional accord with China. 

Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, told journalists at the end of the conference that he was “surprised” that the U.S. official decided to publish an article on the Holy See’s provisional accord with China before his visit. 

“We have known for a long time the position of the Trump administration and that of Secretary Pompeo on this subject,” the cardinal added.

The cardinal said that the Vatican had decided to move forward with the agreement with China after thoughtful reflection and many years working toward the provisional accord. 

“We know that there is a lot of resistance … a lot of criticism,” Parolin said.

When asked by journalists if he expected that the Vatican-China deal would result in greater religious freedom in China, Parolin replied: “We are for the policy of small steps … With the policy of small steps, we believe that … even if at the beginning it does not seem to give great results, however, it is a step towards, in other words, the affirmation of greater religious liberty.”

Pompeo told CNA before his visit that he planned to use the meeting with Vatican officials to discuss human rights abuses in China and to urge the Vatican to speak out about Chinese religious persecution.

“We’ve spoken pretty clearly about the human rights situation in China that has deteriorated under General Secretary Xi Jinping for religious believers throughout the country,” Pompeo told CNA in an exclusive interview on Sept. 25.

“The Church has an enormous amount of moral authority and we want to encourage them to use that moral authority, to improve the conditions for believers, certainly Catholic believers, but believers of all faiths inside of China, and so that’s the conversation that we’ll have,” he said.

Speaking at the event organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See Sept. 30, Pompeo urged faith leaders to “find the courage to confront religious persecution.”

The U.S. Secretary of State pointed to Fr. Bernhard Lichtenberg -- a Catholic priest who during World War II resisted the Nazi regime and helped Jewish families -- and to the Chinese martyrs and missionaries canonized by St. John Paul II as examples of a “bold moral witness.”

“An increasingly repressive CCP frightened by its own lack of democratic legitimacy works day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom on a horrifying scale,” Pompeo said.

“The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more,” he said.

“Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression. Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops, like Augustine Cui Tai, have been imprisoned ... and Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong have been arrested,” the U.S. diplomat added.

Immediately following Pompeo’s remarks, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, gave a speech focused on the importance of protecting freedom of conscience in the West.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that afterwards Gallagher affirmed that Pompeo’s visit sought to exploit the pope during the U.S. election campaign. But journalists present when the comments were made said that it was the reporter, not the archbishop, who used the word “exploit.” Gallagher responded by saying: “Well, that’s one of the reasons why the Holy Father is not receiving the Secretary of State.”

While the pope does not always meet with foreign ministers visiting the Vatican, the Holy See has reportedly told U.S. diplomats that the pope did not want to meet with an American political figure so close to the November presidential election.

Cardinal Parolin (pictured above) was not present at the symposium when Pompeo gave his speech, but came later to deliver the closing remarks, in which he did not mention China.

Parolin said earlier this month that the Vatican’s two-year provisional agreement with China had not expired and would not do so until October. The cardinal said that the Vatican expected to renew the interim deal on the appointment of bishops and that he hoped that the Chinese had the same intention.

The symposium in Rome focused on diplomatic tools to advance religious freedom, and included panel discussions with the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Msgr. Khaled Akasheh.

In his comments at the conference, Ambassador Brownback said: “I believe the key to peace … is the protection of religious freedom for all.”

Pompeo said that, as a Protestant Christian, he had been struck by Pope Francis’ call to be a Church permanently in a state of mission.

“Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’ It’s a hope that resonates with this evangelical Protestant who believes, as the Holy Father does, that those of us given the gift of Christian faith have an obligation to do our best to bless others,” he said.

“I’m humbled too by those of you here who have spent your entire lives in service of God in full-time pastoral ministry, makes my job look easy,” the U.S. Secretary of State said.

Pope Francis recognizes miracle attributed to Italian laywoman who died in 1997

Vatican City, Sep 30, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause Tuesday of an Italian woman who died in 1997 after touching the lives of thousands of people despite suffering from progressive paralysis.  

The pope authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints Sept. 29 to promulgate a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to Gaetana “Nuccia” Tolomeo, paving the way for her beatification.

He also authorized decrees relating to four priests killed during the Spanish Civil War and two founders of religious orders. 

This was the first time that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had promulgated decrees since its prefect, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, resigned Sept. 24. 

Gaetana Tolomeo was born on April 10, 1936, in Catanzaro, the capital of the Calabria region of Italy. Known to all as “Nuccia,” she was confined to a bed or a chair for the 60 years of her life. 

She devoted her life to prayer, especially the rosary, which she held at all times. She began to attract visitors, including priests, nuns, and lay people, who sought her advice.

In 1994, she started to appear as a guest on a local radio station, using the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and reach out to the imprisoned, prostitutes, drug addicts, and families in crisis.  

According to an Italian website dedicated to her cause, two months before her death on January 24, 1997, she summed up her life in a message to young people.

She said: “I am Nuccia, I am 60 years old, all spent on a bed; my body is twisted, in everything I must depend on others, but my spirit has remained young. The secret of my youth and my joy of living is Jesus. Alleluia!”

In addition to the miracle attributed to Tolomeo’s intercession, the pope recognized the martyrdom of Fr. Francesco Cástor Sojo López and three companions. The four priests, belonging to the Diocesan Laborer Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, were killed “in odium fidei,” or in hatred of the faith, between 1936 and 1938. Following the decree, they may now be beatified.

The pope also approved the heroic virtues of Mother Francisca Pascual Domenech (1833-1903), the Spanish founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, and of Mother María Dolores Segarra Gestoso (1921-1959), Spanish founder of the Missionaries of Christ the Priest.

Trump and Biden clash over Barrett nomination, abortion, in fiery debate

CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The future of Roe v. Wade and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court were raised in Tuesday night’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. 

While the 90-minute debate, held in Cleveland, Ohio, was marked by fiery exchanges from both candidates, with frequent interruptions during answers, both presidential candidates did offer some remarks on abortion and the Supreme Court.

Moderator Chris Wallace asked the candidates about Trump’s recent nomination of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, and for their thoughts about how Barrett might change the balance of the court. 

Trump, who answered first, said that Barrett was a “phenomenal nominee” who had the support of “very liberal people from Notre Dame and other places.” Barrett, said Trump, is “going to be fantastic.” 

“She’s going to be as good as anybody that has served on that court,” said Trump. The president defended his nomination of the judge during an election year, which has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers, who contrast the nomination with the Senate’s 2016 refusal to have a hearing on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the court. Trump said that the Republican Party controls both the Senate and the presidency and therefore has the votes to confirm his nominee. In 2016, under President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party did not have the votes in the Senate to move forward with the confirmation process. 

“They had Merrick Garland, but the problem is they didn’t have the election so they were stopped,” said Trump. “And probably that would happen in reverse, also. Definitely would happen in reverse.”

Trump added that he was elected to serve as president for four years, not three years, and had the right to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court any time they arose during his four-year term. 

Biden said that the Senate should “wait” when it comes to confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court, saying that “The American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is and that say occurs when they vote for United States senators and when they vote for the president of the United States.”

“They’re not going to get that chance now because we’re in the middle of an election already,” said Biden, noting that many people have already cast their votes. 

Biden was also asked if, should he be elected, he would support efforts to add justices to the Supreme Court beyond the nine now prescribed by law. Biden declined repeatedly to answer the question.

Biden said that the Affordable Care Act, legislation that was passed while he was serving as vice president, was at stake due to Barrett’s potential presence on the court. 

“And the justice--I’m not opposed to the justice--she seems like a very fine person,” said Biden. “But she’s written, before she went on the bench, which is her right, that she thinks that the Affordable Care Act is not constitutional. The other thing that’s on the court, and if it’s struck down, what happens? Women’s rights are fundamentally changed.” 

The former vice president, a Catholic and strong supporter of expanded access to abortion, also suggested that abortion rights could be at risk if Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court. 

“The point is that the president also is opposed to Roe v. Wade,” said Biden. “That’s on the ballot as well and the court, in the court, and so that’s also at stake right now.”

Trump pushed back at the apparent notion that overturning the Roe v. Wade decision was on the ballot this November, saying that “it’s not on the ballot.” 

“There’s nothing happening there,” Trump said, referring apparently to the issue of abortion at the Supreme Court. Trump did not elaborate.

Wallace said the conversation would eventually return to Roe v. Wade, but the topic was not again raised during the debate. 

Cardinal Pell arrives in Rome as financial scandal casts shadow over Vatican

Rome, Italy, Sep 30, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell arrived in Rome Wednesday as financial scandals continue to cast a shadow over the Vatican.

The former prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy was pictured in the Italian capital Sept. 30 on his first visit to the city since he left in 2017 for Australia to prove his innocence of abuse charges. 

The 79-year-old left Sydney International Airport on Tuesday evening and arrived in Italy following an overnight flight, sources close to the cardinal confirmed to CNA. 

On the day of Pell’s arrival, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica claimed in a front-page report that Vatican investigators had discovered that 20 million pounds ($26 million) had been withdrawn from an account reserved for use by Pope Francis.

In 2014, the pope asked Pell to take charge of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy and to lead efforts at reforming Vatican financial affairs. After charges of sexual abuse were brought by Victoria police, Pell took temporary leave of his role in 2017 to return to Australia and defend his name. 

Pell faced allegations from a single accuser related to his time as bishop of Melbourne. He spent 13 months in solitary confinement after he was initially convicted and given a six-year prison sentence, before being vindicated on appeal to the High Court.

Pell’s term of office as head of the Vatican’s financial secretariat expired during his time in prison, with Pope Francis naming Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, SJ, to succeed him in 2019.

The Australian cardinal returned to Rome less than a week after the dramatic resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu. Pope Francis asked Becciu to resign as prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals Sept. 24 after he was linked to an ongoing investigation of financial misconduct at the Vatican.

Becciu had worked previously as the number two-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, where, CNA has previously reported, he repeatedly clashed with Pell over the reform of Vatican finances.

The Italian cardinal held a press conference in Rome Sept. 25 at which he protested his innocence of financial wrongdoing.

Pell responded to the news of Becciu’s resignation with gratitude.

“The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments,” Pell wrote in a statement sent to CNA Sept. 25.

“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” Pell said.