U.S. Bishops Receive Letter from Pope Francis As They Gather for Spiritual Retreat; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo Offers Message to Holy Father on Behalf of U.S. Bishops

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Bishops have received a letter from Pope Francis as they gather in northern Illinois at Mundelein Seminary this week. The weeklong retreat is taking place at the invitation of Pope Francis who has asked all bishops in the United States to pause in prayer as the Church seeks to respond to the signs of the times. 

The Preacher to the Papal Household, Capuchin Friar Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., is directing the retreat under the theme of “He appointed Twelve, to be with Him and to Send Out to Preach” based on Mark 3:14. The structure of the retreat includes time for quiet reflection, including silent meal times, daily Mass, time for personal and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, vespers, and an opportunity for confession. No ordinary business is being conducted during the retreat.

Mundelein Seminary, located on the campus of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, is the principal seminary and school of theology for the formation of priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and educates nearly 200 seminarians from 34 dioceses across the country and around the world.

The retreat is one of prayer and silence.

Pope Francis’s full letter can be found here in both English and Spanish: www.usccb.org/Francis

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), sent the following message on behalf of the U.S. bishops upon the opening of the retreat. 

The Cardinal’s full message follows:

Most Holy Father:

As the bishops of the United States gather today in prayer, we humbly ask Your Holiness to pray for us that we may draw closer to one another and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this closeness, we seek to find the wisdom and strength necessary to meet the great challenges ahead. We carry with us these days the pain and hope of all who may feel let down by the Church. Yet, we find ourselves grateful for the reminder that the future does not rest with any of us alone, but rather belongs to God. Hope is to be found in Christ. In Him, hope becomes unshakable.

Holy Father, we also draw near to you in our prayer and ministry. Your witness to those suffering around the world strengthens us. May our days together reflect the communion of the Universal Church.

Ouellet letter: US bishops’ vote on abuse reform measures was blocked to allow more discussion

Vatican City, Jan 1, 2019 (CNA/EWTN News) - A letter from Cardinal Marc Ouellet indicates that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops had blocked the U.S. bishops from voting on proposals to address the sex abuse crisis in November because the congregation believed more time was needed to discuss the measures.

The Associated Press reported Jan. 1 that it had obtained a letter from Cardinal Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, addressed to U.S. bishops’ conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

The letter, dated Nov. 11, says that proposals which had been scheduled for a vote by the bishops’ conference needed more time and discussion to “properly mature.” Ouellet indicated that the Vatican congregation had numerous canonical objections to the proposals.

On Nov. 12, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston announced that the Vatican had directed the U.S. bishops’ conference to delay a vote on two key proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The proposals to establish a new code of conduct for bishops and create of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct had been scheduled to receive a vote at the fall gathering of the bishops’ conference, which was held Nov. 12-14 in Baltimore.

DiNardo said he received a directive from the Congregation for Bishops, insisting that consideration of the new measures be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February. That meeting, which will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, will address the global sexual abuse crisis.

DiNardo said he had only been told of the Vatican’s decision one day before the start of the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore.

However, according to the Associated Press, Ouellet first told DiNardo on Nov. 6 that the bishops should not vote on the proposals, and repeated the instruction in his Nov. 11 letter, saying, “Considering the nature and scope of the documents being proposed by the (conference), I believe it would have been beneficial to have allowed for more time to consult with this and other congregations with competence over the ministry and discipline of bishops.”

DiNardo on Jan. 1 told the Associated Press that he had shared the “content and direction” of the proposals with the Vatican in October. He said he moved forward with drafting the final text when he did not meet with any opposition.

“We had not planned, nor had the Holy See made a request, to share the texts prior to the body of bishops having had an opportunity to amend them,” he said, adding that he assumed the Vatican would be able to “review and offer adjustments” to the measures after the U.S. bishops voted to approve them.

“It is now clear there were different expectations on the bishops conference’s part and Rome’s part that may have affected the understanding of these proposals,” DiNardo said in a statement. “From our perspective, they were designed to stop short of where the authority of the Holy See began.”

In his letter, Ouellet acknowledged that the bishops’ conference has autonomy to discuss and approve measures, but added “the conference’s work must always be integrated within the hierarchical structure and universal law of the church.” He mentioned a need to “incorporate the input and fruits” of the February meeting in Rome.

DiNardo told the AP that he had cautioned Ouellet that a failure to vote on the proposals “would prove a great disappointment to the faithful, who were expecting their bishops to take just action.”

Pope Francis asks for prayers for Indonesia after deadly tsunami

Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - After a deadly tsunami struck Indonesia Saturday night, killing more than 200 people and injuring hundreds more, Pope Francis has asked for everyone to join him in prayer for the suffering victims this Christmas.

“My thoughts go out right now to the populations of Indonesia, affected by violent natural disasters, which have caused serious losses in human lives, numerous people missing and homeless, and extensive material damage,” Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer Dec. 23.

“I invite everyone to join me in prayer for the victims and their loved ones,” he said, calling for solidarity and support from the international community.

The tsunami left at least 222 people dead and more than 840 injured, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from Indonesia’s disaster management agency.

Researchers suspect the destructive waves were triggered by a volcanic eruption in the Sunda Strait between two Indonesian islands.

Pope Francis expressed his wish to be “spiritually close” to the displaced and “to all the people who are imploring God for relief in their suffering.”
 
The pope reflected on the importance of families being together at Christmas, but said he understood that “many people do not have this possibility, for different reasons.”

To people apart from their families at Christmas, Pope Francis extended an invitation to find a “true family” in the Catholic Church.

“Our heavenly Father does not forget you and does not abandon you. If you are a Christian, I wish you to find in the Church a true family, where you can experience the warmth of fraternal love,” he said.

Francis stressed that the doors of the Catholic community are open to Christians and non-Christians alike this Christmas. “Jesus is born for everyone and gives everyone the love of God,” he said.

The pope encouraged people preparing for Christmas to fix their gaze on Mary, who spent her months of waiting for Christ’s coming in service to her elderly relative, Elizabeth.

“The Gospel of Mary's visit to Elizabeth prepares us to live Christmas well, communicating to us the dynamism of faith and charity,” Pope Francis said.

“A dynamism full of joy, as seen in the meeting between the two mothers, which is all a hymn of joyous exultation in the Lord, who does great things with the little ones who trust Him,” he continued.

May the Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace of living a Christmas centered, not on ourselves, but on Jesus and our brothers and sisters in need, Pope Francis prayed.

U.S. Bishops Will Gather for Seven Days of Prayer and Reflection at Invitation of Pope Francis; Papal Preacher to Direct Retreat Taking Place January 2-8

WASHINGTON — Catholic bishops from across the United States will begin the new year taking part in a spiritual retreat for seven days at Mundelein Seminary January 2 to 8, 2019. Preacher to the Papal Household, Capuchin Friar Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., will direct the retreat under the theme of “He appointed Twelve, to be with Him and to Send Out to Preach” based on Mark 3:14. The retreat is taking place at the invitation of Pope Francis who has asked all bishops in the United States to pause in prayer as the Church seeks to respond to the signs of the times.   

The structure of the retreat will emphasize quiet reflection, including silent meal times, and will offer daily Mass, time for personal and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, vespers, and an opportunity for confession. The next business meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is scheduled for June 2019. No ordinary business will be conducted at the January retreat.

Cardinal DiNardo expresses his gratitude to Pope Francis for offering the services of his personal preacher for the retreat and offers special thanks to Cardinal Blase Cupich for hosting the retreat in the Archdiocese of Chicago.  The Cardinal is also asking the faithful to join in prayer for the U.S. bishops throughout the duration of the retreat.

“I am grateful to the Holy Father for calling the bishops and me to step back and enter into this focused time of listening to God as we respond to the intense matters before us in the weeks and months ahead.  I also humbly ask the laity, our priests and religious for your prayers for my brother bishops and me as we join in solidarity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray also for the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering may serve to strengthen us all for the hard task of rooting out a terrible evil from our Church and our society so that such suffering is never multiplied.”  

On February 21-24, 2019, Cardinal DiNardo will join presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences for a Vatican summit on the clerical sex abuse crisis and child protection. The pope had announced in September that he was calling all the presidents of bishop’s conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and representatives of the leadership groups of men and women religious orders to the Vatican to address the crisis. 

Father Cantalamessa was appointed the Preacher to the Papal Household by Pope John Paul II in 1980.  He has remained in this position through the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and is the only person allowed to preach to the Pope.  

Mundelein Seminary, located on the campus of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, is the principal seminary and school of theology for the formation of priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. It is the largest Catholic seminary in the United States and home to 200 seminarians from 34 dioceses across the country and around the world.

Pope Francis: Make space for wonder this Christmas

Vatican City, (CNA/EWTN News) - Make space for wonder and surprise this Christmas, Pope Francis urged Wednesday, explaining that the first Christmas had many surprises – including that God came into the world as a tiny baby.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was surprised by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation and Joseph was surprised by the angel in his dream, which told him to take Mary as his wife, the pope said Dec. 19.

To welcome the Savior there are no powerful people, no ambassadors, just simple shepherds, surprised by the angels while working at night.

“But it is on the night of Christmas that the biggest surprise comes: The Most High is a small child,” he said. “To celebrate Christmas, then, is to welcome the surprises of Heaven on earth.”

Speaking at his weekly general audience, Pope Francis reflected on the surprising elements of Christ’s birth, and the way each Catholic can replicate the feelings at the first Christmas in his or her heart by making room for silence.

“Christmas is preferring the silent voice of God to the noisiness of consumerism. If we can be silent in front of the crib, Christmas will be a surprise even for us, not something seen before,” he said.

“Be silent in front of the nativity,” he advised. “This is an invitation for Christmas, take some time. Go before the nativity and stay in silence.”

Francis noted that since the beginning of Advent, the Gospel warned against becoming weighed down by the “anxieties of daily life.” “These days we rush, maybe as we never have during the year. But this is the opposite of what Jesus wants,” he said.

We blame the fast-pace of the world, but Jesus did not blame the world; Jesus asked his followers to keep watch and pray.

It is easy to get wrapped up in consumerism and in parties this time of year, preferring “the usual things of the earth over the news of Heaven,” he warned. “If Christmas is just a nice traditional holiday, where we are at the center and not Him, it will be a lost opportunity.”

We will celebrate Christmas well, “if, like Joseph, we will give space to silence; if, like Mary, we say ‘here I am’ to God; if, like Jesus, we will be close to those who are alone; if, like the shepherds, we will leave our enclosures to be with Jesus,” Pope Francis said.

“It will be Christmas, if we find the light in the poor cave of Bethlehem.”

On the other hand, he stated, it will not be Christmas if people look only for the “shimmering glow of the world,” filling themselves with presents and fancy meals, but do not help “at least one poor man.”

“Christmas is the payback of humility over arrogance, of simplicity over abundance, of silence over hubbub, of prayer over ‘my time,’ of God over my ego,” he said.

“Every one of us has, hidden in our heart, the capacity to be surprised. May we be surprised by Jesus this Christmas.”

For his 82nd birthday party, Pope Francis hosts sick children

Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Ahead of his 82nd birthday, Pope Francis held a party and ate birthday cake with children under the care of a free health clinic inside the Vatican.

The celebration took place inside the Paul VI hall before the Sunday Angelus. It included a surprise birthday cake for Pope Francis, whose Dec. 17 birthday falls on Monday. Joined by the children’s families, the Pope spent about an hour with children receiving care at the “Santa Marta” Pediatric Dispensary. In addition to dessert, there was singing and music at the papal audience.

“I’m happy to be with you. I wish you a Merry Christmas, a good holy Christmas to all, and I thank you very much for what you do, really,” the Pope said. “And, also, I hope that there is no indigestion with that cake so big!”

A sign hung on the table holding the Pope’s cake read: “We cannot get used to the situations of degradation and misery that surround us. A Christian must react.”

Francis said he thought that if the Holy Family had been living in Rome and the Baby Jesus had a cold, Mary would have surely brought him to the dispensary to be treated.

The Pope thanked all of the doctors, nurses, and volunteers of the clinic, as well as the “collaboration of the kids, and of the dads and the moms of the children.” The clinic is “a body,” he continued, “and there is life in the body. It is seen in the spontaneity of the children.”

It is not easy to work with children, he noted, but he stressed that to do so helps people to understand the reality of life and that “we must lower ourselves, as we lower ourselves to kiss a child. They teach us this.”

“The proud, the proud cannot understand life, because they cannot lower themselves,” he continued. And all those who help the children at the dispensary “give so much to the children; but they give us this message, this teaching: get down. Get down, be humble, and you will learn to understand life and understand people.”

The “Santa Marta” Dispensary, which became a foundation in 2008, is supported by the Pope, the Secretariat of State, the Vatican City State Governorate, and benefactors and friends.

This was the third time the Pope has celebrated his birthday with the families of the “Santa Marta” Dispensary.

U.S. bishops’ chairman applauds critical legislation to aid Christians in Iraq, Syria

Washington D.C., - (CNA/EWTN News) - President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which seeks to ensure US aid reaches Christian and Yazidi genocide victims.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27, and in the Senate Oct. 11.

This bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and the lead Democratic sponsor was Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). This was Smith’s second attempt at getting the bill signed into law, and altogether it took 17 months for this bill to be passed.  

Trump was joined at the Dec. 11 signing by Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, Smith, Eshoo, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and many others.

Trump said it was a “great honor” to sign H.R. 390 into law, and remarked that his administration has had great success in fighting Islamic State. The group has lost nearly all of its territory since its peak in 2015.

“This bill continues my administration's efforts to direct US assistance for persecuted communities including through faith-based programs,” he said.

The signing of the legislation is a symbol of the US speaking “with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” Anderson said in a statement provided by the Knights of Columbus, which were heavily involved with the process of writing the bill and assisting the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus have donated more than $20 million to help Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria with food, housing, and other needs. The Knights also spent $2 million to rebuild an Iraqi town that had been destroyed by Islamic State.

H.R. 390 provides funding to various entities, including faith-based and religious organizations, that are helping with recovery and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria in religious and ethnic minority communities, including Christians and Yazidis.

The bill also instructs the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the region and for the administration to identify signs of potential violent action against minority groups in the country.

Another part of the law encourages foreign governments to identify those who belong to Islamic State in security databases and security screenings to aid with their prosecution. The bill provides support for groups that are investigating members of Islamic State who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region.

Since Islamic State took control of the region, the country’s Christian population has dwindled to only a few thousand families. Many of these people fled to nearby Turkey and Lebanon out of concern for their safety. Although the situation has drastically improved since nearly all of Islamic State's territory has been regained, Christians are reluctant to return to the region due to a lack of economic opportunities and continued concerns for safety.

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

U.S. Bishops’ Chairman Applauds Enactment of Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act

December 11, 2018

WASHINGTON - The Committee on International Justice and Peace of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) applauds the enactment of the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390).

This critical legislation will direct humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and hold ISIS perpetrators accountable.

“Today is a signal of hope for the critically vulnerable of this region. We thank Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill’s author, and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), its lead cosponsor, and President Donald Trump for signing it into law,” says Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services USA and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Less than 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before ISIS swept through the region on its genocidal campaign. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Erbil in the Kurdistan region, and need desperate assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq.  After the ISIS invasion, 60,000 Yazidis fled to Europe, and of the 550,000 Yazidis still in Iraq, 280,000 remain displaced and only 20 percent have been able to return to their historic homeland of Sinjar, according to the Yazdi organization Yazda.

The Catholic Church has consistently raised its voice in support of the most vulnerable who are facing persecution and displacement in the Middle East and around the world. Pope Francis has denounced the persecution, torture and killing of Christians in the Middle East, calling it a "form of genocide" that must end, and lamenting the wider conflicts that have put so many in danger. USCCB has joined with Pope Francis in condemning the actions of those who would persecute others solely for reasons of their faith and ethnicity.”

Pope Francis: Advent demands conversion, recognizing our mistakes

VATICAN CITY, (CNA).- Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, Pope Francis said Sunday, but this season also requires a “journey of conversion.”

“To prepare the way for the Lord who comes, it is necessary to take into account the demands of conversion,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Dec. 9.

Conversion requires changing your attitude, Francis explained. “It leads to humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, and defaults.”

The pope focused on the invitation of St. John the Baptist, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance as a voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

“The Baptist invited the people of his time to conversion with force, vigor, and severity,” Francis said. “Yet he knew how to listen, he knew how to perform gestures of tenderness, gestures of forgiveness towards the multitude of men and women who came to him to confess their sins and be baptized.”

“Even today, the disciples of Jesus are called to be his humble, but courageous witnesses to rekindle hope,” the pope said.

The pope suggested that each person asks, “How can I change something in my attitude to prepare the way for the Lord?” 

One necessary step is “making concrete gestures of reconciliation with our brothers, asking for forgiveness of our faults,” he explained. “The Lord helps us in this, if we have good will.”

Christians are called to help people understand that “despite everything, the kingdom of God continues to be built day by day with the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to prepare the way of the Lord day by day, beginning with ourselves,” Pope Francis prayed.

Pope Francis: Advent is a time of joy-filled waiting

Vatican City, (CNA/EWTN News) - As the Advent season begins, it is a good time to reflect on the Christian call to joyful expectancy, finding hope and consolation in waiting for Christ, Pope Francis said Saturday.

“We Christians are called to safeguard and spread the joy of waiting: we await God who loves us infinitely and at the same time we are awaited by Him. In this way, life becomes a great betrothal,” the pope said Dec. 1.

“Tonight,” he continued, “begins a time of consolation and hope, the time of Advent: a new liturgical year begins, which brings with it the novelty of our God, who is the ‘God of all consolation.’”

“I wish you to experience Advent thus, as a time of consoling novelty and joyous waiting,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke about the start of Advent during an audience with a group of about 6,500 people from the Italian dioceses of Ugento-Santa Maria di Leuca and Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi in the Paul VI Hall.

Francis thanked the travelers for coming, recalling that he had visited their diocese in April on a daytrip. “But God,” he pointed out, “will visit you where I cannot come: in your homes, in your lives. God visits us and waits to stay with us forever.”

In his speech, the pope referenced Servant of God Fr. Tonino Bello, who was the bishop of the Diocese of Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi from 1982-1993.

Don Tonino once reflected, he said, on the fact that life is full of fear: “Fear of neighbor... fear of the other... fear of violence... fear of not making it. Fear of not being accepted... fear that it is useless to work hard. Fear, much, that we cannot change the world... Fear of not finding a job.”

Francis pointed out that Don Tonino would respond to this gloomy scenario by saying that “Advent responds with ‘the Gospel of anti-fear.’”

“If fear makes you lie on the ground, the Lord invites you to get up; if negativity pushes you to look down, Jesus invites us to turn our gaze to heaven, from where He will come. Because we are not children of fear, but children of God,” the pope said.

“Then we welcome the invitation of the Gospel, the invitation so often repeated by Don Tonino to stand up, to get up,” he continued. “From where? From the sofas of life: from the comfort that makes you lazy, from the mundanity that makes you sick inside, from the self-pity that darkens.”

“Stand up, let us look up to the sky,” he instructed. “We would also advise of the need to open our hands to our neighbor. And the consolation that we can give will heal our fears.”

President of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement on the Death of President George H.W. Bush

WASHINGTON - Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued the following statement on the passing of President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows: 

“We join with people across the nation as we mourn the passing of President George H.W. Bush. We remember with gratitude this great man who spent his life selflessly in service of his country.  With an unwavering commitment to building bridges of peace and ensuring our nation's freedoms, he also inspired many as a devoted husband, father and family patriarch.   

On behalf of my brother bishops of the United States, we pray for the repose of the soul of our forty-first president as we remember a life well lived. 

We also offer our deepest sympathy and prayers for his bereaved family and all those who mourn his passing.  May you find peace and comfort in the consoling love of Jesus Christ.”

——————————

Declaración del Presidente de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos en relación a la muerte del Presidente George H.W. Bush

3 de diciembre de 2018

WASHINGTON — El Cardenal Daniel N. DiNardo, Arzobispo de Galveston-Houston y Presidente de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos, emitió un comunicado sobre el fallecimiento del Presidente George Herbert Walker Bush.

La declaración completa del Cardenal DiNardo es la siguiente:

“Nos unimos a las personas de todo el país al lamentar el fallecimiento del Presidente George H.W. Bush. Recordamos con gratitud a este gran hombre que pasó su vida desinteresadamente al servicio de su país. Con un compromiso inquebrantable de construir puentes de paz y garantizar las libertades de nuestra nación, también inspiró a muchos como un devoto esposo, padre y patriarca de la familia.

En nombre de mis hermanos Obispos de Estados Unidos, oramos por el descanso del alma de nuestro cuadragésimo primer presidente al recordar una vida bien vivida. También ofrecemos nuestras más sinceras condolencias y oraciones por su familia afligida y por todos aquellos que lloran su muerte. Que encuentren paz y consuelo en el amor consolador de Jesucristo".

Cupich named to organizing group of Vatican's February meeting on abuse crisis

By Hannah Brockhaus

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican announced Friday Pope Francis’ selection for the organizing committee of the Vatican’s February meeting of bishops on abuse prevention. Among the group named is Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

The gathering, which will take place Feb. 21-24, 2019, is focused on the protection of minors from sexual abuse within the Church. The pope has asked the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences, and the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, to attend.

In addition to Cupich, Francis also placed on the organizing committee Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who was recently made adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

Fr. Hans Zollner, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), was also named a member and made the contact person for the committee.

Earlier this month, the Vatican asked the United States bishops to postpone their consideration of a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct, until after the conclusion of the February meeting on abuse.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, made the announcement Nov. 12, during the bishops' fall general assembly in Baltimore. The instruction to halt the vote was given by the Congregation for Bishops.

At DiNardo’s announcement, Cupich intervened from the floor, expressing his support for the pope. He also proposed an alternate plan on how to handle misconduct complaints against bishops, different from the draft measures previously presented by conference leadership.

In a statement Nov. 23, Papal spokesman Greg Burke called the February meeting "unprecedented," and said that it "shows Pope Francis has made the protection of minors a fundamental priority for the Church."

The gathering is about "keeping children safe from harm worldwide," he said, adding that the pope wants the Church's leaders to "to have a full understanding of the devastating impact that clerical sexual abuse has on victims."

Burke said that the meeting is for bishops, who, he said, have the most responsibility for the "grave problem" of abuse; but lay men and women who are experts in the area of abuse will also be providing input and will be able to help address what should be done “to ensure transparency and accountability.”

Among those who will be helping with preparations for the February meeting are members of the PCPM and the lay undersecretaries of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life: Dr. Gabriella Gambino and Dr. Linda Ghisoni.

Some number of victims of abuse by clergy will also be helping with preparations.

In addition to Pope Francis, other Vatican representation at the meeting will be the superiors of the Secretariat of State, and the prefects of seven congregations, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation of Bishops, and the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.

Representatives of men’s and women’s religious orders will also be present.

Vatican, US bishops face class-action lawsuit from victims of clergy sex abuse

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2018 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops' conference and the Holy See face a class action lawsuit filed by six men who claim they were sexually abused by Catholic clergy during their childhoods. They are seeking financial damages as well as public contrition and reparation from the Church.

The 80-page suit filed Nov. 13 claims that the Vatican and the bishops knew about - and covered up for - the “endemic, systemic, rampant, and pervasive rape and sexual abuse” of the plaintiffs and others at the hands of active members of the clergy, religious orders, and other Church representatives.

The suit opens by invoking two passages of Scripture: “(B)ut people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed,” and: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather, expose them.”

Rather than protect the plaintiffs, the lawsuit says Church leaders protected and - “incredibly” - promoted the offenders.

These kinds of “wrongful actions, inaction, omissions, cover-up, deception, and concealment” create a “conspiracy of silence to their financial and reputational benefit and to Plaintiffs’ and Class Members’ personal, mental, psychological, and financial detriment.” These actions are “ongoing and continuous” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. by four attorneys representing six individuals who lived in six different states at the time the abuse occurred - Iowa, California, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. It does not specifically detail the cases of abuse reportedly suffered by the individuals.

The attorneys who filed the suit are Mitchell Toups, Richard Coffman, Joe Whatley Jr., and Henry Quillen, who have previous experience with similar lawsuits on behalf of victims of clerical sex abuse.

Coffman, one of two attorneys on the case from Beaumont, Texas, told the Beaumont Enterprise that he has been watching the unfolding of the recent sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and felt the “time was right” to file this lawsuit.

“(S)omething needs to be done about this problem," he told the Enterprise.

"There's just a louder and louder outcry going on across the United States for the Catholic church to do something about this situation," Coffman added.

The lawsuit was filed during the autumn plenary assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore, during which the bishops voted down a proposal that would have “encouraged” the Vatican to “release soon” all documents related to the allegations of misconduct against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose case has been at the center of the abuse scandals in the Church in the U.S. that have unfolded over the past five months.

At the beginning of the meeting, president of the conference Cardinal Daniel DiNardo also announced a Vatican order that the bishops not vote on any proposed solutions to the abuse crisis until a meeting in Rome in February with other bishops' conferences, a move that the lawsuit said was merely “kicking the can down the road again.”

Several U.S. bishops expressed their disappointment with the order, and the sex abuse crisis still featured as a prominent point of discussion at the meeting, though no action was taken.

The suit also claims that the bishops and the Vatican violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, aimed at organized crime, because the bishops engaged in federal mail fraud and wire fraud in the cover-up of abuse. The Catholic Church in the U.S. is an “unincorporated association” and therefore qualifies as an organization that can be held to RICO standards, it states.

The plaintiffs are seeking “compensatory damages, economic damages, punitive damages, RICO treble damages, medical monitoring, pre- and post-judgment interest, and attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, and court costs.”

They also seek relief that would compel the Vatican and the bishops to “comply with various state statutes requiring them to report the abusive Clergy to law enforcement or other responsible authorities, terminate the abusive Clergy, identify the abusive Clergy to the general public so that parents may protect their children going forward, release documents evidencing such Clergy abuse to achieve transparency, and such other relief the Court deems just and proper.”

Spokespersons for the USCCB have told several media outlets that the conference will not comment on the lawsuit because it is pending litigation.

USCCB president makes statement at close of fall general assembly November 12-14

BALTIMORE — On the final day of the public sessions of the U.S. Bishops fall general assembly in Baltimore, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered the following remarks.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full address follows:

“Brothers, I opened the meeting expressing some disappointment. I end it with hope.

My hope is first of all grounded in Christ, who desires that the Church be purified and that our efforts bear fruit.

In late summer on your behalf, I expressed our renewed fraternal affection for our Holy Father. In September the Administrative Committee expressed for all of us our “love, obedience and loyalty” for Pope Francis. Now together with you today, gathered in Baltimore in Plenary Assembly, we the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pledge to His Holiness our loyalty and devotion in these difficult days. I am sure that, under the leadership of Pope Francis, the conversation that the global Church will have in February will help us eradicate the evil of sexual abuse from our Church. It will make our local efforts more global and the global perspective will help us here.

Brothers, you and the speakers we have heard from have given me direction and consensus. I will take it as a springboard for action. Listening is essential, but listening must inform decisive action. Let me take this moment to thank the many survivors and experts who have given us such good counsel and direction these last few days.

When the summer’s news first broke, we committed to three goals: to do what we could to get to the bottom of the Archbishop McCarrick situation; to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier; and, to develop a means of holding ourselves accountable that was genuinely independent, duly authorized, and had substantial lay involvement.

Now, we are on course to accomplish these goals. That is the direction that you and the survivors of abuse across our country have given me for the February meeting in Rome. More than that, in the days prior to the meeting of episcopal conference presidents, the Task Force I established this week will convert that direction into specific action steps. Some of those actions steps include:

  • A process for investigating complaints against bishops reported through a third-party compliance hotline. We will complete a proposal for a single national lay commission and a proposal for a national network relying upon the established diocesan review boards, with their lay expertise, to be overseen by the metropolitan or senior suffragan.

  • Finalizing the Standards of Accountability for Bishops.

  • Finalizing the Protocol for Removed Bishops.

  • Studying national guidelines for the publication of lists of names of those clerics facing substantiated claims of abuse.

  • Supporting the fair and timely completion of the various investigations into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick and publication of their results. We are grateful for the Holy See’s Statement of October 6 in this regard.

We leave this place committed to taking the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment. We will do so in communion with the Universal Church. Moving forward in concert with the Church around the world will make the Church in the United States stronger, and will make the global Church stronger.  

But our hope for true and deep reform ultimately lies in more than excellent systems, as essential as these are. It requires holiness: the deeply held conviction of the truths of the Gospel, and the eager readiness to be transformed by those truths in all aspects of life.

As the nuncio reminded us on Monday, “if the Church is to reform herself and her structures, then the reform must spring from her mission of making known Christ, the Son of the Living God.” No system of governance or oversight, however excellent and necessary, suffices alone to make us, weak as we all are, able to live up to the high calling we have received in Christ.

We must recommit to holiness and to the mission of the Church.

Brothers, I have heard you today. I am confident that in unity with the Holy Father and in conversation with the Universal Church in February we will move forward.  

There is more to be done, but what we have done is a sign of hope.

Commending everything to the intercession of Our Lady, we pray together . . .

Hail Mary…"

Vatican cancels US bishops’ vote on sex abuse reform measures

By Ed Condon

Baltimore, Md., Nov. 12, 2018 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has told the American bishops that they will not vote on two key proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The news came at the beginning of the U.S. bishops’ conference fall general assembly, meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

The instruction to delay consideration of a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct came directly from the Holy See, DiNardo told a visibly surprised conference hall.

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of the new measures be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February. That meeting, which will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, will address the global sexual abuse crisis.

Apologizing for the last minute change to the conference’s schedule, he said had only been told of the decision by Rome late yesterday.

Ahead of the bishops’ meeting, two documents had been circulated: a draft Standards of Conduct for bishops and a proposal to create a new special investigative commission to handle accusations made against bishops.

These proposals had been considered to be the bishops’ best chance to produce a substantive result during the meeting, and signal to the American faithful that they were taking firm action in the face of a series of scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States over recent months.

Speaking before the conference session had even been called to order, DiNardo told the bishops he was clearly “disappointed” with Rome’s decision. The cardinal said that, despite the unexpected intervention by Rome, he was hopeful that the Vatican meeting would prove fruitful and that its deliberations would help improve the American bishops’ eventual measures.

While DiNardo was still speaking, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago intervened from the floor, expressing his support for the pope.  

“It is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously,” Cupich said.

At the same time, he suggested that the work which had gone into preparing the two proposals should not go to waste.

Cupich suggested that if the conference could not take a binding vote, they should instead continue with their discussions and conclude with resolution ballot on the two measures. This, he said, would help best equip Cardinal DiNardo to present the thought of the American bishops during the February meeting, where he will represent the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“We need to be very clear with [DiNardo] where we stand, and be clear with our people where we stand,” Cupich said.

While acknowledging that the February meeting was important, he noted that responding to the abuse crisis “is something we cannot delay, there is an urgency here.”

Cupich went on to propose moving forward the American bishops’ next meeting, currently scheduled for June 2019. Instead, he suggested, the bishops should reconvene in March in order to act as soon as possible after the February session in Rome.

Apostolic Nuncio: Bishops need to regain trust of their faithful

By Christine Rousselle

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishops in the United States need to work hard to regain the trust of their flocks and combat a culture of clericalism, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told those present at the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.

After acknowledging that the past year has been “challenging and sobering,” Pierre spoke sternly to his brother bishops and told them that they need to accept their responsibility as “spiritual fathers” of their dioceses.

While the Church is “always” in need of renewal, Pierre said that that this task will be impossible without rebuilding the trust of their community. It is a task that demands time, effort sacrifice, and reform on the part of the bishop.

“The only way of reforming the Church is to suffer for her,” he said, and this reform needs to come from the mission of the Church. In creating reform, bishops must show that they are capable of solving problems that are placed before them, “rather than simply delegating them to others.”

Bishops, he sad, have a “special responsibility” to strengthen the faith of others, especially when presented with these challenges.

“The people of God have rightly challenged us to be trustworthy,” he said.  

“Pope Francis never ceases to tell us that if we are to begin again, then we should begin again from Jesus Christ, who lightens our lives and helps us to prove that we can be trustworthy.”

Despite admonishing the bishops for betraying the trust of the faithful, he also offered praise for certain aspects of their work.

Pierre voiced approval for the bishops’ efforts in creating sanctions and rules for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. There is, however, always more that can be done, and bishops should not be afraid to “get their hands dirty” and remain vigilant in this work.

“Those of you who have done good work have to be congratulated for your commitment as leaders, and for setting a good example for us all,” he said, noting that one case of clerical sex abuse is one too many.

He also praised the media for their work in reporting the abuse crisis, reminding the bishops not to shoot the messenger, so to speak, when it comes to these stories, regardless of how “painful and humiliating” they may be.

As a way to regain the trust of the faith, bishops need to work on fighting back against a culture that promotes clericalism and one that tolerates the abuse of authority, he said. These sins are not those of the media, nor are they “products of conspiracies,” he said. Rather, they are for the Church to confront head-on.

“These are things we must recognize and fix,” he said, starting from the beginning of the priesthood formation process in the seminaries. Those who are selected for the seminary must be properly screened, and he encouraged the bishops to spend time talking to young people and hearing their concerns.

Bishops “cannot run from the challenges that present and confront us,” he said, but instead need to have “open hearts” and hear the concerns of the faithful.

“Even if things seem dark, do not be discouraged. Have hope. [Christ] is with us, and He accompanies the Church,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo to US bishops: Avoid despair, presumption in addressing abuse crisis

By Ed Condon

AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to FacebookShare to TwitterShare to Google+Share to WhatsAppShare to PinterestShare to PrintFriendlyShare to More

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo opened the fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with a speech calling for bishops to avoid the two temptations of “despair and presumption” as they address the sexual abuse scandals facing the Church.

In his opening speech, given as president of the USCCB, DiNardo said that the Church must rely on “trusting faith,” and “living memory” as it seeks to support victims of abuse and to reassure the faithful.

DiNardo’s address was clearly amended to account for the surprise announcement that the Holy See had blocked the bishops from voting on two key proposals.

Shortly before his speech, the cardinal told the hall that he had been instructed by Rome that the U.S. bishops were not to vote on a proposed new set of standards for episcopal conduct or on the creation of a new lay-led body to investigate episcopal misconduct. Instead, the American bishops have been told to wait until after a special meeting of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences called by Pope Francis for February.

Despite the sudden change to the conference agenda, DiNardo said that the American bishops take the abuse crisis seriously.

“We remain committed to the program of episcopal accountability. Votes will not take place, but we will move forward,” DiNardo told attendees.

Addressing survivors in the first person, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said, “I am deeply sorry.”

“In our weakness we fell asleep,” he said, while calling for a renewed vigilance, both against abuse and against paralysis in the face of recent scandals.

Despair, he said, must yield to the knowledge that the Church “has always been and will always be the body of Christ” which the bishops are called to serve as members.

On the other hand, DiNardo also warned against presuming that the current crisis would just “blow over” or worse, was a crisis of the past not the present. While noting that many of the recent scandals concerned cases of abuse from past decades, he said that the Church could not presume that victims should “heal on our timeline.”

Progress has been made, DiNardo told the bishops, but they must remain “willing but also ready to ask forgiveness” of victims, survivors and the faithful. Bringing healing to the sexual abuse crisis will require “all our spiritual and physical resources”

“It is only after listening that we can carry out the changes needed,” DiNardo said, ending with a plea to the bishops that the conference proceed untied in humility.

“Let us submit to the Holy father and to each other in a spirit of fraternal correction,” he said.

“Brothers, we have fallen into a place of great weakness. We must act right here and right now to better serve our sisters and brothers.”

“We can begin to clean and then to heal the lacerations in the body of Christ.”

Annual Collection Helps Religious Communities Address Retirement Shortfall

WASHINGTON—The Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be held in most U.S. Catholic parishes on December 8-9. Now in its 31st year, the collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO). Proceeds are distributed to eligible religious communities to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses for senior members. Some 31,000 elderly Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests benefit.

Catholic bishops of the United States initiated the national collection in 1988 to help address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious congregations. Almost 94 percent of donations directly support senior religious and their congregations.

Donations to the 2017 appeal totaled just over $28 million, and the NRRO distributed $25 million to 360 religious communities across the country. Communities utilize these funds to bolster retirement savings and to subsidize necessities such as prescription medications and nursing care. Throughout the year, additional funding is allocated for communities with critical needs and for resources on retirement planning and eldercare.

“Since the collection began, Catholics have donated $844 million to help religious communities care for aging members,” said Presentation Sister Stephanie Still, the NRRO’s executive director. “We are humbled and profoundly grateful for this generosity.”

Despite ongoing support for the national appeal, the need remains profound. For each of the last 10 years, the total cost of care for senior women and men religious has exceeded $1 billion. At the same time, most religious communities lack adequate retirement savings because older members served for little to no pay. Historically low compensation also impacts current income. Based on NRRO data, the average annual Social Security benefit for a religious is just $6,453.45.

In addition to direct financial aid, collection proceeds underwrite efforts to help religious communities prepare for long-term needs. Special programming offers fiscal and one-on-one support to communities with critical funding shortages. Partnerships with various organizations maximize the impact of donations by furnishing tools for enhancing eldercare and stretching retirement dollars. For example, in conjunction with the Avila Institute for Gerontology, the NRRO offers a free webinar series on senior-related topics. In 2017, funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation underwrote the creation of online videos to promote effective property planning.

“Thanks to the annual appeal, we are able to offer an array of resources to help religious communities meet immediate needs, enhance eldercare, and plan for the future,” said Sister Still.

More information is available at www.retiredreligious.org.

 

Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration and Presidents of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA Issued Statement Urging Humane Action Towards Those Seeking Protection 

WASHINGTON— Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Sister Donna Markham OP PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA issued the following statement urging all people of goodwill to speak and act with compassion towards those migrating north and seeking refuge from violence and poverty.

The full statement follows:

“As Catholic agencies assisting poor and vulnerable migrants in the United States and around the world, we are deeply saddened by the violence, injustice, and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America. While nations have the right to protect their borders, this right comes with responsibilities: governments must enforce laws proportionately, treat all people humanely, and provide due process.

We affirm that seeking asylum is not a crime. We urge all governments to abide by international law and existing domestic laws that protect those seeking safe haven and ensure that all those who are returned to their home country are protected and repatriated safely.

Furthermore, we strongly advocate for continued U.S. investments to address the underlying causes of violence and lack of opportunity in Central America. Our presence throughout the Americas has convinced us that migration is a regional issue that requires a comprehensive, regional solution. An enforcement-only approach does not address nor solve the larger root causes that cause people to flee their countries in search of protection.

As Christians, we must answer the call to act with compassion towards those in need and to work together to find humane solutions that honor the rule of law and respect the dignity of human life.”