Cleveland, Ohio, Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - Retired Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland said he was shocked when evidence indicated that his former employees had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars through what prosecutors call an elaborate kickback scheme, reported The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Bishop Pilla retired from his post last year but took the stand yesterday in the trial of Anton Zgoznik, who is accused of multiple counts of conspiracy, money laundering, mail fraud and obstruction of justice.
Zgoznik's supervisor, Joseph Smith, will stand trial later. He faces the same charges.
Smith was the highest-ranking layperson at the diocese, serving as chief financial officer. Prosecutors accuse Smith of approving inflated billings from Zgoznik, who in turn paid money to companies owned by Smith, prosecutors said.
In 2004, a whistle-blower sent an anonymous letter to the diocese outlining the payments to Smith and Zgoznik. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Siegel asked the bishop his reaction.
"Shocked," Bishop Pilla was quoted as saying. "Shocked. I had complete trust in Mr. Smith. He was a valued co-worker in whom I had great trust." On advice of diocesan lawyers, the bishop placed Smith on a leave of absence and called the FBI when he learned of evidence of fraud.
Lima, Peru, Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - Speaking on Vatican Radio from Chimbote, Peru, where he is participating in the 9th National Eucharistic Congress, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said Pope Benedict XVI has been invited to visit Peru. The cardinal said President Alan Garcia has issued an official invitation to the Pontiff to visit the South American country.
Cardinal Bertone, who during his visit to Peru has also traveled to the areas most affected by the recent earthquake, also said he would inform the Pope about “all of the experiences I have had” during his travels, and he praised the “dignity” with which Peruvians have faced the tragedy.
He also said he would tell the Holy Father of the “strong, intense and very existential faith of the Peruvian people,” who he said are “rich in faith, tradition, charity and solidarity.”
Guatemala City, Guatemala, Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - The National Association of Evangelical Ministers of Guatemala has taken the controversial step to politically back retired General Otto Perez Molina as the presidential candidate for the “Patriotic Party.”
The decision to openly support a party in the next general election was taken on Tuesday, after the candidate for the Patriotic Party laid out his political agenda to more than one hundred pastors who make up the evangelical association.
During the encounter, Perez Molina reminded the evangelical ministers that, in addition to security and employment, his agenda includes social and rural development, and he told them to pay no attention to the candidate of the National Unity of Hope Party, who is telling voters not to elect a military officer.
“Jehovah is the God of hosts and he does not reject military officers. He has blessed our campaign and each day there are more people supporting us,” Perez Molina said.
Josue Muñoz of Prince of Peace Church led the opening prayer at the meeting, during which the evangelical ministers laid hands on Perez Molina as a sign of approval and support.
“When Pastor Harold Caballeros was running (as a candidate for president), evangelicals had a choice. But since he dropped out, the only one left to support is the general,” Munoz told the newspaper “Prensa Libre.”
“We pastors are guides of our flock, and many people have started asking for advice. Therefore our obligation is to tell them who is the best choice, and the best is this candidate (Perez Molina),” said Pastor Saul Perez.
Milwaukee, Wis., Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - A teacher, who was fired from a Catholic school for using in vitro fertilization to get pregnant, has settled her lawsuit.
Kelly Romenesko was fired in 2004, five days after giving birth to twins. She took her employer, Xavier Catholic High School, to court, claiming discrimination.
The school requires all teachers to adhere to Catholic Church teachings, and the Church does not approve of in vitro fertilization.
The school said they had planned to fire her as soon as they found out about the circumstances of her pregnancy but other issues prevented them from doing so until Romenesko gave birth.
WTMJ Channel 4 Milwaukee reported that the terms of the settlement are confidential, but Romenesko says her compensation will not cover the entire cost of her three-year legal battle. It was the cost and burden on her family, she said, that prompted her to settle.
“This whole situation and this whole case was not about who’s right and wrong, but it was about good people on two different sides of the issue,” said diocesan attorney Greg Gill, Sr.
Romenesko now admits her firing was legal.
Omaha, Neb., Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - Creighton University has been in the news lately, but not because of a new research breakthrough or one of its athletic team’s good records. The Jesuit-run university is in the limelight because of what seems to be a pattern of disagreement with the Archdiocese of Omaha within which it is located.
The most recent development in the relationship between the two Catholic institutions is the invitation, and then a last minute retraction by the university for the pro-assisted suicide speaker Anne Lamott to speak.
Creighton University officials said they invited Anne Lamott to speak before her book "Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith," came out in March 2007, according to the AP. The book describes her personal experience in helping a friend commit suicide.
"Everybody knew what they were getting so it is hard to understand a last minute disinvitation," said Fr. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor for the archdiocese. "All you have to do is put the name in Google and you see what she believes."
On Wednesday, the author's booking agent, Steven Barclay, said Lamott's opinions were no secret. He said university officials sent a letter earlier this summer asking Lamott not to speak about assisted suicide and abortion. Creighton has since rescinded its invitation to Lamott.
Creighton is run by the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order more commonly known as the Jesuits. According to the order, part of a Jesuit university's mission is to remain in good standing with the Catholic bishop.
This latest disagreement is causing many local Catholics to lose patience with the university because its part of a larger series of run-ins with the archdiocese.
This past June, CNA reported that the Archbishop of Omaha, Elden Curtiss, officially disassociated the Archdiocese from the university’s Center for Marriage and Family after two of its researchers published an article in US Catholic magazine encouraging couples to have sex and children before marriage as long as they are engaged.
One of the center’s researchers, Michael Lawler, also co-wrote an article in the academic Heythrop Journal with the chairman of the school's theology department, suggesting that some homosexual sex is actually permissible under Catholic doctrine.
The Associated Press spoke with Fr. Ryan Lewis, the vice chancellor of the archdiocese who said, "If you're seeing a pattern, you're seeing correctly. And we just appreciate that Catholic Omaha is starting to lose patience with some of this stuff."
While Fr. Taphorn will not say if the Archdiocese has discussed the possibility of the Archbishop Curtiss removing Creighton’s status of being a Catholic university, it is a possibility if the relationship continues to deteriorate.
The removal of the school’s Catholic designation could result in an identity crisis and make fundraising from alumni harder.
Chicago, Ill., Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - A lesbian Episcopal priest has made the top-five list of bishop-candidates for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. The list includes three women. No woman has ever been a finalist before.
"I believe that accepting this nomination is what God is asking of me," Rev. Tracey Lind said in a statement. The openly lesbian cleric is dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland and author of Interrupted by God.
Bishop James Stanton of Dallas, a leader in the global effort against gay bishops, called Lind's nomination distressing.
"It's an action that says Chicago really doesn't care what the rest of the Anglican Communion says," he told the Sun-Times.
The worldwide Anglican Communion has been dealing with the possibility of schism since 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
"My life with my partner, Emily Ingalls [a cradle Episcopalian], is the gift that most sustains me," Lind's statement said. "Together, we tend our garden, travel, hike."
The Columbus native dropped out as a candidate for bishop in the Newark Diocese last year, saying she wasn't ready to leave Ohio. But she's told the Chicago diocese "the timing is now right," a spokesman said.
A diocesan search committee selected the candidates. Additional nominees can be made through a petition process. The election is Nov. 10.
Lima, Peru, Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will celebrate a special Mass in honor of St. Rose of Lima at the shrine dedicated to her in Lima on August 30. He will be joined by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima and other bishops.
On August 29, the vigil before the feast, the image of the saint, who is Patroness of America, will be carried in procession from the Convent of Santo Domingo to the Basilica of Lima. A sacred music concert will also be given by the Choir of the National Police Force of Peru together with the National Conservatory of Music.
Today on the feast of St. Rose of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani will celebrate Mass at 11am at the Cathedral of Lima. Various government officials and diplomats are expected to attend.
The Pedro de Osma Museum will also join in the festivities with a special exposition of iconography of St. Rose of Lima, made by artists from Peru and other countries.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - In a strongly worded statement, the organization “Pro-Vida” [For-Life] in Argentina has criticized a decision by officials of the National University of La Plata to offer the “morning-after pill” free of charge to students.
Signed by Pro-Vida president Dr. Roberto Castellano, the statement notes that the purpose of a university is to educate and instruct its students. “The free distribution of these drugs neither educates nor instructs, it simply favors the market interests of its manufacturers,” Castellano said.
He went on to stress that the pill is an abortifacient and that as such it is prohibited under Argentinean law.
Pro-Vida expressed regret that the university has caved in to “pressure from outside organizations that seek to slow Argentina’s demographic growth in order to increase the budget surplus to pay the country’s foreign debt.” The organization also criticized the university for a lack of programs to help pregnant students. “It only guarantees them, against the law, free chemical abortions,” it said.
Castellano said such policies demonstrate moral bankruptcy of many institutions and the “colonial strategies designed outside our borders.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Antonio Marino of La Plata warned this week that the National University of La Plata is committing an immoral action by offering the morning-after pill free of charge to students, because it goes against “a principle that is non-negotiable, which is the respect for life.”
The university announced recently it would offer the pill free of charge to its more than 50,000 students as part of the National Program of Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation.
Bishop Marino told reporters the distribution of the pill “is legal but not moral. Not everything that is legal is good. This program goes against a principle that is non-negotiable, which is the respect for life. The morning-after pill is abortifacient. We cannot allow this intrusion that would promote promiscuity,” he said.
Likewise, although university officials say they are not trying to promote abortion and are only seeking to help students avoid unwanted pregnancies and dangerous situations, the pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Gonnet, Father Eduardo Lorenzo, said, “Their responsibility is not to accept lesser evils but rather to do what ought to be done.” Speaking on a local radio program, he reaffirmed the Church’s condemnation of abortion and abortifacient pills saying, “We are not going to condemn anyone for having a different opinion,” but “sometimes certain people engage in overly populist and demagogic rhetoric” designed to win over young people.
The university, which already distributes more than 20,000 condoms per year, is the first to implement a government program on sexual health, generating fierce controversy both on and off campus.
, Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - The diocesan chancellor of the underground Catholic community in Wenzhou, eastern China, was released Aug. 24, after an 11-month detainment, reported UCA News.
Fr. Paul Jiang Surang, 38, had been kept in a small solitary cell in the Putaopeng Detention Center in Wenzhou, 1,380 kilometers southeast of Beijing.
He and the diocese's vicar general, Fr. Peter Shao Zhumin, 46, were both arrested on Sept. 25, 2006, shortly after they returned from a pilgrimage to Europe. Their belongings were confiscated, including notes and photographs taken when Pope Benedict XVI received them at the Vatican.
In March, both priests were charged with "illegal exit." Fr. Jiang was sentenced to 11 months. Fr. Shao was sentenced to nine months, but was released on parole in May due to severe hearing and gallstone problems.
Upon his release, Fr. Jiang was diagnosed to have heart disease, high blood pressure and vascular sclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
During their imprisonment, the two priests were reportedly not allowed to see each other and visits with relatives were very limited by the prison.
UCA News reports that the current head of the detention center had led a crackdown on the Wenzhou underground Church in 1999.
Prior to his release, Fr. Jiang reportedly promised government officials not to organize any celebrations over his newly found freedom or the priests' meeting with the Pope.
Denver, Colo., Aug 30, 2007 (CNA) - Roadside Attractions, an independent film distribution company, has purchased the rights to the movie, “Bella,” the recent winner of the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
“Bella” has captured the hearts of audiences all over the country. Hollywood Reporter describes the movie as a “romantic drama [that] stars Emmy winner Tammy Blanchard as a young single waitress fired from her job right after discovering that she is pregnant. The restaurant's empathetic chef (Mexican star Eduardo Verastegui) follows her around New York for a day, developing a bond that helps each discover truths about themselves and each other.”
"The film is a crowd-pleaser about humanity, family, friendship and the unique magic of New York City," Roadside co-president Eric d'Arbeloff said. " 'Bella' will win the hearts and minds of Latino and mainstream audiences alike, and we hope it finds the same success as previous Toronto People's Choice Award winners 'Life Is Beautiful,' 'Whale Rider,' 'Hotel Rwanda,' 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'American Beauty.' "
Roadside co-president Howard Cohen added, "Eduardo Verastegui gives a star-making turn that has gotten the attention of a whole new audience."
Verastegui is one of the most successful Mexican actors in Hollywood today, has become one of the strongest voices against the legalization of abortion in Mexico City.
Since rediscovering the faith of his parents, he has no fear of public rejection for denouncing the holocaust of abortion. Verastegui has revealed his pro-life convictions to various Mexican media outlets and has created an organization in California to help those in need, especially women who are seeking abortions.
"Bella" will be released nationwide Oct. 26.