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Church in Mexico releases security protocols to prevent crime

Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 21, 2018 / 04:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As increased levels of violence in Mexico continue, the Mexican Bishops Conference has published a protocol guide to help prevent crimes against priests, religious and faithful in the country.

The protocols are not intended to hinder “the pastoral activity of bishops, nuns and lay people, but to [help them] do it in the safest possible way,” said Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, secretary general of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.

The bishop spoke at a June 19 press conference unveiling the document, “Basic Church Security Protocols: Personnel and Religious Sites.”

The document offers safety processes in different situations, such as pastoral visits and Masses in outlying areas. It includes an inventory form for church-related equipment and items of value.

Advice includes details about how to handle travel, making a withdrawal from an ATM, and what to do if you are kidnapped, robbed, threatened, or extorted.

When traveling to an unfamiliar area, the document recommends doing a trial run to learn the way, and researching the safest times to go out.

Security measures are also proposed for churches, houses of religious communities and other sites.

Violence in Mexico, mainly organized crime, has intensified in recent years. It is estimated that 2017 was the most violent year in recent decades, with more than 25,000 homicides.

According to the Catholic Multimedia Center, 24 priests have been killed in the last six years, including four so far in 2018.

Bishop Miranda said that “the security protocols respond to what has happened in the last two, three years, where there have been more and more murders, not just of priests but also journalists, police officers, soldiers and also candidates…for public office.”

“If this protocol serves to prevents one more death, it will have been a success,” he said.

Fr. Rogelio Narváez Martinez, the executive secretary of the Bishops' Committee on Social Ministry and director of Mexican Caritas, said that it is not only the deaths of priests and religious that worry the Church.

“What is concerning to us is the death of any Mexican, the death of any person, of someone who's at the mall, or going to the church, who's in a plaza, going in a car, or going with his family.”

“Every death is a wound upon our nation,” he said.

Archbishop Carlos Garfias Merlos of Morelia, who heads up the bishops' Working Group on Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, said that while the protocols are designed to respond to violence, they can also be helpful in other emergency situations, such as natural disasters.

“We know there are some places in Mexico every year that due to natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tremors we find ourselves in emergency situations,” he said

Bishop Miranda said that there are no plans for “police or soldiers in the churches.”

He also clarified that “the protocols are proposals” and “not a law we're putting on the Church.”

“These are measures suggested to the priests, bishops, etc. And also according to the capacity of every parish. Where it can be done, it is recommended that alarm systems be put in place. Where it's not possible, at least there should be minimum security measures.”

In a June 19 statement, Fr. Omar Sotelo, director of the Catholic Multimedia Center, emphasized that the document published by the bishops “responds to the needs of what's happening in our country.”

“It's a security plan, a protocol which one way or another helps prevention,” he said.

For Fr. Sotelo, the violence in Mexico “has become widespread, more sophisticated and has touched important sectors of society.”

The director of the Catholic Multimedia Center said the document also “calls to the attention of the authorities that they have not done their work effectively.”

According to Fr. Sotelo, “some authorities, not all of them, have been corrupted or have been overrun by” organized crime.

He noted that addressing the underlying issue of organized crime is “very complicated.”

“It's hard to change the mentality of thousands of people who unfortunately have become dehumanized and have resorted to organized crime to make their way in life.  To transform this kind of a situation it going to take a lot of work.”

However, recalling the Gospel admonition to love one’s enemies, he said that “we have to make a way to reach these people's hearts.”

“Reaching out to these people is a process, an important element that we mustn't neglect,” he said.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA. 

 

What’s next for Cardinal McCarrick? How the Church addresses sex abuse allegations

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- The allegation that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused a teenager is a bombshell for the Catholic Church in America.

McCarrick has stepped down from active priestly ministry at the direction of the Holy See, after an initial investigation judged the allegation to be “credible and substantiated.”

What does that mean, and what might be next for McCarrick?

Any allegation of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy is a serious tragedy, but an allegation against a prominent cardinal, even a retired one, can be devastating for lay Catholics and clergy.

The allegation against the cardinal is that in 1971, then-Monsignor McCarrick fondled the genitals of a 16-year-old boy in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, while measuring the boy for a cassock. McCarrick is alleged to have fondled the same boy in a sacristy restroom the next year, according to the New York Times.

As emeritus Archbishop of Washington, D.C., previously Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark, McCarrick occupied a place of prominence in the US Church. It would be difficult to find any prominent East Coast cleric who has not been photographed next to a smiling McCarrick, who has been a visible presence in the Church even in his late 80s.  

Despite the public persona of an affable bishop, equally at home preaching before a packed cathedral or engaging a room full of donors, rumors have swirled around him privately for years.

Several American priests have spoken to CNA in recent days, noting the uncomfortable reputation McCarrick had for “snuggling,” and his insistent affection for seminarians. Priests in his orbit have recalled the nicknames used in some clerical circles, the oft-mentioned “Uncle Ted” and the uncomfortable moniker “Teddy Bear.”

Statements issued June 20 from the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed that McCarrick has faced previous allegations of sexual misconduct, albeit with adults, which ended in settlements. That fact seems to lean heavily against his defense in this case, despite his claim of innocence.

This dissonance between public persona and private reputation makes an especially difficult case for the Church to handle, in Rome and in the United States.

As Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal McCarrick was a leading participant in the development of 2002’s Dallas Charter, which established procedures for handling allegations of sexual abuse.

The reforms he helped to adopt have now become the measure by which he will be judged. In fact, the extent to which the full rigor of those norms is applied to his case could also become the measure against which their integrity is assessed.

Under canon law, it is the pope alone who has the right to judge cardinals (even retired ones) in matters of penal law. According to a June 20 statement from the Archdiocese of Washington, Pope Francis delegated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to conduct at least the initial stages of the investigation, which have now been concluded.

Whenever there is an allegation of clerical sexual abuse against a minor, canon law requires that the diocese concerned hold a “preliminary investigation.” That process is meant to establish if the accusation has “the semblance of truth,” or, in the language of the Charter, is “credible.”  

The standard of proof required at that phase of the process is very low- requiring only that the accusation not be found manifestly false or frivolous. But what that investigation discovers determines what happens next.

In the United States, following the Dallas Charter, an assessment of the investigation is usually conducted by a diocesan review board. Review boards are quasi-independent bodies made up of legal experts, clergy and independent advisors appointed by the bishop.

If the review board concludes the allegation has the semblance of truth, and the bishop agrees, the matter is ordinarily referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. Since cases involving cardinals are reserved to the pope personally, the case of Cardinal McCarrick was likely forwarded directly to the pope, with some input from the CDF.

In cases involving priests or deacons, if the CDF finds the results of the preliminary investigation suggest further investigation, it has several options.

If the allegation seems well-substantiated, it can refer the matter back to the diocese, to be handled by a canonical trial, or by an expedited process ending in an extrajudicial decree. The CDF can also convene an extrajudicial process or a trial in Rome, handling the matter directly. This is the typical approach in cases which are not clear, or which, for some reason, are particularly contentious or high-profile.

Subsequent to that process, if the cleric is found guilty, the Church may impose the penalty of laicization, permanently removing the cleric from clerical life and ministry, or, taking into account factors including the cleric’s age and health, impose some other penalty. A cleric found to have committed the crime of sexual abuse can never be returned to ministry.

According to the Archdiocese of New York’s statement, following the preliminary investigation, the Archdiocesan Review Board found the allegation against Cardinal McCarrick to be both “credible” and “substantiated.” Taken at face value, this sounds very bad for Cardinal McCarrick’s case.

In fairness, it should be noted that the norms for diocesan review boards allow for significantly different processes and standards in different places, that the procedural and evidentiary norms required in a canonical trial are more stringent, and that the right of defense- an essential part of any legal process- is more robustly defined in a canonical trial.

What happens next will tell us much about how Rome views the credibility of the allegation against Cardinal McCarrick.

In the very rare instances in which archbishops (let alone cardinals) have been personally accused of sexual abuse, full canonical trials have been held at the Apostolic Tribunal of the CDF in Rome, essentially the highest judicial court the Church has. If Cardinal McCarrick’s case is handled by an extrajudicial process in New York, this would suggest overwhelming confidence by Rome in the credibility of the accusation.

It is important, as with any legal system, that the canonical process be allowed to run its course. It is also important that Cardinal McCarrick be given every proper chance and means to defend himself and assert his innocence as part of that process.

It is also possible that, at age 87, Cardinal McCarrick will not face a trial or an extrajudicial process.

In the meantime, the fact that the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed that there have been previous complaints and settlements because of McCarrick has already caused scandal.

An important question about his ecclesiastical career has also begun to be asked: how was McCarrick allowed to continue for so long in office, and then continue in public ministry after retirement, when Church authorities knew of these settlements?

McCarrick’s former dioceses have been swift to insist that they have never previously received any allegations of sexual abuse of minors. But, as now seems clear, they were aware of credible allegations of sexual misconduct against the cardinal. Some commentators have wondered if Church authorities presumed that so long as no children were involved, there was no obligation to curtail his ministry.

This is not a dry question of past failings by previous administrations: close personal associates of Cardinal McCarrick continue to hold leadership positions in American diocesan curias.

It might be asked whether individuals who could have known - indeed can be reasonably expected to have known - about McCarrick’s behavior, or at least the persistent rumors of it, remain in positions where they will be responsible for assessing and disciplining clergy following allegations of misconduct.

Questions will likely be raised about what these men knew, what they heard, what they did about it and when. Anything less will likely leave some Catholics wondering what else might lurk in the shadow of this scandal.

Hard questions may also soon asked of the other three cardinals in this story: Dolan, Tobin, and Wuerl. They are likely to be asked when they first learned of allegations against Cardinal McCarrick. Cardinals Tobin and Wuerl, especially, might be asked if it would serve the public interest to make clear when they discovered that their mutual predecessor (once removed, in Tobin’s case) had been the subject of sexual misconduct complaints serious enough to prompt legal settlements - and whether they raised questions about his continued public life and ministry during retirement.

While leaving all necessary space for the canonical process concerning the specific allegation involving a minor, the extent to which the cardinals are willing to engage publicly about what they know about the other complaints against Cardinal McCarrick, when they knew it, and what they did, or did not do, about it, could also bear heavily on the credibility of the American hierarchy.

For Pope Francis too, the McCarrick scandal is a serious test. Following allegations of sexual misconduct, the late Cardinal Keith O’Brien, formerly of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, died in disgrace and exile. While he was not formally stripped of his title, in March 2015, Francis accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of a cardinal.

Having already suspended McCarrick from public ministry for the duration of the canonical process, the steps Pope Francis takes against him at the conclusion of the process - especially taking into account the previous accusations and settlements - will be closely analyzed.

Following on the heels of the much-criticized handling of the sexual abuse scandal in Chile, both the Holy See and the American bishops will be acutely aware that such a high-profile case needs to be handled very carefully. To stop the McCarrick scandal before it becomes a crisis, the margin for error is very slim.

World Health Organization no longers consider transgenderism a disorder

Geneva, Switzerland, Jun 21, 2018 / 01:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, the World Health Organization reported it would no longer designate transgenderism as a mental health disorder in its updated classification of diseases.

“It was taken out from mental health disorders because we had [a] better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition, and leaving it there was causing stigma,” said Dr. Lale Say, coordinator of WHO’s adolescents and at-risk populations team, according to the Huffington Post.

The WHO will now classify transgender identities as “gender incongruence,” in its updated section on sexual health conditions in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. This definition, according to psychologist Dr. Geoffrey Reed, is expresses “a discrepancy between a person’s experienced gender identity and their body.”

The American Psychiatric Association made a similar shift in 2012 when it revised its manual of mental disorders to remove transgenderism as a mental disorder. Instead, the association classified individuals who experience emotional stress related to gender identity as a person with “gender dysphoria.”

However, one Catholic psychologist said mental health experts are still learning about the intricacies of transgenderism.

“I think the mental health profession hasn’t really had time to really thoroughly catch up on it, besides those in the field who kind of just flow with the current of whatever is popular in the moment,” Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a psychologist with the group CatholicPsych, told CNA last year.

Bottaro added that the biggest concern with transgenderism is its effect on children and their fragile psychological development.

“With kids, it’s really important to recognize that their sexual development is so fragile, and the influence of what’s popular in the culture needs to be really, strongly filtered and studied and understood,” he said.

“The Catholic response is a return to true anthropology – male and female he made them – to understand that our biology and our psychology are not separate things, and so to encourage the development of a curriculum of human nature that is consistent with a true anthropology,” he said.

A sudy titled “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,”  found that non-heterosexual individuals face a higher risk of adverse health and mental health outcomes. The study estimated they have a 1.5 times higher risk of anxiety and substance abuse, and face double the risk of depression and suicide.

The report additionally found that adults who undergo sex reassignment surgeries are at further risk for mental health problems, making them 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and 19 times more likely to die by suicide, compared to a control group.

There also remains vague findings on the mental health repercussions of sex reassignment surgery for transgender individuals.

A 2016 letter authored by 47 members of Congress noted experts remain ‘inconclusive’ on “whether gender reassignment surgery improves health incomes for Medicare beneficiaries with gender dysphoria, and that some studies have ‘reported harms.’”

The transgender population was recently estimated to make up around 0.6 percent of the total population.

Pope Francis: The Our Father is a spiritual roadmap

Geneva, Switzerland, Jun 21, 2018 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the Church, confirming a person’s identity as a beloved child of God, and reminding Catholics of the responsibility owed toward their brothers and sisters in Christ, Pope Francis said Thursday.

“‘Our Father’: these two simple words offer us a roadmap for the spiritual life,” the pope said in a homily at Mass in Geneva June 21. The Mass took place at the end of a day-long trip to the Swiss city for the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches.

In his homily, the pope said the words “Our Father,” as taught by Jesus to his disciples in the day’s Gospel, reveal life’s meaning and a Christian’s identity: “we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.”

“Those words solve the problem of our isolation, our sense of being orphans,” he continued. “They show us what we have to do: love God, our Father, and others, our brothers and sisters. The ‘Our Father’ is the prayer of us, of the Church.”

Referring to how Christians call God “our Father,” he said in the face of offenses against God, Catholics are called to overcome indifference and to treat everyone as brothers and sisters: including the unborn, the elderly, the person who is difficult to forgive, the poor, and the outcast.

“This is what the Father asks us, indeed commands us, to do: to love one another from the heart, as sons and daughters in the midst of their brothers and sisters,” he said.

Catholics are reminded of God as Father also when they make the sign of the cross, he continued, noting that “where the Father is present, no one is excluded; fear and uncertainty cannot gain the upper hand.”

In his homily, Francis also reflected on the images of bread and forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer, stating that when Christians ask God for “our daily bread,” they are asking the Father to help them live a simpler life, focusing on what is most important, like “people over things so that personal, not virtual, relationships may flourish.”

The pope criticized the complication of today’s daily life, noting how many people rush “from dawn to dusk, between countless phone calls and texts,” filled with stress and preoccupied by change, with no time to see the faces of others.

He advised choosing a simpler lifestyle, one which “goes against the tide,” and pointed to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose feast day is celebrated June 21, as an example. Such lifestyle “would involve giving up all those things that fill our lives but empty our hearts,” he said.

Catholics must also not forget that Jesus himself is their “daily bread,” the pope said, criticizing the treatment of Jesus as a “side dish,” rather than as the center of the day and “the very air we breathe.”

Also reflecting on the element of forgiveness found in the Our Father, Francis stated that God frees the heart from all sin when he “forgives every last thing. Yet he asks only one thing of us: that we in turn never tire of forgiving.”

And if a person finds it hard to forgive someone, he should pray for that person and for that situation, asking God for strength, he advised.

“Let us ask for the grace not to be entrenched and hard of heart, constantly demanding things of others. Instead, let us take the first step, in prayer, in fraternal encounter, in concrete charity,” he concluded. “In this way, we will be more like the Father, who loves without counting the cost.”

 

Pope Francis meets with North, South Koreans in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland, Jun 21, 2018 / 09:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a move aimed at bridging political as well as ecumenical divides, Pope Francis during a day-trip to Geneva met with representatives from both North and South Korea who are in Geneva for a gathering aimed at promoting unity among Christians.

The brief meeting, attended by four delegates each from both North and South Korea, took place before Pope Francis entered the main hall in the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC) during his June 21 trip to Geneva to celebrate the organization's 70th anniversary.

For decades the WCC has been actively involved in promoting peace and unity on the Korean peninsula. The organization's president for Asia, Sang Chang, helped to organize the meeting with Koreans.

Chang is a minister with the Presbyterian Church in South Korea, and is widely known for her work in promoting peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, as well as women's rights.

According to a communique from the WCC earlier this week, the North and South Korean delegations sang together June 17 as part of the organization's 70th anniversary celebrations, linking arms and joining their voices in singing a 600-year-old folk song called Arirang.

Thursday's meeting between Pope Francis and the Korean delegates came after several high-profile meetings among leaders from North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.

In April a historic step was taken when North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un crossed the military demarcation line within the Demilitarized Zone, which has divided the Korean peninsula since 1953, to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on southern soil.

During the summit, both leaders signed the Panmunjeom Declaration stating, among other things, that “there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.”

The leaders agreed to “the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and to actively pursue further meetings with the United States, and possibly China, to establish a more permanent peace.

It didn't take long for a meeting between leaders from North Korea and the U.S. to meet. Kim and President Donald Trump met for a historic summit earlier this month in Singapore, making commitments “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

After the one-on-one with Kim, which focused largely on denuclearization, Trump attended an expanded bilateral meeting, which was attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

As a result of the meetings, Kim and Trump signed a joint-statement with four specific parts to the agreement, including a commitment to establish new U.S.-North Korea ties; to work toward achieving peace on the Korean peninsula, with a promise from Trump to end military exercises with South Korea; a promise from Kim to work toward the total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; and a commitment to recover and repatriate POW/MIA persons.

Pope Francis has long advocated for peace on the Korean peninsula, and in April praised Kim and Moon for their “courageous” step toward unity, saying he prays for “the positive success of the Inter-Korean summit...and the courageous commitment assumed by the leaders of the two parts to carry out a path of sincere dialogue for a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”

The meeting between Korean delegates at the WCC in Geneva, then, was a further effort to advance reconciliation not only on a political level, but an ecumenical one.

The WCC was founded in 1948 and is a global fellowship of Churches and ecclesial communities whose goal is to promote unity among Christian confessions.

With some 348 members worldwide, the organization has long been a driving force for ecumenism in Europe. Members are present in 110 countries and represent more than 500 million Christians.

The Holy See is not a member of the WCC, but it is an observer, and collaborates with the organization in several areas.