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Catholic student jailed in Hong Kong for pro-democracy protest

CNA Staff, Nov 23, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Three pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, including Catholic university student Agnes Chow, pled guilty on Monday for their roles in an “illegal assembly” protest last year in front of a police station.

Chow, 23, along with Joshua Wong, 24, and Ivan Lam, 26, pled guilty on Monday and received their sentences. The three were arrested in August 2019 for a protest the previous June, and were arrested again this year. 

Initially, only Chow was expected to plead guilty. The South China Morning Post reported that Lam and Wong decided “last minute” to change their pleas from not-guilty to guilty. 

Wong said he hoped that their prison sentences would serve to bring attention to the actions of the Chinese government, which has imposed sweeping restrictions on free speech in Hong Kong following the new National Security Law brought into force in July. 

Speaking before his plea on Monday, Wong criticized the “continuing crackdown against [Hong Kong’s] citizens,” saying that this meant that young people were going “from protests to prisons to safeguard liberty” for Hong Kong. 

“Neither prison bars nor election bans, nor any other arbitrary power will stop us from activism,” he said. Wong and Chow were among the co-founders of a now-defunct pro-democracy political party in Hong Kong. The party ceased operation upon the enactment of the National Security Law.

Both Wong and Chow were barred from running in separate elections for seats on the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for “sedition.” 

Chow said she was “feeling uneasy” about the possibility of being sent to prison for the first time, and said that the sentence meant she had an “uncertain future.”

“But I hope all of you will not forget the many people who have made bigger sacrifices than we did,” she said on Monday. 

The trio will be sentenced on December 2. They face up to three years in prison. 

In an interview released on social media on Sunday, Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, criticized Vatican silence on the human rights situation in Hong Kong and China. The cardinal said that even non-Catholics have noticed that the pope has not raised the issue of the Chinese government’s actions against civil liberties.

“Even people outside of the Church, they say ‘Why isn’t your pope saying anything against what China is doing?’,” Zen said in a video clip released Nov. 22. “It’s very sad.” 

“The pope has a spiritual power, and he should use that power to encourage the government to do better, to change their ways,” said Zen. 

On Oct. 22, the Vatican agreed “to extend the experimental implementation phase” of a two-year provisional agreement with the Chinese government, first signed on Sept. 22, 2018, concerning the nomination of bishops. The Vatican communique announcing the renewal added that the two parties intended to pursue “an open and constructive dialogue.”

Addressing the current situation in Hong Kong and China, and the Vatican’s renewed accord with the Chinese Communist government, Zen said that “Seemingly, [the pope] believed that by this compromise, this leniency, he can get anything. But the facts show that he got nothing.”

Cardinal Becciu launches second defamation lawsuit since resignation

CNA Staff, Nov 23, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Angelo Becciu is launching a second defamation lawsuit in relation to “offensive” media reports surrounding the events that led to his resignation from the rights of a cardinal, his lawyer told CNA Nov. 23. 

The latest lawsuit involves statements made by an Italian woman, Geneviève Ciferri Putignani, to the Italian newspaper “La Verita,” published Nov. 22, in which Putignani alleged that Becciu accused her of plotting against him, while swearing and invoking the names of God and the pope  -- a claim the cardinal strongly rejects.

Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said in an official statement: “The sacrilegious content of the article, seriously offensive to the Holy Father and my client, rests on attributions of phrases and attitudes that the cardinal rejects with absolute firmness, denouncing their total falsity, and which will be brought to the attention of the judicial authority.”

“I received a mandate from Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu to propose an immediate complaint for aggravated defamation against Mrs. Geneviève Ciferri Putignani, in relation to the statements attributed to her today by the newspaper “La Verità,’” Viglione said in the statement he sent to CNA Nov. 23.

This is the second defamation lawsuit filed by Becciu since the Vatican announced his resignation as prefect and from the “related rights of the Cardinalate” on Sept. 24.

On Nov. 18, the former senior Vatican official said he was taking legal action against the Italian media outlet L’Espresso for publishing “unfounded accusations” against him.

Since September, Italian newsweekly L’Espresso has published several reports about the former curial official, including claims he is being investigated by the Vatican for misuse of Secretariat of State funds and papal alms while he was serving as the department’s sostituto.

Becciu has denied reports that he had used Church funds to benefit family members, or that he had attempted to influence the outcome of a sex abuse trial against Cardinal George Pell in Australia last year.

Becciu, who until Sept. 24 served as the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, called the allegations “all false” and repeated that he has not been contacted by Vatican judicial authorities.

Becciu said any money he may be awarded by the court will be given to charity, claiming that the “outlandish ‘investigations’” against him have also caused “global damage” and harmed the “whole Church.”

The cardinal has also been accused of giving hundreds of thousands of euros to an Italian woman, Cecilia Marogna, as payment for international “security” services she says she carried out for the Secretariat of State from 2018 to 2019.

The Vatican court has asked Italian authorities to extradite Marogna as part of an investigation into how the 39-year-old used the Secretariat of State funds. In October she was released from a Milan jail on the provision she does not leave the city, as she awaits a decision on her appeal of the extradition, the hearing for which will take place Jan. 18, 2021.

Becciu has said that he resigned following an audience with Pope Francis, who told him that he no longer trusted him because he had seen reports from Vatican magistrates implicating the Italian cardinal in embezzlement. Becciu denied that he had committed any crimes and said he was ready to explain himself if called on by the Vatican’s judicial authorities.

Pope Francis and NBA players discuss social justice in Vatican meeting

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met with five NBA players at the Vatican Monday to discuss their efforts to combat social and economic injustice in the United States.

Milwaukee Bucks shooting guards Kyle Korver and Sterling Brown were a part of the delegation, along with Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Anthony Tolliver, and Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs.

The basketball players met with the pope privately Nov. 23 in the papal library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. Three executives from the players’ union, the National Basketball Players Association, also took part in the meeting.

The pope commended the athletes for being examples of teamwork. “You’re champions … giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble ... and preserving your own humanity,” AP reported the pope as saying.

Pope Francis requested the meeting last week because he wanted to learn more about the American athletes’ social justice advocacy, and the players’ union quickly scheduled an overnight flight Sunday, according to ESPN.

Following the death of George Floyd in May, NBA players mobilized to raise awareness of the police brutality affecting Black communities and the broader issues of inequality. 

Players from six NBA teams also called off their postseason games in August in protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin -- a decision that led other professional sports teams to do likewise.  Among those players were Brown and Korver. 

Brown recounted the experience to the pope. “It was raw and emotional for our team,” he said.

Pope Francis wrote about racism in his most recent encyclical “Fratelli tutti,” in which he compared racism to a virus that “quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting.”

The pope also spoke out about racism in the U.S. during a livestreamed audience in June in which he said that he was praying for the soul of George Floyd and for all who lost their lives “because of the sin of racism.”

Pope Francis also called Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops conference, the same day to thank the American bishops for the pastoral tone of the Church’s response to the demonstrations across the country.

“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” Pope Francis said via livestream June 3.

“Let us pray for the comfort of families and friends who are heartbroken, and pray for national reconciliation and the peace we yearn for.”

Bishop Malone and Buffalo diocese sued by NY AG over clergy abuse

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 23, 2020 / 11:40 am (CNA).- The State of New York is suing the Diocese of Buffalo and its former bishops for failing to protect children for clergy sex abuse.

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit on Monday in the state’s supreme court against the diocese. The state also named Bishop Emeritus Richard Malone, retired auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, and Buffalo’s apostolic administrator, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, in the lawsuit.


#BREAKING: I filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and former senior leaders after we found they failed to follow mandated policies and procedures that would help to prevent the rampant sexual abuse of minors by priests within the Catholic Church.

— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) November 23, 2020 The state alleges that the diocese, Malone, and Grosz failed to properly investigate claims of clergy sex abuse. The state also claims diocesan leadership did not “refer unassignable priests to the Vatican,” monitor priests with credible accusations, or take necessary action against diocesan priests credibly accused of child sex abuse. Under state laws governing non-profits, the diocese did not act in “good faith” by failing to follow its own procedures on clergy sex abuse.

The state is seeking a court order for the diocese to comply with its own policies and procedures on clergy sex abuse, and for the appointment of an auditor to investigate the diocese’s compliance. In addition, the state is seeking restitution from Malone and Grosz, and a ban on their serving “a secular fiduciary role in a nonprofit or charitable organization” in the state.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Buffalo told CNA that the diocese “will be reviewing this lawsuit just announced by the New York Attorney General and weighing the Diocese’s response.”

“In the meantime,” the diocese said, “we wish to reiterate that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or of sexual harassment of an adult in the Diocese of Buffalo by any member of the clergy, employee or volunteer.” 

“The Diocese has put in place rigorous policies and protocols governing required behavior as well as a code of conduct which all clergy are expected to abide by. Moreover, the Diocese has committed to full cooperation with all civil authorities in both the reporting and investigation of alleged crimes and complaints.”

In 2018, then-Attorney General Barbara Underwood launched an investigation into the diocese over allegations of clergy sex abuse and the failure to investigate by diocesan leaders.

The office, now under James, said Monday that the two-year investigation had discovered that although “the diocese’s leadership found sexual abuse complaints to be credible, they sheltered the accused priests from public disclosure by deeming them as ‘unassignable,’ and permitted them to retire or go on purported medical leave, rather than face referral to the Vatican for possible removal from the priesthood.”

The diocese flouted the requirements of the U.S. bishops’ conference in responding to allegations of clergy sex abuse, the state claimed in its lawsuit.

Despite the USCCB implementing standards for responding to clergy sex abuse for dioceses acorss the country through the 2002 Dallas Charter and Complimentary Norms, the diocese “ignored” the charter “[f]or nearly two decades,” the state said.

The diocese did not conduct proper investigations of clergy sex abuse, as directed by the USCCB, and failed to refer more than two dozen priests with substantiated accusations of abuse to the Vatican.

When the diocese’s “mishandling of specific cases was exposed,” the state claims in the suit, it “misled its beneficiaries about its response to sexual abuse allegations and the measures that its leaders had taken to protect the public.”

The Buffalo diocese has been embroiled in scandal since November, 2018, when Bishop Emeritus Richard Malone’s former assistant leaked records reportedly showing that the diocese worked with lawyers to conceal credible abuse allegations from the public.

While the diocese had reported the names of some priests credibly accused of abuse, it had not reported others, the records appeared to show. Bishop Malone denied claims that he had covered up abuse.

Six months later, Bishop Malone apologized for his handling of the case of Fr. Art Smith, a diocesan priest who faced repeated accusations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

Bishop Malone had written to the Vatican in 2015, in a letter later reported in the press, asking that Fr. Smith be kept in active ministry. He admitted in the same letter that Smith had groomed a young boy, had been accused of inappropriate touching, and refused to stay in a treatment center. Smith was eventually suspended in 2018 after the diocese received a new substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. 

In August of 2019, the diocese was named in a RICO lawsuit alleging that its handling of clerical sex abuse was akin to that of an organized crime syndicate.

In September, 2019, Bishop Malone’s former secretary leaked audio of conversations where Malone appeared to acknowledge the legitimacy of sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the priest was removed from active ministry.

In Oct., 2019, a Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation of the diocese commenced, and in December, Pope Francis accepted Bishop Malone’s resignation.

The Buffalo diocese filed for bankruptcy in February of this year, after it was named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed in New York courts.

Court allows Tennessee abortion ban to go into effect

CNA Staff, Nov 23, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A federal appeals court on Friday allowed a Tennessee ban on some abortions to go into effect.

A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that a part of the state’s abortion law can go into effect, a “reason ban” that bars discrimination abortions.  

Tennessee in July enacted a law with several restrictions on abortion, including a “heartbeat ban” on abortions conducted as early as six weeks into pregnancy, and bans on abortions at other stages in pregnancy should the “heartbeat” ban be struck down by a court.

The law also banned doctors from performing abortions if they knew the mother was seeking the abortion “because of” the sex, race, or Down syndrome diagnosis of her baby—a “reason ban,” in Section 217 of the law.

Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU challenged the law in court. In July, a federal district court halted the law from going into effect.

The Sixth Circuit on Friday put a stay on the lower court’s ruling with respect to Section 217, allowing that part of the law to go into effect.

Judges Eugene Siler and Amul Thapar issued the majority opinion. The plaintiffs’ claim, they said, that the law was vaguely written did not have “a likelihood of success on the merits.” The state, meanwhile, would suffer “ongoing irreparable harm” if the law was halted. Thus, they said the conditions were met to grant a stay on the lower court’s decision.

After the ruling, pro-abortion groups submitted another request for the courts to halt the “Reason Bans,” arguing this time that the bans violated a woman’s constitutional right to a pre-viability abortion.

A coalition of 18 states filed a brief at the court supporting Tennessee’s law.

“Protecting the most vulnerable members of society is an interest of the utmost importance for States. And it is hard to imagine a scenario where this interest comes into sharper focus than protecting unborn children from eugenics-motivated abortions,” the brief stated, which was authored by Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia also signed onto the brief.

Kentucky is in court fighting to protect its own discrimination abortion ban, Cameron said.

In his dissent, Judge Eric Clay said that the state’s ban violates a woman’s constitutional right to a pre-viability abortion.

“If a woman seeks an abortion for a reason prohibited by the statute, a physician’s refusal to provide the service will pose an ‘undue burden’ on the woman in her effort to obtain a pre-viability abortion, a constitutionally protected choice,” Judge Clay wrote. 

Franciscan friar named cardinal says he is taking a leap into the deep

Rome Newsroom, Nov 23, 2020 / 07:05 am (CNA).- Franciscan friar Mauro Gambetti was ordained a bishop Sunday afternoon in Assisi less than a week before he will become a cardinal.

At 55 years old, Gambetti will be the third youngest member of the College of Cardinals. He said at his episcopal ordination Nov. 22 that he felt he was taking a leap into the deep.

“There are turning points in life, which sometimes involve taking leaps. What I am experiencing now, I consider as a dive from the springboard into the open sea, while I hear myself repeating: ‘duc in altum,’” Gambetti said, quoting the command of Jesus to Simon Peter to “put out into the deep.”

Gambetti was consecrated a bishop on the feast of Christ the King in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Pontifical Legate for the Basilicas of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Mary of the Angels.

“On the day we celebrate the triumph of Christ’s love, the Church gives us a particular sign of this love through the consecration of a new bishop,” Vallini said in his homily.

The cardinal instructed Gambetti to use the gift of his episcopal consecration to recommit himself to “manifesting and bearing witness to Christ’s goodness and charity.”

“The oath that you make this evening with Christ, dear Fr. Mauro, is that from today you can look at every person with the eyes of a father, of a good, simple and welcoming father, a father who gives joy to people, who is ready to listen to anyone who wants to open up to him, a humble and patient father; in a word, a father who shows the face of Christ on his face,” Vallini said.

“Therefore, ask the Lord to always keep, even as a bishop and cardinal, a lifestyle that is simple, open, attentive, particularly sensitive to those who suffer in soul and body, a style of a true Franciscan.”

Gambetti is one of three Francsicans who will receive a red hat from Pope Francis at a consistory on Nov. 28. He has served as the General Custos, or head, of the convent attached to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi since 2013.

The other two Franciscans to be made cardinals are Capuchin Celestino Aós Braco, the archbishop of Santiago de Chile, and 86-year-old Capuchin friar Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who asked Pope Francis for permission to remain “a simple priest” rather than undergo the customary episcopal ordination prior to receiving his red hat.

Gambetti will be the first Conventual Franciscan to become a cardinal since 1861, according to

Born in a small city outside of Bologna in 1965, Gambetti earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Bologna -- the oldest university in the world -- before joining the Conventual Franciscans at the age of 26.

He made his final vows in 1998 and was ordained a priest in 2000. Following his ordination, he served in youth ministry in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna before being elected superior of the Franciscans in the Bologna province in 2009.

Gambetti will be one of 13 new cardinals created by Pope Francis in a consistory on Nov. 28. 

“Today I received a priceless gift,” he said after his episcopal ordination. “Now, a dive in the open sea awaits me. To tell the truth, not a simple dive, but a real triple somersault pike.” 

Vatican confirms that two cardinals-designate will be absent from consistory

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2020 / 06:10 am (CNA).- The Vatican confirmed Monday that two cardinals-designate will not receive their red hats from Pope Francis in Rome this Saturday.

The Holy See press office said Nov. 23 that Cardinal-designate Cornelius Sim, the Apostolic Vicar of Brunei, and Cardinal-designate Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, in the Philippines, would not be able to attend the Nov. 28 consistory because of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The press office said that a representative of Pope Francis would present them with the biretta, cardinal’s ring and title connected with a Roman parish “at another time to be determined.”

It added that existing members of the College of Cardinals unable to travel to Rome for the consistory would be able to follow the occasion via a livestream. 

The ordinary public consistory for the creation of new cardinals will take place at 4 p.m. local time at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, with a congregation of around a hundred people. The new cardinals will not follow the custom of receiving well-wishers after the ceremony because of coronavirus restrictions.

The new cardinals will concelebrate Mass with the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 a.m. local time on Sunday, Nov. 29.

Pope Francis announced Oct. 25 that he would create 13 new cardinals, including Archbishop Wilton Gregory.

Gregory, who was appointed Archbishop of Washington in 2019, will become the first Black cardinal of the United States. 

Other cardinals-designate include Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who became secretary general of the Synod of Bishops in September, and the Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro, who was named prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in October. 

Also receiving the red hat is the Italian Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980. Aged 86, he will not be eligible to vote in a future conclave.

Cantalamessa told CNA Nov. 19 that Pope Francis had permitted him to become a cardinal without being ordained a bishop.

Also appointed to the College of Cardinals are Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco of Santiago, Chile; Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda; Archbishop Augusto Paolo Lojudice, former Rome auxiliary bishop and current Archbishop of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino, Italy; and Fra Mauro Gambetti, Custos of the Sacred Convent of Assisi. 

Gambetti was ordained a bishop on Sunday in the Upper Church of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

Alongside Cantalamessa, the pope named three others who will receive the red hat but be unable to vote in conclaves: Emeritus Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico; Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer Emeritus to the United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva; and Msgr. Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, Rome.

Feroci was ordained a bishop in his parish church by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, on Nov. 15.

Cardinal-designate Sim has overseen the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei Darussalam since 2004. He and three priests serve the roughly 20,000 Catholics who live in Brunei, a small but wealthy state on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

In an interview with Vatican News, he described the Church in Brunei as a “periphery within a periphery.”

Pope Francis appoints new Sistine Chapel Choir director

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed a new director of the Sistine Chapel Choir Sunday. 

The pope named the Brazilian Msgr. Marcos Pavan as Maestro Director of the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina Nov. 22, the Feast of St. Cecilia.

Pavan had served as interim director following the departure of Salesian priest Fr. Massimo Palombella in July 2019 after a nine-year tenure.

The Holy See press office announced in September 2018 that the pope had authorized an investigation into the “economic-administrative aspects” of the choir.

In January 2019, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio moving the Sistine Chapel Choir under the administration of the Office of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, instead of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household and the choir’s manager, Michelangelo Nardella.

The pope entrusted Fr. Guido Marini, master of ceremonies of papal liturgies, with managing the choir and drafting its new statues.

Pavan, 58, has served with the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina since 1998. He previously oversaw the Pueri Cantores, or boys’ choir, section of the Sistine Chapel Choir. 

He trained as a lawyer in Brazil before pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. In 1996, he was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Campo Limpo, which is based in the city of Campo Limpo Paulista, a municipality of the state of São Paulo.

The Sistine Chapel Choir consists of 20 professional singers from around the world, as well as a treble section made up of 35 boys, aged 9-13.

With a 1,500-year history, the Sistine Chapel Choir is believed to be the oldest active choir in the world.

Announcing Palombella’s departure on July 10, 2019, the Holy See press office said: “The Holy Father has accepted the Maestro’s request to terminate his office. The decision was taken after obtaining the concordant opinion of the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.”

“Msgr. Palombella is now available to the Salesian Congregation for the new ministry that will be entrusted to him.”

‘Small things count,’ says cardinal-designate from Maltese island

When he was bishop of the Diocese of Gozo, Malta, Cardinal-designate Mario Grech "was a shepherd with a listening ear" and "a powerful and prophetic word" on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, said an editorial in the Times of Malta.

Mexican cardinal-designate credited for building up indigenous church

Several months after Pope Francis was elected in 2013, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas sent a letter asking the new pope to revisit the topic of ordaining indigenous deacons.