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Pope Francis prays for victims of German shooting

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed Friday for the victims of a shooting in Germany that killed nine people at two hookah bars.

The victims of the attack on the night of Feb. 19 were predominantly immigrants in Germany from Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. German authorities said that the suspected gunman posted an online video calling for a genocide of ethnic minorities in Germany before carrying out the attack and then killing himself and his 72-year-old mother.

“Having learned of the terrible act of violence in Hanau, which caused the death of innocent people, the Holy Father Francis was deeply affected,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote in a telegram Feb. 21.

“In prayer, Pope Francis entrusts the dead to the mercy of God and implores Christ, Lord of life, so that mourners will find consolation and trust, and will be accompanied by the blessing and peace of God,” Parolin said.

The Vatican Secretary of State sent the telegram on the pope’s behalf to Bishop Michael Gerber of Fulda, who leads the diocese where the shooting took place.

Bishops throughout Germany spoke out in the wake of the attack. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German bishops’ conference denounced racism and radical nationalism, saying that these cannot be justified from a Christian perspective.

“The news that a man has killed and injured numerous people in Hanau leaves me stunned. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their relatives. We hope that the injured will recover soon. In this situation, we also think of the people who have to deal with this terrible act in their neighborhood,” Marx said.

The German cardinal said that such violence is due to right-wing extremism and violent statements on the internet, which must be opposed.

“As Christians, we believe that all people - regardless of religion, nation, culture or language - are children of God. That is why we stand with everyone together against violence and terror,” Cardinal Marx said.

New Zealand abortion bill 'totally unacceptable', bishops say

Wellington, New Zealand, Feb 20, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The unborn child will lose all rights under a bill to change New Zealand’s abortion laws, and women pressured into abortion will not receive the help they need, the country’s Catholic bishops have warned.

“In the womb, the child already has its own unique genetic identity and whakapapa. Our abortion laws must reflect this reality,” said Cynthia Piper, a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

“It is a major failing of the proposed new law that there will no longer be any statutory requirement to consider the rights of the unborn child. That is totally unacceptable to the bishops and many New Zealanders.”

The New Zealand Parliament’s Abortion Legislation Select Committee has recommended changing abortion law to remove any legal restrictions for an abortion up to 20 weeks into pregnancy, and thus “effectively introducing abortion on demand,” the bishops’ conference said Feb. 19. The bill has already passed a first reading.

Under the proposal, pregnancies more than 20 weeks into pregnancy would require a health practitioner to believe with reason that the abortion is “appropriate” given the women’s physical and mental health and well-being. Piper objected that such criteria are not defined and are too subjective and broad.

Changes for abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy will “significantly widen” the ability to choose abortion of an unborn child on the basis of disability, objected Piper. The proposed bill removes all references to fetal abnormalities, while current law cites them as a reason for abortion only up to 20 weeks.

The Catholic bishops fear changes to abortion law will harm many women, Piper reported. She cited her own experience working with women who have had abortions and experienced long-lasting negative effects, particularly when they felt pressured to have an abortion.

“The coercive reality of societal, familial and economic pressures that arise when a woman suddenly finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy is well documented,” she said. “The select committee itself acknowledges that they heard from several submitters, particularly young women, who believed they might not have chosen abortion if they had received more support. But what is being proposed will not help women in this situation make different decisions.”

The select committee received more than 25,700 written submissions on the proposal to change abortion law. About 90% of submissions opposed the change, the bishops said.

In September 2019 the Catholic bishops’ conference made an 11-page submission to the committee, jointly authored by their bioethics-focused agency The Nathaniel Centre.

Their submission cited a 1977 report from the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilization and Abortion which said “the unborn child, as one of the weakest, the most vulnerable, and most defenseless forms of humanity, should receive protection.”

It is possible the bill would face a tight vote, the Australian Associated Press reports. Though the bill passed parliament on its first reading by a vote of 93 to 24, many MPs who voted in favor are expected to vote against it, but wanted to see it go to committee.

Labour, National, and Green MPs will have a conscience vote on the bill, but all eight Green MPs back it. The nine MPs from the New Zealand First party could abstain if the matter isn’t sent to a referendum. Marijuana and euthanasia proposals will be up for consideration in the country’s Sept. 19 election.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern predicted the bill would gain majority support.

Several thousand women who back abortion rights took part in public demonstrations to end criminal laws against abortion. Abortion advocates like Terry Bellamak, national president of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, praised some changes to the bill, including stronger laws against protestors outside of abortion clinics.

Her Feb. 18 comments faulted a change that gives an option to abortion providers not to be listed on the director-general’s list, saying this will make it harder for women seeking abortions.

“It means the government anticipates some providers may not want it generally known that they provide abortion care,” said Bellamak, suggesting this was due to fears of “harassment” outside clinics.

Bellamak objected to provisions for conscientious objection, including new provisions protecting those who object to some treatments for sexual assault victims. Some health providers object that some drugs billed as emergency contraception have properties that can cause abortions if an unborn child has been conceived.

She also objected to the lack of requirements that health providers provide notice that they object to what the pro-abortion group considers “reproductive health care.”

National MP Agnes Loheni, a member of the select committee on the abortion bill, wrote a minority report critical of the proposal. She warned that if enacted the bill will “severely breach and irreparably damage the ‘sanctity of life’ principle which has been the cornerstone of New Zealand’s common law.”

“Our current abortion law seeks to balance the rights and autonomy of the expectant mother against the interests of unborn human life,” she said, charging that the proposal “removes the human rights of the unborn child completely.”

She rejected claims that the current law criminalizes women, noting that no woman has been charged with having an unlawful abortion in New Zealand. The law aims to “protect women from unlawful abortions” and in fact criminalizes only those who perform abortions against the law.

She called for a royal commission to investigate whether changes are needed.

Loheni also faulted the minimal restrictions after 20 weeks into pregnancy, noting that this would allow abortion “until the moment of birth.”

“I know people get really uncomfortable with that, but at the end of the day, that is what the law will allow, there is no upper limit on that test,” she said, according to RNZ News. Loheni criticized requirements for a woman seeking an abortion to consult with a physician, saying they were too minimal.

Doctors, bishops oppose decriminalization of euthanasia in Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal, Feb 20, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers in Portugal debated five pieces of legislation Thursday to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, and doctors in the country are joining with the Catholic Church in opposing the potential change.

Each of the bills, which are not substantially different, were approved by the unicameral parliament Feb. 20.

“The most dignified option against euthanasia is in palliative care as a commitment to proximity, respect and care for human life until its natural end,” the Portugese bishops' conference said Feb. 11, urging support for a referendum on the topic rather than a legislative change.

The Portuguese Doctors' Association says the legislation violates key principles of the medical profession, MailOnline reports.

“Doctors learn to treat patients and save lives. They are not prepared to take part in procedures leading to death,” PDA president Miguel Guimaraes said after meeting with Portugese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who has expressed reluctance to signing the legislation.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Australian state of Victoria, while Switzerland and some U.S. states allow assisted suicide.

The Socialist Party, one of the left-of-center parties leading the charge to push the legislation in Portugal, also led proposals to permit same-sex marriages and abortion in Portugal, the AP reports.

Hundreds of protestors gathered Thursday outside the parliament building in Lisbon to oppose the changes.

The bill would apply to patients over 18 who are “in a situation of extreme suffering, with an untreatable injury or a fatal and incurable disease.” According to the AP, two doctors, at least one of them a specialist in the relevant illness, and a psychiatrist would need to sign off on the patient’s request to die. The case would then go to a Verification and Evaluation Committee, which could approve or turn down the procedure.

The bills also stipulate that those seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide must be Portuguese citizens or legal residents.

Pope Francis speaks out frequently against the practice of euthanasia; in September 2019 he called it “a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”

This is not the first time Portugal has considered decriminalizing euthaniasia and assisted suicide.

After heated debate, the Portuguese Parliament voted during May 2018 to reject multiple proposed laws that would legalize euthanasia in the country, drawing praise from local bishops.

Pro-life groups had been protesting the euthanasia bills in the weeks leading up to the vote in the nation’s capital of Lisbon, where they held signs saying, “We demand palliative care for ALL,” and “Euthanasia is a recipe for elder abuse.”

Mass formally opens beatification cause of Eileen O'Connor, laywoman and mystic

Sydney, Australia, Feb 20, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P., of Sydney said Mass Thursday to open formally the cause of beatification of Eileen O'Connor, the foundress of Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor, who died at a young age.

Born in Melbourne in 1892, Eileen suffered an injury at the age of three that would leave her paralyzed for some years and then confined to a wheelchair and in pain for the rest of her life. Together with Fr. Edward McGrath, she founded a ministry to serve the poor in their own homes in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She died at the age of 28, in 1921.

“I think the youth of Eileen focuses attention far more on the brief period of her activity,” Fr. Anthony Robbie, a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney and postulator of O'Connor's cause, told CNA Feb. 20.

“We're focused much more intently on the particular luminosity of the character that the Servant of God shows under stressful circumstances, perhaps brought on above all by the physical frailties that she suffered during her life. And she's a hidden soul in many ways, again imposed by her illness.”

O'Connor “was a humble soul deeply in love with God, and so her writings, which take the form mostly of letters and spiritual conferences she gave to her companions in the little work of Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor, are very uplifting and beautiful expressions of affection and attachment to God, and the motivation of charity, which inspired all of the great works that she accomplished,” the priest reflected.

Her witness of sanctity comes “above all from the effect she had on the people around her,” he said.

“They were absolutely devoted to her, they called her 'the little mother', and they loved her … And that degree of affection in which she was held never diminished over the years, not just by women who joined the community, but others who saw her example were just amazed and delighted.”

O'Connor and McGrath founded Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor in 1913 to care for the poor and sick.

Today, Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor continue their ministry in Sydney, Newcastle, and Macquarie Fields.

“In Eileen's day they were laywomen; later on, they formed themselves into a religious community of sisters under vows, and they're still religious sisters today,” Fr. Robbie explained.

“It's always been small; it was never above 30 people, it now hovers around 10 members. It's a very small but very good group of devoted women,” he added.

More than 1,000 people assisted at a Feb. 20 Votive Mass of Our Lady at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney formally to launch the cause for O'Connor's beatification.

During his homily, Archbishop Fisher called O'Connor a “faithful lay-woman, mystic and foundress, renowned for works of mercy, whom we hope one day to call Australia’s second saint!”

“An unwavering devotee of the Blessed Virgin, she experienced a visitation from her and agreed to offer up her suffering for Our Lady’s work,” the archbishop stated.

He added that when O'Connor's body was transferred to a convent in Coogee 16 years after her death, it was found to be incorrupt, and pilgrims continue to visit her tomb.

Because of the continual devotion to O'Connor, in 1962 the then-Archbishop of Sydney approved a prayer for her beatification, and in 1990 a preliminary investigation of her merits was permitted.

In 2018, the bishops of the province unanimously voted to initiate her cause, and the Holy See granted her the title Servant of God in confirmation of the work thus far.

“The time is now ripe for a more thorough examination of her cause, to pray that there may be many miracles to credit to that cause, and to hope that the Church may eventually raise her to the altars,” Archbishop Fisher said.

He noted that “for a century now the Catholic faithful have kept alive the memory of the Little Mother, cherishing the woman, her character and wisdom, her foundation and apostolates … And for a century now believers have received many answers to prayers to and through Eileen.”

“Popular devotion to her even in her life-time has not diminished since her death, even in a culture increasingly deaf to the supernatural and disrespectful to the handicapped.”

Fr. Robbie explained that at this point in the cause, “the process involves a forensic examination of her life, to find the presence of what we call heroic virtue in the Servant of God. If the panel of historians produce sufficient information in that regard, and the Roman authorities are satisfied by it all, then they accept this cause, [and] declare her venerable.”

Archbishop Fisher preached that “She certainly seems to have done ordinary things in an extraordinary way and extraordinary things ordinarily, like so many saints. Frail, crippled and in pain, she reached out to others and was tireless in their service. She gave her all to God, her sisters, the sick poor. Amidst all her troubles, she was united to Christ and Mary, drawing strength and inspiration from them.”

Fr. Robbie emphasized that should she be declared venerable, “at that point we will start investigating the existence of miracles” worked through her intercession, “and the nature of the miracles.”

“The main focus of this investigation is into the virtues of her life,” he added. “The saints are there both to provide example and intercession.”

Michelle Climpson is a young Sydney woman devoted to O'Connor, who credits that devotion to helping her through a grave illness.

She told CNA that in June 2016, when going to donate blood she discovered that her hemoglobin was “very low.”

Sent to the hospital to have the matter examined, it was found she had a form of leukemia and would need a bone marrow transplant.

“Hearing that news … was very scary. And my mum is actually the one who introduced me to Eileen O'Connor. We started to go see her in Coogee and went to a few Masses where she lays,” Climpson said.

“Pretty much just from the first time I was there I wrote … for her to help me be cured, and every time I had a massive treatment … I just took all of my prayers to her, and I continually prayed to her every time it got a bit rough.”

Climpson said, “I just put all of my attention into praying to her. And so now I am in remission, and in June it will be four years since I was diagnosed.”

She added that “I've always prayed, and I have always gone to Church, but I think this has definitely heightened it … I always ask for Eileen's help all the time now, it really has increased my faith.”

“It definitely helped me to get through to the other side, now I'm living a normal life, I got married, and I think my faith really helped me get to this point, and I'm very, very, very grateful.”

US bishops: Pope Francis talks Fr. James Martin, euthanasia, at private meeting

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- During a private meeting with bishops from the southwestern United States, Pope Francis talked about his 2019 meeting with Fr. James Martin, SJ, and about pastoral care and assisted suicide.

The pope met Feb. 10 for more than two hours with bishops from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Several bishops present at the meeting told CNA that in addition to discussions about his then-pending exhortation on the Amazon region, and on the challenges of transgenderism and gender ideology, Pope Francis discussed his Sept. 30 meeting with Martin, an American Jesuit who is well-known for speaking and writing about the Church’s ministry to people who identify themselves as LGBT.

"The Holy Father's disposition was very clear, he was most displeased about the whole subject of Fr. Martin and how their encounter had been used. He was very expressive, both his words and his face -  his anger was very clear, he felt he'd been used," one bishop told CNA.

Martin met with Pope Francis shortly after a Sept. 19 column by Archbishop Charles Chaput criticized “a pattern of ambiguity” in Martin’s work, which Chaput said “tends to undermine his stated aims, alienating people from the very support they need for authentic human flourishing.”

“I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims,” Chaput added.

The meeting between Martin and the pope was taken by some as a response to Chaput’s column.

The meeting took place in a papal library ordinarily reserved for high-level audiences with the pope, which some journalists saw as a significant decision.

“By choosing to meet him in this place, Pope Francis was making a public statement. In some ways, the meeting was the message,” America Magazine reported of the encounter.

But bishops who met with the pope this week said that while Pope Francis had accommodated a request for a meeting with Martin, he was clear with them that he did not intend for it to convey any significance.

In fact, one bishop at the meeting told CNA that Pope Francis has said he “made his displeasure clear” about the way the meeting was interpreted, and framed by some journalists.

"He told us that the matter had been dealt with; that Fr. Martin had been given a 'talking to' and that his superiors had also been spoken to and made the situation perfectly clear to him," another bishop said.

"I do not think you will be seeing that picture of him with the pope on his next book cover," the bishop told CNA.

For his part, Martin told CNA Feb. 20 that “I can't comment on what the Holy Father told me, since he asked me not to share the details with the media, other than to say that I felt profoundly inspired, consoled and encouraged by our half-hour audience in the Apostolic Palace, which came at his invitation.”

Two bishops told CNA that Martin’s work in regards to the LGBT community was also discussed with the heads of numerous Vatican congregations, and that some officials expressed concern about aspects of the priest’s work.

According to bishops present at the papal meeting, Pope Francis also spoke about euthanasia, and was asked about comments from Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who said at a December symposium that priests should “let go of the rules” in order to be present with people who have initiated assisted suicide.

At the symposium Paglia mentioned that he would be hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide, and that he does not see such an action as lending implicit support for the practice.

Pope Francis apparently told bishops that while priests must love mercifully those who have terminal illnesses, they can not “accompany” someone who is in the act of suicide, which the Catholic Church teaches to be gravely immoral.

One bishop told CNA that the same matter was brought up with the heads of Vatican offices, and “they were really clear that what [Paglia] said was a big problem, and that other bishops have brought it up.”

Vatican officials said “you just can’t do that,” a bishop said, in reference to any pastoral action that might seem to imply approval of, or cooperation with, assisted suicide.


Ed Condon contributed to this report.


Retired judge hears arguments about NFL emails in clergy abuse case

New Orleans, La., Feb 20, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A retired New Orleans judge heard arguments on Thursday on whether private correspondence between an NFL franchise and the Archdiocese of New Orleans should be made public.

Judge Carolyn Jefferson, a retired judge of the Civil District Court for Orleans, presided over Thursday’s hearing over whether email correspondence between the NFL’s New Orleans Saints franchise and the Archdiocese of New Orleans should be available to the public, the AP reported.

The correspondence relates to a lawsuit against the archdiocese which claims it failed to protect a minor from an alleged sexual abuser in the 1970s and 80s.

In that case, lawyers for the plaintiffs have also alleged that the Saints improperly aided the archdiocese in public relations efforts to conceal information on clergy sex abuse when the archdiocese released its 2018 report on credibly accused clergy.

The Associated Press has filed a motion to have public access to email correspondence between the franchise and the archdiocese. Lawyers for the AP argued on Thursday that concerns over privacy “are minimal” when compared to the magnitude of the case.

Thursday’s hearing would not result in an immediate decision by Judge Jefferson, but rather in a recommendation made to the judge overseeing the sexual abuse lawsuit against the archdiocese, Judge Ellen Hazeur of Orleans Civil District Court.

The archdiocese is being sued by a man who alleged he was sexually abused by George Brignac, a deacon in the archdiocese who was removed from ministry in 1988 after allegations that he sexually abused minors in the 1970s and 1980s. Brignac was listed in the archdiocese’s 2018 report of clergy who had been credibly accused of abuse.

The abuse case of John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac was first reported by local news station WVUE. The lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese failed to protect the plaintiff from Brignac.

Brignac was originally accused of raping an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in the archdiocese, which resulted in a settlement with the archdiocese of more than $500,000, the New Orleans Advocate reported. The lawsuit filed in 2018 alleges that he molested another boy at the same school between 1977 and 1982, the Advocate reported.  

Lawyers also requested to view email correspondence between the Saints and the archdiocese, alleging that the franchise improperly helped the archdiocese with damage control in the release of its 2018 report.

The franchise responded that it did assist the archdiocese, but did so in the interest of “disclosure” and not “concealment.

On Thursday, a lawyer for the archdiocese said the allegations of colluding with the archdiocese to conceal information are "nothing more than a clear attack on the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church for wrongs of the past that the church has acknowledged,” the AP reported.

Assisted suicide applications higher than expected under new Australian law

Melbourne, Australia, Feb 20, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A total of 52 people in the Australian state of Victoria ended their lives by doctor-assisted suicide in the first six months since the state’s Voluntary Assisted Dying law went into effect. 

Between June 19 and December 31 of 2019, 136 Victorians started the process to obtain lethal medication to end their lives; 81 were issued a permit to end their lives with the help of a doctor. The numbers exceed the official projections, which predicted only a few dozen people would apply to end their lives.

According to a report from the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board, published on Wednesday, Feb. 19, all of these suicides were committed in accordance with Victorian law. 

In Victoria, the second-most populated state in the country, only adult Australian citizens or permanent residents with an “advanced disease that is expected to cause death within six months,” or within a year for neurodegenerative diseases are eligible for doctor-assissted suicide. Patients must also have the capacity to make and express the decision to end their lives, and have lived in the state of Victoria for at least 12 months.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 came into effect on June 19, 2019. Victoria was the first Australian state to legalize any form of physician-assisted suicide. The Western Australian parliament passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 on December 10, and it is expected to go into effect sometime in 2021. 

“The law has many safeguards to make sure that it is the person’s own decision and that no one is under any pressure to request voluntary assisted dying,” says the health.vic website’s section on assisted death. 

In July, the first permit in Victoria for an assisted death was issued. At the time, the woman’s identity was kept anonymous, but was later revealed to be Kerry Robertson. Robertson, 61, who had been diagnosed with cancer that spread to her bones, lungs, brain, and liver, sought to end her life when her pain became unbearable and her palliative care team was unable to help her.

Robertson applied for the permit to end her life the first day she was legally able to, and cited “loss of joy” due to her excessive levels of pain as the primary reason for seeking to end her own life. She died by voluntary assisted death on July 15, in a nursing home, with her two daughters at her bedside. 

The numbers in the report exceeded the estimates made in July 2019 for the number of people who would seek euthanasia.

In July, Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said that state officials anticipated about a dozen people would end their lives in the first year of legal voluntary assisted dying, and that it would peak around 150 people each year. 

As part of the law, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board is required to issue a report every six months during the first two years of legalized assisted dying. The report published on Wednesday was the second of these reports. 

Efforts to further legalize assisted suicide in Australia have failed in the regions of Tasmania, New South Wales, and South Australia. The state of Queensland has begun an inquiry into the legalization of the practice, and Tasmania will consider a bill that would legalize assisted dying for the second time.

Head of Australian bishops' conference in Rome ahead of plenary council

Brisbane, Australia, Feb 20, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, is in Rome for high-level discussions ahead of the Church in Australia’s first plenary council since Vatican II, set to begin in October.

According to The Catholic Leader, during his two-week trip to Rome, Coleridge will meet with senior curial figures and Pope Francis to discuss the plenary council, its key themes, and its organizing principles.

The council, to be held in Adelaide in October, is part of the Church in Australia’s response to the sexual abuse crisis, as well as a number of other issues, including efforts by local governments to pass laws encroaching on religious freedom and the seal of confession. 

Although there will be lay participation in the council sessions, only the bishops will vote on binding resolutions, which will be sent to the Vatican for approval. 

In Rome, Coleridge also reportedly plans to discuss the Vatican’s response to the Australian Royal Commission’s recommendations on the protection of minors, the seal of confession, and the case of imprisoned Cardinal George Pell.

A law passed in the state of Victoria in 2019 requires clergy to report suspected child abuse to the authorities, even if it was revealed in the confessional— requiring priests to break the sacramental of seal. The state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said he hoped the legislation would “send a message” to the Church on child sex abuse. A national standard for mandatory reporting by clergy is also being considered.

Coleridge will also discuss Cardinal Pell, the former Vatican prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, who is now in prison near Melbourne following his conviction by a Victoria court in December, 2018.

Pell was convicted on five charges of child sexual abuse and sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve three years and eight months before being eligible for parole. Currently in a maximum-security prison, Pell has appealed his conviction to Australia’s High Court, which will hear the case on March 11 and 12.

As Coleridge traveled to Rome, another Australian bishop emphasized the importance of a valid ecclesiology, Catholic language, and clear expression of Church teaching during the upcoming plenary council.

Bishop Richard Umbers, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, said this week at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney that there must be a proper understanding of the hierarchical structure of the Church, and respect for Church teaching, during the council assembly.

Ecclesiology, he said, “is going to be one of the key areas of conflict in the plenary [and] I have been very vocal in asking for explicit ecclesiology,” as reported by The Catholic Weekly.

Umbers went on to say that “we need to use a language that is Catholic” when discussing issues at the council.

“Not all the ideas that circulate among the people of God are compatible with the faith,” he said, noting that “it needs to be said that we are not going to redefine sin. We are not going to change the sacrament of Holy Orders and neither do we have the power to do so.”

The plenary council was preceded by a “listening and dialogue phase” where the lay faithful submitted suggested topics on what is asked of the Church in Australia, and the future of the Church.

According to the final report on the listening phase, “strongly discussed topics included the rule of celibacy for priests, the ordination of women and the inclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics.”

The desire for “greater listening” and lay involvement in the Church, as well as better evangelization was also present in the submitted answers, the report said.

The Australian bishops' close collaboration with Rome stands in contrast to the so-called synodal process underway in Germany.

Last October, the German bishops’ conference voted to begin a “binding synodal process” to consider the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, clerical celibacy, and the power and authority of the clergy.

The synodal assembly includes priests, deacons, religious, pastoral workers and other lay Catholic groups. Unlike Australia, each member can vote on resolutions, with the votes of laypeople carrying equal weight with those of bishops.

In September, the Vatican issued a canonical critique of the German synodal plans, concluding that they are “not ecclesiologically valid.”

In a September letter to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops’ conference, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops—Cardinal Marc Ouellet— presented an assessment by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts which said the German plans were outside of the Church’s recognized structures. The process, the Vatican said, must conform to principles outlined by Pope Francis in June, in which the pope outlined the principles of authentic synodality.

In his letter to German Catholics, Francis said that “Every time the ecclesial community has tried to resolve its problems alone, trusting and focusing exclusively on its forces or its methods, its intelligence, its will or prestige, it ended up increasing and perpetuating the evils it tried to solve.” 

The Vatican legal assessment of the German plans determined that the synodal assembly was actually better described as a particular council, similar to the Australian plans, but lacking the necessary cooperation with Rome.

What to expect when Vatican archives on Venerable Pope Pius XII open in March

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2020 / 11:32 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s archives on the pontificate of Venerable Pius XII will become available for study March 2, possibly bringing to light new information about the pope’s actions during World War II.

Vatican archivists have said, however, that they do not expect any immediate surprises to emerge.

It is for the researchers to explore these questions, probably taking years “to make a historical judgement,” Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Archive, said Feb. 20.

He said “we believe that the new documents that open in different archives of the Holy See will better clarify, deepen, and contextualize, different aspects of the pontificate” of Ven. Pius XII.

Cardinal José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, archivist and librarian of the Vatican, said the Church welcomes the research that will take place. “We should have the patience to wait and listen,” he said.

The Vatican Apostolic Archive, formerly called the “secret archive”, is an office which preserves documents and books of historical and cultural importance to the Church and to the world. Since 1881 the archive has been open to qualified researchers on request.

Scholars have had access to documents through the papacy of Pius XI, which ended February 1939.

In 2019, Pope Francis announced that starting March 2, accessibility would be extended from March 1939 to October 1959, the end of the pontificate of Ven. Pius XII.

The complete catalog is expected to include approximately 16 million documents. The smaller archives of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Secretariat of State’s section for relations with states will also be opening to scholars.

The archive has received requests for access from more than 150 scholars from around the world, Pagano said. A maximum of 60 people may enter per day, he noted, “so we foresee that we will have a very weighty year of work.”

Historians request access to the archive to study many different periods, not only the papacy of Ven. Pius XII, Pagano said, stating they cannot “privilege” one over another.

But many people, especially Jewish scholars, will be interested in what the archives might reveal about the first part of Ven. Pius XII’s papacy and his actions during the Second World War.

Among some of the first researchers when the archives open March 2 will be a group from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., Pagano said. Other Jewish scholars from Rome and individual universities have also requested access.

Critics have accused Ven. Pius XII of indifference to the plight of the Jewish people during World War II, despite several already public documents which show the pope’s systematic efforts to assist Jews in Italy.

Historian Johan Ickx, director of the historical archive of the Secretariat of State’s section for relations with states, noted that many documents from Ven. Pius XII’s pontificate have already been made public.

When Pius XII’s cause for beatification was opened in 1967, St. Paul VI formed a committee of historians to study his predecessor’s life and behavior, especially the events of World War II.

The committee’s work led to the publication of “Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale” (Acts and Documents of the Holy See related to the Second World War), an 11-volume collection of documents about Pius XII’s papacy during that tumultuous time.

“Now, our material will add other things, other elements,” Ickx said. “This opening will, in fact, yet change something. … to understand better the truth of things. This is for sure.”

He added that more information will be known “from March 2 onward.”

Pagano said he fears any quick answers that may come, because some “little-prepared” scholars may come to the archive looking for a “scoop” of some sort.

“A serious scholar should take into account 10 years of study more or less,” he stated.

Tennessee governor denies clemency to death row 'model inmate'

Knoxville, Tenn., Feb 20, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The governor of Tennessee has denied a clemency request for a condemned prisoner described as a “model inmate,” clearing the way for his execution on Thursday, February 20. The decision was made despite appeals to spare his life from the family of one of his victims, and from prison officers.

Nicholas Sutton, 58, was sentenced to death in 1988 after he and another inmate murdered a fellow prisoner, Carl Estep, by stabbing him nearly 40 times on January 15, 1985. At the time of Estep’s murder, Sutton was serving a life sentence for the murder of his grandmother, Dorothy Sutton, whom he killed when he was 18. 

Gov. Bill Lee (R) denied the request for clemency on Wednesday morning. 

“After careful consideration of Nicholas Sutton’s request for clemency and a thorough review of the case, I am upholding the sentence of the State of Tennessee and will not be intervening,” said Lee. 

Sutton was also convicted of murdering two men--Charles Almon, 46 and John Large, 19--in North Carolina, also at the age of 18. In those cases, Sutton took a plea deal and received two additional life sentences. 

His attorneys argued that he underwent a change of heart since the four murders, and had “gone from a life-taker to a life-saver,” protecting the lives of prison officials during riots. 

“I owe my life to Nick Sutton,” said former prison officer Tony Eden in an affidavit for his clemency. Eden recounted a story where, during a riot at the Tennessee State Prison in 1985, five armed inmates attempted to take him hostage.

“Nick and another inmate confronted them, physically removed me from the situation and escorted me to the safety of the trap gate in another building,” said Eden. “I firmly believe that the inmates who tried to take me hostage intended to seriously harm, if not kill me.” 

Six other current and former Tennessee Department of Correction staff members have advocated that Sutton be granted clemency. Sutton’s clemency affidavit contends that, while he was in prison, he saved the lives of five people, including three prison staff members. 

The family members of some of his victims have also argued that he should not be executed. 

Former federal district court judge Kevin Sharp, who is serving as Sutton’s clemency attorney, said in a statement after the request was denied that his client “is a once-in-a-lifetime case for clemency.”

Sutton “has saved the lives of three correction officials during his incarceration; his request for clemency was supported by seven former and current Tennessee correction professionals, family members of victims, five of the original jurors and others,” said Sharp. 

Per the statement, correction officials were seeking to spare Sutton “so he could keep making the prison safer for guards and encouraging good behavior from inmates.” 

“Mr. Sutton has been a model inmate who seeks every opportunity to be of service to others,” said Sharp, explaining that Sutton cared for a disabled inmate every day who lost the ability to walk due to multiple sclerosis. 

Sutton’s execution is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday. He has opted for the electric chair to be the method of his execution, having previously argued that the lethal injection protocol is inhumane and accounts to torture. The preferred method for execution in the state is lethal injection, but inmates who were sentenced to death prior to 1999 were given the choice between lethal injection and electrocution. 

On Wednesday, it was reported that Sutton had ordered his last meal, which he will eat prior to his execution Thursday night. Sutton ordered fried pork chops, mashed potatoes with gravy, and peach pie with vanilla ice cream. 

The catholic bishops of Tennessee have repeatedly spoken out against the death penalty in the state and called on the governor’s office to half executions.

In May, 2019, the state’s three bishops wrote to Gov. Lee asking him to respect the dignity of all human life.

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who does not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote to Governor Bill Lee last year.

The letter was published May 3, and was signed by Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis.

The bishops said that “Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society.”

“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” the bishops said. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions.”