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Rome’s Franciscans to provide ‘blessing from afar’ on Immaculate Conception feast

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Conventual Franciscans said they will be present at a statue of the Immaculate Conception in the center of Rome to offer a “blessing from afar” to families who pass by on the feast day.

Despite pandemic regulations curtailing some Rome customs for the Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Franciscan friars will be praying at the base of the statue throughout the day.

Franciscan Fr. Agnello Stoia encouraged people to avoid gathering at the Marian statue because of COVID-19, but said that “if anyone happens to pass by, we Franciscans guarantee our presence and a blessing from afar.”

The Immaculate Conception statue is located in the center of Rome near the famous Spanish Steps. 

Though Pope Francis will not say a prayer at the monument Dec. 8 -- breaking a 66-year-old papal custom -- the Franciscans said that they wanted to be present for passers-by.

The Vatican said Monday that Francis would not be visiting the statue of the Immaculate Conception this year to avoid drawing a crowd which could lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is also a national holiday in Italy. It is common for Romans to visit the statue or attend the papal veneration on the feast day. Rome’s firefighters and local officials are usually in attendance.

Despite the canceled event, firefighters will still place a fresh wreath of flowers on Mary’s outstretched arm in the early morning Dec. 8. To reach the statue, which sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column, they use the ladder of a firetruck.

“It is important that the fire brigade can truly make this gesture in the name of the whole city, a gesture that is charged with expectation. We ask the Virgin to intercede so that we can be freed from this situation, and return to live in serenity with our loved ones,” Fr. Stoia said.

Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, composed a prayer of entrustment to Mary for Catholics to say from home on the solemnity.  

“As you know, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is deeply felt by Italians and in particular by us Romans,” the cardinal wrote in a Nov. 24 message.

He asked people to pray in union with Pope Francis “for the people who live in our city, for the end of the pandemic. We place ourselves under the mantle of Our Lady and together with her we cling to the Lord: that we will feel fraternity with everyone grow and our strength to stand up and go on will be renewed.”

Cardinals living in Rome are offering Mass every afternoon at the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles during the nine days leading up to the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The novena of Masses, which began Nov. 29, is preceded by the rosary and sung litanies.

De Donatis’ prayer, which was inspired by Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortationEvangelii gaudium,” reads:

To you, O Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of the family, we entrust our family in this time of anticipation for Christmas.

You see our joys and our hopes, our sadnesses and our fears. You, who transformed a stable for animals into a home for Jesus with some poor strips of cloth and a mountain of tenderness, help us to welcome him into the simplicity of our home.

You, who are the little servant of the Father that exults in the faith, help us to lift our praise and our thanks to God. You, who was pierced by the sorrow of the cross, understand all our pains.

As the mother of all, you are a light of hope even in dark times; you are the missionary who draws close to us to accompany us in life, opening our hearts to the faith with maternal affection.

As a true mother, walk with us, sing with us, and constantly deepen in us closeness to the love of God.

We entrust to you grandparents, the elderly, the sick. We entrust to you spouses, parents, sons and daughters. We entrust to you young adults, adolescents, children. We entrust to you those who are in pain or in mourning. We entrust to you the poor and those who are alone.

We are certain that, with your motherly presence, our home will be always overwhelmed by faith and can be a little Church, where we will always recognize the presence of God.   

Once beloved Colorado priest among newly identified clerical abusers

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 09:40 am (CNA).- Investigation into the history of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Colorado has found nine diocesan priests with “substantiated” sexual abuse allegations involving 70 more underage victims. Those priests come in addition to 43 abusers already identified in a 2019 report. The newly known abusers include a Denver priest who was a prominent advocate for the homeless.

A report on clerical abuse in Colorado was released Dec. 1 as a supplement to an October 2019 report on the history of clerical sexual abuse in the state.

“We hope and pray that this independent review and reparations process over the last two years has provided a measure of justice and healing for the survivors who came forward and shared their stories,” the Catholic bishops of Colorado said in a joint statement Dec. 1.

“We remain heart-broken by the pain they have endured, we again offer our deepest apologies for the past failures of the Church, and we promise that we will always pray for continued healing for them and their families.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Bishop Stephen Berg of Pueblo and Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver said they continue to be willing “to meet personally with survivors when they make the request.”

They pledged to “continue to work with and support anyone who comes forward.”

“We also hope that this process has demonstrated our commitment to continuing to enhance and strengthen our child-protection policies so that the sins of the past do not repeat themselves,” said the Colorado bishops.

None of the newly named priests are still in ministry. At least six of the men newly accused of abuse have died. The latest report also contains new substantiated accusations against another 16 previously known abusers.

The 93-page report from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office supplements a previous October 2019 report in a 22-month investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer.

The supplemental investigation concerns victims who made claims to the attorney general’s office or to an independent reparation and reconciliation program for the three dioceses in Colorado. It does not include victims who reported only to a diocese directly, nor does it include allegations against clergy in religious orders, church volunteers or other employees. Some victims who spoke to the reparation and reconciliation program decided not to speak for inclusion in the supplemental investigation.

Attorney General Phil Weiser said Dec. 1 that the program’s goals were “to support and comfort survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and to bring meaningful change to how the Colorado dioceses protect children from sexual abuse.”

“It takes incredible fortitude for victims of sexual abuse to come forward and tell their stories, and they are the heroes of this effort,” he said

The most prominent priest named in the latest report is Father Charles Woodrich, known as Father Woody, an outspoken advocate for the homeless of Denver. After he died in 1991 the Denver Catholic Register, which he had previously served as editor, called him “Denver’s patron saint of the hungry and homeless.”

He famously opened up the doors of his downtown parish, the beautiful Holy Ghost Church, to the homeless during cold winter nights. He would routinely give his friends on the street the coats off his back and the cash in his pockets.

Three victims alleged grooming behavior and sexual assault by him as far back as 1976, beginning at ages as young as 12. The Denver archdiocese received the allegations earlier this year through the reparations program and reported them to law enforcement.

Woodrich helped to found the Samaritan House homeless shelter and the Haven of Hope to provide hot meals and shelters for the homeless. Samaritan House, now run by Catholic Charities of Denver. Last year it served 1,405 men, women and children, providing over 80,000 nights of shelter and over 466,000 meals.

The priest also established school lunch programs for poor children. The name “Father Woody” had become synonymous with charity in the Denver community. He was the namesake of a popular Christmas party for the homeless and a service program at Regis University was named for him. A university spokesman told the Denver Post that the program will be renamed in honor of Jesuit priest St. John Francis Regis.

The latest report means that the number of diocesan clergy known to be abusive now numbers 52, with 212 victims. Several children were younger than 10. While abusers sometimes had more than one known victim, particularly dangerous was Father Harold White. The priest abused 70 known victims from 1958 to 1981. He was laicized in 2004.

Most abuse happened in the 1960s. All known instances of abuse took place between 1951 and 1999. However, more than half of the victims were abused after church leaders knew of allegations

The latest report identified Father James Moreno as another Denver archdiocese priest who sexually abused a teen boy dozens of times from 1978 to 1980. In late 2019 he admitted to abusing the victim, whom he had met through Denver Catholic schools. Moreno retired 6 years ago, but currently faces a canonical process to be removed from the priesthood. The attorney general’s report erroneously said that Moreno retired 16 years ago.

Other Denver archdiocese priests named for the first time were Kenneth Funk, Daniel Kelleher, and Gregory Smith. There were 138 diocesan priests in the archdiocese in 1950. Their numbers peaked at 215 in 1976, and are at similar numbers today. No new allegations concerned priests of the Colorado Springs diocese, which was founded in 1983.

The newly named Pueblo diocesan priests are Marvin Kapushion, Duane Repola, Carlos Trujillo and Joseph Walsh. Kapushion and Walsh worked as counselors at the Sacred Heart and abused children there. The two known victims of Walsh were aged 4 and 7 when their abuse began. The number of diocesan priests in the Pueblo diocese peaked at 83 in 1966, and they currently number 52.

Among the newly reported incidents, only one was not reported to law enforcement as required by law in 2006, when the victim first came forward. At the same time, among the new incidents 16 of the 46 newly reported victims had been abused after the diocese had been informed that the priest was a sexual abuser.

Troyer, the author of the supplemental report, said that the incidents “provide further evidence that historically the dioceses enabled clergy child sexual abuse by transferring abusive priests to new parishes; taking no action to restrict their ministry or access to children; concealing the priests’ behavior with secrecy, euphemism and lack of documentation; silencing victims; and not reporting the abuse to law enforcement.”

The bishops took encouragement that there have been no known incidents of child abuse in over 20 years, with “over 90 percent of the known incidents occurring 40 to 60 years ago.”

However, many sexual abuse victims take decades before coming forward, leaving open the possibility that reports about more recent situations could come to light..

Troyer’s October 2019 report had said the dioceses’ poor records and flawed practices made it impossible to know whether there had been any abuse in recent years.

Weiser, the attorney general, said he was pleased that the Colorado dioceses implemented “every recommendation” of the first report, with reforms that are apparently “meaningful and sound.”

“But as the report points out, these improvements are untested at this point in time, and it will be up to the church to ensure it is creating an environment that is as safe as possible for children now and in the future,” he said.

The state’s Catholic bishops said that following the recommendations strengthened policies, adding “we believe Catholics and the general public can feel confident that the Church is an extremely safe environment for children.”

“We agree with the Attorney General that other youth-serving institutions could consider using a similar public review and reparations program to address this issue,” they said.

In a separate statement regarding Woodrich and other priests, the Denver archdiocese said: “for Catholics, learning about the past sins of former priests has been extremely difficult, especially when the priest was well-known and respected.”

“For any priest that has been named in the initial report or supplemental report, the archdiocese has removed that priest’s name from any honorary designation including buildings, facilities, and programs,” it continued.

“It is important to note that the ministerial work of the Church is the work of Jesus Christ, not the work of a specific priest. Any employee or volunteer who has participated in the work of Christ in serving others should not feel that their work has in any way been diminished.”

The archdiocese said it took part in the investigation “so that any survivor who had not previously come forward would be encouraged to do so in a safe and protected process “

“We are grateful for everyone who bravely shared their stories, and we pray this process provided survivors with a measure of justice and healing,” said its statement.

The first report, issued in October 2019, examined the archives and personnel files of Colorado’s dioceses dating back 70 years.

Father Lawrence St. Peter is among other priests credibly accused of abuse. He became apostolic administrator of the Denver archdiocese in 1986 after the death of Archbishop James Casey, before future cardinal James Stafford took office. In his role as apostolic administrator and his previous role as vicar for clergy, he had access to personnel files.

The Colorado attorney general’s 2019 report on diocesan clergy sexual abuse said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” to confirm rumors that he used his access to destroy incriminating documents. The report cited a lack of abuse allegations and an absence of records of psychological treatment. The archdiocesan file lacked discussions of his “alcohol problems” and “homosexuality problems,” even though these were known by others in close contact with him.

Another prominent priest, the late Father James Beno, was a politician-priest who served in the state Senate for two terms from 1978-1986 as a Democrat from Pueblo. The reports indicate he was accused of sexually abusing at least four female victims from 1961 to 1974. One victim was as young as five years old, while another victim was a high school junior when the priest allegedly raped her.

As of Oct. 19, the three dioceses’ reparations and reconciliation program announced that $6.68 million had been paid to 73 victims of clerical abuse who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

Denver’s Archbishop Aquila has previously invited Catholics to offer prayers and fasting for victims of sexual abuse on the first Friday of Lent.


Debate continues over who should get new COVID vaccines first

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 2, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- A federal health advisory committee proposed on Tuesday that health care workers and long-term care facility residents should be the first to receive a COVID vaccine, as a Catholic ethicist warned that vulnerable people, like the elderly, cannot be pushed to the back of the line.  

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) met virtually on Tuesday to discuss and vote on the “allocation of initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccine,” or who should be the very first to receive the vaccine.

The meeting occurred after pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech, and Moderna, submitted their vaccine candidates for emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the FDA is expected to grant authorization in early December.

Once the vaccine is approved and distributed, the CDC committee said on Tuesday that health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities should be among the first to receive it.

According to CDC working group co-lead Kathleen Dooling, residents and staff of long-term care facilities accounted for six percent of the COVID cases in the U.S., but 40% of the deaths. Skilled nursing facilities alone accounted for more than 69,000 deaths so far.

Vaccination of these populations is important, she said, because of the ethical policy of “maximizing benefits” while “minimizing harm,” protecting health care personnel, preserving health care capacity, preventing the spread of the virus among high-risk populations and easing the burden on hospitals.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, tweeted on Tuesday that it was “so important” for the committee to prioritize not only health care workers, but nursing home residents and staff. Camosy has written before that the neglect of care of the elderly in nursing homes—manifested in a “wildfire of infection and death” during the pandemic—is an element of the “throwaway culture” condemned by Pope Francis.

The “real challenge,” Camosy said, is determining who would receive the vaccine after the initial administration phase. Under the CDC group’s proposed “Phase 1b,” which the committee briefly discussed on Tuesday, “essential workers” would receive it, with vulnerable adults—the elderly and those with high-risk medical conditions—being next in line after them.

Camosy argued that the “sick and the elderly” who are not in nursing homes should be prioritized for the vaccine over younger, healthier “essential” workers.

In August, CNA discussed who should get a COVID vaccine first with an ethicist from the  National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“All of those who come into contact with many different people through their ordinary line of work, they would be first in line,” bioethicist Edward Furton told CNA. People in this group might include first responders, physicians, nurses, and other health care workers, police officers, and public transit employees.

On Wednesday, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) issued a statement calling on governors to follow the ACIP proposal putting nursing home residents and staff among the first in line for the vaccine.

“More than 100,000 long term care residents have died from this virus in the U.S. and our nursing homes are now experiencing the worst outbreak of new cases since last spring with more than 2,000 residents succumbing to this virus each week,” stated Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. 

Under the ACIP proposals discussed and voted on Tuesday afternoon, the first phase of vaccine allocation (1a) would target health care personnel at hospitals, outpatient clinics, public health services, and long-term care facilities.

Residents of the long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted living centers, and other residential care facilities, would also be prioritized for a vaccine.

The next vaccine phase would target “essential workers,” who cannot work remotely. After that, vulnerable adults would be prioritized for a vaccine, or adults with high-risk medical conditions or seniors age 65 and over.

Within the first bracket, ACIP members discussed who should get a vaccine first in long-term care settings, or if both residents and staff should receive vaccines simultaneously.

Executive secretary Dr. Amanda Cohn said that most facilities might conduct vaccinations simultaneously, but some jurisdictions might vaccinate the personnel first because of supply issues.

Liaison representative Dr. Robert Gluckman endorsed the policy of vaccinating long-term care residents and staff simultaneously.

“If elderly are to be vaccinated,” he added, they would need guidance on any adverse effects or side effects of the vaccine.

The board members also discussed “sub-prioritization,” or who among health care workers should receive the vaccine first. There would be enough doses to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December, members said, and sub-prioritization would be necessary earlier in the month when doses are still limited.

Those with direct patient contact who are unable to telework, such as those providing services or handling infectious materials in inpatient or outpatient settings, should possibly be prioritized, Dr. Sarah Oliver said in her presentation.

Long-term care personnel, and personnel without a known infection in the previous 90 days, should also be prioritized, Oliver said.

Switzerland’s Catholic bishops lament record exodus from Church in 2019

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 08:20 am (CNA).- Bishops in Switzerland lamented Wednesday a record exodus of Catholics from the Church in 2019.

In a statement after their virtual plenary assembly Dec. 2, the bishops acknowledged new figures showing that last year saw the highest annual number of “church exits” on record. 

They noted that the statistics, compiled by the Swiss Institute for Pastoral Sociology in St. Gallen, showed that older people were also leaving the Church.

“The bishops believe that the pandemic could accelerate this development in the coming months,” the statement said.

“The trend is worrying and will bring about changes in the medium to long term. Nevertheless, the bishops affirm that the Church as the Body of Christ is much more than a collection of facts and figures.”

The new figures, released Nov. 19, revealed that the Catholic Church lost 31,772 members in 2019 -- equivalent to 1.1% of the total membership of the Catholic Church in Switzerland. 

This marked a 25% increase on the previous year, when 25,366 people left.

Researchers noted sharp differences in the departure rates of the country’s 26 cantons, or member states of the Swiss Confederation. 

“The cantons of Geneva, Valais, Neuchâtel and Vaud have practically no departures, a fact that can be explained by the different church tax systems. In the cantons of French-speaking Switzerland, the motive of leaving the Church in order to save taxes is not applicable,” wrote Urs Winter-Pfändler, scientific project manager at the Swiss Institute for Pastoral Sociology.

He said that if the French-speaking cantons were excluded, then the average exit rate in the country would be similar to that of Germany and Austria, which have also seen rising numbers leaving the Church.

There are an estimated 3.1 million Catholics in Switzerland, which has a total population of 8.5 million.

The bishops said: “In the current environment -- which is also self-inflicted -- the mission of the Church can only be fulfilled with great obstacles.” 

They said they hoped that a new “process,” known as “Together on the Path for the Renewal of the Church,” would help to revive the faith in Switzerland.  

The bishops said in September 2019 that the “process” was likely to examine issues such as the transmission of the faith, the role of women in the Church, celibacy and viri probati (the ordination to the priesthood of mature, married men), as well as the abuse of power.

But they stressed that the “process” would not be the same as the controversial “Synodal Way” in Germany.

Council of Cardinals studies suggested amendments to draft of Vatican constitution

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals met online Tuesday to continue work on the new apostolic constitution to govern the Roman Curia, according to a Vatican statement.

The seven cardinals and an archbishop secretary are studying “observations, amendments, and proposals received from the dicasteries consulted in recent months” regarding the draft of the new constitution, known as Praedicate evangelium, a brief press release said.

Pope Francis also participated in the Dec. 1 meeting, connecting virtually from the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.

The group of cardinal advisers, referred to as the C9 for its original nine members, was established by Pope Francis in 2013, with the aim of revising the text of the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus.

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

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

In October, the pope named a new member of the council, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 60-year-old Capuchin has led the archdiocese, which comprises more than six million Catholics, since 2018.

During the council’s latest meeting, Pope Francis spoke briefly, Cardinal Besungu was introduced, and cardinals gave updates on the life of the Church on their continents, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican statement said. 

Bishop Marco Mellino, the council’s secretary, offered a summary of work on the constitution thus far.

In addition to Besungu, the other cardinal members of the council are Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston; Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay; Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa; Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising; and Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of the Vatican City State.

The council’s next meeting is scheduled for February 2021.