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Archive of August 3, 2012

Kansas City diocese supports victims in wake of priest's guilty plea

Kansas City, Mo., Aug 3, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph voiced deep sympathy for victims harmed by a diocesan priest who plead guilty in federal court Aug. 2 to child pornography charges.

“The diocese expresses its profound concern for anyone who may have been harmed by Shawn Ratigan and urges prayer for all affected by his actions,” the diocese said in a statement Monday.

Fr. Ratigan, who served as pastor of parishes throughout the diocese, plead guilty to the charge of producing or attempting to produce child pornography in federal court, over a year after his initial arrest.

“The diocese is fundamentally committed to ensure that every report of sexual abuse, boundary violation or misconduct is addressed thoroughly and immediately,” the statement said.

In wake of Ratigan's May 2011 arrest, the diocese brought on former assistant prosecuting attorney, Jenifer Valenti, as liaison to investigate “all reports of sexual misconduct or suspicious behavior” throughout the diocese and contact the police if they have not already been notified.

However, the diocese has continued to emphasize that Valenti and the Department of Child and Youth Protection are not substitutes for the police or other law enforcement authorities.

“If you have been the victim of abuse or know a victim, you should call the police, you should call  (Missouri Division of Family Services), and then you should call me,” Valenti said at a Jan. 7 informational meeting, The Catholic Key reported.  

In June 2011, Bishop Robert W. Finn enacted changes streamlining the way the diocese handled sexual abuse allegations and requested an independent report to investigate diocesan policies and procedures.

The investigation, which was conducted by Missouri-based law firm of Graves Bartle Marcus and Garrett found that leaders in the diocese “failed to follow their own policies and procedures for responding to reports,” specifically in the incident surrounding Fr. Ratigan.

Despite having identified “shortcomings, inaction and confusing procedures,” Attorney Todd Graves concluded in his Sept. 1, 2011 report that Bishop Finn and the leadership of the diocese “understand the gravity of the issues and take these recommendations seriously.”

The recommendations from the Graves report, which closely match the five reforms the diocese enacted immediately following Fr. Ratigan's arrest, include the immediate notification of proper authorities, better support for the victims and notification of the public.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, along with Bishop Finn, has been charged in the Jackson County Court on misdemeanor counts for failure to report suspected child abuse, but attorneys for both have entered pleas of not guilty. The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 24.

According to a May 2011 statement, when Bishop Finn was notified of questionable images of children found on Fr. Ratigan's personal computer in Dec. 2010, he contacted a a Kansas City police officer and a diocesan legal counsel who informed him that the images, though disturbing, did not contain sexual contact or conduct according to Missouri sate law.

Fr. Ratigan was immediately summoned to the chancery, but failed to appear when he attempted to commit suicide.

After Fr. Ratigan was received medial and psychiatric attention, he was sent to live at the Vincentian Mission House in Independence, Mo. where he paid rent and assisted with Mass for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist. During this time he was forbidden any contact with minors and was not allowed access to his computer or camera.

Bishop Finn said that after he received reports that Fr. Ratigan had violated the conditions, having attended a child's birthday party at the invitation of the parents, the diocese again contacted the police officer to discuss their concern with his behavior.

This time, the police officer who was previously consulted facilitated a report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit and a full investigation of the priest began. Shortly after, he was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography.

“I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation,” Bishop Finn said in a May 2011 statement to the diocese.

The diocese has since expanded the role of the Independent Review Board, a committee which assists  in receiving and evaluating reports of misconduct.

“The changes could be unsettling but, more than ever, I realize that they are necessary,” Bishop Finn said.

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Congressional leaders support Chinese pro-life activist

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2012 (CNA) - Bipartisan leaders of Congress came together in the nation’s capital on Aug. 1 to meet with and offer their support to Chinese pro-life activist Chen Guangcheng.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that Chen’s example “reminds us why we cherish life and freedom so much, and why we work so hard to preserve and protect these fundamental values.”  

Chen was welcomed on Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional leaders including Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had previously met with Chen in June in New York, where she praised his “courage” in working “to advocate for disadvantaged people in China.”

Pelosi has referred to the plight of Chen’s supporters and other human rights advocates in China as a matter of “urgent concern.”

Boehner thanked Chen and his family for their sacrifices “in the cause for human rights, religious freedom, and the rights of the unborn.”

While he acknowledged the importance of China’s economic relationship with the U.S., the speaker stressed that “the United States has an obligation to engage with China” in order to push for human rights reforms and other improvements.    

“We cannot remain silent when fundamental human rights are being violated,” he said. “We cannot remain silent when religious liberty is under attack. And we cannot remain silent regarding China’s reprehensible 'one-child’ policy.”

“When it comes to guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of all her citizens, the Chinese government has a responsibility to do better,” Boehner said, “and the United States government has a responsibility to hold them to account.”

Blinded since youth, Chen gained international attention when he escaped from house arrest and was taken in by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on April 26.

The self-taught human rights lawyer had angered Chinese authorities by exposing brutal practices such as forced abortions and sterilizations that are routinely used to enforce the nation’s strict one child policy.

He spent more than four years in prison and was then placed under house arrest, where he says that he and his family were beaten and refused medical attention.

Chen agreed to leave the U.S. Embassy after being promised by the Chinese government that he and his family would be treated humanely. He was transported to a Beijing hospital on May 2.

However, he quickly raised concerns that China was not planning to keep its promises, telling American reporters that he wanted to come to the United States with his family to rest and recover safely.

After receiving a fellowship offer to study law and learn English at New York University's law school, Chen and his immediate family were eventually permitted to travel to the United States, arriving on May 19.

Following his meeting with House leaders, Chen attended an informal gathering of Congress members who had supported him during his time in prison.

The gathering was hosted by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees human rights issues.

“Chen is a hero,” Smith said.  “He, his family members and his attorneys have all suffered torture because Chen defended women in Chinese counties who had been targeted, dragged into clinics and forced to abort their children.”

Smith noted that Chen “was first targeted by the Chinese in 2005” and has undergone “arbitrary arrests and detainment, brutal beatings in prison and house arrest for defending women from forced abortions.”

The New Jersey congressman had worked for years to draw attention to Chen’s plight, nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and holding multiple Congressional hearings on his status.

Chen also spoke at the gathering, expressing gratitude and hope. He thanked those who had supported him in promoting human rights, “even if the results are not immediately visible.”

“The human rights situation in China has been deteriorating recently,” he said, and “the soft approaches taken some countries are delaying progress.”

However, he observed, “more Chinese are waking up, and that trend is a good one.”

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Church postpones talk by Minn. official who rewrote marriage amendment

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 3, 2012 (CNA) - A Catholic church in Minneapolis has postponed a talk by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who is facing criticism for rewriting the title of the state marriage amendment in a way that could undermine its success.

Dennis Heaney, a spokesperson for St. Joan of Arc Church, said the talk had been postponed because the media attention meant that there “wouldn’t be an environment conducive towards the talk.”

Ritchie had been scheduled to speak ahead of an Aug. 12 Mass at St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis on the subject “A Spiritual Path for Democracy.”

His actions toward the state’s marriage amendment, which is strongly backed by the state’s Catholic bishops, have drawn criticism from those who support the proposal.

Minnesota’s Republican-controlled legislature put the marriage amendment on the ballot with the title “Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman.”

Ritchie rewrote the amendment’s title to read “Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples.”

Legislators have filed a lawsuit to reinstate the original title, contending that the change is intended to sway voters.

Heaney defended the choice of Ritchie for St. Joan of Arc’s pre-Mass talk.

“What Mr. Ritchie has done in his job as Secretary of State wasn’t in any way relevant to his talk at St. Joan of Arc and it really has no bearing on what we are doing here,” he told CNA Aug. 2.

“The marriage amendment wasn’t even in the discussion. He does have, as a non-political person, an interesting topic to deliver. I don’t think these two are connected in any manner, shape or form.”

Heaney said the talk “really follows the bishops’ document on faithful citizenship.”

The U.S. bishops’ 2007 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” intends to guide Catholics on their responsibilities as citizens.

“We were just trying to expand and draw a little deeper on that document and on that topic,” Heaney said.

The Catholic bishops of Minnesota have backed the marriage amendment for several years to prevent the legislative or judicial branches of the Minnesota government from redefining marriage. In 2010 they launched a DVD mailing campaign to rally support for the amendment.

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul said that marriage “reflects God’s plan for man and woman to share in his creative power of brining life into the world.” Children “flourish best” with both a mother and a father, he said in a June 2011 column.

Opponents of the marriage amendment have tried to counter the bishops' efforts in what some have called an attempt to split Catholic voters.

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Pope finishes third volume on Jesus of Nazareth

Vatican City, Aug 3, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy See's Press Office announced on Aug. 2 that Pope Benedict XVI has finished the third volume of his work on Jesus of Nazareth, which focuses on the infancy of Christ.

Pope Benedict completed the text while on vacation at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome.

According to the press office, the original German version is now being translated into diverse languages, and publication of the book is expected to come once all the major language versions have been completed.

The new volume is the continuation of “Jesus of Nazareth,” published in 2007, and “Jesus of Nazareth – From the Entry into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” published in 2011.  

Both books were published in seven languages and electronically, with more than one million copies sold.

In addition to finishing his book, the Pope is also preparing the speeches for his apostolic trip to Lebanon – taking place Sept. 14-16 – for the signing of the post-synod Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.

Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said yesterday during Mass at the parish of Introd in Valle d’Aosta, where he is resting for a few days, that after the publication of the book on Jesus, “an encyclical may perhaps be coming,” which would be the Pope's fourth.

Benedict XVI is also writing his speeches for the upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the opening of the Year of Faith, which will take place on Oct. 11.

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Spanish Olympic athlete to enter seminary after London games

Madrid, Spain, Aug 3, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Carlos Ballve – known as “Litus” to his friends – plays defense on the Spanish field hockey team competing in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

But as soon as the games end, he will head to a Belgium seminary to begin the process of becoming a priest.

According to the Spanish daily El Pais, even though he always considered himself a believer, it was only in 2005 that he became aware of the importance of God in his life.

In the summer of that year, everything began to change while he competed at the under-21 World Championships.

“We began the competition terribly. It was so bad that one Sunday I went to Mass and made a deal with God: I told him that if he fixed that Championship, I would go to Medjugore (where the alleged Marian apparitions are still being studied by the Vatican) with my father. We made history. Never before had a U-21 team won a medal, and we came in third,” he said.

Ballve kept his promise and visited Medjugore. However, he said his life still did not change, as he continued “to go to parties with girls, spend money left and right, and had little or no intention of praying.”  

But “something inside of me said, 'Litus, you are free and you can do what you want, but right now you are not happy.'”

Although he was at the top of his game, he decided to quit again and go in search for God.

“I told him, 'I don’t know what’s wrong. Strange things are happening. I want to come clean with you, so here I am, do what you want.'”  

His life began to change, and he only asked the Lord to let him fulfill his dream of playing in the Olympics.

Ballve called his time at the games thus far “an incredible and precious experience.” He said he hopes “not only to win, but to grow in my living of the faith, sharing this with people from so many parts of the world,” the newspaper reported.

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Syrian Christians begin traditional fast amid continuing violence

Damascus, Syria, Aug 3, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church encouraged Syria's Eastern Catholics to offer prayers for peace during their church's traditional August 1–14 fasting period in honor of the Virgin Mary.

During the run-up to the August 15 feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God (known in the West as the Assumption), Melkite Catholics will be “praying especially for the safety of all Syrians and for the cessation of the violence,” Patriarch Gregorios III said in a letter marking the two-week fast.

“We pray too during this period for the return of charity, friendship, fellowship and compassion among all citizens,” wrote the patriarch, whose headquarters are located in the Syrian capital Damascus.

He called for liturgical services to be supplemented with “special litanies for peace and reconciliation,” and for the faithful “to participate in these services, with fasting, prayer and repentance.”

Syrians, he said, “ are still capable of loving and forgiving each other, being reconciled and showing tolerance to one another … United together, they can rebuild what has been destroyed and work for development and prosperity, for a better future for all citizens.”

The patriarch's prayer is for “a renewed, free, secure, conciliatory Syria, in which citizens regardless of group, party, religion or affiliation can enjoy freedom, dignity, employment and education.”

In recent weeks, fighting has escalated in the country's capital Damascus and in the commercial capital Aleppo. The battles have brought shortages of food, water, and fuel, causing an estimated 400,000 people to flee their homes.

Violence was reported in both cities, as well as the city of Hama, on Aug. 3. It followed former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan's Aug. 2 announcement that he was leaving his peacemaking position as a special envoy to the country, after attempts to broker a truce between rebels and government forces.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church, one of the largest Eastern churches in union with Rome, is working to help Syrian refugees in association with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

In his letter marking the Dormition Fast, Patriarch Gregorios pointed out that the ancient Christian fast partly overlapped this year with the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. The Islamic fast began July 20 this year, and will run until Aug. 18.

“Once again Christians and Muslims are fasting and praying at the same time,” the patriarch wrote. “That is one of the most beautiful marks and signs of their living together in solidarity.”

As he wished all of his faithful a holy fast, the Patriarch summed up his hope with words drawn from an ancient Byzantine prayer.

“O Lord, save thy people and bless thine inheritance. Grant peace to thy world! Grant peace to Syria! By thy Cross, preserve thy people!”

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