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Newark church asks school to cover LGBT mural

Newark, N.J., May 24, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Newark has instructed a charter school to cover a pro-LGBT mural painted on church property.

Fr. Paul Prevosto, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Hackensack, instructed administrators at Bergen Arts and Science Charter School to paint over the mural on a cafeteria pillar, after parishioners complained that church property was being used for the display.

Bergen Arts and Science leases the school building from Holy Trinity. Both the church and the school share use of common spaces including the cafeteria, which the church uses the space for events and parties.

Several charter schools in different dioceses rent space from empty school buildings owner by parishes.

The mural was painted by a 16 year-old student “to support the LGBT community.” The painting featured a rainbow heart and interlocking abstract male figures, which were covered following the instruction.

Fr. Prevosto said that parishioners had come to him with concerns about the “sexual” depiction and that he had instructed the school to “take care of it.”

The lease agreement between the school and church states that “due to the Catholic nature of the Landlord, [the] Tenant promises to conduct no affairs or establish any organizations that would be contrary to its Catholic moral values, ethics and faith.”

According to reports in the Bergen Record, Fr. Prevosto was simply applying the terms of the lease in the light of concerns expressed by the church community and that anything "that would be contrary to our Catholic sensitivity should not be displayed or seen."

The non-profit organization which manages the school, iLearn Schools Inc., stressed the importance of mutual respect in resolving the situation.

“As a public school, we are inclusive, supportive, and respectful of the artistic expression of our students, and likewise are respectful of the directives of the church as a private entity and owners of the property,” iLearn said in a statement to local media.

LGBT activist organization Garden State Equality released a statement Friday demanding that the mural be restored and calling the church instruction “militant opposition to LGBTQ people.”

A statement released by the Archdiocese of Newark on May 23 said that the facts of the matter had been “grossly misrepresented” in local media reports, calling the situation “unfortunate.”

“The Archdiocese of Newark embraces and welcomes all within our faithful community,” the statement said.

“The Holy Trinity Church simply raised two concerns. First, that the school refrain from consistently painting on the building surfaces. Secondly, that the school remove some content in a new painting, which included some symbols of sexuality that were inappropriate for the building, as the building is utilized by parishioners of the Church, as well as the School.”

“Holy Trinity simply has asked the tenants to be cognizant of this when displaying information and materials. The mural violated that understanding in its permanent nature – directly painted on the surface – and in some of the content.”

Senators highlight pro-life protections ahead of 2020 spending bills

Washington D.C., May 24, 2019 / 01:35 pm (CNA).- A quarter of the Senate signed a letter on Wednesday seeking to keep pro-life and religious freedom protections intact during the drafting of upcoming appropriations bills.

The bills will be for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020, which begins this fall.

The letter, sent to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Wednesday, requested that the appropriations committee decline to advance any bills with language that would weaken or remove pro-life or pro-religious liberty measures out in place by the Trump administration.

Sentor Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is a member of the committee and a signatory of the letter, told CNA that he was committed to preventing a single dollar of public money being used to support abortion.

“Taxpayer dollars should not be used to end an innocent, unborn life,” Rubio told CNA.

“As a member of the committee, I am committed to retaining long-standing pro-life and religious freedom protections in all funding bills.”

In addition to Rubio, the letter was signed by 24 other Republican senators and cites specifically the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, which blocks funding to organizations that promote abortions; and the updated Title X rule, which prohibits Title X money from going to clinics that perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, is set to lose about millions of dollars in federal funding due to this new Title X rule.

“The unborn are the most vulnerable members of our society, yet they are under attack. In 2015 alone, 638,169 unborn children lost their lives to abortion,” reads the letter.

“We must continue to prevent federal funding from supporting the unjust practice of elective abortion.”

Recent polling indicates that most Americans are opposed to the use of taxpayer funding for abortions.

At the March for Life in 2019, President Trump promised to veto any legislation that weakens current law on abortion.

The senators who signed the letter “remain committed to ensuring that no such legislation ever makes it to the President’s desk” and will review the appropriations bill to ensure this is so.

Rubio told CNA that is was vital to oppose “divisive pro-abortion policies” and to “protect the dignity of life.”

Polish bishops pledge greater sensitivity for abuse victims

Warsaw, Poland, May 24, 2019 / 11:34 am (CNA).- The bishops of Poland are speaking out against sexual abuse, pledging to continue to “eliminate factors conducive to crime” as well as to adopt a more sensitive attitude toward victims than in the past.

“We admit that as shepherds of the Church we have not done everything to prevent these harms,” the bishop’s conference of Poland wrote in a May 22 letter to be read at Masses May 26.

“For many believers, especially for young people sincerely seeking God, sexual scandals involving clergy become a hard test of faith and a reason for great scandal. Disappointment and indignation is all the bigger and more painful that children, instead of caring love and accompaniment in seeking the nearness of Jesus, experienced violence and brutal depravation [sic] of the dignity of the child.”

The bishops’ May 22 letter was prompted, in part, by a documentary released on YouTube earlier this month which presents allegations that abusive priests were shifted between parishes, and shows people confronting elderly priests alleged to have abused them as children. The film has nearly 21 million views.

The motion picture has prompted a nationak conversation in Poland, with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, promising harsher punishment for child abusers in reaction to the film, floating the idea of 30-year prison sentences.

“The film, taking into account the perspective of the victims, made us all aware of the magnitude of their suffering,” the bishops wrote.

“Anyone who is sensitive, learning the fate of the victims, experiences pain, emotion and sadness for their suffering. We thank to everyone who had the courage to tell about their suffering. We are aware of the fact that no word is able to reward them for the harms they have suffered.”

A study commissioned by the Polish bishops' conference and released this March revealed nearly 400 Polish priests were accused of sexual abuse of more than 600 people from 1990 until 2018. Just over half of reported victims were under the age of 15. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, president of the Polish bishops' conference, called the report’s findings “tragic.”

The bishops urged victims of abuse by clergy to report their experience to both Church and state authorities, and a delegate has been appointed for each Polish diocese and most religious provinces to receive reports of abuse and “to help in obtaining psychological, legal and pastoral support.”

The bishops also stressed a need for greater sensitivity for victims and their suffering, citing lessons they learned from hearing the confessions of victims, whom they said need “great sensitivity and support to find the balance of life.”

They expressed support for Pope Francis’ May 7 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which mandates the reporting of sexual abuse and provides for punishment for Church authories who fail to do so. The motu proprio also puts the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

The bishops also laid out some of the measures they are taking in Poland to address the problem of abuse, including abuse prevention training programs for dioceses and religious congregations.

“Let us not let the good, that is done in the Church through their ministry, be obscured by the sins of particular persons,” the bishops urged.

“On the principle of collective responsibility, let us not also convey the guilt of particular people in cassocks to all priests. These people committed these acts and they should be punished for their actions. Let us support in these difficult times the priests who work with sacrifice so that they don’t lose their enthusiasm and receive encouragement from the lay faithful.”

Pope Francis urges Catholics to help children by supporting adoption

Vatican City, May 24, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Adoption is often a difficult and bureaucratic process, but there are many children who need homes and the Church should step up to help them, Pope Francis said Friday.

Speaking May 24 to employees and patients of an Italian hospital for abandoned children, he said, “so many times there are people who want to adopt children, but there is such enormous bureaucracy,” such as high fees or, at worst, corruption.

“[There are] many, many families who do not have children and would certainly have the desire to have one with adoption,” he continued. “Go forward, to create a culture of adoption, because there are so many abandoned children, alone, victims of war and so on.”

Pope Francis spoke about adoption in unprepared remarks during a Vatican meeting with 70 employees and children from the 600-year-old Hospital of the Innocents in Florence.

In both his casual remarks and a prepared speech, the pope referenced a past practice of some mothers when they abandoned a child at a hospital. They would leave with their newborns “medals broken in half, with which they hoped, by presenting the other half, to be able to recognize their children in better times.”

Today there continue to be many children who are alone, he added, whether victims of unaccompanied migration, of war, of hunger: “Children with half a medal.”

“And who has the other half? Mother Church,” he underlined. “We have the other half.”

“We need to reflect and make people understand that we are responsible for this other half and help make today another ‘home of the innocents,’ more global, with the attitude of adoption.”

Francis also said there must be a goal, at various levels of responsibility, of ensuring “no mother finds herself in a position of having to abandon her child.”

“But we must also ensure that in the face of any event, even tragic, that may detach a child from her parents, there are structures and paths of welcome in which childhood is always protected and cared for, in the only way worthy: giving children the best we can offer them,” he said.

The pope said children are among the most fragile members of society, such as those who are rejected, or who face “desperate journeys to escape hunger or war.”

Speaking about abortion, he said there are “children who do not see the light because their mothers suffer economic, social, cultural conditioning that pushes them to give up that wonderful gift that is the birth of a child.”

“How much we need a culture that recognizes the value of life, especially the weak, threatened, abused,” he said, adding that the Church should be concerned with creating a culture of care and beauty, not exclusion.

“A culture,” he argued, “that recognizes in every face, even the smallest, the face of Jesus: ‘Whoever welcomes one child like this in my name, welcomes me.’”

California advances bill to violate sacramental seal

Sacramento, Calif., May 24, 2019 / 09:38 am (CNA).- State senators in California have voted to approve a law that would require priests to violate the seal of confession. Senate Bill 360 passed Thursday by an overwhelming margin, with legislators voting 30-2 in favor of the measure.

The bill would require priests to report any knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained while hearing the confession of another priest or colleague.

In a statement released Friday, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said he was “deeply disappointed” by the result and insisted that strong child protection measures did not require the violation of the sanctity of the sacrament of confession.

A previous draft of the law would have compelled the violation of the sacramental seal any time a priest came to suspect abuse from any penitent. In a statement released Monday, Gomez acknowledged the changes but said that “no government, for whatever reason, should violate the privacy and confidentiality of that sacred conversation.”

“SB 360 still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

The sacramental seal is covered by civil law in many jurisdictions around the world. The “clergy-penitent privilege” is widely regarded as a fundamental exercise of religious liberty.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

Despite the volume of investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis no data exists establishing or indicating the use of sacramental confession either to facilitate or perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors.

Critics of the proposed legislation have noted that sacramental confession between accomplices is invalid unless in imminent danger of death, as is the absolution of a penitent who intends to reoffend.

Similar legislation is currently under consideration in Western Australia, following the recommendations of a Royal Commission report into clerical sexual abuse.

While the commission's executive summary states that "the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed... to inadequate institutional responses to abuse," it does not provide data detailing the frequency of that contribution.

South Australia and the Northern Territory have already passed similar laws mandating that clergy report suspected abuse in violation of the seal of confession.

Despite the interventions of Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, Western Australia’s Child Protection Minister, Simone McGurk, said the matter was non-negotiable.

"I've received calls from the Archbishop of Perth, as has the [Prime Minister], but we think the time for discussion about this has passed,” McGurk said.

“I understand that is the Catholic Church's position, however as a Government we have an obligation to put in place laws and to implement those laws to make sure that children in our community are safe and that is what we are doing."

Canon law describes the seal of the confessional to be “inviolable”, and priests are “absolutely forbidden” to disclose the sins of a penitent “in any way, for any reason.” Violation of the seal by a priest is a grave crime against the faith and is punished by an automatic excommunication which can be augmented with other penalties, including dismissal from the clerical state.