Browsing News Entries

Do you want to grow in love? Keep Jesus close, pope says

Vatican City, Jul 22, 2018 / 06:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Christian can stay on the right path to Heaven, and grow in love for God and his neighbor, only by keeping close to Christ and his love, Pope Francis said Sunday.

“When one moves away from Jesus and his love, one loses oneself and existence turns into disappointment and dissatisfaction,” the pope said July 22. “With Jesus at [our] side we can proceed with security, we can overcome trials, we progress in love for God and for our neighbor.”

“To find the right orientation of life,” everyone needs the truth – which is Christ – to guide and enlighten their path, he continued.

Speaking before the Angelus, Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from Mark, which tells of Jesus’ pity on the crowd of people, who “were like sheep without a shepherd.” In this passage, Jesus is “the realization of God’s concern and care for his people,” he said.

Jesus is moved with compassion for the people in need of guidance, but he does not perform a miracle, the pope noted. Instead, he teaches them. “Here is the first bread that the Messiah offers to the hungry and lost crowd: the bread of the Word.”

Pointing to how Jesus and his disciples had been searching for a place to rest, but the crowd had followed them, Francis said, the same thing can happen to today. “Sometimes we fail to realize our projects, because an unexpected emergency occurs that messes up our programs and requires flexibility and availability to the needs of others.”

He said when this happens, “we are called to imitate Christ.” As it shows in the Gospel, Jesus did not ignore the people. He had compassion on them, came down to them, and “began to teach them many things,” something Christians can learn from.

“The gaze of Jesus is not a neutral or, worse, cold and detached look, because Jesus always looks with the eyes of the heart,” the pope said. Jesus’ heart “is so tender and full of compassion, that he knows how to grasp the even more hidden needs of people.”

Jesus’ compassion on the people is not “an emotional reaction of unease,” it is much more, he continued: “it is the attitude and predisposition of God towards man and his history.”

In this example of Jesus, Christians find a model of love and service toward others, he said.

After the Angelus, Pope Francis added a note about recent reports of the shipwrecking of boats filled with migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. “I express my sorrow in the face of these tragedies and assure my memory and my prayer for the missing people and their families,” he said.

He also made an appeal to the international community to act promptly to prevent the reoccurrence of such tragedies and to guarantee safety and respect for the rights and dignity of all people.

Human trafficking in developed countries more common than previously thought

Washington D.C., Jul 21, 2018 / 05:06 am (EWTN News/CNA).- As many as 1 in 800 Americans is currently a victim of human trafficking, according to a new global report which found much higher rates of modern-day slavery in developed nations than previously believed.

Is Church teaching changing on the death penalty?

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Church has consistently taught that the state has the authority to use the death penalty. But, in recent years, popes and bishops have become more vocal in calling for an end to its use. Many Catholics instinctively favor life over death, even after the worst crimes, and some are left wondering if the Church’s mind is changing.

Two recent cases highlighted an apparent tension between traditional teaching and modern circumstances.

On July 13, the bishops of Tennessee wrote to Governor Bill Haslam asking him to halt a slate of planned executions. In their letter, Bishops Mark Spalding of Nashville, Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Martin Holley of Memphis emphasized the value and dignity of every human life, even those who have committed the worst possible crimes.

One day earlier, on July 12, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, expressed his “support” for the Sri Lankan government’s decision to introduce the death penalty for drug traffickers and organized crimes bosses.

“We will support [Sri Lankan] President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to subject those who organize crime while being in the prison to [the] death sentence,” he told local media. The cardinal went on to add that more needed to be done to prevent drug traffickers and crime bosses from operating with impunity while in jail.

The state’s authority to execute criminals is explicitly sanctioned in the Bible, including by St. Paul. Historically, the Church has recognized the use of the death penalty in a practical way: executions were carried out in the Papal States well into the nineteenth century, with the last official executioner retiring in 1865.

For much the twentieth century, attempted assassination of the pope was a capital crime in Vatican City; Pope Paul VI only removed the death penalty from the law in 1969.

Today, the Church still officially teaches that the death penalty is a legitimate option for states to employ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this: “Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

This formulation contains a heavy qualification. When exactly is the death penalty the only effective means of defending human life? That’s a thorny question.

St. John Paul II was outspoken in his opposition to the use of capital punishment. In an address in the United States, in 1999, he called for Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

That address, given in St. Louis, was credited with helping persuade to Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan to commute the death sentence of inmate Darrell Mease to life in prison.

More recently, Pope Francis has denounced capital punishment in even stronger terms. Speaking in October 2017, he called it “contrary to the Gospel” because “it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.” He has, however, stopped short of revising the official teaching contained in the Catechism.

There is a broad sentiment among American Catholics against the death penalty. It is a point of unusually strong consensus, even among those who normally disagree. In 2015, four Catholic publications with often-divergent viewpoints issued a joint editorial calling for an end to capital punishment.

But Catholic thinkers do not unanimously agree that a total renunciation of the death penalty is appropriate, or even possible.

Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, in his famous “Consistent Ethic of Life” speech delivered at Fordham University in 1983, explicitly recognized the legitimate authority of the state to resort to capital punishment. Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing in 2001, observed that “the Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty.”

While there is real scope for debate about when and how sparingly capital punishment should be used, Dulles concluded that “the death penalty is not in itself a violation of the right to life.”

His conclusion was informed by the constant teaching of the Church that judicial executions are licit, even if regrettable and to be avoided whenever possible.

In the City of God, St. Augustine wrote that the state administers justice under divine concession. “Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”… for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.”

While the trend of recent papal statements has been towards a relegation of the death penalty to, at most, a theoretical possibility, scholars have urged caution about going too far.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that it was important distinguish between changing circumstances and a change in what the Church has always taught.

“The Church has always held that the death penalty is a just option available to the state, even if we do not welcome its use. St. Augustine says that the death penalty is just, but the Church should plead for mercy.”

Pecknold stressed that relationship between mercy and justice is a live concern. In seeking mercy, he said, we must implicitly recognize the validity of justice.

“Mercy isn’t calling something that is just ‘unjust.’ Mercy relieves the punishment properly due to the guilty. As the Catechism recognizes, there can be circumstances in which the death penalty is a legitimate service to justice. This is qualified by a preferential option for other means, whenever they can serve the same ends.”

These alternative means have not been always and everywhere available. “The common and constant teaching of the Church can be applied to different circumstances. Alternatives available to us in modern western countries simply have not been present at other times, or may not be now in other places.”

There is a crucial difference between applying a consistent teaching to changed circumstances and appearing to suggest humanity has evolved beyond a previously valid doctrine, Pecknold said.

“The death penalty is not, and has never been a positive end in itself. It is a means towards serving justice. If we find we can now serve the same ends and express a preferential option for life, this is doubly good.”

“But we should not fall into a false understanding that what was once ‘good' is now ‘bad.’ The Church doesn’t evolve out of a true teaching, nor does humanity progress beyond natural law.”

“We should prize our increasing opportunities to serve mercy and justice together, but be wary of giving ourselves too much credit, we have not progressed to a new, higher level of justice."

Cardinal Dulles agreed. He considered the argument that Church sanctioning of capital punishment was an “outmoded” concession to past ages of “violence” and “barbarity,” one which could yield to “the signs of the times” and “a new recognition of the dignity and inalienable rights of the human person.” He dismissed this as “a tempting simplicity” which found “no echo” among Catholic theologians of the past.

The consensus against capital punishment in modern western nations, it must be observed, has grown in line with increased prosperity, political stability, and states’ ability to deploy credibly effective alternatives to execution.

In the recent Sri Lankan case, the government acted in response to the ineffectiveness of prison sentences, with drug traffickers and crime bosses seeming to continue operating with impunity, even behind bars. Following local complaints at his expression of support, Cardinal Ranjith issued a clarification, making clear his support for the government announcement was not a “carte blanche” advocacy for the death penalty, but noting that he could not “close my eyes and do nothing before this terrible phenomenon our country is faced with.”

“[The drug trade] causes death and violence in the streets and the destruction of the cream of our youth, who become drug addicts at an age as early as their adolescence, being exposed to drugs even in their schools. This is being done by drug cartels operated at times from the prisons,” he said.

For Ranjith, such a context seems to find a place within the Catechism’s criteria that capital punishment be reserved for the final defense of innocent life when other options fail.

In the West, conditions seem to be narrowing the scope for the death penalty’s use, and bishops are responding, which has led to a sense, especially after Pope Francis’ comments last year, that the Church might declare the death penalty absolutely unjust. Yet, as was recently seen in Sri Lanka and Tennessee, things are not yet the same everywhere.

That serves as a good reminder about the importance of understanding the Church’s global perspective, and the importance of distinguishing between teachings which supply criteria through which Catholics must make moral judgments, and teachings which declare that certain actions are, in fact, immoral everywhere and always.

The Church’s teaching on the death penalty expresses, essentially, a criteria by which state authorities should make judgments about the just use of the death penalty. While in the developed West, use of the death penalty may, in fact, be almost completely unnecessary, not all parts of the world are as developed.

The divergence of views from bishops around the world on this issue reflects the role that the circumstances of time and place can play in moral reasoning. That is instructive, and a reminder about the complex richness, and importance, of Catholic moral teaching.

What Kavanaugh's judicial record might mean for 'Roe v. Wade'

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 12:32 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- As Judge Brett Kavanaugh prepares for Senate confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court nominee's record is being examined  at for indications of how he might handle a move to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Honduran auxiliary bishop accused of sexual misconduct resigns

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2018 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Juan José Pineda, auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, following a Vatican investigation into accusations of financial mismanagement and sexual misconduct against seminarians.

The bishop, 57, has long been the subject of accusations of financial misdealings, as well as rumors that he offered support to a male companion using archdiocesan funds. He serves under papal advisor and archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, who has also been accused of financial misconduct.

In March, the National Catholic Register reported that two former seminarians had also submitted personal testimonies to the Vatican accusing Pineda of serious sexual misconduct and of attempting unwanted sexual relations.

The July 20 announcement of Pineda’s resignation provided no explanation, stating only that it had been accepted by Pope Francis.

At the pope’s request, in May 2017, the Vatican carried out an investigation into the allegations of financial mismanagement within the archdiocese and the sexual misconduct allegations involving Bishop Pineda.

In an email interview with CNA in December 2017, Maradiaga confirmed there was an apostolic visit made to Pineda but defended the bishop, saying Pineda himself “asked the Holy Father for an apostolic visit, in order to clear his name.”

Maradiaga, who is head of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and one of Francis’ closest advisors, also denied any financial wrongdoing on his own part, calling a report by Italian weekly L’Espresso published Dec. 21, 2017, “defamatory” and “half-truths, that are in the end the worse lies.”

The L’Espresso article said Maradiaga was accused of receiving $600,000 from the University of Tegucigalpa in 2015, as a sort of “salary” for being the chancellor of the University - an unusual although not forbidden practice - and that the cardinal had lost nearly $1.2 million of Church funds through investments in some London financial companies.

The papal investigation was carried out by Argentine Bishop Alcides Jorge Pedro Casaretto, who, according to L’Espresso, interviewed staff of the archdiocese and university, as well as seminarians, priests and the cardinal’s driver and secretary.

Allegations against Pineda include the building of an apartment on the campus of the Catholic University of Honduras to house a male companion. According to the Register, the two seminarians who accused Pineda of unwanted sexual advances also claimed that he took punitive action against them after his advances were not accepted.

Pineda, who was auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa since 2005, had been overseeing the archdiocese since January, while Maradiaga is in the U.S. to receive treatment for prostate cancer.

Born in Tegucigalpa in 1960, Pineda is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious order. He was ordained a priest in 1988.

Michigan AG seeks to dissolve priest-assistance charity over lack of governance

Lansing, Mich., Jul 20, 2018 / 05:58 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- The Michigan attorney general filed Thursday a cease and desist order against Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a charity which raises money to assist priests facing difficulties, citing a lack of oversight and other violations of state law.

Sterilization device removed from sale with lawsuit pending

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 05:30 pm (EWTN News).- The Essure sterilization device is being withdrawn from sale, the pharmaceutical company Bayer announced today. This comes after more than 10,000 women filed a lawsuit saying they were seriously harmed by the device, and about three months after the FDA restricted its sale of and required patients be given additional information about risks.

Canons of St John Cantius founder relocating to St Louis

Chicago, Ill., Jul 20, 2018 / 04:01 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- Fr. C. Frank Phillips, former pastor of St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago, has been asked by his religious superior to move to St. Louis, the priest informed his supporters Wednesday.

Sec. Pompeo speaks ahead of first ever Ministerial on religious freedom

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2018 / 04:00 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- The U.S. State Department is set to host the largest and highest-level global meeting on religious liberty next week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told EWTN he is prepared to talk with countries with whom the U.S. government has "deep disagreements."

Papal aides say prosperity gospel is distorted take on the ‘American Dream’

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- After publishing a highly controversial essay in July 2017 alleging the existence of an “ecumenism of hate” between Catholics and Evangelicals in the U.S., close papal confidantes Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ and Marcelo Figueroa in a new article issue a scathing critique of the “prosperity gospel,” which they say is based on a reductionist view of the American Dream.

In the new essay, run July 18 in the Jesuit-run magazine “La Civilta Cattolica,” which is directed by Spadaro, the authors argue that the prosperity gospel, rooted in late 19th century America, is closely tied to the Protestant Evangelical movement in the U.S., and sees power, wealth and success as the result of one's faith, while poverty and misfortune are signs of a lack of faith.

“The risk of this form of religious anthropocentrism, which puts humans and their well-being at the center, is that it transforms God into a power at our service, the Church into a supermarket of faith, and religion into a utilitarian phenomenon that is eminently sensationalist and pragmatic,” they said.

Spadaro and Figueroa, a Protestant who heads the Argentine section of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, said the prosperity gospel is “a reductive interpretation” of the American Dream.

Though historically this dream saw the United States as a heaven for economic migrants seeking better opportunities than were available in their homeland, Spadaro and Figueroa argue that this vision has turned into a distorted religious belief being put forward by big-name Evangelical televangelists.

The authors cited U.S. President Donald Trump's Jan. 30 State of the Union address, in which the president pointed to popular American motto “in God we trust” and spoke of importance of family and the military, a clear indication that they see Trump as an example of this “neo-Pentecostal” brand of theology.

Spadaro and Figueroa said the two main “pillars” of the prosperity gospel are health and economic success – a mentality they said stems from “a literalist exegesis of some biblical texts that are taken within a reductionist hermeneutic.”

Popular televangelist personalities such as Joel Osteen, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton and Joyce Meyer, who are often considered to be key prosperity gospel figures in the United States, were dubbed by Spadaro and Figueroa as “evangelicals of the American Dream.”

“Their growth is exponential and directly proportional to the economic, physical and spiritual benefits they promise their followers,” the authors said, adding that “all these blessings are far removed from the life of conversion usually taught by the traditional evangelical movements.”

Spadaro and Figueroa argued that these preachers take scripture out of context, diffusing a message that God is at the service of humanity, and that one can obtain blessings and prosperity, whether physical or economic, simply through religious conviction.

There is a “lack of empathy and solidarity” on issues like migration from adherents to the prosperity gospel approach, they argued.

In this movement, “there can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God,” Spadaro and Figueroa argued.

Biblical teachings such as “you reap what you sow” or that one will receive “a hundredfold” for their good works have been reduced to a “contract” in which the more one gives, the more they expect to get in return, the authors said.

Under this approach, God is made in the image of man, they said, and people believe that they can earn their own success through their actions, making the thought of poverty “unbearable,” because “first, the person thinks their faith is unable to move the providential hands of God; second, their miserable situation is a divine imposition, a relentless punishment to be accepted in submission.”

When it comes to the prosperity gospel and the American Dream, Spadaro and Figueroa said the problem is that the financial success of the United States has been seen as a direct result of America's faith in God.

“It leads to the conclusion that the United States has grown as a nation under the blessing of the providential God of the Evangelical movement,” they said. “Meanwhile, those who dwell south of the Rio Grande are sinking in poverty because the Catholic Church has a different, opposed vision exalting poverty.”

This view not only “exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity,” they said, but it also “pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook, because faith alone – not social or political commitment – can procure prosperity.”

And the risk in this is that “the poor who are fascinated by this pseudo-Gospel remain dazzled in a socio-political emptiness that easily allows other forces to shape their world, making them innocuous and defenseless,” Spadaro and Figueroa said, adding that “the prosperity gospel is not a cause of real change, a fundamental aspect of the vision that is innate to the social doctrine of the Church.”

The two closed their essay saying the prosperity gospel is product of two ancient heresies – Pelagianism and Gnosticism – which Pope Francis, who has consistently spoken out against the prosperity gospel mentality, warned of in his recent apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.

The prosperity gospel, they said, is “a far cry” from the original American Dream, which they described as a “positive and enlightening prophecy” that has inspired many, and which is embodied in civil rights defender Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.