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Pope Francis to celebrate Mass marking anniversary of Lampedusa visit

Vatican City, Jul 6, 2020 / 06:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis will celebrate Mass Wednesday marking the seventh anniversary of his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Mass will take place at 11 a.m. local time July 8 in the chapel of the pope’s residence, the Casa Santa Marta, and will be livestreamed.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance will be restricted to staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Department for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Pope Francis visited the Mediterranean island on July 8, 2013, shortly after his election. The trip, his first pastoral visit outside Rome, signaled that concern for migrants would be at the center of his pontificate. 

Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, is located approximately 70 miles away from Tunisia. It is a primary destination for migrants from Africa seeking entry to Europe.

Reports say that during the coronavirus outbreak migrant boats have continued to land on the island, which has received tens of thousands of migrants in recent years.

The pope chose to visit the island after reading harrowing reports of migrants dying while attempting the crossing from North Africa to Italy.

Upon arrival, he threw a wreath into the sea in memory of those who had drowned.

Celebrating Mass close to a “boat cemetery” containing the remains of shipwrecked migrant boats, he said: “When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago, and realized that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart.”

“So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated!”

On October 3, 2013, more than 360 migrants died when the vessel carrying them from Libya sank off Lampedusa.

The pope marked the sixth anniversary of his visit last year with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, he called for an end to rhetoric that dehumanized migrants.

“They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues!” he said. “‘This is not just about migrants,’ in the twofold sense that migrants are first of all human persons, and that they are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society.”

Pope Francis commends UN Security Council for global ceasefire resolution

Vatican City, Jul 5, 2020 / 06:20 am (CNA).- Pope Francis applauded the United Nations Security Council Sunday for its recent resolution calling for an immediate global ceasefire amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The call for a global and immediate ceasefire, which would allow the peace and security necessary to provide the urgently needed humanitarian assistance, is commendable,” Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer July 5.

“I hope that this decision will be implemented effectively and promptly for the good of many people who are suffering. May this Security Council resolution become a courageous first step towards a peaceful future,” he said.

The ceasefire resolution applies to conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, South Sudan, and Congo, according to the Associated Press. It demands “a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days” to ensure that medical and humanitarian aid will reach those in need as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The 15 countries that make up the Security Council passed the resolution July 1 after months of disagreement between China and the United States over whether the text would include references to either the World Health Organization or “transparency.”

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres first called for a global ceasefire on March 23 with Pope Francis echoing this appeal the following week.

The UN Secretary General said that a global ceasefire would “help create corridors for life-saving aid” and “bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” He pointed out that refugee camps and people with existing health conditions are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses.”

On March 29, Pope Francis said: “Conflicts are not resolved through war.” He added that conflicts must be overcome through “dialogue and a constructive search for peace.”

The pope said in his Angelus address July 5 that Jesus offers “the weary and oppressed” much more than “psychological solace or a lavish handout.”

“The joy that Jesus gives us. It is unique. It is the joy that he himself has,” he said.

“The world exalts those who are rich and powerful, no matter by what means, and at times tramples upon the human being and his or her dignity. And we see this every day, the poor who are trampled underfoot,” Pope Francis said. “And it is a message for the Church, called to live works of mercy and to evangelise the poor, to be meek and humble. This is how the Lord wants His Church, that is, us, to be.”

Pope Francis said that Jesus placed himself among “those who labor and are burdened” because he was “meek and humble of heart.”

“May Mary, the humblest and highest of creatures, implore from God wisdom of the heart for us … that we may discern its signs in our lives and be sharers in those mysteries which, hidden from the proud, are revealed to the humble,” the pope said.

Pope Francis makes donation to World Food Programme as pandemic causes rising hunger

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 08:35 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has made a donation to the World Food Programme as the organization works to feed 270 million people this year amid rising hunger caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus infection levels have been rising in Latin America and Africa at a moment when food stocks in some parts of the world are already low, leaving more people vulnerable to food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme website.

The Vatican announced July 3 that Pope Francis would donate 25,000 euros ($28,000) as “an expression of his closeness to those affected by the pandemic and to those who are engaged in essential services for the poor and weakest and most vulnerable people in our society.”

With this “symbolic” gesture, the pope desires to express “paternal encouragement towards the organization's humanitarian work and toward other countries willing to adhere to forms of support for integral development and public health in this time of crisis, and to combat social instability, food insecurity, rising unemployment, and the collapse of the economic systems of the most vulnerable nations.”

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has issued a call for $4.9 billion in funding to bring food assistance where governments are asking for more support. 

“The impact of COVID-19 on people is demanding us to step up and scale up our efforts to ensure more food-insecure people receive assistance,” Margot van der Velden, director of emergencies for WFP, said July 2.

Van der Velden said that she was particularly worried about Latin America, which has seen a threefold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance as the outbreak spreads across the region.

South Africa, which has documented more than 159,000 COVID-19 cases, has also experienced a 90% rise in the number of food-insecure people, according to WFP.

“The front line in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world,” WFP head David Beasley said June 29.

“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos,” he said.

European bishops call for EU support of persecuted Christians in Nigeria

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- The president of the European bishops’ commission has promised persecuted Christians in Nigeria that he will advocate for increased support from the European Union. 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who leads the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), wrote a letter to the Nigerian bishops stating that the commission will advocate for EU assistance and cooperation with the Nigerian authorities to combat violence and persecution. 

The cardinal expressed solidarity with Nigerian Christian communities, who, he wrote, are “living a situation of continuous attacks by terrorists, insurgents and militias, that in some cases reaches levels of genuine criminal persecution,” according to a European commission statement July 2.

An estimated 6,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed since 2015, mostly by Boko Haram and militant Fulani herders, the European commission reported.

More than 600 Christians have been killed so far in 2020, according to a International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) report on May 15. Christians have been beheaded and set on fire, farms set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.

A Boko Haram attack on a village in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno left at least 81 people dead June 9. The attack was the latest in an ongoing Islamist group against the country’s Christian population. Earlier in June a Christian pastor and his pregnant wife were killed on their farm in the northeastern region of the country.

In January, militants kidnapped four Catholic seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, killing one of them, Michael Nnadi. On March 1, Nigerian priest Fr. David Echioda was kidnapped by gunmen after offering Sunday Mass, but was released days afterward.

The European bishops’ conferences commission has been vocal in calling on EU member states to “increase their efforts in order to stop the violence in Nigeria, bring criminals to justice, support the victims and promote dialogue and peace,” according to the COMECE statement.

In May 2020, the bishops “urged the international community to use diplomatic, political and financial instruments to assist Nigerian authorities to stop the violence, bringing the criminals to justice, supporting the victims and fully including Christians (47% of the national population) in all state structures and levels of administrations -- including the police and armed forces.”

Leaders within the United States have also called for further support of Nigeria’s Christians. On June 25, former Rep. Frank Wolf said that the U.S. should send a special envoy to Nigeria to coordinate the protection of the Christian population and prevent further destabilization of the area.

In February, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that Nigeria was one of the countries of highest concern when it came to violations of religious freedom. 

Brownback said he was concerned that the situation in Nigeria would spread to nearby countries if nothing was done to crack down on religious persecution. 

“There's a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we're afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that's really popped up on my radar screens -- in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.”

Cardinal Hollerich said that he was particularly concerned for the people who are forced from their homes by the increased violence in Nigeria. He said it was important that Europe welcomes and protects them.

“My thoughts and my heart are with the many young people who are forced to leave the country because of violence and lack of socio-economic prospects,” Hollerich said.

Vatican financial watchdog hails ‘rising trend’ in reports to Promoter of Justice

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s financial watchdog authority reported Friday that it received 64 suspicious activity reports in 2019, 15 of which it forwarded to the Promoter of Justice for possible prosecution. 

In its annual report, released July 3, the Financial Intelligence Authority (Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria, or AIF) hailed “the rising trend in the ratio between reports to the Promoter of Justice” and cases of suspicious financial activity.

The report comes ahead of a scheduled inspection by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, which has put pressure on the Vatican to prosecute breaches of financial regulations. 

Unlike in previous years, the report was not presented at a Vatican press conference.

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee Vatican financial transactions. It is charged with ensuring that internal banking policies comply with international financial standards.

The number of suspicious activity reports (SARs) is seen as an important indicator of the AIF’s performance. In 2017, there were 150, while in 2018 there were 56. 

The AIF forwarded 11 reports to the Promoter of Justice in 2018, four fewer than in 2019. 

In the introduction to the new report, AIF director Giuseppe Schlitzer wrote: “Overall, the tendency towards higher quality SARs is strengthening, thanks to the guidelines on more specific anomaly indicators which was provided and a more conscious implementation of a risk-based approach.”

In the introduction Schlitzer said that in 2019 the AIF had “intensified its action in every branch of activity, while consolidating forms of collaboration with other states and jurisdictions.” 

“At the system-wide level, also thanks to the Vatican authorities’ strong commitment to fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism, there was further progress towards a better functioning and international recognition of the jurisdiction,” he wrote.

He noted that the AIF had carried out two onsite inspections at the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly known as “the Vatican Bank.” 

The first, in June, “aimed at assessing the technical compliance with the legal and regulatory framework for payment services.” The second, in August, “consisted in a general compliance assessment in the fields of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.” 

The annual report said that the AIF exchanged 66 requests for information with foreign financial intelligence units concerning 373 subjects. 

It also said: “Domestic cooperation with the competent authorities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State is intense and led to 24 requests for information and concerned 423 subjects.”

“A marked increase in exchanges with the authorities of the Holy See and Vatican City State was observed as compared with the previous year, which confirms the trend of greater domestic cooperation and exchange of information, as well as greater involvement of Holy See and Vatican City State authorities in countering money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.”

Moneyval was due to carry out a scheduled inspection of the Vatican in spring 2020. But the inspection was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a July 3 statement on the AIF's annual report, the watchdog’s president Carmelo Barbagallo said that the Moneyval evaluation team would begin its inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City State Sept. 29.

“The inspection, which will last about two weeks, was actually scheduled to begin in April but was postponed because of the pandemic. AIF has been tasked with heading the Vatican’s delegation,” he said.

He continued: “Several years have gone by since Moneyval’s first inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City State, which took place in 2012. During this time span, Moneyval has remotely monitored the many advances made by the jurisdiction in the fight to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism. As such, the upcoming inspection is especially important. Its outcome may determine how the jurisdiction is perceived by the financial community.”

“The Moneyval inspection will be broad-based. It will cover both the legislative framework and its effective implementation. It is crucial to arrive well prepared, to highlight the progress achieved in recent years in the system of controls, and to underscore what has been done in recent months to assure further progress.”

Last year was a turbulent period for the financial watchdog. 

On Oct. 1, Vatican gendarmes raided the AIF’s offices in connection with a controversial London property deal. This led to the suspension of five employees and officials, including Tommaso Di Ruzza, the AIF’s director. They were also blocked from entering the Vatican.

The Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, suspended the AIF Nov. 13.

René Brüelhart, a Swiss lawyer who had served as president of the AIF since 2012, resigned Nov. 18.

Marc Odendall, a Swiss-German banker and member of the AIF board, resigned the same day, citing the Egmont Group’s decision and Brüelhart’s departure.

“We cannot access information and we cannot share information. There is no point in staying on the board of an empty shell,” he told the Associated Press.

During an in-flight press conference Nov. 26, Pope Francis confirmed that Di Ruzza remained suspended because of suspected “bad administration.”

“It was AIF that did not control, it seems, the crimes of others. And therefore [it failed] in its duty of controls. I hope that they prove it is not so. Because there is, still, the presumption of innocence,” Pope Francis said.

Barbagallo, an auditor and Italian banking consultant, was named Brüelhart’s successor Nov. 27.

Barbagallo announced in January that the Egmont Group had lifted its suspension of the AIF.

Addressing the incident in his statement on the AIF's annual report, Barbagallo said: “The suspension was lifted after only two months, once adequate reassurance was provided to Egmont. Crucial to this aim was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by AIF and the Promoter of Justice.”

“With this memorandum, we were able to assure our foreign counterparts that, should the need arise to seize confidential documents and information, the seizure would be carried out in accordance with the confidentiality standards established by the Egmont Group concerning financial intelligence.”

The Vatican announced the appointment of Schlitzer as director of the AIF April 15. He succeeded Di Ruzza, who completed his five-year term of office January 20, according to the Vatican.

In his July 3 statement Barbagallo said that the AIF hoped to issue “a new statute and the first internal regulation.”

“First and foremost, pursuant to the new statute, the name of the Authority would change to the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (SFIA), a name that highlights the Authority’s dual nature as intelligence unit and supervisory (and regulatory) authority,” he wrote.

Schoenstatt Movement rejects accusations of sex abuse against founder

CNA Staff, Jul 2, 2020 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- The Schoenstatt Movement has rejected a researcher’s claims that its founder engaged in sexual abuse, saying that any past allegations against him would have already been considered in the Vatican’s review of his proposed beatification.

“We firmly reject the accusation that Joseph Kentenich was guilty of sexual abuse of members of the Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary,” Juan Pablo Catoggio, International President of the Schoenstatt Work, said in a July 2 statement.

“His behavior toward other persons – especially women – was always marked by a pronounced reverence and esteem, as well as by the principle of physical integrity, which he also impressed upon his communities.”

“That there were accusations from the ranks of the Sisters of Mary is not new to us. Fr. Kentenich himself gave a detailed account of his actions to his superior after an accusation became known. In this context, however, there was no mention of sexual abuse, neither literally nor in content,” Catoggio said, citing the return of Kentenich to a leadership role in Schoenstatt as evidence the Vatican rejected the charges against him.

Catoggio repeated his previous statement that before beatification can begin, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must issue a “nihil obstat” based on its files. Any “well-founded suspicion of moral misconduct” would have prevented this, but the CDF granted the “nihil obstat.”

He objected that theologian and Church historian Alexandra von Teuffenbach’s account is “viewed entirely from the perspective of the visitors” who investigated the community.

von Teuffenbach, former professor of theology and Church history at the Pontifical Lateran University and the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, reviewed Vatican-commissioned assessments of the Schoenstatt movement, which reportedly portray Kentenich as manipulative and coercive.

Her research was the subject of a story in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagepost, and she discussed her work in a letter to Vatican expert Sandro Magister, who published the letter on July 2 at his website Settimo Cielo.

Von Teuffenbach told Magister that what caught her attention in her research was “the serious abuse of power by the founder at the expense of the nuns, clearly verified and highlighted by the Roman visitor, just as the local one had done before him.”

Von Teuffenbach is the editor of the Second Vatican Council diaries of the Jesuit theologian Sebastiaan Tromp, who was Rome’s apostolic visitor to the Schoenstatt community from 1951 to 1953.

Kentenich was born in 1885 and ordained a priest in 1910. In 1914, he founded the new ecclesial movement in a chapel in Schoenstatt, Germany. Kentenich went to the U.S. in 1951, and was permitted to return to Germany in October 1965. He died three years later. A beatification process for the priest began in 1975.

The movement, which now includes priests, consecrated women, and lay people, is active in 42 countries, and focused on spiritual formation and Marian spirituality.

Schoenstatt, in the German Diocese of Trier, is still the headquarters of the movement.

Tromp’s visitation followed up on a 1949 visit ordered by the Bishop of Trier and conducted by his auxiliary, Bishop Bernhard Stein.

Stein generally approved the work’s “clear vision” and “high level of spiritual care,” but cited some flaws: “there seem to be only a few confident personalities with true independent thinking and inner freedom, among the male leaders and among the Marian nuns.”

The auxiliary bishop said he found “internal dissatisfaction,” as well as “insecurity and lack of autonomy” among these nuns, von Teuffenbach said. Based on this report, the Bishop of Trier wrote to Kentenich, who von Teuffenbach said “contested, distorted, and manipulated the bishop’s provisions, which this latter did not by any means appreciate.”

“What Tromp gathers from the testimonies, from the letters, from the many conversations he had, including with the founder himself, is indicative of a situation of complete subjugation of the nuns, concealed in a certain way by a sort of family structure applied to the work,” von Teuffenbach continued. She said the movement’s leading “mother” had “no power whatsoever,” and even less power was among the religious women.

As von Teuffenbach reads the documents, Kentenich appears as a “father-master,” the “founder with absolute power, often equated with God, so much so that in many expressions and prayers it is not clear whether these are addressed to God the Father or to the founder himself.”

One aspect of the abuse of power, according to the researcher, was the obligation imposed upon the nuns to confess to the community founder, at least in some circumstances. According to von Teuffenbach, the nuns were required on a monthly basis to kneel before Kentenich and “give themselves totally to him.” The dialogue that took place was often “alone and behind closed doors.”

The dialogue depicted the nun as “the father’s,” as “nothing,” and the “father” as “everything.” Body parts like the eyes, ears, and mouth are described as belonging to the “father.” Some nuns said this discussion extended to the breast and the sexual organs as well.

Catoggio, the Schoenstatt movement’s president, said claims that the sisters were forced to confess to the founder can be refuted by other testimonies. Kentenich was “almost continuously on journeys abroad” at this time, raising the question of “how the compulsion to confess should take effect during such a prolonged absence.”

“Such vague statements, coupled with the researched allegation of sexual abuse, do not testify to a critical examination of the files,” he continued. “Blanket assertions with evaluative adjectives merely play on the keyboard of the current abuse debate without knowing and communicating ’the whole story’.”

Kentenich responded “in detail” to the visitor and his superiors regarding alleged abuse of power to explain his thinking, his principles and his behavior, said Catoggio.

“It is astonishing that the author – based on the reports of Fr. Tromp – makes his view of the community and its members completely her own,” said Catoggio.

He criticized von Teuffenbach’s portrayal of the nuns as ranging “from extreme dependence, incapacity to judge and decide to childish dependence and slavish subservience to an all-dominating founder.”

von Teuffenbach said the climate described by the visitor was “highly sexualized.”

“Ballets of nuns around the founding father, nighttime meetings, ambiguous expressions are certainly not what is expected in a religious house,” she said.

In her view, supporters of Schoenstatt, like Pallotine superior general Woicjech Turowski, initially denied these facts and believed they could be justified. She said “they claimed that the founder was only helping the nuns to free themselves from sexual tensions with a ’psychotherapeutic pastoral remedy’.

The researcher cited a Chile-based German nun’s 1948 letter, transcribed by Tromp.

“The subject of the letter is an incident of sexual abuse,” said von Teuffenbach. “The nun reports that after what had happened to her during one of these rites she was no longer able to see the founder as the ‘father,’ but only as a ‘male,’ recounting that she had rebelled and had suffered for a year before being able to talk about it with her confessor.”

The nun wrote a letter to the mother general in Germany, who sent a copy to Kentenich and accused the nun of being possessed by the devil.

“Later when the apostolic visitor asked the mother general, who by that time had been dismissed, if she had received other letters of that kind, the mother general said there had been from six to eight letters, less serious according to her, which she had thrown away,” sad von Teuffenbach.

“In the decree of the Holy Office nothing is written about the abuse, but the disputed facts are communicated in writing to the mothers superior, so that they may accept more easily the dismissal of the founder.”

Catoggio, however, disputed her characterization of these actions as an effort not to expose the sisters.

“This interpretation seems to be laborious. It is probably meant to nevertheless somehow justify the thesis of sexual abuse,” he said. The CDF was “not exactly reserved when accusations of abuse were made.”

“On the contrary, it was repeatedly stated: The separation of Fr. Kentenich from his work is not a punitive measure, but an administrative order, i.e. a prudent measure taken through administrative channels.”

The charge of sexual abuse was not brought in the Roman Curia proceedings to separate Kentenich from Schoenstatt, Catoggio insisted.

When sent from Germany, Kentenich stayed at a Pallottine house in Milwaukee, Wis. In this time, von Teuffenbach said, the records show that he “in no way complied with the Vatican provisions” which barred any further contact with the nuns.

The researcher described the nuns who defended Kentenich as those who “preferred the founder’s charm to the directives of the Church.”

“Those nuns never stopped writing, denigrating and slandering not only the visitors but also the sisters who had cooperated with them and the priests who had testified against Fr. Kentenich,” she said, comparing these defenders to “the many women who are unable to get away from the husband who mistreats them and often excuse and defend him.”

“This is the dark part of the story, but there is also an edifying part. And it is the Roman curia that operated under Pius XII and that - certainly in this case - succeeded in giving its best.”

“The proceedings tell of an assiduous and meticulous search for the truth,” she said, adding that the Church acted “in the most correct way possible for those women, without however demeaning them by publicizing the facts.”

von Teuffenbach said she wrote Magister “to bring an end to the veneration of this ’father’ and demolish the many proposed reconstructions of alternative truths, as if this were merely a matter of psychological weaknesses in the face of a man at once so charismatic, skillful, and terrible.”

Magister described the Schoenstatt movement as “still one of the most renowned and widespread on a worldwide scale.”

A former Schoenstatt superior general, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, was Archbishop of Chile from 1998 to 2010 and elevated to the cardinalate in 2001. Pope Francis made him an adviser in 2013, as part of the Council of Cardinals. He left that role in 2018.

Bishop Francisco Pistilli of Encarnacion, Colombia, a Schoenstatt Father, commented July 2 that the accusation would require “a lot of objectivity.”

“In some way, our founder is put to the test. We trust he will pass the test, but he has to be seen to do so, with impartiality,” he said. “I am convinced that this is not a matter of becoming defensive, but about taking courage in the light. It can be painful, it will surely be. Questions will come up, perhaps even from ourselves. It’s time to understand and seek answers without fear and without the need to paint a picture of a perfect founder.”

“If the Church confirms his holiness, it won’t be ‘for being the one who always had the answers and never took risks beyond the conventional’,” said the bishop.

Pistilli said that the Church doesn’t thoroughly understand the abuse of power, and it was a question in the process to canonize Padre Pio.

“He passed the test,” said the bishop.

“Downplaying things is not is not always the best option. Much less in times like these,” said Pistilli. “Nor is it good to speak without knowledge. How much do we really know? Can we go deeper into what all this means? Without seeing just what we want to see, but with objectivity. I like to think we can.”

“God is light and those who follow him have to be seen in his light,” said the bishop.


Vatican tells Israel, US that annexation could jeopardize peace process

CNA Staff, Jul 2, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- Ahead of possible Israeli action to annex Palestinian territories, Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin met with the ambassadors of the United States and Israel June 30.

The Holy See press office said July 1 that the meetings with Callista Gringrich, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and Oren David, her Israeli counterpart, took place “in order to express the concern of the Holy See regarding possible unilateral actions that may further jeopardize the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the delicate situation in the Middle East.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See told CNA July 2: “Ambassador Gingrich had a productive meeting with Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin on Tuesday. They discussed a range of issues, including our common goal of peace in the Middle East.”

In its statement on Wednesday the Holy See reiterated that Israel and the State of Palestine “have the right to exist and to live in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”

“It thus appeals to the parties to do everything possible to reopen the process of direct negotiation, on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, and aided by measures that can reestablish reciprocal confidence,” said the Holy See Press Office.

Citing Pope Francis' June 8, 2014, prayer for peace in the Holy Land, the press office said all actions should be taken so that the parties may have “the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.”

July 1 was a possible start date for annexation, but no action was taken. There was no agreement with the United States to move forward,

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he thought annexation “will happen in the coming weeks or months, but I am not versed in the details,” Reuters reported.

A Netanyahu aide said talks with Washington were continuing. The prime minister had consulted Israeli defense officials July 1 and more discussions would be held in coming days.

Early in June Netanyahu said he intended to annex all West Bank settlements July 1, the earliest date allowed under a deal agreed by the country’s new ruling coalition. According to the Times of Israel, this would mean that the government would extend Israeli sovereignty to around 3% of West Bank territory, comprising 132 settlements that are home to an estimated 450,000 Israelis.

Netanyahu was sworn in for his fourth term as the head of Israel’s government in the Knesset on May 17. In his campaign, Netanyahu promised annexation of the West Bank.

The power-sharing deal between the Israeli leaders included the possibility of annexation this summer with the approval of the Israeli parliament and the Trump administration, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Palestinian leaders, the United Nations, and European and Arab countries oppose unilateral action from Israel and consider Israeli settlements on land captured in 1967 to be illegal, Reuters reports. Israelis who back annexation cite biblical, historical and political roots in the West Bank territory.

President Donald Trump's proposal for peace calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, but gives Israel sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank. The Palestinians reject this.

On May 20, the Holy See reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and respect for the borders internationally recognized before 1967.

The Holy See expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to directly negotiate an agreement with the help of the international community that will lead to peace – “so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews and Christians and Muslims,” the Holy See said then.

In response to talk that Israel would extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian state would no longer be bound by the peace and security agreements with the Israeli and American governments, including the Oslo peace process.

The PLO’s chief negotiator appealed to the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States in a mid-May phone call.

Saeb Erekat, the PLO leader who negotiated the Oslo Accords, called Archbishop Paul Gallagher to say that “the possibility of Israel applying its sovereignty unilaterally” in the Palestinian territories would be “further jeopardizing” to the peace process.

In early May, Catholic bishops, Orthodox patriarchs, and Protestant leaders in the Holy Land published a letter raising concerns that Israel’s unilateral annexation plans “would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest-ranking clergyman in the Church of England, issued a joint statement opposing annexation.


Courtney Mares contributed to this report.

Pope Francis appoints apostolic visitor for Ethiopian Catholics in US and Canada

Vatican City, Jul 2, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed an apostolic visitor Thursday for Ethiopian Catholics in the United States and Canada. 

The pope named Fr. Tesfaye Woldemariam Fesuh, a priest of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa, July 2 as apostolic visitor of Ge’ez Rite Catholics in the two countries. 

The move follows the pope’s decision in January to appoint an apostolic visitor for Ethiopian Catholics in Europe.

In the Latin Rite Church, an apostolic visitor refers to officials who perform a short-term mission on behalf of the pope. But in the Eastern Catholic Churches, an apostolic visitor often has a long-term role supervising communities which do not yet have their own ordinary.

The Ethiopian Catholic Church is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See. It has an estimated 71,000 members and is based in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, but also has diaspora communities in Europe, North America, and Australia.

Ge’ez is a Semitic language used in the liturgies of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, which follow the ancient Alexandrian Rite. 

Fesuh spent more than a decade in the United States, beginning in 2001. He served the Ethiopian faithful in Washington, DC, helping to bring together African Catholics in the city. 

He was a pastoral assistant at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington from 2007 to 2011.

In 2015, he returned to Ethiopia, where he now serves as chancellor of Addis Ababa archdiocese.

Earlier this year Pope Francis named Fr. Petros Berga, a priest of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam in the Netherlands, as apostolic visitor for Catholics of the Alexandrian Ge’ez Rite resident in Europe.

Berga, who was born in Ethiopia, was ordained in the Netherlands in 1998 after studying at the Catholic University of Utrecht. While serving as a pastor in Edam, a town in the northwest of the country, he dedicated himself to the pastoral care of Ethiopian Catholics. Returning to Ethiopia, he was appointed secretary of the local bishops’ conference.

Pope Francis offers condolences to Benedict XVI following his brother’s death

Vatican City, Jul 2, 2020 / 05:10 am (CNA).- Pope Francis offered his condolences to Benedict XVI Thursday following the death of his brother. 

In a letter to the pope emeritus dated July 2, the pope expressed his “heartfelt sympathy” after the death of Msgr. Georg Ratzinger July 1 at the age of 96.

“You were kind enough to be the first to tell me the news of the departure of your beloved brother Georg,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter released in both Italian and German by the Holy See Press Office. 

“In this hour of mourning I would like to express to you once again my heartfelt sympathy and my spiritual closeness.”

The letter continued: “I assure you of my prayers for the deceased, that the Lord of Life, in his goodness and mercy, may receive him into his heavenly homeland and grant him the reward prepared for the faithful servants of the Gospel.” 

“I also pray for you, Holiness, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Father will strengthen you in Christian hope and console you in his divine love.”

Benedict XVI’s older brother died a little more than a week after the pope emeritus made a four-day trip to Regensburg, Germany, to be by his bedside. On each day of the visit the brothers celebrated Mass together, according to local Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer.

The brothers enjoyed a strong bond throughout their lives. They were ordained together on June 29, 1951, and remained in touch as their paths diverged, with Georg pursuing an interest in music and his younger brother developing a reputation as a leading theologian.

Georg served as a conductor of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the acclaimed cathedral choir of Regensburg. 

In 2011, he celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest in Rome together with his brother.

The Diocese of Regensburg announced July 2 that a Pontifical Requiem Mass for Msgr. Ratzinger will take place at 10 a.m. local time Wednesday, July 8, at Regensburg Cathedral. It will be broadcast live on the diocesan website

Afterwards, Benedict’s brother will be laid to rest in the foundation grave of the Regensburger Domspatzen at the Lower Catholic Cemetery in Regensburg.

Regensburg diocese has invited Catholics worldwide to leave messages of condolences via its website.

Speaking after Benedict XVI’s visit to Germany, Voderholzer said: “One can only wish everyone such affection, such a fraternal togetherness, as witnessed in the relationship of the Ratzinger brothers. It lives on fidelity, trust, selflessness and a solid foundation: in the case of the Ratzinger brothers, this is the common, living faith in Christ, the Son of God.”

Analysis: As Archbishop Viganò denounces Vatican II, the Vatican is not speaking

Denver Newsroom, Jul 1, 2020 / 11:35 am (CNA).-  

When Archbishop Carlo Viganò made headlines in August 2018, it was for a sweeping open letter that accused Church officials of complicity and cover-up in the scandal surrounding sexual abuser Theodore McCarrick.

The pope’s response to the Viganò letter was direct: “I will not say a single word on this.”

Two years later, Archbishop Viganò is still speaking. But the archbishop has changed his topic, from the McCarrick affair to conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, the Marian apparition at Fatima, and the Second Vatican Council. The archbishop’s audience has grown large in the last two years; it now includes even the president of the United States. And now his allegations have begun to teeter on a repudiation of the authority of the Church itself.

Still, neither Pope Francis nor the Vatican have said a word about Viganò or his growing pile of missives, even as prominent analysts say the archbishop is at the point of “breaking with the Church,” and may well bring his followers with him. There could be a few reasons for that.

In an interview last month, Viganò offered a set of criticisms against the Second Vatican Council that are not especially original, but are striking because they come, apparently, from the pen of a former papal representative to the U.S.

Viganò claimed that at the Second Vatican Council — an ecumenical council of the Church — “hostile forces” caused “the abdication of the Catholic Church” through a “sensational deception.”

“The errors of the post-conciliar period were contained in nuce in the Conciliar Acts,” the archbishop added, accusing the council, and not just its aftermath, of overt error.

His interview, and his other recent comments on Vatican II, made arguments familiar to anyone who has spent time among adherents of the Society of St. Pius X or other traditionalist groups outside the full communion of the Church: That the council’s decrees on religious liberty and interreligious dialogue reject Catholic doctrine. That as a “pastoral council” Vatican II does not bind Catholics. That the council has led to “the infiltration of the enemy into the heart of the Church.”

Viganò has suggested that the Second Vatican Council catalyzed a massive, but unseen, schism in the Church, ushering in a false Church alongside the true Church.

Those arguments have been addressed and critiqued repeatedly by theologians and historians, including Benedict XVI, and in the mind of the Church’s hierarchy, have been sufficiently refuted. Objections to the council’s authority have long been rejected by the Church’s authorities.

To be sure, few theologians or bishops would argue that Vatican II’s documents are above reproach, in terms of their style, their language, or their presentation of the faith. And scholars continue to disagree about how to interpret some key texts of the council. But accepting the legitimacy and authority of the Second Vatican Council is a necessary component of maintaining communion with the Church herself.

Viganò’s recent interviews have largely been understood as a call to reject the entirety of the Second Vatican Council. A pope, he says, must “rejoin the thread of Tradition there where it was cut off,” and the Church must “recognize the error and deception into which we have fallen.” 

It might be argued that in the most charitable interpretation possible, Viganò’s claims should be understood as studiously ambiguous— attempting to avoid a direct repudiation of Catholic doctrine while doing precisely that, just in a more circumspect manner. Catholics, including many of Viganò's supporters have criticized the work of Fr. James Martin, SJ, with accusations of the same kind of studied ambiguity, albeit on a different subject, and criticized the Holy See for failing to respond. 

But given that Viganò has decried the “perverse nature” of the Second Vatican Council, the plain meaning of his argument seems clear, and it seems nearly impossible to lend his claims even the designation of “studied ambiguity.” Nevertheless, whether his writing meets the formal criteria of either heresy or schism is subject only to the judgment of the Holy See.

The Vatican, however, has not spoken.

One possible reason for the silence is that Church leaders, including Pope Francis, might simply not grasp how much influence Viganò has. The archbishop’s reach is impossible to judge completely, but his letters and interviews are the regular fodder for a set of websites and YouTube channels with very large audiences, and after the archbishop was endorsed by President Trump last month, he has become a figure of awe among the web of QAnon conspiracy theorists.

Most of his influence is online; he has no official power whatsoever, and the Holy See might simply not appreciate how many people read and revere the archbishop. But for a certain set of Catholics, Viganò is among the trusted figures in the Church, and his influence on them is considerable.

The archbishop's admirers are not just fringe figures. A sitting U.S. diocesan bishop signed onto Viganò’s open letter accusing shadowy authorities of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to usher in a one-world government, and the U.S. president has invoked an open letter from Viganò as a kind of institutional Catholic endorsement.

Vatican authorities might be hoping Viganò goes away quietly, but that seems increasingly unlikely, especially if the archbishop and his supporters are emboldened by a positive response to his recent turn against the Second Vatican Council, and towards the American political landscape.

It is also unlikely that Viganò will go away quietly if, as some observers have speculated, the archbishop is being supported by a Catholic faction with a clear objective and, through Viganò, a mouthpiece. How Viganò is supporting himself, and where he is now living, are matters only of speculation. But there is a point worth noting about the archbishop’s recent missives.

Viganò is a lawyer who worked as a government official and a diplomat. He is not a theologian. He is, by many accounts, a practical man, more inclined to get things done than to wax philosophic. But his writing has taken an uncharacteristic turn towards the theological arguments of those who reject the Second Vatican Council, and it displays surprising familiarity with those arguments. If the Holy See does decide to investigate Viganò’s publications, it might consider the circumstances in which they have been written, and what kind of “assistance,” and from whom, Viganò has received.

The Holy See might also be reflexively disinclined to address Viganò because, for all his peculiarities, he is still an archbishop and a retired high ranking diplomatic figure. In the system of Vatican court etiquette, admonishing him openly would be something of a brutta figura. One aspect of clericalism is a near ironclad unspoken commitment among bishops to avoid publicly criticizing one another, and that may be a factor in discomfort with responding to Viganò’s claims.

But beyond clericalism, the Holy See might be disinclined to any kind of open criticism if it has sincere concerns for the archbishop's health, or his personal circumstances.

Finally, there is the uncomfortable fact that Viganò’s more substantive claims — those regarding McCarrick — have not yet been addressed.

A criticism of the archbishop’s theological missives could come across as a very selective responsiveness, especially given that many Catholics, not just the pope’s critics, know that questions regarding Amoris Laetitia have also gone unanswered. Ultimately, though, it seems unlikely that optics are a major factor in the Holy See’s considerations of the Viganò situation, because, quite simply, its communications apparatus does not usually seem to engage public issues with that level of tactical analysis.

Whatever the reason, the voice of Archbishop Viganò has become influential among a broad swath of Catholics, who are now hearing from the archbishop that an ecumenical council should be rejected. Viganò is speaking more frequently, and more boldly. Whether the pope, and the Holy See, will decide that now is the time to say a “single word,” or more, remains to be seen.