Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 2, 2011 (CNA) - A federal judge has ruled that a Mexico City man can proceed with a U.S. clergy abuse lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles even though the alleged abuse occurred in Mexico and involved only Mexican citizens.
Church attorneys had sought dismissal of the case by arguing that American courts lacked jurisdiction but U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker on Feb. 25 denied the motion.
Archdiocese of Los Angeles attorney Michael Hennigan said the case had no merit and would be dismissed, the Associated Press reports.
The lawsuit, filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, alleges that Cardinal Roger Mahony and then-Bishop Norberto Rivera of Tehuacan, Mexico conspired to protect a sexually abusive priest and help him avoid authorities in both the U.S. and Mexico.
The act allows foreigners access to U.S. courts when remedies are lacking in their home countries.
Jeff Anderson, the plaintiff’s attorney, said that the priest abused dozens of children in Mexico, including the plaintiff, after he fled U.S. authorities who wanted to arrest him in 1988 for suspected sexual abuse in Los Angeles. The priest allegedly abused 26 children in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Anderson’s plaintiff, now 26, was 12 at the time of the alleged abuse.
The judge’s ruling could allow more Mexican plaintiffs who allege abuse by the priests to file lawsuits in U.S. courts.
“This does open a door that has never been opened before,” Anderson said.
But Hennigan said the judge was not required to consider the facts of the case and limited analysis to a narrow range of issues. Church attorneys will file a new motion for dismissal on other legal grounds.
The suit lists 10 causes of action, including rape and crimes against humanity. Cardinal Mahony is named in the suit as well as Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who now heads the Archdiocese of Mexico City.
Mahony was not aware of the priest’s history when he accepted him and asked the Mexican bishop for help in finding the priest once he became a fugitive, Hennigan added.
“We think the court is suggesting—and we agree—that this needs to be addressed on the merits of the case and we will attempt to do that,” the attorney told the AP.
The judge has not yet ruled on whether the case is strong enough to proceed to trial.
A spokesman for Cardinal Rivera said the Mexican archbishop had done nothing wrong.
The accused priest Fr. Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, who is unrelated to the cardinal, was sent from Mexico to Los Angeles for a temporary assignment in 1987. Two altar boys accused the priest of molestation, but he fled to Mexico.
The lawsuit charges that in 1987 the Mexican bishop contacted Mahony and asked him to accept the priest for a year because of family and health reasons.
In the bishop’s letter introducing the priest to Cardinal Mahony, he mentioned that Fr. Aguilar Rivera had been brutally attacked in his Mexican parish, possibly because of unproven problems of homosexuality, according to the lawsuit.
Mahony has said he never received the letters explaining the priest’s history.
The priest was laicized in 2009 and remains at large in Mexico, where he is believed to be living out of his car. He has been wanted by U.S. authorities on 19 felony counts of lewd conduct.
Judges have rejected two previous lawsuits filed against Cardinal Rivera, saying a Mexican citizen cannot sue another Mexican citizen in U.S. court. Cardinal Mahony settled his portion of an earlier lawsuit in 2007.
“We have responded to U.S. courts. We did it once, we did it twice (and) we do not intend to continue doing so,” Fr. Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico, told the AP. “Cardinal Rivera has already said he did not cover up for this priest.”
Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2011 (CNA) - As Congress considers potential federal budget cuts for the upcoming year, the nation's Catholic bishops warned again that the proposed reductions would hurt the poor – both in this country and overseas.
“These are drastic cuts – draconian cuts – that disproportionately target the poorest people,” Bill O'Keefe, Senior Director of Advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, said on Feb. 23.
O'Keefe explained via phone that a staunchly divided Congress had until March 4 to pass the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Resolution in order for the federal government to continue to operate.
On March 1, however, the House and Senate agreed to pass stopgap legislation to avoid a partial shutdown of the government when temporary funding runs out Friday.
The measure will keep the government running for two weeks and will provide more time for the Congress and the Obama administration to reach an agreement on legislation to fund the government through the end of the budget year.
Although the overall budget reduction is just 3 percent, experts say that 26 percent of poverty-focused foreign aid is being slashed under the proposed changes.
Stephen Hilbert, Foreign Policy Adviser for Africa and Global Development for the U.S. Bishops' Conference, called the cuts to foreign aid “immoral.”
“We should oppose cuts that hurt those who are already hurting and not in the position to survive cuts to essential services,” he said on Feb. 28.
Hilbert reported that under the planned cuts, worldwide disaster assistance, “to those who are desperately trying to escape calamities or civil unrest,” will be reduced by 67 percent.
He added that international food aid programs will be cut by 40 percent – a move that “would deny essential food aid to thousands of people struggling to overcome disaster, or to feed their families.”
Hilbert also said that funding for global assistance to refugees would be slashed by 45 percent and that a proposed 10 percent decrease in HIV/AIDS program funding “could deny life-saving drugs to hundreds of thousands of people who will die, creating many more orphans and unacceptable suffering for families who are already suffering.”
“As Catholics we believe in the sacred mandate to help the least of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “It would be unacceptable to abandon the poor because we are not doing our best to assist them.”
Criticisms of the budget proposal have also been raised over cuts to domestic aid.
Kathy Saile, Director of Poverty and Health Policy for the Office of Domestic Social Development at the U.S. Bishops' Conference, reiterated the bishops' concerns over funding cuts in programs for the nation's poor.
Saile said in a March 1 e-mail that cuts in funding for domestic aid programs run “pretty much across the board.”
Citing a Feb. 14 letter from the U.S. Bishops' Conference to House legislators outlining problems with the budget, Saile pointed first to the proposed $1 billion cut to Community Health Centers – which would axe health care for nearly 10 million people, including mothers and children at risk.
Additionally, the budget calls for a $2.3 billion reduction in affordable housing programs and a $1.75 billion decrease in funds for job training programs. Domestic refugee resettlement programs would also be cut by $77 million.
“These programs and those they serve are not responsible for the budget deficit,” Saile underscored, adding that the cuts “will have little to no impact” on it.
Saile said that proposed cuts to domestic aid are especially troubling, given that the “Church teaches that the poor and vulnerable have a special claim on society’s resources and care.”
Catholic Relief Services' Bill O'Keefe noted that all political parties in Congress are responsible for the cuts to international and domestic aid.
Rather than assign partisan blame for the proposed budget, O'Keefe observed that both Democratic and Republican legislators are seeking to prove fiscal responsibility, given the importance of the issue during the mid-term elections last November.
“Newly elected Republicans, I think, were elected on a message of cutting the deficit, so they are trying to show their credibility in fulfilling those promises,” he said. “But, they have not actually begun to address the real problems.”
Additionally, O'Keefe said that Senate Democrats, particularly “the ones up for re-election,” are “very concerned because they saw what happened in the last election.”
“If they don't demonstrate their own credibility on budget restraint, they're going to be in trouble too.”
O'Keefe acknowledged the reality of current and massive deficits, saying that although Catholic social teaching mandates that governments promote “the common good especially for the poorest members of society,” they also “have a responsibility to be effective and efficient.”
Stephen Hilbert agreed, saying that the U.S. Bishops' Conference “fully recognizes that the country must address the huge deficits that we have accumulated over the years.”
“This is an issue of stewardship and it cannot be underplayed,” he said, adding that “the Church recognizes that cuts in government spending will be necessary and maybe in some cases in programs that the Church holds dear.”
However, Hilbert stressed, “cuts should be proportional to people’s ability to cope with the consequences of those cuts.”
“In these tough times, we need to be responsible stewards of our federal funds,” he said, “but we cannot balance our budget on the backs of the poor.”
Islamabad, Pakistan, Mar 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Shahbaz Bhatti, a leading voice for religious freedom and peace in Pakistan, was assassinated March 2.
The 42-year old Bhatti served as federal minister for religious minorities. He was a Catholic and the only Christian in Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari's Cabinet.
Bhatti was slain by three men as he left his mother's home in Islamabad by car. His usual police escort was not present because Bhatti preferred to keep a low profile while visiting his mother, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Eyewitnesses told the AP that as the vehicle left the driveway, two men pulled Bhatti out of the car while a third fired on him with an automatic weapon.
Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, head of the nation’s bishops, called Bhatti’s slaying “a perfectly tragic example of the unsustainable climate of intolerance in which we live in Pakistan.”
In a statement issued through the Vatican’s missionary news agency Fides, Archbishop Saldanha said, “We call on the Government, the institutions, the whole country to recognize and take decisions about these issues, because there must be an end to this situation, where violence prevails.”
In a separate statement to Fides, Peter Jacob, secretary of the bishops' justice and peace commission, said Christians “are in a state of shock and panic.”
“We feel vulnerable,” he said, “especially the defenders of human rights and religious minorities.
“This murder means that the country is at the mercy of terrorists, who can afford to kill high-ranking personalities. We feel very vulnerable: they are more powerful than defenders of human rights and religious minorities.”
Pakistani Church officials said they have not decided yet how to respond.
At the Vatican, the papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, recalled that Bhatti was the first Catholic to hold such a high position in Pakistan and that he had met with the Pope last September.
“He bore witness to his own commitment to peaceful coexistence among the religious communities of his country,” the spokesman said of Bhatti.
“Our prayers for the victim, our condemnation for this unspeakable act of violence, our closeness to Pakistani Christians who suffer hatred, are accompanied by an appeal that everyone many become aware of the urgent importance of defending both religious freedom and Christians who are subject to violence and persecution.”
Bhatti had received death threats in recent months from Islamic extremist groups angered by his opposition to the nation’s anti-blasphemy law. The law is designed to prevent any public criticism of Islam or its prophet, Muhammad.
Bhatti and other critics, including Pope Benedict XVI, say the law should be abolished because it is consistently used to harass and intimidate religious minorities, mostly Christians.
The blasphemy law has created deep divisions in Pakistani society, especially after a Christian mother named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for allegedly violating it. She has been in prison for more than a year despite widespread international protests.
Al-Qaida and the Punjab province-based Pakistani Taliban Movement claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s killing, according to the AP.
A leaflet left at the scene charged that Bhatti, an “infidel Christian,” was serving on a government committee working to overturn the blasphemy law. The Pakistani government has repeatedly denied the existence of such a committee.
The note concluded, “with the blessing of Allah, the mujahedeen will send each of you to hell.”
Before his appointment as minister for religious minorities he founded and led the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance and the Christian Liberation Front.
Fides reported last month that the Pakistani Secret Service was “deeply concerned” that an attack on the minister was “imminent.” Pakistani sources said he was a “number one target” for his work to abolish the law prohibiting blasphemy.
Bhatti told Fides he would not change his stance.
“Pray for me and for my life," said Bhatti. “I am a man who has burnt his bridges. I cannot and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.”
Bhatti is the second prominent government official to be assassinated this year because of his position on the blasphemy law. The Muslim governor of the Punjab region, Salman Taseer, was murdered at the start of the year by a body guard who said he was angered by Taseer’s defense of Bibi.
After the governor's funeral, on Jan. 5, Bhatti told Vatican Radio that Taseer's assassination might intimidate other opponents of the blasphemy law.
“But,” he added, “I believe that the discovery of this violence cannot create fear and cannot stop us from raising our voices in favor of justice and the protection of minorities and innocent people in Pakistan."
He was aware that his life was in danger. He had given the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera and the BBC a pre-recorded message to be broadcast in the event he was killed.
In the message, Bhatti said that death threats will not change his opinions and principles. He asserts that he will not stop speaking on behalf of Pakistan's “oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities.”
“I will die to defend their rights,” he said in his message.
Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 2, 2011 (CNA) - Bishops from dioceses along the U.S. - Mexico border are meeting March 1 – 3 to discuss the issues of border security, violence, discrimination and human rights violations against immigrants.
At the meeting located in El Paso, Texas, Bishop Alonso Garza Trevino of Piedras Negras, Mexico noted that the bishops share “pastoral concerns for the well-being of our families and our society.”
He lamented the suffering of the innocent, especially among immigrants, because of “the dynamic of criminal violence that weighs upon our communities.”
“Due to the lack of security, people who live on the border in Mexico and want to attend weddings, baptisms and other sacramental celebrations on the American side with their family members who live there, are afraid to cross the border,” he continued.
“This is happening a lot, and we hope to come to an agreement on the establishing of some norms.”
Bishop Garza said bishops from southern Texas have expressed their prayerful support for Mexico as it confronts the problem of violence, but they fear coming to the country because of the negative comments they receive. U.S. border patrol agents discourage people from crossing the border into Mexico precisely because of the violence, he said.
“Unfortunately we are in a bad situation and we need to do something about it together as a society, as a government, as a Church,” the bishop concluded.
The latest statistics indicate that during the last five years, 34,000 people have been killed in Mexico due to organized crime and drug trafficking. Officials expect the numbers to rise as the country struggles to deal with the widespread violence.
Havana, Cuba, Mar 2, 2011 (CNA) - A Cuban dissident group is criticizing the country's government for attempting to discredit the organization's efforts in a recent television program.
On Feb. 26, the Cuban government broadcast a television interview with two agents who had infiltrated various dissident groups. One of the agents, Carlos Manuel Serpa Maciera, pretended to be a journalist for the American press, sent to report on the Ladies in White. Serpa Maciera accused the group of being allies of the United States and characterized the group’s leader, Laura Pollan, as “manipulative” and obsessed with “the limelight and with money.”
The group – Ladies in White – comprises wives and family members of the 75 dissidents arrested in March 2003, during what has been called the Black Spring. The members carry out peaceful protests dressed in white for the release of their husbands and relatives.
“This is a way to discredit us,” Pollan responded following the release of the interview. “There is a lot of unrest in the world, and I think they want the people to have a negative impression of the Ladies in White.”
She said she did not suspect that Serpa was a government agent, but admitted that it would not be surprising if the government had gained access “to every (dissident) organization at every level.”
However, she added, “The Ladies in White have never done anything in secret,” noting that member meetings are open to the public.
The next day, the Ladies in White continued to be the target of harassment, with some 100 Cuban government supporters waiting for them on a street in downtown Havana, where the group planned to meet after Sunday Mass.
Twenty members of the Ladies in White were heckled for several hours by the supporters, who kept them encircled in the area. Surrounding streets were blocked off, and two ambulances and several police cars were stationed nearby.
In 2005 the members of Ladies in White were granted the Andrei Sakharov Award for Freedom Thought by the European Parliament.
More information about the group can be found at: http://www.damasdeblanco.com/
Vatican City, Mar 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his new book, the second volume of “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI demonstrates again that “scientific” study of the Scriptures can be joined with a prayerful attitude to yield penetrating spiritual insights.
The Vatican press office unexpectedly released portions of the book on March 2 – a week ahead of the scheduled publication date. Ignatius Press will publish the book March 10 in the United States.
The book, the second in a proposed three-volume scholarly work on the Gospel accounts of Christ’s life, studies his final weeks – from his entrance into Jerusalem to his resurrection from the dead.
The Vatican released excerpts concerning Judas, the dating of the Last Supper, and Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate.
Jesus’ Blood and the Jews
In his section on Jesus’ trial scene, the Pope explains that in the Gospel of John, “the Jews” who instigated Christ’s death should not be interpreted as “racist” or as a blanket condemnation of the people of Israel.
“After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers,” the Pope notes. “The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John’s Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy.”
The Pope argues from a close scholarly reading that passages speaking of Jesus’ “blood” being upon the Jewish people and their children (Matt. 27:25) must be “read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith.”
“The Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation,” the Pope writes. “It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all. … Read in the light of faith … these words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation.”
Betrayal of Judas
In writing about Judas, the Pope says the story of Christ’s betrayer is relevant for Christians in every age.
“Judas’ betrayal was not the last breach of fidelity that Jesus would suffer … The breach of friendship extends into the sacramental community of the Church, where people continue to take ‘his bread’ and to betray him,” the Pope writes.
While Judas was aware that he had sinned in handing Christ over, what made his life tragic was that he could “no longer believe in forgiveness,” he writes. “His remorse turns into despair. … He shows us the wrong type of remorse: the type that is unable to hope ... Genuine remorse is marked by the certainty of hope born of faith in the superior power of the light that was made flesh in Jesus.”
Timing of the Last Supper
In taking up the date of the Last Supper, the Pope wades into a controversy that has dogged scholars and saints since the earliest days.
All four Gospels agree that Jesus died on a Friday, before sundown and the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. According to John’s Gospel, however, Jesus was condemned at the moment when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple. That would mean that he died before Passover, contrary to the reports in the other Gospels.
The Pope recommends “with certain reservations” the solutions proposed by Father John Meier, an American biblical scholar and author of the four-volume work, “A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.”
Meier concludes that none of the four Gospels present Jesus’ Last Supper as a traditional Passover meal. In other words, it is likely that Jesus was crucified before the Passover meal would have been celebrated that year, consistent with John’s account.
The Last Supper, the Pope writes, “was Jesus’ Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out – when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning.”
Vatican City, Mar 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican's communications department is streamlining its presence on the Internet with a news portal that gathers its media coverage in one place.
Pontifical Council for Social Communications president Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli announced updated plans for the new site during his department's annual meeting this week. He has referred to the project several times in the last six months during Vatican press conferences.
The multimedia portal, he said, will offer news from the Vatican's newspaper, Vatican Radio and the missionary news agency Fides on a single site. According to a report in the March 2 edition of the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano paper, the portal will be launched by Easter (April 24) in English and Italian. A handful of other languages will follow.
L'Osservatore Romano reported that the portal is not the only new venture being pursued by the council. In 2010 they updated their own www.pccs.va website to provide greater visibility to news items from the Vatican and the Universal Church.
In an effort to reach a wider audience, the council recently brought an Arabic-speaking priest onto its staff. Archbishop Celli called the acquisition of an Arabic speaker particularly important as the Vatican seeks to understand what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa and how it affects the Church.
The announcements by Archbishop Celli were made during the council's annual full assembly, which is taking place between Feb. 28 and March 3. This year's sessions are focused on the study of new “languages” being used in communications and how the Church can utilize those in evangelization efforts.
Among other projects being developed are a continental news agency for Africa, a forum for debate on the theology of communications, and a three-year formation course for media personnel for the Church in Cuba.
Fr. Franco Lever, Dean of the Pontifical Salesian University's social communications program, told participants that new forms of media must be used to transmit the Christian message of living as God's family in the footsteps of Jesus.
To do so, he said, “no medium available today must be left out.”
Vatican City, Mar 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
At the Wednesday general audience on March 2, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the life of St. Francis de Sales, a 17th century bishop and Doctor of the Church whose secret to holiness was his unreserved trust in God.
“He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer,” the Pope recalled, describing how the saint became “committed to realizing the ideals of the Council of Trent, and involved in controversies and dialogue with Protestants.”
“Yet, over and above the necessary theological debate, he also experienced the effectiveness of personal relations and of charity.”
St. Francis de Sales was born in 1567 to a noble family in the Duchy of Savoy. At a young age, he experienced profound anxiety while reflecting on the topic of predestination. In the course of this “profound crisis,” the Pope observed, the young man “ found peace in the radical and liberating truth of God's love: loving Him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love.”
This unreserved trust in God, Pope Benedict observed, “would be the secret of his life.”
Although he acquired a law degree and could have married, Francis de Sales chose to become a priest and take on the difficult task of bringing Swiss Calvinists back to the Catholic Church. He was ordained in 1593, and later consecrated as the Bishop of Geneva in 1602.
His ministry in Geneva frequently subjected him to dangerous travels and rejection by Swiss Protestants. However, by the end of his life he had succeeded in bringing between 40,000 and 70,000 of them back to the Catholic fold.
He also collaborated with St. Jane Frances de Chantal in founding the Order of the Visitation, whose sisters live a life of “complete consecration to God” in “simplicity and humility.” St. Francis de Sales died in 1622 while visiting one of the convents he had helped to found.
Alongside these accomplishments, the saint also composed significant spiritual and theological works. Pope Benedict called attention to his book “An Introduction to the Devout Life,” a book that was unusual in its time for calling laypersons “to belong completely to God while being fully present in the world.”
The Pope also highlighted the importance of St. Francis de Sales' most important theological work, the “Treatise on the Love of God.”
“Following the model of Holy Scripture,” he observed, “St. Francis of Sales speaks of the union between God and man, creating a whole series of images of interpersonal relationships. His God is Father and Lord, Bridegroom and Friend.”
Pope Benedict told his listeners that St. Francis de Sales' vision of Christian life could provide important wisdom for “a time such as our own, which seeks freedom.”
“This great master of spirituality and peace,” he said, “gave his disciples the 'spirit of freedom' – true freedom.”
The Pope described the saint as “an exemplary witness of Christian humanism,” with a profound insight into the human heart.
“He reminds us that inscribed in the depths of man is nostalgia for God, and that only in Him can we find true joy and complete fulfillment.”