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After challenging California officials, Catholic home for trafficked girls set to open

Denver Newsroom, Aug 2, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic charity that has prepared to open a home for underage victims of human trafficking has reached a resolution with California authorities after it was allegedly pressured to affirm LGBT sexuality, to inject sex hormones into any beneficiaries who identify as transgender, and to agree to drive minors to abortion clinics.

“We were able to meet the state regulations in a way that did not compromise our conscience as a Catholic agency,” Grace Williams, founder and executive director of Children of the Immaculate Heart, told CNA.

The San Diego-based Children of the Immaculate Heart, which has served adult victims of human trafficking since 2013, had aimed to open a house for girls age 12-17 who had been victims of human trafficking. The charity has sought a license for the project for three years.

In November 2019 it filed a lawsuit accusing California officials of delaying the license for the project and violating its constitutional rights. The charity had invested $600,000 in the project and was paying rent and maintenance costs of $15,000 a month.

“It was a big financial hit. It’s a one more year delay. We rented an empty facility for three years,” said Williams, who described the lawsuit as “extremely time-consuming.”

“It’s a loss for girls that couldn’t be home sooner, but we’re happy we are where we are,” she said.

The charity and the government settled outside of court after California requested the process go to mediation. On June 10 the California Department of Social Services issued the organization a provisional license to operate The Refuge as a short-term residential therapeutic program.

The provisional license means Children of the Immaculate Heart may now provide therapeutic services and support for trafficked young people referred to it by the San Diego County Department of Probation and Child Welfare Services.

In November 2019 the organization sued the California Department of Social Services and the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, alleging violation of its constitutional rights in the licensing process. The lawsuit accused government officials of ignoring the charity’s multiple requests for a final decision on its application or for clarification regarding religious objections. They tried to force the charity to agree to facilitate “religiously objectionable” practices such as driving teens to abortion clinics or to LGBTQ-affirming activities, the lawsuit alleged.

At a meeting with state and county authorities, one official reportedly told the charity’s leaders, “You’re just going to have a problem with that religious thing,” according to the lawsuit.

The charity objected that licensing officials appeared to assume that because the charity is Catholic, it would discriminate against self-identified LGBTQ youth. The officials also wrongly questioned the non-profit’s stated mission of restoring victims’ relationship with Christ.

After the lawsuit was resolved, staff training at The Refuge starts next week.

“As an organization our staff is doubling in size,” Williams said. “It’s a big push, operationally, financially, and everything.”

The home plans to open to girls referred from probation and child welfare officials in the third week of August.

The organization was founded to help girls and women “heal from their trauma and to provide opportunities for them,” said Williams, “because, honestly, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for them.”

“We want them to become economically self-sufficient and, of course, we want them to encounter the love of Christ, which gives meaning and direction to all of our lives, and eternal life,” she said.

The Refuge works out of a four-bedroom home on two acres in Escondido in San Diego County.

It can house up to six girls who may stay for up to two years “so that they can have the best opportunity possible for healing and healthy integration into society,” the organization’s website said. The home provides targeted mental health treatment, family relationship building, life skills development like self-care and job readiness, and individualized academic coursework.

For Williams, the Catholic faith brings a deeper vision to helping victims.

“Catholic organizations are the most equipped for service,” she added, saying the Catholic understanding of human dignity can combine with professional training.

“We just have so much to offer,” said Williams, who co-chaired the San Diego Board of Supervisors’ Human Trafficking Advisory Council Victim Service Committee from 2015 to 2019.

Though there are increasing questions about difficulties for Catholic organizations operating under U.S. law, Williams had advice.

“It’s really a question of ’do not be afraid.’ I think a lot of Catholics avoid doing anything in the public square because it’s hard,” she told CNA.

“We’re going to be misunderstood, we’re going to be judged, people are not going to want us around,” she said. “However, we have everything to offer, and nothing to lose.”

“Maybe the cultural milieu is not on our side, but the constitution is on our side, which is why we felt comfortable filing the lawsuit,” she added. “In the end, we didn’t even have to finish it in court.”

The Refuge project was backed by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. In a 2017 letter to state officials, she called Children of the Immaculate Heart a “strong partner” and a “constant presence in the fight against human trafficking.” She urged officials to issue the license, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

The organization has a housing and rehabilitation program for adult women survivors of sex trafficking who have children. As of December, it was serving 13 women and their 18 children.

Officials’ feedback to the group’s application for the young girls home questioned how the charity would serve non-religious youth.

Licensing officials voiced concern that the organization did not detail how it would ensure transportation to LGBTQ programs or would ensure procedures for “gender transition” medication. The state said the nonprofit did not provide an explanation or a procedure to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Children of the Immaculate Heart said its nondiscrimination policy is adequate and that there is no rule requiring caregivers to administer medication in transgender procedures.

While California law requires the caregivers of foster youth to provide transportation to medical appointments, and to provide “age-appropriate, medically accurate information about reproductive and sexual health care,” there could be alternatives that would not involve the Catholic charity.

A state guide for foster youth case managers addresses a similar hypothetical situation, the San Diego Union-Tribune said. If a minor in foster care were to seek an abortion, and the caregiver refused to aid this effort, the minor’s case manger would have to arrange alternative transportation, for instance.

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund represented the charity, with the Thomas More Society as co-counsel.

“The extraordinary women at Children of the Immaculate Heart just want to take care of commercially sexually exploited girls without being forced to violate their faith,” Daniel Piedra, executive director of the Freedom of Conscience Defense fund, said in November. “This case does not endanger the personal rights or health of girls. It only deals with a discriminatory mandate imposed by anti-Christian government officials.”

“The longer government bureaucrats place radical identity politics over saving innocent prostituted teen girls, the more money traffickers can make,” Pedra charged, claiming the government’s actions were “not just unconstitutional; they’re downright evil.”

Warsaw cardinal laments ‘desecration’ of Christ statue with rainbow flag

CNA Staff, Aug 2, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A Polish cardinal has urged protesters to respect religious sensibilities after they attached a rainbow flag to a historic statue of Christ in the capital, Warsaw.

In a statement published on the Polish bishops’ conference website July 29, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz deplored the protesters’ decision to target the statue outside Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście, one of the city’s best-known streets.

The statue, which depicts Christ carrying the cross and pointing to the sky, sits on a plinth inscribed with the words “Sursum corda” (Lift up your hearts) -- a message that has encouraged Poles during some of the darkest times in their history.

Placed outside the church in 1858, it remained standing during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The Nazis, who destroyed up to 90% of the city’s buildings in response to the Uprising, eventually toppled the statue.

A photograph from the time shows the broken statue lying amid rubble with its finger pointed to the “Sursum Corda” inscription above, which was seen as a sign of God’s providence amid the Nazi occupation.

Nycz, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw, said: “The desecration of the historic statue of Christ ‘Sursum corda’ at Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw caused pain to believers, parishioners of the Holy Cross Church and many residents of the capital, for whom the statue of the Savior carrying the cross became a symbol of hope in the most difficult days of the Uprising.”

“I appeal for respect for the religious feelings of believers regardless of their views. Let us stop using acts of vandalism and crossing borders in public debate.”

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was pictured praying at the foot of the statue on July 29. In a statement on his Twitter account, he wrote: “There is no consent to profaning national and religious symbols in the name of any ideology. The values they symbolize, important to millions of Poles, are a heritage that is subject to special protection. You cannot become an aggressor under the guise of supposed equality.”


Nie ma zgody na profanowanie symboli narodowych i religijnych w imię żadnej ideologii. Wartości, które symbolizują, ważne dla milionów Polaków, są dziedzictwem, które podlega szczególnej ochronie. Nie można pod płaszczykiem rzekomej równości stawać się agresorem.

— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) July 29, 2020  

On the night of July 28-29, activists dressed in black attached a rainbow flag to the statue’s arm and a scarf with an anarchist symbol across Christ’s face, leaving behind a card containing their LGBT rights manifesto. Protesters also targeted other prominent monuments in the city.

The incident took place weeks after a hard-fought presidential election narrowly won by the incumbent, President Andrzej Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).

On June 10, Duda signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”

Sebastian Kaleta, Poland’s vice-minister of justice, referred the statue incident to the prosecutor’s office, arguing that it broke laws related to offending religious feelings and profaning national monuments. 

The Polish daily newpaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported July 30 that the prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation.

On Aug. 2, you can get this St. Francis-themed indulgence

New York City, N.Y., Aug 2, 2020 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Today's feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola and its associated indulgence is a way to focus on the importance of Mary and the Franciscan tradition in the Church, said one friar.

The Aug. 2 feast is found in the Franciscan tradition, and marks the dedication of the parish church, called Porziuncola or “little portion,” which is one of those Italy's St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt in obedience to Christ's command to “rebuild my church.”

“The Porziuncola is at the heart of the Franciscan journey,” Father David Convertino, the development director for the Holy Name Province of the Observant Franciscans, told CNA.

“For Francis, it was his most beloved place. He lived near it with the early followers … and he loved the Porziuncola, as it was part of his devotion to Our Lady.”

The Catholic Church teaches that after a sin is forgiven, an unhealthy attachment to created things still remains. Indulgences remove that unhealthy attachment, purifying the soul so that it is more fit to enter heaven. Indulgences are either plenary (full) or partial.

A plenary indulgence also requires that the individual be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

Anyone who visits a Catholic church with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels and recites the Creed, the Our Father, and prays for the Pope's intentions, may receive a plenary indulgence on Aug. 2.

“Any kind of a prayer form that helps people come closer to God is obviously a good prayer form, and certainly an indulgence is one way,” Fr. Convertino said.

“It helps us focus on, in this case, the meaning of the Porziuncola and the Franciscan tradition, how it's situated in the greater idea of the Church.”

Porziuncola located inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. Credit: emmav674 via Flickr (CC BY_NC_SA 2.0)

The Porziuncola was built in honor of Our Lady of the Angels in the fourth century, and by St. Francis' time had fallen into disrepair. The church, which was then located just outside of Assisi, became the “motherhouse” of the Franciscan orders.

“Although Francis realized that the kingdom of heaven is found in every dwelling on earth … he had learned nevertheless that the church of Saint Mary at Portiuncula was filled with more abundant grace and visited more frequently by heavenly spirits,” says the life of St. Francis written by Friar Thomas of Celano, read today by Franciscans.

“Consequently he used to say to his friars: 'See to it, my sons, that you never leave this place. If you are driven out by one door return by the other for this is truly a holy place and God’s dwelling.'”

Fr. Convertino added that the Porziuncola “was the place he chose to lie next to on his deathbed, and at that time of course you could have looked up to the city of Assisi, which he also loved so well.”

The Porziuncola, a rather small chapel, is now located inside a large basilica which was built around it, to enclose and protect it.

“You have this large basilica built over this teeny tiny little chapel,” Fr. Convertino reflected. “If that chapel wasn't there then the basilica wouldn't be there, but if the basilica wasn't there, the chapel probably wouldn't be there either, given 800 years of war, weather, and turmoil.”

For Fr. Convertino, the duality of the big church and the little church is a reflection of the relationship between the world-wide Catholic Church and the smaller communities which make it up.

“We feel the Franciscans kind of convey, we're the ones at the heart of the Church, the little church there.”

He said that each time he visits Assisi, the “experience” of the Porziuncola is “compounded more and more,” and added that “it's such a magnificent place, and the friars there are wonderful.”

Fr. Convertino also discussed the fresco now painted around the entrance of the Porziuncola, which shows St. Francis, together with some of his followers, receiving the indulgence from Christ and Our Lady.

“The idea behind the story is that Francis is asking Jesus for a Porziuncola indulgence, and Jesus is saying to Francis, 'Well, you really better ask Mary, ask my mother.'”

This article was originally published Aug. 2, 2013.

Catholic school superintendent: ‘Our kids need to go back to school’ 

Denver Newsroom, Aug 1, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Bishops and school superintendents across the US are emphasizing the importance of in-person education for the coming fall term, and are seeking to reassure parents that schools are taking the precautions necessary to keep children safe.

In Florida, where Governor Rick Scott has issued an order mandating that schools must reopen in person in the fall, superintendents say they are doing everything they can to prepare to welcome students in safely while also offering remote learning for those who need it.

Chris Pastura, superintendent of schools in the St. Petersburg diocese, told CNA in an interview July 31 that he and other leaders in the diocese believe strongly it is important for students to come back in person.

"Our kids are loved every day, they're in a community, they're in a faith community, they're celebrating the sacraments— I think our kids need that environment. Our kids need to go back to school."

"COVID is not the only dangerous thing in our society. Lack of community, loneliness, and all those kinds of things affect kids. And I think it's important for our kids to be back in school."

Florida has become a center of the US coronavirus outbreak of late, with infections on the rise over the past few months.

From a pro-life standpoint, Pastura said, the schools in his diocese will be doing comprehensive testing for their employees, and other measures such as social distancing in the classroom to protect the students.

On Monday, the Diocese of St. Petersburg sent a letter to the parents of its nearly 13,000 students asking them to sign a waiver of liability, choosing to accept the risk that their children may be sickened by coronavirus at school.

Several other dioceses in Florida and a number of others across the country are asking parents of students returning to class in-person to sign similar waivers.

Pastura said for the most part, parents are accustomed to signing waivers for almost any activity their child does. The diocese had in spring drafted a waiver for summer camps, and early in the summer began to consider adapting it for the school year, as well.

All schools are giving the option of coming back in person, or doing online learning for students in high-risk medical categories, or who may have high-risk people in their households, Pastura said. 

The idea, he said, was to create a "statement of understanding" for parents, make them aware that a child could contract coronavirus despite the school's best efforts.

"Since this is just such uncharted territory, we thought it was important for people to first realize that we are doing all kinds of plans to make sure that our students and our employees are safe, and we're trying to make sure we do this the right way."

However, Pastura said, the school cannot possibly know what children are being exposed to outside the seven hours a day they spend at school.

"The release from liability— is it overly cautious? Maybe," he said.

"But we do live in a very litigious society, and we just thought it to be prudent...providing families with a very clear statement, I think that's the responsible thing to do, I think it's the fair thing to do."

Being asked to sign a waiver for any activity can raise red flags for people, Pastura said, and because there is so much uncertainty around coronavirus, it is understandable that parents may not understand the importance of the waiver.

Pastura said he and his Catholic school colleagues at other dioceses across Florida speak regularly about their reopening plans. He said he hopes that parents will trust those in authority over the state's Catholic schools, and recognize that those authorities are creating reopening plans with students' best interests at heart.

"There's a lot that goes into these decisions, and sometimes we just have to have some faith in one another. Even if we don't agree with someone's decision, maybe we can accept that it was made in good confidence based on the information available."

The superintendent of schools for the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese has also spoken out about the importance of opening Catholic schools in person.

"We feel that their spiritual growth is vital to them. We're educating the whole child, and spiritually is a big part of that," superintendent Mike Juhas told EWTN News Nightly.

Elsewhere, the bishops of California said this week that Catholic schools in California are taking appropriate measures against the threat of coronavirus and authorities should issue waivers to rules that bar the schools from reopening for “vital” in-person education, citing the low risk of coronavirus infection among children.

Initially, the nation’s largest Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles, with 74,000 students attending its schools, announced on June 15 that schools would be reopening for in-person learning in the fall in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara.

However, California governor Gavin Newsom said on July 17 that schools in the state where coronavirus cases were high would remain closed for in-person learning.

Meanwhile, in Texas where COVID-19 cases have soared in the summer, the state is granting religious private schools the freedom to decide for themselves how to reopen in the fall.

In a July 29 joint op-ed, the archbishops of New York Boston and Los Angeles exhorted Congress and President Trump to adopt a federal scholarship tax credit modeled after successful state-level credits in order to assist private schools. Such a program would now be possible following the Supreme Court’s landmark June ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, they said.

The bishops argued that Catholic schools— many of which are facing closure amid the pandemic— are worth saving because of their savings to taxpayers and their success in creating successful and well-formed citizens.

“Students and families for generations have benefited from Catholic schools, which have benefited America as a whole. This is now in serious jeopardy, as another sad legacy of the coronavirus pandemic,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, and Archbishop José Gómez wrote.

“Urgent action by President Donald Trump and Congress to meet the needs of Catholic and other school families will preserve this important education option for generations to come and prevent added financial burdens on our government school systems.”




Catholic retreat center converts to coronavirus quarantine site

Denver Newsroom, Aug 1, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- In Washington state, one of the first coronavirus hotspots in the United States, an empty Catholic retreat center will temporarily transform into a quarantine facility for coronavirus patients, the Diocese of Spokane has announced.

In February, the cancelations were already piling up from individuals and retreat groups scheduled to visit the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, located just south of Spokane.

Prospective retreatants, fearful of the novel coronavirus, which was just beginning to be detected in the United States, were fearful of coming together with people from other households and potentially contracting the virus.

“We were looking at a significant loss of revenue,” Michael Pallardy, development officer for the IHRC, told CNA.

The retreat center officially closed its doors in March, and as of June, it became clear that the center would likely have to cancel all of its retreats and events for the rest of the calendar year. While Deacon John Ruscheinsky, director of IHRC, and his team strategized about the future of the center in light of the coronavirus pandemic, he received an unexpected offer from Dr. Bob Lutz, Clinical Director of the Spokane Regional Health District.

Lutz proposed that in partnership with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington and the IHRC, the retreat center could temporarily be used as a quarantine facility for those with COVID-19. “So Deacon John Mashinsky went to Bishop Daly and told the Bishop what was proposed and asked the Bishop, what do you think?” Pallardy said. “And the Bishop gave him his blessing and said, ‘Please proceed, see if this possibly can happen.’”

"I wish to thank all parties involved for the professional manner in which they have addressed this temporary transition of IHRC from retreat center to a quarantine facility,” Bishop Daly said in a statement announcing the change. “Please join me in prayer for its success. May Our Lady of Lourdes guide our efforts in helping others in need."

The quarantine facility, which is set to open by the end of August at the latest, will serve “individuals who are actually diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms, or those who had tested positive, but weren't showing symptoms yet. They also said that we would be helping the most needy and vulnerable of our society, so those individuals who are living on the street, who have no place to go who become ill and therefore become a carrier (of COVID-19),” Pallardy said.

Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which has been open for more than 60 years, has 64 dormitory rooms in the main building, kitchen and dining facilities, and normally serves more than 7,000 retreatants in an average year. The plan is to separate the symptomatic patients and asymptomatic patients in the center, Pallardy noted.

He added that it seemed “obvious” to allow the retreat center to be used for this purpose, because “part of our mission is to help. Immaculate Heart is a place where people come for hope, peace and healing, and how best can we help those who are suffering with this illness, but to help them heal and in a prayerful place and a peaceful place?”

Pallardy said the work has already begun to transform the retreat center into the quarantine site - additional security cameras, air conditioning, and other updates are being made, and the health district and Catholic Charities staff are moving in while the retreat center staff are working from home. The contract with the Spokane Regional Health District states that the retreat center will be used as a quarantine site until the end of December, at which point the agreement will go to a month-to-month basis depending on the needs of the community, Pallardy said.

“Nobody knows what the fall or winter is going to be like with COVID and what pressures it’s going to put on our community,” he said. Pallardy said the facility could host families with children who are quarantining together, and would be open to people of all religions. He added that the retreat center, though serving a different purpose, will still be considered a ministry operating under the direction of Bishop Daly and the Diocese of Spokane.

Ultimately, Pallardy said the plan was providential in that it allowed the retreat center to continue operating for future use and it allowed the center to be used to help those most immediately in need. “To help our community and help the most vulnerable during this pandemic to heal is a godsend.”

Scottish government may face legal challenge over redefinition of ‘woman’

CNA Staff, Aug 1, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- A feminist group said Friday that it may launch a legal challenge over new rules to increase female representation on public boards in Scotland, arguing that they redefine the term “woman” to include men. 

In a press statement July 31, the group For Women Scotland said it had sent a legal letter to ministers accusing the Scottish government of exceeding its authority by changing the definition of “woman.”

The complaint focuses on the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act 2018, which sets a “gender representation objective” for the boards of listed Scottish public authorities, which must ensure that 50% of non-executive members are women. 

The Act of the Scottish Parliament became law on March 9, 2018. The government published statutory guidance on the Act on June 2, 2020.

The statutory guidance states that, under the Act, the term “woman” may also refer to a person who presents as a transgender woman. To qualify, a person would not be required “to dress, look or behave in any particular way,” but they would be expected to be “continuously living as a woman, such as -- always using female pronouns; using a female name on official documents such as a driving license or passport, or on utility bills or bank accounts.”

The guidance insists that “This provision only relates to the meaning of ‘woman’ in the Act. This does not have the effect of creating a new legal definition of woman in any other context.”

For Women Scotland, a national women’s rights group, said it had sought legal opinion from Aidan O’Neill, QC, and warned the government that it may seek a judicial review over the guidance.

The letter sent to ministers argued that the law relating to “equal opportunities” is regulated by the U.K. Parliament’s Equality Act 2010 and is therefore reserved to Westminster.

“The Scottish government has acted outwith its competence by confusing the distinct protected characteristics of ‘sex’ and ‘gender reassignment.’ The Equality Act only allows for measures for those persons who share a protected characteristic, not for merging different protected characteristics,” the press statement said.

“The redefinition of ‘woman’ includes persons who may self-identify as women, but who the Equality Act would characterize as male. It also excludes persons who would be characterized as female, i.e,. those women who self-identify as men.”

The letter also suggested that the guidance was incompatible with European Union law, “which only makes provision for the possibility of workplace-related ‘positive action’ in relation to inequality between the sexes.”

Marion Calder, For Women Scotland’s spokeswoman, said: “It beggars belief that the Scottish government has introduced new legislation that contravenes the very essence of what a ‘woman’ is in law. This is just the introduction of self-identification of sex by the back door.”

Nicaragua Catholic cathedral attacked with firebomb

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 07:15 pm (CNA).- An unidentified man threw a firebomb into a chapel of Managua’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, severely damaging the chapel and a devotional image of Christ more than three centuries old.


Acabo de comunicarme con religiosas y sacerdotes de la Catedral de Managua. Hemos llorado juntos a causa del incendio que ha ocurrido en la capilla de la venerada imagen de la Sangre de Cristo. ¡Mi cercanía y mi oración con el pueblo de Nicaragua en este doloroso momento!

— Silvio José Báez (@silviojbaez) July 31, 2020  

“This was a planned act, very calmly planned,” Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua said. “So I want to say it clearly: it is a terrorist act, an act of intimidating the Church in her mission of evangelization.”

The man wore a hood and held something in his hands that witnesses could not identify. He entered the Chapel of the Blood of Christ and said “I come to the blood of Christ,” the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa reports. The witnesses saw the man throw the object in his hands.

The cardinal said witnesses saw the man circle the cathedral in the Nicaraguan capital for 20 minutes and he planned his exit through a gate which was recently stolen.

“In other words, he calculated everything: how to enter, where to do it, and then where to escape. This was planned,” the cardinal said.

A church worker and a parishioner were in the chapel. They noticed the fire and reported it to authorities. While the man was not identified, witness Alba Ramirez said the man was known to some in the area. According to Radio Corporacion, men in civilian clothes with a threatening attitude were in the vicinity of the cathedral.

The chapel houses a 382-year-old image of the Blood of Christ, a depiction of Jesus Christ crucified..

Cardinal Brenes said due to the fire’s heat “half of the face came off, but the image was charred. We are going to evaluate this calmly because it is a beautiful image more than 300 years old.”

The Archdiocese of Managua said the act was “a totally condemnable act of sacrilege and desecration.”

“We must remain in constant prayer to defeat evil forces,” the archdiocese said.

The cathedral’s gates were closed after the fire. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes visited the chapel to inspect the damage.

Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez said on Twitter that he contacted the religious and priests of the cathedral after the fire. He voiced his prayers for the Nicaraguan people and his closeness to them “in this painful moment.”

“We have cried together because of the fire that has occurred in the chapel of the venerated image of the Blood of Christ,” he said.

The apparent attack comes after tensions between some Catholics and supporters of President Daniel Ortega, who previously led the country for over a decade after the Sandinistas’ 1979 ouster of the Somoza dictatorship. Ortega has again been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

Ortega’s government has accused many bishops and priests of siding with his opposition.

Backers of Ortega have led actions against some churches, including Managua’s cathedral when critics of Ortega took refuge there.

Ortega’s wife, First Lady Rosario Murillo, is also vice president.

In reaction to the fire, she suggested, without evidence, that candles were to blame, as were people who placed candles too close to religious images. She did not condemn the attack on the church. She said she would wait for the opinion of police experts on the causes of the fire.

On Wednesday, unidentified people desecrated the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Nindiri, Masaya, a municipality about 13 miles outside of Managua. They stole the ciborium, profaned the tabernacle, and trampled on the hosts. They also broke images, broke benches, and damaged other furniture, doors and pipes, La Prensa reports.

On July 25 there was an attack on the chapel of Our Lord of Veracruz parish in Masaya district. The chapel was desecrated and audio equipment and money boxes were stolen.

In November 2019 Mothers holding a hunger strike seeking the release of their relatives, whom they consider political prisoners, took refuge at Managua’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral. They were soon followed by the mob of government supporters. The mothers removed themselves to another part of the cathedral.

However, the pro-government forces beat a priest and a religious sister who had reprimanded them.

At the time, Msgr. Carlos Avilés, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Managua, said “there are a number of unjustly detained political prisoners in the country. Their mothers desperately tried to enter the cathedral to pray … then the government with the police helping them, let in a mob of government supporters backed by the police to violate the cathedral.”

The protests were part of a crisis which began in April 2018 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protesters were killed by security forces.

Security forces have killed at least 320 protesters, with hundreds more arrested.


German military bishop says US wants to 'hinder' International Criminal Court

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 31, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The military bishop of Germany says that U.S. soldiers should be held accountable to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes. A Catholic University law professor said that while international cooperation for justice is important, the U.S. is not a signatory to the treaty that created the international court.

“The rule of law, and with it peace between peoples and nations, is at stake,” wrote Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of the Catholic Military Episcopal Office of Germany on July 30.
He called it “tragic and contrary to American tradition” that the U.S. has announced sanctions against ICC officials who have attempted to investigate members of the U.S. military and CIA for alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

“If the U.S. succeeds in its attempt to hinder the International Criminal Court’s investigations in Afghanistan, it will provide Russia and China arguments for doing as they please in their areas of influence, for instance, in Hong Kong or with the Uyghurs, in Syria, Eastern Ukraine and on the Crimea,” he added.

In November 2017, the ICC first announced that it planned to investigate U.S. soldiers for alleged war crimes from the war in Afghanistan. In March, the court’s appeals chamber approved the investigation to go forward.
On June 11, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced economic sanctions against ICC officials involved with the investigation “and against others who materially support such officials’ activities.”

Pompeo also expanded visa restrictions on officials involved in the investigation.

“The ICC cannot subject Americans to arrest, prosecution, and jail. The U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC,” Pompeo said.

Antonio Perez, a law professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, told CNA that in principle, the statement by Overbeck “articulates a view about the nature of international law that, in large respects, isn’t really inconsistent with the overall Catholic position,” 

Enforcing justice to establish international peace is part of Church teaching, Perez said. For centuries, the Church has taught that “true international order requires justice,” and rejects the notion that it is “only the will of states that defines international law.”

“You can’t have peace without justice, and you can’t have justice without some kind of adjudication,” he said.

But the U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute, which binds party countries to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

While President Bill Clinton signed the treaty, he did not send it to the senate for ratification because of concerns about whether the court would function fairly. He recommended his successors not submit the agreement to the senate “until our fundamental concerns are satisfied.”

President George W. Bush eventually revoked the Clinton administration’s signature of the treaty.

The court has been criticized as unjust because it lacks jury trials, and is sometimes said to defy conventions of procedure that have become standard in criminal trials. Some legal scholars say the court undermines Constitutional sovereignty, and that if the U.S. submitted cases to its authority, it would concede the ICC’s right to bring charges in other cases.

Normally under international law, a party is not bound by a treaty it is not party to, Perez said, but the ICC is now saying it can apply its statutes to the conduct of U.S. soldiers and CIA personnel in Afghanistan.

“That’s clearly something with which the United States disagrees,” Perez said, noting that many other countries disagree with that assertion of authority as well.

As a matter of practice, the U.S. has often declined to accept the authority of international tribunals, and has since 1984 not accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, or World Court, an organ of the United Nations.

Regarding the application of Church teaching on international treaties to the present circumstances, the situation is more complex than Overbeck makes it out to be, Perez said.

“The Catholic position in practice in resolving particular international conflicts has been much more nuanced,” Perez said. It must be applied to each individual circumstance, he said, and does not offer one single “absolutist” answer.

“The tradition isn’t a system that gives you absolute answers in concrete cases. It’s much more complicated than that,” Perez said.

Thus, “if somebody gives you an absolutist answer, you should be careful with that.”

Furthermore, he said, Overbeck’s statement is the voice of one German bishop and not of the Holy See.

And while “not perfect,” the U.S. military has actually had an “extraordinary record” in prosecuting human rights violations—relative to other countries, Perez said.

However, President Trump’s recent decision to pardon Eddie Gallagher—a Navy SEAL convicted and sentenced by a military jury last summer of posing for a picture with the corpse of a dead ISIS militant—did not help its reputation on the world stage, Perez said.

Pardoning known war criminals after a military judgment “tends to undercut the U.S. position that we should have primary jurisdiction to prosecute our own soldiers,” he said.

For his part, Overbrook said that since the U.S. government claims “it is the responsibility of the U.S. judiciary to take action against U.S. soldiers,” it “must go ahead and do so.”

Neither the U.S. bishops' conference nor the U.S. Archdiocese of Military Services responded to requests for comment from CNA.


San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone urges Friday fasting for an end to COVID

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 03:47 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is urging Catholics to fast every Friday for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In addition to adoration, we have to reclaim an authentic and serious spirit of fasting. Fasting has traditionally been understood to mean no more than one meal in the course of a day,” Cordileone said in a July 30 memo to the priests of the diocese.

“Let us storm heaven with prayer and fasting for a restoration of public worship unhindered, for a swift end to this pandemic, for health care workers and researchers, and for government officials who must make very complicated decisions for the overall well-being of our communities.”

The archbishop also urged prayers for the several seminarians of the archdiocese set to be ordained to the priesthood soon, as well as those men set to be ordained to the diaconate in the coming weeks.

Cordileone exhorted his priests to be as diligent as possible in bringing the sacraments to their people, including celebrating up to three outdoor Masses each Sunday, and providing Reconciliation in a safe manner as often as possible.

“Please regularly remind people to follow the safety practices necessary to curb the spread of the virus. This is real, it is dangerous, and it has to be taken seriously,” he added.

“The resurgence is due in no small part to people becoming lax once the shelter-in-place rules began to be lifted. Please urge these practices upon them; absolutely do not give them the impression that the coronavirus is not a serious threat to the physical health of our community.”

Cordileone said he detects “no unified sense of how the Church should proceed in these unprecedented times,” adding that they often have found the guidance and orders from the city confusing.

He said he and other archdiocesan officials have been working with local authorities to convince them that in-person worship services can be conducted in a safe and responsible manner. Despite their efforts to dialogue with local authorities, the city’s health orders have not changed.

Currently the City and County of San Francisco is limiting outdoor worship services to 12 people, with indoor worship services of any kind prohibited.

Cordileone pointed out that the city has allowed retail stores to operate at 50% capacity during the same time period that people of faith are prohibited from gathering in their churches, even with masks and social distancing in place.

“With regard to outdoor services, you are all well aware that pre-planned and scheduled street protests have been allowed to continue unhindered, while the limit of no more than 12 people still applies to everyone else, including us,” he continued.

“Yet here again, an outdoor worship service is a much safer event than a protest, since the people are stationary, social distance is respected, and the participants are wearing masks.”

San Francisco has seen numerous street protests in recent months, including one in late June that resulted in the destruction of a statue of St. Junípero Serra by a crowd of about 100 people.

The San Francisco archdiocese has recently been under renewed scrutiny from secular officials after the city says it received complaints from citizens about parishes holding Masses indoors.

Early this month, the archdiocese pledged to comply with the city and county public health orders barring indoor public Masses and limiting outdoor services, including funerals, to 12 people.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a letter June 29 to the archdiocese’s lawyer, ordering the archdiocese to cease-and-desist indoor public Masses and giving it one day to comply.

“Upon reviewing the reports of multiple San Francisco parishes holding indoor Mass over the last few weeks, the Health Officer has concluded that the Archdiocese is putting not only its parishioners but the larger community at risk of serious illness and death,” the letter said.

The archdiocese told CNA today that it has made a good-faith effort to comply with the city’s public health guidelines, despite some occasional confusion and last-minute changes to the city’s public health orders.

“Our intention has always been to conform to what we understand to be the City orders and timelines,” the archdiocese said July 2, noting that the city’s orders have been constantly changing throughout the pandemic, sometimes on short notice.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has mandated that only outdoor and online services are permitted in counties that fall on a state monitoring list for rising COVID-19 infections.

The San Francisco archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco, as well as San Mateo and Marin counties, all of which are currently on the state’s list. The governor has said that the state’s list currently covers some 80% of all Californians.

In terms of school reopenings, in-person learning will not be allowed for public or private schools whose jurisdiction is on the state monitoring list.

After AOC decries statue, Hawaiian Catholic says St Damien of Molokai 'gave his life' serving lepers

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 31, 2020 / 01:28 pm (CNA).-  

A Hawaiian Catholic catechist said that St. Damien of Molokai is a “hero” to the Hawaiian people, after a prominent congresswoman claimed the statue honoring him in the U.S. Capitol is part of colonialism and “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.”

 St. Damien “gave his life” serving the isolated leper colony at Kalaupapa peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, said Dallas Carter, a native Hawaiian and a catechist for the diocese of Honolulu, in an interview with CNA.
“Any Hawaiian here who is aware of their history--which most Hawaiians are--would absolutely, Catholic or not, defend the legacy of Damien as a man who was embraced by the people, and who is a hero to us because of his love for the Hawaiian people,” Carter said.
“We did not judge him by the color of his skin. We judged him by the love that he had for our people,” Carter told CNA.
In an Instagram story on Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) asked why there were not more statues honoring women historical figures, at the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. The collection includes statues honoring historical figures from all 50 states, which are chosen by the states and sent by them to Congress for display.

“Even when we select figures to tell the stories of colonized places, it is the colonizers and settlers whose stories are told – and virtually no one else,” Ocasio-Cortez posted, with a picture of Fr. Damien’s U.S. Capitol statue in the background.

In 1969, Hawaii chose to honor St. Damien alongside Kamehameha I in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol.

Ocasio-Cortez noted on Thursday that Hawaii’s statue was of Fr. Damien and not of “Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii, the only Queen Regnant of Hawaii,” implying that it was an example of “colonizers” being honored instead of historical figures who are native to states.

“This isn’t to litigate each and every individual statue,” she said, arguing that “patterns” among the “totality” of the statues in the Capitol reveal they honor “virtually all men, all white, and mostly both.”

“This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like!” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s not radical or crazy to understand the influence white supremacist culture has historically had in our overall culture & how it impacts the present day.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s office told CNA that "it’s the patterns that have emerged among all of the statues in the Capitol: virtually all white men. Each individual could be worthy, moral people. But the deliberate erasure of women and people of color from our history is a result of the influence of patriarchy and white supremacy."

Her office later added that "Fr. Damien conducted acts of great good, and his is a story worth telling. It is still worthy for us to examine from a US history perspective why a non-Hawaiian, non-American was chosen as the statue to represent Hawaii in the Capitol over other Hawaiian natives who conducted great acts of good, and why so few women and people of color are represented in Capitol statues at all."

St. Damien of Molokai was a religious priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who spent the last 16 years of his life caring for lepers in the Hawaiian Kingdom.

He was born Jozef De Veuster in Belgium in 1840, and he entered the Picpus Fathers in 1859, taking the name Damien. He was sent to the mission in Hawaii in 1864, and was ordained a priest that May.

Shortly after that, the Hawaiian government and King Kamehameha V passed a law mandating that lepers quarantine themselves in an isolated colony on the island of Molokai. The local bishop asked for volunteers to minister to the leper colony, and Fr. Damien presented himself, beginning his work there in 1873.

Carter noted that the Hawaiian government of the time “did not know how to deal with leprosy,” and that “no one wanted to deal with Kalaupapa [colony].”

Damien himself was afraid to go and minister to the lepers, Carter said, but “over a period of time—his journal is very clear, and the writings of the Hawaiian people in that town are very clear—that he fell in love with the people.”

Eventually, Damien was given an ultimatum by his religious superior to either leave the colony or remain there permanently. He chose to stay.

The priest served the colony for the rest of his life, attending to both spiritual and temporal needs of the lepers. By 1884 he had contracted leprosy, and he continued to minister until his death in 1889.

St. Damien is beloved by native Hawaiians, Carter said, and then-princess Lili’uokalani—who Cortez implied should be given a statue instead of Damien—made Fr. Damien a Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalākaua in 1881, for his “efforts in alleviating the distresses and mitigating the sorrows of the unfortunate.”

Damien is also the only priest-saint in the Hawaiian martyrology “that spoke the native Hawaiian language,” Carter said. “He loved the Hawaiian people, he embraced our culture,” he said, and in turn “he was part of our kingdom. He was one of us.”

The priest was canonized Oct. 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI, who said that “his missionary activity, which gave him such joy, reached its peak in charity.”

On the occasion of the canonization, U.S. president Barack Obama expressed his “deep admiration for the life of Blessed Damien De Veuster.”

“Fr. Damien has also earned a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians. I recall many stories from my youth about his tireless work there to care for those suffering from leprosy who had been cast out,” Obama, who was born on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, said.

“Following in the steps of Jesus' ministry to the lepers, Fr. Damien challenged the stigmatizing effects of disease, giving voice to the voiceless and, ultimately, sacrificing his own life to bring dignity to so many.”