El Salvador lays to rest another priest presumably assassinated by gangs

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of Father Edwin Banos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thousands attended the May 20 funeral of a Salvadoran priest found by his parishioners in what some presume is a gang killing.

Parishioners found Father Cecilio Perez Cruz, a 35-year-old priest and pastor of San Jose La Majada parish in Juayua, shot dead in his residence May 18 with a note nearby that said he had not paid "rent," a euphemism for extortion money, according to preliminary reports from Salvadoran police.

"He was a well-loved son of the Virgin (Mary) ... a humble priest, simple, devoted to his people," said Father Edwin Banos of the Diocese of Santa Ana, El Salvador, in a video posted May 18 on Facebook.

"These have been difficult and sad moments since I found out," said Father Banos, who told Catholic News Service May 20 that he had studied with Father Perez and that they had been friends for 10 years.

"It hurts. It's a whole human life truncated," he told CNS via WhatsApp. "He is a brother and a priest-friend. From the first moment I found out, it's been tears and pain over his death."

Father Banos, communications director for Catholic radio and newspaper Radio Fe y Vida y Periodico Digital Nuestra Iglesia in Santa Ana, attended the funeral in Sonzacate, where the slain priest's parents live. Several bishops from throughout the country and Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez also attended.

"Today, we are suffering, and we ask the Lord and the Virgin Mary to give us peace, tranquility and serenity," Father Banos said in his video message. "For Cecilio, I offer my care, my appreciation, my love and my hope that he is rejoicing in the eternal life and that you intercede for us ... but I also want to manifest my message of conversion to these people who committed this abominable crime."

In a statement, Bishop Constantino Barrera Morales of Sonsonate, the diocese to which the priest belonged, called on the national police and the justice department to find those guilty of "such an abominable crime" and demanded that they be brought to justice.  

In recent months, Catholic organizations and leaders in El Salvador, to no avail, have denounced the lack of justice in the country, including the "impunity" in the death of another Salvadoran priest killed in 2018 during Holy Week.

Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez was traveling with parishioners March 29, 2018, to officiate a Holy Thursday Mass in San Miguel when their car was stopped by an armed group wearing masks. The masked men dragged the priest out of the car and his lifeless body was found later.

Authorities also blamed gangs in the killing but have not arrested anyone in the crime.

"In this moment of profound pain and indignation because of this tragic happening, I want to let all priests, faithful and the people in general know that I energetically condemn this sacrilegious killing of Father Cecilio, and I want us to remain united in prayer and redoubling our measures of security before the great insecurity that reigns in our bloodstained country," Bishop Barrera said in his statement. "The blood of our selfless pastor is now together with that of the thousands of Salvadorans that each year become victims of this terrible violence that remains for so many years out of control."

In a news conference May 19, the Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador once again called on national authorities to seek out criminals and asked the court system to carry out justice.

"We stand in solidarity with all the victims of violence, of any type of violence, and we ask the authorities to administer justice in all cases," he said. "It's not that we seek revenge, but justice is necessary for the good of the victims and for the good of the whole society, because violence will only be overcome if impunity is not allowed. It is truly worrisome the degree of violence that our country suffers. We must work and pray intensely for peace."

Father Banos said justice was one of the reasons Father Perez was killed, though he suggested that police look at various motives the killing, including the priest's denunciation of environmental problems in the area.

"He was a priest seeking justice, he was very fraternal and denounced injustice," he said in correspondence with CNS. "We believe that is the cause of his murder. He strongly denounced the cutting of trees in his area, and that touches the interests of high-ranking businesspeople."

In an audio Father Banos provided to CNS, Concepcion Perez, the slain priest's brother, said Father Perez was "a good person, a holy person until the last day." Concepcion Perez said although family members were in pain, they found comfort in knowing that "the Catholic Church is the one that provides saints," because of people who seek the light like his brother.


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Pope asks Italian bishops finally to implement tribunal reforms

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told the bishops of Italy that he was disappointed that so many of their dioceses had yet to implement the reforms he ordered to make the marriage annulment process quicker, more pastoral and less expensive.

"I am saddened to note that the reform, after more than four years, remains far from being applied in most Italian dioceses," Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome, told other members of the Italian bishops' conference.

The bishops were holding their annual spring meeting May 20-23 at the Vatican, and Pope Francis opened the gathering. He gave a short speech focused on "synodality" and collegiality, marriage tribunals and the relationship of bishops to their priests.

He spent about 20 minutes reading his prepared text, then reporters were asked to leave and the livestream of the meeting was cut so that the pope and bishops could converse in private.

In September 2015, Pope Francis issued two documents -- "Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge") for the Latin-rite church and "Mitis et misericors Iesus," ("The Meek and Merciful Jesus") for the Eastern Catholic churches -- reforming sections of canon law dealing with requests for the declaration of the nullity of a marriage.

The reforms -- which do away with an automatic appeal of all decisions, charge diocesan bishops with responsibility for handling some cases and institute an abbreviated process for cases where the evidence is especially clear and uncontested -- were meant to streamline the process and help couples in need of healing, the pope said.

Pope Francis also insisted in the documents that the annulment process be free of charge or as close to free as possible.

"This procedural reform is based on proximity and gratuity," the pope told the bishops. "Proximity to wounded families means that the judgment, as far as possible, takes place within the diocesan church without delay and unnecessary extensions. And gratuity refers back to the Gospel mandate which says, 'Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.'"

Pope Francis said he hoped the reforms ordered in 2015 would find "their full and immediate application in all the dioceses" of the country.

The reforms, he said, aim to help dioceses demonstrate that "the church is mother and has at heart the good of her children, who in this case are wounded by a love that has been shattered."

On the matter on relations between bishops and priests, Pope Francis said that relationship is the "backbone" that supports all relationships within a diocese.

"Unfortunately, some bishops have difficulty establishing a relationship with their priests, thereby running the risk of ruining their mission and weakening the mission of the church," the pope said.

Pope Francis urged bishops to make sure that if one of their priests calls, he returns the call immediately or by the next day at the latest. "This way the priest will know he has a bishop who is a father."

A bishop has an obligation to be close to his priests "without discrimination and without preferences or favoritism," the pope said. "A true shepherd lives among his flock and knows how to listen to and welcome all without prejudice. We must not fall into the temptation of welcoming only priests who are nice or are flatterers."

A bishop also must take care not to give assignments only to the eager and the "climbers," ignoring those who are "introverts, meek, shy or problematic," he said.

Many times today, the pope said, priests are disrespected, made fun of or "even condemned because of the errors or crimes of some of their colleagues," so they need to be able to find support, encouragement and consolation from their bishop.

On the issue of "synodality and collegiality," Pope Francis insisted that the idea of everyone in the church walking together and working together to share the Gospel is the lifestyle God wants from people in the church.

Saying he had heard rumors of possible plans for a synod for Italy, Pope Francis said the first step would be to review the "medical records" of the Italian church to ensure that laypeople, priests and bishops all recognize they have a shared responsibility for the life of the church.


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Update: Washington's archbishop plans to get 'out in field' to meet people, listen

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Julie Asher

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (CNS) -- Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will have a lot of things on his plate when he becomes the newest leader of the influential archdiocese situated in the nation's capital: the sexual abuse roiling the Catholic Church, the tense political climate on the Hill and the challenges that come with learning about a new archdiocese.

The newest archbishop of Washington knows what his first priority will be however.

The "first and most important thing" is "getting out in the field and meeting the people," Archbishop Gregory told Catholic News Service in a May 17 interview.

He has six listening sessions scheduled with priests of the Washington Archdiocese, and "I'm trying to fill up my calendar right now with moments when I can be in the parishes with the people," he said. Like "a Sunday supply priest," he wants to visit local parishes to say Mass and afterward stand at the back of church and greet people.

Archbishop Gregory has "no fancy requirements" for such visits, nor would he expect any "fancy preparation." He just has "the real desire to be there as a listener," he said, adding that "it is that casual encounter with people that often proves to be the most fruitful."

"I've discovered the best approach to learning about a diocese is to listen to the diocese so you don't go in with all kinds of preprogrammed intentions that may or may not fit the experience of the people or their needs," said the 71-year-old prelate, who will be installed as Washington's seventh archbishop May 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

When Pope Francis appointed him to Washington April 5, he had been Atlanta's archbishop for 14 years. Before that, the Chicago native was bishop of Belleville, Illinois; he was a Chicago auxiliary bishop when he was named to head that diocese.

In Washington, he succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who had headed the archdiocese for 12 years until his retirement last October.

In an interview with CNS at the Archdiocese Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, just outside the District of Columbia, Archbishop Gregory covered a wide range of topics.

He talked about bringing hope and healing to Catholics coping with the clergy abuse scandal; how his new duties include speaking for the church "to the powers that be" in the nation's capital when the times call for it; the significance of his appointment as the first African American archbishop to head an archdiocese with "a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood"; what he'll miss most about his former archdiocese; and a few of his side interests, like cooking and golfing.

Archbishop Gregory said the abuse scandal erupting again in the church over the last year is "chapter two" of what the church went through in 2002. He was bishop of Belleville at the time and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and was involved in the drafting and the implementation of the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

"The dynamic then was the scandal that people were experiencing and voicing, that clergymen, priests, deacons, church officials had harmed their children," he said.

"Chapter two is the revelation that those in leadership too frequently did not address those issues appropriately and in a very few cases, some of the leaders themselves were engaged in that behavior," Archbishop Gregory said.

There is "anger at the failure of leadership," he said, "and from my perspective that's more problematic, because now you're looking at the very authorities that have been asked to guide and govern and teach and sanctify the church, and they themselves either did not handle those case well or even worse were a part of that."

"The two moments are related, but they are distinct," Archbishop Gregory said. "It seems to me that the task that lies before me is to both listen to the people -- to hear them, to hear the hurt, acknowledge it, recognize it, but then also to invite them to reach into their own spiritual treasuries and to say now we can't allow our history to determine our future and to invite them with me to chart a new direction and engage them."

Archbishop Gregory said he is hopeful the U.S. bishops, when they meet in June in Baltimore, will build on Pope Francis' "motu proprio" issued May 9 giving clear direction to the global Catholic Church about reporting abuse and holding church leaders accountable.

Last November, during the fail general assembly, the Vatican had asked the U.S. bishops to postpone a vote on to implementing new protocols to boost the accountability of bishops to laypeople and survivors of clergy sex abuse.

In June, the bishops can go forward with those protocols, he believes, putting "into place structures and procedures that will be a resolve and a direction for the future. Those procedures also have to include lay involvement, lay engagement in a similar way to what the charter did in establishing lay review boards."

"These steps will go a long way to bringing some healing" from the abuse crisis, Archbishop Gregory remarked. "But also I have to stand in the presence of these people of the archdiocese before God and ask their pardon."

He added, "There's a family I am still very close to from Belleville, and the wife, who knows me well, once said, 'You know Wilton, when a married man has made a terrible mistake he can never say, "I'm sorry enough,"' and I think that analogy is also appropriate to this moment."

The abuse crisis has "broken the hearts of many of our priests," Archbishop Gregory said, "because here they are in the trenches working hard and doing the best they can, trying to make 'bricks with no straw' and this is then dropped in their laps and that's hurt them."

In Washington, he said his listening sessions with the priests of the archdiocese will "lay the foundation of a relationship that I want to build" with them.

There will be times "when we're together to do business" but also "times when we're together to pray together, to relax together, to joke together. A friendship can't simply be established on doing business. It has to be established on opening hearts and engaging one another."

With regard to him being Washington's first African American archbishop, he said he knows that for many African American Catholics, his appointment "is a great source of pride, and I am honored those feelings are there."

"I look forward to encountering the African American Catholic community as one of their sons who has now become their shepherd," he added.

"I'm very much aware the Archdiocese of Washington has a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood. There's a sacred heritage that I hope to both recognize and to honor," he commented.

Archbishop Gregory also observed that our nation is at a moment "where the ugly presence of racism has come to the fore again -- and I say 'come to the fore' because some of the problems and some of the attitudes that have now gotten media attention obviously have been there latently and but now they have come to the surface again."

"I hope that in my ministry as an African American archbishop, I can invite people of all races and cultures and traditions (to) be church together," he said, adding that "we are best ... when we are together."

What he will miss most of all about the Archdiocese of Atlanta are the people -- priests, deacons, religious sisters and the laity. "Every church enjoys its greatest treasure in its people," he said.

The people there has been "so generous and gracious and loving to me -- they became family," he added.

As he makes the transition to the Archdiocese of Washington -- at least one thing will be different: He will not be able to drive himself anywhere. He must have a driver, he explained, because the archdiocese "is a corporation sole for legal protection."

This "is going to be a real challenge for me because I am an independent soul. ... That's limiting (but) we will get through."

He is a sports fan. In whatever spare time he may have, sports is one of the three things he watches on television, along with news and nature shows. And speaking of sports, he feels that as the bishop of the local church, "I've got to root for the local team," so when it comes to baseball, now he'll be rooting for the Washington Nationals.

He likes to play golf -- or "tries" to play golf, but spending time in the kitchen and making a meal, "that's relaxing for me."

"Part of the job" of a bishop is attending a lot of formal dinners and banquets, Archbishop Gregory said, "but when I'm home I like to put on casual clothes and go into the kitchen and bang the pots" and make a meal.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Throwing away food is like throwing away people, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned food waste, saying throwing away food is like throwing away people.

"Waste reveals an indifference toward things and toward those who go without," he said May 18.

"To throw food away means to throw people away," he told members and volunteers of the European Federation of Food Banks, including the Food Bank of Italy, which was marking its 30th anniversary.

He thanked the organizations for all they do in providing food to those who are hungry while fighting against food waste.

"You take what is thrown into the vicious cycle of waste and insert it into the 'virtuous circle' of good use," he said, saying their work is like what trees do -- taking in pollution to give back oxygen to those in need.

"It is scandalous today not to notice how precious food is" and how much of it ends up wasted, he said.

"Wasting what is good is a nasty habit" that can creep in anywhere, even in charitable works, for example, when good intentions are blocked by bureaucracy or excessive administrative costs or when they "become forms of welfare that do not lead to authentic development."

Charity today "requires intelligence, the capacity for planning and continuity," and for people to care about each other, seeking to restore human dignity, the pope said.

He told those involved in food banks that their work shows -- with action and not words -- that progress "advances each time we walk with those who are left behind."

"The economy has a profound need of this," he said, lamenting how "the frenetic scramble for money is accompanied by an interior frailty," disorientation and a loss of meaning.

"What I care about is an economy that is more humane, that has a soul, and not a reckless machine that crushes human beings," Pope Francis said.

Too many people are left without work, dignity or hope "and still others are oppressed by inhuman demands of production" that have a negative impact on the family and personal relationships.

The pope said it pains him when he hears parents say they have little time in the day to play with their children because they go to work when the children are still asleep and get home when they are already in bed.

"This is inhuman: this vertigo of inhuman work."

"Instead of serving humanity," he said, the economy "enslaves us, subjugates us to monetary mechanisms" that are increasingly difficult to control.

"We need to encourage models of growth based on social equality, on the dignity of human persons, on families, on the future of young people, on respect for the environment," he said.

"Even if evil is at large in the world, with God's help and the good will of so many like yourselves, the world can be a better place," he said. 

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Immigration advocates express concerns about Trump immigration plan

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic immigration advocates raised concerns about a proposal from President Donald Trump that would reshape U.S. immigration policy to incorporate a "merit-based" system that prioritizes high-skilled workers over those with family already in the country.

Advocates' concerns about the Trump plan, announced May 16 at the White House, focused on family unification, strengthening the asylum system and the importance of welcoming people of diverse economic backgrounds and skills.

Saying they appreciate Trump's willingness to address "problems in our immigration system," two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leaders said they opposed any plans that "seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely 'merit-based' immigration system."

"Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history and our immigration system," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishop's Committee on Migration, said in a May 17 statement.

The leaders said they were troubled that the president's proposal failed to address young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as "Dreamers," as well as Temporary Protected Status holders from several troubled countries.

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said they recognized the importance of ensuring secure borders and safety, but they cautioned the neither will be achieved "by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children."

They also called for the U.S. to address the causes of migration and to improve operation of immigration courts that hear asylum cases, expanding alternatives to detention and eliminating criminal networks.

Kevin Appleby, a longtime immigration advocate who formerly worked at the USCCB, told Catholic News Service that there was little in the president's plan "from a Catholic perspective to support."

"Substantively, it cuts against Catholic teaching. It weakens immigrant families by reducing family visas, and it removes asylum protection for unaccompanied children and families at the border," Appleby said.

"The administration could increase merit-based visas without sacrificing other parts of the legal immigration system," he said. "This is really also an attack on families. They want to remove the ability of family members moving forward."

Appleby suggested there may be a place for merit-based immigration, but "it has to be part of a broader system that includes other skill categories and keeps families together."

On social media, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network offered a brief comment, posting that "family reunification has historically been the principle goal -- and strength -- of U.S. immigration law and policy. It should continue to be the basis of any revision of immigration law."

Trump's plan would require broad changes in current law. Congressional observers expect it to see some revisions as it is discussed in Congress.

Details of the plan were circulating on Capitol Hill prior to Trump's announcement, leading Congress members of both parties to express skepticism about some provisions. The proposal is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Calling current immigration law "senseless," Trump said the plan would not change the number of annually allocated green cards, which allow people to work permanently in the country -- about 1.1 million -- but calls instead for them to be issued to high-skilled workers. Applicants would be considered based on age, English-speaking ability, education and job offers, he said.

"Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker," Trump said. "It's just common sense."

The president also said his plan would reform the current asylum system to focus on immigrants who file "legitimate" claims rather than those who are seeking to enter the U.S. for "frivolous" reasons.

Unaccompanied children seeking asylum would face immediate deportation to their home countries and the number of families seeking asylum would be cut, he said.

Trump told supporters during his 30-minute speech that the plan would keep U.S. communities safe and would ensure that the border with Mexico "will be finally fully and totally secure."

"If adopted, our plan will transform America's immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world," he said.

Notably, the plan does not address the situation of Dreamers, the young people who qualify to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters May 16 that young immigrants were omitted from the plan because the issue was considered too divisive.


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Conservationists at Vatican conference call for protecting biodiversity


By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People's attitudes toward nature as well as their economic systems and consumption habits need to radically change in order to protect biodiversity on the planet and promote a more sustainable and caring world, said participants at a Vatican-sponsored conference.

"We can learn how to take care of the world. And we must use all our strength to find ways of making the world more human, giving people the possibility to live their lives so that we may share the richness and the resources given to us in a way that could never be possessed or owned by us," the participants said in their final statement May 15.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences brought together heads of natural history museums, botanical gardens, zoos and aquariums along with experts in biodiversity and ecology for a conference May 13-14 on species protection.

The conference came after the independent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published results of a three-year study which found that 1 million -- that is, one in four -- animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction within decades. Land use, pollution, overfishing, deforestation and climate change are among the factors driving the unprecedented decline in biodiversity, said the May 6 report.

The concluding statement issued by the pontifical academy launched a call for action for conservationist leaders, experts, policy advisers and faith communities to help humanity build a new sustainable relationship with the natural world.

"We need to change our mindset, our mentality of exploitation that has driven us to the point where we are now. We seem to live in an immense and fantastic world, forgetting about what has been given to us," it said.

"The worldwide communities of natural history museums, zoological and botanic gardens are catalytic and significant allies in the global drive toward species protection and nature preservation," especially because of their expertise and ability to educate and impact so many people around the world, particularly young people, it said.

Creating "islands of protection," such as national parks, seed banks and so on, are not enough when it comes to preventing the threats of a global loss of species, the statement said.

"Fundamental societal change is needed," which includes people reducing their "ecological footprint" and changing patterns of consumption, particularly with fossil fuels, food waste and land use, it said.

"These patterns of social behavior need a course correction," it said, and "our economic systems need to be redesigned toward circular bio-based economic systems, in which humankind and nature are less in conflict.

"Science and innovation, sound governance, and incentives for industry and agriculture need to come together to achieve such a sustainable bioeconomy, adjusted to local circumstances."

Because all major world religions, in principle, "are committed to respecting and preserving nature," they, too, should agree on joint action for change.

"These communities are called upon to explore new synergies for enhanced impact on people's world views and new joint collective actions to address extinction problems," it said.


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Pope chooses theme for World Meeting of Families 2021

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy John McElroy, World Meeting of Families


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian family life is a vocation and, when lived with fidelity, it is a path to holiness, said the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

The office May 17 announced the theme Pope Francis has chosen for the next World Meeting of Families, which will be in Rome June 23-27, 2021: "Family love: A vocation and a path to holiness."

The dicastery asked that in preparation for the meeting, families and pastoral workers read both Pope Francis' 2016 exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," and his 2018 exhortation on the universal call to holiness, "Gaudete et Exsultate."

"The aim is to emphasize family love as a vocation and a way to holiness and to understand and share the profound and redeeming significance of family relationships in daily life," the dicastery said.

The love of a husband and wife and the love found within families, it said, show "the precious gift of a life together where communion is nourished and a culture of individualism, consumption and waste is averted."

Married couples and families, the dicastery said, "demonstrate the great significance of human relationships in which joys and struggles are shared in the unfolding of daily life as people are led toward an encounter with God."

"When lived with fidelity and perseverance," marriage and family life "strengthens love and enables the vocation to holiness that is possessed by each individual person and expressed in conjugal and family relationships. In this sense, Christian family life is a vocation and a way to holiness, an expression of the 'most attractive face of the church.'"


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Update: Police search Dallas diocesan sites for files on alleged abusers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By David Sedeno

DALLAS (CNS) -- Dallas police executed search warrants at three sites in the Diocese of Dallas May 15, saying the process was an extension of their ongoing investigation of sexual abuse allegations into five current or former priests, including one accused of sexually abusing at least three minors and who is believed to have fled the country to his native Philippines.

Maj. Max Geron, who heads the Dallas Police Department's Special Investigations Division, said detectives had been meeting with diocesan officials over the past several months and that execution of the search warrants were at the pastoral center, an offsite warehouse where diocesan records and documents are kept and at St. Cecilia Catholic Church offices, the parish where one of the accused priests, Father Edmundo Paredes, was the pastor for nearly 20 years.

At a news conference at police headquarters and responding to a question about cooperation by diocesan officials with the police investigation, Geron said: "We have had a number of meetings with them, characterizing that in varying degrees of cooperation. We believe that the execution of the warrants was wholly appropriate for the furtherance of the investigation."

He declined to give specifics of the investigation, other than saying that "these investigations stem from additional allegations made after the case against Mr. Paredes became public."

Annette Gonzales Taylor, diocesan spokeswoman, said the search warrants on the three sites were a surprise because church officials believed they had been fully cooperating with investigators.

Bishop Edward J. Burns told reporters at a news conference later in the day that the execution of the search warrants was another opportunity for the diocese to cooperate with law enforcement officials. He denied that diocesan officials or attorneys working for the diocese had not cooperated fully with investigators, as alleged in an affidavit written by Dallas police Detective David Clark to support the search warrant.

"The diocese will continue to cooperate in all investigations of sexual abuse against minors," Bishop Burns said. "We recognize that throughout our collaboration with police there are some who are not satisfied and want to look for themselves. We know we have given them the files and so we say, by all means, look and, indeed, if today's events is what gives them the opportunity for them to look for themselves, so be it."

The search warrant sought information and documents relating to five priests no longer serving in the diocese and who were among 31 that diocesan officials named earlier as credibly accused of allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

Part of the affidavit from Clark stated that police received incomplete records and that at least one member of the Diocesan Review Board had "unofficially" urged police to seek documents relating to some of the other priests whose files were "flagged" by diocesan investigators, but whose names were not among the 31 made public.

"If there were concerns, they are faulting on the very fact of their existence. It's important that they raise those," the bishop said in response to a reporter's question.

The bishop said the names of the Diocesan Review Board are confidential, but that the board includes members involved in law enforcement, clinical psychology, law and medicine.

The search warrant sought information on files related to five former priests and the perceived sexual assault of minors while they served in the Diocese of Dallas. They include three priests in their 70s: Paredes, Richard Thomas Brown and Alejandro Buitrago; and two priests in their 60s: William Joseph Hughes Jr. and Jeremy Myers, the longtime former pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sherman. Paredes, Buitrago and Myers are suspended from active ministry; Brown is listed as absent on leave; and Hughes has been laicized.

Earlier in the day, police went to the offices of St. Cecilia Catholic Church and removed several boxes. At approximately the same time, at least two dozen Dallas police officers and several FBI agents entered the main pastoral center building to begin executing the search. Throughout the day, numerous plainclothes law enforcement officials were seen entering and exiting the building.

Marked police cars and a cargo truck blocked entrances to the garage and main parking area. A little after 6 p.m., police began removing boxes upon boxes of files and loading them into a Dallas police cargo truck.

The issuance of search warrants in Dallas is one of two so-called raids at large diocesan offices in Texas. Last November, law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

The execution of the Dallas search warrants comes after months of reports from around the United States and the world about clergy sex abuse that have rocked the universal church and efforts to combat it, locally and globally.

On Jan. 30, Bishop Burns and several diocesan officials went to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sherman. The bishop told parishioners their pastor had been credibly accused and his name would appear on the list the next day. Many parishioners were dismayed; some cried and others lashed out at the bishop.

The next day, Bishop Burns announced the names of the 31 priests who had been credibly accused of allegations of sexual abuse of minors between 1950 to the present day. The list was developed after former law enforcement officials combed through more than 2,420 files of priests over a period of several months and in consultation with the separate Diocesan Review Board. The announcement coincided with the simultaneous release of similar lists by most of the other 14 Catholic dioceses in Texas.

Clark, in his affidavit, questioned the validity of the credentials of the private investigators in sexual abuse crimes and said he had only been given one name to follow up with, but that he had been unable to contact them.

On May 15, after the execution of the search warrant, Bishop Burns said he consulted with Kathleen McChesney, the former FBI agent who led the group of private investigators who spent months reviewing the Dallas clergy files.

Bishop Burns said McChesney "called me back, and she was just so perplexed by the number of errors that were present in the affidavit and the search warrant."

"Nevertheless," he said, "you saw how extensive it is, so if there is a need to address any inaccuracy, we are going to do it together, and we'd be more than happy to address those inaccuracies with the Dallas Police Department."

Earlier this month, Pope Francis released a document calling for new norms and protocols on how clergy abuse must be handled and reported globally. The document is the result of the conference that the pope called for in February with the heads of bishops' conferences worldwide.

Bishop Burns has encouraged any additional victims of abuse by clergy to report it to law enforcement or by calling the Texas Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400 and contacting Barbara Landregan, the diocesan victims assistance coordinator, at (214) 379-2812 or

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Sedeno is editor of The Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas.

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Shareholders push U.S. telecom firms to tackle online child sexual abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mariana Bazo, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Online child sexual abuse is a booming international business and religious congregations holding stocks in major telecom firms are stepping up their advocacy to thwart it.

Led by Christian Brothers Investment Services, the effort involves a widening campaign designed to push leading U.S. telecoms to take strong action to block explicit images from their growing communication networks and information platforms.

"These telecom companies are trying to attract these younger and younger audiences, but we believe they are not investing a commensurate amount of time in online safety," said Tracey Rembert, director of Catholic responsible investing at CBIS.

Verizon is among the high-profile companies being engaged. CBIS -- joined by the Maryknoll Sisters, the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia and Proxy Impact -- gained a vote on a shareholder resolution addressing online risks faced by children during Verizon's annual meeting May 2 in Orlando, Florida.

Proxy Impact, based in Oakland, California, assists private shareholders in advocacy work to promote sustainable and responsible business practices.

The resolution -- calling for a report by March 2020 on the potential sexual exploitation of children through the company's products and services -- gained 33.7 percent approval from shareholders. While it was far from the majority needed for passage, such a high level of support for a first-time resolution is unusual in the corporate world.

Rembert was pleased, but not satisfied, with the result, especially given that she believes it's the first time that shareholders anywhere tried to force a telecom company into action to confront online abuse.

"I've tried to engage with (Verizon) for over a year and every time I spoke with someone I didn't have strong confidence in what they were saying, or I didn't have the right person who could give me the answer (about their practices)," she told Catholic News Service May 14.

Online child sexual abuse can take many forms including children being exposed to inappropriate content; the soliciting of kids to send inappropriate photos of themselves through social media, pornographic videos and live streaming; and the manipulation and distribution of normal family photos of children stolen from computers and cellphones.

The ease with which such images are distributed is what concerns Rembert, who has been trying to convince telecom firms to respond to investor concerns for two years. Perpetrators are using increasingly sophisticated means, including encryption, to avoid detection, she said.

Rembert undertook the campaign effort after a poll of other investors revealed that human trafficking and online child abuse were the two highest ranked concerns.

"(Society is) almost universally against child pornography and child sexual abuse," Rembert said. "There's a firm moral line that crosses all different stripes of society and because of that there is not a lot of gray area if a company is linked to child sexual abuse online."

While the moral concerns are the shareholders' greatest concern, there's also a financial reason for the effort. Rembert said that companies face high risks to their reputation and financial bottom line -- and thus the value of a shareholder's portfolio -- if it's determined that a telecom firm is not doing what's possible to protect children.

Online child sexual abuse is a global industry, fueled by the widening access by children to mobile devices and cellphones on every continent. No estimates are available on the size of the industry, but Interpol and other law enforcement agencies have been overwhelmed in trying to track the amount of material circulated through online platforms.

Social workers specializing in serving children suggested that as many as 1 million unique child abuse images existed, according to a 2017 report by the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety in the United Kingdom. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said up to 50,000 new images circulate annually.

In contrast, Interpol reported about 4,000 images globally in 1995.

Rembert, along with Cathy Rowan, corporate responsibility coordinator for the Maryknoll Sisters, and Sister Patricia Daly, corporate responsibility representative for the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, met with Verizon officials as recently as January and left dissatisfied with what they heard.

"They increased disclosure a bit, but we felt it was too vague and there is no way to assess how complete their response is," Rowan told CNS.

Rembert described the meeting as "good ... but we wanted a stronger commitment about what they are doing."

Other companies approached by the shareholders include Apple and Sprint. A resolution that recently had been filed with Apple was withdrawn when the company announced a commitment to address shareholder concerns.

Verizon said in a statement emailed May 15 that it "is proud of the leadership role we play in combating the proliferation of child sexual abuse material online."

The statement provided links to two sites outlining "our ongoing commitment to online child safety and the extensive resources we devote in the fight against online predators" and " educational tools and guidance to help parents and children navigate the digital world."

The links are and

A company spokesman declined to respond on the record about specific concerns raised by shareholders.

Maryknoll's involvement stems from the congregation's human trafficking prevention efforts around the world. Rowan said Maryknoll Sisters are educating people about necessary safety precautions as the internet becomes available in villages and outlying areas.

"At what point does the demand for these children reach into Zimbabwe and Cambodia?" she asked.

Sister Daly, who has spent more than 40 years in shareholder advocacy on dozens of issues from weapons manufacturing to human rights, said it's the responsibility of the telecom companies to set high standards in safeguarding children.

"This crosses classes. It's beyond any kind of racial issue. Every child is at risk, regardless of whether your parents are millionaires or not. Any child who has access to a phone will be at risk," Sister Daly said.

Rembert pledged to keep the pressure on Verizon and other firms until they agree to undertake what she and others consider to be adequate steps to block online perpetrators from pedaling their salacious products.

Ideally, she would like to see a type of industry-wide code of conduct developed in collaboration with investors, child protection groups, law enforcement agencies and governments.

"That," she said, "would be wonderful."

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Editor's Note: More information about Christian Brothers Investment Services is online at

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


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Update: Pro-life leaders applaud passage of abortion bill in Alabama

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CNS) -- By passing a bill to ban abortion in nearly all circumstances, the Alabama Legislature has recognized that abortion is "the extinguishing of a unique human life," said the president and CEO of Americans United for Life.

"From conception to natural death, every single human life deserves to be protected by law. The violence of abortion is never the answer to the violence of rape," said Catherine Glenn Foster in a May 15 statement. "Like other states that have passed laws concerning when life begins, Alabama has relied upon scientific and medical facts."

The state Senate passed the measure late May 14 in a 25-6 vote. The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it in early May.

It includes exceptions for when the life or health of the mother is seriously threatened and when the child has a fatal disease. It bans abortion in all other circumstances, including rape and incest, and makes performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the measure into law late May 15. "To the bill's many supporters," she said in a statement, "this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians' deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God."

Alabama now has the most restrictive abortion law in the country. The Alabama arm of the American Civil Liberties Union already announced it would file a lawsuit against it. The law "become fodder for the swirling debate over if -- and when -- the Supreme Court might consider overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling," CNN reported.

Republican state Rep. Terri Collins said after the vote that bill was meant to challenge Roe v. Wade and protect the lives of the unborn, "because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection."

In the debate leading up to the vote, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, an opponent of the bill, called it "a sad day in Alabama. You just said to my daughter, you don't matter, you don't matter in the state of Alabama."

Afterward, he was quoted as saying the state and supporters of the measure "ought to be ashamed" Singleton added: "Women in this state didn't deserve this. This is all about political grandstanding." Other opponents called the bill cruel and a "war on women."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life group, called passage of the near-total ban on abortion "a landmark victory for the people of Alabama who, like most Americans, overwhelmingly reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand imposed nationwide by Roe v. Wade."

"Across the nation there is growing momentum, informed by science and compassion, and spurred on in reaction to abortion extremism in New York and Virginia, to recognize the humanity of the unborn child in the law," she said.

"It is clearer than ever that Roe is far from being settled law in the eyes and hearts of the American people, and this is increasingly reflected in state legislatures," she added.

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Jesus is always ready to help free people from evil, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians recognize life's great paradox that so much evil and temptation exist in the world, but that God is always present, too, ready to help and give people the strength to persevere, Pope Francis said.

Each person has been given life, "dreams of love and the good," but is then "continuously exposed to evil" aimed against himself and those around him, so much so that "we can be tempted to despair," the pope said during his weekly general audience May 15.

"In fact, Christian prayer does not close its eyes" to reality, he said. Christians know life can be very difficult, painful or unjust and they pray that God -- who is greater and stronger than any evil -- would offer strength to go on and would "deliver us from evil."

Continuing his catechesis on the Lord's Prayer, the pope reflected on the last invocation, "Deliver us from evil."

Jesus teaches people to always turn to God, especially when they can feel evil's "threatening presence," which St. Peter said was like an angry lion, always circling, ready to "devour us," the pope said.

The last lines of the Lord's Prayer that call on God to "not abandon us and to deliver us," he said, are petitions for all who find themselves in dire straits: in a situation of sin, persecution, desperation or even death.

The mysterious presence of evil is an "absolute certainty" in people's lives, the pope said, since the devil spares no one as he moves "silently like a serpent, carrying venom."
"Deliver us from evil," he said, is a cry against evil that can manifest itself in so many ways, such as slavery, innocent suffering, exploitation, mourning and "the cry of innocent children."

"Christians know how domineering the power of evil is and, at the same time, they experience how much Jesus, who never succumbed to its lure, is on our side and comes to our aid."

The "Our Father" reminds people that the best gift people have received from Jesus is his constant presence and peace, "which is stronger than every evil," the pope said.

"This is our hope, the strength that Jesus gives us is here, he is here, in our midst," giving people the strength to persevere, he said.

Addressing Polish-speaking pilgrims at the end of the audience, Pope Francis recalled the feast of Our Lady of Fatima May 13 and how that day coincided with the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II, who was shot in St. Peter's Square in 1981.

The pope reminded people how St. John Paul believed Our Lady saved his life and asked people pray for her protection, too.

"Let's also remember the words of Our Lady: 'I have come to warn humanity so that they change their life and not sadden God with grave sins. May people pray the rosary and do penance for their sins.' Let's listen to this admonishment, asking Mary for her maternal protection, the gift of conversion, the spirit of penance and peace for the whole world," he said.

When he first arrived in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis invited eight young refugees to ride along with him in the popemobile.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, told reporters that the adolescent boys and girls from Syria, Nigeria, Congo and other countries had come to Italy from Libya through a humanitarian corridor initiative. They were living with their families at a welcoming center south of Rome, Gisotti added.


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New York religious leaders endorse bill to end solitary confinement

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mike Matvey

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- The numbers are so staggering that it has been called "torture."

Solitary confinement is in widespread use in prisons across the United States and, in New York state alone, more than 3,000 inmates are isolated in 6-by-10 cells for over 23 hours a day.

The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, which has not yet made its way to the floor of the New York state House or Senate, is looking to change that.

"Long-term use of solitary confinement is a form of torture, yet it continues to be widely practiced nationally and in New York, despite some recent reforms in our state. Inmates don't surrender their basic human dignity when the prison doors close," said Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference.

The Catholic conference, which is the public policy arm of New York's Catholic bishops, put out a memorandum in January in support of the measure, which is known as HALT.

"We can protect society, and protect those inside the prison without wide-scale use of confinement in special housing units, which leads to all sorts of mental health issues, including paranoia, depression and suicidal thoughts," Poust told The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany. "It creates a less stable inmate population and, ultimately, creates a less safe society when those inmates are subsequently released, sometimes directly from solitary confinement."

The New York State Catholic Conference, the state Council of Churches and the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, as well as other Christian, Muslim and Jewish organizations all endorse the bill.

If the bill becomes law, it would limit the amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary confinement to 15 days, which is in accordance with the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, as well as offer alternatives to segregated housing units. The report said anything over 15 days is a form of torture.

The same sentiments were echoed by Pope Francis as far back as 2014. He said that "one form of torture is ... confinement in high security prisons. ... The lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency."

And in a 2016 op-ed in the Albany Times Union, Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger wrote: "Social science has affirmed that solitary confinement works against the purpose of rehabilitation and restorative justice. It also works against the purpose of improving public safety, both inside our prisons and jails and in our communities."

He added, "For all Americans committed to building a safer, healthier society, we cannot ignore the mental illness, debilitating trauma and recidivism that are the hallmarks of placing inmates in solitary confinement."

The website of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement,, notes that in October 2015, the U.S. Congress endorsed the Mandela Rules, which prohibit any person from being held in solitary beyond 15 days. The United Nations adopted the rules in December 2015.

New York currently places no limit on the total time a person can spend in "isolated confinement."

On May 7, a group of faith leaders gathered at the state Capitol in Albany in support of the HALT bill. In 2016, after a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union led to a $62 million settlement, the state made reforms to limit the solitary confinement of pregnant women, youth and the disabled. This bill aims for even more reforms.

Critics say the use of solitary confinement disproportionately affects people of color. For example, African Americans make up 13% of the population of New York state, but represent 50% of the state's prison population and 60% of the people held in solitary confinement.

"More than 30 percent of all suicides in New York prisons from 2014 to 2016 took place in solitary, though only 6 to 8 percent of the prison population were in solitary," Poust said.

"As Catholics, we have a special obligation to be concerned with the plight of prisoners," he added. "After all, visiting the imprisoned was on Jesus' short list of actions in Matthew that when we do it, we do it for him."

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Matvey is a staff writer at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.

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Cardinal 'Fix It': Almoner's job is to model direct charity

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cindy Wooden

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During his visit to a center offering respite and food to refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski followed a sign that said, "Broken? Fix it here."

The sign led to a shack where several refugees were working together to fix a bicycle, and one was trying to construct what looked like a coal stove out of large cans.

The 55-year-old Polish cardinal holds the title of papal almoner, an ancient office devoted to mostly small, direct acts of almsgiving.

"Fix it" could be the motto on Cardinal Krajewski's coat of arms. (Instead, it is "Misericordia," mercy.)

Twenty-four hours after returning to Rome from Greece, the cardinal went to a government building occupied by some 450 people, including close to 100 children. The power company had cut electricity to the building because no one was paying the bill.

Cardinal Krajewski fixed it.

While he did not explicitly admit to climbing down a manhole to reconnect the power, he has taken full responsibility for overriding the electric company's decision to cut service to the building. And he knows it can have legal consequences.

The office of papal almoner has existed since early in the 13th century. While the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Caritas Internationalis, along with its national partners, are responsible for large-scale development, relief and advocacy projects, the almoner's office is focused on person-to-person charity.

The direct contact with the poor is so important to the Catholic Church that the papal almoner is one of a handful of top Vatican positions that is not suspended when a pope dies. As a sign of the church's constant love for the poor, the almoner is to continue his work distributing charity "in accordance with the criteria employed during the pope's lifetime," say the rules governing the interregnum, or period between popes.

Pairing both small- and large-scale approaches to charity has been part of Catholic tradition for centuries.

As then-Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2005 encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God is Love"), "Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc."

While the church's charitable organizations must be professionally competent, he said, professionalism is not enough. "We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern."

Cardinal Krajewski is not naive. He spent hours with government officials in Greece May 8-9 trying to promote humanitarian visas for some of the 70,000 asylum-seekers in the country.

But he spent more time in three camps on Lesbos and at three small, privately run centers that offer migrants and refugees a place to relax, to get new clothes, to drink tea or coffee with their friends, to watch a movie or borrow a book and to watch their children on a playground.

He gave little bags of candy to the children and rosaries to the adults, although the majority of them were Muslims. He also handed out small containers of dates and nuts, which the adults would eat when they broke their day's Ramadan fast that evening.

Pope Francis sent him to Lesbos with more than $100,000, mostly for Caritas Hellas, the Greek Catholic charity. But he had cash in his pockets, too, and he quietly made donations to the small charities assisting the refugees. One gift was met with stunned, open-mouthed gaping. Another elicited a spontaneous burst of tears.

Cardinal Krajewski did not ask for grant proposals or budget reports or a future accounting of how the cash was spent. He saw people helping people in need and, in Pope Francis' name, gave them resources to do more.

Justice for the asylum-seekers is a big, long-term project. Personally showing them someone outside the camps knows they are there and sees them as human beings, not case numbers, requires presence, which is Cardinal Krajewski's mission and is meant to be an example.

As Pope Francis said on the first World Day of the Poor in 2017: "Drawing near to the poor in our midst will touch our lives. It will remind us of what really counts: to love God and our neighbor. Only this lasts forever, everything else passes away. What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden


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Parish near Colorado school shooting responds with prayer, counseling

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joseph Ambuul, The Colorado Catholic Herald

By Veronica Ambuul

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CNS) -- When news of a school shooting May 7 at STEM School Highlands Ranch reached St. Mark Parish, just two miles away, parish staff members immediately began calling the nine families from the parish known to have children at the school.

STEM School Highlands Ranch is a charter school that draws students from across southwest Denver, encompassing several parishes in both the Diocese of Colorado Springs and the Archdiocese of Denver. Fortunately for the St. Mark parish community, none of the children from the parish had been wounded in the attack.

"I've been in touch with all of the families and offered to meet with them," said Father Gregory Bierbaum, St. Mark's pastor. "There were about 11 children affected, and none were injured."

Once it was ascertained that all the children from the parish had escaped physical harm, the next step was to offer support to the middle- and high-school students who may have witnessed the traumatic event. The parish held all-day eucharistic adoration and a prayer vigil May 9, followed by an open-house where grief counselors were available.

"It's important that we come together in difficult times to help each other heal," Father Bierbaum said in a video invitation posted on Facebook. "It's our intent to assist in the beginning of healing. ... we implore Our Lord Jesus to shed light on such a tragedy."

"We were thinking of ways to let the students know that the church was place where they could come and talk about what happened," said Chloe Elder, assistant director of youth and parish catechesis at St. Mark Parish. "That was a big reason why we tried to contact so many counselors and asked them to come."

Although the open house did not attract a large crowd, Elder said she was not discouraged and that the parish will continue to look for ways to reach out to the students.

"It's still so fresh," she told The Colorado Catholic Herald May 13. "They were probably still in shock."

St. Mark will probably follow up with another event in a month or so, perhaps bringing in a counselor to speak about trauma, she said.

Meanwhile, Kendrick Castillo, the STEM School senior who died trying to overcome one of the gunmen, was hailed as a hero, with tributes pouring in from across the nation. A public memorial service for Castillo, who graduated from Notre Dame Parish School in Denver, will be May 15 at 1 p.m. at Cherry Hills Community church in Highlands Ranch. As of May 13, funeral plans were pending.

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Ambuul is editor-in-chief of the Colorado Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper of Colorado Springs.


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Alaska thrift shop raises $1 million for a Catholic school

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ron Nicholl, Catholic Anchor

By Rashae Ophus Johnson

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNS) -- Of all the designer clothes, quirky conversation pieces and valuable antiques that have rotated through the thrift shop, Archangel Attic, maybe the greatest treasure to come from this modest Anchorage shop is the $1 million it has made for Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage.

Store manager Mary Manes initially was dubious last fall when her husband speculated that they'd probably raised over $1 million via the thrift shop, which along with the school is a ministry of St. Benedict Church in Anchorage.

"I said, 'Nah, no way!' So we looked into it and asked in the (parish) office, and realized how close we were to that goal," Manes said. "It's just amazing how much that little store generates."

"They projected that they would achieve $1 million in February, and they were right on target," said St. Benedict pastor Father Tom Lilly. "I was stunned. We get the cash bag each day with the proceeds of the day and lock it up to be deposited and that just quietly goes on without much notice."

Operated entirely by a cadre of devoted volunteers, including many retired grandmas, the nonprofit has no overhead except utilities and thus gives 100 percent of income to the school. Father Lilly recognized 30-some past and present volunteers at a special banquet in April to celebrate the $1 million milestone and extraordinary contribution to the parish school.

The small plain building belies the curiosities inside. It originated as St. Juliana Church in Spenard, which in the 1960s was transported to its current location, where it was renamed and served as St. Benedict Church until the parish outgrew it. When the new St. Benedict Church opened on the same property in 1979, the old church building was utilized for religious education and youth gatherings and eventually was converted to the Rummage Room, a thrift store that was eventually abandoned until the Manes looked into reviving it around 2006.

"Whatever was donated was put out for sale; you couldn't even move in there, it was so jam-packed," Manes said, adding that there were bins of clothes and dressers and baskets everywhere.

Manes, an experienced thrift store volunteer, disposed of damaged items, donated much of the clutter, acquired new flooring and shelving sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and started merchandising.

The former church's cry room is now the donation intake area; the old confessional is the business office; the sacristy stores out-of-season holiday items; and where the altar once stood is a display of assorted knickknacks. Customers occasionally point out the spot where they were married or their children were baptized.

For six years, Manes sustained Archangel Attic with limited volunteers and business hours, raising about $30,000 a year for the parish school.

Colleen Larson, then acting principal of Lumen Christi, said she could see the place was a gold mine, especially when the school's parents were constantly fundraising.

"I thought if I could just get in there and help out, what we could do with it," she said.

After filling in three years as Lumen Christi principal, Larson retired again and seized the opportunity to step up as Archangel Attic's volunteer coordinator and co-manager. With additional volunteers, they extended the hours to include more evenings and Saturdays. The annual proceeds surged accordingly, reaching over six figures in recent years.

"I really liked the parish, and it was something to do. I wanted to make money for the school and make some friends," she said. "It turned out to be a lot stronger mission."

Larson and Manes, like their core volunteer staff, are motivated to serve the marginalized of society whether to provide affordable clothing and household goods or lend a compassionate ear during trying times. For clothing, which always is in high demand, they offer an ongoing deal to fill an eight-gallon bag to the limit for $20. Specific needs are mysteriously fulfilled though a phenomenon the volunteers refer to as "declaring it" -- which is when customers say they are seeking a particular item that isn't in stock and it is inexplicably donated within about a week.

"Our volunteers just seem to have the spiritual side of this down," Larson reflected. "This ministry is like part of a divine plan; it always works out; it's just blessed."

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Johnson writes for the Catholic Anchor, archdiocesan newspaper of Anchorage.


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Cardinal turns on the lights and raises ire of Italian politician

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Back in Rome less than 24 hours after visiting refugees in camps in Greece, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski turned on some lights and found himself being threatened by Italy's deputy prime minister.

The cardinal, who distributes charity on behalf of Pope Francis, went at 10 p.m. May 11 to a state-owned building in Rome where more than 430 people -- including more than 100 children -- have set up housekeeping.

They have occupied the building since 2013, but on May 6 the electric company cut service, leaving the occupants without lights, without hot water and without functioning refrigerators.

Asked if it was true that he personally lifted a manhole cover and climbed down to reconnect the building to the power main, Cardinal Krajewski told the newspaper, Corriere della Sera, "It was a special situation. Desperate. I repeat I assume all the responsibility."

Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister of Italy, told a crowd at a rally May 12 that the occupants of the building owed the electric company 300,000 euros (about $337,000) and he would be sending the cardinal the bill.

"I'll pay it. No problem," the cardinal told the newspaper. "And if one arrives, I'll pay a fine as well."

The Vatican, through Cardinal Krajewski's office, had been assisting the residents for some time, regularly sending food and medicine as well as doctors.

"The absurd thing is that we are in the heart of Rome," Cardinal Krajewski told the paper. "These are families who don't have anywhere to go, people who struggle to survive."

The question people should be asking, he said, is not who will pay the electric bill, but why there are more than 400 people, including small children, living like that.


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Pope discusses deaconesses, need for nuns to be servants not 'maids'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told the heads of women's religious orders from around the world they need to send sisters on assignments that truly serve the church and those in need, and not agree to requests for "maids."

"You did not become a religious in order to become the maid of a priest," he said to some 850 superiors general in Rome for their plenary assembly.

There are many needed forms of service, whether they be in administration or caring for and performing domestic tasks for those in need, he said May 10 in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall.

But being "a maid, no," he said; "You must help here in this" because even if the church is trying to stop exploitation among its ranks, it is still the superior general who decides "yes" or "no" to these requests.

The pope's comments came during his meeting with those taking part in the May 6-10 plenary of the International Union of Superiors General, which represents more than 450,000 sisters in more than 100 countries. The gathering offered talks, workshops, reflections and discussion on a number of topics, including interreligious dialogue, cross-cultural experiences, caring for children and the planet, and the future of religious life.

The pope, who spoke off-the-cuff and answered people's questions, was seated behind a wooden table in the front of the hall next to Sister Carmen Sammut, superior general of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa and the outgoing president of the UISG. Before reading her remarks, she joked that she never imagined she would ever be "sitting at the right hand of the father."

She thanked the pope for being a source of inspiration and helping the church fight the abuse of minors and vulnerable people.

"We are also grateful for your having faced the painful issue of abused religious," she said, noting that many forms of abuse occur worldwide, including cases of religious abusing their fellow sisters.

National conferences of religious orders "are facing this scourge with courage and determination," she said, listing a number of UISG initiatives to help congregations in raising awareness, training superiors and establishing protocols and codes of conduct.

The pope said he was very much aware of the abuse of religious, calling it "a serious and grave problem."

Some religious face not just sexual abuse, he said, but also the abuse of power and conscience.

"We have to fight against this," which must include the superiors general making sure they send their members where they will be in service, not servitude, the pope said.

Fighting abuse, he continued, has been a slow process, especially seeing how it is only now that people are understanding the problem with "lots of shame."

He said he understood some victims' groups were not satisfied with the outcome of a February summit at the Vatican on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, "but if we had hung (to death) 100 priest abusers in St. Peter's Square, everyone would have been happy, but the problem would not have been solved."

Sister Sammut thanked the pope for having accepted UISG's request during its last plenary assembly in 2016 to establish an official commission to study the New Testament deaconesses and whether women could be admitted to the diaconate. The pope told reporters May 7 the commission did not reach a unanimous conclusion about whether deaconesses in the early church were "ordained" or formally "blessed."

The pontiff told the women religious that the commission, made up of men and women experts, could only agree up to a certain point, and that he was officially handing the report's unanimous findings on to Sister Sammut.

The pope said separate reports each commission member produced outlining their own different opinions and insights needed further study "because I cannot make a sacramental decree without a theological, historical foundation."

He further elaborated on the complex and difficult task of making sure developments and changes in the church remain faithful to God's will and revelation when he took questions from the audience.

"We cannot change revelation. It is true that revelation develops" because it is in "constant movement in order to make itself more clear," he said.

Human understanding of what is moral also changes and develops over time, he added. For example, the development of the Catholic Church teaching against capital punishment resulted in Pope Francis revising the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert the death penalty was inadmissible and immoral.

That is not what the church taught 50 years ago, but does the new revision mean the church changed, he asked. "No. Moral awareness developed" and grew while the truth remains the same, he said.

That means whatever is proposed today -- whether in regard to moral teaching or women deacons -- it always has to be in harmony with revelation, he said.

"Regarding the diaconate, we have to see what was at the beginning of revelation. And if there was something, let it grow; if there was nothing, if the Lord did not want a sacramental ministry for women, it's not OK. That's why we turn to history," he said.

Dialogue and discernment are important parts of this process, he explained, because "we know what the truth is," but people need to discuss and decide how they are going to constantly grow in the truth in today's world.

"We need discernment," he said. "Nothing is black and white, not even gray. Everything is walking," moving over time and people need to walk along with it, but "on the right path" of revelation. "We cannot walk on any other path."

"We are Catholics. If someone wants to make another church, they're free to."

Before the hour-long meeting and question-and-answer session, the pope launched the latest campaign by Talitha Kum -- the UISG's worldwide network of consecrated persons fighting against human trafficking.

The campaign, "Nuns Healing Hearts," helps mark the 10th anniversary of the network's founding. It is one of more than a dozen networks that the superiors general have formed to educate and warn potential victims of trafficking, to work to combat the poverty that feeds the trade in human beings, and to rescue and provide shelter and rehabilitation for the victims.


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Update: Catholic officials call for prayer, action after Colorado shooting

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are calling for prayer and action in response to the May 7 school shooting inside a charter school near Denver. One teenager died and eight other students were wounded.

"Action is needed to attempt to reduce the frequency of these heinous acts," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a May 8 statement he also called for prayers, urging Catholics around the country "to pray for the dead, injured and for the loved ones left behind and for healing in the community."

"This shooting reminds us yet again that something is fundamentally broken in our society when places of learning can become scenes of violence and disregard for human life," he said, adding that Americans should "deeply examine why these horrific occurrences of gun violence continue to take place in our communities."

The shooting took place at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, a suburb of Denver located in the Diocese of Colorado Springs. The two shooters, teenagers who attend the K-12 school, are now in police custody.

Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old senior whose last day at school was to have been May 10, was killed in the classroom gunfire. His father, John Castillo, told reporters he son was a hero and he wants people to know about him.

A student who witnessed the shooting told NBC's "Today" show that Castillo "lunged" at one of the shooters to save others.

Castillo, who loved robotics, attended Notre Dame Elementary School in Denver and he and his family went to Notre Dame Parish where Castillo was an altar server and usher. His father is a member of a Denver Knights of Columbus Council which posted photos of the father and son at a Knights event on their Facebook page.

Another student who joined Castillo in trying to stop one of the shooters May 7 was Brendan Bialy, who told reporters that Castillo was an unstoppable bowling ball.

"Basically, when he gets moving, there's no stopping him," Bialy told several Denver media outlets May 8.

He also said his friend showed no hesitation.

Another friend, Cece Bedard, told The Denver Post that she and Castillo went to Knights of Columbus activities with their dads who were members.

She told the newspaper that Castillo wanted to join the Knights "because he wanted to help not only people, but his community. He was the bravest soul I've ever met and never even cared what others thought because he was too busy finding ways to make you smile."

On May 9, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila described Castillo in a tweet as "a young man who followed Christ & laid down his life for others!"

The archbishop said he prayed that God would provide consolation to the Castillo family and also said he would offer Mass for them while he was in Rome.

Greg Caudle, principal of Notre Dame School in Denver, wrote to the school community about the school shooting and the death of Castillo, a 2015 graduate.

He said the faculty members and staff met with students in the school gym May 8 to address this situation with all of the students. "I gave basic information about the incident yesterday and we prayed for all involved," the principal said, adding that he "also emphasized that the students are safe."

STEM School Highlands Ranch, the public charter school -- which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math and has more than 1,850 students -- will be closed through May 10, and crisis counselors were scheduled to be available for students May 8 at nearby St. Andrew United Methodist Church.

St. Mark Parish in Highlands Ranch will be open all day May 9 for eucharistic adoration followed by an evening prayer service for the shooting victims. Grief counselors were scheduled to be on hand throughout the day and evening.

Colorado Springs Bishop Michael J. Sheridan said in a May 8 statement that he was "deeply saddened and disturbed by the shootings that occurred" and said he echoed the reaction of Bishop Dewane.

He also urged Catholics to "pray and offer sacrifice for the students, teachers and families impacted by this tragedy, that through the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ, they may find healing and consolation."

Archbishop Aquila said in a May 8 statement that his "heart goes out for the student that was killed and the eight others who were injured in the tragic shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Let us pray for them and their families in this time of sadness and grief."

"The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families," Gov. Jared Polis said in a May 7 statement.

The shooting took place a week after a gunman killed two students and wounded four others at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and nearly three weeks after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, about seven miles from STEM School Highlands Ranch.


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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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Cardinal visits refugees in Greek camps as political solutions falter

IMAGE: CNS Photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

MYTILENE, Greece (CNS) -- The Vatican and the Greek government agree on what should happen to the asylum-seekers in Greek camps: They should be welcomed by European communities and helped to build a new life on the continent.

Exactly how that should happen seems unclear, though.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, went to the Greek island of Lesbos May 8-9 to assure both refugees and residents that Pope Francis remembers them, to deliver financial donations to projects helping the refugees and to try to get something moving to help those currently in camps "live again, work and raise their families."

He met with the government official in charge of all the camps in Greece, the director of the Moria and Kara Tepe camps on Lesbos, the mayor of Lesbos and the commander of the Greek police for the North Aegean region, which includes Lesbos.

They all agree members of the European Union should be doing more to ease the burden on Greece and to alleviate the suffering of the 70,000 migrants and asylum-seekers still living in Greek camps. But, apparently, not much will happen before the European Parliament elections in late May.

The Greek government talks about "relocation schemes," which would transfer migrants and asylum-seekers to camps in other countries, but that would require EU negotiations and agreements that do not seem to be in the works.

Cardinal Krajewski, supported by the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and aided by the Community of Sant'Egidio, wants to see an immediate expansion of the "humanitarian corridors" project.

Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay community in Rome, and the Italian federation of Protestant churches, launched the project in February 2016 after securing from the Italian government guarantees for the issuing of humanitarian visas. The migrants and refugees taken into Italy -- and now France, Belgium and Luxembourg -- are fully supported by the church communities.

Ioannis Balpakakis, director of the "hotspot" or official migrant and refugee camp at Moria on Lesbos, said the camp and the informal tent settlement next to it were hosting 4,752 people on the day the cardinal visited. Eighty-two percent of the total were people from Afghanistan, 3.5 percent were from Congo and 2.5 percent were from Syria.

The whiteboard in his office showed no new arrivals that day or the day before. So far in 2019, there had been 2,783 arrivals. Twenty people had been deported, 48 recognized refugees were resettled by the International Organization for Migration and 2,975 had transferred to the Greek mainland.

Mario Kaleas, director of the Greek government's asylum service, which determines which of the new arrivals will be allowed to stay and which will be deported, met Cardinal Krajewski in the camp and told him that none of the migrants and refugees planned on Lesbos or even Greece being their final destination.

"They crossed the sea with big dreams, mostly to reach Germany" where they hear there are jobs, Kaleas said. But EU regulations require them to stay in the first EU country then enter -- Greece, in this case.

Sixty percent of those applying for asylum receive it after their initial application, he said. Those who are denied can appeal, but most of them must stay in a camp while they wait, which means some people are there for much more than the average nine months.

Andreas Gougoulis, the Greek government's secretary-general for migrant reception, told the cardinal, "As long as Europe is closed, our only choice is to expand the camps." Greece is hosting 70,000 asylum-seekers, and more continue to arrive.

Cardinal Krajewski kept telling every government official he met that the Catholic Church is willing to help. With a big grin, he even went so far as to tell the director of the Kara Tepe hospitality center, "We'll take them all."

The center is home to 1,300 people, mostly large families or families with a child who has special needs.

The cardinal told Spiros Galinos, mayor of Lesbos: "As the Catholic Church, we are ready to welcome these people. Someone just must open the gates."

When the crisis began in 2015 -- and brought 1.2 million people to Lesbos in less than a year -- "no one was ready," the mayor said. "No one had any idea what was about to happen. Lesbos paid tribute to Europe by standing up and bearing the whole weight of the crisis alone."

At that point, he said, the extreme political right party, with its xenophobia and anti-immigrant positions, had no influence at all "or at least their words were seeds that fell on barren ground. But now they are finding fertile ground."

Europe must help, he said. "Think of a weightlifter; he can lift only a certain amount over his head. You can't just keep adding weights."

Cardinal Krajewski told the mayor he prayed the people of Lesbos would "continue to live according to the Gospel, because Jesus would have done the same thing the people of Lesbos did" when thousands of exhausted refugees began arriving by boat.

"We must share the burden," the mayor said. "If we do that, it will not be a burden too heavy for anyone."


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Days of covering up abuse allegations are over, says Vatican adviser

IMAGE: CNS Photo/Robert Duncan

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' new norms on protecting minors and strengthening accountability are the latest steps in driving home the message that the days of keeping abuse allegations covered up or ignored are over, said the Vatican's top abuse investigator.

In the past, some people may have thought they were protecting the church by remaining silent, but that behavior was never acceptable, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters.

"The good of the church requires condemnation" to the proper authorities when it comes to abuse of minors and abuses of power, he said.

The archbishop spoke to reporters about Pope Francis' latest apostolic letter, "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world") at a news conference at the Vatican May 9. The new document establishes and clarifies norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable when it comes to safeguarding minors as well as abuses carried out against adults with violence, threats or an abuse of authority.

The new norms are important, Archbishop Scicluna said, because they clearly tell people they have an obligation to report already existing crimes, negligence and inappropriate behavior to church authorities.

That obligation "has always been there, but experience shows us that either a closed-shop mentality or a misplaced interest in protecting the institution was hindering disclosure," he said.

The now universal law of mandating all clerics, as well as men and women religious, to report to the competent ecclesiastical authorities the abuses of which they become aware is important, he said, "because it makes disclosure the main policy of the church."

Procedures have already been in place when it comes to accusations of abuse of minors by priests, so the new norms address what to do when the accused is a bishop, cardinal, patriarch or religious superior and how accusations against leadership of abuse or misconduct must be reported.

For example, "if a priest uses force with an adult, it's the bishop who takes that case," he said. But "when a person in leadership is guilty of misconduct, the jurisdiction pertains to the Holy See," he said.

The new norms and clear procedures, particularly with their emphasis on having an impartial investigation of leaders, send the message that "no leadership is above the law."

"There is no immunity" from God's law and canon law, he added.

When asked if victims will be pleased with the new laws, the archbishop said, "Victims will be satisfied if the laws give rise to a new culture."

"I would never go to a person who has suffered, give them a piece of paper and say that we have fixed everything. People need concrete responses" and action, which is why "I am telling people, 'Help the pope so that his desire (to prevent abuse) becomes a reality in your dioceses.'"

The new norms will not fix everything, he added, but they do send "a very strong message that disclosure is the order of the day, and not silence."

It is also the first time "compliance with state laws" concerning the abuse of minors gets placed in the realm of the church's universal law, the archbishop said.

Even though the doctrinal congregation's circular letter in 2011 made it clear the church must obey civil laws regarding abuse and reporting, the new apostolic letter "ratifies in a universal law" that mandate to respect civil requirements.

"No form of loyalty to the church must keep citizens from obeying their nation," he said, "because in the past we have had very sad cases where people said, 'Let's not talk, we want to protect the church.'"

"This is a no-go," he said, "It is not acceptable" because the good of the church requires truth and transparency, which includes respecting civil law, he said, adding that he hoped people felt "empowered to go to the police" to denounce a crime.

Church and local authorities should be working together tirelessly to combat abuse against minors because it has always been a crime for society and the church, he said.

Another important part of the new law is it facilitates disclosure by mandating that all dioceses must establish within one year "stable and publicly accessible systems," which could include a specific office or "listening center," where people can report cases of sexual abuse or their cover-up.

National bishops' conferences should help dioceses figure out the best and most culturally appropriate ways to provide this form of outreach and service, if they have not done so already, he said.

The fact that there are still countries where the church does not provide a clear and permanent place or way to report abuse shows "this universal law was needed" and that having structures for disclosure is "no longer an option," it is a papally mandated law, Archbishop Scicluna said.

"If people have the right and the duty to denounce something illicit" in the case of abuse, "they also have the right to denounce if, after one year, nothing has been done" in regard to the new mandate, he said.

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