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Pope Francis approves new constitution for Synod of Bishops

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2018 / 08:30 am (CNA).- In a new apostolic constitution, Pope Francis has reformed the Synod of Bishops, creating a mechanism for the assembly’s final document to be included in official Church teaching.

Episcopalis Communio, promulgated by the pope on Sept. 15, establishes that the final document of a synod assembly, drafted and approved by a special commission, can be considered part of the ordinary magisterium – that is, the official teaching of the Church – if it receives a particular level of papal approval.

The constitution does not require the publication of a post-synodal papal document to make its conclusions authoritative, though these have traditionally followed synodal sessions.

The most recent synod, which was held on the theme of the family, was followed by the 2015 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, presented the new constitution on Sept. 18.

Baldisseri told journalists Tuesday that the pope may wish to publish a document of his own following October’s synod on young people, but that the new norms allow him to forego it in favor of adopting the synod’s final document as his own.

Should Francis decide to adopt the final synodal document, it would be published with his signature and those of the members of the synod.

The norms provide for a process similar to that followed during the 2015 synod on the family – by which a commission creates the final synodal document, before it is put before the members of the synod for a vote.

This commission is composed of the relator general and general secretary of the particular session of the synod, the secretary general of the synod’s permanent secretariat - currently Cardinal Baldisseri -  and other members elected by the synod itself. To these, the pope may also add his own personal appointees

Regarding how the final document is to be approved by the membership, Episcopalis Communio refers back to the current “particular law.” Accordingly, individual provisions to be adopted in the final document will still require the approval of two-thirds of the synod’s members, while a simple majority suffices to reject an item.

The new constitution does, however, urge the synod fathers to seek “moral unanimity” whenever possible.

Once the final document has been prepared and voted on, it is presented to the Holy Father for his approval and publication. At this point, the pope can choose to grant a particular kind of approval to the document, called “in forma specifica” in canon law, by which it would become an act of the pope and part of the ordinary papal magisterium.

Speaking at a press conference in Rome, Cardinal Baldisseri said that the process of receiving this specific papal approval does not require a strictly judicial standard, or depend upon a particular margin of approval by the synod fathers. 

Quoting St. John Paul II, the new constitution says that while the synod “normally has a merely consultative function,” this “does not diminish its importance.” Rather, the vote of the synod fathers "if morally unanimous, has an ecclesial quality that overcomes the merely formal aspect of the consultative vote.” This, Baldisseri explained, is more important that a specific margin of voting.

Other sections of the constitution substantially affirm recent synodal processes and regulations, including on the synod’s composition and structure, which members have voting rights, and the three distinct synodal phases of preparation, assembly, and implementation.

In the preparatory phase, information on the announced theme of the synod is gathered through study commissions, local consultations conducted through the diocesan bishops, and a pre-synod meeting - if one is convoked. The new norms also provide the option for such pre-synodal meetings to be held at a regional level.

The second phase is the actual assembly of the synodal fathers and other members, while the third phase is the implementation of the synod’s conclusions in the particular Churches.

Episcopalis Communio underlines the importance of bishops listening to the voice of lay Catholics, saying that “the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God.”

“Although in its composition [the Synod] appears as an essentially episcopal organism, the Synod does not therefore live separate from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is a suitable instrument to give voice to the whole People of God precisely through the Bishops, constituted by God as ‘authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church,’” the document states.

This principle is recognized in the canonical norms of the constitution itself. Article 7 of Episcopalis Communio states that the right of the faithful to send their own contributions for the synod directly to the secretary general “remains integral” to the process.

The Synod of Bishops acts as a temporary and occasional advisory body to the pope on issues of pastoral importance to the Catholic Church. It was established by Bl. Pope Paul VI with the motu proprio Apostolica sollicitudo in 1965.

While the synod itself is a temporary body called into being by the pope, it has a permanent general secretariat in the Roman Curia.

There are three types of synod assemblies a pope can call: ordinary, extraordinary, and special. Next month’s meeting will be an extraordinary assembly, as was 2014’s synod on the family.

A special assembly is usually convoked to discuss an issue related to a particular geographical region, such as the upcoming special assembly on the Amazon, which will take place in October 2019.

This 87-year-old woman feeds the homeless in Chile every week  

Santiago, Chile, Sep 18, 2018 / 12:06 am (ACI Prensa).- Every Wednesday night, 87-year-old Elena Donaire goes out onto the streets of Santiago, Chile, to meet the homeless and attend to their needs.

For 40 years, Donaire has taken part in the “Street Route” of the Hogar de Cristo (Christ's Home), an organization that includes numerous outreach programs and facilities to help the poor.

Donaire starts her evening by fixing sandwiches, boiling water and organizing the warm clothing that she will give to the people she encounters on the streets. When everything is ready, the volunteers leave in their van.

Donaire is often the first to get out of the van to begin serving. Many of the homeless people on the streets of Santiago know her and greet her by the affectionate title “Dear Mama.” The other volunteers call her by the nickname “Grandma.”

In an interview with the Archdiocese of Santiago's communications office, Donaire explained that her mission has its origin in her friendship with Saint Alberto Hurtado.

Known in Chile as Padre Hurtado, the Jesuit priest, author and lawyer founded Christ’s Home, a network of homeless shelters that also included trade schools, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities to serve the poor.

He was beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and canonized in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Before Hurtado died in 1952, Donaire said she had “promised him to continue serving the people just as he did.”

“That's the biggest reason I have to continue helping – it's a joy for me,” Donaire said. “I am going out on the street until he calls me from above. I know that if he were alive, he would be here on the street helping along with me, I would like to be at his side.”

Remembering the Jesuit saint, Donaire said that “he didn't smile a lot, but when it was an occasion for smiling, he was always there with us. He enjoyed sharing with the people, especially the children, he treated them with such love and affection that it still moves me to this day to remember those moments. I have never met a person as good and committed as he was.”

For Donaire, who lives alone in a small house and works selling clothes in a street market, “It doesn't matter if it's raining, or cold, there are no excuses for not going out on Wednesdays.”

“I anxiously wait for [the other volunteers] to come and pick me up for the simple reason that I want to be with these people. I like them and they make me happy. I know their stories and they tell me them.”

She acknowledged that she sometimes feels bad that she cannot do more to help the homeless people she encounters on the streets.

“I know I am going home to a house, I'm going to get a good night's sleep, and I see that these people aren't going to,” she said.

Still, she stressed the importance of doing what one can to help those in need.

“Help your brothers on the street,” she encouraged. “Many times, it's enough just to talk with them, to listen to them, to find out how they are doing. I assure you that [they] feel happier just to share their troubles with someone. We all have commitments or things to do, but making an effort doesn't cost anything.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued a statement on three priests mentioned as credibly accused of sexual abuse in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Released last month, the report found more than 1,000 allegations of abuse at the hands of some 300 clergy members in six dioceses in the state. It also found a pattern of cover up by senior Church officials.

“The horror of these crimes of sexual abuse and harassment is amplified by the failure of some bishops and diocesan officials to take corrective action against the offenders, and to communicate honestly with the faithful about what has happened and how they are responding,” said Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage, in a Sept. 15 statement.

“I am writing to you to share some information regarding connections between the Grand Jury Report and Courage International, as well as to discuss some other issues related to the apostolate and how we handle allegations of sexual abuse.”

Father Bochanski said no reports of sexual abuse of minors had been made to him or his staff during his time in the Courage Office.

However, he noted three priests named in the Grand Jury report who have connections to the apostolate.

Fr. Michael Lawrence was assigned by the Diocese of Allentown as a Courage chaplain for two years before his 2002 retirement. Lawrence had been accused of an incident of abuse in 1982, was reported to the diocese, sent for treatment and returned to ministry. In 2009, another accusation was made against him, with the time of alleged abuse being unspecified in the report. Lawrence died in 2015.

Fr. Martin Boylan of Scranton was among 24 priests recommended in 1989 by the Scranton vicar general to meet with Courage founder Fr. John Harvey about establishing a diocesan chapter of the apostolate. Bochanski said it is not clear whether such a meeting ever took place and noted that no further connection between Boylan and Courage has been documented. Boylan was later accused of several incidents of sexual misconduct.

Fr. David Soderlund of Allentown admitted in 1980 to sexually abusing three minor boys. According to the grand jury report, he was placed under the spiritual care of Fr. Harvey.

Bochanski said Harvey was “well-known for providing pastoral care and spiritual direction to priests and religious brothers who experienced same sex attractions and were striving to live chaste celibate lives,” and that this included some ministry to priests who had been sent to treatment after being credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

Harvey worked within the psychology of the time, Bochanski said that Harvey was "a keen student of moral theology and psychology, and by all accounts his pastoral care was consistent with the advice given by professionals at the time."

"Clearly, thanks to major advances in their understanding of the nature of pedophilia and ephebophilia in the last two decades, psychiatrists and psychologists today make much different assessments of, and propose much different treatment for, sexual abusers than those working 30 or 40 years ago. Given Father Harvey’s evident interest in staying up-to-date with advances in psychology, as well as his faithful, loving concern for the good of the Church, I am confident to say that, were he working today, he would take the advice of these professionals very seriously and shape his pastoral approach accordingly."

No other sexual abuse or misconduct allegations involving Courage chaplains have been made in recent years, Bochanski said, however there has been one instance of inappropriate behavior involving a priest who is not a Courage chaplain in an online Facebook group.

The priest had made sexual remarks and sent inappropriate photos in a private Facebook Messenger account to a lay man whom he had met in a “Courage on Call” Facebook group, which is not officially run or monitored by Courage International, Bochanski said.

The lay man informed Bochanski of the interaction, and Bochanski contacted the priest’s diocese. The priest was subsequently removed from ministry.

Reiterating a commitment to transparency, Bochanski urged Catholics to not withhold any information about admitted or suspected sexual abuse.

“If you suspect or become aware that anyone has abused or is abusing a minor or a vulnerable person, I urge you to report it to law enforcement and child protection authorities immediately.  If the abuser is a member of the clergy, you should also report it to his diocese or archdiocese.”

The director said this abuse has understandably provoked anger and sadness among the members of the Church. He said his letter may especially stir up painful feelings for abuse victims and encouraged concerned individuals to bring their questions to Courage International.

“Should you have questions or concerns about this letter, or should it cause hurt that I can help to heal, please do not hesitate to contact me,” he said.

“I intend to continue to communicate with you, through the Courage and EnCourage Newsletter and in other forums, about the crisis the Church is facing and how we, as individuals and as an apostolate, can respond with charity in a spirit of service and witness.”

Chilean priest guilty of abuse dismissed from clerical state

Santiago, Chile, Sep 17, 2018 / 05:01 pm (ACI Prensa).- Pope Francis has decreed, without recourse to appeal, the dismissal from the clerical state of Cristián Precht Bañados, who was found guilty of abuse of minors in 2012.

The Santiago archdiocese stated Sept. 15 that Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith, had notified the archdiocese that day of the Sept. 12 laicization.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had found Precht guilty of abuse in 2012.

After Precht was found guilty, he was prohibited from “exercising priestly public ministry for a period of five years, leaving to the bishop the power to extend the indicated period for the time he considers appropriate,” according to a December 2012 statement of the Archdiocese of Santiago.

At that time, Precht was also put under a “prohibition from administering the sacrament of confession and giving spiritual direction young people and minors,” and was ordered to “live a life of prayer and penance.”

He was also required to obtain a place of residence approved by Church authorities and had to request permission to travel abroad. Failure to adhere to the norms could bring further sanctions, the archdiocese stated at the time.

The accusations against Precht, who is now in his late 70s, were made in 2011.

The result of the penal process established “the verification of the mentioned abusive conduct and agreement with the request to repeal the prescription, in consideration of the gravity of the reported incidents.”

Precht defended human rights during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinchot. He was one of the founders of the Vicariate for Solidarity, an institution created to aid victims of the regime.

He was also one of the founders, in 1991, of the youth ministry organization Vicariate of Hope for Youths.

Chilean officials have in recent months been raiding offices of Catholic institutions as part of an investigation into sexual crimes against minors committed by members of the Church.

 

This article was originally published by our Spanish language sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Congressmen object to FDA's 'barbaric' research method using human fetal tissue

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The purchasing of aborted fetal tissue for use in research is ‘abhorrent’ and must stop, said 85 members of the United States House of Representatives in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA in July gave a $15,900 contract to Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) for “fresh human fetal tissue,” which would be transplanted into mice in order to create human-like immune systems for research purposes. It is the eighth contract between the FDA and the company since 2012, and seven of the contracts appear to relate to the same or similar programs.

Federal law prohibits the sale of human fetal tissue for “valuable consideration.” Furthermore, the letter states, Congress investigated ABR in 2016 as a part of their investigation into the fetal tissue procurement and late term abortion industries, and found ABR’s practices to be unethical and possibly illegal.

The 2016 investigation was spurred after David Daleiden, a pro-life advocate and a journalist with the Center for Medical Progress, released a series of videos which called into question the fetal tissue procurement and sales practices of Planned Parenthood.

“ABR plainly admitted to Congress that it obtained tissue by collecting human fetal remains from abortion clinics, paying $60 per ‘singe aborted fetus’ - and then upselling the child’s body parts separately to researchers at fees of $325 per ‘specimen’ - brain, eyes, liver, thymus and lungs,” the letter states.

Congress referred ABR to the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the District Attorney of Riverside County, California for further investigation.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said Sept. 17 that the FDA is using taxpayer dollars “to fund a barbaric research method that treats babies like research guinea pigs.”

More ethical methods of research exist, Smith said, such as developing human-like immune systems from human bone marrow or umbilical cord blood instead of obtaining tissue “through the destruction of unborn children.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., who was part of the House investigation into ABR in 2016, said that she was “alarmed” that the FDA would partner with a ABR, which has a “checkered history of purchasing the remains of aborted children and reselling the babies.”

“While our letter calls on the FDA to cancel its contract with ABR, I would go the next step and call on all federal agencies including the National Institute of Health (NIH) to cease and desist in furthering the abhorrent and highly unethical practice of using aborted babies as research specimens. This is a grisly, disturbing, and unnecessary business,” she added.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., said that companies such as ABR “have suffered no consequences” despite the findings of Congress’ 2016 investigation.

“Considering President Trump’s pro-life promises, the FDA should immediately cease all government business with ABR and no longer use any aborted fetal cells for future research,” he added.

On Sept. 10, Daleiden said of the contract that it is “unconscionable that the United States government is still paying top-dollar in taxpayer money for the freshest, most high-quality dismembered baby hearts, lungs, livers, and brains.”