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Officials say Vatican must continue to monitor financial activity

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Any time money changes hands, there is a potential for financial misconduct, but the leaders of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority said the Holy See has made enormous strides in reducing its risks.

Rene Brulhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, respectively president and director of the office, released the FIA annual report May 21 at a Vatican news conference.

Vatican City State's unique status as an independent state and the headquarters of the Catholic Church -- with missions and religious orders around the world -- required the establishment of a "tailor-made system mainly to prevent illicit financial activities," Brulhart said.

The Holy See has "fewer worries" of financial misconduct than most nations, "but this doesn't mean we should not maintain preventive strategies, policies and measures," Di Ruzza said. "Given the peculiarity of the Holy See, there is a level of caution, especially on a moral scale, that must be maintained."

In 2018, the report said, the office received only 56 suspicious activity reports compared to 150 in 2017 and 207 in 2016. Eleven of the 56 reports were forwarded to the Vatican City court for further investigation and potential criminal charges.

The FIA now has a fully functioning "general risk assessment" tool for the prevention and countering of money laundering and financing terrorism. It deems the money-laundering risk as "low to medium," particularly because of the number of procurement and building contracts with entities outside the Vatican.

The financing of terrorism risk is defined as "low," and Brulhart and Di Ruzza said that in the eight years since FIA's establishment, no suspicious activity report and no inquiry from a foreign government's FIA office have involved suspected terrorism financing.

International agencies have complimented the Vatican for its new rules and structures to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing but have complained about the slow pace of follow up by the Vatican police and courts.

But in December 2018, for the first time, the Vatican court convicted someone of money laundering following an investigation based on an FIA report.

Angelo Proietti, an Italian contractor who is appealing his conviction, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail for using a Vatican bank account for money laundering.

FIA also is increasingly cooperating with the similar agencies of dozens of countries in investigating financial impropriety, the report said.

Without mentioning specifics, the report spoke about a case in which the owners of an "alleged nonprofit organization" presented themselves as local affiliates of a Vatican-related institution and collected donations in its name. Thanks to information shared with the country, several people were arrested "on charges of criminal conspiracy and sums of money and valuables, including firearms, were seized."

The case mentioned in the report corresponds to the arrest in Spain in February 2018 of three Spaniards and a Colombian, who were allegedly operating a fake branch of the Vatican bank.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

El Salvador lays to rest another priest presumably assassinated by gangs

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of Father Edwin Banos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thousands attended the May 20 funeral of a Salvadoran priest found by his parishioners in what some presume is a gang killing.

Parishioners found Father Cecilio Perez Cruz, a 35-year-old priest and pastor of San Jose La Majada parish in Juayua, shot dead in his residence May 18 with a note nearby that said he had not paid "rent," a euphemism for extortion money, according to preliminary reports from Salvadoran police.

"He was a well-loved son of the Virgin (Mary) ... a humble priest, simple, devoted to his people," said Father Edwin Banos of the Diocese of Santa Ana, El Salvador, in a video posted May 18 on Facebook.

"These have been difficult and sad moments since I found out," said Father Banos, who told Catholic News Service May 20 that he had studied with Father Perez and that they had been friends for 10 years.

"It hurts. It's a whole human life truncated," he told CNS via WhatsApp. "He is a brother and a priest-friend. From the first moment I found out, it's been tears and pain over his death."

Father Banos, communications director for Catholic radio and newspaper Radio Fe y Vida y Periodico Digital Nuestra Iglesia in Santa Ana, attended the funeral in Sonzacate, where the slain priest's parents live. Several bishops from throughout the country and Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez also attended.

"Today, we are suffering, and we ask the Lord and the Virgin Mary to give us peace, tranquility and serenity," Father Banos said in his video message. "For Cecilio, I offer my care, my appreciation, my love and my hope that he is rejoicing in the eternal life and that you intercede for us ... but I also want to manifest my message of conversion to these people who committed this abominable crime."

In a statement, Bishop Constantino Barrera Morales of Sonsonate, the diocese to which the priest belonged, called on the national police and the justice department to find those guilty of "such an abominable crime" and demanded that they be brought to justice.  

In recent months, Catholic organizations and leaders in El Salvador, to no avail, have denounced the lack of justice in the country, including the "impunity" in the death of another Salvadoran priest killed in 2018 during Holy Week.

Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez was traveling with parishioners March 29, 2018, to officiate a Holy Thursday Mass in San Miguel when their car was stopped by an armed group wearing masks. The masked men dragged the priest out of the car and his lifeless body was found later.

Authorities also blamed gangs in the killing but have not arrested anyone in the crime.

"In this moment of profound pain and indignation because of this tragic happening, I want to let all priests, faithful and the people in general know that I energetically condemn this sacrilegious killing of Father Cecilio, and I want us to remain united in prayer and redoubling our measures of security before the great insecurity that reigns in our bloodstained country," Bishop Barrera said in his statement. "The blood of our selfless pastor is now together with that of the thousands of Salvadorans that each year become victims of this terrible violence that remains for so many years out of control."

In a news conference May 19, the Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador once again called on national authorities to seek out criminals and asked the court system to carry out justice.

"We stand in solidarity with all the victims of violence, of any type of violence, and we ask the authorities to administer justice in all cases," he said. "It's not that we seek revenge, but justice is necessary for the good of the victims and for the good of the whole society, because violence will only be overcome if impunity is not allowed. It is truly worrisome the degree of violence that our country suffers. We must work and pray intensely for peace."

Father Banos said justice was one of the reasons Father Perez was killed, though he suggested that police look at various motives the killing, including the priest's denunciation of environmental problems in the area.

"He was a priest seeking justice, he was very fraternal and denounced injustice," he said in correspondence with CNS. "We believe that is the cause of his murder. He strongly denounced the cutting of trees in his area, and that touches the interests of high-ranking businesspeople."

In an audio Father Banos provided to CNS, Concepcion Perez, the slain priest's brother, said Father Perez was "a good person, a holy person until the last day." Concepcion Perez said although family members were in pain, they found comfort in knowing that "the Catholic Church is the one that provides saints," because of people who seek the light like his brother.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope asks Italian bishops finally to implement tribunal reforms

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told the bishops of Italy that he was disappointed that so many of their dioceses had yet to implement the reforms he ordered to make the marriage annulment process quicker, more pastoral and less expensive.

"I am saddened to note that the reform, after more than four years, remains far from being applied in most Italian dioceses," Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome, told other members of the Italian bishops' conference.

The bishops were holding their annual spring meeting May 20-23 at the Vatican, and Pope Francis opened the gathering. He gave a short speech focused on "synodality" and collegiality, marriage tribunals and the relationship of bishops to their priests.

He spent about 20 minutes reading his prepared text, then reporters were asked to leave and the livestream of the meeting was cut so that the pope and bishops could converse in private.

In September 2015, Pope Francis issued two documents -- "Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge") for the Latin-rite church and "Mitis et misericors Iesus," ("The Meek and Merciful Jesus") for the Eastern Catholic churches -- reforming sections of canon law dealing with requests for the declaration of the nullity of a marriage.

The reforms -- which do away with an automatic appeal of all decisions, charge diocesan bishops with responsibility for handling some cases and institute an abbreviated process for cases where the evidence is especially clear and uncontested -- were meant to streamline the process and help couples in need of healing, the pope said.

Pope Francis also insisted in the documents that the annulment process be free of charge or as close to free as possible.

"This procedural reform is based on proximity and gratuity," the pope told the bishops. "Proximity to wounded families means that the judgment, as far as possible, takes place within the diocesan church without delay and unnecessary extensions. And gratuity refers back to the Gospel mandate which says, 'Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.'"

Pope Francis said he hoped the reforms ordered in 2015 would find "their full and immediate application in all the dioceses" of the country.

The reforms, he said, aim to help dioceses demonstrate that "the church is mother and has at heart the good of her children, who in this case are wounded by a love that has been shattered."

On the matter on relations between bishops and priests, Pope Francis said that relationship is the "backbone" that supports all relationships within a diocese.

"Unfortunately, some bishops have difficulty establishing a relationship with their priests, thereby running the risk of ruining their mission and weakening the mission of the church," the pope said.

Pope Francis urged bishops to make sure that if one of their priests calls, he returns the call immediately or by the next day at the latest. "This way the priest will know he has a bishop who is a father."

A bishop has an obligation to be close to his priests "without discrimination and without preferences or favoritism," the pope said. "A true shepherd lives among his flock and knows how to listen to and welcome all without prejudice. We must not fall into the temptation of welcoming only priests who are nice or are flatterers."

A bishop also must take care not to give assignments only to the eager and the "climbers," ignoring those who are "introverts, meek, shy or problematic," he said.

Many times today, the pope said, priests are disrespected, made fun of or "even condemned because of the errors or crimes of some of their colleagues," so they need to be able to find support, encouragement and consolation from their bishop.

On the issue of "synodality and collegiality," Pope Francis insisted that the idea of everyone in the church walking together and working together to share the Gospel is the lifestyle God wants from people in the church.

Saying he had heard rumors of possible plans for a synod for Italy, Pope Francis said the first step would be to review the "medical records" of the Italian church to ensure that laypeople, priests and bishops all recognize they have a shared responsibility for the life of the church.

 

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Update: Washington's archbishop plans to get 'out in field' to meet people, listen

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Julie Asher

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (CNS) -- Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will have a lot of things on his plate when he becomes the newest leader of the influential archdiocese situated in the nation's capital: the sexual abuse roiling the Catholic Church, the tense political climate on the Hill and the challenges that come with learning about a new archdiocese.

The newest archbishop of Washington knows what his first priority will be however.

The "first and most important thing" is "getting out in the field and meeting the people," Archbishop Gregory told Catholic News Service in a May 17 interview.

He has six listening sessions scheduled with priests of the Washington Archdiocese, and "I'm trying to fill up my calendar right now with moments when I can be in the parishes with the people," he said. Like "a Sunday supply priest," he wants to visit local parishes to say Mass and afterward stand at the back of church and greet people.

Archbishop Gregory has "no fancy requirements" for such visits, nor would he expect any "fancy preparation." He just has "the real desire to be there as a listener," he said, adding that "it is that casual encounter with people that often proves to be the most fruitful."

"I've discovered the best approach to learning about a diocese is to listen to the diocese so you don't go in with all kinds of preprogrammed intentions that may or may not fit the experience of the people or their needs," said the 71-year-old prelate, who will be installed as Washington's seventh archbishop May 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

When Pope Francis appointed him to Washington April 5, he had been Atlanta's archbishop for 14 years. Before that, the Chicago native was bishop of Belleville, Illinois; he was a Chicago auxiliary bishop when he was named to head that diocese.

In Washington, he succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who had headed the archdiocese for 12 years until his retirement last October.

In an interview with CNS at the Archdiocese Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, just outside the District of Columbia, Archbishop Gregory covered a wide range of topics.

He talked about bringing hope and healing to Catholics coping with the clergy abuse scandal; how his new duties include speaking for the church "to the powers that be" in the nation's capital when the times call for it; the significance of his appointment as the first African American archbishop to head an archdiocese with "a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood"; what he'll miss most about his former archdiocese; and a few of his side interests, like cooking and golfing.

Archbishop Gregory said the abuse scandal erupting again in the church over the last year is "chapter two" of what the church went through in 2002. He was bishop of Belleville at the time and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and was involved in the drafting and the implementation of the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

"The dynamic then was the scandal that people were experiencing and voicing, that clergymen, priests, deacons, church officials had harmed their children," he said.

"Chapter two is the revelation that those in leadership too frequently did not address those issues appropriately and in a very few cases, some of the leaders themselves were engaged in that behavior," Archbishop Gregory said.

There is "anger at the failure of leadership," he said, "and from my perspective that's more problematic, because now you're looking at the very authorities that have been asked to guide and govern and teach and sanctify the church, and they themselves either did not handle those case well or even worse were a part of that."

"The two moments are related, but they are distinct," Archbishop Gregory said. "It seems to me that the task that lies before me is to both listen to the people -- to hear them, to hear the hurt, acknowledge it, recognize it, but then also to invite them to reach into their own spiritual treasuries and to say now we can't allow our history to determine our future and to invite them with me to chart a new direction and engage them."

Archbishop Gregory said he is hopeful the U.S. bishops, when they meet in June in Baltimore, will build on Pope Francis' "motu proprio" issued May 9 giving clear direction to the global Catholic Church about reporting abuse and holding church leaders accountable.

Last November, during the fail general assembly, the Vatican had asked the U.S. bishops to postpone a vote on to implementing new protocols to boost the accountability of bishops to laypeople and survivors of clergy sex abuse.

In June, the bishops can go forward with those protocols, he believes, putting "into place structures and procedures that will be a resolve and a direction for the future. Those procedures also have to include lay involvement, lay engagement in a similar way to what the charter did in establishing lay review boards."

"These steps will go a long way to bringing some healing" from the abuse crisis, Archbishop Gregory remarked. "But also I have to stand in the presence of these people of the archdiocese before God and ask their pardon."

He added, "There's a family I am still very close to from Belleville, and the wife, who knows me well, once said, 'You know Wilton, when a married man has made a terrible mistake he can never say, "I'm sorry enough,"' and I think that analogy is also appropriate to this moment."

The abuse crisis has "broken the hearts of many of our priests," Archbishop Gregory said, "because here they are in the trenches working hard and doing the best they can, trying to make 'bricks with no straw' and this is then dropped in their laps and that's hurt them."

In Washington, he said his listening sessions with the priests of the archdiocese will "lay the foundation of a relationship that I want to build" with them.

There will be times "when we're together to do business" but also "times when we're together to pray together, to relax together, to joke together. A friendship can't simply be established on doing business. It has to be established on opening hearts and engaging one another."

With regard to him being Washington's first African American archbishop, he said he knows that for many African American Catholics, his appointment "is a great source of pride, and I am honored those feelings are there."

"I look forward to encountering the African American Catholic community as one of their sons who has now become their shepherd," he added.

"I'm very much aware the Archdiocese of Washington has a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood. There's a sacred heritage that I hope to both recognize and to honor," he commented.

Archbishop Gregory also observed that our nation is at a moment "where the ugly presence of racism has come to the fore again -- and I say 'come to the fore' because some of the problems and some of the attitudes that have now gotten media attention obviously have been there latently and but now they have come to the surface again."

"I hope that in my ministry as an African American archbishop, I can invite people of all races and cultures and traditions (to) be church together," he said, adding that "we are best ... when we are together."

What he will miss most of all about the Archdiocese of Atlanta are the people -- priests, deacons, religious sisters and the laity. "Every church enjoys its greatest treasure in its people," he said.

The people there have been "so generous and gracious and loving to me -- they became family," he added.

As he makes the transition to the Archdiocese of Washington -- at least one thing will be different: He will not be able to drive himself anywhere. He must have a driver, he explained, because the archdiocese "is a corporation sole for legal protection."

This "is going to be a real challenge for me because I am an independent soul. ... That's limiting (but) we will get through."

He is a sports fan. In whatever spare time he may have, sports is one of the three things he watches on television, along with news and nature shows. And speaking of sports, he feels that as the bishop of the local church, "I've got to root for the local team," so when it comes to baseball, now he'll be rooting for the Washington Nationals.

He likes to play golf -- or "tries" to play golf, but spending time in the kitchen and making a meal, "that's relaxing for me."

"Part of the job" of a bishop is attending a lot of formal dinners and banquets, Archbishop Gregory said, "but when I'm home I like to put on casual clothes and go into the kitchen and bang the pots" and make a meal.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Throwing away food is like throwing away people, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned food waste, saying throwing away food is like throwing away people.

"Waste reveals an indifference toward things and toward those who go without," he said May 18.

"To throw food away means to throw people away," he told members and volunteers of the European Federation of Food Banks, including the Food Bank of Italy, which was marking its 30th anniversary.

He thanked the organizations for all they do in providing food to those who are hungry while fighting against food waste.

"You take what is thrown into the vicious cycle of waste and insert it into the 'virtuous circle' of good use," he said, saying their work is like what trees do -- taking in pollution to give back oxygen to those in need.

"It is scandalous today not to notice how precious food is" and how much of it ends up wasted, he said.

"Wasting what is good is a nasty habit" that can creep in anywhere, even in charitable works, for example, when good intentions are blocked by bureaucracy or excessive administrative costs or when they "become forms of welfare that do not lead to authentic development."

Charity today "requires intelligence, the capacity for planning and continuity," and for people to care about each other, seeking to restore human dignity, the pope said.

He told those involved in food banks that their work shows -- with action and not words -- that progress "advances each time we walk with those who are left behind."

"The economy has a profound need of this," he said, lamenting how "the frenetic scramble for money is accompanied by an interior frailty," disorientation and a loss of meaning.

"What I care about is an economy that is more humane, that has a soul, and not a reckless machine that crushes human beings," Pope Francis said.

Too many people are left without work, dignity or hope "and still others are oppressed by inhuman demands of production" that have a negative impact on the family and personal relationships.

The pope said it pains him when he hears parents say they have little time in the day to play with their children because they go to work when the children are still asleep and get home when they are already in bed.

"This is inhuman: this vertigo of inhuman work."

"Instead of serving humanity," he said, the economy "enslaves us, subjugates us to monetary mechanisms" that are increasingly difficult to control.

"We need to encourage models of growth based on social equality, on the dignity of human persons, on families, on the future of young people, on respect for the environment," he said.

"Even if evil is at large in the world, with God's help and the good will of so many like yourselves, the world can be a better place," he said. 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Immigration advocates express concerns about Trump immigration plan

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic immigration advocates raised concerns about a proposal from President Donald Trump that would reshape U.S. immigration policy to incorporate a "merit-based" system that prioritizes high-skilled workers over those with family already in the country.

Advocates' concerns about the Trump plan, announced May 16 at the White House, focused on family unification, strengthening the asylum system and the importance of welcoming people of diverse economic backgrounds and skills.

Saying they appreciate Trump's willingness to address "problems in our immigration system," two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leaders said they opposed any plans that "seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely 'merit-based' immigration system."

"Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history and our immigration system," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishop's Committee on Migration, said in a May 17 statement.

The leaders said they were troubled that the president's proposal failed to address young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as "Dreamers," as well as Temporary Protected Status holders from several troubled countries.

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said they recognized the importance of ensuring secure borders and safety, but they cautioned the neither will be achieved "by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children."

They also called for the U.S. to address the causes of migration and to improve operation of immigration courts that hear asylum cases, expanding alternatives to detention and eliminating criminal networks.

Kevin Appleby, a longtime immigration advocate who formerly worked at the USCCB, told Catholic News Service that there was little in the president's plan "from a Catholic perspective to support."

"Substantively, it cuts against Catholic teaching. It weakens immigrant families by reducing family visas, and it removes asylum protection for unaccompanied children and families at the border," Appleby said.

"The administration could increase merit-based visas without sacrificing other parts of the legal immigration system," he said. "This is really also an attack on families. They want to remove the ability of family members moving forward."

Appleby suggested there may be a place for merit-based immigration, but "it has to be part of a broader system that includes other skill categories and keeps families together."

On social media, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network offered a brief comment, posting that "family reunification has historically been the principle goal -- and strength -- of U.S. immigration law and policy. It should continue to be the basis of any revision of immigration law."

Trump's plan would require broad changes in current law. Congressional observers expect it to see some revisions as it is discussed in Congress.

Details of the plan were circulating on Capitol Hill prior to Trump's announcement, leading Congress members of both parties to express skepticism about some provisions. The proposal is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Calling current immigration law "senseless," Trump said the plan would not change the number of annually allocated green cards, which allow people to work permanently in the country -- about 1.1 million -- but calls instead for them to be issued to high-skilled workers. Applicants would be considered based on age, English-speaking ability, education and job offers, he said.

"Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker," Trump said. "It's just common sense."

The president also said his plan would reform the current asylum system to focus on immigrants who file "legitimate" claims rather than those who are seeking to enter the U.S. for "frivolous" reasons.

Unaccompanied children seeking asylum would face immediate deportation to their home countries and the number of families seeking asylum would be cut, he said.

Trump told supporters during his 30-minute speech that the plan would keep U.S. communities safe and would ensure that the border with Mexico "will be finally fully and totally secure."

"If adopted, our plan will transform America's immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world," he said.

Notably, the plan does not address the situation of Dreamers, the young people who qualify to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters May 16 that young immigrants were omitted from the plan because the issue was considered too divisive.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Conservationists at Vatican conference call for protecting biodiversity

IMAGE: REUTERS

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People's attitudes toward nature as well as their economic systems and consumption habits need to radically change in order to protect biodiversity on the planet and promote a more sustainable and caring world, said participants at a Vatican-sponsored conference.

"We can learn how to take care of the world. And we must use all our strength to find ways of making the world more human, giving people the possibility to live their lives so that we may share the richness and the resources given to us in a way that could never be possessed or owned by us," the participants said in their final statement May 15.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences brought together heads of natural history museums, botanical gardens, zoos and aquariums along with experts in biodiversity and ecology for a conference May 13-14 on species protection.

The conference came after the independent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published results of a three-year study which found that 1 million -- that is, one in four -- animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction within decades. Land use, pollution, overfishing, deforestation and climate change are among the factors driving the unprecedented decline in biodiversity, said the May 6 report.

The concluding statement issued by the pontifical academy launched a call for action for conservationist leaders, experts, policy advisers and faith communities to help humanity build a new sustainable relationship with the natural world.

"We need to change our mindset, our mentality of exploitation that has driven us to the point where we are now. We seem to live in an immense and fantastic world, forgetting about what has been given to us," it said.

"The worldwide communities of natural history museums, zoological and botanic gardens are catalytic and significant allies in the global drive toward species protection and nature preservation," especially because of their expertise and ability to educate and impact so many people around the world, particularly young people, it said.

Creating "islands of protection," such as national parks, seed banks and so on, are not enough when it comes to preventing the threats of a global loss of species, the statement said.

"Fundamental societal change is needed," which includes people reducing their "ecological footprint" and changing patterns of consumption, particularly with fossil fuels, food waste and land use, it said.

"These patterns of social behavior need a course correction," it said, and "our economic systems need to be redesigned toward circular bio-based economic systems, in which humankind and nature are less in conflict.

"Science and innovation, sound governance, and incentives for industry and agriculture need to come together to achieve such a sustainable bioeconomy, adjusted to local circumstances."

Because all major world religions, in principle, "are committed to respecting and preserving nature," they, too, should agree on joint action for change.

"These communities are called upon to explore new synergies for enhanced impact on people's world views and new joint collective actions to address extinction problems," it said.

 

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Pope chooses theme for World Meeting of Families 2021

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy John McElroy, World Meeting of Families

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian family life is a vocation and, when lived with fidelity, it is a path to holiness, said the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

The office May 17 announced the theme Pope Francis has chosen for the next World Meeting of Families, which will be in Rome June 23-27, 2021: "Family love: A vocation and a path to holiness."

The dicastery asked that in preparation for the meeting, families and pastoral workers read both Pope Francis' 2016 exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," and his 2018 exhortation on the universal call to holiness, "Gaudete et Exsultate."

"The aim is to emphasize family love as a vocation and a way to holiness and to understand and share the profound and redeeming significance of family relationships in daily life," the dicastery said.

The love of a husband and wife and the love found within families, it said, show "the precious gift of a life together where communion is nourished and a culture of individualism, consumption and waste is averted."

Married couples and families, the dicastery said, "demonstrate the great significance of human relationships in which joys and struggles are shared in the unfolding of daily life as people are led toward an encounter with God."

"When lived with fidelity and perseverance," marriage and family life "strengthens love and enables the vocation to holiness that is possessed by each individual person and expressed in conjugal and family relationships. In this sense, Christian family life is a vocation and a way to holiness, an expression of the 'most attractive face of the church.'"

 

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Update: Police search Dallas diocesan sites for files on alleged abusers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By David Sedeno

DALLAS (CNS) -- Dallas police executed search warrants at three sites in the Diocese of Dallas May 15, saying the process was an extension of their ongoing investigation of sexual abuse allegations into five current or former priests, including one accused of sexually abusing at least three minors and who is believed to have fled the country to his native Philippines.

Maj. Max Geron, who heads the Dallas Police Department's Special Investigations Division, said detectives had been meeting with diocesan officials over the past several months and that execution of the search warrants were at the pastoral center, an offsite warehouse where diocesan records and documents are kept and at St. Cecilia Catholic Church offices, the parish where one of the accused priests, Father Edmundo Paredes, was the pastor for nearly 20 years.

At a news conference at police headquarters and responding to a question about cooperation by diocesan officials with the police investigation, Geron said: "We have had a number of meetings with them, characterizing that in varying degrees of cooperation. We believe that the execution of the warrants was wholly appropriate for the furtherance of the investigation."

He declined to give specifics of the investigation, other than saying that "these investigations stem from additional allegations made after the case against Mr. Paredes became public."

Annette Gonzales Taylor, diocesan spokeswoman, said the search warrants on the three sites were a surprise because church officials believed they had been fully cooperating with investigators.

Bishop Edward J. Burns told reporters at a news conference later in the day that the execution of the search warrants was another opportunity for the diocese to cooperate with law enforcement officials. He denied that diocesan officials or attorneys working for the diocese had not cooperated fully with investigators, as alleged in an affidavit written by Dallas police Detective David Clark to support the search warrant.

"The diocese will continue to cooperate in all investigations of sexual abuse against minors," Bishop Burns said. "We recognize that throughout our collaboration with police there are some who are not satisfied and want to look for themselves. We know we have given them the files and so we say, by all means, look and, indeed, if today's events is what gives them the opportunity for them to look for themselves, so be it."

The search warrant sought information and documents relating to five priests no longer serving in the diocese and who were among 31 that diocesan officials named earlier as credibly accused of allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

Part of the affidavit from Clark stated that police received incomplete records and that at least one member of the Diocesan Review Board had "unofficially" urged police to seek documents relating to some of the other priests whose files were "flagged" by diocesan investigators, but whose names were not among the 31 made public.

"If there were concerns, they are faulting on the very fact of their existence. It's important that they raise those," the bishop said in response to a reporter's question.

The bishop said the names of the Diocesan Review Board are confidential, but that the board includes members involved in law enforcement, clinical psychology, law and medicine.

The search warrant sought information on files related to five former priests and the perceived sexual assault of minors while they served in the Diocese of Dallas. They include three priests in their 70s: Paredes, Richard Thomas Brown and Alejandro Buitrago; and two priests in their 60s: William Joseph Hughes Jr. and Jeremy Myers, the longtime former pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sherman. Paredes, Buitrago and Myers are suspended from active ministry; Brown is listed as absent on leave; and Hughes has been laicized.

Earlier in the day, police went to the offices of St. Cecilia Catholic Church and removed several boxes. At approximately the same time, at least two dozen Dallas police officers and several FBI agents entered the main pastoral center building to begin executing the search. Throughout the day, numerous plainclothes law enforcement officials were seen entering and exiting the building.

Marked police cars and a cargo truck blocked entrances to the garage and main parking area. A little after 6 p.m., police began removing boxes upon boxes of files and loading them into a Dallas police cargo truck.

The issuance of search warrants in Dallas is one of two so-called raids at large diocesan offices in Texas. Last November, law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

The execution of the Dallas search warrants comes after months of reports from around the United States and the world about clergy sex abuse that have rocked the universal church and efforts to combat it, locally and globally.

On Jan. 30, Bishop Burns and several diocesan officials went to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sherman. The bishop told parishioners their pastor had been credibly accused and his name would appear on the list the next day. Many parishioners were dismayed; some cried and others lashed out at the bishop.

The next day, Bishop Burns announced the names of the 31 priests who had been credibly accused of allegations of sexual abuse of minors between 1950 to the present day. The list was developed after former law enforcement officials combed through more than 2,420 files of priests over a period of several months and in consultation with the separate Diocesan Review Board. The announcement coincided with the simultaneous release of similar lists by most of the other 14 Catholic dioceses in Texas.

Clark, in his affidavit, questioned the validity of the credentials of the private investigators in sexual abuse crimes and said he had only been given one name to follow up with, but that he had been unable to contact them.

On May 15, after the execution of the search warrant, Bishop Burns said he consulted with Kathleen McChesney, the former FBI agent who led the group of private investigators who spent months reviewing the Dallas clergy files.

Bishop Burns said McChesney "called me back, and she was just so perplexed by the number of errors that were present in the affidavit and the search warrant."

"Nevertheless," he said, "you saw how extensive it is, so if there is a need to address any inaccuracy, we are going to do it together, and we'd be more than happy to address those inaccuracies with the Dallas Police Department."

Earlier this month, Pope Francis released a document calling for new norms and protocols on how clergy abuse must be handled and reported globally. The document is the result of the conference that the pope called for in February with the heads of bishops' conferences worldwide.

Bishop Burns has encouraged any additional victims of abuse by clergy to report it to law enforcement or by calling the Texas Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400 and contacting Barbara Landregan, the diocesan victims assistance coordinator, at (214) 379-2812 or blandregan@cathdal.org.

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Sedeno is editor of The Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Shareholders push U.S. telecom firms to tackle online child sexual abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mariana Bazo, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Online child sexual abuse is a booming international business and religious congregations holding stocks in major telecom firms are stepping up their advocacy to thwart it.

Led by Christian Brothers Investment Services, the effort involves a widening campaign designed to push leading U.S. telecoms to take strong action to block explicit images from their growing communication networks and information platforms.

"These telecom companies are trying to attract these younger and younger audiences, but we believe they are not investing a commensurate amount of time in online safety," said Tracey Rembert, director of Catholic responsible investing at CBIS.

Verizon is among the high-profile companies being engaged. CBIS -- joined by the Maryknoll Sisters, the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia and Proxy Impact -- gained a vote on a shareholder resolution addressing online risks faced by children during Verizon's annual meeting May 2 in Orlando, Florida.

Proxy Impact, based in Oakland, California, assists private shareholders in advocacy work to promote sustainable and responsible business practices.

The resolution -- calling for a report by March 2020 on the potential sexual exploitation of children through the company's products and services -- gained 33.7 percent approval from shareholders. While it was far from the majority needed for passage, such a high level of support for a first-time resolution is unusual in the corporate world.

Rembert was pleased, but not satisfied, with the result, especially given that she believes it's the first time that shareholders anywhere tried to force a telecom company into action to confront online abuse.

"I've tried to engage with (Verizon) for over a year and every time I spoke with someone I didn't have strong confidence in what they were saying, or I didn't have the right person who could give me the answer (about their practices)," she told Catholic News Service May 14.

Online child sexual abuse can take many forms including children being exposed to inappropriate content; the soliciting of kids to send inappropriate photos of themselves through social media, pornographic videos and live streaming; and the manipulation and distribution of normal family photos of children stolen from computers and cellphones.

The ease with which such images are distributed is what concerns Rembert, who has been trying to convince telecom firms to respond to investor concerns for two years. Perpetrators are using increasingly sophisticated means, including encryption, to avoid detection, she said.

Rembert undertook the campaign effort after a poll of other investors revealed that human trafficking and online child abuse were the two highest ranked concerns.

"(Society is) almost universally against child pornography and child sexual abuse," Rembert said. "There's a firm moral line that crosses all different stripes of society and because of that there is not a lot of gray area if a company is linked to child sexual abuse online."

While the moral concerns are the shareholders' greatest concern, there's also a financial reason for the effort. Rembert said that companies face high risks to their reputation and financial bottom line -- and thus the value of a shareholder's portfolio -- if it's determined that a telecom firm is not doing what's possible to protect children.

Online child sexual abuse is a global industry, fueled by the widening access by children to mobile devices and cellphones on every continent. No estimates are available on the size of the industry, but Interpol and other law enforcement agencies have been overwhelmed in trying to track the amount of material circulated through online platforms.

Social workers specializing in serving children suggested that as many as 1 million unique child abuse images existed, according to a 2017 report by the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety in the United Kingdom. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said up to 50,000 new images circulate annually.

In contrast, Interpol reported about 4,000 images globally in 1995.

Rembert, along with Cathy Rowan, corporate responsibility coordinator for the Maryknoll Sisters, and Sister Patricia Daly, corporate responsibility representative for the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, met with Verizon officials as recently as January and left dissatisfied with what they heard.

"They increased disclosure a bit, but we felt it was too vague and there is no way to assess how complete their response is," Rowan told CNS.

Rembert described the meeting as "good ... but we wanted a stronger commitment about what they are doing."

Other companies approached by the shareholders include Apple and Sprint. A resolution that recently had been filed with Apple was withdrawn when the company announced a commitment to address shareholder concerns.

Verizon said in a statement emailed May 15 that it "is proud of the leadership role we play in combating the proliferation of child sexual abuse material online."

The statement provided links to two sites outlining "our ongoing commitment to online child safety and the extensive resources we devote in the fight against online predators" and " educational tools and guidance to help parents and children navigate the digital world."

The links are https://www.verizon.com/about/our-company/company-policies and https://www.verizon.com/about/responsibility/online-safety.

A company spokesman declined to respond on the record about specific concerns raised by shareholders.

Maryknoll's involvement stems from the congregation's human trafficking prevention efforts around the world. Rowan said Maryknoll Sisters are educating people about necessary safety precautions as the internet becomes available in villages and outlying areas.

"At what point does the demand for these children reach into Zimbabwe and Cambodia?" she asked.

Sister Daly, who has spent more than 40 years in shareholder advocacy on dozens of issues from weapons manufacturing to human rights, said it's the responsibility of the telecom companies to set high standards in safeguarding children.

"This crosses classes. It's beyond any kind of racial issue. Every child is at risk, regardless of whether your parents are millionaires or not. Any child who has access to a phone will be at risk," Sister Daly said.

Rembert pledged to keep the pressure on Verizon and other firms until they agree to undertake what she and others consider to be adequate steps to block online perpetrators from pedaling their salacious products.

Ideally, she would like to see a type of industry-wide code of conduct developed in collaboration with investors, child protection groups, law enforcement agencies and governments.

"That," she said, "would be wonderful."

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Editor's Note: More information about Christian Brothers Investment Services is online at www.cbisonline.com.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.