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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Jan-31-2014

By Catholic News Service


Pastors advise common sense in getting to Mass in bad weather

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- Amid the closing and cancellations brought on by winter storms, pastors -- even in the southern U.S. -- have to consider when severe weather conditions dictate canceling Mass. In late January, an arctic blast that hit the Deep South caused at least 13 deaths and prompted six states to declare emergencies. Drivers in Atlanta spent six to 14 hours in traffic gridlock on icy roads Jan. 28. As the relatively new pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home, Father Norbert Rappold has spent the past several months learning the ins and outs of the parish and his first winter in north Arkansas has him considering when he might need to call off Mass because of bad weather. His take: In 99 percent of the cases, don't bother. "We have a good number of people here who grew up in Chicago and other northern places, so snow isn't really a big deal to them," he said. "Most parishioners know that if it is snowy or icy that they don't have to come, but I still wind up celebrating Mass for 30 to 40 people. There's just no point in canceling it," he told the Arkansas Catholic, Little Rock's diocesan newspaper.

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Montana diocese files for bankruptcy over sexual abuse claims

HELENA, Mont. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Helena filed Jan. 31 for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Montana over sexual abuse claims dating back 60 years. The diocese said in a statement it took the action to resolve 362 claims of abuse of minors by diocesan priests, religious community priests, women religious and lay workers that have been filed. Under the terms of the bankruptcy protection sought by the diocese, there will be a settlement of $15 million to pay out to those victims that have already been identified, and a fund of $2.5 million to pay ongoing court costs and future bankruptcy proceedings as well as compensation to any victims who come forward later. "The statute of limitations doesn't really fly in a lot of ways," diocesan spokesman Dan Bartleson told Catholic News Service, "once a jury hears what was going on in a lot of people's lives." Complicating the situation is the western Montana diocese's financial state. "There's been a major reduction in staff, curtailed parish building projects," Bartleson said. "The reality is that we're functioning at a bare minimum. The (diocesan) staff is in a major transition." Diocesan offices were closed Jan. 31, not because of the bankruptcy, but as "a day devoted to reorganization, taking on newer responsibilities," Bartleson told CNS, "so business as usual isn't really possible." Bishop George L. Thomas of Helena said in a statement: "On behalf of the entire Diocese of Helena, I express my profound sorrow and sincere apologies to anyone who was abused by a priest, a sister, or a lay church worker. No child should experience harm from anyone who serves in the church."

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Music ministry called a gift that can reconnect people with church

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (CNS) -- Holy Family Monastery and Retreat Center in West Hartford, founded by the Passionist community of fathers and brothers in 1951, is famous for many reasons. Its international Mass card offerings are known the world over in the Catholic circles as a mecca and the go-to source for Mass cards for almost all occasions; 50 percent of the Mass card offerings come via the center's website, www.holyfamilyretreat.org. Holy Family's retreat ministry, funded largely by the Mass card revenues, represents both the largest parish-based retreat center in the nation as well as the second-largest of any retreat center. But the retreat center has another quality that few may realize -- its thriving music ministry that has been a role model for other parishes. Father David Cinquegrani, director of Holy Family as well as music director, started the monastery's music ministry upon his arrival in 1996. He said the ministry is innovative, because it is intergenerational and includes groups often not found in large numbers in church, groups of high school and college students, seniors, and grade school students. "There are many families, sometimes entire families, who participate. Husbands and wives, parents and children find it something spiritual that they can do together," he said in an interview. "I try to feature family members with duets, trios and quartets when possible. Our music program serves the retreat center by providing both beauty and the opportunity to engage in music for worship and mediation. At the same time it gives the music ministers the ability to share their talents and enjoy doing what they love to do."

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New complications in executions bring new death penalty discussions

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- International law, the risk of using inhumane methods of execution and opposition to capital punishment by the survivors of murder victims are among issues that are bringing fresh energy to debate about the death penalty. In mid-January, Father Lawrence Hummer, of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Chillicothe, Ohio, witnessed the execution of Dennis McGuire for the 1989 rape and murder of 22-year-old Joy Stewart, who was 30 weeks pregnant. A week later, publications around the world were printing the priest's account of watching what he called an inhumane procedure in which the convicted murderer struggled for 26 minutes while a previously untested mixture of drugs was used to execute McGuire. At about the same time, the execution of a Mexican citizen drew international attention and warnings from the U.S. State Department that the refusal of the State of Texas to review the man's conviction in light of an international court ruling might put U.S. citizens at risk while traveling abroad. Meanwhile, in Colorado, the parents of a prison guard who was beaten to death by an inmate in 2002 are battling the county prosecutor for the right to be heard at the retrial of the man who previously confessed to killing their son. While Robert Autobee supported the death penalty for Edward Montour at his first trial, he's since had a change of heart. After meeting with Montour in prison, Autobee, also a former corrections officer, decided to forgive the repentant Montour and began working to save his life.

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Churches, schools took charge, kept people safe during storm in South

ATLANTA (CNS) -- Atlanta's freezing temperatures, rare snowstorm and 20-hour commutes were almost a memory Jan. 31 as temperatures were on the rise and the last of 2,000 cars left stranded by the side of highways were being rescued. But in the midst of the Jan. 28 storm that paralyzed the city, more than 80 students were sheltered overnight in Archdiocese of Atlanta schools when snow and ice turned area roads into gridlocked parking lots as students were being dismissed. Diane Starkovich, superintendent of Catholic schools, said teachers and administrators made the safety of the students their priority. "The principals implemented early dismissal procedures, stayed till the last child was picked up (if possible) and are doing what they do best -- taking charge and keeping everyone safe," she said via email Jan. 29. Interstates and local roads were gridlocked starting in the early afternoon Jan. 28, after a storm dropped several inches of snow, and schools and businesses closed early. As the night went on, road conditions turned to ice, stranding even more drivers. Several schools stayed open. The biggest overnight crowd was at St. Jude the Apostle School, where three dozen youngsters stayed, the superintendent said. Parents were naturally concerned, but students seemed to take the challenge in stride, Starkovich said. "Movies, popcorn, sleeping mats, blankets, gyms, basketball -- kids can make their own fun and they did," she said.

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Officials say final report on visitation of U.S. nuns expected soon

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Before the year dedicated to consecrated life begins in November, the Vatican congregation for religious hopes to release its final report on the 2009-2010 visitation of U.S. women's communities. Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said, "We are working intensely on the final report, and after careful study and consideration, we think it will be made public soon. We're at a good point. I think we can conclude it before the beginning of the Year for Consecrated Life" in November. The former prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Franc Rode, initiated the visitation in January 2009, saying its aim would be to study the community, prayer and apostolic life of the orders to learn why the number of religious women in the United States had declined so sharply since the 1960s. Archbishop Rodriguez Carballo and Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, the current congregation prefect, spoke to reporters Jan. 31 at the Vatican. Cardinal Aviz said the visitation of U.S. communities of women was completely separate from the Vatican-ordered reform of the U.S.-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The LCWR process, which is ongoing, he said, is not the responsibility of his office, but of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which in 2012 ordered a reform of the group to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality.

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Church must always protect, support children against abuse, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Children and young people must always be protected against sexual abuse and always find adequate support in the church community, Pope Francis told the Vatican doctrinal office dealing with suspected cases of sexual abuse by clergy. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should also look at ways to collaborate with a new papal advisory commission on abuse, which, the pope said, he wants to be an exemplary model for child protection. "I want to thank you for your dedication to dealing with the delicate set of problems concerning the so-called most grave crimes, in particular cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics," Pope Francis said in a written speech Jan. 31. He called on the congregation, which was given exclusive jurisdiction over a number of these most serious crimes in 2001, to focus on "the well-being of children and young people, who in the Christian community must always be protected and supported in their human and spiritual growth," he said. The pope asked the doctrinal office to also study ways it could cooperate with the special commission for the protection of young people he established in December.

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2015 celebration of religious life won't ignore problems, officials say

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has called for a special yearlong focus on consecrated life, asking the church's religious sisters, brothers and priests to "wake up the world" with their testimony of faith, holiness and hope, a Vatican official said. "Consecrated men and women are aware that besides recounting the great stories they have written in the past, they are called to write a no-less-beautiful and great story in the future," said Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. At a news conference Jan. 31, the cardinal spoke about plans for the 2015 Year for Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis announced in November. The congregation hopes Pope Francis will celebrate the year's opening Mass Nov. 21, when the church marks a day of prayer for cloistered religious. The events would conclude one year later on the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council decree "Perfectae Caritatis" on the renewal of religious life. "We are convinced that the council represented the breath of the Holy Spirit not only for the entire church, but in a particular way for consecrated life," Cardinal Aviz said.

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Bishops call for end to corruption, nepotism to help heal South Sudan

SEATTLE (CNS) -- Catholic bishops in Sudan and South Sudan said there are "no quick fixes" to the conflict that has ravaged South Sudan in recent weeks, but called for an end to government corruption and a greater involvement of the church in the peace process. "We have witnessed things that should never have taken place on the soil of this nation, as brother fought against brother, leading to so much unnecessary death and displacement of individuals and communities, with many fleeing as refugees to neighboring countries, and the most appalling destruction. We cannot remain silent in the face of what we have witnessed and heard," wrote the bishops from the two countries, who remain united in one episcopal conference. In a Jan. 30 letter issued in Juba, South Sudan, the bishops called for "repentance and conversion of heart" and said "corruption and nepotism have contributed to the destabilization" of the country. "We cannot allow South Sudan to fail due to the actions of a few who are immune to the suffering of their own people, who personalize political power, turning their positions of public service into opportunities for personal enrichment and nepotism," they wrote.

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Pope Francis' first Lenten message to focus on poverty, generosity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has chosen the theme, "He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich," for this year's Lenten message, said a Vatican statement Jan. 31. The theme comes from a verse from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians where the apostle is promoting generosity in giving and wishes to "test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others." The full verse reads: "For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich," (2 Cor 8:9). The text of the pope's message for Lent, which begins March 5, was to be released at a Vatican news conference Feb. 4. Haiti was expected to be a focus for the Lenten season as a married Italian couple serving as missionaries in the Caribbean nation were scheduled to speak at the Vatican news conference along with top officials from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes Catholic charitable giving.

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Pope tells Austrian bishops to respond to crisis by being missionaries

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A sharp decline in the number of practicing Catholics "must not find us inert, but rather must motivate our efforts for a new evangelization," Pope Francis told the bishops of Austria. "To be church doesn't mean to manage, but to go out, to be missionaries, to bring the light of faith and the joy of the Gospel to men and women," the pope said in a message he handed to the bishops Jan. 30 during their "ad limina" visits to Rome. The text of the pope's message was released by the Vatican Jan. 31 at the end of the bishops' visit to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna told Vatican Radio Jan. 27 that 1.8 million people live in Vienna and "only 2 percent of them frequent Sunday Mass. Where do the others live their lives? What moves their hearts? What are their hopes and concerns and fears?" the cardinal asked. When the pope talks about the need for Catholics to open church doors and let Jesus out, he's talking about reaching that 98 percent of the population, the cardinal said.

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Temptation is a fact of life; no one is immune to sin, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Temptation is a normal part of life's struggle, and anyone who claims to be immune from it is either a little angel visiting from heaven or "a bit of an idiot," Pope Francis said. The biggest problem in the world, in fact, isn't temptation or sin, rather it is people deluding themselves that they're not sinners and losing any sense of sin, he said Jan. 31 during his early morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives. "All of us are sinners and all of us are tempted; temptation is our daily bread," he said, according to Vatican Radio. "If someone tells us, 'Well, I have never been tempted,'" that person is either "a cherub or a bit of an idiot, right?" he said. The battle against sin and temptation "is normal in life," he said, because the devil is always up to something "and he wants victory." The pope reflected on the day's reading from the Second Book of Samuel, in which David commits adultery with Bathsheba and then has her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed in battle as a last resort to avoid trouble with Uriah for having impregnated Bathsheba. "The most serious problem in this reading isn't so much the temptation and the sin" of adultery, the pope said, "but how David behaves." He doesn't see what he's done as a sin, but as a problem to fix, the pope said.

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Italian police recover stolen relic of Blessed John Paul II

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Less than a week after a relic of Blessed John Paul II disappeared from a country chapel east of Rome, Italian police recovered the venerated piece of fabric stained with the late pope's blood. Auxiliary Bishop Giovanni D'Ercole of L'Aquila told reporters Jan. 31 that one of three men arrested for the theft the previous day had led police to the relic, which they found inside his garage. The bishop said the postage-stamp-sized piece of fabric -- cut from the clothing Blessed John Paul was wearing when he was shot May 13, 1981 -- was almost intact, missing only a few gold threads. The previous day, the thieves turned over an empty iron reliquary, along with a stolen cross, buried on the grounds of a drug treatment facility in the city of L'Aquila, about 75 miles east of Rome. They said they had removed and discarded the relic itself because they considered it worthless. "These three lads have the forgiveness of Pope John Paul II and our own," Bishop D'Ercole told reporters.

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Spain's new cardinal played important role in church over six decades

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) -- In naming Spanish Archbishop Fernando Sebastian Aguilar a cardinal, Pope Francis chose an outspoken leader who played an important role in developing the positions of the Spanish church over a career that has spanned six decades. At 84, Cardinal-designate Sebastian, retired archbishop of Pamplona, will be the second-eldest of the 19 new cardinals elevated at a Vatican consistory Feb. 22. His career has been marked by a deep dedication to theology that includes the publication of several letters and books on topics as diverse as stem-cell research to the importance of evangelization to how Christianity can confront terrorism. "He's a great theologian" who is intellectually and religiously honest, said Father D. Jose Maria Gil Tamayo, secretary-general of the Spanish bishops' conference, in an email to Catholic News Service. "With his analysis, he has had an important role to play in (conference) letters, and he has always been a man of profound democratic convictions." The cardinal-designate was not available for comment, but in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Sur published Jan. 19, he said he is living in retirement in a diocesan house in Malaga, on Spain's southern coast.


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