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Civil disobedience is a fundamental right, says Venezuelan cardinal

Caracas, Venezuela, Mar 22, 2019 / 03:02 am (CNA).- A Venezuelan cardinal has called on state security forces to exercise civil disobedience when given orders to use lethal force against citizens.

“State security agencies exist not to take care of the government but to take care of the citizens,” said Cardinal Baltazar Porras, at a press conference this week.

“Therefore every order that is given that goes against the lives of the citizenry is an order to kill, it is an order which there is no duty to carry out nor heed, because civil disobedience is also a fundamental right,” the cardinal stressed.

Porras, who serves as archbishop of Merida and apostolic administrator of Caracas, stressed the disobeying unjust orders is both a right and a duty for members of the security forces.

Since Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen hyperinflation and severe shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities, and millions have emigrated.

Amid the protests that have taken place throughout the country, dozens of people have been killed by security forces.

Cardinal Porras stressed that “it’s a citizen’s right, a right in any democracy to be able to hold demonstrations and to say what [you think] will solve the problems.”

The cardinal made these statements the same day that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, delivered a report to the world organization in Geneva, Switzerland, after sending a mission to Venezuela.

“In the context of the last wave of protests in the first two months of this year, my office documented numerous violations of human rights, torture and abuses committed by the security forces and armed pro-government groups,” Bachelet said.

She said that in Venezuela, democratic freedoms have been restricted, with limited freedom of speech and the criminalization of peaceful protest and dissidence.

Cardinal Porras also stressed the importance of allowing the entrance of humanitarian aid into the country. Maduro has blocked the international aid, denying that it is needed in the country.

The humanitarian aid, the cardinal said, must be “for malnourished children, the elderly, for those requiring ongoing treatment...We have to keep on insisting on this.”

St John Paul II’s abuse record defended by his long-time secretary

Krakow, Poland, Mar 21, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, a personal friend and close collaborator of St. John Paul II, this week defended the Polish pope’s record on the abuse crisis, which has lately come under criticism from some areas.

“The emerging opinions that John Paul II was sluggish in guiding the Church’s response to the sexual abuse of minors by some clerics are prejudicial and contradict the historical facts,” the archbishop emeritus of Krakow wrote in a statement March 20.

St. John Paul II “was shocked,” Cardinal Dziwisz said. “He had no intention of tolerating the crime of pedophilia in the Church and fought against it.”

Cardinal Dziwisz was ordained a priest in 1963 by St. John Paul II, who was then an auxiliary bishop of Krakow. When Wojtyla was made Archbishop of Krakow the following year, then-Fr. Dziwisz became his secretary – a role he served in until the pope’s death in 2005.

Dziwisz was appointed Archbishop of Krakow shortly after his mentor’s death, remaining in that position until his retirement in 2016.

In his statement on John Paul’s abuse record, Dziwisz gave several examples of the actions the pope took against abuse, beginning with the United States at the start of the crisis in the 1980s.

John Paul, he said, “first observed the activities of the episcopate of the United States, and when he came to the conclusion that new tools were needed to fight against these crimes, he gave the church superiors new powers.”

The pope’s 1994 indult for U.S. bishops and, two years later, for Irish bishops, approved a “zero-tolerance” policy concerning abuse by clergy, Dziwisz stated.

“These were, for the bishops, an unambiguous indication of the direction in which they should fight,” he said.

“When it became clear that the local episcopates and religious superiors were still unable to cope with the problem, and the crisis was spreading to other countries, [Pope John Paul II] recognized that it does not concern only the Anglo-Saxon world but has a global character,” he recalled.

Dziwisz said that the pope was also quick to help the local Churches and bishops both on his own initiative and when asked.

He also pointed to John Paul II’s Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, on protection of the sanctity of the sacraments, which was published in April 2001, nearly a year before the widely-known 2002 Boston Globe “Spotlight” reports. With that document, the pope promulgated norms on “the most serious crimes” for the entire Church.

“We know the groundbreaking importance of this legal act,” Dziwisz added. “John Paul II reserved all sexual crimes committed by clergy against minors under the age of 18 to the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Court of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

“He also obliged each bishop and superior religious to report to this Congregation all such crimes, if their probability was confirmed in the preliminary investigation provided for by the Code of Canon Law. Further proceedings were continued under the control of the Apostolic Court.”

In April 2002, following the Boston Globe report, John Paul II summoned the cardinals of the United States to the Vatican to speak about the abuse crisis.

It is thanks to the clear rules of John Paul II that the degree of abuse in the U.S. has lowered, Dziwisz said.

Dziwisz also spoke about John Paul II’s part in the case of Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, who was found to have lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children. Initial accusations against Maciel emerged in the late 1990s.

In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age and Maciel died in 2008.

According to Dziwisz, recent claims that John Paul II “was covering up” the criminal activities of Maciel are contradicted by the facts.

He noted that the accusations against Maciel were already being investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in December 2004, under John Paul II’s pontificate, and that at that time, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who was the Promoter of Justice, was sent to Mexico and the United States, alongside another lawyer, to conduct the investigation.

“The decision to initiate this investigation could only be taken with the knowledge and approval of John Paul II,” the cardinal stated, adding that these processes continued also through the sede vacante and until the conclusion of the process in 2006 with Pope Benedict XVI’s verdict.

To this day, John Paul II’s actions serve “as a reference point for all those committed to fighting against the crime of sexual abuse of minors by clerics, Dziwisz stated.

“This has been confirmed by the summit in the Vatican convened by Pope Francis, who in the fight against this problem is following with determination the path of his predecessors.”

US Catholics' awareness of Christian persecution increasing

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2019 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- Nearly half of American Catholics say global persecution of Christians is “very severe,” a 16 percent increase from a year ago, according to a new survey commissioned by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Despite this increase in awareness, the American Catholics surveyed ranked human trafficking, poverty and the refugee crisis as more urgent problems than the global persecution of Christians, the study says.

“It is heartening to see that U.S. Catholics have a growing awareness of and concern about the persecution of Christians,” said George Marlin, chairman of ACN-USA, in a March 19 statement.

“It is telling that human trafficking, poverty and the refugee crisis get more attention from U.S. Catholics than the persecution of Christians,” he added, saying that the survey “strongly suggests that the U.S. Catholic Church, both at the parish and diocesan levels, should get more engaged with the global persecution of Christians around the world.”

The study examined the extent to which American Catholics are aware of the persecution of Christians around the world; the countries and regions where they consider Christians to be most severely persecuted; specific measures and policies they want the U.S. and other Western governments to pursue to help and protect persecuted Christians; the extent to which they feel that the pope, their bishops and their parishes are prioritizing the persecution of Christians; and actions they believe they can and should take themselves.

Only 19 percent of the survey’s respondents said their parish is very involved with the issue of global persecution of Christians, down from 37 percent a year ago. In addition, 22 percent said they are unsure about their parish’s involvement in this area.

Similarly, only 24 percent of U.S. Catholics believe their bishop is “very engaged” with the issue of Christian persecution, though over half say they think Pope Francis is “very engaged” with this issue.

When asked what they themselves should do to help persecuted Christians around the world, American Catholics ranked prayer highest, followed by raising awareness at the parish level; donating to agencies that work to support persecuted Christians; and contacting their members of Congress. However, the report found that almost half of U.S. Catholics have not donated in the past year to an organization that helps persecuted Christians.

Regarding potential policies by the U.S. and other Western governments to deter the persecution of Christians, respondents ranked diplomatic pressure as most important, followed by economic sanctions; granting victims of persecution emergency asylum; and supporting persecuted Christian communities financially.

U.S. Catholics are least in favor of military intervention and the arming and training of persecuted Christians, but more than 60 percent of U.S. Catholics say that the Church must play a hands-on role in providing emergency and humanitarian aid to persecuted Christians around the world.

The study’s release comes amid increased persecution of Christians in many countries worldwide. ACN released a report last November that highlights 38 nations with significant religious freedom violations, and in more than half of those countries, conditions for religious minorities have deteriorated since 2016.

Some notable countries where persecution of Christians is taking place include China, where the Communist government is brutally cracking down on the practice of religion despite a September 2018 provisional deal with the Vatican meant to ease tensions between the faithful “underground” Church and the state-sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the report said.

In other countries including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Eritrea, “the situation [for religious minorities] was already so bad, it could scarcely get any worse,” it added.

Islamic extremism, fueled by conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam, accounted for the persecution faced by minorities in 22 of the 38 countries highlighted.

Interreligious conflict has been especially acute in Nigeria of late, where clashes between Christian and Muslim herdsmen have killed at least 120 people in the past few weeks, and has claimed thousands of lives in recent years, according to local reports.

 

'We're in a very different time now': Montreal officials oust crucifix from City Hall

Montreal, Canada, Mar 21, 2019 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- Montreal’s City Hall doesn’t need Christ, officials have said.

A crucifix that has hung on the wall of Montreal’s City Hall since 1937, reminding city officials to let God guide their decisions, will be taken down for a renovation project, never to be put back, local sources have reported.

City councilor Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde made the announcement at an executive council meeting this week.

“The crucifix was installed during an era that was completely different than the one we live in today,” Lavigne-Lalonde told the council, according to CTV News Montreal.

“We now live in a society that has evolved and is represented by democratic institutions that must be secular, neutral and open to all citizens,” Lavigne-Lalonde added.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante agreed.

“I truly believe and based on all the discussion that has been done in the past, that it doesn't have to be in city council where it is a secular institution. This is a place where we make decisions and it was originally put there to support decision making,” she said at the meeting. “I think we're in a very different time now.”

Plante added that the decision is a “recognition of the role of secularism in the institution, and for me, there is a stark distinction between individual and institutional secularism," she said, according to the CBC.

City officials also said they will be removing another crucifix that is hung in a different room in city hall.

After the decision was announced, the Archdiocese of Montreal issued a statement saying that the crucifix is a symbol of the Christian roots of Canada and doesn’t need to be removed in a religiously pluralistic society.

“As a sign revered by Christians, the crucifix remains a living symbol. It symbolizes openness and respect toward all peoples, including toward other faith communities and religious traditions, which rightfully adhere to their own signs and symbols,” Archbishop Christian Lépine said in his statement. “Nevertheless, nothing forbids us, and our respective beliefs, from being present in the public space in an attitude of respect and openness, since we share the same common humanity,” he added.
 
“When it comes to transmitting spiritual and communal values in a spirit of togetherness and solidarity, the crucifix is laden with meaning, expressing and encapsulating what fortifies the population of Montreal since its foundation, a legacy of which we can be proud.”

Issues of religious freedom and the display of religious symbols have been prominent issues in Canada recently, and Montreal’s decision brought up an ongoing debate about the crucifix that hangs in the legislature building of Quebec. According to the CBC, Premier François Legault of Quebec has previously defended the crucifix’s place in the province’s National Assembly, even while he backed a bill that would have banned the wearing of religious symbols by civil authorities, such as cross necklaces or hijabs. The bill was recently tabled by the legislature.

But after the Montreal decision, he balked: "There are good arguments for and some arguments against, and right now we have a debate. We have to find a compromise," Legault told CBC. "I accept the decision of the City of Montreal."

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette of Quebec, who backed the religious symbols bill, told CTV News that the National Assembly does not have to follow the decision of Montreal to remove their crucifix.

"They can do what they want about that. The National Assembly has always decided to maintain (the crucifix) and that's the position of the government because it's a (historical) symbol," he said.

Indiana legislature fails to restore two genders to driver’s licenses

Indianapolis, Ind., Mar 21, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Indiana lawmakers did not act to restore gender options on driver’s licenses as “male” or “female” after the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles announced it would allow for a third “non-specified gender,” but instead chose to require a changed birth certificate, not a doctor’s note, to allow the change to the driver’s license to take place.
 
State Rep. Matt Hostettler, R-Fort Branch, had filed an amendment to Senate Bill 324, whose main focus is providing a special disabled parking placard to eligible military veterans in Indiana, instead of a disabled license plate.
 
The House of Representatives’ Republicans considered support for Hostettler’s amendment, among other proposals, during a March 19 afternoon meeting, the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

After the House reconvened, Hostettler did not call his proposal for a vote and the bill advanced unchanged for final approval. Any lawmaker can propose inserting the language of the amendment into any germane legislation until the close of the legislative session, which must take place on or before April 29.
 
Under the bureau’s new policy set to begin this month, a third gender option will be indicated by an “X” on driver’s licenses and state ID cards, the NBC television affiliate WTHR reports.
 
Applicants seeking a “non-specified” option must provide a certified, amended birth certificate or a signed and dated physician’s statement attesting that they have permanently changed their gender.
 
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles said it made the changes based on resident requests and on credential standards recommended by the American Academy of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
 
On March 20 the House Roads and Transportation Committee voted to revise Senate Bill 182 so that only a certified and amended birth certificate may be used to change the gender listed on a driver’s license or a state identification.
 
The State Department of Health usually requires a court order to change the gender listed on an Indiana birth certificate. In cases where a baby’s sex is undetermined at birth, such as anatomically ambiguous genitals, the gender is listed as “U.” It is unclear whether a birth certificate can subsequently be changed to something other than “male” or “female,” the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.
 
Under current practice, applicants for a gender change may submit a state form completed by a licensed physician to confirm that an individual has undergone a treatment reputed to be a gender change. A physician may also submit a signed and dated statement on office letterhead to that effect, provided the wording is substantially similar to the language required by the state’s administrative code.
 
The vote in the Republican-controlled House committee was split along party lines.
 
State Rep. Holli Sullivan said she was not trying to eliminate the non-specific gender designation “X” but wanted the birth certificate to be the sole document to establish gender.
 
“It does not say that you cannot change your gender. They still have the process to do that,” she said, arguing that her proposal takes the motor vehicles department out of making medical decisions.
 
One opponent of the change, State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said that reading a note is not a medical decision and compared the practice to how the Bureau of Motor Vehicles approves handicapped placards.
 
“What happens to the people that are in transition and they're not one or the other yet?” asked Candelaria Reardon. “They're in the middle of a transition. How do we address their concerns? How do they get a certified birth certificate?”
 
Sullivan said she did not intend to make anything more difficult, but wanted to put together a process that can be followed to ensure there won’t be questions about the process.
 
Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy at American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said the modification would force self-identified transgender people to undergo “the burdensome and costly legal process of changing their birth certificate in order to update their ID.”
 
Residents born in states that do not allow such modifications to birth certificates will be unable to get “accurate identification,” she said, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

Blair previously commented on Hostettler’s proposal to remove the unspecified gender option and restore two genders, calling this a “retrograde attempt” to “mandate a definition of gender that would have major, long-term implications for the transgender community.”
 
The amendment would “force gender non-binary people to carry identification that does not accurately identify them,” said Blair. “For people who are non-binary, identification that fails to affirm who they are can trigger the distress of gender dysphoria and contribute to widespread discrimination.” Identification that is “affirming and accurate” would help reduce discrimination, Blair argued.
 
Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, and California offer similar non-binary gender identification, in addition to Washington, D.C., and New York City. The Maryland and New York legislatures are considering proposals to change their identification regarding gender.