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Sainthood cause advances for religious sister, educator who fought racism

Baltimore, Md., Dec 11, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA).- In the race to see who will become the first canonized black American saint, one candidate’s cause has advanced: Mother Mary Lange, a renowned educator and founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first community of religious sisters in the United States for women of color.

In an announcement last week from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where Mother Mary Lange lived and served, Archbishop William Lori said that “I’m happy to say her cause is moving along.”

After meeting with Vatican officials about Lange’s cause last week, Lori reported that the paper arguing for her life of heroic virtue was nearly finished, and that the “positio,” another document arguing for her cause for canonization, was complete and being sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If approved, the document will be forwarded to Pope Francis, who would then be able to grant the title of “Venerable” to Mother Mary Lange.

Scant concrete details are known about the early life of Mother Lange. She was born Elizabeth Clarisse Lange sometime around the year 1784, most likely in a French-speaking area of Santiago, Cuba. Her parents were reportedly refugees who fled to Cuba from a revolution in their native Saint Domingue (in present-day Haiti), according to the Black and Indian Mission Office.

In the early 1800s, Lange emigrated to the United States from Cuba, and settled in Baltimore, Maryland, a popular landing spot for other French-speaking Catholic Haitian refugees at the time. She arrived in the U.S. well-educated and with some money to her name, indicating that her parents were also educated and well-off.

According to the Mother Lange Guild, Lange was living in Baltimore by 1813, and soon after realized that the children of her fellow refugees were in desperate need of education, something that was hard to come by for black children in pre-Civil War America.

Together with a friend, Marie Magdelaine Balas, Lange began offering free education to children of color from her home. In 1828, Lange was approached by a priest, Reverend James Hector Joubert, S.S., about officially founding a Catholic school for girls of color. Lange told the priest that she had been wanting to dedicate her life to God, and that she wanted to start not only the school but also a religious order of sisters for women of color. Permission was granted, and in 1829, Lange and three other women (including Balas) took their first vows as Oblate Sisters of Providence. Lange, who became the superior of the order, took the religious name of Mary, and became known as Mother Mary Lange.

The first paragraph of their order’s rule spelled out their vocation and mission: “The Oblate Sisters of Providence are a religious society of virgins and widows of color. Their end is to consecrate themselves to God in a special manner not only to sanctify themselves and thereby secure the greater glory of God, but also to work for the Christian education of colored children.”

“Our sole wish is to do the will of God,” Mother Lange once said of her order, according to the Oblate Sisters.

The school founded by the sisters, St. Frances Academy, is the oldest, continuously running school for black Catholics in the United States, and remains open today. By 1860, all children of color attending Catholic school in Baltimore were educated in schools run by the Oblate Sisters.

In 1843, the sisters suffered a blow at the death of Fr. Joubert, who had been their biggest supporter since the founding of the order. Combating poverty and racism, the sisters scrambled to shore up their order as some members left, and the Sulpician priests, the order to which Joubert had belonged, were no longer able to support the sisters.

“There was a sense of abandonment at the dwindling number of pupils and defections of her closest companions and co-workers,” the Mother Lange Guild states in her biography. “Yet, through it all Mother Mary never lost faith in Providence.”

During her lifetime, Lange and her sisters not only educated children of color, but they housed orphans and vulnerable elderly, and took in extra washing and mending and begged on the streets to support those in their care. In 1832, the sisters also cared for the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic. After the Civil War, the sisters cared for dozens of black orphans who were living in Baltimore. On February 3, 1882, after a long life of service to others, Mother Mary Lange died.

“Mother Mary Lange practiced faith to an extraordinary degree,” the Guild wrote of her. “In fact, it was her deep faith which enabled her to persevere against all odds. To her black brothers and sisters she gave of herself and her material possessions until she was empty of all but Jesus, whom she shared generously with all by being a living witness to his teaching.”

Lori added that Mother Lange was “a person who was in every way a pioneer” who “stood head and shoulders above the racism of her era.”

Should Lange be declared Venerable, the next step in her cause for canonization would be for a miracle through her intercession to occur and be approved by the Vatican.

Mexico's nuncio offers his email address for abuse reports

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 10, 2019 / 07:30 pm (CNA).- The apostolic nuncio in Mexico, Archbishop Franco Coppola, has said that anyone who wants to report sexual abuse by the country’s clergy is free to email him, and he will try to help.

Speaking with ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language news partner,  Coppola explained that “many times the people who have appealed here were victims who hadn't been listened to by those responsible for the Church and they come to the nunciature motivated by the commitment that Pope Francis has clearly expressed in favor of the victims.”

Coppola said the doors of his office are open to receive complaints and accompany victims “in their search for justice.”

The nuncio said that while it is not within the competency of his office “to conduct an investigation or take measures, what I have tried to do is facilitate the victim's access to the competent Church authority, whether on the level of the diocese, religious superior or the Holy See, accompanying the victim in his search for justice.”

Coppola stressed that efforts to prevent and fight sexual abuse by the clergy are “key because abuse is a betrayal of the very mission of the Church.”

“The mission of the Church is to make present a God who saves and these kinds of acts by committed by members of the clergy instead of saving and healing, wound and destroy people's lives,” he said.

The nuncio recalled Pope Francis' words in a 2018 letter on sexual abuse:

“Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”

Coppola noted that “following the pope's instructions, the Church has been developing a 'zero tolerance' policy, in the sense of proceeding with speed; applying concrete measures against abusers and also punishing any kind of cover up.”

“Trust is going to be gradually regained to the extent that the faithful find the merciful face of the Father reflected in their pastors,” he said.

The nuncio also highlighted the guidelines developed by the Mexican bishops' conference “which detail the procedures to follow in these cases in accordance with Mexican legislation and canonical legislation.”

Specifically, they entail “listening to, welcoming and accompanying the victim in order to make the appropriate complaint,” he explained.

Regarding the canonical process, Coppola said that “the bishop has to carry out a preliminary investigation on the facts, take the appropriate precautionary measures so the alleged culprit can't be a repeat offender, and immediately inform the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome which will indicate to him to steps to follow in the penal process.”

“In the civil area, the bishop has to notify the prosecutor's office of the crime he has knowledge of, so that the civil authority can also take appropriate measures to carry out justice and exact reparation for the harm committed. It's the bishop's obligation to continue to accompany the victim and his family, ensuring them of the necessary psychological and spiritual help.”

On Jan. 7, 2019, the Mexican bishops' conference formally installed a National Team for the Protection of Minors. One of the team’s first tasks is to compile national statistics on sexual abuse by clergy.

At a Feb. 10, 2019 press conference, the president of the Mexican bishops' conference, Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera of Monterrey, reported that over the past nine years, 152 priests in Mexico have been removed from ministry for sexual abuse of youths or vulnerable adults and some, due to the gravity of the crime, have been sent to prison. However, he did not give further details on the number of those in jail.

The apostolic nuncio provided ACI Prensa for publication his e-mail address for victims of clerical sexual abuse in Mexico: [email protected]

 

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

China punishes families of those who speak out in America, Congress hears

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A Uighur-American whose mother has been held captive in a Chinese detention camp was one of several witnesses to testify on Tuesday before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the unfolding human rights crisis in China. 

The hearing was titled “Authoritarianism with Chinese Characteristics: Political and Religious Human Rights Challenges in China” and was hosted by the Foreign Affairs’ Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and Nonproliferation.  

“Stop allowing China to take away freedom so totally in Xinjiang, in Tibet, increasingly in Hong Kong, and even here on your own soil,” said Ferkat Jawdat, a Uighur American who testified before the subcommittee. 

“Xinjiang security officials freely deliver threats, psychologically torture, and extortion, against your laws, to silence your own citizens here,” he told memebrs of Congress on Dec. 10.

“China is effectively taking the world hostage. Please do not let your voices be silenced. Begin to speak with meaningful actions,” he said in testimony that was published on the committee’s website.

Jawdat explained that while most of his family moved to the United States in 2011, his mother remained in China as she had been denied a passport. She has since faced the consequences of her son speaking out against the Chinese government. He said that he had been labeled a “terrorist,” and his other family members in China have been convicted of “bogus crimes” and sentenced to prison. 

His mother was sent to a re-education camp for Uihgurs. 

“On February 6th, 2018, my mother left me her last message on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp and other messaging platforms that it does not allow in China,” said Jawdat. “She told me she was going to the ‘school’ – the euphemism the whole world now knows China uses for its concentration camps. She then disappeared.”

His mother was eventually released from the camp in June 2019. 

Jawdat was critical of how President Donald Trump has handled the situation in China, and pleaded with the president to “stop allowing China to silence you.” He said he hopes that Trump would sign the “Uyghur Act of 2019” into law before the end of the year, and that Congress will pass legislation prohibiting companies in the United States from using products produced by forced labor in the province of Xinjiang. 

“Find a voice that speaks of freedom and justice, like Reagan’s, to the world to end tyrannies. Do not succumb with envy for their rich autocrats who have stolen billions from their own people and treat their suffering as badges somehow making them ‘great leaders.’ They are tyrants who rule for life, secured only by the wealth they steal,” he said. 

The United States, said Jawdat, should “Rededicate (...) our commitment to ‘Never Again!’ by taking action to convince China to empty its concentration camps and dismantle, rather than export, its high-tech mass surveillance police state.” Additionally, he feels as though the U.S. should fund organizations that will expose the human rights abuses happening in Xinjiang. 

“The Chinese government is spending billions every year to spread its propaganda around the world,” he said. 

“We should counter its propaganda by denying it such unequal access here and empower those who tell the truth with more resources and manpower to ensure facts pierce through China’s fiction,” Jawdat said.

As general election nears, bishops across UK stress right to life

London, England, Dec 10, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Every voter and politician must resist attacks on the right to life, and Catholic politicians must do so as both a human rights matter and as a “fundamental matter of our faith,” Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops have said ahead of the Dec. 12 U.K. general election.

“We have consistently said that the equal right to life, and love, of a mother and her unborn child is so fundamental to the common good of every society that citizens deserve the fullest participation in the democratic debate about the legislation which governs it,” Northern Ireland’s bishops said Dec. 5.

Northern Ireland’s strong laws against abortion were drastically weakened Oct. 21, under an act of the U.K. Parliament that took effect due to the absence of a ruling executive in the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly.

“This was a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives,” the bishops said. “It was also a sad day for our local democracy as this draconian Westminster abortion legislation was introduced over the heads of local citizens.”

“The right to life is not given to us by any law or government, and any law that removes this right is unjust and must be resisted by every voter and political representative,” they continued. “For Catholic politicians this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of our faith. Voters have a duty to inform themselves on the position of election candidates in respect of their willingness to support and cherish equally the lives of mothers and their unborn children.”

The general election will be the U.K.’s third since 2015. Normally they would be held every five years.

The elections in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland will determine who will fill a total of 650 parliamentary seats in the House of Commons.

Brexit is a central issue. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes the early election will increase the number of Members of Parliament for his Conservative Party, making his Brexit plans easier to achieve.

The Conservative Party currently leads a governing coalition, with confidence and supply from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. The Conservatives Party has not mentioned abortion in its most recent party platform.

Sinn Fein, a nationalist party putting forward MP candidates in Northern Ireland, backs legal abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy. However, its MPs do not take their seats in parliament.

Two U.K. opposition parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have made the full decriminalization of abortion part of their party platforms. Recently, the Liberal Democrats deselected a former MP as a candidate because of his Catholic faith and views on same-sex marriage and abortion.

Party members are required to support these party platform stands on abortion. The move has drawn criticism from Church leaders like Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury.

“As Christians, we must express the gravest concern that a number of political parties have dispensed with considerations of individual conscience making unequivocal manifesto commitments to deny the unborn child the right to life,” Davies said Dec. 5.

“I cannot fail to draw your attention to this further radical assault upon the sanctity of human life, presented as a program for government and the danger of discarding the rights of individual conscience in determining the right to life of the unborn child,” he said.

The bishop asked for prayers for candidates and for “light in making the difficult choices which an election involves.”

Both Catholic and Anglican leaders have criticized the pro-abortion rights party platforms.

Christine Hardman and James Newcombe, who are Church of England bishops, have written an open letter on behalf of the House of Bishops promising the Anglican bishops will “vigorously challenge any attempt to extend abortion provision beyond the current 24-week limit.” Their letter responded to 383 clergy and laity who in their letter to The Times objected to the manifesto promises to decriminalize abortion.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued a Nov. 29 statement urging voters to consider issues of human rights and the dignity of human life.

The English and Welsh bishops laid out several criteria for voters to consider when choosing their new MPs, foremost of which is respect for human life, including in the womb, and including care for those who are terminally ill and dying “while resisting the false compassion of assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

The fate of Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union was another major focus of Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops. They said the outcome of Brexit will have “a significant impact on our fragile peace and on our political, economic and social life.”

“Competent voices are needed to enunciate our concerns and we encourage voters to choose candidates who value positive relationships within and beyond these islands,” they said.

Other topics of the bishops’ letter included welfare reform, housing and homelessness, and human trafficking.

The major significance of the approaching election “brings an even greater responsibility on us, as followers of Jesus, to reflect in a conscientious and informed way on the breadth of issues involved,” the bishops said. They called for prayers for political candidates and respectful discussion about the issues at stake.

The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland also stressed the right to life as fundamental. The bishops’ pre-election message did not endorse any political party or candidate, but said abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia are “always morally unacceptable,” and that all politicians should be urged to resist the decriminalization of abortion, which leads toward abortion on demand for any reason.

The Catholic Parliamentary Office, an agency of the Scottish bishops’ conference, also reports on its website the votes of politicians on several bills, organized by parliamentary constituency.

These votes include the decriminalization of abortion, which the office said would clear the way for “abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth.” MPs’ votes on a bill to legalize assisted suicide are also recorded, as are how MPs voted on the parliamentary act which imposed permissive abortion laws and same-sex marriage on Northern Ireland.

Distributions of a leaflet version of this information by priests in the Angus area prompted accusations of favoritism towards the local Conservative Party candidate because the leaflets noted the Scottish National Party candidate’s pro-abortion rights stand, the newspaper The National reports.

A spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church rejected this claim.

“As you will be aware 59 different messages were sent out each one referencing the voting record of the incumbent MP. They show a range of voting behavior and do not indicate support or otherwise for any candidate, rather they offer publicly available information to parishioners on the most fundamental moral issues ... addressed in the last parliament,” the spokesman said.

DC basilica attack leaves 'Mary's Shrine' shaken, and at prayer

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2019 / 04:55 pm (CNA).- A violent attack at “Mary’s Shrine” in Washington D.C. on Tuesday shook the community and prompted prayer and solidarity among staff and regular attendees.

“It was evil, it was tragic—it could have been worse,” Monsignor Vito Buonanno, associate rector and director of pilgrimages of the Shrine, told CNA.

“It’s happened before in other places—people have entered houses of worship and killed people there. That’s the only reason why, I think, we all say we’re grateful to God, it could have been worse,” Buonanno said.

On Tuesday morning at 9:14 a.m., the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department responded to a 911 call at the basilica, where a suspect had struck a female security guard with his vehicle.

The basilica’s rector, Monsignor Walter Rossi, spoke at a press conference inside the basilica’s upper church on Tuesday afternoon. He said the assailant pinned the female security guard between his vehicle and other vehicles at the basilica’s east parking lot. The attacker allegedly tried to run the female staff member over.

A male security guard confronted the attacker in an attempt to help his coworker, and was pursued by the attacker into the basilica. The guard was stabbed multiple times by the attacker, according to Rossi and Jacquelyn Hayes, director of communications for the shrine.

The assailant then fled the scene.

“I had seen them just minutes before, when I came in to work—I see them every day. Every day,” Buonanno told CNA of his regular interactions with the security guards.

“We wished each other a good day, and who would ever think, I didn’t even get back into my—I didn’t get into my office to take my coat off when this occurred.”
 
After the attacks, Rossi prayed with the victims before they were transported to the hospital, Hayes said. Buonanno joined him.
 
The startling violence at “Mary’s Shrine,” descending like a lightning bolt on a place of peace, shook the community.
 
“I can tell you I’ve been here for 13 years, and nothing like this has ever happened,” Hayes said.
 
Paul Rybczyk, a graduate of neighboring Catholic University of America, arrived at the basilica later in the morning after the stabbing. He told CNA he has been attending Mass at the Shrine for 50 years.

“It’s something that’s really close to me,” he said. Tuesday’s attacks were “terrible.”

“Both security staff members are extremely dedicated to us. They are quite personable to our staff and guests alike, and this incident had been quite upsetting for everyone here at the National Shrine,” Rossi said.

“This Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a place of prayer, peace, worship, and pilgrimage.”

Late on Tuesday morning, the Shrine’s staff gathered to pray.
 
“He [Rossi] not only prayed for our security guards who were victims, but he also prayed for the perpetrator,” Hayes said. “That is who we are here at the Basilica.”

Morning events at the Shrine were curtailed because of the crime scene, but noon Mass occurred as usual, albeit in the Blessed Sacrament chapel on the upper level, not in the crypt church as originally scheduled. Dozens were in attendance as Monsignor Buonanno celebrated Mass.

“We had a number of people who came up to me personally today and who expressed their grief, but their gratitude for the Basilica being here, and they indicated that they were in solidarity and prayer with us,” Hayes said.

Buonanno preached in his homily what he later repeated to CNA—that the Shrine is a “holy place that we know is Mary’s house.”

“We are very close here at the shrine. It’s more than just staff. There truly is a sense of family, and when something like this happens, all of us—the whole staff—reacted, so upset,” he told CNA.

After the stabbing, the attacker fled the basilica in a Lincoln Navigator and later barricaded himself in a house in the nearby neighborhood of Brightwood, during an ensuing standoff with police.

A suspect was apprehended by police after the standoff ended, and had lacerations to the stomach area from before his capture. He was familiar with at least one of the two victims, Hayes said in a written statement on Tuesday morning.

The suspect lived at the house with family members, said Jeffery Carroll, assistant chief of police with the D.C. Metropolitan Police’s homeland security bureau, in a press conference on Tuesday morning.

The stabbing was believed to be a “domestic” attack and not a targeting of the shrine itself, D.C. Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday.

“We believe there is some sort of a domestic relationship between the female victim and the suspect here,” Carroll said.

Monsignor Rossi went to the hospital to visit the two victims and speak with their doctors, but would not disclose their condition out of privacy concerns. Hayes said that she understood the victims are “stable.”

The shrine’s security personnel are not armed, Monsignor Rossi said, although “we are in the process of looking at that policy.” The shrine was already reviewing its security operation before the time of the attack, he said.

“We do have D.C. Police with us for special events, and on the weekends, and we are looking at our entire security operations even as we speak—before this even happened. This is unfortunate timing,” Rossi said.

Hayes later said that the shrine is currently “on a heightened security alert,” and although it has 50 security guards, “in today’s day and age, we are looking at enhancing our current security protocols.”

“A member of our family has been struck. So that’s difficult, but we are in solidarity,” she said.

In January of 2019, a group of demonstrators at a rally led by Nathan Phillips attempted to enter the Shrine to disrupt a Saturday evening Mass on the weekend of the March for Life, but the group was halted by security personnel.

 

Evangelization begins with listening, Cardinal Tagle says

Quezon City, Philippines, Dec 10, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Listening is the first step in evangelization, the newly-appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said Tuesday in Quezon City.

“Evangelization is communication. God is a God who communicates, who dialogues. But He is also a God who listens,” Cardinal Luis Tagle said Dec. 10, according to ABS-CBN News.

He was speaking during a meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, which included the groundbreaking of the Veritas Asia Institute of Social Communications.

Cardinal Tagle encouraged a “spirituality of listening, to God, to neighbors and to the signs of the times.”

“Listening comes first,” he stated. “Many people are longing for someone and a community to listen. Even if you have no words, you communicate your presence, your compassion, your unity.”

The cardinal commented that “we are all in a hurry, rushing to say something, to issue a statement even when we have not heard yet. We have already something prepared without knowing what the question or statement is.”

He added that the Church needs people “who generate greater trust and confidence, as “in our world today [there is] so much fear, suspicion and prejudice. We don’t know whom to trust. We need people who can generate that atmosphere of trust.”

Cardinal Tagle also reflected that “having a beautiful building in itself does not guarantee evangelisation; it is the training and formation of people,” saying that “some of the most memorable catechetical lessons were learned under a tree” when he was a child. “If I were asked where we had these catechetical lessons, I could not name any building. Children were gathered. We had cookies. We had candies. And we came to the lessons.”

The cardinal, who is 62, was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples Dec. 8. He had served as Archbishop of Manila since 2011.

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Imus at age 24, and was appointed bishop of that see in 2001.

Vatican’s investment manager backed company that ‘misled investors’

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2019 / 03:50 pm (CNA).- The Italian businessman responsible for investing millions of Vatican funds owned a stake in an online options trading company fined in 2016 by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors.

Raffaele Mincione, through whom the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from the faithful, bought in 2015 a 5% stake in EZTD Ltd, an Israeli-based company known as EZTrader.

Through a privately arranged sale, instead of on the open market, Mincione paid only $.25 per share for his stake in the company, while the publicly listed share price was $5.10. For only $1.6 million, he acquired a stake in EZTD valued on the market at $32 million.
 
That investment lost 90% of its value after a 2016 SEC finding that the company had misled investors and violated both the Securities Act and the Securities and Exchanges Act. EZTD’s share price dropped to $0.001 after the SEC announced its findings and fined the company.

EZTD offered American investors a binary options platform, inviting customers to make an all-or-nothing bet on whether a stock would increase in value. The company did not explain the risks of its products, or register in the United States as a broker-dealer, the SEC found.

Fewer than three percent of the company’s 4,000 account holders made a profit investing through the company, according to the SEC.

“Not only did the firm fail to register the binary options or register as a broker-dealer to legally sell the investment to U.S. investors in the first place, but it failed to disclose on its trading platforms that there was significantly greater potential for investors to lose rather than earn money,” the SEC said in 2015

Because his stake in EZTD qualified him as a “beneficial owner,” Mincione was listed in the company’s 2015 SEC filing.

Mincione’s involvement in multiple Vatican investments has featured in a series of media reports in recent months.

In 2014 Mincione was managing $200 million for the Holy See’s Secretariat of State through his company Athena Capital, with 55% allocated to “speculative investments,” according to Corriere della Serra.

Among these, the Financial Times reported Oct. 17 that Mincione used Vatican funds to purchase unrated bonds in another of his holding companies, Time and Life SA, which financed his personal investments, while at the same time charging the Vatican millions of euros in performance and management fees.

That report raises the possibility that Vatican funds were used to finance Mincione’s stake in EZTD.

Also in 2014, Mincione’s Athena Capital was used to channel Vatican investment into a 45% share in another Mincione project - the luxury real estate development at 60 Sloane Avenue in London - at a price of 180 million euros, more than Mincione paid for his original investment in the whole building. CNA has reported that the Vatican’s funds for the purchase came from loans from two Swiss banks, and were concealed on Vatican balance sheets in breach of Vatican financial regulations.

While paying Mincione’s company, Athena, to manage the transaction, the Secretariat of State, under the authority of then sostituto Cardinal Angelo Becciu, decided to purchase the remaining 55% stake in the development from Mincione in 2016, allowing him to clear hundreds of millions of euros in profit on the sale of the second set of shares in the project.

Although it sold the Secretariat of State 30,000 of 31,000 shares in the project, Minicone’s holding company retained the 1,000 voting shares needed to control the holding company which owned the building. It offered to part with those at greatly inflated prices. That sale was eventually arranged through – according to Italian media – another businessman, Gianluigi Torzi.

Mincione’s estimated profit from managing the deal, excluding profit from selling the building itself, is 60 million euros, with Torzi making a further 10 million from his participation.

In early 2019, Becciu’s replacement as sostituto, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, became aware of the details of the deal and sought advice from Rene Brülhart, then the head of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority.

Vatican Gendarmes executed a raid at the Secretariat of State and AIF offices on Oct. 1 as part of an investigation related to the investment. Five people were suspended as a result, including two Secretariat employees listed as directors of the Vatican’s UK holding company now managing the building investment, London 60 SA Ltd.

A director of London 60 SA Ltd charged with leading the development project is Luciano Capaldo, a UK resident and UK-Itallian citizen. Capaldo was originally registered with Companies House in London as a Vatican citizen, raising still-unanswered questions about why the Secretariat of State might have conferred Vatican citizenship on a layman living in London.

Capldo himself has several business links to Torzi. FEG International Assets, a Luxembourg based company formerly run by Torzi, is a major investor in Capaldo’s Italian architecture and development company, Imvest, which was raided by Italian financial authorities in May 2018 on charges of preparation and submission of false budgets.

FEG and Torzi were named recently in a commercial fraud suit in London’s High Court. Also named as respondents in the suit was Odikon Services PLC, of which Torzi and Capaldo were also directors. Odikon, currently suspended by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, is a major shareholder in Meti Capital, which is itself the major shareholder in Imvest.

During a recent in press conference, Pope Francis was asked about the London investment. While confirming that he had personally authorized the October raids, he emphasised that proof of corrupt or illegal activity was “not yet clear,” before concluding that “it passed what passed: a scandal,”

“They have done things that do not seem clean,” the pope said. Last week, the Holy See press office confirmed that several investments and funds used by the Secretariat of State were under investigation.

“Lines of enquiry which may help clarify the position of the Holy See with respect to the aforementioned funds and any others, are currently being examined by the Vatican judiciary, in collaboration with the competent authorities,” a statement said.

Franciscan University forms partnership with Iraqi Catholic university

Steubenville, Ohio, Dec 10, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A Catholic university in the U.S. has partnered with an Iraqi Catholic college to promote opportunities for scholarship, collaboration, and understanding between the two countries.

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and the Catholic University of Erbil (CUE) in Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Dec. 6.

“The agreement forges ties between the two schools and cities that include cultural exchanges, such as the visit this past September by Iraqi high school students to Steubenville,” Tom Sofio, a Franciscan University spokesman, told CNA.

“The agreement also allows for the development of language courses in Arabic and Aramaic to be offered to Franciscan University students, the pursuit of scholarship funding for Iraqi students to study at Franciscan University … and Skype sessions between students at Franciscan University and The Catholic University of Erbil,” Sofio added.

The document was signed by Father Dave Pivonka, president of Franciscan, and Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who founded the Iraq university in 2015.

Under the agreement, students from Iraq can receive scholarships to take Franciscan University courses in person or online, and, in turn, Franciscan University students will have opportunities to visit Erbil, study there, and better experience the culture of the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

Erbil’s Catholic university, only four years old, has 147 students and offers 10 programs, including pharmacy technology, accounting, law, and international relations, the Herald-Star reported.

The partnership will also explore avenues of catechetical assistance for the Diocese of Erbil, which could involve the collaboration of Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute, Conference Office, and Wild Goose, a ministry led by the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular and founded by Pivonka. 

The partnership has been supported by Aid to the Church in Need USA. The organization also recently funded two of CUE’s computer labs, which especially benefit students in civil engineering or architecture programs.

Warda founded the CUE in 2015 to promote higher education and to help Christians displaced by the Islamic State. 

Some 125,000 Christians live in Iraq. The Christian population of the country has declined dramatically in recent years, as Christians fled the persecution of the Islamic State or were killed. The northern Kurdistan region in Iraq has about 4,300 Chaldean Christians, the Herald-Star reported, and several thousand more have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan since 2014.

Pivonka expressed hope that the partnership will be an opportunity for U.S. Catholic students to interact with Christians in other countries who have faced terrible persecution.

“Largely the Christians in Iraq have been forgotten. But they have much to offer us,” Pivonka told the Herald-Star this week.

“We talk about inconveniences in our faith. But in Iraq there are people who are dying for it. All of the (Iraqi) youth here have family members who have been killed. It’s just part of their faith.”

 

Peoria bishop announces novena for Venerable Sheen's sainthood cause

Peoria, Ill., Dec 10, 2019 / 02:38 pm (CNA).- Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria is inviting the faithful to pray a novena beginning Dec. 12 to "petition God unceasingly" that Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s sainthood cause may move forward.

Sheen, a beloved American evangelist and television personality who died in 1979, was set to be beatified Dec. 21 in Peoria, but the Holy See announced Dec. 2 that the beatification was to be postponed.

“I know how deeply saddened we all are about the postponement of the beatification of Fulton Sheen,” said Bishop Jenky said in a video message Dec. 9.

“But in these turbulent times when our faith is being tested...we need to remain faithful to prayer like Archbishop Sheen.”

The novena will begin Dec. 12 and include daily meditations on reflections from Sheen, Jenky announced.

In the days after the Diocese of Peoria announced the postponement, Catholics around the world reportedly led a grassroots effort to have “a million” Masses celebrated for Sheen to pray for his beatification to move forward.

Lo Anne Mayer, a Catholic in New Jersey who in 2017 helped to organize an effort calling on Catholic churches around the world to celebrate a special Mass on Sheen’s May 8 birthday, put the word out to Catholics to celebrate a special Mass for Sheen Dec. 9.

Dec. 9 marked the 40th anniversary of Sheen’s death at the age of 84. Catholic media outlets, including EWTN, helped to spread the word.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was 24 when he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

The Peoria diocese initially attributed the Vatican’s decision to postpone Sheen’s beatification to “a few members of the Bishop’s Conference who have asked for further consideration.”

CNA reported Dec. 4 that it was Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester who asked the apostolic nuncio to the United States to delay the beatification, citing concerns about an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into the dioceses of New York state.

New York’s attorney general began an investigation in September 2018 into whether any of the state’s eight Latin rite dioceses had covered up acts or allegations of clerical sexual abuse. Sheen was Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 1969.

The Rochester diocese said Dec. 5 that it expressed concern about the advancement of Sheen’s cause “without a further review of his role in priests’ assignments.”

“The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen’s cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification,” the diocese said.

Monsignor James Kruse, a former Peoria vicar general, told CNA that Bishop Matano expressed his concerns in a Nov. 19 letter, after the beatification was announced, saying that he could not support the scheduled beatification and requesting that it be delayed.

According to Kruse, a copy of this letter was also sent to Bishop Jenky, Cardinal Angelo Becchiu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Both Kruse and the Peoria diocese insist that Sheen’s life has been thoroughly examined and with regard to Sheen’s handling of the cases of two former priests accused of abuse, he “did nothing wrong.”

“Under the veneer of the Rochester diocese’s call for caution, more than an overwhelming majority of people would conclude that it is an unexplainable act of sabotage — a sabotage that simply hurts the faithful,” Monsignor James Kruse, an official in the Diocese of Peoria involved in advancing Sheen’s cause, wrote in a Dec. 7 op-ed.

Raleigh pro-life pregnancy center to move next door to abortion clinic

Raleigh, N.C., Dec 10, 2019 / 01:43 pm (CNA).- A pregnancy resource center in Raleigh, North Carolina will be allowed to move into a house next door to an abortion clinic following a settlement in a federal lawsuit, three years after the city council denied the center’s rezoning request.

Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center had been located about a half-mile from A Preferred Women’s Health Center, an abortion clinic, for several years, and wanted to move into a house next door to the abortion facility to save money and to be closer to the women seeking out the abortion clinic.

In July 2016 the city council denied the center’s rezoning request, classifying it as a medical facility because of its use of ultrasounds, and saying a medical facility is a poor land-use fit in that area. The city’s Board of Adjustment also ruled against the center, local newspaper The News & Observer reports.

The pregnancy center has rejected the label of medical facility, arguing that its ultrasounds are “non-diagnostic.” The center sued in federal court, with its attorneys arguing that it should be categorized instead as a civic organization since it is religiously affiliated.

According to the News & Observer, which obtained a copy of the Sept. 27 settlement terms, the city of Raleigh will pay Hand of Hope $25,000 after the lawsuit is dismissed. The pregnancy center agreed to not allow protesters on its site, “provided public prayer does not constitute protesting,” the terms state.

Though the agreement will allow Hand of Hope to continue providing free ultrasounds, the terms also require that less than one-fourth of the house’s square footage be used for medical activities. In addition, Hand of Hope will be able to provide a “predetermined set of medical services” for only one in four people visiting the office, The News & Observer reports.

The center will have to follow state law in administering its ultrasounds and other medical procedures, explain its religious origins on its website, and include the phrase “Hand of Hope” on any sign at its new location, according to The News & Observer.

Tonya Baker Nelson, executive director of the center, said the center’s attorneys provided hundreds of hours of their time for free, but the center still has significantly reduced legal expenses to cover.

“We are eagerly anticipating the earliest possible date for us to occupy our property that we have owned since December 2015 beside one of the busiest privately owned abortion clinics in the Southeast!” Baker wrote in an announcement on Facebook Nov. 27.

She said the new facility has a timeline of a “few months” to be open for business, and they plan to offer free ultrasounds, abortion pill reversal procedures, education classes, mentoring, and Bible studies.