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Pope Francis: Witness to the truth by exposing ‘fake news’

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2021 / 04:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis issued a new warning about misinformation on Saturday, weeks after he was the subject of a viral “fake news” story. 

Writing in his World Communications Day message, released on Jan. 23, the pope said that “the risk of misinformation being spread on social media” was now widely recognized.

“We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism,” he wrote. 

“Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received.” 

“All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.”

Earlier this month a false report that Italian police had arrested the pope amid a Vatican “blackout” was widely shared on the internet. The report was posted on a Canadian website which had also previously posted a fictitious claim that former U.S. President Barack Obama had been arrested on espionage charges. 

In his message, the pope also stressed the internet’s positive qualities.

“Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful,” he said.

“We can think of certain emergency situations where the internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices. It is a powerful tool, which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers.”

“Potentially we can all become witnesses to events that otherwise would be overlooked by the traditional media, offer a contribution to society and highlight more stories, including positive ones.”

The pope signed the message on Jan. 23, the Vigil of the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists. 

World Communications Day, established by Pope Paul VI in 1967, will be celebrated in many countries this year on Sunday, May 16. The day will be observed as the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in places where it is transferred from Thursday, May 13 to Sunday.

In his message, Pope Francis issued an impassioned call to journalists to recommit themselves to “original investigative reporting.”

“Insightful voices have long expressed concern about the risk that original investigative reporting in newspapers and television, radio and web newscasts is being replaced by a reportage that adheres to a standard, often tendentious narrative,” he wrote.

“This approach is less and less capable of grasping the truth of things and the concrete lives of people, much less the more serious social phenomena or positive movements at the grassroots level.”

He continued: “The crisis of the publishing industry risks leading to a reportage created in newsrooms, in front of personal or company computers and on social networks, without ever ‘hitting the streets,’ meeting people face to face to research stories or to verify certain situations first-hand.”

“Unless we open ourselves to this kind of encounter, we remain mere spectators, for all the technical innovations that enable us to feel immersed in a larger and more immediate reality.”

“Any instrument proves useful and valuable only to the extent that it motivates us to go out and see things that otherwise we would not know about, to post on the internet news that would not be available elsewhere, to allow for encounters that otherwise would never happen.”

Pope Francis suggested specific topics for journalists to investigate. 

He said: “We can risk reporting the pandemic, and indeed every crisis, only through the lens of the richer nations, of ‘keeping two sets of books.’ For example, there is the question of vaccines, and medical care in general, which risks excluding the poorer peoples.”

“Who would keep us informed about the long wait for treatment in the poverty-stricken villages of Asia, Latin America and Africa? Social and economic differences on the global level risk dictating the order of distribution of anti-COVID vaccines, with the poor always at the end of the line and the right to universal healthcare affirmed in principle, but stripped of real effect.”

“Yet even in the world of the more fortunate, the social tragedy of families rapidly slipping into poverty remains largely hidden; people who are no longer ashamed to wait in line before charitable organizations in order to receive a package of provisions do not tend to make news.”

The pope also praised the “courage and commitment” of journalists, camera operators, editors, and directors who risk their lives to uncover the truth.

“Thanks to their efforts, we now know, for example, about the hardships endured by persecuted minorities in various parts of the world, numerous cases of oppression and injustice inflicted on the poor and on the environment, and many wars that otherwise would be overlooked,” he said.

“It would be a loss not only for news reporting, but for society and for democracy as a whole, were those voices to fade away. Our entire human family would be impoverished.”

The theme of this year’s World Communications Day, the 55th commemoration, is “‘Come and See’ (Jn 1:46) Communicating by Encountering People as They Are.”

The pope quoted approvingly advice that the Spanish Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido (1920-1971) once gave fellow journalists: “Open your eyes with wonder to what you see, let your hands touch the freshness and vitality of things, so that when others read what you write, they too can touch first-hand the vibrant miracle of life.” 

Francis also cited William Shakespeare as he condemned the “empty rhetoric” that he said abounded in public life. 

Quoting from “The Merchant of Venice,” the pope wrote: “This or that one ‘speaks an infinite deal of nothing... His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.’”

“The blistering words of the English playwright also apply to us as Christian communicators. The Good News of the Gospel spread throughout the world as a result of person-to-person, heart-to-heart encounters with men and women who accepted the invitation to ‘come and see,’ and were struck by the ‘surplus’ of humanity that shone through the gaze, the speech and the gestures of those who bore witness to Jesus Christ.”

The pope said that all Christians faced a challenge: “to communicate by encountering people, where they are and as they are.”

He concluded with a prayer:

Lord, teach us to move beyond ourselves,
and to set out in search of truth.
Teach us to go out and see,
teach us to listen,
not to entertain prejudices
or draw hasty conclusions.
Teach us to go where no one else will go,
to take the time needed to understand,
to pay attention to the essentials,
not to be distracted by the superfluous,
to distinguish deceptive appearances from the truth.
Grant us the grace to recognize your dwelling places in our world
and the honesty needed to tell others what we have seen.


As eviction crisis looms, priest highlights the legal needs of the poor

Denver Newsroom, Jan 23, 2021 / 02:00 am (CNA).- In the waning months of 2020, the United States watched as the Senate conducted hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven. President Donald Trump had nominated Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Among the observers was Father Pius Pietrzyk, OP, a canon lawyer and among the few Catholic priests to, like Barrett, hold a Senate-confirmed political appointment.

In late 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Pietrzyk to serve on the board of the Legal Services Corporation, a nonpartisan body that gives grants to local legal aid offices to provide free civil legal services for the poor.

“I never thought I'd like the work as much as I have. I've enjoyed it very much. And a big part of that is because I've seen the people who have been helped by it,” Pietrzyk told CNA.

“But I also see, in a much bigger way, the people who continue to need to be helped by it. And there's far more need certainly than we have resources. But we keep trudging along doing our best and helping as many people as we can.”

Pietrzyk is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Joseph, and chairs the Pastoral Studies department at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California, where he also teaches canon law. 

Before being ordained to the priesthood in 2008, he practiced civil law for several years at a large firm in Chicago. 

Pietrzyk received the news of his appointment to the LSC’s board in early 2010. As a lawyer, he had heard of the Legal Services Corporation and was vaguely aware of what they did. But his appointment was still a big surprise. 

“It was completely out of the blue for me. I never saw this coming,” he said. 

'Fundamental disparities'

The Legal Services Corporation is a 501(c)(3) corporation created in 1974 with bipartisan Congressional sponsorship. 

Congress appropriates money to the LSC each year— for 2021, some $465 million in funding is expected. The LSC does not itself provide legal services, but rather provides grants to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs throughout the country. 

People earning 125% or less of the federal poverty line are eligible for the services that the local legal aid agencies provide. Pietrzyk said some of the common civil law issues that the aid agencies deal with are issues of domestic violence, housing (such as landlord-tenant disputes), elder law, and veterans issues. 

In civil cases, many people living in poverty cannot afford lawyers, and often have to represent themselves, making them less likely to win their cases. 

“You look in the housing courts in the United States, and most of the landlords are represented by a lawyer, and almost none of the tenants are represented by a lawyer. And so you've got these fundamental disparities when it comes to as basic a human need and human right really as housing issues,” he said.

So how did a Dominican priest get picked for a political appointment like this?

Apart from Pietrzyk’s legal qualifications for the position, there was another reason his name came up as a possible candidate. 

By tradition, at least two members of the LSC’s board are “client-eligible,” meaning they themselves qualify for the free services that they oversee. 

Because Dominicans take a vow of poverty, Pietrzyk is technically poor. So when the Senate was looking for potential nominees to recommend to President Obama, a Senate staffer suggested looking for a nominee who had taken a vow of poverty. 

Pietrzyk is quick to point out that his Senate hearing was not the flashy, high-profile media affair that often accompanies hearings for Supreme Court nominees, such as Barrett. 

Instead, his hearing was conducted as a conference call with several Democratic staffers, away from the public eye. Pietrzyk described the room where it took place as little more than a “cloakroom.” 

Still, as you might expect, any nominee for a Senate-confirmed position has to be vetted by the FBI. The FBI conducted interviews with several people whose names Pietrzyk provided, as well as with several of Pietrzyk’s parishioners and neighbors. 

At one point during the vetting process, Pietrzyk was studying in Rome. Since the FBI lacks jurisdiction outside U.S. territorial boundaries, a retired State Department agent living in Europe met with Father Pietrzyk and conducted additional interviews in Rome. 

“I had really nothing to hide, nothing that's going to cause a major objection,” Pietrzyk laughed.  

“I wasn't a foreign agent. I wasn't engaging in some sort of heavy illegal practices. That made it a lot easier. I had no complicated financial situations that would cause embarrassment to the President or anything like that.”

Although Pietrzyk says he is not aware of any major ideological objections to his appointment, he says there was some suspicion in the Senate that he fit the mold of a “client eligible” candidate. After all, he says, not many poor people have a University of Chicago law degree. 

“And while I live a vow of poverty, it wasn't as if there was any danger of me being on the streets. I don't think my religious community was going to throw me out on the street anytime soon,” he pointed out. 

“So that caused, I think, a little bit of grumbling from some people, but it never came back to me, and it never affected my nomination, and it never affected the vote in the Senate.”

The Senate confirmed Pietrzyk’s nomination on March 29, 2010. He said he regularly wears his religious habit to board meetings, and has earned the respect of his fellow board members. 

“My other board members have accepted me as a Catholic priest, as Catholic religious, and have received that whole-heartedly and have just been very professional to me,” Pietrzyk said. 

“We rarely have, if ever, ideological disputes. That camaraderie and friendship and professionalism has been part of what's made this such a rewarding experience for me, in addition to the stories that we hear of the poor people who are helped by the services. And some of them are really quite compelling.”

In Dec. 2019, Pietrzyk was further elevated to Vice-Chairman of the LSC’s board. 

'We haven't seen the worst of the poverty'

Pietrzyk said the work of the Legal Services Corporation is particularly important today, as millions of Americans face eviction from their homes because of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. 

A handful of states have made it illegal for landlords to evict tenants during the pandemic, but many have not. In a July 2020 survey done by the LSC, 95% of their grantees reported an increase in eviction cases. 

Late last year, Congress extended a moratorium on evictions nationwide until the end of this month, January 2021.

The federal moratorium applies when renters meet certain conditions, and data show that landlords in many states have ignored moratoria and have continued with evictions. The Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University, has tracked at least 200,000 evictions in the US since the pandemic began.

President Joe Biden has pledged to make an extension of the federal moratorium one of his top priorities, pledging to sign an executive order extending the moratorium until March on his first day in office. 

Unless that moratorium is later renewed, an estimated 30-40 million needy people are going to find themselves homeless. 

“We haven't seen the worst of the poverty that has been a result of the COVID, and we'll see it a lot worse once the evictions crisis really hits. And so being on the front lines and trying to ameliorate that as much as possible, I think, is something we all really need to be invested in,” Pietrzyk said. 

The need for affordable legal services for the poor has been highlighted recently as an important component of the country’s response to poverty, especially in light of the pandemic. 

Notably, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a Sept. 2020 op-ed calling for reform of the court system, noting that “even to accomplish the simplest task, hiring a lawyer is expensive — too expensive.” 

As one possible remedy, Gorsuch highlighted new programs in Utah and Arizona that will, beginning this year, permit “trained, non-lawyer legal professionals” to represent clients in some legal areas. 

Although the LSC is set to receive $465 million in funding this year, the largest dollar amount ever appropriated, the figure is significantly lower than what the LSC requested for 2021. The Trump administration recommended “zero funding” for the LSC every year that Trump was in office. 

Pietrzyk said he believes all Americans— regardless of income—  ought to be able to access the court system. 

“When you're a poor person, you can barely have money to feed your family. When you become a victim of injustice in the civil realm, you often have no outlet at all, because you can't hire a lawyer,” he said.  

“You oftentimes don't have the resources to be able to navigate yourself through a very complicated court system. And so what's left?...I do think that if you are committed to the rule of law and to justice for all Americans, that you have to be committed in some way to a program that provides civil legal services to the poor.”

The LSC’s grantees nationwide have seen a large increase in demand for their services during the pandemic. 

Guy Lescault, executive director of Legal Services Alabama, one of the LSC’s grantees, told CNA that at least 1.5 million Alabama residents cannot afford to hire lawyers when faced with civil issues like fighting an eviction. 

Alabama has long ranked near the bottom in terms of average income and racial disparities, Lescault said. Alabama does not have a state moratorium on evictions, and it is one of only two states nationwide— the other being Idaho— that has never appropriated any state money toward legal services for the poor. 

Typically, some 80% of their funding comes from the LSC, and last year they got some much-needed additional funding from the CARES Act and in the form of a grant from HHS. Legal Services Alabama is hoping to fill in gaps with their own fundraising. 

Legal Services Alabama operates a call center where people can call to get connected to free legal services, and they have seen a massive increase in demand since the pandemic started. 

Most calls they receive at the call center, Lescault says, are from needy people seeking information, such as asking about how to access SNAP (Food stamps). 

Lescault says they deal with many elderly people and children in their work. Moreover, the population served by LSA is about 70% female and nearly two-thirds black.

For serious situations, such as a poor person facing eviction or domestic violence, a call to the statewide call center often will be directed to one of their lawyers. 

“Domestic violence sort of goes hand in hand when you have lockdown orders, loss of employment, all of the other things. These issues, they’re not isolated, they’re all intertwined,” Lescault said. 

“What we should be doing is addressing some of this holistically. So we are trying as fast as our little feet can get us to apply for more domestic violence money from the Department of Justice that would give us additional staff to help address that issue around the state.”

'Make your town and community a better place'

Father Pietrzyk’s status as a Senate-confirmed Catholic priest is fairly unique. 

In 2015— five years after Father Pietrzyk’s confirmation— the Senate confirmed Father Paul Hurley to be U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. The record of whether there have been any other priests confirmed by the Senate is thin.

Most Catholics will never get the chance to help the poor by way of a national political appointment. But Father Pietrzyk encouraged all Catholics to seek out opportunities to help the poor in their neighborhoods and local communities. 

“Where you can have a great deal of influence is at the local level, getting involved in helping people who are in need in your own community, in your own town, in your own city,” he said. 

“I think that's what Catholics need to be about— to try to avoid all of the political and ideological gamesmanship that goes on sometimes at the national level, and ask yourself what you can do to make your town and community a better place.”

This story originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. Listen to the segment below, beginning at 23:13. 



CNA Newsroom · Ep. 90: For God and Country  
 

 

George Weigel: Cardinal Cupich’s criticisms of Archbishop Gomez are baseless

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 07:56 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, showed courage in releasing a statement on the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration despite opposition from within the conference, said papal biographer and longtime Church observer George Weigel.

Weigel said Gomez displayed “episcopal courage” at a time when others demanded “a reprise of the accommodationist approach to Catholic public officials long championed by Theodore McCarrick.”

Weigel, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Washington D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, penned an essay published in First Things on Friday, commenting on the statement released by Gomez on Inauguration Day and the subsequent criticism from Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

The statement from Gomez noted that Biden’s inauguration marks the first time in 60 years that a president has professed the Catholic faith. This presents a unique circumstance, Gomez said, particularly because Biden is in support of legal abortion and has pledged to increase taxpayer funding for it.

Cupich later criticized Gomez for releasing the statement, saying it was an “ill-considered statement” that “was crafted without the involvement of the Administrative Committee, a collegial consultation that is normal course for statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops.”

Norms from the bishops’ conference, however, indicate that standard procedures were followed ahead of the release of the statement.

Weigel argued that Gomez releasing a statement on the inauguration was in keeping with the recommendations from the Working Group on Engaging the New Administration created by the bishops at their November 2020 meeting.

As Gomez told his brother bishops, Weigel said, the working group had proposed “a letter to the new president from Archbishop Gomez, writing as a pastor. The letter would promise support for the new administration in areas of agreement. It would also identify administration policies, including abortion, that the bishops believed violated human dignity, and it would urge the new president to reassess his positions on these questions.”

The letter did just that, Weigel said. It noted numerous issues of concern among both political parties, but said that “the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’.”

“By any reasonable standard, Archbishop Gomez’s statement was balanced and measured; absent the controversy that erupted before and after its release,” Weigel said.

However, he said, “Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark put intense pressure on Archbishop Gomez to make no statement, as did the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.”

Weigel said the controversy “underscored the statement’s firm, clear, and unambiguous stance on the 'preeminent priority' of the life issues—and thus heightened the impact of those parts of the statement that the dissident cardinals may have found so objectionable that they tried to quash the entire document.”

He said Cupich’s suggestion that Gomez was somehow acting against the norms of the bishops’ conference “is itself unfair and irresponsible.”

“To suggest that there was something unprecedented here is to falsify history,” he said. “What was indeed unprecedented, as Archbishop Gomez pointed out in his statement, was the situation of a president of the United States who professed a devout and heartfelt Catholicism and yet was publicly committed to facilitating grave moral evils.”

Read George Weigel's full essay in First Things here: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/archbishop-jos-gomez-a-profile-in-episcopal-courage
 

US bishops urge Biden to reject abortion rights after 'deeply disturbing' statement

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:40 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s statement backing legal abortion on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade drew swift reaction from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose pro-life chairman said the no president of the United States should ever defend denying the right to life of unborn children.
 
“We strongly urge the president to reject abortion and promote life-affirming aid to women and communities in need,” the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities head Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas said Jan. 22.
 
“It is deeply disturbing and tragic that any president would praise and commit to codifying a Supreme Court ruling that denies unborn children their most basic human and civil right, the right to life under the euphemistic disguise of a health service,” he said.
 
The U.S. bishops’ conference responded to the statement from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.
 
The president and vice president stressed their commitment to legal abortion, saying “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe.”
 
Although Roe v. Wade was a critical pro-abortion rights decision, the statement did not mention abortion by name, preferring to use euphemisms such as “reproductive health” and “health care.”
 
“In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack,” they said.  “As the Biden-Harris Administration begins in this critical moment, now is the time to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all individuals have access to the health care they need.”
 
The U.S. bishops’ conference said the statement wrongly characterized the Roe v. Wade decision as “an advancement of women’s rights and health.” While the Biden-Harris statement did not mention religion, the bishops said Catholics cannot support abortion.
 
Biden has repeatedly emphasized his Catholicism, attending Mass the morning of his inauguration and citing St. Augustine of Hippo in his inaugural address. He has put a Pope Francis picture in the Oval Office.
 
Even on Biden’s first day in office, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited Biden’s Catholicism when asked questions about abortion.
 
At a Jan. 20 press briefing, Owen Jensen of EWTN News asked Psaki what Biden plans to do regarding the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy, which Biden has opposed because they limit abortion funding.
 
“Well, I think we’ll have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days,” Psaki said.
 
“But I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he (Biden) is a devout Catholic, and somebody who attends church regularly,” she told reporters. “He started his day with attending his church this morning.”
 
In the bishops’ conference statement, however, Archbishop Naumann emphasized Church teaching on abortion.
 
“I take this opportunity to remind all Catholics that the Catechism states, ‘Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable’,” he said.
 
The statement also emphasized politicians’ responsibilities to reject a right to abortion.
 
“Public officials are responsible for not only their personal beliefs, but also the effects of their public actions. Roe’s elevation of abortion to the status of a protected right and its elimination of state restrictions paved the way for the violent deaths of more than 62 million innocent unborn children and for countless women who experience the heartache of loss, abandonment, and violence,” said Naumann.

The president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Fr. Dave Pivonka, also reacted to the Biden-Harris declaration, saying their “aggressive pro-abortion statement … is saddening to Catholics worldwide. The policies they have promised to put forward are harmful to the dignity of the human person and are contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

Pope Francis has often rejected abortion as part of a “throwaway culture,” but some American pro-abortion rights advocates and politicians, and their supporters, have tried to claim the Pope has taken a non-confrontational approach at variance with most U.S. bishops. 
 
On the day of Biden’s inauguration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, in his role as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said he was praying for Biden. He noted areas of agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden.
 
“Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics,” Gomez said in a statement. “We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors.”
 
“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today,” he said.
 
The U.S. bishops will engage with Biden with the aim of starting “a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Archbishop Gomez said.

UN adopts resolution on protecting religious sites

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday calling for greater efforts to protect religious sites from acts of terrorism and asking for a global conference on the subject.

Titled “Promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites,” the resolution asks Secretary General Antonio Guterres to launch an international conference to discuss the best means of implementing the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.

“Religious sites are representative of the history, social fabric and traditions of people in every country and community all over the world and should be fully respected as such,” the resolution says.

The resolution highlights the increasing threats to culturally and spiritually significant sites by terrorists and militias, who have at times destroyed religious property and illicitly trafficked artifacts.

The resolution denounces “all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines … including any deliberate destruction of relics and monuments” and condemns “all acts or threats of violence, destruction, damage or endangerment, directed against religious sites as such, that continue to occur in the world, and denounces any moves to obliterate or forcibly convert any religious sites.”

It calls on the governments to promote these religious sites as vulnerable targets and to implement safeguards to protect them. The resolution states that governments should assess risks and potential targets as well as “ensure that comprehensive measures are in place for the immediate response to an attack.”

The resolution also challenges the United Nations to develop “strategies, educational initiatives, and global communications campaigns and tools” that foster greater multicultural respect and media awareness.

“[We invite] all Member States to enhance education and capacity-building to counter incitement to violence through fostering the messages of unity, solidarity and interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” it said, calling for the promotion of peace and coexistence among different religions and cultures.

Saudi Arabia proposed the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Arab nations including Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, Yemen, Sudan, and Palestine. The resolution was also supported by the United States and the European Union.

“The United States is pleased to join the European Union’s statement concerning this resolution, and recalls that the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression are mutually reinforcing and complementary,” said David Messenger, the advisor for Political Affairs of the U.N. Mission to the United States, in a Jan. 21 statement.

However, Messenger voiced concern that the resolution overemphasizes a condemnation of hate speech, “at times equating speech to acts of violence.” Offensive speech is not necessarily a form of violence, he said, and the resolution should not be used to justify restrictions on free speech.

“Rather than seek restrictions to expression to deal with intolerance or hate speech, the United States advocates for robust protections for speech, as well as the enforcement of appropriate legal regimes that deal with discriminatory acts and hate crimes,” he said.

Pro-abortion protestors disrupt pro-life Mass at Ohio cathedral

Denver Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- About eight pro-abortion protesters disrupted the Respect Life Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Columbus Friday, where Bishop Robert Brennan was presiding at an event marking the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

“Two, four, six, eight, this church teaches hate,” the protesters shouted, saying that abortion rights were under attack.

“Fund abortion, not cops,” said one of their signs. “Abortion on Demand. End Hyde Now,” said another, apparently referring to the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortion. At least two protesters wore vests that read “clinic escort” on the back.

Police and church officials escorted the protestors outside, where some protesters appeared to make obscene gestures at them, according to video from The Columbus Dispatch.

Friday marked the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.

Posts on the cathedral Facebook page indicated that Bishop Edward Malesic from the Diocese of Cleveland was present as a concelebrant of the Mass. The Columbus diocese had previously announced that all respect life activities would follow pandemic restrictions, including capacity limits at indoor events.

Bishop Brennan discussed the disruption in a statement the Columbus diocese sent to CNA.

“Today during our Respect Life Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral, a group of protesters entered this sacred space in an attempt to disrupt our worship,” Brennan said. “I am deeply thankful to the Columbus Police, assisted by diocesan staff, for the quick response without injury to anyone present.”

“I want to express my great admiration and thanks to all those attending the Mass whose respectful and prayerful response reflects the joy, hope, and mercy that marks our pro-life witness,” he added. “I also apologize to the families present whose children were exposed to this.”

“On this day, in remembrance of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, I ask all to continue to pray for the unborn who died, for all those who have experienced the pain of abortion, and for those who cannot understand our divine and steadfast calling to champion this cause,” the bishop said.

Before the Mass began at 10:30 a.m. local time, Jerry Freewalt, director of the diocesan office for Social Concerns, discussed the purpose of the event.

“We are called to respect life and love our neighbor. … They're all made in the image of God,” he said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “It’s important because, especially in this day and age where there’s a lot of turmoil in our society and in some circles disrespect for each other, this type of Mass we hope will empower Catholics and all people of goodwill to take up that mantle of seeing Christ in each other.”

While pro-life advocates are hopeful that legal precedent on abortion will be revised by the Supreme Court after new justices were appointed by President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden has committed to a strong pro-abortion rights position, including an end to the Hyde Amendment.

As a U.S. Senator, Biden at one time said that the Roe v. Wade decision went too far and he was a longtime supporter of the Hyde Amendment. However, he backed away from this stand in June 2019 after criticism in the Democratic presidential primary.

Vice President Kamala Harris, a vocal proponent of abortion rights, has taken credit for Biden’s change in position on the Hyde Amendment. Any effort to end the amendment will require support in Congress.

In Columbus, St. Joseph’s Cathedral had posted to its Facebook page a photo of its church sign, which bore the message: “The Unborn Baby is created ‘in the image of God for Greater Things’,” with the message attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

After the Mass in Columbus, Bishop Brennan was scheduled to speak at the Roe Remembrance event outside the Ohio Statehouse. The event was sponsored by Greater Columbus Right to Life.
 

Mexico archdiocese denies claim it has abandoned ill former archbishop

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 22, 2021 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- Carlos Cardinal Aguiar Retes of Mexico denied this week that his archdiocese has incurred “material and spiritual abandonment” of his predecessor, who is gravely ill with Covid-19, by not providing for his care in a private hospital.

Norberto Cardinal Rivera Carrera, 78, who was Archbishop of Mexico from 1995 to 2017, was admitted to a public hospital earlier this month.

Public hospitals in Mexico are widely considered to provide subpar medical services, relative to private institutions.

“In cases where hospitalization of priests and bishops is required, it is provided through hospitals in the state sector,” Cardinal Aguiar Retes has said.

“The decision that bishops and priests receive medical attention for COVID in these hospitals is because of the economic situation experienced by the Church throughout the country and in communion and solidarity with what thousands of Mexicans have lived during this pandemic and those we accompany through our daily prayer.”

The Archdiocese of Mexico said Jan. 20 that "the Vicariate of the Clergy of the Archdiocese is in charge of accompanying priests and bishops during their illness, maintaining contact, supporting, and monitoring their state of health."

Fr. Hugo Valdemar, who for 15 years was communications director to Cardinal Rivera, accused Cardinal Aguiar Retes Jan. 19 of abandoning “both spiritually and materially” his predecessor, by denying him the financial resources for his medical care in a private hospital in Mexico City.

According to Fr. Valdemar, "caring for the health of Cardinal Rivera is not charity, is their obligation, and if they claim that there are no resources, that cannot be an excuse to abandon him. Don Norberto always took personal care of his auxiliary bishops and his priests.”

The Code of Canon Law states that "the conference of bishops must take care that suitable and decent support is provided for a retired bishop, with attention given to the primary obligation which binds the diocese he has served."

The Archdiocese of Mexico said that if Cardinal Rivera wants to be taken care of in the private sector, “he can do so with his own resources or the support of the people close to him.”

The archdiocese reported Jan. 16 that Cardinal Rivera had been hospitalized after testing positive for Covid. Since then, the reports regarding his health have been increasingly pessimistic.

The communications director of the archdiocese, Javier Rodríguez, told ACI Prensa that Cardinal Aguiar Retes has assigned a priest to be permanently "aware of the needs" of Cardinal Rivera.

Interviewed by ACI Prensa Jan. 21, Fr. Valdemar reiterated his accusation and demanded that the archdiocese “say with reliable data how they have supported and cared spiritually for Cardinal Rivera, because if there is a priest assigned to take care of him, he was nowhere to be found last Monday, when Don Norberto was in danger of death, and a priest had to  be rushed from the archdiocese, because there was no one around.”

“I read the statement with great surprise because, as far as I know, no priest has been appointed by Archbishop Carlos Aguiar for this purpose. In any case, why didn't they released the name of the supposed priest and thus be able to deny the abandonment that I have denounced? If they don't give the name, it's for a very simple reason, because it's a lie,” he said.

Fr. Valdemar also said that if Cardinal Rivera tried a private hospital “it was because of the seriousness of his condition and trusting in the validity of his (Church-assigned) medical insurance, only to find out that the insurance had expired in August last year and he was never informed about it”.

Fr. Valdemar said that the insurance “expired because the archdiocese did not make the second payment. This is criminal negligence.”

“It seems to me that it is time for the Holy Father, or the Holy See, to intervene and put a limit to so much infamy against an archbishop prostrate in serious condition that he cannot defend himself and who faithfully served the Archdiocese of Mexico for 22 years and that, unlike the current Archbishop Aguiar Retes, has never left any priest in distress, who, by the way, were always treated in good quality hospitals.”

“If, God forbid, Archbishop Aguiar fell ill, would they admit him to a hospital like the Mexican Institute of Social Security? Are they serious?,” he pointed out.

According to the government of Mexico, more than 1.8 million cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the country, with more than 163,000 deaths.

Rosario Livatino: Not even criminal defendants spoke badly of martyred judge

Rome Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Rosario Livatino, a young judge who was killed in 1990 by the mafia for his efforts to combat organized crime in Sicily, always treated the accused in his court with kindness.

According to a former classmate of Livatino’s, defendants in cases judged by the young magistrate were surprised by the courtesy with which he treated them. Livatino would always shake their hand before and after an interrogation, for example.

The judge was killed on Sept. 21, 1990, at the age of 37. He was driving unescorted toward the Agrigento courthouse, where he had served as a judge since the year before, when another car hit him, sending him off the road. He ran from the crashed vehicle into a field, but was shot in the back and then killed with more gunshots.  

Pope Francis declared Livatino a martyr on Dec. 22, 2020, paving the way for the judge’s beatification.

In an interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, Giuseppe Palilla, Livatino’s high school classmate, recalled the impeccable comportment of the Sicilian lawyer and judge -- even toward members of the mafia.

In the collection of witness testimony about Livatino’s life, Palilla said that they could not find one person who spoke badly about the magistrate -- not even those who had to defend themselves before his bench.

Palilla recalled a time when Livatino overheard a police officer speaking badly about a criminal in front of the dead man’s body. Chastising him, Livatino said: “In the face of death, those who believe pray; those who do not believe remain silent!”

Writing in his journal on July 18, 1978, the day he became a judge, the 25-year-old Livatino said: “I took an oath. From today, therefore, I am in the judiciary. May God accompany me and help me to respect the oath and to behave in the way the education my parents gave me requires.”

He had a strong knowledge of Scripture. After his death, a Bible full of notations was found in his desk, where he always kept a crucifix.

In 1986, he gave a lecture at a conference about the relationship between biblical law and the history of human law.

“The value of biblical law is immense in the heritage of human culture and especially juridical: every juridical message that is not strictly linked to historicized customs and needs has the imprint of a premonitory sign in biblical law,” he said.

Livatino was also a model student, his classmate said. And he always helped his fellow high school students in their studies, especially before final exams, giving up his own free time to do so.

“Rosario had a great respect for all his teachers, and the teachers also thought highly of him,” Palilla said. “Rosario -- I want to clarify -- was not the classic ‘nerd’ of the class, he just loved doing things right. He loved to deepen the study topics dealt with in class. In those days we didn’t have the internet, yet he was always very prepared.”

Palilla offered an example of Livatino’s preparedness. 

“When the philosophy teacher explained Kant to us in class,” he recalled, “Rosario asked if it would not have been better to start studying Kierkegaard first. An observation that left us and even the teacher astonished!”

Livatino would write at the top of his notebooks in high school, and later, on the top of his journal pages, the letters “S.T.D,” which stood for “Sub Tutela Dei,” meaning “Under the gaze of God.”

Another time he was asked by the religion teacher, a priest, what the Bible was, and Livatino answered: “The Bible is a chest, a treasure full of values,” Palilla said.

Years later, when Livatino was a magistrate, the same religion teacher asked him for a personal recommendation. In a mark of his integrity, Livatino politely declined the request. “With a cordiality that distinguished him, [he] replied: ‘But you, Father, when you hear confessions, do you accept recommendations?’”

Livatino’s message to students today would be “certainly friendship and evangelical and civil consistency. Rosario was a model for all of us, and he still is today,” Palilla said.

The former classmate quoted St. Ignatius of Antioch: “He educates well with what he says, he educates better with what he does, he educates even better with what he is.”

“Rosario was all of this,” he explained. “For us who had the privilege of knowing him, he was the best classmate we could wish for, the helpful and sincere friend we loved and still love. Rosario Livatino is the classmate whom I wish all of today’s young people would meet.”

Secretary of State nominee says he will fill LGBT position at agency

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State pledged to appoint an LGBTI envoy at the agency, and says he will permit embassies to fly the “Pride” flag if confirmed. 

 

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. State Department, was asked about filing the LGBTI Special Envoy position at the agency during his confirmation hearing before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 19. 

 

Filling the position is “a matter, I think, of some real urgency,” said Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration. 

 

The administration created the special envoy position in 2015 to help counter violence against persons identifying as LGBTI around the world, as well as helping overturn laws criminalizing same-sex conduct. 

 

"We've seen violence directed against LGBTQI people around the world increase,” said Blinken on Tuesday. “We've seen, I believe, the highest number of murders of transgender people, particularly women of color, that we've seen ever.” 

 

However, when the position was first created, some religious freedom advocates warned that the administration’s objective could be “more revolutionary” than simply countering violence abroad. They told CNA that the agency could pressure developing countries to redefine marriage and promote transgender ideology.

 

The Trump administration did not fill the position.

 

Blinken said on Tuesday that he believed that the United States is “playing the role that it should be playing in standing up for and defending the rights of LGBTQI people is something that the Department (of State) is going to take on, and take on immediately.” 

 

Blinken further pledged to “repudiate” the 2020 Commission on Unalienable Rights, established in 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and which produced a report on human rights in 2020. 

 

The report stated “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty.” 

 

In 2019, it was reported that U.S. embassies were prohibited from flying the LGBT “Pride” flag during the month of June, which is traditionally known as “Pride Month.” 

 

Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) asked Blinken if he would change this policy as secretary of state. Blinken said that the U.S. embassies would be permitted to fly the flag.

 

Court victories strengthen Catholic groups' protections against 'gender transition' mandates

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic medical groups and employers say their religious freedom position has been strengthened by a federal injunction against mandatory insurance coverage or medical referrals for gender transition therapy.
 
“This is a victory not just for the Catholic Benefits Association, but for religious freedom itself,” Doug Wilson, CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, said Jan. 20. “These rulings will protect Catholic employers for years to come.”
 
“Our members can continue to provide the highest quality employee benefits to their 90,000 employees and their families, while living their religious beliefs,” Wilson said. “These protections also extend to each employer’s insurer, third-party administrator, and to future members of the Catholic Benefits Association.”
 
The Denver-based Catholic Benefits Association was founded in 2013. It helps employers form and administer employee benefit plans consistent with the Catholic faith and works to protect its employer members’ First Amendment legal rights. It serves over 1,000 Catholic employers, including 60 dioceses and archdioceses, religious orders, colleges and universities, hospitals and other ministries. Seven Catholic archbishops serve on its ethics committee.
 
With other Catholic groups, the association challenged the federal mandate that doctors perform or refer for gender-transition surgeries—despite objections that the doctor may have to the procedure. The mandate also requires insurance coverage for gender-transition surgeries.
 
The mandate, issued in 2016, stemmed from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Section 1557 of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care in a number of areas, including sex discrimination. The Obama administration interpreted this to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department of Health and Human Services said that doctors could not refuse to make gender-transition surgery referrals.
 
The Catholic groups who challenged the federal rule alleged that the mandate violated their religious freedom by requiring them to provide insurance coverage and medical assistance for gender transition surgeries.
 
On Jan. 19, U.S. District Judge Peter Welte of the Eastern District of North Dakota granted Catholic groups that challenged the mandate permanent injunctive relief from having to provide or cover gender-transition procedures. The court is the second federal court to rule against the mandate. In October 2019, District Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas struck down the mandate after doctors had sued, alleging violations of conscience.
 
Wilson was grateful for Welte’s permanent injunction. The injunction protects its members against the 2016 mandates and similar Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules and discrimination claims based on the interpretation of ‘sex’ under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
 
He said the Catholic Benefits Association’s lawsuit was unique in that it was the only one to challenge EEOC rules and Title VII discrimination claims under the new interpretation of “sex.”
 
The interpretation of “sex” is newly relevant. In the 2020 decision Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “sex” can include sexual orientation and gender identity in prohibitions on workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.
 
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in the case attempted to keep the changes narrow, but it has already proved influential. President Joe Biden, in his first day in office, signed a significant executive order expanding Gorsuch’s redefinition of “sex” throughout federal law and policy in ways that could have major consequences, including mandatory coverage of gender transition procedures.
 
Medical critics of the surgical practice say gender transition appears to provide only temporary change in health outcomes, if any. In 2016, Paul R. McHugh, M.D., the former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Lawrence S. Mayer, M.B., M.S., Ph.D., then a scholar in residence in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, reviewed hundreds of scientific articles on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
 
They found continued high risk of poor mental health incomes for patients who had gone through the transition surgery.
 
Philosophical, religious and moral critics of the practice question whether gender transition is even possible and whether it gives too much credence to patients’ perceptions of being the “wrong sex.”
The practice wrongly disassociates gender from biological sex, they say.
 
Criticism of gender transition has become taboo in recent years. Critics face opposition from LGBT advocates and their supporters. Some local laws consider the refusal to affirm a person’s self-perceived gender identity to be an illegal form of “conversion therapy”, but some of these laws are themselves under legal challenge.
 
Wilson voiced gratitude to Catholic Benefits Association members who had shown “unwavering support” for the legal challenge to the Obama-era rule. He also thanked the co-plaintiffs the Catholic Medical Association, the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic Charities of North Dakota. Four Catholic groups under the Religious Sisters of Mercy had also brought objections.
 
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented the plaintiffs, called the decision a “major victory for religious freedom.”
 
The Catholic plaintiffs “joyfully serve all patients regardless of sex or gender identity,” Goodrich said on Twitter. “They routinely provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold. They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved rural areas.”
 
While Judge Welte granted the Catholic groups an injunction on the mandate’s requirement of gender-transition surgery and coverage, he dismissed their abortion-related claims, saying concerns about mandatory abortion coverage were addressed by a 2020 rule from the Department of Health and Human Services and other legal interpretations in force.
 
Catholic challenges to other health coverage mandates have proven successful.
 
In 2018, a federal judge has ordered that $718,000 in compensation be paid to the Catholic Benefits Association after its successful religious freedom legal fight against mandated health care coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs, that would have violated Catholic beliefs.
 
The companies that make up the benefits association had collectively accrued $6.9 billion in fines for not providing the coverage. These fines were eliminated by a federal judge’s March 2018 ruling.