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Cardinal Keith O'Brien, disgraced Scottish prelate, dies at 80

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2018 / 07:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ex-cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, who stepped down as Archbishop of Edinburgh in 2013 after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct throughout his ministry, died Monday at the age of 80.

In a brief statement marking the prelate's March 19 passing, the current head of the St. Andrews & Edinburgh diocese, Archbishop Leo William Cushley, offered prayer for the repose of O'Brien's soul, for his family and for all those affected by the scandal.

“In life, Cardinal O’Brien may have divided opinion,” Cushley said. “In death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he offended, hurt and let down. May he rest in peace.”

Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1938, O'Brien was named Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh by St. John Paul II in 1985.

Ordained a priest in 1965, he had a bachelors degree in chemistry and mathematics, and served as a spiritual director of St Andrew's College in Drygrange and rector of St Mary’s College in Blairs before being named archbishop.

From 2002-2012, O’Brien served as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in 2003, and participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

He stepped down as Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh in 2013 at the age of 74 after allegations went public that he had participated in inappropriate sexual behavior with other men 1980s.

After the claims surfaced that February, the cardinal's request for retirement – originally submitted to Benedict XVI in November 2012 for reasons due to age and health – was accepted immediately by Benedict, going into effect Feb. 25, 2013.

O’Brien subsequently admitted that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal,” and did not participate in the March 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.

In May 2013, after speaking with the newly-elected Pope, O'Brien left Scotland for a time of prayer, penance and reflection. In March 2015, Francis in a rare move accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of cardinal.

Only a Pope can approve a cardinal resigning his official status, and today's announcement is extremely rare in Church history.

The closest parallel to the 2015 event took place in 1927 when French  Cardinal Louis Billot resigned from the Sacred College of Cardinals following a stormy meeting with Pope Pius XI. His resignation was accepted by the Pope eight days later.

The ruling by Pope Francis stems from his decision in 2014 to send Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna as his personal envoy on a fact-finding mission to Scotland. It was after that investigation – the content of which is fully known only to the Pope and Archbishop Scicluna – Francis reached his canonical conclusion.

In wake of O'Brien's resignation, Pope Francis in July 2013 named Archbishop Cushley as the next leader of the Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese.

According to a March 19 press release from the Archdiocese of St. Andrews & Edinburgh, the former prelate died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne after receiving last rights, and was surrounded by his family and friends.

The Pope's Cat: New book series introduces kids to papal office, Rome

Vatican City, Mar 18, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA).- Margaret, the fictional stray cat adopted by a fictional Pope in a new children’s book series, gets an up-close and personal look at the Vatican and the Papal office that most Catholics could only imagine.

In “The Pope’s Cat,” a new children’s book series by Jon M. Sweeney, Margaret is just another stray cat on the streets of Rome until the Holy Father finds her on his early morning stroll, scoops her up into his arms and decides to adopt her as his own.

The ensuing shenanigans are what one might expect from a feline who suddenly finds herself in the Pope’s life - she sleeps on his furniture (a lot), gets a glimpse at the general audience from the papal apartment window, and even interrupts an important dinner with the Queen of England.

The Pope in the series reacts to his new friend with bemusement and good humor, all while going about his busy schedule as the leader of the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

“I find that we as adults are often thinking about the Pope and talking about the Pope and listening to what he has to say, but that young children don’t really understand and often just think of the Pope as an image on the refrigerator,” Sweeney told CNA, “and I wanted to see if I could do one little thing to change that.”

His new series about Margaret the cat aims to teach children about the pope and his duties, to make him seem more relatable and human, and to also give them a taste of the Roman culture that permeates many aspects of life in the Vatican.

“It’s a fictional Pope who introduces kids to what Popes do, to the fact that the Pope is the head of state, to the fact that a Pope is a very human person who experiences anxiety and nervousness...and is someone who is invested with enormous responsibilities as the leader of the Catholic Church, with more than one billion people,” he said.

The Pope in the story also frequently speaks to Margaret in Italian phrases (such as ‘dai’, meaning ‘come!’), because “how else would you speak with a Roman stray other than to speak to her in her native tongue?”

“Rome is a meaningful place to me,” said Sweeney, who is “a little bit Italian” and whose visits to Rome helped inspire his journey into the Catholic Church a decade ago. “I wanted to give kids that feeling of Rome as well, I love the Roman side of Catholicism,” he said.  

Margaret was not inspired, as one might think, by the beloved cats of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, of which Sweeney knew nothing until the series was already under way.

“Somehow I missed all of that completely,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said he chose to tell the story of the Pope and Rome through a cat because of his own personal love for felines, even though he doesn’t own one at the moment.

“I don’t get to have a cat because our dog Max would chase it and probably eat it,” he said.

“I think that if you know cats and you read ‘The Pope’s Cat,’ you will see or get the feeling that I understand cats, that I’ve lived with cats a lot,” he said. “That the cat would sort of turn away from the Pope at first and not come when he calls - that’s part of what I love about cats instead of dogs actually.”

The illustrations for ‘The Pope’s Cat’ were done by Roy DeLeon, a Benedictine oblate and retired graphic designer from Seattle.

“He’s done a beautiful job,” Sweeney said. “He’s putting a lot of himself into it, and a lot of research into what it might look like in the Pope’s apartment, or what the Swiss guards look like.”

‘The Pope’s Cat’ is the first book in a series of four books so far. The next book, ‘Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s Square,’ is a Christmas story with fully colored illustrations. Books three and four will see Margaret venture into the Vatican’s Holy Week festivities and to Assisi with the Pope.

The series’ intended audience if for 1st-4th graders, and is published by Paraclete Press.  



Pope Francis: The crucifix is for prayer, not decoration

Vatican City, Mar 18, 2018 / 06:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said that the crucifix is not just something decorative to hang on the wall or wear, it is an important sign of our beliefs – and should be truly looked at and prayed before as the source of our salvation.

“Today’s Gospel invites us to turn our gaze to the crucifix, which is not an ornamental object or clothing accessory – sometimes abused! – but a religious sign to be contemplated and understood,” the Pope said March 18.

“The image of Jesus crucified reveals the mystery of the death of the Son of God as the supreme act of love, the source of life and salvation for humanity of all times. In his wounds we have been healed.”

Pope Francis addressed around 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus. Adding a few comments off-the-cuff, he asked people how they look at a crucifix: as something to hang on a wall or really to contemplate the wounds of Christ?

Think to yourself, he said: “How do I look at the crucifix? Like a work of art, to see if it is beautiful or not beautiful? Or do I look inside, within the wounds of Jesus, to his heart? Do I look at the mystery of God destroyed unto death, like a slave, like a criminal?”

The Pope suggested a beautiful practical devotion for people to make: To look at a crucifix and pray one Our Father for each of the five wounds of Christ.

“When we pray that Our Father, we try to enter through the wounds of Jesus [all the way to the] inside… right to his heart. And there we will learn the great wisdom of the mystery of Christ, the great wisdom of the cross,” he said.

Francis also reflected on the words of Jesus in the day’s Gospel passage from John, where he says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Here, Jesus compares himself the grain of wheat which “rotting in the earth generates new life,” he said. “With the Incarnation, Jesus came to earth; but this is not enough: He must also die, to redeem men from the slavery of sin and give them a new life reconciled in love.”

This new life is accomplished in Christ, but “must also be realized in us his disciples,” he noted. We must lose our life in this world in order to gain eternal life in the next.

What does it mean to lose your life, to be the grain of wheat? he asked. “It means thinking less about oneself, about personal interests, and knowing how to ‘see’ and meet the needs of our neighbor, especially the least ones.”

He said that our communities must be based on this foundation, growing in mutual acceptance, joy, and works of love, especially for those who suffer in body and in spirit.

We must think: “I want to see Jesus, but to see him from within,” he said. “Enter his wounds and contemplate that love of his heart for you… for me, for everyone.”

Letter reveals Benedict’s praise for Francis booklets came with previously unmentioned caveats

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 12:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid accusations of concealment, the Vatican's communications department has released the entirety of a letter written by Benedict XVI, revealing a previously unpublished paragraph which contains Benedict’s comments about a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”
The Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, after questions were raised following the letter’s presentation during a press event March 12 for the release of a newly-published series of booklets on the theological formation of Pope Francis.
The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the secretariat.


#Vatican has now released the full contents of Benedict XVI's letter to +Vigano, saying there was no intention to censor but parts were left out as it was confidential. Earlier today it emerged that more had been omitted from the letter (see end here:

— Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) March 17, 2018


The secretariat’s press release on the letter quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but included neither Benedict’s admission that he has not read them in full, nor the final paragraph published today.
In the paragraph, Benedict notes his “surprise” that an author of one of the new booklets is the German theologian Peter Hünermann, who, Benedict notes, “was highlighted for leading anti-papal initiatives” during the two preceding papacies.
In the letter, dated Feb. 7 and addressed to the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Vigano, Benedict also notes Hünermann's involvement in the release of the 1989 Cologne Declaration, which “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on matters of moral theology.”
The previously undisclosed paragraph reads, as translated by Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register, in full: “Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had been shown to have led anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the ‘Kölner Erklärung’, which, in relation to the encyclical ‘Veritatis splendor’, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the ‘Europaische Theologengesellschaft’, which he founded, initially came to be thought of as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, making that organization a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.”
“I am sure that you will understand me for my denial and I greet you cordially,” the letter concludes. Earlier in the letter, Benedict acknowledged that he could not write a requested reflection on the booklets because he had not read them and had other, more pressing, commitments.
A March 17 press release from the Secretariat for Communications said there had been “much polemics” around its “alleged censorial manipulation of photography.”

“What was read out from the letter, which was confidential, was considered appropriate and related to the sole initiative, and in particular to what the Pope Emeritus says about the philosophical and theological formation of the present Pontiff and the inner union between the two pontificates, leaving out some notes regarding contributors to the series.”

“The choice was motivated by confidentiality and not by any intent of censorship,” the secretariat added.

The Vatican office wrote that it had now chosen to publish the letter in its entirety “in order to dispel any doubts.”
The National Catholic Register requested March 14 a copy of the letter Vigano sent to Benedict, but the request has not been answered.
Controversy about the letter heightened March 14 when the Associated Press reported that the Vatican had acknowledged obscuring two lines of the letter in a photo released to the press.
The AP's Nicole Winfield wrote that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

The theological formation of Pope Francis

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A recent letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has become the subject of controversy, after a Vatican office admitted to releasing a photo of the letter blurring some lines.

The letter responded to an invitation to review a series of books detailing the theological perspective of Pope Francis. While Benedict declined the invitation, saying he wouldn’t have time to read the books, he noted “that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation.”

The Pope Emeritus praised the series as an effort to “oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation.”

While the letter remains the center of debate, it does raise an important question: what exactly is Pope Francis' theological formation?

Those who know Bergoglio well are quick to point out that he is not a “systematic theologian,” and that he cannot be called a theological expert in the academic sense of the word.

However, despite a lack of formal academic experience, biographers note that Francis has a sharp mind and an extensive knowledge of influential Catholic thinkers, especially in the Latin American context.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told CNA that the first Latin American pope cannot be identified exclusively with any particular theological movement or approach.

“People knew where John Paul II's philosophy school was, they could situation him because of his thesis, and because of his scholarly life, and the same with Benedict; Benedict could easily be located as part of a particular school,” Ivereigh said. But Bergoglio “is not a systematic theologian, so you can't really identify him with any particular school.”

However, Ivereigh, author of the authoritative English-language papal biography, “The Great Reformer,” told CNA that as a seminarian, studying at the Jesuit-run Colegio Maximo in Argentina, Bergoglio was the only student to ever get full marks in his classes.

“He was brilliant. Everybody recognized that he was intellectually brilliant from the beginning,” Ivereigh said.

Ivereigh said when Bergoglio was named seminary rector, years later, many of his students also commented that “he was incredibly widely read in literature of the world, European and Latin American, poetry, classics, the novels. He was very, very cultured in that broader sense of the word.”

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of CNA and editor of the papal biography “Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend,” said Bergoglio was “a Jesuit of the old-school,” and as such “he definitely had that very rounded formation, with several interests,” including poetry, classical literature, and writings from the influential thinkers of the day.

However, after being placed into administrative and leadership roles at a young age, the future pope “spent a lot of time doing practical things and in a practical position” which took him away from academic endeavors.

“The truth is, he did not have enough time to get into a deep theological formation,” Bermudez said.

“I'm not saying he's a lightweight,” he said, adding that Francis “has a well-rounded theological formation for sure.”

Bergoglio was tapped as the Argentine Jesuit provincial in 1973 at the age of 36, during a tumultuous period in which the nation was led by a violent military dictatorship. In 1980 he was named rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty at San Miguel Seminary in Buenos Aires, where he taught theology and oversaw Jesuit novices until 1986. He was removed from that role when his emphasis on traditional theology and spirituality clashed with the Jesuits' then-Superior General Hans Kolvenbach.

He was sent to the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany to begin doctoral studies, which were based on the writings of German-Italian theologian Romano Guardini. However, after just a few months he was sent back to Argentina as a confessor in Cordoba.

By the time he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, he still had not finished his doctoral thesis. Bergoglio continued to ascend the ranks of Church hierarchy, taking on increasingly administrative roles that plunged him further into political and practical affairs, and farther away from his doctorate, which remains unfinished to this day.

However, according to Ivereigh, simply because Francis can't be attached to a particular theological school, “that doesn't mean that he's difficult to pin down, because actually his intellectual trajectory is very clear.”

Intellectual Influences

The Pope’s intellectual influences include several prominent 20th century thinkers.

Bergoglio was familiar with Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest considered to be among the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was also familiar with Gaston Fassard, a French Jesuit priest and theologian who died in 1978, as well as other influential Jesuit thinkers of the time such as German-Polish theologian Enrich Przywara and Frenchman Henri de Lubac.

The Italian-born German priest Romano Guardini, whose theology formed the basis for the future Pope's unfinished doctoral thesis, was also influential on Bergoglio.

Guardini, who lived from 1885-1968, also influenced Pope Benedict XVI, who referenced Guardini frequently.

However, despite the frequent references to Guardini and the decision of Bergoglio to focus his thesis on Guardini's writings, Bermudez stressed the need to have caution when it comes to just how much influence Guardini had, since Bergoglio's thesis was never finished.

“We just know that he was incredibly impacted to the point that he wanted to do his doctoral thesis on him. But there is no trace of the Pope explaining himself in any kind of writing or interview or whatever about how much or how Guardini impacted him.”

Latin American Influences

Bergoglio's biographers say he was impacted especially by several prominent Latin American theologians who were influential in “teologia latinoamericana,” or Latin American theology, an approach that emphasized the Church’s closeness to ordinary people and their expressions of popular devotion.

According to Bermudez, those who had the biggest impact on Francis' thought were Jesuit Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone – who is still alive and was a professor of the young Fr. Bergoglio – as well as Argentinian Fr. Lucio Gera and Uruguayan Alberto Methol Ferre, who Bermudez said was “super influential on a whole generation of Latin Americans.”

Bermudez explained that the “teologia latinoamericana” intellectuals had a clear vision for the need to develop a theology “that would line up with the idea that Latin America, as a large continent with one language and one religion, had some kind of a 'manifest destiny.'”

“These were the people who understood that Latin America had a huge contribution to make to the world of theology, considering that close to half of Catholics were living on the continent,” he said.

This approach emphasized the preferential option for the poor, and that popular piety and devotion would play a major role in unifying Latin American, and in preserving and transmitting the faith across the continent.

“That's where the Pope's preference for the importance of Marian shrines, and processions and events of massive faith comes from,” Bermudez said, explaining that because of the way in which people gathered to celebrate their faith in this “popular” way, the approach later became known as the “teologia del pueblo.”

“What is known today as the ‘teologia del pueblo’ didn't exist at that time,” Bermudez said, explaining that the “theology of the people” was a later evolution of Latin American theology,

Bermudez stressed that these ideas were different from liberation theology, which sprung up in Latin America in the 1970s, and often emphasized a Marxist interpretation of the Gospel, viewing faith through the lens of class struggle, rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.

He explained that liberation theology largely rejected popular piety, believing it to be “some kind of backwards approach to religion that would keep people away from social change and structural change.”

Liberation theology was not relevant in Argentina at the time of Bergoglio's formation, Bermudez said.

When Bergoglio was being formed, Bermudez said, “there was a lot of hope in a Latin American future in which Latin America would play a huge role in the world,” he said, but noted that in the years since, “crisis and corruption and political squabbles pretty much put an end to any hope that Latin America would raise up as one single nation.”

However, the influence of the “teologia latinoamericana” can clearly be seen in Francis' words, actions and personal style, above all in his emphasis on community and solidarity, which Bermudez said stems from the belief that popular devotion “was a richness that allowed the people of Latin America to preserve and persevere in their faith.”

Another manifestation of this formation is the hope Francis has for Latin America’s role Church, since it covers such large swaths of territory, from the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego.

“You can hardly find any other place in the planet when you can go through such a large territory and be celebrating the same faith and speaking the same language,” Bermudez said, adding that while he's not sure if Pope Francis has a specific belief in the “great future” of Latin America, he still has a tremendous hope for the continent.

Likewise, Ivereigh said this influence can be seen even from Bergoglio's time as rector of the San Miguel seminary in Buenos Aires, where he kept a strict spiritual and academic regime for the Jesuit novices, while also encouraging them to pray the rosary together and sending them out to minister in parishes on the weekends.

“His vision of the Church, I think, derives from his reading of the Spanish missionary experience in the colonial era of Latin America. He makes frequent references, particularly in Latin America, to that era,” Ivereigh said.

Bergoglio wanted the seminarians to “get out of their heads and have contact with the people; so study was important, but on weekends they were out there with the people ministering in the parishes,” which was unusual for Jesuits at the time, who typically placed a heavy emphasis on academics.

After the Second Vatican Council, Bergoglio was “very skeptical of progressive attempts to depart from core Catholic traditions,” such as, in his view, downgrading the importance of popular piety, Ivereigh said.

“He was very strong on maintaining that,” Ivereigh said, explaining that Bergoglio's approach was consistently about “going back to the original charism of the 16th century Jesuits,” which placed a strong emphasis on missionary outreach.

“He certainly didn't want to go back to the former time before the Council, but he didn't want a modernization that would dilute the Catholic tradition, and he wanted a deeper reform that returned the Jesuits to their deeper traditions.”

How his formation shapes his papacy

Both biographers noted that, while the Pope has limited formal theological training, his formation and intellect can be seen in his daily words and actions.

For Ivereigh, Francis' entire 5-year pontificate has so far been “one big lesson in what they call in Latin and Italian 'pastoralita' – it's one big lesson in how to be pastoral...putting people first, spending time with them, showing that everybody is valuable, showing that God cares about everybody.”

This is seen in Francis' homilies and travels, but also in his interaction with media and his general approachability, Ivereigh said, explaining that in his view, the Pope is constantly trying to remove “unnecessary blockages” getting in the way of reaching the people.

“Some of those blockages are the result of social and cultural change, which lead people for example to be suspicious of institutions or to see institutions as distant. But some of those blockages are also part of the Church's culture,” he said. “So the proclamation has to be simpler, humbler and more kerygmatic. That's been his big message of these last five years.”

In his view, Bermudez said the influence of Latin American theology, in particular, can be seen clearly in the Pope's continuous encouragement for priests to take on the “smell of the sheep,” as well as his ideas about how the priesthood and episcopate should be based on the “conviction that the faith of the people is very powerful.”

Since the beginning, Francis has preached the importance of popular devotions, the need for greater hope and solidarity, the importance of truth, a sense of good and evil and an emphasis on divine intervention, Bermudez said.

“All that has been influenced by this experience of the common people, your day-by-day Catholic who lives from Church feast to Church feast and experiences their faith [in this way],” he said, adding that this approach has “completely impregnated his preaching and his vision of how to live our faith.”


What US Catholics see as Pope Francis' most notable action

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2018 / 05:35 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- What has been Pope Francis' most notable action so far in his papacy?

Update: Guilty verdict for Guam archbishop, appeal to follow

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2018 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced the conclusion of a year-long trial against an archbishop in Guam, stating that he has been found guilty of some charges stemming from allegations of sexual abuse of minors and has been removed from office.

A source close to the case has confirmed that the archbishop has already appealed the decision.

According to a March 16 statement from the Apostolic Tribunal of the CDF, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 72, was found guilty of “certain” accusations and penalized with removal from the office and prohibition from residing within the Archdiocese of Guam.

The CDF did not state the charges for which the archbishop was found guilty. Sources close to the case told CNA that the archbishop was found guilty of a minority of the allegations leveled against him.

If the archbishop has been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, the penalty leveled against him is unusual - often a cleric found guilty of such crimes would be "laicized," or removed from the clerical state, sources say.

Sources also noted that the archbishop has seemingly maintained his ecclesiastical faculties, and though restricted from residence in Guam, is apparently able to exercise ministry as a priest.

A source close to the case told CNA that the penalty is "a complete contradiction" to the sentence.

The source said that if the archbishop is guilty of sexual abuse against minors, "justice would demand the strongest possible penalty," adding "this punishment maintains the status quo."  

One expert suggested to the CNA that the five-judge panel may have been divided on the archbishop's guilt, which could explain the disparity between a guilty verdict and an unusually light sanction.

One source questioned whether pressure to quickly resolve the matter might have influenced the sentence.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura, is the case's only judge to be publicly identified.

"It is difficult to explain how such a serious-minded and competent canonist would put his name to something like this," a source close to the case said of Burke, noting questions raised about the sentence and delays in the case's adjudication. 

Apuron was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority by Pope Francis in 2016, in the wake of the allegations, and was effectively replaced by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, formerly of Detroit.

The canonical trial against Apuron began in October 2016, with Cardinal Burke appointed by Pope Francis as the trial’s presiding judge. Byrnes told reporters that the Vatican reached a decision on the case in October 2017, though no information regarding its outcome had yet been released.

Sources question why the CDF delayed finalizing sentences apparently completed in mid-2017. The archbishop is reported to have been notified of the court's decision only recently, and it was not made publicly known until today.

One source close to the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam questioned whether Archbishop Byrnes pushed the Vatican to release the sentence in order to resolve public concern about the matter in Guam.

However, the source questioned whether Byrnes has been appropriately advised on the matter. "Most of the people who were opposed to [Apuron] in terms of governance" have become advisers to Byrnes, the source said.

"The curial advice Byrnes is receiving is institutionally and personally opposed to Apuron."

In the early hours of March 17 on Guam, Apuron released a statement through his attorney.

"I have been informed of the conclusion of the first instance canonical trial against me. While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict. God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process," the statement read.

"Today, my prayers are with the Church in Guam, which has been suffering greatly. I pray that Santa Marian Kamalen may intercede for the healing of our island," Apuron continued.

Until appeals are resolved, “the imposed penalties are suspended until the final resolution” of the trial, according to the CDF.  

A source told CNA that the credibility of the witnesses will be a major factor of the appeal. Questions have been raised regarding connections between the witnesses, attorneys, and real estate developers on Guam.

The prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, will determine whether or not to accept the appeal, and then be responsible for appointing judges to consider it.

The most recent allegation against Apuron was made Jan. 10 by the archbishop’s nephew, Mark Apuron. He filed a lawsuit Jan. 10 claiming that his uncle raped him in a Church bathroom in 1989 or 1990. This was the fifth lawsuit to accuse the archbishop of sexual abuse of minors during his time as a pastor and bishop.

The archbishop denied the allegations in a statement Jan. 18, writing, “God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one,” according to Guam Pacific Daily News.

In addition to this claim, Apuron also faced four other accusations from former altar boys, who charged the archbishop with abuse in the 1970s when he served as a parish priest in Agat.

The first allegations against the archbishop were made public in May 2016. Mark’s attorney, David Lujan, said that his client was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family about the alleged abuse until recently.

Archbishop Byrnes, who is empowered by the Vatican to oversee the Archdiocese of Agana but has not yet formally succeeded Apuron, has since implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that Byrnes said will “help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese.”

Byrnes adopted in February 2017 the US bishops’ conference’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

The Archdiocese of Agaña is currently a defendant in 96 sexual abuse lawsuits, involving Apuron, 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor, and a Boy Scout leader. Most of the lawsuits were filed after 2016, when Guam’s territorial legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.

CNA staff contributed to this report.

Ohio AG will appeal to maintain law banning Down syndrome abortions

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 16, 2018 / 06:09 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- A federal judge has blocked a law from taking effect next week which bans abortions after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

How the Irish built Catholic America

Denver, Colo., Mar 16, 2018 / 05:14 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- The history of Catholic America is, in many ways, an Irish story, with immigrant congregations and their descendants putting their stamp on many churches across the country.

Philly archdiocese responds after city halts foster care placements

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 16, 2018 / 05:00 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- After the City of Philadelphia announced it has stopped using Catholic Social Services' foster care program because it does not place children with same-sex couples, the archdiocese has said it hopes to resume a partnership with the city.