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Fire damages historic Catholic church in Ukraine

Fire damage at the Church of St. Nicholas in Kyiv, Ukraine. / Courtesy photo.

Kyiv, Ukraine, Sep 21, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A fire has severely damaged a historic Catholic church in Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv.

The fire broke out at the Gothic-style Church of St. Nicholas during an organ music rehearsal on Sept. 3, destroying the organ, charring the interior, and sending a chandelier crashing to the ground.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

St. Nicholas is the second-oldest Latin Rite Catholic church in Kyiv (also known as Kiev) after the Co-Cathedral of St. Alexander.

Consecrated in 1909, the church served members of the local Polish Catholic community before communist officials closed it in 1938.

Soviet authorities removed the altar, installing a large organ and converting the church into a concert hall.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

Ukraine is a country of 44 million people bordering Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

Around two-thirds of the population are Orthodox Christians. The second-largest Christian community is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the biggest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. Latin Rite Catholics constitute a small minority.

Ukraine declared independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ever since, the local Catholic community has campaigned for the return of the church, which is overseen by the local municipality’s culture department.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

The authorities argued that the church could not be returned as the organ was too large and could not be placed elsewhere.

Catholics were permitted to celebrate Mass in the church, but it remained a concert hall and the community was obliged to rent the building.

According to the parish’s website, Pope John Paul II visited the church on June 25, 2001, during his pastoral visit to Ukraine.

The Kyiv Post reported on Sept. 4 that police were still investigating the cause of the fire.

Following the organ’s destruction in the fire, Catholics say there is no reason for the church not to be returned. But they report that the government and Ministry of Culture have so far ignored their renewed entreaties.

The authorities are believed to want to restore St. Nicholas as a concert hall.

Priests are continuing to celebrate daily Masses for the parish community. But they are offered in the open air and the weather is getting colder following the end of summer.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

The Masses are celebrated by Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Local superior Fr. Pavlo Vyshkovkyy, O.M.I., told CNA: “We appeal to Catholics around the world to support us in prayer and to make our situation known to others who might be of help in returning God’s house to the faithful of Kyiv.”

Mexican Supreme Court invalidates medical conscientious objection law

null / Syda Productions via www.shutterstock.com.

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 21, 2021 / 11:25 am (CNA).

Mexico's Supreme Court on Monday invalidated an article of the General Health Law that broadly provided for medical personnel's conscientious objection to participating in treatments, such as abortion.

“The law did not establish the guidelines and limits necessary for conscientious objection to be exercised without jeopardizing the human rights of other persons, especially the right to health,” the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation announced Sept. 20.

The law, adopted in 2018, did not allow medical professionals to invoke conscientious objection "when the life of the patient is put at risk or it is a medical emergency."

Marcial Padilla, director of the prolife platform ConParticipación, commented that “instead of adopting conscientious objection in its entirety,” in its ruling the Supreme Court "puts it in suspense, saying that it does not like how it is formulated, because it prevents the realization of abortion, according to the terms that they wish."

The court is expected to discuss Sept. 21 clear guidelines for the exercise of conscientious objection and whether they will exhort or order the Congress of the Union to use a specific text in legislating on the topic.

Discussion of conscientious objection at the Supreme Court began Sept. 13. It recognized a right to conscientious objection, while adding that this does not restrict the right to health.

In recent weeks the Supreme Court has also invalidated several articles that protected life from conception in the penal code of the state of Coahuila, and parts of the Sinaloa state constitution protecting life from conception. The rulings are expected to have wide-ranging effects throughout Mexico.

Elective abortion has been legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City and the states of Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. In general, abortion is illegal in the rest of the country, but in most cases there are exceptions for rape and the life of the mother. The penalties and scope of the laws vary from state to state.

A group of 30 medical associations in Mexico had on Sept. 15 defended conscientious objection. Their statement expressed “rejection of legislative resolutions and their consequential actions from now on that could violate our human rights in the practice of our professions."

"For healthcare professionals, the long established freedom, with a scientific basis and adherence to the ethical codes that govern good practices, should always be an absolute and unlimited right in its exercise," they stated.

Therefore, “conscientious objection may be required when there is a disagreement between scientific, legal and ethical principles to perform professional procedures and activities, which would allow them to excuse themselves from directly practicing or participating in any program, activity, treatment or research that contravenes their personal convictions, principles, values or their religious beliefs.”

In their statement on conscientious objection, the various medical groups affirm that making use of this right “is a legitimate action in the face of serious and fundamental issues, since it defends their dignity and freedom as long as the reasons given are serious, sincere, well-founded and do not endanger people’s life or physical well being.”

"The State must guarantee to physicians as persons that they are, the protection of their fundamental rights, in a manner analogous to the protection of the rights that patients deserve due to gender, orientation or sexual preference" they stressed.

"Today the associations of medical professionals have become a vulnerable group with the effort to restrict their freedom and autonomous decision-making through unilateral criteria, by trying to eliminate their right to conscientious objection," they warned.

The professional organizations noted that this occurs "only because of social pressure or demands every time that other adequate options are ignored to resolve these disagreements, through the adoption of other adequate, viable and satisfactory options for the exercise of the fundamental rights of both parties."

The Mexican medical associations also emphasized that conscientious objection is a fundamental human right recognized in various national and international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The doctor is a professional of science and conscience, who cannot be reduced to a mere instrument of the will of the patient, since like the patient, he is a free and responsible person, with a unique collection of values that regulate his life,” they pointed out.

They also lamented that "the unawareness of society and the authorities of the rights of doctors negatively and disproportionately affects their fundamental rights."

For the medical associations, “considering the right to conscientious objection in matters of health to be unconstitutional is disproportionate and erroneous since the State omits its responsibility to guarantee to doctors as an essential component of society, the human right to the protection of their mental and emotional health, preventing the highest possible enjoyment of physical and especially mental health.”

“From the well grounded reasons laid out above, it is clear that it is our right to demand respect from the authorities for professional autonomy in decision-making, an absolute guarantee in the exercise of freedom, reason and conscience so that the human rights of all parties involved are protected” they said.”

Finally, they stated that “the federations, associations and boards of medicine as the sole and legitimate representatives of the medical profession, will always continue to be vigilant over the good practice of medicine, so that it is carried out, without external pressure, meeting even the least significant of the requirements of quality and ethics.”

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to uphold legal abortion  

null / Claudette Jerez/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The court on Monday had announced that oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a major abortion case, will be held on Dec. 1. The case involves a challenge to Mississippi’s restrictions on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state of Mississippi, in defending its law, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its Roe ruling altogether.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on Monday, the Justice Department argued that the state is seeking to overturn nearly 50 years of court rulings that upheld legal abortion, and asked the court to maintain its previous abortion rulings.  

“Petitioners insist that a woman’s decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term—perhaps the most intensely personal and life-altering choice a person can make—should enjoy no more protection than workaday social and economic matters that trigger rational-basis review,” the Justice Department stated in its brief.

“If the Court considers that new argument, it should decline to disturb Roe’s central holding—just as it did a generation ago,” the brief stated.

Mississippi’s law, the Gestational Age Act, restricts abortions after 15 weeks but includes exceptions for when the mother’s life or “major bodily function” is at stake, or if the unborn child has a condition “incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, sued over the law, and is represented in court by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Supreme Court in May agreed to take up the case, after lower courts ruled against the law and the state of Mississippi appealed. The court is considering only one legal question in the case, “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional.”

The court’s decision to take up the case was seen as significant, as it had previously refused to consider appeals in favor of other state pro-life laws restricting abortions after 20 weeks, 12 weeks, and as early as six weeks.

On Sept. 1, the court also declined a challenge to Texas’ law restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. By rejecting the legal challenge, the court allowed the law – which is enforced by private civil lawsuits and not by the state – to remain effective. In response, President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas.

In its Supreme Court brief on Monday, the Justice Department invoked the legal principle of stare decisis to urge the court to respect and uphold its previous abortion rulings. The court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld Roe, the brief noted.

“And the passage of another three decades means that every American woman of reproductive age has grown up against the backdrop of the right secured by Roe and Casey, which has become even more deeply woven into the Nation’s social fabric,” the Justice Department argued.

“Roe and Casey were and are correct. They recognize that forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is a profound intrusion on her autonomy, her bodily integrity, and her equal standing in society,” the brief stated.

Although the Supreme Court upheld its Roe ruling in the Casey decision, the state of Mississippi has argued that the court should reconsider those two rulings altogether.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in July argued that those decisions established “a special-rules regime for abortion jurisprudence that has left these cases out of step with other Court decisions and neutral principles of law applied by the Court.”

“As a result, state legislatures, and the people they represent, have lacked clarity in passing laws to protect legitimate public interests, and artificial guideposts have stunted important public debate on how we, as a society, care for the dignity of women and their children,” Fitch said in the state’s brief at the court.

“It is time for the Court to set this right and return this political debate to the political branches of government,” she wrote. 

Pope Francis to Slovakian Jesuits: ‘Some people wanted me to die’ amid health problems

Pope Francis addresses an ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 12, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2021 / 05:20 am (CNA).

In a private meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia on Sept. 12, Pope Francis said that there were people who wanted him to die after he underwent colon surgery in July.

During the encounter, a Jesuit priest asked the pope how he was doing, to which he replied: “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die.”

“I know there were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version. They were preparing for the conclave,” he added. “Patience! Thank God, I’m all right.”

Pope Francis answered questions from fellow Jesuits at a closed-door meeting in Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, during his Sept. 12-15 visit to the country.

The trip was his first since being hospitalized on July 4 for an operation to relieve severe stricture of the colon caused by diverticulitis. The three-hour surgery included a left hemicolectomy, the removal of one side of the colon.

After the operation, false rumors began to circulate on social media and in online posts that Pope Francis might soon resign, based in part on other unsubstantiated claims that the pope was possibly suffering from a “degenerative” and “chronic” disease.

The text of the pope’s private Sept. 12 meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia was published by the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica on Sept. 21.

During the encounter, one priest spoke with Pope Francis about tension in the Catholic Church in Slovakia, saying that some people saw Francis as “heterodox,” while others “idealize you.”

“We Jesuits try to overcome this division,” he said, asking: “How do you deal with people who look at you with suspicion?”

Pope Francis noted that “there is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.”

“I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil,” he said.

The pope added that there were also clerics who had made “nasty comments about me.”

“I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach...” he said.

“Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness," he continued. “They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et exsultate.”

The pope went on to address his recent restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, which were made in the July 16 motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

“Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II,” he said. “From now on, those who want to celebrate with the Vetus Ordo [Traditional Latin Mass] must ask permission from Rome as is done with biritualism.”

Biritualism is the temporary or permanent privilege of a priest to celebrate the liturgy and administer the sacraments in more than one rite, such as the Latin Rite and one of the Eastern rites.

Pope Francis described reports that some young priests had asked for permission to offer the Traditional Latin Mass from their bishop a month after ordination as “a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.”

In an earlier part of the meeting, Francis had lamented an “ideology of going backward,” which he said was not a universal problem in the Church, but affected some countries.

“The temptation to go backward. We are suffering this today in the Church,” he said.

Francis recounted an anecdote told to him by a cardinal about two of his newly ordained priests who asked for permission to study Latin to be able to celebrate the Mass well.

According to the pope, the cardinal responded “with a sense of humor,” telling the priests: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.”

The cardinal made the priests “‘land,’ he made them return to earth,” the pope commented.

“I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution,” Pope Francis said. “I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.”

This report was updated at 5:45 a.m. MDT to include the pope’s comments on the Traditional Latin Mass.

Pope Francis to theologians: See ‘contemporary challenges in light of the Wisdom of the Cross’

Pope Francis adores the crucifix during the Good Friday liturgy at St. Peter's Basilica April 2, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2021 / 04:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis urged theologians gathering in Rome on Tuesday to promote “a renewed understanding of contemporary challenges in light of the Wisdom of the Cross.”

In a message to participants in an international theological congress, the pope said he hoped that the meeting would contribute to the evangelization of the 21st-century world.

He said: “It is my hope that by promoting fruitful theological, cultural, and pastoral interactions, this initiative will contribute to a renewed understanding of contemporary challenges in light of the Wisdom of the Cross, in order to foster evangelization faithful to God’s design and attentive to humanity.”

The pope’s message, dated July 1 but released Sept. 21, was addressed to Fr. Joachim Rego, C.P., superior general of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Passionists).

The congress, dedicated to “The Wisdom of the Cross in a Pluralistic World” and taking place at the Pontifical Lateran University on Sept. 21-24, is part of a Jubilee year marking the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Passionist order.

“Contemplating the Crucified One, we see every human dimension embraced by God’s mercy. His kenotic [self-emptying] and compassionate love touches, through the Cross, the four cardinal points and reaches the extremes of our human condition, joining in a mysterious way the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with humanity, in a fraternal union that the death of Jesus has definitively made universal,” the pope said.

“The immense saving power unleashed by the weakness of the Cross reveals to theology the importance of an approach that knows how to combine the loftiness of reason with the humility of the heart.”

“Before the Crucified One, theology is also invited to address the most fragile and concrete conditions of men and women and to set aside polemical methods and agendas, joyfully sharing the labor of study, and confidently seeking the precious seeds that the Word scatters amidst the jagged and sometimes contradictory plurality of cultures.”

He continued: “The Cross of the Lord, a source of salvation for people of every place and every time, is therefore vibrant and effective also and above all at a crossroads, such as the contemporary one, characterized by rapid and complex changes.”

The pope sent a message to the Passionists in November 2020 as they prepared to launch the Jubilee year celebrating the foundation of the order by St. Paul of the Cross in Italy in 1720.

The Jubilee year, whose theme is “Renewing our mission: gratitude prophecy, and hope,” began on Nov. 22, 2020, and will end on Jan. 1, 2022.

“Do not tire of accentuating your commitment to the needs of humanity,” the pope said in his message to the order, dated Oct. 15.

“This missionary calling is directed above all towards the crucified of our age -- the poor, the weak, the oppressed, and those discarded by many forms of injustice.”

Addressing participants in the four-day theological congress, the pope said that the gathering corresponded to the desire of St. Paul of the Cross “to ensure that the Paschal Mystery, the center of the Christian faith and the charism of the Passionist religious family, is proclaimed and disseminated in response to divine Charity, and that it addresses the expectations and hopes of the world.”

‘Sexual abuse in the Church has deep theological implications’

As a safeguarding conference in Warsaw wraps up its third day of deliberations, Church leaders from across Central and Eastern Europe examine how the suffering caused by clerical sexual abuse impacts the lives of survivors.

German Bishops turn attention to Synod and abuse scandal

The Catholic Bishops of Germany are holding their Fall Plenary Assembly, which focuses on the ongoing Synodal Path and reform in the Church.

Cruz: Survivor’s perspective lends urgency to Church’s fight against sexual abuse

As the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors holds a safeguarding conference in Warsaw, a well-known survivor of clerical sexual abuse urges the Church to deal with the emergency of clerical sexual abuse.

Prof. Wiliński: Rights of victims of abuse must be protected

A conference on the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable persons taking place in Warsaw, Poland, highlights the Church’s efforts to to protect its vulnerable members. Prof. Paweł Wiliński reflects on the need to ensure abuse victims’ rights to information, representation, protection and compensation.

Protection of minors in the Church in Central & Eastern Europe

Over the past few days, representatives of the Bishops' Conferences from Central and Eastern Europe have gathered in Warsaw to confront the crisis of sexual abuse. Father Adam Żak, a member of the organizing committee, explains the socio-political and cultural situation that has affected the Church’s response in the region.