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Deceased Massachusetts bishop accused of sexual abuse had roots in New York archdiocese

CNA Staff, Aug 11, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop-designate Mitchell Rozanski, who will take over the Archdiocese of St. Louis this month, oversaw an investigation into the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of Springfield, Mass, a bishop credibly accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in the 1960s. Rozanski has faced criticism for some aspects of his handling of the case, which the bishop said had been mishandled for years.

In 2018 an alleged victim, known under the pseudonym John Doe, told the Springfield diocesan review board that Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, who retired in 1977 and died in 1982, had abused him when he was an altar boy in the 1960s. Two priests also abused him, he said.

However, Bishop Weldon was not listed on the Springfield diocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of abuse. Although at least three witnesses and a letter to Doe from the review board supported Doe’s claim that he told the review board about Weldon, the review board only acknowledged Doe’s claim that the two priests had abused him. When the matter became controversial in 2019, then-Bishop Mitchell Rozanski commissioned an independent investigation.

On June 24, the diocese released a 373-page report finding that Doe’s claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon was “unequivocally credible.” It found an investigator employed by the diocese had produced two reports on Doe’s accusations, only one of which was clear in naming Weldon. The investigator is no longer employed by the diocese.

Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”

The Springfield diocese now lists Weldon on its list of credibly accused diocesan priests and deacons. While the list says the clergy “had one or more credible allegations of sexual abuse of a child made against them while they were living,” Weldon was not accused while he was alive.

The New York archdiocese does not include Weldon on its list of credibly accused priests, though he left the archdiocese in 1950. CNA has been unable to confirm whether the Archdiocese of New York or St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he previously served as a priest, have been formally notified about the case.

CNA sought comment from the Diocese of Springfield, the Archdiocese of New York, and New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but did not receive a response by deadline.

There are no consistent church norms regarding notification of a credible allegation of abuse when a priest or bishop is from another diocese.

Article 7 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People says that dioceses are to be “open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved.”

“This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by sexual abuse of a minor,” said the charter.

Weldon was ordained Bishop of Springfield in 1950, after coming to prominence in the Archdiocese of New York. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1929 and was a U.S. Navy chaplain during World War II. He then served as master of ceremonies under the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman, who appointed him executive director of Catholic Charities of New York in 1947, his New York Times obituary reports.

He served as a trustee of the University of Massachusetts and was president of Elms College, a Catholic women’s liberal arts college in Chicopee, from 1958 to 1977.

Weldon’s alleged collaborators in abusing Doe were the priests Edward Authier, who died in 1970, and Clarence Forand, who died in May 2005 at the age of 87. Both served at St. Anne’s Parish in Chicopee.

In 1993 a diocesan review board ruled credible a 1992 allegation that Forand sexually abused a minor for nearly 10 years. Forand denied the accusation, which did not become public until 2004.

Authier’s name was not made public until the controversy over Doe’s accusation. The Springfield diocese’s website of priests credibly accused of abuse now lists the names of Weldon and Forand, but not Authier.

Weldon is not the first Springfield bishop to be accused of sexually abusing a minor.

In February 2004, Bishop Thomas Dupre resigned and left the state to check into a medical facility soon after being confronted by allegations he had sexually abused two teen boys in the 1970s.

In September 2004, he became the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. to be indicted on criminal charges for sexual abuse. While prosecutors argued the then-statutes of limitations did not apply to the case because Dupre allegedly took steps to conceal the abuse as recently as 2003, then-District Attorney William Bennett said the case would not go to trial due to the statute of limitations on some charges and because the grand jury decided not to indict on other charges, The Republican newspaper reported.

Dupre also came under criticism for his response to convicted sex abuser and laicized priest Richard L. Lavigne, a suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of a Springfield altar boy named Daniel Croteau. The Vatican laicized the priest in 2004.

Dupre served the Springfield diocese as vicar general, chancellor and auxiliary bishop. When he was named an auxiliary bishop in 1990 and when he was named Bishop of Springfield in 1995, he allegedly called his victims to ensure they would not report abuse.

Some commentators believe both Weldon and Dupre controlled what information was kept in the diocesan archives, the Springfield newspaper The Republican reports.

Sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church peaked in the period from 1970 to 1974, according to the U.S. bishops’ reports on child protection. Thousands of victims have come forward and Catholic dioceses and religious orders have paid billions of dollars in lawsuits and other settlements.

Doe claimed that Weldon abused boys in collaboration with priests. A similar allegation has arisen in a recent lawsuit against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which characterized him as a leader of a “sex ring” with abusive priests while he was Bishop of Metuchen, N.J.

While McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and laicized after a credible allegation against him was made public in 2018, the allegation concerning a “sex ring” has not yet been substantiated. It comes from controversial lawyer Jeff Anderson, whom critics consider to be a self-promoter who has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation.

Like Weldon, McCarrick was among the hundreds of priests serving in the Archdiocese of New York. McCarrick was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 1977.

Archbishop Gänswein: Benedict XVI’s 'illness is subsiding'

Rome Newsroom, Aug 11, 2020 / 03:30 am (CNA).- Benedict XVI’s personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein has said that the pope emeritus’ illness is “subsiding.”

In an interview with the German newspaper Südkurier, Archbishop Gänswein is reported to have said that Benedict XVI’s “illness is subsiding” and that his medication has been reduced.

Benedict XVI has been suffering from facial shingles, a bacterial infection of the skin which causes a painful, red rash. "The pain started after the death of his brother,” Gänswein told Südkurier.

"Whilst very unpleasant and painful, the illness was not life-threatening,” the archbishop said in the article published Aug. 9.

“This is pain that I do not wish for my worst enemy,” Gänswein said.

The pope’s personal secretary gave the interview with German media while visiting his hometown of Riedern am Wald in the Black Forest.

After papal biographer Peter Seewald reported last week that the former pope has been “very frail” since his return from visiting his dying brother in Bavaria in June, the Vatican clarified on Aug. 3 that Benedict XVI’s health problems were “not serious.”

The Holy See press office said  "the health conditions of the pope emeritus are not of particular concern, except for those of a 93 year old who is going through the most acute phase of a painful, but not serious, disease."

Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy in 2013, citing advanced age and declining strength that made it difficult to carry out his ministry. He was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

Seewald made the comments about Benedict XVI’s health after seeing him at his Vatican home in the Mater Ecclesia monastery on Aug. 1 where he presented a copy of his latest biography of the retired pope.  

The journalist said despite his illness, Benedict was optimistic and stated he might take up writing again if his strength returns. Seewald also said the former pope’s voice is now “barely audible.”

German media also reported Aug. 3 that Benedict has chosen to be buried in the former tomb of St. John Paul II in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. The body of the Polish pope was moved into the upper part of the basilica when he was canonized in 2014.

Like John Paul II, Benedict XVI has written a spiritual testament which can be published after his death.

Federal court rules Arkansas abortion restrictions can take effect

CNA Staff, Aug 10, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A federal court of appeals has removed an injunction blocking four Arkansas abortion regulations from going into effect.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Friday to reinstate the 2017 Arkansas laws. They can take effect August 28, although they may still face legal challenge.

The laws include a ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, and two regulations on the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, as well as legislation prohibiting a second-trimester abortion method known as “dilation and evacuation,” by which an unborn baby is dismembered.

A district judge had blocked the rules following a legal challenge from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a local abortion doctor.

The appeals court said the district judge should re-examine the case in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this summer in June Medical Services v. Russo.

While that decision struck down a law regulating abortion clinics in Louisiana, the appeals court said Chief Justice John Robert’s concurrence in the case may be relevant to the Arkansas legislation in question. Roberts said states have “wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge applauded the ruling.

“Arkansas has taken a strong stance to protect the unborn from inhumane treatment,” she said in an August 7 statement.

“As Arkansas’s chief legal officer, I have always advocated for the lives of unborn children and will continue to defend our State’s legal right to protect the unborn. No defenseless baby should ever face the unimaginable and horrifying fate of death by dismemberment.”

Argentine bishop says Vatican ordered seminary closed

Denver Newsroom, Aug 10, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- An Argentine bishop said Friday the seminary in his diocese was ordered closed last month by a decision of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, after a controversy surrounding the reception of the Eucharist during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bishop Eduardo Maria Taussig of San Rafael said Aug. 7 that the Santa Maria Madre de Dios Seminary in Mendoza, Argentina was ordered to close in December, at the conclusion of the academic year, by the Congregation for Clergy, and not the Diocese of San Rafael.

"The decision took me by surprise, but it is a directive that comes directly from the Holy See,” Taussig said.

The bishop said the decision to close the seminary was deeply upsetting, and he has since been discussing with the Vatican where the former students of the school will be sent to in order to continue their studies.

Each seminary transfer will be made on an individualized basis, Taussig said to local media on Friday.

“We are going to discern for each [seminarian] and decide the most appropriate school and timeline for their transfer. Some will go to Mendoza, to San Juan. We will see these changes in the coming weeks.”

As many offices in Rome are closed during the month of August, those talks will continue in early September, said Taussig.

Taussig said that the Vatican’s decision to close the seminary was made in early July, in a move that took him by surprise.

The bishop said that the Congregation for the Clergy informed him that due to the trouble the seminary had maintaining a rector--having had seven in the past 15 years--it did not seem worth it to keep the seminary open.

Taussig said that he spoke for an hour with Cardinal Stella, and on July 8 he received a letter from the Congregation for the Clergy which stated “the need to close the diocesan Seminary at the end of the academic semester.”

“As a bishop, I know that when Rome has spoken, the discussion is over.”

“We bishops make a promise of fidelity and obedience to the Holy Father,” said Taussig, adding that the Vatican has many perspectives to consider when making decisions, and that these decisions were made in light of similar situations around the world.

The diocese announced the closure July 25, and the bishop noted at that time “difficulties that the diocese is going through were taken into consideration, in the context of the measures related to COVID-19 prevention,  and the reluctance or lack of obedience to the provisions that had been established.”

A large number of the priests in San Rafael have not complied with COVID-19 directives regarding the distribution of communion in the hand, among them many former students of the Santa Maria Madre de Dios seminary, which has been seen by some to be behind the priest’s “reluctance” to require communion in the hand, the bishop said.

This refusal to comply had caused “serious scandal inside and outside the seminary and diocese,” said Taussig. 

Taussig said that reception of the Eucharist in the hand or on the tongue are both equally accepted by the Church.


A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.



Catholic priest in Australia says grace helped him save surfer in shark attack

CNA Staff, Aug 10, 2020 / 02:48 pm (CNA).- Fr. Liam Ryan, a long-time surfer, was on vacation visiting his best friend in Western Australia when, on the afternoon of July 31, he noticed a fellow surfer in distress.

“I saw him off his board, looking really lost and there was half a board floating there,” Ryan, 33, told The Catholic Leader, the publication of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.

Ryan was surfing at Bunker Bay, about 60 miles southwest of Bunbury.

Ryan said it was ominously quiet before the great white shark, which had bitten Phil Mummert’s board in half, resurfaced to continue its attack.

“And then we saw this huge breach. The shark rolled onto him… and then went back under,” Ryan told The Catholic Leader.

According to Mummert and witnesses, Mummert used half of his broken board to try and beat the shark away, and pummeled the shark’s head with his bare hands, local news station 7News Perth reported.

Ryan later told 7News Perth that the shark, which was approximately 13-16 feet long, was “big enough to make grown men cry.”

“I started screaming ‘help him, help him,’” Ryan told The Catholic Leader.

Fortunately the priest’s calls for help were heard by another nearby surfer, Alex Oliver, who swam towards Mummert and hoisted him on his longboard, which he and Ryan then paddled to shore.

According to The Catholic Leader, Mummert was “bleeding profusely” by the time they reached shore, having sustained deep shark bites in his upper leg.

“As soon as we got into the shallows, someone clamped the wound with his hand to slow the bleeding,” Fr. Ryan said.

Ryan said once Mummert had been airlifted to the hospital, he took a “quiet moment of solitude in the sand dunes.”

“I had a little bit of a cry, and just blessed the Lord,” he told The Catholic Leader. Mummert’s partner Misha Wright told The Catholic Leader that she credits Ryan for saving Mummert’s life.

“Not only did he risk his own life to help save Phil’s, he then sprinted all the way to the end of the beach to tell me what happened and got everyone else out of the water,” she said.

“I honestly don’t know how a person can see a total stranger getting attacked by a four metre great white shark and swim towards to save him so we are beyond grateful to everyone that helped save Phil’s life.”

Mummert was back home and on crutches by Aug. 3, when he was reunited with Ryan, Oliver, and several others who helped save his life.

“Just the definition of heroes, isn’t it? I mean they risked their own lives to come help me out,” Mummert told 7News Perth.

Ryan told The Catholic Leader that he didn’t hesitate to help.

“There’s something deep inside you that wants to help,” he said. “Christianity is built on that principle of someone giving their life for you.”

“You come face to face with what would be one of the greatest fears for a lot of people, a lot of surfers… but what gives you strength in that moment is the grace of God,” he said.

Ryan added that he didn’t want the experience to stop him from surfing and enjoying the water, which has always been one of his favorite ways to relax and enjoy God’s creation. He said he went back to the same beach the next day to offer Morning Prayer and Mass.

“I didn’t want that one event, traumatic as it was, to take away all that surfing has meant to me – all the good surfs and the people I’ve met,” he said.

Ryan was ordained in August 2019 after having attended the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Perth. Fatal shark attacks in Australian waters are rare, with the country averaging 1.1 deaths from shark attacks per year. This year has already seen an above-average shark attack fatality rate, with 5 deaths so far in 2020.

HK Catholic activists arrested, US lawmakers sanctioned in China crackdown

CNA Staff, Aug 10, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Chinese authorities arrested pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and imposed new sanctions on American lawmakers August 10, as part of an apparent crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Prominent democracy activists were arrested and charged for violating Hong Kong’s new national security law Monday, including Agnes Chow, a 23-year-old Catholic democracy activist. Chow has been outspoken in her support for civil rights in the former British colony.

Chow is a former candidate for elected office in Hong Kong but was barred from appearing on the ballot because of her advocacy for self-determination for Hong Kong. She is also the founder and a former leader of Demosisto, a pro-democracy political party which was disbanded shortly before the new law came into effect.

On July 1, the National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong, having been imposed on the territory by the mainland government, bypassing the Hong Kong legislature. 

Under the new law, a person who is convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence. The law’s broad definition of terrorism includes arson and vandalizing public transportation “with an intent to intimidate the Hong Kong government or Chinese government for political purposes,” while secession charges can be brought for displaying or announcing slogans such as “Free Hong Kong.”

The law has been harshly criticized by the leaders of several Western countries, as well as some Catholic leaders, as the end of the “one country, two systems” policy agreed at the time of Hong Kong’s handover from Great Britain. 

Chow’s arrest was first reported Monday by Nathan Law, a former leader of Demosisto with Chow. Hong Kong Standard later reported she had been detained for “inciting secession.” Chow was already facing charges related to her participation in anti-government protests last year.

Also arrested on the same day was Jimmy Lai, publisher of Apple Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong known for its overt criticism of Hong Kong and mainland government action. Lai has reportedly been charged with “foreign collusion” under the new law.

The arrests came on the same day as China announced new sanctions against U.S. lawmakers, after the Trump administration issued sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam last week.

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Pat Toomey (R-PA), as well as Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) were all subject to new sanctions and travel bans issued by Beijing following their outspoken support for democracy in Hong Kong and against China’s mass internment of Uyghurs in a network of concentration camps in Xinjiang province. 

On August 7, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions against Lam for her role in bringing the new national security law into effect in Hong Kong and “undermining [Hong Kongers’] autonomy.”

“In response to that wrong U.S. behavior, China has decided to impose sanctions on individuals who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues,” said Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman during a briefing on Monday announcing the sanctions.

While the Chinese government acted against several legislators, no action was announced against officials of the Trump administration, despite the Treasury Secretary’s Aug. 7 announcement.

Additional Chinese sanctions were announced against several NGOs, including the leaders of the National Endowment for Democracy; the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; the International Republican Institute; Freedom House; and Human Rights Watch.

Details of the sanctions’ provision were not announced.

Rubio, Cruz, and Smith were also the subject of earlier sanctions and bans on traveling to China issued in July. Those sanctions were related to their statements against China’s persecution of the Uyghur population. 

Cardinal says Lebanon leaders should resign after Beirut blast

Rome Newsroom, Aug 10, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government Sunday, following the devastating explosion in Beirut last week.

“The angry protest movements we witnessed yesterday confirms the impatience of the oppressed and humiliated Lebanese people, and indicates the determination to change for the better,” Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai said in his homily Aug. 9.

“The resignation of a deputy from here and a mister from there is not sufficient. Rather, out of sensitivity to the feelings of the Lebanese and the grave responsibility, the government must reach the resignation of the entire government, as it has become unable to advance the country, and to hold early parliamentary elections,” the Lebanese cardinal said.

Rai called for an international investigation into the explosion at Beirut’s port that killed at least 155 people and injured about 5,000 others. On Aug. 4 a fire that started near the port’s large grain silos spread to a warehouse holding 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. The ensuing explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius. 

The patriarch said that the Lebanese people have a right to know why huge amounts of explosive materials had been kept for six years in the dangerous place in the capital. He said it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.”

In the weeks prior to the explosion, Rai had spoken out about Lebanon’s political and economic crisis, urging the importance of the country maintaining its neutrality in regional rivalries for a peaceful future in the Middle East. 

He underlined this again on Sunday, stating that the disaster in Beirut and the days of protests that have followed require “bold decisions in a democratic state that reconsider … the way it is governed.”

“We firmly believe that Lebanon will rise as a state to a new system, which is the "active neutrality regime," Rai said. “This ‘neutrality’ would achieve stability, secure the good of all Lebanese, and restore the unity of the Lebanese family with all its components and the beauty of its diversity.”

The cardinal thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for visiting Lebanon in the wake of the disaster, noting that a distinguishing feature of the Lebanese-French friendship is that “it believes in … the Christian-Muslim partnership in … a neutral, free independent state.”

He also expressed gratitude to all the countries who rushed to give assistance after the explosion, and thanked Pope Francis for his prayers and words on behalf of the Lebanese people.

Rai said in his homily that he was offering the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass for the innocent victims and their families, the injured, the missing, and all those who lost homes, businesses, schools, and places of worship. 

The Maronite patriarch noted that among the wounded 120 people are in critical condition and 60 more people remain missing. He said that 8,000 homes were destroyed and 300,000 people displaced by the explosion, and prayed for aid to rebuild and restore the hospitals, schools, and churches that were destroyed. 

Pope Francis baptizes conjoined twins separated in Rome

Vatican City, Aug 10, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has baptized twins who were born conjoined at the head and were separated at the Vatican’s pediatric hospital.

The twins’ mother had said at a press conference following the successful surgery at the Bambino Gesù Hospital on June 5 that she wanted the twins to be baptized by the pope. 

“If we had stayed in Africa I don’t know what fate they would have had. Now that they are separate and well, I would like them to be baptized by Pope Francis who has always taken care of the children of Bangui,” said the girls’ mother Ermine, who came with the twins from the Central African Republic for the surgery, July 7. 

Antoinette Montaigne, a Central African politician, posted a photo on Twitter of Pope Francis with the twins in their baptismal gowns on August 7, writing that the pope had baptized the separated twins the day prior. 

Après leur séparation chirurgicale réussie à la pédiatrie du Vatican Bambino Jésus, le Pape a baptisé les jumelles Centrafricaines hier à Rome.

— Antoinette MONTAIGNE (@Banzekaa) August 7, 2020 The Italian news agency ANSA reported August 10 that the twins had been baptized at the pope’s residence, Casa Santa Marta.

Following the surgery in June, Dr. Carlo Efisio Marras, director of neurosurgery of the Bambino Gesù hospital told CNA that the twins have a high chance of living normal lives after undergoing the 18 hour operation which involved more than 30 medical staff. 

The twins, Ervina and Prefina, were born on June 29, 2018 in a village about 60 miles outside Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. They were joined together with “one of the rarest and most complex forms of cranial and cerebral fusion,” known as total posterior craniopagus, according to the Bambino Gesu hospital.

Mariella Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù, met the twins in July 2018, during a visit to Bangui, where the sisters had been transferred after their birth. Enoc was helping to oversee the expansion of pediatric services in the country, which is one of the world’s poorest, in response to an appeal from Pope Francis. She decided to bring the girls to Rome for surgery.

A multidisciplinary team, including neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, and plastic surgeons, prepared for more than a year for the operation to separate the twins. The hospital’s ethics committee contributed to a plan ensuring that the girls would have the same quality of life.

The hospital said the twins were joined via the back of the head, including the nape, sharing both skin and cranial bones. But the greatest challenge for doctors was that they were joined at a deeper level, sharing membranes inside the skull as well as the venous system, through which blood used by the brain is transported back to the heart.

The separation took place in three stages. In the first, in May 2019, neurosurgeons started to separate and rebuild the membranes and venous systems.

The second, a month later, focused on the confluence of sinuses in the brain. The hospital said it was a critical phase of the treatment as “the operating space is a few millimeters.”

The two operations prepared the girls for the third and final phase of complete separation on June 5.

“From a neurological standpoint, the two little girls are doing very well and have excellent prognosis for normal lives in the future," Marras said.

Cardinals condemn China’s ‘potential genocide’ of Uyghurs

Rome Newsroom, Aug 10, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs is “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust,” two Asian cardinals and 74 other religious leaders wrote in a statement released August 8.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, and Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia, were among the 76 signatories calling for “prayer, solidarity and action to end these mass atrocities” against the Muslim minority in China.

“After the Holocaust, the world said ‘Never Again.’ Today, we repeat those words ‘Never Again’, all over again. We stand with the Uyghurs. We also stand with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians throughout China who face the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution,” the statement said.

“We make a simple call for justice, to investigate these crimes, hold those responsible to account and establish a path towards the restoration of human dignity,” it states.

The letter’s signatories -- which include the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian leaders -- cited China’s incarceration of one million Muslims and campaign of forced sterilization among the “many persecutions and mass atrocities.”

According to multiple reports, anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been imprisoned in Xinjiang, China’s far northwest province. The government has set up more than 1,300 detention camps where survivors have reported being subjected to political and anti-religious indoctrination, torture, beatings, and forced labor.

The AP reported on June 29 that many Uyghurs had also reported being forced by authorities to implant IUDs and take other forms of birth control, as well as being forced to undergo abortions and sterilizations in order to enforce China’s family planning policies. One expert told the AP that the campaign is “genocide, full stop.”

In addition, authorities have set up a system of mass surveillance in the region to track the movements of people, one that includes DNA sampling and facial recognition technology, as well as predictive policing platforms.

The religious leaders’ statement asserted that the forced sterilization of Uyghur women of childbearing age campaign in four Uyghur-populated prefectures could elevate this action to the level of genocide according to the 1948 Genocide Convention.

“The clear aim of the Chinese authorities is to eradicate the Uyghur identity. China’s state media has stated that the goal is to ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins,’” the statement reads.

“Parliamentarians, governments and jurists have a responsibility to investigate,” it states. “As faith leaders we are neither activists nor policy-makers. But we have a duty to call our communities to their responsibilities to look after their fellow human beings and act when they are in danger.”

Twenty rabbis and 19 imams signed the statement, as did the representative of the Dalai Lama in Europe and the Coptic-Orthodox Archbishop of London Archbishop Angaelos. Other Catholic signatories include Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, UK and Fr. Nicholas King, a chaplain at the University of Oxford.

Human rights advocate Benedict Rogers responded to the statement by asking when Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will speak out about the plight of the Uyghurs in China.

“Perhaps they have had their reasons for biding their time until now. Yet now that so many of their own clergy are speaking out, the world will be looking to these two spiritual leaders for their response,” Rogers wrote Aug. 10. “When it comes to genocide, crimes against humanity and mass atrocities, the world expects faith leaders to take a stand.”

Theology professor: German theology no longer has worldwide impact

Berlin, Germany, Aug 9, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Theology in Germany, with a few exceptions, is in a crisis. This is the conclusion reached by a German theology professor, who is the William K. Warren Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Ulrich Lehner earned a doctorate in theology at the University of Regensburg, and a habilitation doctorate in history at the Central European University.

Speaking with CNA Deutsch, the professor and author of numerous books, including God is not Nice, criticized not only a “qualitative regression of German theology”, while noting important exceptions, but also the way some of his colleagues work.

“I have followed many appointments in Germany and can only say: academic mediocrity is always hiring mediocrity,” said Lehner. He believes a “handful of professors” give their former students appointments, “regardless of the weaknesses they have”. It is noticeable that “especially those who are loyal to the Church never get a chance, because they are sorted out beforehand”.

German theology in crisis

As an example, the researcher cites a married female theologian with three children whose appointment to a chair was prevented because the professors found out that she went to daily Mass. She took her faith too seriously – “too seriously for a professor”, Lehner said. In another case the applicant’s five children destroyed his chances for a hire. There are numerous cases in which colleagues are rejected without taking academic criteria into account, often “with the knowledge and cover of the university administration”, commented Lehner.

Lehner stated: “If the people outside academia knew how professors in Germany invent criteria or engage in intrigues to make Catholic hires impossible, then academic theology would lose even the small remainder of its reputation.”

In an Aug. 3 article at, the social ethicist Bernhard Emunds from the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology, a Jesuit college in Frankfurt, was quoted as saying that theology in German-speaking countries has “an exalted academic reputation and importance worldwide”.

Lehner does not share this assessment: “German theology is no longer what it was 25 years ago. Unlike then, it no longer has a global impact today.”

As evidence for this, Lehner cites the dearth of translations of German-language theological works into English, French, or Spanish. Conversely, global research in Germany garners “astonishingly little attention.” This means that one is largely cut off from international research, according to the academic.

“While you still have to learn German in doctoral programs in the US, I had noticed already 20 years ago in Germany that doctoral students could not read lengthy English texts,” Lehner noted. German theologians would by an large only cite each other.

Germany's 'theologian shortage'

According to, there are roughly 200 seminarians in Germany, fewer than ever before.

Among all theology students (of whom there were 18,251 in 2018-19), those choosing the full course in theology are a small proportion (just 2,549 in 2018), according to the report. For the rest, theological training is only part of their teaching degree.

Regardless of the relatively small number of "full theologians", there are still many places in Germany where theology is taught. There are a total of 19 Catholic theological faculties and colleges, more than 30 institutes and chairs for Catholic theology, various research institutions, three colleges that offer a degree in "Religious education and Church educational work", as well as an online theology degree, according to the secretariat of the German bishops' conference.

However, the scientific “output” remains low. As reported by the German statistical office, only eight people received their second doctorate required for a university professorship in Catholic theology in 2019. “Considering that many smaller departments there – not all – have almost no students but have good financial resources, one would expect groundbreaking research results", Lehner remarked.

Yet, the number and quality of publications is also at a low level, so that Lehner “seriously” wonders “what my German colleagues do all day”, he remarked.

The theology professor therefore called for a reconsideration: “The academic mediocrity of German theology – with some exceptions – and the small number of students cannot justify the outrageous number of theology departments and chairs. Maintaining them is akin to holding on to medieval privileges.”

Benedict XVI, too, has lamented developments in theology.

In his April 2019 essay “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse”, the emeritus pope, who long worked as a theology professor before his episcopal consecration, wrote: “Indeed, in theology God is often taken for granted, but concretely one does not deal with Him. The theme of God seems so unreal, so far removed from the things that concern us. And yet everything becomes different if one does not presuppose but present God. Not somehow leaving Him in the background, but recognizing Him as the center of our thoughts, words and actions.”