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Former USCCB president Bishop Pilla dies at 88

The late Bishop Emeritus Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland. / Diocese of Cleveland

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

Bishop Anthony Pilla, who led the Diocese of Cleveland for 25 years and served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, died Tuesday, Sept. 21. He was 88. 

“It is with deep sadness that I share with the Catholic community of the Diocese of Cleveland the news of the passing this morning of Bishop Anthony M. Pilla,” said Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland on Tuesday. “Bishop Pilla died peacefully at his personal residence.” 

Malesic described his predecessor as a “very warm, kind-hearted and deeply faithful shepherd” who was “generous with his time and sharing his knowledge and concern for the diocese with me.” 

Pilla, said Malesic, was dedicated to the people he served in Cleveland, and served as an inspiration to him throughout his priesthood and episcopate. “As a leader in the community and a friend to so many, he will be greatly missed,” Malesic said. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), echoed Malesic’s sentiment in a Wednesday statement on Pilla’s death.

“[Pilla] led the bishops’ conference in the 1990s as president, and those who worked with him have expressed that his deep love for the Church was evident through his faithful commitment and desire for unity within the Church which he expressed through his pastoral leadership of the Conference,” said Gomez. He offered prayers for Pilla’s family and friends. 

“May the Lord grant him eternal rest,” said Gomez.

A native of Cleveland, Pilla was born on Nov. 12, 1932, and discerned a vocation to the priesthood while in high school.  He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland at the age of 26 on May 23, 1959.

Almost exactly 20 years later, on June 30, 1979, Pilla was named as an auxiliary bishop of Cleveland by Pope John Paul II. He was consecrated as a bishop on Aug. 1, 1979, and, after just under a year, was named the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Cleveland after Bishop James Hickey was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Washington. 

Pilla was officially named the bishop of Cleveland on November 13, 1980, becoming the first native of the city to lead the diocese. He was installed as the ninth bishop of Cleveland on Jan. 6, 1981. 

In November 1995, Pilla was elected president of the USCCB. At the time, he was just the second bishop to be elected president; typically, the role went to an archbishop. He served his three-year term until 1998. 

Throughout his time as bishop of Cleveland, Pilla was known for his desire to unite the Church, and for his deep love for the people of his hometown. He started a program called “Church in the City,” which aimed at partnering people who lived in the urban, suburban, and rural parts of the diocese to work together. 

Pilla retired from the episcopacy in 2006, at the age of 73, reportedly for health reasons. He spent the entirety of his episcopacy, and his priesthood, in the diocese of his birth. 

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced. 

Cardinals’ council discusses synod on synodality with Pope Francis

Pope Francis takes part in an online meeting of the Council of Cardinals at the Vatican, Sept. 21, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis and his cardinal advisers discussed the upcoming synod on synodality on Tuesday.

The meeting of the Council of Cardinals took place at 4 p.m. on Sept. 21, according to the Holy See press office.

Joining the virtual meeting from his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis referred to two addresses in which he set out his vision of synodality.

The first was his 2015 speech marking the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, in which he described synodality as the path that “God expects of the Church of the third millennium.”

The second was last Saturday’s address to Catholics from the Diocese of Rome. In that discourse, he said that the two-year process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality is not about “gathering opinions,” but “listening to the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy See press office said that the pope told the cardinals “how at the heart of the reflection is not so much the deepening of this or that theme as the learning of a way of living the Church, marked at all levels by listening to one another and by a pastoral attitude, particularly in the face of the temptations of clericalism and rigidity.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Vatican announced in May that the synod on synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023.

The third, universal phase will begin at the Vatican in October 2023 with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”

Honduran Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, and Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu took part in Tuesday’s meeting from their home countries, the Holy See press office said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the outgoing president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, and Bishop Marco Mellino, the secretary of the Council of Cardinals, joined the meeting from the Vatican.

The cardinals last met with the pope in June, when they discussed synodal processes around the world.

A month earlier, they held a virtual discussion of revisions to a draft of the new constitution to govern the Roman Curia, known as Praedicate evangelium.

The group of cardinal advisers, sometimes referred to as the C9 because it previously had nine members, was established by Pope Francis in 2013, to “assist him in the governance of the universal Church,” as well as to revise the text of the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus.

At one of the council’s first meetings, it was decided that projected revisions to Pastor bonus would be substantial enough to warrant an entirely new constitution.

The cardinals have been working on drafting and revising the text since 2014, soliciting feedback from bishops’ conferences last year. An updated draft was presented to Pope Francis last summer and suggestions from Vatican departments are being evaluated. But the Vatican has given no projected date for the constitution’s publication.

The Holy See press office said on Wednesday that the seven cardinals offered reflections on the synodal path, highlighting the need to “overcome sectarianism and partisan interests.”

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals is scheduled for December. The Vatican hopes the meeting will take place in person, rather than on screen.

Cardinal Parolin: The Vatican is ‘worried’ about AUKUS nuclear rearmament

Cardinal Pietro Parolin during a visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2017. / Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy, Sep 22, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican’s Secretary of State commented Wednesday on the new security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States to deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the Indo-Pacific region.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin told journalists at the sidelines of a Sept. 22 event that “the Holy See is opposed to rearmament.”

“All the efforts that have been made and are being made” by the Vatican are “to eliminate nuclear weapons, because they are not the way to maintain peace and security in the world, but they create even more dangers for peace and even more conflict,” Parolin said. “Within this vision, one cannot but be worried.”

The AUKUS trilateral security pact, announced Sept. 15, will add to the Western military presence in the Pacific amid concerns about China.

The pact’s first initiative will be to help Australia’s navy procure a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Cardinal Parolin responded to a question about AUKUS after giving a speech during a meeting of the Bureau of the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in Rome.

The EPP Group is a European political group with Christian democratic, conservative, and liberal-conservative member parties. It is the largest political group in the European Parliament, the European Union’s law-making body.

Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), and Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, were also present at Wednesday’s session.

“Today is dedicated to listening to the Church. The presence of representatives of the Holy See and COMECE is placed in this perspective: the fact that [the EPP Group] want to hear what the Church is proposing and what she is asking of them,” Parolin told journalists.

Parolin also highlighted the risk of exploiting religion “for political purposes.”

“It is important to make a global choice: in Christianity, you do not choose what you like best or what suits you best. In Christianity, you have to accept everything,” he said.

“And therefore,” Parolin said, “both the defense of life is part of Christianity -- in all its phases from the beginning of natural conception to natural death -- but love of neighbor is also part of it, which manifests itself as attention to the phenomenon of migration, according to those four verbs that the pope has always indicated to us: to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate.”

“At the level of principle, for me the thing is very clear,” he added. “Christianity is all this, you cannot go to the supermarket and take this, this other, this other again…”

8 elderly nuns in Manila succumb to COVID-19; outbreak hits seminary

Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary motherhouse, Quezon City, Philippines / RamonFVelasquez/Wikimedia (CC0)

Manila, Philippines, Sep 22, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

The Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary in Manila announced the death of eight elderly nuns who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The nuns were between 80 and 90 years old, and were among the 62 sisters earlier reported to have been infected with COVID-19 at a convent in Quezon City in the Philippine capital.

Sister Ma. Anicia Co, RVM, the congregation’s spokesperson, said that 52 convent staff and personnel were also positive for COVID-19.

“The personnel are still young so they are on the road to recovery,” said Sister Co in an interview over Church-run Radio Veritas 846.

“Some sisters are moving from symptomatic to asymptomatic. Eight of the sisters, aged 90s and 80s, afflicted with COVID-19 returned home to our Heavenly Father,” she said.

The nun also clarified reports that the reason for the COVID-19 “outbreak” inside the convent was due to the refusal of the nuns and the personnel to get vaccinated.

She said that some of the nuns and the personnel were already vaccinated in May. The eight nuns who died were not vaccinated because they were already sick, Sister Co said.

“It was not the decision of the congregation, nor the leaders nor the Sister Administrator of the St. Joseph Home, that they would not be vaccinated,” she said.“The Sister Administrator actually followed up later for their vaccination but it did not come soon.”

“Please pray for us, especially our Sisters in St. Joseph Home,” Sister Co appealed to the public.

“May our sisters come to full recovery. May God grant strength to our other sisters in the communities in the compound strength to continue serving the affected community,” she added.

Meanwhile, a COVID-19 outbreak also hit a seminary of the Society of the Divine Word in Manila this week. At least 25 of the 59 residents of the Christ the King Mission Seminary were reported to have contracted the disease, including nine priests and 16 employees.

Government health officials reported that one of the priests, one of the first two recorded infections in the seminary, had died.

But Father Pablito Tagura, rector of the seminary, clarified that the COVID cases were only recorded among retired priests and their caregivers in one of the seminary compound’s four facilities.

“All of them do not need hospital care and most of them are asymptomatic,” he told a local television station. The priest said all those reported infected are under quarantine.

Earlier, local authorities placed three religious facilities in the Philippine capital under lockdown - the Stella Maris Convent, the Religious of the Virgin Mary convent, and the Convent of the Holy Spirit.

The Philippines on Wednesday posted 15,592 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 2,417,419. Of the cumulative total, 162,580 - or 6.7% - are active cases, said the country’s health department.

The Philippines is fighting one of Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks, as it struggles to contain the growth of new infections likely driven by the COVID-19 Delta variant. 

The positivity rate in the country is 24.9%, based on the test results of 53,349 individuals screened for the disease on Monday. COVID-related deaths increased by 154 to 37,228. It is the 11th straight day with more than 100 newly announced fatalities. 

Archbishop Cordileone calls abortion bill ‘child sacrifice,’ urges prayer and fasting

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Archbishop of San Francisco warned that an abortion bill to be voted on in Congress this week amounts to “child sacrifice.” He called on Catholics to pray and fast for the defeat of the bill. 

“This proposed legislation is nothing short of child sacrifice,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a Tuesday statement regarding the Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755). 

The bill, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), recognizes the “statutory right” of women to have abortions. It also states the “right” of doctors, certified nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners and doctor’s assistants to perform abortions. It prohibits many limitations on abortion, such as state pro-life laws requiring ultrasounds or waiting periods before abortions.

“Any reasonable person with a basic sense of morality and inkling of decency cannot but shudder in horror at such a heinous evil being codified in law,” Cordileone said.

The bill overrides prohibitions on “pre-viability” abortions, and would also allow for late-term abortions without “meaningful” limits, the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned, calling it “the most radical abortion bill of all time.” The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House this week.

“This deceptively-named, extreme bill would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute,” wrote Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, in a Sept. 15 letter to members of Congress.

“It would force all Americans to support abortions here and abroad with their tax dollars,” he added, and “would also likely force health care providers and professionals to perform, assist in, and/or refer for abortion against their deeply-held beliefs, as well as force employers and insurers to cover or pay for abortion.”

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said the bill “shows to what radical extremes the supposedly ‘Pro-Choice’ advocates in our country will go to protect what they hold most sacred: the right to kill innocent human beings in the womb.”

He expressed support for Archbishop Naumann’s warning about the bill, and advocated for members of Congress to instead pass legislation supporting both mothers and children.

Cordileone called it “especially shameful that any self-professed Catholic would be implicated in such an evil, let alone advocate for it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who resides in the San Francisco archdiocese, announced the House vote on the bill earlier this month after a Texas pro-life law went into effect restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. She vowed to “enshrine into law reproductive health care for all women across America.” 

Cordileone pointed to Pope Francis’s recent statements calling abortion “murder,” during a press conference on a papal flight. 

“This principle is so clear, and to those who cannot understand, I would ask two questions: is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?  Scientifically, it is a human life.  The second question: is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem?’” Pope Francis said. 

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said that the Women’s Health Protection Act “is surely the type of legislation one would expect from a devout Satanist, not a devout Catholic.”

He concluded with a call for “all Catholics in our country immediately to pray and fast for members of Congress to do the right thing and keep this atrocity from being enacted in the law.”

“A child is not an object to be thrown away, and neither is a mother’s heart,” he said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the answer to a woman in a crisis pregnancy is not violence but love.  This is America.  We can do better.”

Catholic University president says he will step down next year

Dr. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, discusses religious freedom at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16, 2013 / CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 09:05 am (CNA).

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., will be stepping down from his role as of June 30, 2022, the school announced today. 

Garvey revealed his decision in a Sept. 22 letter to the university community. He is the university’s third lay president, and has served in the role since 2010.

“The time has come to turn the responsibility over to those younger minds and stronger lives,” Garvey said. He noted that conversations with university board members about his decision began around six months ago.

Garvey said that he largely achieved the goals he set for his presidency, having entered the role “hoping I could contribute something to building up the institution.” 

“I did not foresee how much I would fall in love with it. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as President of this University,” he said. 

Garvey described his tenure leading the university as “a time of tremendous growth” that had “reinvigorated our Catholic intellectual life.” During his time as president, Catholic University established the Busch School of Business and the Conway School of Nursing. 

“We have greatly increased the wealth of the University by raising more than half a billion dollars and nearly doubling our total assets,” said Garvey in his letter. “And we have made much of this possible by changing our form of corporate governance to ensure episcopal oversight while entrusting the laity with leadership.” 

Prior to his time as president of the university, Garvey served as dean at Boston College Law School. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School. 

“Living on campus has allowed Jeanne and me to see students at Mass in the morning and in the President’s Office during the day,” said Garvey. “Students come to Nugent to borrow our sleds and walk our dog. We attend their concerts and games, work with them on service days, and march with them for life and other worthy causes. These are daily occurrences, and every day they give me just a little more pride in our University.”

Leading the school has been “an honor and a privilege,” he said, noting he was “grateful to the bishops, and to the board of trustees, for their support and collaboration in building a strong foundation for the University’s future.” 

The Catholic University of America is a pontifical university and is the only college or university in the United States to have been founded by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The school was established in 1887. 

The university has already begun its search to replace Garvey, and the new president is expected to be hired by July 1, 2022.

Pope Francis meets Afghan Christian whose parents were killed by the Taliban

Pope Francis meets with a group of Afghan refugees at the Vatican on Sept. 22, 2021. / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met Wednesday with three Afghan refugee families at the Vatican, including a Catholic family of four children and a man whose parents were killed by the Taliban.

In the joyful encounter, seven refugee children presented the pope with some of their drawings and Pope Francis prayed with the Afghan families.

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

“It was beautiful,” Ali Ehsani told CNA after the meeting on Sept. 22.

Ehsani, an Afghan Christian who escaped the Taliban after the murder of his parents in 1997, had appealed to the pope to help a Catholic family that was stranded at the Kabul airport in August.

At the time, thousands of Afghans had crowded the airport seeking asylum after the capital of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban Aug. 15.

The father of the Catholic family of four children had gone missing and the family feared that his disappearance was linked to their Christian identity amid reports that the Taliban was going door-to-door to find targets.

“We remained closed in the cellar for four days and four nights for fear of everyone being arrested, probably someone denounced us as Christians,” Pary Gul Hasan Zada, the mother of the family, told L’Osservatore Romano.

Italy offered asylum to this mother, her three daughters and one son, and the family arrived in Rome on Aug. 21.

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

The mother said that she has had no news of the status of her husband since his arrest last month.

The pope met with this Catholic family and two other families that had children between the ages of one years old and 14 before his general audience.

Upon their arrival in Italy, the Hasan Zada family who had lived their faith in secret for so long, were finally able to attend Mass.

Afghanistan is over 99% Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. There are small groups of Christians, including about 200 Catholics, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and Baháʼís.

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

Living in Christian community has been particularly difficult in Afghanistan because most families are forced to conceal their identity as Christians out of fear for their lives.

“The first time they were able to attend Mass, they were so overcome that they could only cry,” Ehsani told Aid to the Church in Need.

“It was deeply moving to have the freedom to openly acknowledge their faith. And they said, ‘After having lived in the dark for so many years as secret Christians, it is like being reborn.’”

Cardinal O’Malley at safeguarding summit: ‘The wrongs done to God’s people must be corrected’

Cardinal Seán O’Malley celebrates Mass during a safeguarding summit in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 20, 2021. /

Warsaw, Poland, Sep 22, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Cardinal Seán O’Malley told a safeguarding summit this week that “the wrongs done to God’s people must be corrected.”

Preaching at Mass on Sept. 20 at a conference in Warsaw, Poland, the archbishop of Boston called for an end to clerical abuse and cover-ups.

“We are gathered here because so many of our brothers and sisters have suffered at the hands of abusive clergy who have perpetrated evil acts by using their office to abuse others or to cover up such abuse. And many times, those who have suffered have been rejected in their suffering when they spoke out,” he said.

“This cannot be what Jesus wants of his Church; this cannot be the Church of a loving and reconciling God. Abuse and its cover up must stop and the wrongs done to God’s people must be corrected.”

O’Malley, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was speaking during a four-day meeting, “Our Common Mission of Safeguarding God’s Children,” supported by the pontifical commission and the Bishops’ Conferences of Central and Eastern Europe.

The 77-year-old Capuchin cardinal praised the “courage and witness” of abuse survivors, linking them to martyrs such as the Korean saint Andrew Kim Taegon, whose feast fell on Sept. 20, and Polish priest Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko.

“The courage and witness of so many survivors and their families and their deep concern that others are not harmed in a similar way should be recognized and welcomed. We give thanks to God for their witness and their presence among us,” he said.

“In some unexpected way, they are writing the next chapter in the history of those who suffer for the faith. They take their place among the courageous witnesses of the faith, of Andrew Kim and companions, of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko and so many others whose sufferings in the name of truth are known to God alone.”

The Warsaw meeting opened with an address by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, who said that the volume of incidents from Central and Eastern Europe “astonishes” the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which oversees clerical abuse cases.

“New tragedies are being uncovered, and the number of cases coming from our region in recent years to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith astonishes this experienced institution,” he said.

He described the steps that the Polish Church had taken in response to a series of abuse scandals, highlighting the bishops’ appointment of Archbishop Wojciech Polak as their delegate for the protection of children and youth, and the creation of the St. Joseph Foundation supporting abuse survivors.

Gądecki also noted that the Church had established the role of a “guardian” for accused and convicted clergy.

“We also recognize that clergy accused of sexual abuse -- also when convicted -- fall into a loneliness that creates a frustration that is dangerous to the accused or convicted priest, as well as to his potential victims,” he explained.

“That is why we have created the role of the guardian of accused or convicted clergy to supervise these individuals, to require them to comply with all restrictions imposed, and to support them in moments of depression or despair.”

He added that lay people had created an organization called Wounded in the Church providing a hotline for victims and access to therapists and lawyers.

“I mention these people and institutions to show the magnitude of the effort made by the Church in Poland, and also to thank those who have done much good in this area over the years,” he said.

“We take to heart the call of the Holy Father Francis not to care first of all about the image of the institution, about the ‘external side of the cup and bowl,’ but first of all about the good of the victims.”

But he added: “There is also the danger that all these actions will lull our sense of responsibility into the belief that, after all, we are already doing so much for this cause.”

“However, coming into contact with the tragedy of so many people who have been wronged, as I was able to experience personally when listening to a number of people before the Vatican summit in 2019, reveals that in the face of the enormity of the wounds, many efforts remain insufficient.”

Pope Francis sent a video message to participants in the Warsaw meeting in which he urged leaders to put the welfare of victims ahead of the Church’s reputation.

“Our expressions of sorrow must be converted into concrete pathways of reform to both prevent further abuse and to give confidence to others that our efforts will bring about real and reliable change,” he said.

“I encourage you to listen to the cry of the victims and to dedicate yourselves, with each other and with society in a broader sense, in these important discussions because they truly touch the future of the Church in Central and Eastern Europe -- not only the Church’s future, but the hearts of Christians as well. This is our responsibility.”

Speaking on Sept. 20, the Czech philosopher and theologian Msgr. Tomáš Halík said that clerical abuse was one aspect of a profound crisis in the Church today. He pointed to several root causes in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including clericalism, triumphalism, and the abuse of power. Only thoroughgoing reform can overcome the crisis, he said.

Canon law professor Myriam Wijlens stressed the need for bishops to take a responsible approach to abuse cases. She noted that in the past some focused more on the Church’s reputation than victims’ welfare, causing a crisis of trust and a loss of moral authority.

Sept. 21 was dedicated to the theological implications of the abuse crisis. Polish priest Fr. Grzegorz Strzelczyk said that theological reflection was an essential element of the Church’s response, alongside legal, psychological, and spiritual approaches.

He underlined that the Church can only be credible if, in the face of great evil, it is capable of repentance leading to an authentic and profound change in people.

He also called for a renewed theology of ecclesiastical governance, so that the Church does not behave like a corporation preoccupied with its image.

On the final day, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland, addressed the conference, calling for a comprehensive response to abuse, involving psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, and theologians.

He said during a closing briefing that “without real cooperation, we will continue to struggle with a clerical situation in which we run the risk that some will remain silent about these issues and not feel that this is a matter for the whole Church.”

Concluding his homily on Sept. 20, Cardinal O’Malley said: “So, we pray to God so that, in God’s own wise ways, these sufferings may be the seeds of a more resilient, a more loving and a more faithful Church, humbly recognizing its faults and steadfastly committed to seeking justice and reconciliation with those who have been harmed.”

“It is only by working courageously to bring justice and healing to the victims that we ourselves can be healed.”

Pope Francis: Christian faith in Europe is being ‘diluted by consumerism’

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Sept. 22, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday that the Christian faith in Europe is being diluted by consumerism and ideologies, making prayer and the witness of humble love especially needed today.

“Pray, because this is what the People of God are called to above all: to worship, to pray, to journey, to wander, to do penance, and in this to feel the peace and the joy that the Lord gives us,” the pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Sept. 22.

“And this is of particular importance on the European continent, where the presence of God ... is being diluted by consumerism and in the ‘vapors’ of a unitary way of thinking ... that is the fruit of the mixture of old and new ideologies,” he said.

The pope dedicated this week’s live-streamed general audience to a reflection on his recent trip to Hungary and Slovakia, which he called “a pilgrimage of prayer in the heart of Europe.”

Pope Francis said that his apostolic journey on Sept. 12-15 began in Budapest with adoration of the Eucharist and ended with “popular piety” in Slovakia as he celebrated the country’s national feast of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Shrine of the Virgin of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis said that the answer to Europe’s watered-down faith was the “healing that comes from prayer, witness, and humble love.”

“This is what I saw in the encounter with the holy people of God. What did I see? A faithful people that has suffered atheist persecution. I also saw it in the faces of our Jewish brothers and sisters, with whom we remembered the Holocaust. Because there is no prayer without remembrance,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope met with Jewish communities in Hungary and Slovakia. He recalled their suffering during the Second World War and deplored contemporary anti-Semitism.

“There is no prayer without memory. Prayer, the memory of one’s own life, of the life of one’s people, of one’s own history: making memories and remembering. This is good and helps to pray,” he said at the general audience.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis said that in his meetings with Catholic bishops in Budapest and Bratislava, he encountered directly the grateful remembrance of the deep roots of the Christian faith in Central Europe.

“Many times I have insisted that these roots are always alive, full of the lifeblood that is the Holy Spirit, and must be preserved as such: not like museum exhibits, not ideologized and exploited for the sake of prestige and power, to consolidate a closed identity,” Francis said.

“No. This would mean betraying them and making them barren,” he added.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis’ European trip began with a seven-hour visit to Budapest, where he met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The pope told journalists during a press conference on his return flight that he had discussed ecology and his concerns about a “demographic winter” in Europe with Orbán, but did not touch on immigration, a topic on which they diverge sharply.

“During this journey to the heart of Europe, I often thought of the fathers of the European Union, as they imagined it, not as an agency for distributing fashionable ideological colonizations … Understood and experienced in this way, the roots are a guarantee of the future: from them, thriving branches of hope can grow,” the pope said at his general audience.

“You can grow to the extent that you are united to the roots: strength comes to you from there. If you cut off the roots with everything new, new ideologies, this will get you nowhere. It will not make you grow. You will end up badly,” he said.

A group of refugees assisted by the Centro Mondo Migliore (Better World Center) was present at the pope’s weekly audience. They could be seen cheering and throwing their hats into the air as the pope gave them a special greeting and assured them of his prayers.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his address, Pope Francis said that Sts. Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe, were not “figures to commemorate, but rather models to imitate.”

He described the ninth-century saints who spread the Gospel in Eastern Europe as “masters from whom we can always learn the spirit and method of evangelization, as well as civil commitment.”

In Budapest, Pope Francis became the first pope to visit the International Eucharistic Congress since the year 2000.

The pope noted that there was “great participation” in the concluding Mass of the week-long congress, which drew an estimated 100,000 people, according to local authorities.

“The holy people of God, on the Lord’s Day, gathered before the mystery of the Eucharist, by which they are continually generated and regenerated,” the pope said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“They were embraced by the Cross that stood above the altar, showing the same direction indicated by the Eucharist, namely the path of humble and selfless love, of generous and respectful love towards all, of faith that purifies from worldliness and leads to simplicity.”

Pope Francis said: “Let us take up this idea again: that to be a Christian is to serve.”

Diocese, former orphanage residents in Vermont differ in views of recovery process

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Burlington, Vt., Sep 21, 2021 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Some former residents of a long-closed Catholic orphanage in Vermont say they are dissatisfied with the local diocese’s response to their complaints of abuse, while the Diocese of Burlington maintains it has been transparent and helpful. 

St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington was founded in the mid-1800s. It was operated by the Sisters of Providence, and overseen by Vermont Catholic Charities. It closed in 1974.

The Vermont attorney general’s office launched an investigation into allegations of abuses at Catholic institutions after an August 2018 article in BuzzFeed News described allegations of murder and sexual abuse at the orphanage.

The investigation concluded in December 2020, and “sufficient evidence to support a murder charge was not found.”

Alleged abuses at St. Joseph's Orphanage were the subject of lawsuits brought by former residents in the 1990s. Some of the cases were dismissed, and some reached settlements.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington announced in September 2018 that the diocese was waiving nondisclosure agreements for abuse victims, and that the diocese had not required nondisclosure agreements on the part of victims since 2002.

"It is my hope that this past action as well as the present one will allow the truth of what happened to survivors and their families to be heard," Bishop Coyne wrote. "I pledge to you, as the bishop of Burlington, that I will do everything that I can to make sure this never happens again and to work for healing and reconciliation with those who were so badly abused by clergy."

A group of former St. Joseph’s residents, the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, is involved in efforts to find restitution.

“We want to be known as working for change and justice for children, and to never let anybody that's in a foster home group just be thrown in there and forgotten.” Brenda Hannon, a spokesperson for VSJO, told CNA Sept. 20.

Some of their initiatives include letter writing campaigns to the pope, creating an anthology of their experiences, working to build a memorial, and working to remove statutes of limitations. 

Hannon told CNA one of VSJO’s successes was the passage in May of a law repealing the statute of limitations for civil actions based on childhood physical abuse.

One of their requests has been for the diocese to pay for their therapy bills. 

They say their requests to the diocese have been dealt with unsatisfactorily.

The Burlington diocese said in a statement last week that Bishop Coyne, Vermont Catholic Charities, and diocesan representatives “have been meeting with former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage one-on-one as they have requested and will continue to do so.” 

“Each meeting is unique, each person’s story is unique, and the help we offer each former resident is specific to them,” they added. “If the person feels they would be helped through counseling, we will work with them as needed.”

Hannon told CNA that “most of us feel that he [Bishop Coyne] is offering this and the one-on-one stance so that he can control the meeting and the situation.”

She said the members harbor these concerns because Bishop Coyne is “refusing” to meet with the VSJO as a group, the meetings are not recorded, and there is “some type of a counselor person evaluating you as you’re talking.”

She also said that going to the diocese to meet with Bishop Coyne is a “hard trigger” for many of the members.

Hannon said that “if this person that sits in the meetings determines that this person needs counseling, it will be with [diocesan] counselors of their choosing and not with the members current counselor that they have been seeing and paying for years.”

She added that Bishop Coyne has affirmed that he would help members of the group, but said nothing has come to fruition.

Hannon also said that Catholic Charities of Vermont will not release orphanage records to the members. She said that members are only allowed to see their records, which contain redacted information, while they are sitting in a room with a staff member of Catholic Charities. 

The diocese told CNA Sept. 21 that “Bishop Coyne has offered one-on-one meetings to former residents which includes a support person of their choice.” 

“Bishop Coyne has offered to invite the Vermont Catholic Charities’ victim assistance coordinator to the meeting with consent, if the former resident has chosen not to bring a support person,” the statement says.

“An initial screening is completed by the victim assistance coordinator to verify basic information prior to moving forward with a therapy request,” the diocese said. “Thus far, Bishop Coyne has never denied a request for additional therapy.”

Hannon told CNA that “not one person” has chosen to move forward with the process offered by the diocese.

The diocese told CNA that “there is a process for requesting records on the Vermont Catholic Charities website” noting that “Vermont Catholic Charities adheres to all Vermont Adoption laws outlined here.”