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Benedict XVI's secretary denies rumors that he is close to death

Vatican City, Oct 17, 2017 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the personal secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, has rejected reports that the former pontiff is nearing death.

Rumors of Benedict XVI being close to death circulated on social media following a quote attributed to Ganswein, which reads, “Pope Benedict is like a candle that fades slowly. He is serene, at peace with God, with himself and the world. He can no longer walk without help and can no longer celebrate Mass.”

However, Archbishop Ganswein called his quote “pure invention.”

“It is false and wrong! I would like to know who the author of this is,” he said, according to German media outlet kath.net.

 “I have received in the last two days many messages that refer to this phrase, and people are worried,” he said.

Last week, Ratzinger’s brother was at the Vatican to visit, and he has now returned home, Ganswein confirmed, adding, “Both had a good time.”

 

US bishops call for health care protection for the most vulnerable

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of an executive order issued by the Trump administration halting federal assistance for certain insurance plans, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed that helping to protect low-income persons and the vulnerable is of the utmost importance.

“This is of grave concern. The Affordable Care Act is, by no means, perfect, but as leaders attempt to address impending challenges to insurance market stability and affordability, they must not use people’s health care as leverage or as a bargaining chip,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the U.S. bishops’  Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development in a statement.

“To do so would be to strike at the heart of human dignity and the fundamental right to health care. The poor and vulnerable will bear the brunt of such an approach.”

Trump's decision will end a series of subsidies for lower-income enrollees in Affordable Care Act plans, which help those people reduce their cost share. The subsidies were expected to total more than $9 billion in 2018, and Congress has never appropriated the money for these cost-sharing subsidies in particular.

Trump’s decision has been met with criticism from both the Democratic party and some members of the Republican party, while other members of the president’s party, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), praised the move.

Bishop Dewane explained that in addition to cutting federal funds for insurance subsidies for low-income buyers, Trump also issued a directive whichallow the sale of insurance plans across state lines and expand options for certain kinds of plans that are lower-cost, but contain fewer benefits.

There is also concern among healthcare policy experts that if enough healthy people leave their current plans for such high-deductible plans, those remaining in other Affordable Care Act plans would be, on the whole, sicker, and eventually face higher premiums. These costs would eventually impact the economy at large.

Dewane said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will monitor how the order is implemented, and its impact on vulnerable persons.

“In general, robust options for people to obtain health coverage, as well as flexibility and approaches aimed at increased affordability, are important strategies in health care,” he said of the other elements of the executive order. “However, in implementing this executive order, great care must be taken to avoid risk of additional harm to those who now receive health care coverage through exchanges formed under the Affordable Care Act.”

In addition to opening up new areas of concern, the executive order “ignores” other severe problems in the health care system, Dewane said.

“Congress must still act on comprehensive reform in order to provide a sustainable framework for health care, providing lasting solutions for the life, conscience, immigrant access, market stability, and underlying affordability problems that remain unaddressed.”

Pope invites prisoners to lunch, they break free instead

Bologna, Italy, Oct 17, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- They were supposed to be having lunch with Pope Francis.

During his Oct. 1 trip to Bologna, the Holy Father was scheduled to dine with 20 prisoners from a local drug rehabilitation facility, along with refugees and the poor of the area, during a “Lunch of Solidarity” at San Petronio Basilica.

Instead, two of the Italian prisoners shirked their invitation for what they saw as a prime opportunity for escape.

According to Bologna newspaper Il Resto del Carlino, the prisoners escaped sometime during the hour, though it is unclear whether they first ate lunch.

They have yet to be found.

Pope Francis regularly includes prisoners in his trips and events, including washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday and holding a Jubilee Mass for prisoners at the Vatican last year.

'Clarity and charity' – the keys to defending marriage in Australia

Sydney, Australia, Oct 17, 2017 / 12:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Australians return their ballots for a poll that could aid the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages, the Archbishop of Sydney called for Christian charity in clearly explaining the importance of marriage as the union of man and woman.

“However the marriage debate pans out, I pray people will be able to say of us that we maintained clarity about real marriage while demonstrating charity towards all. God bless our country and its voters with such clarity and charity,” said Archbishop Anthony Fisher in his Sunday homily Oct. 15.

Australia is currently conducting a voluntary postal survey as a plebiscite, a non-binding process to gauge public opinion. The survey closes Nov. 7. Results will be announced Nov. 15.

Only the federal government has the power to change Australian marriage law, the Australian high court has ruled. A “yes” vote would allow a bill to be introduced into Parliament, but would not guarantee its passage.

According to Archbishop Fisher, clarity had been lacking in the discussion.

“Sadly our marriage ‘debate’ has rarely touched on what marriage is, what it’s for,” he said. “We’ve had slogans like ‘love is love’ but not every kind of love is marriage. Nor, if we are honest, is every marriage especially loving, at least all of the time.”

The archbishop stressed the uniqueness of marriage as an institution that joins man and woman and that has the unique potential for the begetting of children.

Unlike normal elections, the current Australia survey is voluntary. The country often has legal penalties for non-voters. However, the survey costs about $96 million.

At least 10 million survey forms have been returned, the Australian website News.com.au reports.

Various surveys indicate over 60 percent of Australians favor the legal recognition of “gay marriage.”

Archbishop Fisher also voiced concerns about threats to religious freedom that the redefinition of civil marriage could pose.

“If overseas experience is anything to go by, if marriage is redefined it will be very hard to speak up for real marriage anymore – in schools, at work, socially,” he said, citing discrimination and “other kinds of bullying” against those who cannot accept the new definition.

“Some may lose their jobs, promotions, businesses, political careers,” said Fisher.

Heterosexual marriage is the only kind of friendship properly recognized by the state because it leads to new citizens, namely children, and gives them “the best start in life,” he added.

At the same time, the archbishop noted the difficulty of presenting the gospel in a changing culture that increasingly sees Christian views on many things, including sexuality, marriage, and reverence for life, as “arcane, even harmful.”

“In a culture which for all its putative open-mindedness is less and less tolerant of Christianity, how will we ensure in the years ahead that people in parishes, schools and other institutions are free to speak and practice their beliefs?” he asked. “How will we maintain a sense of who we are and what matters most to us when some others barely tolerate us or even vilify and bully us?”

Fisher cited the example of the protagonist in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” where pacifist Desmond Doss supports soldiers on the battlefield as a medic even though he himself refuses to kill.

“Desmond Doss had to make some hard choices, between worldly regard and godliness, between sticking to his principles and selling out to go with the flow,” the archbishop said. “He found a way to be true to his beliefs without being bigoted or bitter; indeed, being true to his ideals drove him to heroic compassion towards others and self-sacrifice on their behalf.”

 

Department of Justice announces settlement in HHS mandate suits

Washington D.C., Oct 16, 2017 / 09:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A week after issuing new religious freedom guidelines to all administrative agencies in the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice has settled with more than 70 plaintiffs who had challenged the controversial HHS contraceptive mandate.

The Oct. 13 agreement was reached between the government and the law firm Jones Day, which represented more than 70 clients fighting the mandate. Made public Oct. 16, the agreement states that the plaintiffs would not be forced to provide health insurance coverage for “morally unacceptable” products and procedures, including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

“This settlement brings to a conclusion our litigation challenging the Health and Human Services’ mandate obliging our institutions to provide support for morally objectionable activities, as well as a level of assurance as we move into the future,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. in an Oct. 16 letter to priests of the archdiocese.

The mandate originated with the Obama administration. Issued through the Department of Health and Human Services, it required employers – even those with deeply-held religious objections – to provide and pay for contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization coverage in their health insurance plans.

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was one of more than 300 plaintiffs who had challenged the mandate, arguing “that the practice of our faith was inextricably tied to the ministries that put that faith into action,” and that as such, they should not be forced to violate their faith to continue their ministries, Wuerl recalled.

The archdiocese and six other plaintiffs had argued their position before the Supreme Court in the case Zubik v. Burwell. In 2016, the high court ruled against the government’s requirement that certain employers provide and pay for the morally objectionable services.

“While the Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty and new guidelines and regulations are extremely helpful, the settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward,” the cardinal added.

The Department of Justice’s new settlement “removes doubt” and closes these cases challenging the mandate, the cardinal continued. “The settlement adds additional assurances that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward,” he stated.

On Oct. 6, the Department of Justice revised its guidelines for all government agencies in light of existing religious freedom laws, releasing a set of principles which stated clearly that the government cannot substantially burden religious practices, unless there is a compelling state interest in doing so and those burdens use the least-restrictive means possible.

Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college in California and another plaintiff against the HHS mandate also celebrated the protection the settlement brings.

“While we welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate last week by the Trump administration, we have under our agreement today something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive – and any similar future directive – that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs,” said Thomas Aquinas College president Dr. Michael F. McLean in an Oct. 16 statement.

“This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom.”

In addition to settling the case, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury have also decided to provide partial coverage of the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs of the lawsuits.

“This financial concession by the government only reinforces its admission of the burdensome nature of the HHS contraceptive mandate and its violation of the College's free exercise of religion,” stated Thomas Aquinas College General Counsel, Quincy Masteller.

South Africa needs a better anti-corruption system, bishops say

Cape Town, South Africa, Oct 16, 2017 / 09:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- South Africa’s Conference of Catholic Bishops has pushed for the development of an anti-corruption court, citing the damage to the country’s morale after a long standing corruption case against President Jacob Zuma.

“We urge constitutional experts and the Law Reform Commission to guide the nation on the feasibility of establishing an anti-corruption court,” said Bishop Abel Gabuza of Kimberley, chairman of the conference’s Justice and Peace Commission.

“When allegations of corruption hang over the head of a sitting president for this long‚ something gives way. In our case‚ the moral fiber of our nation has suffered massive damage as a result of people losing confidence in the office of the president.”

On Friday, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a 2016 ruling by the Pretoria High Court that 783 accounts of corruption could be reinstated against President Zuma.

The ruling stated that the charges should never have been dropped by the then-National Prosecutor Mokotedi Mphse. Known as the Spy Tapes case, the charges were revoked in 2009 after the phone-intercepted recordings were condemned as a political plot against Zuma’s presidential platform.

Zuma had been associated with an over $2 billion arms deal after his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, had been charged with corruption and fraud in 2005.

“The court battle on the Spygate and corresponding corruption allegations against the President have been going on for more than eight years. If the National Prosecuting Authority decides to reinstate corruption charges against the President‚ the matter will probably continue for another four years,” Bishop Gabuza said in an October 16 statement.

South Africa’s bishops expressed concern that an extended case would affect the public’s confidence in the presidential office and “its ability to fight corruption at all levels of government.”

The bishops’ conference urged the nation to form an anti-corruption court “that would ensure speedy and efficient addressing and disposal of corruption cases and financial crimes.”

The conference said that Zuma has not shown himself to be a president who is overly concerned with the fight against corruption and challenged future presidential candidates to push for a specialized anti-corruption system.

 

 

Callista Gingrich confirmed as US Ambassador to the Vatican

Washington D.C., Oct 16, 2017 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as the next U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. The vote was 70-23.

In a July 18 hearing, Gingrich had voiced her commitment to fight human trafficking and promote human rights and religious freedom. She had said that immigration and protecting the environment are both issues that the Trump administration is taking seriously, although taking a different approach from the previous administration.

Callista Gingrich is the president of both Gingrich Productions in Arlington, Va. and the charitable non-profit Gingrich Foundation, and is a former Congressional aide.

She is also a long-time member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and explained, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com, how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.

He noted that he had attended Masses at the National Shrine where Callista sang in the choir, and she “created an environment where I could gradually think and evolve on the issue of faith.”

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2011, he also cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to the U.S. as a “moment of confirmation” for him. At vespers with the Pope, where Callista sang in the Shrine choir, Newt recalled thinking that “here is where I belong.”

The couple worked on a documentary together that was released in 2010, “Nine Days That Changed the World,” that focused on Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland when the former Soviet bloc country was under a communist government.

The documentary explained how the Pope invigorated the faith of the Polish people in Jesus Christ during his pilgrimage there, and how the visit precipitated the fall of Communism.

In an Easter message posted on the website of Gingrich Productions, the couple noted that “we should remember the many threats facing Christians today,” including “a growing secularism, which seeks to place human desires ahead of God and His will,” and “radical Islamism” that “seeks to destroy Christianity across the globe.”

“But in the face of this evil, we remember the words of Saint John Paul II, who throughout his papacy urged us to, ‘Be not afraid’,” the statement continued.

As ambassador, Gingrich will follow Ken Hackett, the former head of Catholic Relief Services who served during President Obama’s second term as president.

In a January interview with CNA, Hackett opined that there would be areas of difference and of collaboration between the U.S. and the Holy See under the Trump administration.

One of the possible areas of tension might be on immigration and refugees, he said, as Trump criticized Pope Francis on the campaign trail in 2016 after the Pope celebrated Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border and urged everyone to pray for conversion of hearts over the suffering of forced migration.

Trump, who repeatedly promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and make the Mexican government pay for it, said last February that the Pope was a “pawn” of the Mexican government and “is a very political person, I think he doesn't understand the problems our country has.”

He also issued an executive order shutting down refugee admissions for four months at a time when Pope Francis has taken in refugees and U.S. bishops have called for the country to continue accepting refugees fleeing violence.

Meanwhile, there are other possible areas of collaboration between the U.S. and the Holy See, Hackett said in January, including on human trafficking, peace in the Middle East, a solution to the worsening crisis in Venezuela, and efforts to alleviate global poverty.

Pope Francis and President Trump met at the Vatican in May. According to a Vatican communique, they expressed satisfaction “for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience.”

During the “cordial discussions,” the two expressed hope for peaceful collaboration between the government and the Catholic Church in the United States, that it may be “engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants,” the Vatican statement said.

The two leaders also exchanged views “on various themes relating to international affairs, the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.”

 

 

Despair would worsen the situation, bishop says in wake of Somalia attack

Djibouti, Djibouti, Oct 16, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After Somalia suffered its deadliest terrorist attack on Saturday, the Bishop of Djibouti reflected on the need for hope and unity among Somalis lest it become “a double attack.”

A truck packed with explosives exploded in front of a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu Oct. 14, killing at least 276 people. Many more were wounded.

“I would say that even though what has happened its a catastrophe, we mustn't despair. It would be a double attack if we despaired,” Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti told Vatican Radio.

Bishop Bertin also serves as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Mogadishu, which has been vacant since the assassination of its last bishop in 1989.

The bombing has yet to have been claimed by any group. Some Somalis have reacted to the attack by condemning al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group associated with al-Qaeda.

Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called it a “heinous act” targeting “civilians who were going about their business.”

Bishop Bertin commented that “when one goes [to Somalia] the situation seems normal; I could spend five days in Baidoa, two days in Mogadishu. Obviously I was accompanied by an armed escort, but the Somalis seemed to be living normally. It seems like normal life.”

“You might have the impression that they are rather habituated to seeing, undergoing these momentary attacks, but they never seem to change life there.”

The bishop added that he thinks “we should continue to seek greater unity within Somalia and the international community to face this problem.”

Turkey is taking 40 of those injured in the attack for medical treatment, and the African Union has said it will continue its support of Somalia as it works “to achieve sustainable peace and security.”

The US Mission to Somalia stated that it “lauds the heroic response of the Somali security forces and first responders and Somali citizens who rushed to the aid of their brothers and sisters. Such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism to promote stability and prosperity for the Somali people and their regional neighbors.”

Somalia has been in a state of turmoil since the early 1990s, and was long regarded as a failed state. It has relatively stabilized in recent years, and has been called a fragile state.

The federal government has consolidated control over much of the southern part of the country, though Islamists still control several swathes of territory. Somalia's northern areas are effectively governed as the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

Italian Catholic priest kidnapped in Nigeria

Abuja, Nigeria, Oct 16, 2017 / 01:44 pm (ACI Prensa).- An Italian Catholic priest, who is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, was kidnapped on Thursday by armed men in Benin City, Nigeria, according to media reports.

Fr. Maurizio Pallu had been a missionary in Nigeria for three years.

According to the Italian bishops' publication, Avvenire, the kidnappers may be local criminals whose aim would be to obtain a ransom in exchange for the priest.

While the Islamist terror group Boko Haram is active in Nigeria’s northern region, the priest was kidnapped from the south.

Authorities are investigating the incident.

Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office, posted on Twitter that “Pope Francis has been informed about the Italian priest kidnapped in Nigeria, Fr. Maurizio Pallu, and is praying for him.”

Fr. Pallu is 63 and a native of Florence. As a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, he was a lay missionary for 11 years in various countries. In 1998, he entered the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Rome.

After serving as a chaplain in two parishes in Rome, he was sent to Holland, where he was a pastor in the diocese of Haarlem. From there, he was sent to the Nigerian archdiocese of Abuja.

Several other priests have recently been kidnapped from the Nigerian state of Edo, where Benin City is located, and one has been killed.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

In Diwali message to Hindus, Vatican officials call for mutual respect

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2017 / 11:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With tensions between Christians and Hindu nationalists in India increasingly on the rise, the Vatican sent a message marking the Hindu feast of Diwali, urging members of both religions to go beyond mere tolerance of one another, and to foster a genuine mutual respect.

Diwali is a Hindu festival of lights, and is being celebrated this year on Oct. 19.

“May this festival of lights illumine your minds and lives, bring joy to your hearts and homes, and strengthen your families and communities,” read a greeting to Hindus sent Oct. 16 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligous Dialogue. The message was signed by the council's president, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and its secretary, Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot.

In their message, titled “Christians and Hindus: Beyond Tolerance,” Tauron and  Ayuso acknowledged that there are many good things happening in the world for which to be grateful, but said there are also difficulties that “deeply concern us.”

They said, “the growth of intolerance, spawning violence in many parts of the world,” is one of these challenges.

In India this intolerance has been acutely felt with an increase in violence against minorities in the country, including Christians and Muslims. While there is no state religion in India, nearly 80 percent of its population is Hindu.

“On this occasion,” the Vatican officials wrote, “we wish to reflect on how Christians and Hindus can together foster mutual respect among people – and go beyond tolerance, in order to usher in a more peaceful and harmonious era for every society.”

“Tolerance certainly means being open and patient with others, recognizing their presence in our midst. If we are to work for lasting peace and true harmony, however, tolerance is not enough. What is also needed is genuine respect and appreciation for the diversity of cultures and customs within our communities, which in turn contribute to the health and unity of society as a whole,” the letter read.

They wrote that “to see pluralism and diversity as a threat to unity leads tragically to intolerance and violence.”

“Respect for others is an important antidote to intolerance since it entails authentic appreciation for the human person, and his or her inherent dignity.”

This respect encourages mutual esteem for different social, cultural and religious practices, while at the same time recognizing the inalienable rights of others, “such as the right to life and the right to profess and practice the religion of one’s choice,” they said.

In order for diverse communities to move forward, then, the path must be one “marked by respect,” they said: “While tolerance merely protects the other, respect goes further: it favors peaceful coexistence and harmony for all.”

“Respect creates space for every person, and nurtures within us a sense of 'feeling at home' with others,” and rather than dividing and isolating, “respect allows us to see our differences as a sign of the diversity and richness of the one human family.”

The Vatican officials then urged members of different religious traditions to “go beyond the confines of tolerance by showing respect to all individuals and communities, for everyone desires and deserves to be valued according to his or her innate dignity. This calls for the building of a true culture of respect, one capable of promoting conflict resolution, peace-making and harmonious living.”

“Grounded in our own spiritual traditions and in our shared concern for the unity and welfare of all people, may we Christians and Hindus, together with other believers and people of good will, encourage, in our families and communities, and through our religious teachings and communication media, respect for every person, especially for those in our midst whose cultures and beliefs are different from our own.”

Thus, they concluded, “we will move beyond tolerance to build a society that is harmonious and peaceful, where all are respected and encouraged to contribute to the unity of the human family by making their own unique contribution.”