A Roman Catholic Community in East Greenbush, NY

Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

State Department official: ‘After careful review’ Nigeria to remain off religious freedom watch list

Father Isaac Achi, a Nigerian Catholic priest, was murdered in Niger State on Jan. 15, 2023. / Diocese of Minna

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2023 / 13:25 pm (CNA).

A U.S. State Department official sent EWTN a statement noting that “after careful review” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has decided not to put Nigeria back on a list of offenders of religious liberty.

The statement comes as human rights advocates and members of Congress are pressing the Biden administration to place Nigeria on the watch list in an effort to stop the violence and persecution of Christians in the country.

More than 5,000 Christians were killed in 2022 in Nigeria, according to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors International. The widespread violence and persecution of Christians in Nigeria have continued this year with the January murder of Father Isaac Achi, who was burned to death Jan. 17.

This led many religious rights advocates to call for the U.S. to take a strong stance in defense of Nigerian Christians by adding Nigeria to its annual list of countries that violate religious freedom, known as the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list. 

The unnamed U.S. Department of State official Feb. 7 sent a statement in response to an inquiry from EWTN correspondent Owen Jensen regarding Nigeria’s omission from the CPC list. 

“After careful review, the Secretary [of State] has assessed that Nigeria does not meet the legal threshold for designation under the International Religious Freedom Act,” the statement read.

The State Department official said that “the United States takes all incidents of violence seriously and raises them regularly in our conversations with Nigerian officials.” 

As regards the murder of Father Achi, the statement said: “We are saddened and appalled.” 

“We do not know the motives of those responsible, but we condemn their heedless violence. We urge the Nigerian authorities to quickly bring them to justice,” read the statement from the State Department official.

“We continue to have concerns about the religious freedom situation in Nigeria, which is well documented in the annual IRF (International Religious Freedom) Report,” the official said. “We will continue to press the government to address these.” 

The statement noted that the State Department has redesignated two terrorist organizations within Nigeria, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, as “Entities of Particular Concern for religious freedom.”

Human rights observers in Nigeria and members of the Catholic Church have argued, however, that the Nigerian government itself should be on the CPC list, in part, because it has allowed these groups to continue to persecute Christians and religious minorities. 

Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria, told a group gathered in Washington earlier this month that members of the ruling party have ties to terrorists. Arogundade’s diocese suffered a terrorist attack on Pentecost Sunday 2022 in which 50 Catholics attending Mass were killed at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Nigeria’s Owo state. 

Those who “are supposed to make things better, they are the ones involved in attacks here,” he told the group.

Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer and fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the group that terrorists in Nigeria continue to act with “impunity” and are rarely held accountable for their crimes.

Rampant Christian persecution, including massacres, murders, and kidnappings, has been increasing in Nigeria in recent years, according to Aid to the Church in Need. Yet, 2022 was the second year in a row that the nation was left off the CPC list.

Nigeria’s continued exclusion from the CPC list prompted Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey; Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas; and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, to introduce a resolution last week to push back on the nation’s abuses. The bipartisan resolution urges the State Department to redesignate Nigeria a CPC and to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat human rights violations in the region.

“I look forward to asking the State Department directly about this issue when they come to testify in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” Hill told CNA in response to this week’s State Department email.

“The Biden administration continues to leave Nigeria off the CPC list for political gain. This resolution sends an important message to the Biden administration and the government of Nigeria that the U.S. Congress sees what is happening there and will continue to speak out against the ongoing violence and the government’s inadequate response,” Hill told CNA last week.

Germany’s Synodal Way leader says exclusion of women from ordination drives women from Church

Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics. / zdk.de.

Prague, Czech Republic, Feb 8, 2023 / 11:10 am (CNA).

A leader of the controversial German Synodal Way said in a speech at Europe’s synod meeting Wednesday that the exclusion of women from ordination drives women from the Church.

Irme Stetter-Karp, the president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), addressed delegates in the meeting in Prague on Feb. 8.

“The stubborn adherence to the dual anthropology and the confinement of women to the space outside of the ordained ministry tends to drive women, especially young women, out of the Church in the 21st century,” Stetter-Karp said.

Posing a question “to those who do not want to allow change” on the “the women’s question,” she asked: “How do you explain the multiple gifts and vocations of women in the Catholic Church worldwide if the Holy Spirit did not want it? I would like an honest answer to that.”

Stetter-Karp is one of three leaders of Germany’s Synodal Path who are playing an active role in the continental stage of the Church’s ongoing Synod on Synodality as official national delegates sent by Germany.

Thomas Söding, the German lay central committee’s vice president, also spoke to the assembly on Wednesday about why he believes there is a crisis of vocations in Europe.

Söding said: “We are experiencing a crisis of priestly vocations throughout Europe. What does it tell us?”

“I know there are different answers in the room. My conviction: We think too narrowly of the priestly vocation. We think too narrowly of God’s grace. We tie it to sex. We tie it to ‘state of life.’ If you want an opening, you don’t make the ministerial priesthood small, you make it large,” he added.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, who has served as the president of the Synodal Path since 2020, told Europe’s synod delegates on Feb. 6 that Germany’s Synodal Way has heard that “new forms are being sought to organize the priesthood” and that “the Church should be open to people whose way of life does not conform to the norms of the catechism, including queer people.”

“We hear and understand these concerns. I share them personally. I see my task as chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference in bringing them into the global process that is intended to renew the Church,” Bätzing said.

A tale of two synods

The German Synodal Way is a distinct initiative from the global Synod on Synodality initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021.

In Pope Francis’ first interview in 2023, the pope decried the German Synodal Way as elitist, unhelpful, and running the risk of bringing ideological harm to Church processes.

From the outset, the German process, which is not a synod, has courted controversy.

Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to Church teaching on homosexual acts, prompting accusations of heresy and fears of schism.

Concerns have been publicly raised by Church leaders from Poland, the Nordic countries, and around the world.

Fears of a “dirty schism” from Germany have increased over the past few months as organizers of the Synodal Way in November refused a moratorium on the process suggested by the Vatican.

Pope Francis launched the global consultation process leading to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023 and 2024 with a call to “encounter, listen, and discern.”

Synod organizers recently clarified that the sole theme to be discussed in each stage of the process is the official theme assigned by the pope: “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.”

The four-year synod process is currently in its continental stage with seven continental assemblies meeting in Fiji, Czech Republic, Thailand, Ethiopia, the United States, Lebanon, and multiple locations across Latin America.

The contributions of the German delegation participating in the European Continental Assembly will be included in the final document that will be debated and approved by the 200 European delegates — including 65 women and 46 bishops — on Feb. 9.

Following these discussions, a second private meeting among 35 bishops, the presidents of each of Europe’s bishops’ conferences, will collectively review the document, listen to speeches by each of the bishops, and produce a second final document.

The final documents produced by the assembly in Europe will influence what priorities and themes should be taken up in the Synod of Bishops taking place at the Vatican this fall.

Ukrainian Catholics will now celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 in a shift toward the West

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on Dec. 9, 2022 / Oleksandr Sawranskij / Major Archbishopric of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2023 / 10:55 am (CNA).

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) announced Monday that it is switching its fixed-date religious celebrations to match the Gregorian calendar used by the Church in the West.

Ukrainian Catholics have been among the few remaining sects under the papacy to celebrate holidays according to the Julian calendar, which celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7 and Epiphany on Jan. 19. The Russian Orthodox Church and other Eastern Churches under the Patriarchate of Moscow follow the Julian calendar.

Now, Catholics in Ukraine will celebrate feasts on the same dates as Catholics in the U.S. and other Western nations, meaning Christmas will be observed on Dec. 25 and Epiphany on Jan. 6.

The change will take place at the beginning of the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s liturgical year, Sept. 1, 2023.

The head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Galicia, said that the decision was made “taking into account the numerous requests of the faithful and having conducted prior consultations with the clergy and monastics of our Church about the urgent need to reform the liturgical calendar of the UGCC in Ukraine.”

Shevchuk clarified that only holidays that occur on a fixed date every year, such as Christmas, will now be celebrated on the same days as in the West.

Holidays that move from year to year, such as Easter, will continue for the time being to be celebrated in the old style.

According to the release, there is an ongoing dialogue between the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches to settle on a new arrangement for the two to celebrate Easter on the same day. The two Churches hope to be in agreement in time for the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025.

“In preparation for this anniversary, collaborative work is underway in a dialogue between Rome and Constantinople on a renewed Paschalia, according to which all Christians will celebrate Easter on the same day,” the statement said.

Vatican News reported that Shevchuk said that until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian Greek Catholics were divided on whether to make the change, but now more than 90% of Ukrainian Greek Catholics support moving from the Julian calendar and its associations with Russia.

“The desire and need for the calendar reform were much more potent than we could have hoped, and this is good news,” Shevchuk said.

Even though the switch received broad support, the Ukrainian Church will allow individual parishes to continue celebrating feasts according to the Julian calendar if they “feel they are not yet ready for such a step” and obtain special permission from their bishop. This exception will remain possible until 2025, by which point the UGCC wants all parishes to follow the Gregorian calendar.

New auxiliary bishop appointed in Diocese of El Paso immigrated to U.S. from Philippines

Pope Francis announced Feb. 8, 2023, that Father Anthony Celino of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, has been appointed to serve as an auxiliary bishop in the diocese.  / Credit: Diocese of El Paso

Boston, Mass., Feb 8, 2023 / 10:51 am (CNA).

Pope Francis announced Wednesday that a priest of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, has been appointed to serve as an auxiliary bishop in the diocese. 

Bishop-elect Anthony Celino, who currently serves as pastor of St. Raphael Parish in East El Paso and is the diocese’s judicial vicar, will be ordained as auxiliary bishop March 31 at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso.

Celino, the youngest of seven children, immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1993 after seminary studies there. The 50-year-old priest holds an undergraduate philosophy degree from Mary Help of Christians College Seminary in the Philippines. 

After coming to the United States, he studied at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, earning a master of divinity degree and a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology in 1997. 

He was ordained a priest that same year.

Celino then continued his studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned a licentiate in canon law in 2003. 

According to the diocese, Celino is the third Filipino to be elected a U.S. bishop. He has served many roles within the diocese, including as parochial vicar at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso; parochial vicar at Our Lady of Peace in Alpine; and pastor at Santa Lucia Parish, now renamed St. John Paul II Parish.

Celino has also served as the diocese’s vicar general, moderator of the curia, and the diocese’s chancellor. He taught at the diocese’s Tepeyac Institute, an organization that helps to form lay ministers within the diocese.

“We thank the Holy Father for his attention and care for the Diocese of El Paso,” El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz said in a Feb. 8 diocesan statement.

“Bishop-elect Celino’s qualities are known in the diocese. He has previously served as my vicar general and made substantive contributions to the local Church’s life. He brings a unique experience as a Filipino immigrant serving our border community as a priest for the past 25 years, a steadfast dedication to pastoral ministry, and fidelity to the Gospel,” Seitz said.

The Diocese of El Paso, which takes up a large chunk of the western part of Texas, covers 26,686 square miles and serves 720,009 Catholics, according to the USCCB. There are more Catholics in the Diocese of El Paso than people who live in the state of Vermont and the state of Wyoming respectively.

The diocese said that Celino will continue serving as pastor of St. Raphael Catholic Church and Judicial Vicar until the late spring.

Denver Archdiocese says fired lesbian teacher violated contract

All Souls Catholic School and Church in Englewood, Colorado / Always dreamin|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

Denver, Colo., Feb 8, 2023 / 08:55 am (CNA).

A teacher at a Catholic parish school in Denver was fired after the Denver Archdiocese learned of her same-sex relationship, which violated the conduct code she had signed. 

The teacher has since aligned herself with LGBT activists and has made statements claiming there is no contradiction between her behavior and Catholicism.

For six years Maggie Barton had taught technology to students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade at All Souls Catholic School in Englewood, a southern Denver suburb.

The Archdiocese of Denver terminated her employment from the parish school in January after discovering she is in a same-sex relationship and discussing the matter with her.

“The school found it necessary to conclude the teacher’s employment because she did not honor the commitments she agreed to in her contract with the school,” the Archdiocese of Denver said in a Feb. 3 statement. The school “learned that she intends to persist in violating the standards she previously agreed to uphold.”

At the start of each school year, every Catholic school teacher in the archdiocese signs a contract that includes a pledge to exemplify personally “the characteristics of Catholic living,” including “refraining from taking any public position or conducting himself or herself in a manner that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Barton, who moved to Colorado in 2017 when she accepted the parish school’s job offer, appeared to reject the contradiction.

“It is the faith I was raised in, and I wanted to teach in a Catholic school because I wanted to share those values that I learned and the experience that I had with future students,” she told CBS News 4.

She has said the school wrongly fired her for her sexual orientation. In her view, she has embodied Catholic values.

“I have a hard time understanding how being in a same-sex relationship or someone's sexual orientation hinders your ability to do that,” she said.

Catholicism rejects same-sex sexual acts. Pope Francis has often encouraged Catholics to welcome and accompany those who have same-sex attractions. He also reaffirmed that the acts in question are sinful, “as is any sexual act outside of marriage,” he said in a letter to Jesuit priest Father James Martin.

The Denver Archdiocese similarly distinguished between behavior and attractions.

“That a Catholic school employee experiences same-sex attraction in itself is not a cause for termination,” the archdiocese statement said. “However, all Catholic school employees in the Archdiocese of Denver are expected to abide by the terms of the agreement they signed and commitments they make.”

Many families send their children to Catholic schools “expecting their children to receive an education that conforms to Catholic beliefs.” Teacher expectations and commitments aim “to protect the Catholic identity of our schools.”

“It would be unjust for a school to present itself as a Catholic school and not offer a Catholic education,” the archdiocese said. Catholic schools must “carry out a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

In November 2022, critical media coverage focused on a Denver Archdiocese policy in place since 2019 that addressed issues of gender and sexual morality. The policy document explicitly said teachers living in same-sex relationships are “unsuited for teaching” because they are “openly engaging in behavior opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and human sexuality.”

One Colorado, an LGBT advocacy group that previously criticized the archdiocesan policy, has sided with Barton.

Nadine Bridges, executive director of One Colorado, told Colorado Public Radio the archdiocese takes a “harmful stance” toward self-identified LGBT people.

“Faith communities, including schools, should be a place for love and support,” she said. “Denying admission to LGBTQ+ students, excluding LGBTQ+ parents from full participation, and in this case terminating LGBTQ+ teachers for no other cause than for who they love alienates and discriminates against LGBTQ+ Coloradans of Catholic faith.”

One Colorado on Feb. 3 shared a statement from Barton in which she said “the injustice of my termination lies with the Denver Archdiocese and their anti-LGBTQ+ policies. My sexual orientation is one facet of who I am, and has no bearing on my abilities as a teacher or my commitment to the values of my Catholic faith.”

“How do we change antiquated views and laws?” Barton asked in a Feb. 2 statement posted to Facebook. “Education and understanding,” she said. Barton added that she is working to educate herself and “find ways to amplify my voice for change,” inviting others to join her.

Barton told Colorado Public Radio that “choosing to work in a Catholic school as a lesbian, as someone within the queer community, might not make sense to everybody.” 

“The reason why I did that is because of my faith,” she said. To feel my own faith being weaponized against me in this way, to be terminated and to lose this position is, it’s heartbreaking.”

Barton said she would attend weekly Mass at the school and play guitar with the children’s choir.

Some parents of the parish have set up an internet fundraiser to help pay her expenses as she looks for another job. As of Feb. 7, after several days of media coverage, the contributions appear to have exceeded $22,000 from more than 175 donors in six days.

Denver is one of several U.S. dioceses in recent years to issue guidance related to gender theory following the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2019 document “Male and Female He Created Them.” This document criticizes new ideological approaches to sex and gender. It says that the Church teaches an essential difference between men and women, ordered in the natural law and essential to the family and human flourishing.

Benedict XVI describes ‘Protestantization’ of the Eucharist in posthumous publication

WYD Sydney - July 15 - 20, 2008 / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 8, 2023 / 08:30 am (CNA).

In a 2018 essay published after his death, Pope Benedict XVI said a Protestant-like understanding of the Eucharist and strong calls for intercommunion are often found together.

Commenting on the current situation of eucharistic life in the Catholic Church, the pope emeritus said: “One process of great impact is the almost complete disappearance of the sacrament of penance.”

There is also the understanding of Communion as merely “a supper,” he added. “In such a situation of a very advanced Protestantization of the understanding of the Eucharist, intercommunion appears natural.”

Benedict’s essay on the Eucharist is part of a series of texts the pope emeritus wrote after his resignation in 2013. The essays, letters, and reflections have been collected into a single volume, “What Is Christianity?,” which was published in Italian last month.

According to Vatican journalist Sandro Magister, Benedict XVI had arranged for the writings to be published after his death.

The Italian magazine L’Espresso published an excerpt of one the essays, a 17-page text on “the meaning of Communion,” which was finished in June 2018, when the Church in Germany was debating intercommunion: whether Protestant spouses of Catholics could receive the Eucharist at Mass.

In his essay, Benedict recalled other moments in Germany’s history when there were calls for intercommunion and said that today, sometimes those same calls are based more on outside forces than on the desire for unity in Christ.

“Especially during the years of the war, in the evangelical camp a division developed between the Third Reich and what were called the ‘deutsche Christen,’ Christian-Germans, on one side, and the ‘bekennende Kirche,’ the confessing Church, on the other,” he explained.

The split led to a new accord between evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church, he said. “One result was a push in favor of common eucharistic Communion between the confessions. In this situation there grew the desire for a single body of the Lord that today, however, risks losing its strong religious foundation and, in an externalized Church, is determined more by political and social forces than by the interior search for the Lord.”

The pope emeritus described another time, shortly after the reunification of Germany, when a eucharistic act, drinking from the chalice, was used “as an essentially political act in which the unity of all Germans became manifest.”

“Thinking back on it, still today I feel anew with great force the estrangement of faith that came from this. And when presidents of the Federal Republic of Germany, who at the same time were presidents of the synods of their Church, have regularly called aloud for interconfessional eucharistic Communion, I see how the demand for a common loaf and chalice may serve other purposes,” he said.

Benedict XVI also noted a growing support, starting from Protestant exegesis, for the opinion that Jesus’ meals with sinners prepared the way for the Last Supper, in which he instituted the Eucharist.

It is argued that the Last Supper, then, is only understood on the basis of Jesus’ other meals in the New Testament, “but [it] is not so,” he said.

“The offering of the body and blood of Jesus Christ has no direct connection with the meals with sinners,” the pope emeritus explained, adding that “Jesus celebrated Passover with his family, that is to say with the apostles, who had become his new family.”

“Thus he complied with a precept according to which pilgrims who went to Jerusalem could join together in companies called ‘chaburot,’” he said. “The Christians continued this tradition. They are his ‘chaburah,’ his family, which he has formed from his company of pilgrims who  travel the road of the Gospel along with him through the land of history.”

“Thus celebrating the Eucharist in the ancient Church was from the beginning linked to the community of believers and with this to strict conditions of access,” he said.

Benedict, in the essay, also comments on the language used by Catholics and Protestants.

“In the ecclesial communities arising from the Reformation, the celebrations of the sacrament are called ‘Supper,’” he said.

“In the Catholic Church the celebration of the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ is called ‘Eucharist.’ This is not a casual, purely linguistic distinction. In the distinction of the denominations there is manifested instead a profound difference tied to the understanding of the sacrament itself.”

Biden tells Congress to codify Roe, pass LGBTQ protections

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The speech marks Biden's first address to the new Republican-controlled House. / Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2023 / 06:08 am (CNA).

During his 2023 State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden called on Congress to codify Roe v. Wade and pass legislation banning discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. The proposals put him at odds with the U.S. Catholic bishops.

“Here in the people’s House, it’s our duty to protect all the people’s rights and freedoms,” Biden said. “Congress must restore the right that was taken away [when the Supreme Court overturned] Roe v. Wade.” 

Codifying Roe v. Wade would establish federal abortion laws that mirror the standards that were set under the now obsolete Roe v. Wade decision. Such a law would prohibit states from banning abortion and would prevent certain state-level abortion restrictions.

Since the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, 13 states have banned most abortions and another five have imposed more restrictions on abortion. In six other states, proposed bans and restrictions have been held up in the court system. 

“The vice president and I are doing everything to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient [privacy],” the president said. “But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans. Make no mistake about it; if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it.”

Although Biden is the nation’s second Catholic president, he remains at odds with American Catholic bishops and Catholic Church teaching. In July, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities referred to an attempt to codify Roe v. Wade as “the most unjust and extreme abortion on demand bill our nation has ever seen.” 

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, tweeted his thoughts on the issue before the president’s speech. 

“The ‘state of the union’ is fatally flawed if we are committed to supporting, promoting, and paying for abortion,” Tobin said. “A nation that destroys its own children has no future.”

The National Right to Life Committee criticized Biden after the State of the Union address. NRLC accused Biden of being “the most pro-abortion president in history.” 

“The Biden administration and the Democratic Party have yet to hear of an abortion they wouldn’t support,” NRLC President Carol Tobias said in a statement. “Tragically, women and their unborn babies will be the ones to suffer.”

In addition to the president’s support for abortion, he reiterated his support for laws that would establish federal civil rights protections for people identifying as LGBTQ. The legislation, known as the Equality Act, would ban discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“Let’s also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity,” Biden said. ‘Our strength is not just the example of our power but the power of our example. Let’s remember the world’s watching.”

This legislation has also received pushback from the USCCB. 

According to the Catholic bishops, it would threaten religious freedom by forcing religiously operated organizations and faith-based charities to “host functions that violate their beliefs” and “violate their religious beliefs.” 

The bishops raised their concerns that the legislation would require faith-based hospitals to provide abortions and gender transition surgery. The USCCB also said the act would force biological females to share locker rooms and compete in sports with biological males who identify as female. 

Pope Francis leads Hail Mary for victims of earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Pope Francis prayed for victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria during his general audience on Feb. 8, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2023 / 02:56 am (CNA).

Pope Francis concluded his public audience on Wednesday with a prayer for the intercession of the Virgin Mary for the thousands of victims of a deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

“Let’s pray together so that these brothers and sisters can move forward from this tragedy. And we pray that Our Lady will protect them,” the pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Feb. 8.

He then led pilgrims at the event in praying a Hail Mary for all those affected.

A series of large earthquakes in parts of Turkey and Syria Feb. 6 have created massive destruction and killed an estimated 9,600 people, according to the latest available estimates reported by Reuters early Wednesday morning.

“With deep feeling I pray for them and express my closeness to these peoples, to the families of the victims, and to all those who suffer because of this devastating natural disaster,” the pope said.

“I thank all those who are working to bring assistance and encouragement to them,” he added, “and solidarity to those areas, in part already tormented by a long war.”

On Monday, a “deeply saddened” Pope Francis sent “heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss” in telegrams addressed to the apostolic nuncios of Turkey and Syria after the earthquake.

Francis’ topic for his Feb. 8 general audience address was his Jan. 31–Feb. 5 visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which he called a “long-desired journey.”

The trip fulfilled “two ‘dreams,’” he said: “To visit the Congolese people, custodians of an immense country, the green heart of Africa and second in the world along with Amazonia. A land rich in resources and bloodied by a war that never ends, because there is always someone to feed the fire.”

“And,” he added, “to visit the South Sudanese people, in a pilgrimage of peace together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator general of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields: We went together to bear witness that it is possible and a duty to collaborate in diversity, especially if one shares faith in Christ.”

Synod on Synodality: Europe’s Continental Assembly in Prague discusses tensions in the Church

Synod on Synodality logo / Courtesy USCCB

Prague, Czech Republic, Feb 7, 2023 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

Two hundred delegates — including 65 women and 46 bishops — are meeting this week in the capital of the Czech Republic for the last stage of regional discussions in the Synod on Synodality. 

On Tuesday, the second day of discussion, participants were asked to identify “substantial tensions,” questions, and issues that should be addressed by the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October.

The delegates broke up into small discussion groups based on language, nation, and vocation and then presented their conclusions in front of the entire assembly.

One of the French-speaking groups brought up the tension of the role of women in the Church in light of the changing role of women in society as a whole and “in relation to the messages of justice that we want to proclaim outside the Church.”

A young woman said that her German-language group discussed the importance of youth involvement and “the inclusion of all people who are on the fringes of Church,” offering up the example of how a group of young people carrying a rainbow flag at the World Youth Day in Panama were insulted on the street.

Synod delegates listen to presentations at the European Continental Assembly in Prague, Czech Republic. CCEE
Synod delegates listen to presentations at the European Continental Assembly in Prague, Czech Republic. CCEE

The moderator urged presenters to be as transparent as possible about tensions that emerged in group discussions. Time was also allowed for individuals to come up and address the assembly at the end.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the president of the Irish bishops’ conference, spoke about the creative tension between synodality and the hierarchy in the communion of the Church.

“One of the challenges facing a synodal Church is learning how to foster that deeper communion in Christ between the people of God, the bishops, and the pope,” he said. “Synodality should seek to affirm and enhance the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, not diminish it.”

“This is Christ’s Church, not ours to create at will to our specifications,” Martin added.

Italian-language groups noted that they perceived a tension between doctrine and pastoral care and a “tension between truth and mercy.”

While other groups repeated that they also perceived a tension between “truth and mercy,” one English-language group representative highlighted how the truth found in Jesus Christ creates communion and unites believers in the Church.

Quoting Benedict XVI’s encyclical on charity in truth, Caritas in Veritate, she said that truth “is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion.”

She added: “The fundamental truth of Jesus Christ may seem to be in tension with mercy and pastoral concern, but the fundamental truth of Jesus Christ is a moment of grace and mercy in and of itself because mercy leads to the truth, the truth that the Gospel is love. And the Gospel is what humanity needs in order to experience joy and peace.”

What’s happening in Prague this week

Prague is known as “the golden city of 100 spires.” The capital is one of Europe’s best-preserved cities, having largely escaped the bombs of World War II. Its centuries-old architecture reveals the centrality of Christianity in the European city’s history, from its skyline filled with church spires and steeples to the many statues of saints adorning its iconic Charles Bridge.

A statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, considered the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional, on Prague's Charles Bridge. Courtney Mares
A statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, considered the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional, on Prague's Charles Bridge. Courtney Mares

But like many European countries, the practice of the Catholic faith has dwindled today with only 20% of Catholics in the Czech Republic saying that they attend Mass weekly, according to recently published data.

In his opening address Monday, Archbishop Jan Graubner of Prague reflected on the title of the synod working document that is serving as a launching point for the week’s discussions, “Enlarge the space of your tent.”

“If we are talking about a tent that reminds us of the journey of Israel across the desert, then let us recall that God himself was the safe guide of the Israelites. He made them feel safe. He was the good Father who takes care of his children while also educating them through severe punishment,” Graubner said.

“From the consultations I had, I got the impression that many people simply state their opinions but hardly ever listen to the voice of the Lord, namely, the voice of he who called us to his works, who revealed to us his plan of the kingdom of God — the plan mentioned in the Bible. His word is not just to be studied or meditated upon. It should be put to good use,” he told the synod participants.

The European Continental Assembly is one of seven synod continental assemblies occurring across the globe in February and March.

The European assembly is split into two parts. In the first part Feb. 5-9, laypeople and clerics together represented their countries in livestreamed discussions of what priorities and themes should be taken up in the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome this fall. 

Among the participants are three of the organizers of Germany’s “synodal way”: Irme Stetter-Karp, the president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics; Thomas Söding, its vice president; and Bishop Georg Bätzing, who has served as the president of the synodal path since 2020.

Synod delegates listen to presentations at the European Continental Assembly in Prague on Feb. 7, 2023. CCEE
Synod delegates listen to presentations at the European Continental Assembly in Prague on Feb. 7, 2023. CCEE

A final document will be debated and approved on Feb. 9 based on 39 country presentations and working group discussions in the first half of the week. 

Following these discussions, a second private meeting among 35 bishops, the presidents of each of Europe’s bishops’ conferences, will collectively review the document, listen to speeches by each of the bishops, and produce a second final document.

Each day of the synod includes Mass and moments of prayer between speeches, often accompanied by recordings of hymns or worship music submitted by different countries. 

Cardinal Marc Ouellet offered Mass on Feb. 7 and preached on the sacrament of marriage between one man and one woman made in the image of God. 

Ukrainians Greek Catholics led evening prayer on Tuesday night as the delegates from across Europe prayed for peace on their continent.

Delegations representing the Catholic communities in Ukraine and Russia are both taking part in the European Synodal Assembly.

Archbishop Paolo Pezzi and Father Stephan Lipke, SJ, traveled from Moscow to participate in the assembly. Two delegations are representing Ukraine — Archbishop Martin Kmetec is among the representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and three bishops are also listed as representing Latin Catholics in Ukraine.

The European delegates were also united in prayer for the victims of the earthquake in southern Turkey and northern Syria. 

Father Antonio Ammirati, the spokesman for the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences organizing the assembly, read aloud a declaration on the earthquake by the participants in the assembly on Tuesday afternoon.

“The death toll is still on the rise and the destruction, and the suffering of the population have profoundly affected and touched our souls,” he said.

“With great sympathy, the Churches in Europe are close to the populations afflicted by the earthquake, renewing our prayers, and assisting in every possible way to deal with the emergency.”

Canadian man says hospital staff ‘pressured’ him to euthanize his wife

Richard Leskun says he was pressured repeatedly to put a do-not-resuscitate order on his wife Marilynn at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. Then staff offered to euthanize her. / Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

Vancouver, Canada, Feb 7, 2023 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

Richard Leskun remained at his wife Marilynn’s side nearly 24 hours a day after she was admitted to Abbotsford Regional Hospital, the result of a fall from her wheelchair. 

Over the next several days Leskun found himself not only caring for his 71-year-old wife but also fending off efforts by medical staff to let her die, before they offered to do the job themselves. 

The Sunshine Coast widower is sounding the alarm over what he says is a shocking and dangerous bias in the medical system toward the promotion of death for sick and elderly patients.

Leskun, 75, made the charge after he said medical staff at the Abbotsford hospital “pressured” and “badgered” him to allow his wife of 50 years, Marilynn, to die, and then suggested that he let her be euthanized.

Already fragile from the debilitating effects of dementia, Marilynn, 71, had entered the hospital after falling from her wheelchair and breaking vertebrae in her neck.

As Marilynn Leskun’s condition deteriorated, her husband Richard was asked if he would agree to medical staff euthanizing her. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic
As Marilynn Leskun’s condition deteriorated, her husband Richard was asked if he would agree to medical staff euthanizing her. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

Leskun, who was a member of St. James Parish in Abbotsford at the time and now lives in Secret Cove, told The B.C. Catholic in an interview that over the course of eight days staff asked him five times whether they could place a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) designation on his wife.

He said he strongly objected each time and also made his pro-life views known at a family conference with hospital staff.

“At that meeting, I was very clear: I’m a Catholic and I’m absolutely against medically assisted dying,” he recalled saying. “I’m against euthanasia. I want my wife to live. I want her to continue living. We’ve had a good life for 10 years, even though she has dementia. I was very clear.”

As his wife’s condition continued to deteriorate, a hospitalist — a specialist physician assigned to the case — asked Leskun if he would agree to medical staff euthanizing Marilynn.

“The hospitalist is the one who came to me, quite late in the evening, on the night before she died,” Leskun said. “I was absolutely worn, frazzled, completely worn out. I was there every day, almost 24/7, and he said to me, ‘You know, I have written orders for medically assisted dying.’

“I was probably too tired to jump down his throat or whatever. I said no, for sure. I was too tired to feel anything. But I was saying no, absolutely not.” Hours later, when it was clear to him that Marilynn was dying, he told a nurse he would finally agree to a DNR order.

“The nurse said to me, and this shocked me, the nurse said, ‘Oh, it’s OK, the doctor has already put a DNR on,’” Leskun said. “And this was done without my approval. I never gave consent until that moment. [But] she said, ‘It’s already on there. It’s already on the chart.’”

Marilynn Rita Marie Leskun died soon after, in the early morning of Dec. 8, 2018. She was survived by her husband and their two adult children.

Marilynn Leskun with her son and daughter. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic
Marilynn Leskun with her son and daughter. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

Leskun, a retired accountant, wanted to share his experiences after reading The B.C. Catholic’s reports on its investigation into the pro-Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) policies of the Fraser Health Authority, under whose jurisdiction the Abbotsford hospital falls.

He said he is concerned for the welfare of other families whose loved ones may end up in hospital in an era when assisted suicide is being offered in every Fraser Health facility, including hospices.

“Now that the health system offers both death and life, you must speak strongly and clearly if you want life,” he said. “Ensure that your primary care doctor believes in your principles and is willing to act powerfully to negotiate for the care you need.”

The Church teaches that assisted suicide is immoral in all circumstance but does not have formal teaching regarding DNRs. Rather, a patient or a patient’s legally designated decision-maker can decide on its application in light of the patient’s medical condition and life circumstances.

Leskun said he is not bitter over what happened and did not launch a formal complaint but did convene a “debriefing” meeting with seven members of the hospital medical staff on March 5, 2019, at which he laid out his concerns.

“I remember one comment that the hospitalist in charge of Marilynn’s care made to me: ‘Mr. Leskun, we have to look at the big picture.’ I did not know what he meant by that, but it shows how little he valued her individual life,” he said.

Leskun said he now has a clearer idea of what that doctor’s comment meant: that the state-run medical system has its own utilitarian ethics centered on how best to use its limited funds and other medical resources.

“Institutional ethics are appropriate for institutions but are often in conflict with individual ethics,” Leskun said. “I cannot fault the individual doctors for the ‘sins’ of the institution.”

The B.C. Catholic asked the Fraser Health Authority a series of questions related to the Leskun case but did not receive answers before deadline.

Canada’s leading anti-MAiD activist, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says Leskun’s story is all-too-typical these days.

“We have received multiple calls from people with exactly the same story,” Schadenberg told The B.C. Catholic. “It’s the constant badgering about MAiD or euthanasia.”

He said he is currently trying to help a woman who wants information on what legal provisions exist to force medical staff to stop asking for MAiD approval.

Schadenberg said it is wrong for health care staff to pester someone to agree to a DNR order and then secretly override their wishes. “People have the right in law to decide,” he said. “We shouldn’t be badgered.”

The situation points to a large and growing problem, he said. “When the culture will not respect our values and beliefs, then we have a serious problem. Then it stops being about my needs but what the state believes is important.”

Schadenberg said human life is being devalued across Canada, and although troubling incidents took place before the legalization of MAiD in 2016, the situation has worsened since.

“Today, it seems that the concept of wanting treatment is coming, to some medical staff, to be seen as absurd — that you actually want treatment and not death,” he said. “You’re now being seen as terrible for wanting to be treated. You’re costing the system. Everything turns upside down once you start killing.”

Leskun said he believes there is an effort to lead people toward MAiD in some circumstances. “I believe it is at a point when the system figures that there is too much cost and effort. I believe that the system has a motivation towards moving those kinds of people towards medically assisted dying.”

That realization greatly upset him. “I initially wanted to get back at the system, but I no longer want to do that,” he said.

“I just want to make sure that people are aware that they have to be very careful when they are getting care that they speak for themselves and that they understand that the system, I think, has a leaning towards getting rid of the bad cases, the hard cases, the expensive cases. And they have to be aware of that.

“It seems to me that MAiD is being made out to be a noble choice — good for society, for everybody, for yourself, it’s the noblest thing you could do,” he said.

The Fraser Health Authority says it has enacted programs to help its staff cope with the emotional and moral distress that can result from participation in the provision of assisted suicide.

Dixon Tam, a senior consultant with the authority’s communications and public affairs office, said in an email that, since the legalization of Medical Assistance in Dying in 2016, Fraser Health has encouraged “staff to access support and resources as required, such as reaching out to their manager, as well as accessing internal and external employee counseling services.”

The authority also facilitates “discussions with staff members to explain their right to conscientiously object and not participate in the direct provision of medically assisted deaths, while ensuring that eligible patients have access to this service,” he said.

Tam’s statements were in answer to a series of questions sent to his office by The B.C. Catholic after the authority gave the newspaper previously secret documents showing that implementation of MAiD sparked staff opposition and discomfort throughout the system. The B.C. Catholic reported on these concerns in its Jan. 23 edition.

That story was the latest in a series that began in March 2021 after several FHA patients complained they were pestered about agreeing to MAiD. A similar complaint was made public by Sunshine Coast resident Richard Leskun.

Tam said the health authority provides MAiD “as an end-of-life option in a manner that is safe, respectful, and supportive of patients, families, and providers“ and that the authority “created a number of initiatives to assist our staff in understanding the [2016] legislation in order to best support our patients.”

They include: “An ethics debriefing tool for staff to be used both before and after a MAiD provision,” providing “specific MAiD education to staff across Fraser Health, as well as education specially tailored to specific staff, such as those who work in hospice care,” and establishing “community of practice MAiD sessions, including one facilitated by the regulatory College of Nurses (now known as BC College of Nurses and Midwives).”

Tam rejected the idea that internal opposition to MAiD has contributed to current staff shortages in B.C.’s health care system.

The federal government, which wants to extend euthanasia eligibility to include people whose sole condition is a mental disorder, announced this week it will delay implementation of the provision until March 17, 2024.

“Fraser Health is working to prepare for this new legislation to ensure we are able to support our staff, while also ensuring eligible Canadians have access to information regarding legal options that are available to address their intolerable suffering,” Tam said.

Meantime, the B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is scheduled to hold a written inquiry on Feb. 9 into The B.C. Catholic’s quest to uncover yet more hidden information from secret meetings of Fraser Health’s board of directors.

This article was originally published in The B.C. Catholic, a weekly publication serving the Catholic community in British Columbia.