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Report: Vatican investigators focus on longtime investment manager

CNA Staff, Oct 27, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- An Italian newsweekly said Friday that it has obtained a document in which Vatican investigators focus on a longtime investment manager for the Holy See as a central figure in the ongoing financial scandal. The investment manager has said there is nothing unusual about his work at the Vatican.

In a report published Oct. 23, L’Espresso said it had obtained a letter rogatory sent from the Vatican to Switzerland highlighting alleged activities of Enrico Crasso, an Italian-born Swiss citizen.

Letters rogatory are formal requests from courts in one country to the courts of another country for judicial assistance. 

The magazine published a photograph purporting to show the cover of the document, which bore the emblem of the promoter of justice of the tribunal of Vatican City State. The document reportedly requested information about several figures caught up in an investigation into a controversial London property deal. The newspaper said the document was sent to Swiss authorities almost a year ago.

CNA has not verified the document’s authenticity.

According to L’Espresso, Vatican investigators referred to “a hypothesis” which they said “cannot be excluded” when they requested information from Swiss authorities.

The investigators reportedly summed up that hypothesis by saying: “Given that the links between the various internal and external personages at the Secretariat of State took place over a considerable length of time, through the arrangement of well-structured legal instruments with offices in different countries, including those on ‘blacklists,’ and with the realization of multiple criminal activities, it also amounts to the crime of criminal association to the detriment of the Holy See.”

L’Espresso reported that Crasso appeared to be a pivotal figure in that framework. 

Crasso is the manager of the Centurion Global Fund, in which the Holy See is the principal investor. He began working with the Vatican in 1993.

According to L’Espresso, investigators alleged that Crasso repeatedly “contributed to using funds other than institutional funds and for unprofitable speculative investments.” They also reportedly highlighted “an evident conflict of interest and a possible risk of fraud to the detriment of the Secretariat of State.”

“It has not been possible to reconstruct the total commissions collected by him for his activity,” the investigators reportedly told Swiss authorities.

They also reportedly said: “Despite the fact that the Secretariat of State was alerted, it continued to trust him and did not take away from him the power to operate on his current accounts. The very bond that he has with the employees of the Secretariat of State deserves further study.”

Earlier this month, Crasso defended his stewardship of Church funds controlled by the Secretariat of State, saying that the investments he made were “no secret.” 

In an Oct. 4 interview with Corriere della Sera, Crasso also denied managing “confidential” accounts for Becciu’s family.

Crasso was named in reports last month alleging that Cardinal Angelo Becciu used millions of euros of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments, including loans for projects owned and operated by Becciu’s brothers. 

On Sept. 24, Becciu was asked by Pope Francis to resign from his Vatican job and from the rights of cardinals following the report. In a press conference, the cardinal distanced himself from Crasso, saying he did not follow his actions “step by step.”

According to Becciu, Crasso would inform him of what investments he was making, “but it’s not that he was telling me the ramifications of all these investments.”

Crasso appeared to corroborate Becciu’s remarks, saying they had met only five or six times since 2012. He said that Becciu also never applied “pressure” about what investments to make.

Crasso’s Centurion Global Fund is connected to several institutions linked to allegations and investigations of money laundering, a CNA investigation found.

The fund registered a loss of some 4.6% in 2018, while at the same time incurring management fees of roughly two million euros.

According to Crasso, “the Secretariat [of State] has always earned from our management.” 

The Centurion Global Fund first made headlines in December 2019 for its use of Vatican assets under its management to invest in Hollywood films, real estate, and utilities, including investments in movies like “Men in Black International” and the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Corriere della Sera reported that Centurion had raised around 70 million euros in cash, and that the Holy See’s Secretariat of State was the source of at least two thirds of the fund’s assets.

Crasso said Oct. 4 that after Il Corriere’s Dec. 2019 article, he was told “the Holy Father had given instructions to liquidate the fund. And now we are closing it.”

While Becciu has said that he didn’t know what Crasso was doing, Crasso said “Centurion was known in the Secretariat [of State]” and that Vatican officials “knew very well” which investments were being made. 

Asked how he made his decisions about how to invest Vatican money, Crasso said the secretariat pointed out some investments to him directly, such as shares in the English Eos fund, who were “friends of Mgr Alberto Perlasca.”

Perlasca is Becciu’s former chief deputy at the Secretariat of State. In February, his home and office were raided by investigators over his participation in the Vatican’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros with the Italian financier Raffaele Mincione. 

Crasso indicated that on at least one occasion he informed Perlasca that a desired investment was too risky and advised making an investment of only six million euros instead of 30 million, which they did.

Vatican investments through Centurion have also been reported to include funds from the Peter’s Pence collection, intended to support charitable works and the ministry of the Holy See.

Crasso confirmed that “the funds of Peter’s Pence were managed by banks, including hedge funds. Everyone knew it,” he said. “Now, however, the Vatican’s auditor general argues that these funds were tied to charitable works. But they never told the banks!”

Vatican abuse trial: Victim petitions to sue pre-seminary and religious group

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- At a hearing Tuesday of an ongoing abuse and cover-up trial against two Italian priests, the Vatican court accepted a request from the victim’s lawyer to sue the institution where the alleged abuse took place, as well as the group which oversees it.

The Oct. 27 hearing was the second in the trial against defendants Fr. Gabriele Martinelli, 28, and Fr. Enrico Radice, 72. Martinelli was charged earlier this month with using violence and his authority to commit sexual abuse over a number of years, and Radice was charged with impeding investigations into the abuse.

The defendants, who have not publicly addressed the accusations against them, were present, together with their lawyers, at the hearing, which lasted three-quarters of an hour.  

L.G., the alleged victim, was also present in the Vatican courtroom for the first time. Under Vatican criminal law, he was present as a civil party. 

Dario Imparato, L.G.’s lawyer, asked for access to court documents, saying that he had “nothing from this trial, only the request for indictment.”

Imparato then presented a petition to sue the institution which oversees the youth seminary where the alleged crimes took place.

The St. Pius X pre-seminary, which is located on Vatican City territory, is run by a Como-based religious group, the Opera Don Folci.

The lawyer said that he made the request to sue Opera Don Folci because “we believe that there are objective responsibilities in the institution that oversees the pre-seminary.” He also cited a “lack of vigilance” and “great negligence” on the group’s part.

Vatican prosecutor Roberto Zannotti said it was “not the prerogative” of the civil party to present such a request, and the defendants’ lawyers presented objections.

In response to a question from court president Giuseppe Pignatone, L.G.’s lawyer indicated that the “legal person” being sued was the youth seminary “as an institution.” The lawyer noted that otherwise they would sue the Diocese of Como instead.

After a deliberation of nearly 40 minutes, the court accepted and authorized the petition to sue the youth seminary and the Opera Don Folci. It also accepted the defense request of the alleged victim, and set the next hearing for Nov. 19.

The defendants were not questioned in the course of the Oct. 27 hearing.

The alleged abuse is said to have taken place from 2007 to 2012 at different times and places in Vatican City State. At the time, Martinelli was an alumnus of the St. Pius X pre-seminary, a residence for about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18, who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are thinking about the priesthood.

Martinelli would return to the youth seminary as a visitor, and to tutor and coordinate the students’ activities. He is accused of abusing his authority at the seminary and taking advantage of relationships of trust, as well as using violence and threats, in order to force his alleged victim “to undergo carnal acts, sodomy, masturbation on himself and on the boy.”

L.G. was born in 1993 and was 13 at the time the alleged abuse began, turning 18 about a year before the abuse ended.

Martinelli, who is a year older than L.G., was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

Radice was the youth seminary’s rector for 12 years. He is accused, as rector, of having helped Martinelli “evade investigations, after crimes of sexual assault and lechery.”

Radice is accused of sending a letter on Oct. 3, 2013, to the bishop of Como, Diego Attilio Coletti, contradicting a complaint by the alleged victim against Martinelli, and speaking of a “fumus persecutionis,” a Latin expression meaning a “suspicion of persecution.”

He is also accused of later impersonating the bishop in a letter using the diocesan letterhead to announce the “imminent” priestly ordination of Martinelli.

'One of our own': Catholic leaders welcome Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court

CNA Staff, Oct 27, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops, academics, and policy experts hailed the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on October 26. Barrett was confirmed Monday evening in a senate vote that mostly divided along party lines. 

Barrett is now the sixth practicing Catholic justice at the Supreme court, joining Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh. In addition, Barrett will join Sotomayor as the only two Catholic female Supreme Court Justices in U.S. history.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans hailed Barrett, a Louisiana native, as “One of our own” on Monday evening. “We pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead her and guide her in her service to our country.”

Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, also added his congratulations to Barrett via Twitter, as did Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.

Barrett’s arrival at the Supreme Court was also welcomed by her former colleagues at the University of Notre Dame, where she was both a law student and professor for several years.

“On behalf of the University of Notre Dame, I congratulate Amy Coney Barrett on her confirmation today by the United States Senate as a justice of the United States Supreme Court,” Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the university said in a statement. 

“Recognized by experts from across the spectrum of judicial philosophies as a superb legal scholar and judge, she is an esteemed colleague and a teacher revered by her students. Justice Barrett becomes the first alumna of Notre Dame Law School and the first Notre Dame faculty member to be so honored,” Jenkins said. 

“We join her family and friends in celebrating this momentous achievement, and we assure Justice Barrett and all her colleagues on the nation’s highest court of our continued prayers in their work of administering justice and upholding the Constitution.”

Jenkins’ sentiment was echoed by G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean and a professor of law at Notre Dame Law school. Cole said he was “immensely proud of our alumna, colleague, and friend on this momentous occasion.” 

“For more than two decades, we have been blessed by her brilliant scholarship, her devoted teaching, and her thoughtful, open-minded approach to legal questions,” said Cole. He referred to Barrett as not only a “brilliant” scholar, but also as someone who is “exemplary” kind and generous. 

“While we will miss her presence on our campus and in our community, we look forward to witnessing these qualities as she serves on our nation’s highest court,” said Cole. 

Born in New Orleans, Barrett attended the University of Notre Dame Law School before clerking for D.C. Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She then entered private practice, returned to Notre Dame Law School to teach classes in 2002, and became a professor in 2010.

During her confirmation process, Barrett became a target for criticism by both media commentators and Democratic lawmakers, with multiple stories focusing on her religious beliefs and family.

Princeton professor Dr. Robert George, referencing the controversy over Barrett’s reported affiliation with the charismatic group People of Praise, posted a picture of himself and the now-justice on his Twitter account following her confirmation. 

“With my favorite Handmaiden of the Law,” he said. 

Brian Burch, the president of CatholicVote, said that Barrett’s confirmation “especially energized” Catholics in the United States. 

Justice Barrett clearly demonstrated she has the qualities, knowledge, and skill needed to be a fair and independent Justice for every American. Senators that voted to confirm Justice Barrett are to be commended for focusing on her eminent qualifications and commitment to fairness and the rule of law, rather than the ugly anti-Catholic attacks that threatened to tarnish this process,” he said.  

Dr. Grazie Christie, a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, called Barrett’s confirmation “great news for all Americans who prefer a fair and independent judiciary to an activist one.”

“Judge Barrett has demonstrated that she will equally apply the law to everyone who comes before her and faithfully interpret the Constitution as written. Her profound knowledge of the law is only matched by her exemplary character,” she said. 

Christie called Barrett a “role model for women and girls who aspire to reach the highest levels of accomplishment.” 

Mississippi abortion decision due as Amy Coney Barrett joins Supreme Court

CNA Staff, Oct 27, 2020 / 10:05 am (CNA).- As new Justice Amy Coney Barrett takes her seat at the Supreme Court, one of the first decisions on her desk will be the court’s consideration of whether to review Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.

Last Thursday, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked the Supreme Court to review the case of the state’s law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. The law had been blocked by a district court in 2018, and an appeals court judge upheld that ruling in December, 2019. Mississippi then appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

The case has been distributed at the Supreme Court for consideration; as soon as Friday, Oct. 30, justices could decide whether to accept the case for review.

The Senate confirmed Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday, and she was then sworn in to the Court by Justice Clarence Thomas at the White House. A former law professor at the University of Notre Dame, Barrett is a Catholic mother of seven children, including two adopted children from Haiti. She served on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals after being confirmed by the Senate in 2017.

During her 2020 confirmation hearings, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her to opine on the Court’s abortion rulings, including on Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Barrett declined to do so, repeatedly affirming that it would be improper for her to speculate on cases that could appear before her as a future justice.

However, Barrett said at her nomination ceremony in September that her judicial philosophy is that “a judge must apply the law as written.” She has also said she believes in applying relevant Supreme Court precedent to cases, where it exists.

In her 2017 written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, as she was being considered for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett wrote that “[w]here precedent applies, it controls.”

“If precedent does not settle an issue, I would interpret the Constitution with reference to its text, history, and structure,” she said.

On one abortion-related case at the Seventh Circuit, Barrett sided with the court majority against pro-lifers, citing Supreme Court precedent.

The court ruled in favor of the city of Chicago’s “buffer zone” rule that forbade pro-life sidewalk counselors from approaching within eight feet of abortion facilities. The majority opinion in the case cited Supreme Court precedent in Hill v. Colorado in siding with the city’s rule.

Mississippi’s law allows for abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy only when the mother’s life or major bodily function is endangered, or when the baby has a severe abnormality and would not be able to survive outside the womb at full term.

Fifth Circuit court Judge Patrick Higginbotham ruled in December of 2019 that states such as Mississippi could regulate abortions pre-viability, but could not pose an “undue burden” on abortion or ban abortions pre-viability.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled against two state abortion laws in Texas and Louisiana that required abortion facilities to adopt the health standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

In June, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court majority to strike down Louisiana’s abortion law. He cited Supreme Court precedent, in the court’s 2016 ruling against Texas’ law—despite saying that the 2016 case was “wrongly decided.”

Vatican diplomat: Catholics can help UN to live up to its principles

Rome Newsroom, Oct 27, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations has said that faith-based organizations need to help the international community to see its “lack of consistency” in implementing its most basic principles, such as respect for the dignity of every human being.

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, apostolic nuncio to the UN, made the remark at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the intergovernmental organization’s founding.

“How can we proclaim the rights of people with disabilities while at the same time permit that children diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are eliminated before they’re born? How can we have beautiful forums on a culture of peace and then permit various countries to construct foreign policy based on the threat of mutually assured destruction?” Caccia said at “A Faith-Based Vision for The UN at 75 and Beyond” in New York Oct. 21.

“How can we say we’re fighting for sex-trafficking victims while at the same time allowing demand for the commodification of women to be driven up through the legalization of prostitution or the promotion of pornography? Or how can we have open-ended working groups on ageing, focused on the dignity of seniors, while looking away when in various countries seniors are suffering involuntary euthanasia?”

“People of faith are called both to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. When various injustices are occurring, we are summoned in a particular way to help the international community to live up to its principles,” Caccia said.

The Vatican’s permanent observer spoke at two events highlighting both faith-based and, in particular, Catholic perspectives on international diplomacy ahead of the anniversary of the United Nations’ founding on Oct. 24, 1945.

At a webinar, “The United Nations at 75: Catholic Perspectives,” the archbishop highlighted the overlap in the UN’s founding pillars and Catholic social teaching in promoting peace, the dignity of the human person, better standards of living, and respect for international law.

While every pope to visit the UN has expressed esteem for it as an institution, there “has been a constant papal call for it to be reformed, so that it will meet the hopes that the peoples of the world place in it,” the Holy See’s permanent observer said Oct. 22.

“John Paul II stressed, for example, that the UN must become a true moral center, and Pope Francis that it must become more effective in applying international norms,” he said.

When the UN Charter was first adopted, Pope Pius XII “expressed concern that, rather than being an institution of equality among all nations, it was continuing the wartime alliance among the winning powers and making five countries patently unequal by giving them a permanent veto on the Security Council,” Caccia said.

“He [Pius XII] was also concerned about the fact that the other institutions of the UN -- particularly the International Court of Justice and the General Assembly -- lacked anything beyond the power of persuasion. Their resolutions and decisions might end up being mere exhortations. As most experts on the UN will tell you, Pius XII’s initial concerns have been validated.”

Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, also spoke at the webinar. She said that every pope since John XXIII had met the UN with “a combination of encouragement and praise with words of caution.”

“Even when support for human rights was probably at its highest point in 1989, Pope John Paul II warned that … the Declaration did not have the anthropological and moral basis for the human rights it contained,” Glendon said.

“Those words of caution of course increased in the 1990s as Holy See officials began to express concerns again about the UN itself. There were the tumultuous conferences in Cairo and Beijing, and evidence was accumulating of certain deficiencies in the UN with respect to the deficiencies of all large bureaucracies: transparency, accountability, susceptibility to bias, and susceptibility to co-option by special interests.”

Archbishop Caccia said that the UN anniversary was “an opportunity to look to the past with gratitude for achievements and with humble resolution to learn from mistakes.”

He pointed out that Pope Francis had called for reform of the UN in his most recent encyclicalFratelli tutti.” 

Pope Francis wrote that reform was needed so that “the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.”

“This calls for clear legal limits to avoid power being co-opted only by a few countries and to prevent cultural impositions or restrictions of the basic freedoms of weaker nations on the basis of ideological differences,” the pope wrote.

The Holy See became an observer state at the UN in 1964. Since then, there have been five papal visits to the UN: by Paul VI in 1965, John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, Benedict in 2008, and Francis in 2015.

Observer states have all of the rights and responsibilities of UN member states except the right to vote, run for office, or sponsor resolutions.

Caccia said that the priorities of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See today were to advocate and work for peace, defend religious freedom, stand up for fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, promote integral development, ensure care for migrants and refugees, and care for our common home.

At the UN, “Catholics are like the leaven in the loaf,” Glendon said. 

She emphasized that Catholic thought was brought into the public square in the past by “men and women who were skilled, dedicated, and courageous enough to do so.”

“For them, as for the Holy See itself, there is of course always a tension between moral witness and ordinary political pressures. But I would suggest that the Catholic contribution has always been greatest and most durable when that tension is resolved in favor of moral witness.”

Pope Francis urges Europe’s leaders to rediscover ‘path of fraternity’

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis warned Europe’s leaders Tuesday that the project of European unity is at risk unless they “rediscover the path of fraternity” that inspired the project’s founders.

In a letter signed Oct. 22, the feast day of St. John Paul II, and released Oct. 27, the pope wrote: “We can either continue to pursue the path we have taken in the past decade, yielding to the temptation to autonomy and thus to ever greater misunderstanding, disagreement and conflict, or we can rediscover the path of fraternity that inspired and guided the founders of modern Europe, beginning precisely with Robert Schuman.”

He made the remarks in a letter marking three milestones: the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE); the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the European Union; and the 50th anniversary of the Holy See’s presence as a Permanent Observer at the Council of Europe.

The letter was addressed to the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who had planned to travel to the Belgian capital, Brussels, Oct. 28-30. 

In the letter, the pope noted that the cardinal intended to make “significant visits to the authorities of the European Union, the Plenary Assembly of COMECE and the authorities of the Council of Europe.”

But the Vatican announced Oct. 27 that Parolin had canceled the trip because of new restrictions seeking to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Argentine pope explained in the letter that he wanted to share his reflections on the future of Europe, a continent that he said was “so dear to me,” not only because of his family’s Italian roots, but also because of Europe’s “central role … in the history of humanity.” 

He said that the pandemic had underlined the importance of cooperation between European countries and the danger of giving in to “the temptation to go it alone, seeking unilateral solutions to a problem that transcends state borders.” 

The pope made a lyrical appeal addressed directly to Europe, urging the continent not to dwell on past glories.

He said: “Sooner or later, we realize that we ourselves have changed; we find ourselves weary and listless in the present and possessed of little hope as we look to the future. Without ideals, we find ourselves weak and divided, more prone to complain and to be attracted by those who make complaint and division a style of personal, social and political life.”

“Europe, find yourself! Rediscover your most deeply rooted ideals. Be yourself! Do not be afraid of your millenary history, which is a window open to the future more than the past. Do not be afraid of that thirst of yours for truth, which, from the days of ancient Greece, has spread throughout the world and brought to light the deepest questions of every human being.” 

“Do not be afraid of the thirst for justice that developed from Roman law and in time became respect for all human beings and their rights. Do not be afraid of your thirst for eternity, enriched by the encounter with the Judeo-Christian tradition reflected in your patrimony of faith, art and culture.”

Pope Francis said that Europe should not focus on “recovering political hegemony or geographical centrality,” but rather on “developing innovative solutions to economic and social problems.”

“The uniqueness of Europe rests above all on its conception of the human being and of reality, on its capacity for initiative and on its spirit of practical solidarity,” he commented.

He said that he dreamed of a Europe in which everyone was recognized for their “intrinsic worth,” rather than as “a mere consumer,” where human life was protected from the womb to the tomb, and with employment opportunities for the young. 

The Europe he envisaged, he said, was both a family and a community. 

“Being a family entails living in unity, treasuring differences, beginning with the fundamental difference between man and woman,” he said. 

He continued: “A divided Europe, made up of insular and independent realities, will soon prove incapable of facing the challenges of the future.” 

“On the other hand, a Europe that is a united and fraternal community will be able to value diversity and acknowledge the part that each has to play in confronting the problems that lie ahead, beginning with the pandemic and including the ecological challenge of preserving our natural resources and the quality of the environment in which we live.” 

“We are faced with the choice between a model of life that discards people and things, and an inclusive model that values creation and creatures.”

The pope said that he longed for a Europe that was inclusive, generous, welcoming, and hospitable. He appealed for an “intelligent solidarity” that goes beyond simply addressing basic needs. 

He wrote: “Solidarity involves being a neighbor to others. In the case of Europe, this means becoming especially ready and willing, through international cooperation, to offer generous assistance to other continents. I think particularly of Africa, where there is a need to resolve ongoing conflicts and to pursue a sustainable human development.”

He added that “intelligent solidarity” also needed to be extended to migrants. 

“It is clear that a proper acceptance of migrants must not only assist those newly arrived, who are often fleeing conflict, hunger or natural disasters, but must also work for their integration, enabling them ‘to learn, respect and assimilate the culture and traditions of the nations that welcome them,’” he said, citing a 2017 address he gave to COMECE. 

Members of COMECE are expected to hold meetings with the authorities of the European Union via video connection during COMECE’s Oct. 28-29 autumn meeting in Brussels.

In his letter, the pope called for a “healthy secularism” in Europe, where believers were free to profess their faith in public. 

“The era of confessional conflicts is over, but so too -- let us hope -- is the age of a certain laicism closed to others and especially to God, for it is evident that a culture or political system that lacks openness to transcendence proves insufficiently respectful of the human person,” he observed.

“Christians today have a great responsibility: they are called to serve as a leaven in reviving Europe’s conscience and help to generate processes capable of awakening new energies in society. I urge them, therefore, to contribute with commitment, courage and determination to every sector in which they live and work.”

Order of Malta to elect new Grand Master amid constitutional clash

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 27, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- On October 23, CNA interviewed HE Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, about the religious order’s international work and ongoing process of constitutional reform. This is part two of that interview.

On November 7, the professed knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are scheduled to gather in Rome for a Council Complete of State, the gathering of representatives from across the order's provinces and ranks, at which they will elect a new Grand Master to lead an ongoing constitutional reform effort of the nearly one-thousand-year-old order.

In normal times, the election of a new Grand Master would be a fascinating enough event. The religious order is also a major international health and aid organization, and a sovereign entity under international law – with its own passports, diplomatic relationships, and permanent observer status at the United Nations.

But these are not normal times for the order.

This week, CNA spoke to the order’s Grand Chancellor – effectively its chief operating officer - Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, about a crucial period for the historic order and its work.

The order has been in a slow-moving constitutional crisis since Pope Francis compelled the resignation of a previous Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing in 2017. That decision came after Festing himself had compelled the resignation of Boeselager in 2016, after it became known that an aid project of the order in Myanmar had distributed thousands of condoms. Boselager insisted that he had not known about the distribution of condoms, and that he had put a stop to it as soon as he became aware.

In 2017, Boeselager was reinstated as Grand Chancellor. At the same time, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Angelo Becciu to serve as his personal delegate to oversee the “spiritual and moral” reform of the order, effectively supplanting the role of the order’s Cardinal Patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who remains in post only nominally.

Becciu was to work with Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre, who was elected to succeed Festing, first on an interim basis and later permanently, as the order moved towards a revision of its governing code and constitution, including a revision of the roles and rights of its three levels of knights from around the world.

Dalla Torre died in May, and, on Sept. 24, Pope Francis commanded the resignation of Becciu from the rights and privileges of a cardinal, as well as his position as head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, leaving the order without a Grand Master, papal delegate, or Cardinal Patron.

This month, Boeselager told CNA that the present vacuum at the top of the order’s leadership needed to be addressed, and soon, but the charitable work of the order remained uninterrupted.

“The papal delegate is not part of the structure of the order,” Boeselager said. “He is a representative of the Holy Father, but he is not involved directly in the governance or work of the order.”

“In the intermediate phase, the order is led by a Lieutenant ad interim, which is normally the order’s Grand Commander, who chairs the Council Complete of State.”

That council, due to be held in two weeks’ time, will elect the new Grand Master, who is likely to play a determining role in the future direction and structure of the order, and the way in which it is governed.

Key among the proposed reforms are changes to the office of Grand Master itself, and the role of the 1st degree of professed knights – those who make perpetual religious vows – in the governance of the order, as opposed to the second and third degrees, who do not.

“The old Grand Master had named a small commission of experts on canon law to make proposals for changes which are necessary to the order’s constitution and code,” Boeselager said.

“In early 2018, we organized an international seminar to collect different ideas for the reform of the order, we had working groups on different topics, these presented to the seminar which made recommendations to the specialist commission as well.”

But, Boeselager said, “regarding the professed, the Holy Father has demanded especially that the regulations dealing with the first class of the order are revisited.”

He noted to CNA that the order’s current constitution and code, while revised in 1997, substantially date back to 1961, before Vatican Council II. “All the new elements which came in canon law regarding religious life [since the council] have not yet made it into the constitution of the order.”

Reform of the professed religious is a sensitive issue for the order, since it is the knights of the first degree who form the Council Complete of State and are eligible to serve as Grand Master and other senior governing roles.

Changing the nature and function of the order’s religious life is, Boeselager conceded, inseparable from reforming its governance. “These are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

After the 2018 seminar, a draft of a new constitution was prepared and sent to Cardinal Becciu to be presented to the pope. That process, Boeselager said, is now on hold until there is a new Grand Master and papal delegate.

The most contentious aspect of reform concerns the role of professed religious in the governance of the order. The professed, first degree knights number fewer than 50, and are advancing in age as a group. Some voices in the order favor allowing other members from different ranks to assume more duties, in order to secure the order’s future.

Another possible reform under discussion is the abolition of a requirement that certain high offices in the order be held only by knights of noble descent, in keeping with the order’s tradition of drawing membership from the ranks of European nobility. Today, the majority of members of the order, albeit those of the lower degree, do not come from noble families, or even countries with an aristocracy.

“There is great consensus that the requirement of nobility for the Grand Master should be abolished,” Boeselager said, noting that the order’s transition away from its strictly aristocratic history was part of its evolving character.

“How the order deals with the nobility in its history shows how we adapt in steps, not in revolution,” pointing to a 1997 reforms which opened the second class of knights to non-nobles.

However, despite apparent consensus around opening up the role of Grand Master, Boeselager was more hesitant about similar reforms for other offices, including his own, at least in the immediate term.

“I think there will be changes,” he said, “but, without specifying certain offices, perhaps there will be a quorum for noble members, but this is under discussion.”

Discussion on the direction of reform remains a tense topic within the order, especially among the professed knights of the first class. In September, 25 of the most senior professed knights circulated a letter to the order’s leadership and the Holy See, which objected to the direction of the proposed reforms. The knights said they felt they were being marginalized from the process and the governance of the order.

“The future of the first class is of great concern,” Boeselager said. “It is not a question of removing them from leading offices, it is a question of having enough to fill the offices reserved to them.”

Boeselager noted that many priories – national and regional branches of the order – were in special administrative measures because of a lack of professed members to fill leadership roles.

In their September letter, the 25 professed knights suggested 10 principles to guide the reform of the order. Key among their recommendations was that the professed religious give the final approval to their own reform, as a safeguard against “the undue influence of those who are not [professed] knights” on the process.

Asked directly if the professed religious would have the final say on the reforms of the order, Boeselager said that “we have to distinguish between the final decision and the way to approach this decision.”

“We have to, of course, seek, as far as possible, consent – we will never have total consent because there will always be different opinions – at the end it has to be decided and compromises have to be found.”

In the interim, the selection of the new Grand Master may prove to be the single most important indicator of the direction reforms will take, and according to whose principles. But how many of the professed knights will make it to Rome for the election remains an open question.

The council to elect the new Grand Master next month comes as Italy appears to be entering a new wave of coronavirus infections – and restrictions – bringing an added layer of uncertainty to an already tumultuous time for the knights.

Boeselager told CNA that it was important to proceed with the election if at all possible, noting that the council had already been delayed once, and the order had been without a Grand Master for six months and unable to pass a budget.

“We have to adapt to the situation,” said Boeselager, to “ensure the proper governance of the order in the current circumstances.” But he warned that the council could and would go ahead, even if many of the delegates were unable to attend.

“We still hope we will be able to hold the Council Complete of State [as planned], for the moment it still looks possible. It may be that some delegates cannot come, but the constitution does not foresee a quorum,” he said.

The constitution and code of the order does not permit for proxy or absentee voting during the council, so those unable to travel would be effectively excluded from participation.

“Legally its not in danger [of not going ahead]. Of course, if we were much less than half of the normal delegates, we would have to reconsider, but we have already postponed. I would not feel well [about it] if we had to postpone again.”

“We cannot continue in extraordinary administration,” Boeselager said.

El Paso bishop asks for prayer, smaller Masses as coronavirus cases increase

CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso has called for prayer and a small capacity of attendees at Mass, as a coronavirus case surge in the area has overwhelmed local hospitals.

“Our entire community ought to be very concerned about the unprecedented number of positive cases that were reported today. Clearly this virus, which is a mortal threat to many, is spreading unchecked at this time,” Seitz said in a video statement Oct. 22.

According to the AP, El Paso County health officials reported that as of Oct. 25 the county had 772 new coronavirus cases, one day after 1,216 new cases were reported. El Paso county now comprises 20% of the total new coronavirus cases in Texas.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said Oct. 25 that area hospitals had been “stretched to capacity” and issued a stay at home order for El Paso residents, with a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Overwhelmed local hospitals have reported sending overflow patients to San Antonio area hospitals, and the governor has authorized the city’s civic center to be used for at least 50 additional hospital beds.
Seitz noted in his statement that, according to health officials, the main sources of the spread of the coronavirus have been stores and restaurants.

“If any good news came out of the mayor’s press conference today, it is that no cases are known to have originated in any of our Catholic churches,” Seitz said. “We believe our limits to the capacity that may gather in churches, plus the careful safety protocols that are in place will continue to ensure that people can be present for Mass without serious risk.” However, he noted, those who have chronic illnesses or are older and therefore in higher risk categories should “refrain at this time from attending.”  The bishop also recommended that pastors consider lowering the capacity of people they allow in their churches from 25% to 15% “if they choose, given the circumstances of their particular church.”
“I urge you to continue to pray for our entire community and especially for those who are ill at this time, and for our leaders. You are in my prayers as well. United in love for one another, we will come through these difficult times. God bless you,” Seitz concluded.
As the U.S. economy slowly reopened this summer, public Masses also resumed in most dioceses, following weeks to months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. Masses reopened with limited capacity and social distancing among other safety protocols, though nearly all dioceses have maintained the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.
Bishops have grappled with the ever-changing status of coronavirus outbreaks, as the fall months have brought about spikes in cases in states such as Texas, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana.
Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay had initially lifted the dispensation from Sunday Mass attendance the weekend of Sept. 19-20, only to reinstate it two weeks later after cases spiked in the area.

On Oct. 19, the five bishops of Indiana announced that they were extending the dispensation from Sunday Mass until further notice. “While commending our pastors and pastoral life coordinators who have gone to great lengths to assure safe worship spaces in our churches, given the continued increase of COVID-19 cases in our state, the Indiana bishops hereby extend the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation beyond Nov.1, 2020, until further notice,” the bishops stated. “The Indiana bishops will continue to monitor the situation to determine when it might be advisable to modify or lift the dispensation,” they added.

Deacon Rob Lanciotti is a permanent deacon in Colorado who holds a doctoral degree in Microbiology. He was employed as a virologist for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for 29 years.

In an Oct. 16 column for the Denver Catholic, Lanciotti said he encouraged Catholics in low-risk coronavirus categories to continue attending Mass, as it has shown to be a relatively safe activity, particularly given the safety protocols that most churches have put in place.

“Back in June as we began returning to Mass, I wrote from my perspective as a virologist with experience in public health that attending Mass for most people was a relatively low risk event.
The past several months have convinced me that this is still the case,” he wrote.

“Overall, the public health response and the media focus has been disproportionate to the threat,” he added. “Catholics should focus on the facts and not be manipulated by the press.”

Lanciotti noted that tests of the rate of infection, done in ten U.S. cities, have shown a low infection rate of 5%, with the exception of New York City at 20%.

Furthermore, he said, “there is a clear age and health relationship between COVID-19 infection and serious outcomes. Coronavirus infection is significantly less serious than annual flu for those in the 0-24 age category, about the same as annual flu for the 25-45 category, more serious than flu for those in the 45-64, and significantly more serious in those over 65; especially with pre-existing health conditions.”

People in lower risk categories, such as young people in good health, should therefore still feel safe attending Mass, he said.

Individuals and families, rather than the government, should be the ones trusted to make decisions about whether to attend church or other activities, he added, following the principle of subsidiarity, which “teaches us that those closest to the situation under consideration are best suited to make correct decisions.”

“For example, a healthy couple with young children should approach returning to Mass differently than an elderly couple with pre-existing health conditions, because the risk is objectively different for the two categories,” Lanciotti wrote.

However, he added, their risk assessment should also take into consideration their potential to infect higher risk populations.

“I can attest from my 30 years of experience in public health that government and public health officials detest subsidiarity, because they believe that it is their role to inform and guide your decisions. Unfortunately, they are unable to assess every situation and therefore generally overreact.”

“Without hesitation, I can say that for the majority of individuals, attending Mass at this time is a low-risk endeavor. Finally, as should be obvious to us, Mass attendance is of paramount importance for our salvation and therefore we should do all we reasonably can to participate in this great liturgy!”

Los Angeles archdiocese offers Dia de los Muertos resources amid pandemic

CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 06:26 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is helping Catholic students and their families celebrate Día de los Muertos amid the pandemic this year, with online videos and craft kids for Catholic students.

Instead of the usual in-person cultural events, the archdiocese’s Office of Religious Education and Catholic Cemeteries & Mortuaries will offer pandemic-friendly initiatives to help school children and their families learn about Día de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a primarily Mexican way of celebrating the feasts of All Souls Day and All Saints Day.
The celebration is an expression of Latin American culture and Catholic beliefs, which makes use of some familiar symbols to teach and celebrate the Church’s teaching on the communion of the saints and the souls in purgatory.

Annual celebrations typically involve skeletal costumes and face makeup, parades and processions, as well as traditional foods such as “pan de muerte” (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls (calaveras).

Over the past 6 years, the archdiocese has hosted special catechetical programs for local Catholic school students on this day. Normally, about 15 local Catholic schools send over 350 third-grade students to Calvary Cemetery & Mortuary in East Los Angeles to learn more about the celebration.

Plans for this year are different, due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Oct. 26, Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries provided 12 local Catholic schools with special Día de los Muertos crafts kits, containing materials for students to create art projects teaching them about the day.

Day of the Dead celebrations traditionally include sugar skulls, picture frames, and paper flowers to decorate shrines for deceased relatives.

This year, the archdiocese will also offer a series of education videos online, so students can learn about the meaning and history of Día de los Muertos with their families. The video will cover topics including the final resurrection, treatment of the dead, and the faith and cultural traditions associated with the Day of the Dead.

“The videos will guide students on creating a sacred space, or altar, in their home to pray and remember family and friends who have passed,” the archdiocese said in an Oct. 26 statement.

Among the schools participating this year will be Our Lady of Guadalupe in East LA, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Rose Hill, Our Lady of Miraculous Medal in Montebello, and Sacred Heart in Lincoln Heights.

Last year, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alex Aclan told CNA that the day is a powerful reminder about the communion of saints and a way to help parishioners remember their dead loved ones.

“For Mexicans to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, my experience is the remembering of the dead is really the most important part of it. Making sure that the dead are remembered, that their deceased are remembered, and that we really are one with them even though they're on the other side and we're still here,” the bishop said.

“And that's basically our teaching on the communion of saints. The different parts of the Church: the ones in Heaven, the ones that are still on their way trying to find their way to the gates of Heaven, and us here on Earth, and we are still together as one. We are still one Church.”

Amy Coney Barrett confirmed as Supreme Court justice

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 26, 2020 / 06:08 pm (CNA).- This story has been updated.

The Senate on Monday voted to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Barrett, who is Catholic, was sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice in a White House ceremony shortly after the vote Monday evening.

The 52-48 vote, which fell largely along party lines, came shortly before 8pm Monday evening and after a rare Sunday session day for the chamber in which senators voted to clear the way for Barrett’s confirmation vote on Oct. 26.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins joined Democrats in opposing Barrett’s confirmation. Following the vote, a formal resolution of confirmation is sent to the White House for President Trump’s signature. 

Justice Clarence Thomas administered the official Constitutional Oath to Barrett at the White House on Monday night.

Barrett will be the sixth practicing Catholic justice at the Supreme court, joining Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh. In addition, Barrett will join Sotomayor as the only two Catholic female Supreme Court Justices in U.S. history.

Born in New Orleans, Barrett attended the University of Notre Dame Law School before clerking for D.C. Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She then entered private practice, returned to Notre Dame Law School to teach classes in 2002, and became a professor in 2010.

Barrett is a Catholic mother of seven children, including two adopted from Haiti. She is a member of the ecumenical charismatic group People of Praise, and her membership in the group was the subject of some scrutiny in the press during her confirmation process. Some have called the group a “cult” and criticized its former practice of referring to husbands and wives as “heads” and “handmaidens,” both Scriptural references.

However, Bishop Peter Smith, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland, is a member of a group of priests associated with People of Praise. He explained to CNA that the group was one of many lay charismatic movements that emerged in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, and presented an opportunity for Catholic families to live their faith more intentionally.

In 2017, Barrett was nominated to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and faced hostile questions from senators concerning the influence her Catholic beliefs might exert on her judicial reasoning.

During Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned Barrett on her personal faith and values, saying that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

Barrett in 1998 co-authored an article with law professor John Garvey on the possibility of Catholic judges recusing themselves in capital cases, due to the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.

In 2017 and again in 2020, Democratic senators brought up the article. Barrett said in her 2017 written responses that “I cannot think of any cases or category of cases, including capital cases, in which I would feel obliged to recuse on grounds of conscience if confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit.”

Barrett also told committee chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that her faith would not influence her rulings on the Court. 

During Barrett’s confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee largely stayed away from references to her faith, instead asking her to opine on existing Supreme Court rulings including those that legalized contraception and abortion.

Barrett clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia and has previously spoken of his influence on her judicial philosophy. Notre Dame law professor Paolo Carozza told CNA that Barrett’s legal philosophy is one of “judicial restraint.”

However, Barrett repeatedly told senators during her confirmation hearing that while she clerked for Scalia and shared his judicial philosophy, she was not the same person as the late justice and would rule on cases based on how she saw fit.

Barrett did consider multiple abortion cases while on the Seventh Circuit.

She joined the court’s majority in upholding Chicago’s eight-foot “buffer zone” rule that prohibited pro-life sidewalk counselors from approaching within eight feet of an abortion facility. The majority opinion cited the “binding” Supreme Court ruling in Hill v. Colorado, another “buffer zone” case.

The group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to Pittsburgh’s 15-foot “buffer zone” rule; the Court has yet to accept or refuse the case of Nikki Bruni and other pro-life sidewalk counselors.

Barrett will join the Court a week before oral arguments are scheduled in a key religious freedom case, Fulton v. Philadelphia; the case could decide other court battles where local governments have required faith-based adoption agencies to match children with same-sex couples

The Catholic Social Services (CSS) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia saw its contract for foster care placements halted by the city of Philadelphia in 2018 because of its faith-based stance on marriage.

The city had told Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian, another group providing foster care placements, that they had to work with same-sex couples on foster care placements in order to continue their contracts. While Bethany Christian maintained its organizational support of traditional marriage, it agreed to work with same-sex couples on foster care placement; Catholic Social Services would not, and has had no new placements through the city.

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, who have fostered more than 40 children and who partnered with Catholic Social Services, brought the case against the city that is currently before the Supreme Court.