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HHS conscience rule essential for freedom say Catholic healthcare groups

Washington D.C., Aug 23, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Medical professionals do not give up their right to conscience protections upon accepting a job, Catholic healthcare organizations have argued in support of new rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

In legal briefs filed Aug. 21 on behalf of four non-profit organizations, including the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Catholic Medical Association, the groups argue that medical professionals should not be forced to perform procedures or refer patients for procedures to which they are morally opposed. 

The cases concern the Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule, first announced in May. The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified that they comply with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights, including a doctor’s right to refuse to participate in abortion or so-called gender reassignment surgery. 

Several suits were filed by state attorneys general against the rule, with California AG Xavier Becerra calling it dangerous to American lives and part of “a war being waged on access to health care across our country.”  

Herrera wrote that “hospitals are no place to put personal beliefs above patient care,” and that “refusing treatment to vulnerable patients should not leave anyone with a clear conscience.”    

After the “significant litigation,” HHS announced last month that the rule would not come into effect until November 22. 

Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, said in a statement last July that the rule is simply an enforcement mechanism for policies that have existed for years. 

“The rule gives life and enforcement tools to conscience protection laws that have been on the books for decades,” he said in a statement provided to CNA. 

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom fosters greater diversity in the healthcare space. We will defend the rule vigorously.”

The briefs were filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the four organizations in the cases City and County of San Francisco v. Azar, and State of New York v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Conscience rights are not limited based on one’s professional status. The argument that too many health care workers’ consciences would be protected under the HHS Conscience Rule shows a misunderstanding of the fundamental rights we have historically protected—beginning with the guarantees of the First Amendment,” the submissions argue. 

These conscience rights are “paramount,” they said, no matter what a person’s job may be, and that “decades of Supreme Court caselaw teach that complicity in an act creates an unconstitutional conscience burden.” 

Removing conscience rights from medical professionals would force them to sacrifice their “core convictions,” said ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle.

“That’s why protecting the freedom to live and work consistent with one’s conscience is critical: It is at the heart of what motivates many who enter the medical field, a profession full of individuals who dedicate their lives to healing and doing no harm,” she said. 

Harle said she believes the rule is “constitutionally sound” as well as “consistent with related federal laws.” 

ADF also observed that Congress has passed multiple laws, with the support of both major political parties, that protect health care professionals from being forced to violate their consciences. These protections, however, are not often supported on the state level--as evidenced by the lawsuits and how 13 state attorneys general previously denounced conscience protection regulations. 

Kevin Theriot, vice president of the ADF Center for Life, said in a statement that the rule was “commonsense” and simply worked to enforce existing conscience protections. 

“Despite clear constitutional principles assuring respect for conscience, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life,” said Theriot. 

“The government may not pick and choose which views deserve protection.”

Amid efforts to rebuild, residents of Karala face another round of floods

Karala, India, Aug 23, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- Just a year after devastating floods swept through Kerala, India, the state is again facing devastating flooding.

Indian officials said that heavy rains this month have resulted in landslides and flash floods. According to ucanews, 100 people in Kerala have been killed and 1,115 homes have been destroyed.

According to the Indian Express, over 150,000 people have been relocated to one of the 1,221 relief camps in Kerala.

Father George Vettikattil, secretary of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, said 300 church institutions are being used as relief camps for about 45,000 people. Like last year, he said, Catholic fishing communities are also using their boats for rescue missions.

“We have opened all our institutions to accommodate needy people in temporary and safe accommodation,” he told Vatican News.

Vettikattill told ucanews that “the destruction is less than last year.” In 2018, the monsoon season was the worst Kerala had seen in nearly a century. The natural disaster took over 400 lives and damaged 75,000 homes.

Families are still working to rebuild after last year’s floods.

Vettikattill said many people have offered money and volunteer work to help rebuilt the community. Caritas India alone has carried out $4 million worth of rebuilding efforts, including a loan program to help families buy goats, which can then be used to sell milk. In three years, the families are expected to repay the diocese with a baby lamb.

The loans help, but they are not enough, according to Kunjumol and Velayudhan, one couple participating in the program. They said the income from the goat’s milk will not be enough to rebuild their damaged home. They believe the government must do more to assist.

“The government has almost abandoned us,” he said, according to ucanews. “Some officials came and asked us questions but we got none of the benefits the government promised in the media.”

 

New West Virginia bishop addresses scandals head-on at installation Mass

Wheeling, W.V., Aug 23, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- After nearly a year without a bishop, due to the scandal-ridden former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia has a new shepherd, who was installed at a Mass yesterday on the feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Hundreds of Catholics, hopeful for a fresh start, came from throughout the diocese to fill the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling for the 2+ hour Mass and glimpse their new leader, Bishop Mark Brennan. Thousands more tuned in to the event via a Facebook live stream posted by the diocese.

“It's a new beginning. We hope it's a new beginning,” Joe Herrick, a Catholic who attended the Mass, told a local Fox News affiliate.

“We're very hopeful for the future. I'm really praying Bishop Brennan will be able to lead us and mend the flock together so we can be one.”

Brennan, who gave the homily, did not hesitate to address the tumultuous year that both the diocese and the universal Church have experienced.

“My friends, the ‘people walked in darkness’ and ‘dwelt in the land of gloom’. Those words of Isaiah, referring to enemy armies oppressing the kingdom of Israel, are an apt description for how many Catholics in this country have felt over the past year and how many West Virginia Catholics have felt for even longer,” Brennan said on Thursday, Aug. 22 at his installation Mass.

While he did not specifically name Bransfield, Brennan spoke of the diocese’s “painful past” and the “crisis” it now faces as a result of the scandals.

“The scandals we have learned about have caused painful disappointment, confusion, anger and distrust of Church leaders,” he said.

In September 2018, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston while an investigation was launched regarding allegations of financial and sexual misconduct against him. Archbishop William E. Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese in the interim.

Bransfield, who had been bishop of the diocese since 2004, reportedly sexually harassed, assaulted and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time there. He is also reported to have used diocesan funds to make large financial gifts to other bishops and to pay for personal luxuries. According to a report from the Washington Post, concerns about Bransfield’s finances were raised as early as 2012 and were evidently ignored for years by some bishops who were the recipients of these gifts.

In July 2019, after assessing the investigation into Bransfield by Lori, the Vatican announced sanctions against Bransfield, including that he is no longer allowed to participate in public Masses or to live within his former diocese. He is also expected to “make personal amends” for his wrongs, Pope Francis said in a communique.

“Behavior has consequences, and there are consequences to bad behavior in the past that will have to be dealt with,” Brennan said in his homily. “That is one of my responsibilities and I assure you that I will meet it.”

But still, there is hope, the new bishop added. “...Isaiah’s message to an oppressed people does not end in the darkness. Hear it again: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone,’” he said.

“My friends, it takes no humility on my part to admit that I am not the light,” Brennan said, provoking laughter from the congregation. Instead, he said, it is the light of Christ that will lead the diocese out of these “dark times” and into a future of hope.

“The light of Christ beckons us to move now from the painful past toward him, not in denial but in confidence that the Lord will supply us with the wisdom and strength to do things better, to live our faith with greater integrity and to reflect more brightly, as far as our human weakness and limitations will permit, his own enduring light,” he said.

Brennan acknowledged numerous groups of people whom he said have already been lights in the darkness, including parents who continue to catechize their children, Catholic school and religious education teachers who do the same, parish priests who faithfully administer the sacraments, as well as diocesan chancery workers and faithful young people.

“Christ’s light has been shining in the darkness through all of them and, as St. John says in his Gospel, the darkness has not overcome it. I thank God for these faithful West Virginia Catholics,” he said.

The scandals may also have driven some people away from the Church, Brennan said, but he encouraged Catholics in the diocese to look to their roots circa the Civil War - when West Virginia seceded from Virginia in order to remain in the Union - for inspiration to remain united in faith.

“When the dark clouds of secession were rolling over the State of Virginia in the spring of 1861, the people of these western mountains chose to remain in the United States of America. They would not break their unity with Ohio and Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky. They petitioned Congress to admit them as the State of West Virginia, which Congress did in 1863,” he said.

“Many of their sons—the ancestors of some here present — fought to maintain the integrity of the Union.”

He urged Catholics of today to fight for that same unity in the Church.

“Unity with one another and with God is what the Lord wants for us— and what, in our hearts, we truly desire,” he said.

“One man told me not long ago that he stopped going to Mass in his parish because of the recent scandals but then he asked himself: who was he helping by doing that? No one. Who was he hurting? Himself. He has since returned to Mass, still eager to see the Church address its failings and bring about lasting reform but conscious that walking away doesn’t help,” he added.

“As Simon Peter said to the Lord when some disciples were leaving Jesus because of hard teachings, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.’” The Blessed Virgin Mary is another example of someone who said “yes” to the Lord despite difficult circumstances, Brennan said.

“...like Mary, we can let God fulfill his purpose in us and not let the darkness return to cover the earth. We can right the wrongs of the past and move on to make Christ known, helping our neighbor in need and remaining united in faith and love,” he said.

“West Virginia Catholics: cherish your faith and the holy Church that has nurtured it,” he added.

“Make Mary’s ‘yes’ to God your own and work with me and your brothers and sisters to let the light of Christ be a light brightly visible in the mountains and valleys, the city streets and country roads of this beautiful part of God’s creation: West Virginia.”

Catholic leaders voice concern over Amazon fires

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aug 23, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA).- Catholics groups in the Amazon have expressed concern over the wave of forest fires that have been ravaging the region.

The NGO Manos Unidas decried the “risks and assaults the Amazon is suffering, which bring with them an accelerated deforestation, toward the increasingly closer point of ‘no return,’ at which time the disappearance of this ‘green lung’ of humanity will already be irreversible.”

In a statement posted on their webpage, the group reported that the situation is especially serious in Brazil, where in 2019 alone the number of wildfires has increased 82% for a total of 71,497 fires, 54% of which are in the Amazon region.

The NGO considers this especially serious within the context of climate change since “the variations in the rainfall cycles and temperatures are already seriously altering the ecosystems.”

The fires that have occurred in recent weeks add to other “threats to the Amazon” and that have a special impact “in the most deforested areas, where economic interests meet the most weakened natural environments,” they said.

Manos Unidas warned that the area is also threatened by “the uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources to obtain minerals or fuels and the extension of the agricultural frontier for single crop farming or extensive livestock production.”

The Secretary General of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Alonso Miranda, expressed the Church’s concern and called for support with prayers and material aid.

On Twitter, Bishop Miranda said that the forest fires “are not just a regional emergency, it’s a catastrophe that urgently requires international aid.”

“Please, let us lend our support with prayer, national and international material and technological aid,” he said.

In addition to natural causes, many of the blazes begin when farmers start fires to clear or maintain farmland and pastures.

On the afternoon of August 21, black clouds produced by multiple fires reached Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, darkening the sky around 2:00 p.m. local time.

Fires have also been recorded in the forested areas of Bolivia and Paraguay, and it is feared they may occur in Peru.

According to NASA, “it is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity. Time will tell if this year is a record breaking or just within normal limits.”

“In the Amazon region, fires are rare for much of the year because wet weather prevents them from starting and spreading. However, in July and August, activity typically increases due to the arrival of the dry season.”

The Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Sergio Gualberti Calandrina, called on the parishes in the archdiocese of hold a day of prayer Sunday, August 25, for the victims of the Amazon fires, asking God for rain and to “raise awareness for the care of our Common Home, everyone’s task.”

Archbishop Gualberti said that “as Christians we cannot remain indifferent,” especially given the Synod on the Amazon called by Pope Francis, which will be held at the Vatican in October.

The Archbishop of Santa Cruz asked that the ecological disaster “awaken a greater awareness that the destiny of present and future generations is closely linked to the destiny of nature, a creation of God and that we decisively assume the care of creation.”

So far in Brazil, the fire has devastated more than 1.2 million acres of forests, crops and grasslands, generating carbon monoxide contamination in nearby areas. The states of Acre and Amazonas have been declared to be in an environmental emergency.

In Bolivia, Vice President Álvaro García Linera said the fires have affected some 1.48 million acres in Chiquitanía, in the Santa Cruz administrative district.
 
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Cincinnati Catholic raised 'red flags' about priest over a year before rape indictment

Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug 23, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- A Cincinnati news station is reporting on the contents of a letter, sent to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer in August 2018, accusing them of ignoring “red flags” related to a priest now indicted on nine counts of rape.

"What are we to do with these 'red flags' about Father [Geoff] Drew?" the parishioner wrote, addressing auxiliary Bishop Binzer.

"They were brought to your attention on many occasions and your response was to place Fr. Drew in a parish with the largest Catholic grade school in the state! I can't be the only one to see the irony in this."

Fr. Geoff Drew was arrested Aug. 19 on allegations dating back 20 years, which concern Drew’s time as music minister at St. Jude parish, prior to his ordination as a priest. The accusations concern abuse said to have taken place over two years, when the reported victim was 10 and 11 years old. If convicted, the priest could face life in prison.

The priest entered a “not guilty” plea at his Aug. 21 arraignment.

Because she considers the priest a flight risk, Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz set Drew’s bond at $5 million. He remains incarcerated.

Local news station WCPO reported that in the letter in question, a longtime lay leader at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish told Schnurr he had failed to deliver on his promise of being "unequivocally committed" to children and that the church had ignored "red flags" about Father Drew.

WCPO reported that the author of the letter is a mother of three children who attended St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township, where Drew was pastor from 2009 to mid-2018.

CNA reported earlier this month that complaints were raised to at least one archdiocesan official about Drew’s inappropriate behavior with teenage and pre-teenage boys as early as 2013. Complaints were made to auxiliary bishop Joseph Binzer, who is the archdiocesan vicar general, in 2013 and 2015.

Binzer referred the complaints to law enforcement, who found no evidence of criminal activity. Binzer did not, however, notify the archdiocesan personnel board or Archbishop Dennis Schnurr about the multiple complaints he had received against Drew. The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Binzer in the priest’s personnel file.

In early 2018, Drew applied for a transfer to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Green Township, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese. As head of priest personnel, Bishop Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for reassignment, in conjunction with the priest personnel board. Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and the transfer was approved.

Archbishop Schnurr released a public letter Aug. 17, 2018, following the announcement of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, which detailed hundreds of cases of historical clerical sexual abuse. Schnurr wrote that there were no active cases of clerical abuse of minors anywhere in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and that the archdiocese is “committed to transparency."

Schnurr’s letter— as well as Drew’s successful transfer— prompted the St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioner to write hers, WCPO reported.

The archdiocese referred the letter to the Butler County Prosecutor's Office, which determined that Drew’s behavior was inappropriate but not criminal, WCPO reported.

One month after Drew’s arrival at his new parish, a parishioner at his previous church resubmitted a 2015 complaint made about the priest. The complaint was again reported to Butler County officials, but this time it was also brought to the attention of Archbishop Schnurr.

The priest was asked to restrict his involvement with the school and was assigned to meet regularly with a “monitor,” but school faculty and administration were not told about these restrictions, or the reasons for them.

The archdiocese removed Drew from ministry last month, after allegations surfaced that he had sent a series of inappropriate text messages to a 17-year-old boy. The archdiocese then confirmed a history of similar allegations against Drew.

Drew worked as music minister at the parish of St. Jude in Bridgetown, Ohio, from 1984-1999. During that time he was also a music teacher at Elder High School until 1991. He entered seminary in 1999, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2004.

The archdiocesan statement, issued Aug. 19, emphasized that neither the archdiocese, nor Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr were aware of the rape allegations at the time of Drew’s removal last month.

Despite the long history of allegations made against the priest, Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesman Mike Schafer told local reporters that archdiocesan officials were “stunned” by the rape charges.

“We were stunned," Schafer said Aug. 21. “Just stunned.”

Following the initial reports of Drew's removal from ministry, Bishop Binzer resigned from the USCCB’s committee on child and youth protection, which advises the bishops’ conference on all matters related to safe environment policy and child protection. Binzer was removed from some of his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and could face an internal Church investigation for his handling of the allegations.

 

Christian filmmakers win right to sue against Minnesota human rights law

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 23, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A federal court has reversed a decision dismissing a lawsuit brought against the Minnesota Human Rights Act. In a decision issued Friday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated claims that the law violates free speech and freedom of religion in a case brought by two Christian filmmakers who refused to make same-sex wedding videos.

The case was brought by Carl and Angel Larsen, the owners Telescope Media Group, both of whom are devout Christians. The Larsen’s intended to expand their business by filming weddings, but were told by state officials that if they produced films celebrating marriages in accord with their own beliefs, they would also have to create films promoting same-sex marriage.

Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Larsens, called the decision a “significant win.”

“The government shouldn’t threaten filmmakers with fines and jail time to force them to create films that violate their beliefs. Carl and Angel work with all people; they just don’t create films promoting all messages,” Tedesco said in a statement.

“All creative professionals should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.”

The initial suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis and appealed to the 8th Circuit in October, 2018. The Larson’s told the court that they “gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification.” 

Because they are Christians, the Larsons said they only decline requests for their services that conflict with their religious beliefs, including any that, in their view, “promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman.”

The 2018 Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits vendors from “to intentionally refusing to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person’s . . . sexual orientation.”

According to the state’s argument, the law regulates the Larsen’s business conduct and not their speech, and they would need to make both traditional marriage and same-sex wedding films, or none at all in order to comply, otherwise they could face tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and up to 90 days in jail.

In the decision published Aug. 23, the 8th Circuit held that the First Amendment prevented the Larsons from being compelled to “mouth support for views they find objectionable,” and that their film productions are a form of free speech protected by the Bill of Rights, saying that “the videos they do wish to produce will convey a message designed to affect public attitudes and behavior.” 

The judges also cited the Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a Christian baker refused to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

“If Minnesota were correct,” the judges wrote, “it could use the MHRA to require a Muslim tattoo artist to inscribe ‘My religion is the only true religion’ on the body of a Christian if he or she would do the same for a fellow Muslim, or it could demand that an atheist musician perform at an evangelical church service.” 

The decision orders the District Court to review the case again, and to consider if the Larson’s case merits a preliminary injunction against the state law.

Arizona bishops welcome tuition break for undocumented students

Albuquerque, N.M., Aug 23, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Arizona’s Catholic bishops issued a statement Thursday in support of a change in policy that will offer a discounted college tuition rate to resident high school students who are undocumented immigrants. 

“We are glad that these undocumented students, who were brought here through no fault of their own, will now have more opportunities to better their lives after they graduate from our high schools and eventually become productive members of our society,” said the statement, which was co-signed by the state’s four bishops. 

The new policy, announced Aug. 22, sets the state college tuition rate for non-legal resident students at $16,000, which is $5,000 more than the in-state rate for legal Arizona residents. The tuition rate for out-of-state students is $30,000. Previously, undocumented students had to pay the out-of-state rate. 

“Today's action allows these students, as well as other Arizona high school graduates who have left the state, to join immigrant students who are in the DACA program and pay a much lower tuition rate that reflects the actual costs at our public universities,” the bishops said. 

Several states offer in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduated from a high school in the state. 

The announcement came on the same day that Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued a statement condemning a newly-published Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security rule that concerns the care and custody of immigrant children. 

That new rule allows for families, including minors, to be detained for longer than the previous 20-day limit allowed under the Flores settlement. 

Vasquez said the rule is “unlawful and inhumane” and will harm “countless children.” 

“This rule will have heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children – those whom Pope Francis has deemed ‘the most vulnerable group’ among migrants,” said Vásquez in the statement, which was published on the USCCB’s website. 

“It is an attempt by the [Trump] Administration to circumvent existing obligations and undermine critical protections for these children. This rule will jeopardize the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention.”

The new rule will take effect 60 days after its publication.

Exorcists to Jesuit head: Satan is real

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2019 / 11:49 am (CNA).- An international organization of Catholic exorcists said Thursday that the existence of Satan as a real and personal being is a truth of Christin doctrine.

“The real existence of the devil, as a personal subject who thinks and acts and has made the choice of rebellion against God, is a truth of faith that has always been part of Christian doctrine,” the International Association of Exorcists said in an Aug. 22 press release.

The organization’s release came in response to recent remarks on the devil from Jesuit superior general Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, which the organization called “grave and confusing.”

The exorcists said they released their statement to provide “doctrinal clarification.”

Sosa made headlines earlier this week when he told Italian magazine Tempi that “the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

The devil “exists as the personification of evil in different structures, but not in persons, because is not a person, is a way of acting evil. He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life,” Sosa said.

Citing a long history of Church teaching on the nature of Satan, including several citations from Pope Francis and his recent predecessors, the exorcists’ organization said that Catholics are bound to believe that Satan is a real and personal being, a fallen angel.

“The Church, founded on Sacred Scripture and on Apostolic Tradition officially teaches that the devil is a creature and a personal being, and she cautions those who, like Father Sosa, consider him only a symbol.”

Sosa’s remarks are “outside the ordinary and extraordinary-solemn magisterium” of the Church, the exorcists said.

The International Association of Exorcists is an “association of the faithful” formally approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy in 2014. Among its founders was well known exorcist Fr. Gabrele Amorth, who died in 2016.

Sosa, 70, was elected the Society of Jesus’ superior general in 2016. A Venezuelan, he has a pontifical licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in political science. He served as a Jesuit provincial superior in Venezuela from 1996 to 2004, and in 2014 began an administrative role at the general curia of the Jesuits in Rome.

Sosa has offered controversial comments about Satan in the past. In 2017, he told El Mundo that “we have formed symbolic figures such as the Devil to express evil.”

After his 2017 remark generated controversy, a spokesman for Sosa told the Catholic Herald that “like all Catholics, Father Sosa professes and teaches what the Church professes and teaches. He does not hold a set of beliefs separate from what is contained in the doctrine of the Catholic Church."

Analysis: Pell, and the politics of Rome

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2019 / 11:15 am (CNA).- This week’s decision by the Court of Appeal in Victoria marked the apparent conclusion of the criminal trial of Cardinal George Pell in Australia.

While the cardinal may yet exercise his final right of appeal to the country’s High Court, legal experts and those close to Pell are skeptical that such a petition would even be accepted, let alone return a verdict in his favor.

With no further civil progress likely, and Pell almost sure to remain in prison for the foreseeable future, attention now shifts to Rome, where a canonical process has been pending.

Given the questions raised about his treatment by the Australian courts, how that process plays out will be of defining significance, not just for Pell, but for how credibly the Church can still claim to operate an independent legal system that dates back to the Roman Empire.

Pell will face a canonical process at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on charges of crimes of sexual abuse of minors – the same charges brought against him in Victoria. But what sort of process he will receive, and when, remain unanswered questions.

With concerns raised from experts and observers about the strength of the evidence against him, it seems highly unlikely Pell would face the kind of abbreviated administrative procedure like the one used to handle the case of Theodore McCarrick.

The shorter administrative process is reserved in canon law for cases where the facts are reasonably clear, or the proof nearly self-explanatory. In many instances of cases of clerical sexual abuse, a civil conviction is taken by the canonical authorities as effective proof as they decree into evidence all the acts of the civil case.

Yet, because of the reporting ban in place for Pell’s two jury trials (which returned two very different results), little of that original evidence is in the public domain, and would need to be brought to the canonical process as-new.

Also, unlike Theodore McCarrick, Pell did not leave a string of legal settlements behind him in his former dioceses, nor does he face anything like the sheer number of accusers over a sustained period of time – he was convicted in Victoria on the testimony of a single man.

The contentious nature of the result, which came complete with a dissenting opinion from a respected judge, means that public interest and scrutiny remain at fever pitch, and a rushed process would likely raise serious concerns in the Church’s own legal community.

All signs point to Pell receiving a full canonical trial, a process which can, if allowed to fully develop, stand next to any secular court system for legal probity. But that is a big “if.”

The first hurdle will be the access to primary evidence and testimony. Pell’s accuser would need to testify again before the canonical tribunal, and canonists from both sides have the opportunity to put questions to him – there is no guarantee he would be interested in participating.

Also, while it is likely that most if not all of the witnesses in Pell’s defense would make themselves available to testify again, Pell himself is in prison, making it hard for him to appear in front of a tribunal.

But assuming that a canonical court could receive all the evidence and access it needs, Pell’s supporters and legal scholars may have as many concerns about the justice of a canonical process as they do about the criminal proceeding in Victoria.

In the ordinary mechanism, Pell’s trial – like that of any bishop - would be handled by a panel of three or five judges, usually cardinals or archbishops, specially selected by the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, under the authorization of the pope.

These judges are normally chosen for their legal expertise and judicial experience and the trial is conducted independent from the ordinary business of the CDF. But, whatever conclusion the deliberations of such a panel might reach in Pell’s case, it would unlikely be the final word.

Pope Francis has in the past exercised his prerogative to judge high-profile cases himself, and, given Pell’s stature and the significance of any possible outcome, he may find it impossible to delegate a final decision in the matter.

If the case arrives on the papal desk, Francis would likely find himself receiving advice that is as much diplomatic as legal.

While the CDF’s legal process can be set up to resist outside pressures, many in the Secretariat of State view Pell’s situation as a potential diplomatic crisis to be resolved.

If a Vatican court were to acquit Pell of the charges on which he was convicted, it would be perceived by many as an indictment of the Australian justice system and a tacit acknowledgment of charges that Pell is imprisoned by anti-Catholic sentiment.

The resulting diplomatic fallout could well fuel calls by international leaders to end the Holy See’s sovereign status under international law.

On the other hand, if Pell were canonically convicted, those in the Church who believe the cardinal’s Australian trial was fundamentally unjust might conclude that the Church no longer really has an independent legal system, and that bishops and priests the world over should not look to Rome for a fair hearing.

That outcome could lead to dissension among an already embattled global episcopate.

Diplomatic considerations to one side, Pell, in particular, may already have reasons for concern.

As prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, Pell was openly loathed by many of the other curial leaders.

The Australian cardinal’s efforts to deliver financial transparency and accountability to the curia in the first years of the Francis pontificate met with internal Curial resistance – in one famous incident, the Secretariat of State maneuvered without Pell’s knowledge to cancel an announced independent audit. Since his return to Australia, Pell’s reforms have largely been reversed by those who would take the closest interest in his case in Rome.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope’s increasingly omnipotent Secretary of State, has been known for years to “check in” on CDF cases which he considers to be of wider importance to the Holy See. Canonists charged with handling the administration of justice have long complained about “pressure” being applied from across St. Peter’s square.

One high-ranking Churchman in Rome familiar with several Vatican trials told CNA that Parolin’s attempts to involve himself in cases have been extensive.

“When [the CDF] was told to basically stop talking to State, [Parolin] started calling nuncios to monitor correspondence between the Congregation and places where cases were in progress. It was a serious problem.”

As the pope’s chief advisor on nearly all aspects of Church governance, Parolin’s advice could prove decisive in any decision the pope makes on Pell.

In March, Parolin called the news of Pell’s conviction “shocking and painful.” On Feb. 28, he told L'Osservatore Romano that Pell’s case “is an incentive to continue in the pope's line: to fight against this phenomenon and pay attention to the victims."

While there is no certainty about how Parolin might counsel the pope, one member of the Vatican’s diplomatic staff told CNA that Parolin is a pragmatist.
 
“Innocent or guilty, the reality is Pell is convicted in an Australian prison,” he said.

“The cardinal puts the stability of the Holy See’s diplomatic status first in line - if you don’t believe it, ask the Chinese,” he said, in reference to the number of Chinese bishops and priests imprisoned by Beijing, despite a landmark 2018 deal between China and the Vatican.

If Pell appeals his case to Australia’s High Court, his canonical case will be delayed until its conclusion. But, whenever it does come to Rome, Pell and his advocate might discover that the Vatican politics he left behind in 2017 still have bearing on his future.

Agreement reached on permanent Holy See representative to Vietnam

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2019 / 10:08 am (CNA).- A Holy See-Vietnam diplomacy working group, which met inside the Vatican this week, reached an agreement on establishing a permanent resident papal representative to the southeast Asian country.

A resident papal representative is considered an intermediary step in diplomatic relations, below an apostolic nuncio.

The Holy See and Vietnam have never had full diplomatic relations, but have been engaged in formal bilateral discussions since 2009. The Aug. 21-22 summit was the eighth meeting of the working group, which had previously met in Hanoi in December 2018.

Since 2011, the Holy See has had a non-resident pontifical representative to Vietnam. At the 2018 meeting in Hanoi, the delegations had agreed to upgrade this representative from a non-permanent, non-resident to a permanent, resident status.

According to a joint statement Aug. 23, the Holy See-Vietnam working group discussed the regulations to underly such an agreement “in view of the setting up of the Office at the earliest possible date.”

In the meeting, the Holy See also expressed appreciation for the State’s assistance to the Catholic community in Vietnam. The State gave its assurance of its continued commitment to improve consistent policy for respect of freedom of belief and religion.

“The two sides also expressed their commitment to continuing dialogue based on trust and respect for the mutually agreed principles governing the bilateral relations. They underscored the importance of further promoting contacts, including at high levels, between the two sides,” according to the statement.

The Vietnamese delegation also met with Pope Francis, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

The delegations are headed by Mons. Antoine Camilleri, Vatican under-secretary for relations with states, and To anh Dung, Vietnam's deputy minister of foreign affairs.

The position of non-resident papal representative to Vietnam is held by the nuncio to Singapore, who is currently Archbishop Marek Zalewski.

Catholics are estimated to make up about 7% of Vietnam’s population of 97 million. Predominant religious practice is of folk religions, followed by Buddhism.

Vietnam’s religious freedom law has been under discussion since 2013, when the Vietnamese constitution was revised. The law guaranteed freedom of belief to people, and formally guarantees religious freedom.

However, Catholic communities have experienced several limitations under the communist regime that took power in 1976.

According to the 2019 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, religious freedom conditions in the country regressed from 2018 to 2019, and despite small improvements, the government of Vietnam continues to persecute religious individuals and organizations.