Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 29, 2012 (CNA) - Anita Guzzardi, the former chief financial officer of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was sentenced on Friday to two to seven years in prison for stealing over $900,000 from the archdiocese’s general fund over a seven-year period.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler ordered her to pay $646,627 in restitution to the archdiocese in addition to the $260,000 she has already repaid. Guzzardi also faces seven years of probation upon her release.
Guzzardi, 42, pled guilty to theft by deception, forgery and unlawful use of a computer. She asked her family and Church officials to forgive her, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
“If it takes me the rest of my life, I'll try to make up for all the lies, heartbreak, and betrayal I've caused all these people,” she told the judge.
In July 2011 American Express had contacted the Philadelphia district attorney’s office to report suspicious activity with Guzzardi’s American Express accounts. She was using numerous checks from the archdiocese’s general fund to pay her two personal accounts.
She had also been paying her personal Chase credit card with archdiocesan funds. She used 330 checks to take hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Over $370,000 of the charges consisted of cash advances and purchases at casinos across the U.S. and in the Caribbean and Mexico, the district attorney’s office said.
Guzzardi had worked with the archdiocese since 1989. She was named its chief financial officer on July 1, 2011. Two weeks later, the archdiocese placed her on leave and fired her soon after.
Her lawyer Louis R. Busico contended that she was a gambling addict from a family of addicts. He said she felt betrayed and traumatized by the revelations of the archdiocese’s child sex abuse scandal.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Caulfield had called for a strict sentencing.
“You simply can't give a get-out-of-jail-free card requested by someone who literally partied for seven years on somebody else's dime,” she said, according to the Inquirer.
Insurance covered most of the archdiocese’s cost for the embezzled funds and some of the fees for the archdiocese’s internal investigation. The Philadelphia district attorney’s Economic & Cyber Crime Unit recovered over $250,000 from Guzzardi and returned it to the archdiocese.
In February 2012 Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia announced that internal financial controls would be strengthened in response to the theft.
Washington D.C., Aug 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Knights of Columbus are “very encouraged” by Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s request that U.S. presidential and vice presidential candidates sign a civility pledge developed by the Catholic charitable fraternity.
“I think it’s great. I think that this is the kind of issue that religious leaders should be speaking out on,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told CNA Aug. 28. “These are the kinds of religious values, like respect for each other, that our religious leaders ought to be furthering in society.”
“We’re grateful for Cardinal Dolan’s leadership.”
Cardinal Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, in an Aug. 27 letter to President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan asked the political rivals to support the Knights of Columbus initiative Civility in America.
“Civility in America is giving voice to the desire of Americans of all backgrounds and political parties for more civil discourse during this election season,” the cardinal said.
Support for the effort means that the upcoming campaign will “remain focused on the critical issues facing our nation, and not on personal attacks,” he added.
The civility campaign includes a pledge for citizens who ask that candidates, the media and other public commentators “employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues” and focus on policies rather than “individual personalities.”
“We hope that candidates around the country will listen,” Anderson stated.
He said the campaign aims to encourage people to “raise their voice about the need for greater civility.” Many Americans are “fed up with the incivility of this campaign season.”
The Civility in America effort drew inspiration from a July 2012 Marist Institute poll which found that 78 percent of American adults are mostly frustrated by the tone of political campaigns. Almost as many think that the tone has grown more negative than in past election years. Two thirds of respondents believe that candidates are spending more time attacking opponents than talking about issues.
Anderson said he hopes the civility campaign will also raise awareness among members of the news media about many Americans’ beliefs that “things need to get better.”
“We hope it has an effect,” he said. “It’s not just a Catholic issue. I think it goes across denominational lines. I think every religious leader ought to step up and say, ‘Look, we can do a better job in our national public debate of these issues than to focus on personalities and name-calling.’”
He said Evangelical pastor Rick Warren has taken a “very strong position” by canceling plans for his civil forum for the presidential nominees because of the uncivil political climate.
Anderson added that while Americans relish “verbal competitiveness in the marketplace of ideas,” a line is crossed when prominent politicians impugn their rivals’ motives and engage in name-calling.
“I think that Americans expect that if a candidate is running away from his record or hiding his record or misrepresenting his record, the other candidate will step up and say it’s not so. And that’s a good thing,” he observed.
“But we need to be able to do that in a civil and respectful way.”
He suggested Americans should emulate the customs of the U.S. Senate’s “civil, respectful debate” despite senators’ wide variety of viewpoints.
Anderson also sees civility and accuracy as linked together. The news media “can do better” by focusing on whether candidates are giving accurate, quality answers to the questions put to them, he ventured.
“I think that would help the tone of national debate on these issues,” he said.
The Knights of Columbus is a global Catholic charitable fraternal organization with 1.2 million members in the U.S. alone.
The website for Civility in America is www.civilityinamerica.org.
Vatican City, Aug 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity is positioning its website as a resource for lay men and women ahead of Pope Benedict's Year of Faith, which will kick-off in October.
“It is directed to all the lay faithful that want to know more about their vocation, about their role within the Church,” Ana Cristina Betancourt of the Pontifical Council’s Women’s Section told CNA in Rome.
“So, it is a way of being in contact with what we do day-to-day and that was our aim in having it, to make more known the things that we do, the reflections that we have, the things that we are thinking about and also the guidelines that the Pope is giving the laity to better live their vocations.”
The Pontifical Council for the Laity was created by was Pope Paul VI in 1967 and re-founded by the same Pontiff in 1976 to include it as a permanent dicastery within the Roman Curia. For many years one of its key consulters was Poland’s Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, later Pope John Paul II.
Its stated aim is to assist the Pope “in all matters concerning the contribution the lay faithful make to the life and mission of the Church, whether as individuals or through the various forms of association that have arisen and constantly arise within the Church.”
The website was unveiled for Blessed John Paul II's beatification in Spring 2011 but is constantly updated.
Betancourt explained that the homepage focuses on “the latest news and events” involving the council including video reports. It will also include statements by Pope Benedict XVI on the vocation of the laity such as “little references that he makes in his speeches or in documents to the vocation of the laity.” There is also a message from the President of the Council, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, “which also changes continually.”
The site also carries links to its four sections – “Associations and Movements,” “Women,” “Church and Sport,” and “Youth.”
In recent decades one of its most significant tasks of the council has been the organization of the Church’s World Youth Day, a global encounter between young people and the Roman pontiff.
The next such event will take place next summer in Rio de Janeiro when over 2 million young pilgrims are expected to make the journey to the Brazilian metropolis. It is hoped the website can be a key tool in helping to organize the meeting.
“We want to give information, first of all about the next World Youth Day,” said Fr. Eric Jacquinet of the Pontifical Council’s Youth Section of his hopes for the website.
“But also want to reflect on youth ministry because Pope Benedict is very attentive to education, to the formation of young people, so we try to give them some materials to think about this.”
The Pontifical Council for Laity website can be found at www.laici.va.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI says the heroic sanctity of St. John the Baptist proves that a solid life of prayer is the best source of courage for Christians facing a modern world that is hostile to God and those who love him.
“The martyrdom of St. John the Baptist reminds us, Christians of our time, that we cannot stoop to compromises with the love of Christ, his Word, the Truth. The Truth is the Truth and there is no compromise,” the Pope stated in his Aug. 29 general audience address at Castel Gandolfo.
Christian life, he said, requires a “daily martyrdom of fidelity to the Gospel” which can be defined as the “courage to let Christ grow in us and direct our thinking and our actions” and can only occur through a “solid relationship with God.”
Pope Benedict also reflected on the contribution of prayer.
“Prayer is not a waste of time, it does not rob much space from our activities, not even apostolic activities, it does the exact opposite: only if we are able to have a life of faithful, constant, confident prayer will God Himself give us the strength and capacity to live in a happy and peaceful way, to overcome difficulties and to bear witness with courage,” he said.
The Pope’s words were part of his ongoing weekly catechesis on the theme of prayer, with today’s focus being on the prayer life of Saint John the Baptist.
Since Aug. 29 is the liturgical memorial of the martyrdom of John the Baptist, Pope Benedict noted that he is the only saint whose birth and death are celebrated on the same day.
St. John the Baptist was martyred following his denouncement of King Herod’s incestuous marriage to Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s former wife and also King Herod’s niece.
“For the love of truth, he did not stoop to compromises with the powerful and was not afraid to use strong words with those who had lost the path of God,” said Pope Benedict.
“Where does this life of rectitude and coherency, this interior strength, completely spent for God and to prepare the way for Jesus, come from?” asked the Pope.
“The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from prayer, which is the main theme of his whole existence.”
Reflecting upon the life of St. John the Baptist, Pope Benedict observed that since his conception the prophet’s existence was underpinned by prayer, beginning with his father Zechariah’s song of praise, the “Benedictus,” which is now recited by many Catholics during the early morning prayer of the Church.
His example of a prayerful life is so significant, suggested the Pope, that when the disciples asked Christ to teach them the Our Father, their request is formulated with the words “Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
“St. John the Baptist intercedes for us, so that we always maintain the primacy of God in our lives,” concluded the Pope, before leading the faithful in the singing of the Our Father in Latin.
Lima, Peru, Aug 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A group of animal rights activists disrupted Mass at the Church of the Miraculous Virgin in Lima, Peru, lobbing insults against the priest who was celebrating and accusing him of “murdering” a cat.
The group of 30 activists gathered outside the church located in the Miraflores neighborhood on Aug. 25 to protest against the pastor, Father Alejandro Berrade.
They claimed the priest refused to allow the rescue of a cat that was supposedly trapped on the roof. Dozens of stray cats are said to congregate in the area surrounding the church.
As the activists entered the parish, Fr. Berrade was forced to suspend Mass and leave the sanctuary while police officers arrived on the scene to keep the group outside.
According to locals, the activists continued their protest in front of the parish rectory into the early morning hours, continuously shouting and banging on the rectory door.
The parish sacristan told CNA that he climbed up to the roof of the church and saw no sign of the cat.
He said more than 100 stray cats congregate in the neighborhood's Kennedy Park and have turned the area into a “public latrine” that poses “a true health problem.”
He noted that nearby residents have repeatedly demanded that steps be taken to remove the cats.
“In the summer the stench is unbearable, and people who have paid a lot of money to hold their wedding receptions have to deal with the smell, which is worse because of the heat,” the sacristan said.
During Mass on Sunday, Aug. 26, Fr. Berrade dismissed the accusations by the animal rights activists.
“Never in my life have I killed a cat,” he said. “If they said falsehoods against Christ, we also should expect that they slander his disciples.”
Tampa, Fla., Aug 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. Republican Party included a significant section on the importance of religious freedom in its new official platform, adopted on Aug. 28 in Tampa, Fla.
“We pledge to respect the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard the independence of their institutions from government,” stated the 2012 Republican platform, which was formally approved at the party’s national convention on Tuesday.
The party explained that its positions respect “God-given individual rights,” including the freedom “of every American to follow his or her beliefs.”
The importance of religious freedom can be seen in its prominent placement in the “first provision of the First Amendment,” the platform said.
It quoted the American founders, who believed that religion would be a critical element for the nation’s success because “democracy presupposes a moral people.”
The document also warned of current attempts to push religion “out of the public square,” seen most prominently in efforts to force religious institutions and individuals to abandon their deeply held beliefs regarding health care, marriage and abortion.
This “forcible secularization of religious and religiously affiliated organizations” has been made more dangerous by “the current Administration’s audacity in declaring which faith-related activities are, or are not, protected by the First Amendment,” it said.
Chief among religious freedom concerns in America is a federal mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance that includes contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The Republican Party officially approved language supporting “the ability of all organizations to provide, purchase, or enroll in healthcare coverage consistent with their religious, moral or ethical convictions without discrimination or penalty.”
It further supported the right of citizens and faith based organizations to fully participate in public life without sacrificing their convictions, and it called for increased conscience protection for healthcare professionals.
The party also embraced protecting religious liberty overseas. It vowed to emphasize advocacy for this fundamental freedom and praised the work of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In another area of concern to values voters, the 2012 Republican platform affirmed “the sanctity of human life” and endorsed a “human life amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.
The party opposed the public funding of organizations that perform and promote abortions, both domestically and internationally, as well as euthanasia, assisted suicide and early abortion-inducing drugs. It encouraged “a ban on human cloning” and called for stem cell research “without the destruction of embryonic human life.”
Arguing that health care coverage should be extended “to children before birth,” the platform also applauded legislative efforts to restrict abortion and promote adoption and other life-affirming options for those facing difficult pregnancies.
While explaining that “all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity,” the Republican Party also called for the defense and protection of marriage.
It acknowledged the critical role of marriage as an institution that provides “the foundation of civil society,” shown to be important for “the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values.”
The platform expressed support for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes and protects states from being forced to “recognize same-sex relationships licensed in other jurisdictions.”
Although the law was passed in 1996, the Obama administration announced in 2011 that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Since “the future of marriage affects freedom,” the Republican Party voiced its support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to secure the definition of marriage.
Other planks in the GOP platform supported school choice through options such as vouchers and tax credits. The party encouraged “active prosecution against child pornography” and called for current laws on pornography “to be vigorously enforced.”
Bogotá, Colombia, Aug 29, 2012 (CNA) -
The Bishops' Conference of Colombia announced its support on Aug. 28 for new peace talks between the government and the Marxist rebel group FARC.
In a statement signed by the president of the bishops' conference, Archbishop Ruben Salazar of Bogota praised the announcement by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos that “exploratory talks” with the FARC “to seek an end to the conflict” would soon be held.
“Colombians can be fully confident that the government is working with prudence, seriousness and determination and is always prioritizing the well-being and tranquility of all the inhabitants of our country,” President Santos said.
He noted that the efforts to reach out to the FARC have taken place with three goals in mind: “to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to not repeat them, to maintain the presence and operations of the military in every square inch of the country, and to achieve an end to the conflict, not to prolong it.”
The announcement marks the first time in a decade that the Colombian government will sit down for formal talks with the FARC. The television network Telesur reported that the talks will be held in Oslo on Oct. 5.
President Santos said the National Liberation Army has also been invited to participate in the peace talks, after its leaders expressed interest to international reporters.
In their statement, the bishops said they “welcome with joy and hope the announcement by the president of exploratory talks with insurgent forces in order to establish the foundations for a peace process that will lead us, with God’s help, to ending the armed conflict.”
“We offer our full support for this government initiative,” the bishops added. They also expressed their “willingness to contribute to the search for peace” and to create “a climate of forgiveness of reconciliation among all Colombians.”
Chicago, Ill., Aug 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Francis George will undergo six sessions of chemotherapy over a period of four months to treat his second bout of cancer.
“Please continue to keep the Cardinal in your thoughts and prayers,” the Archdiocese of Chicago said Aug. 28.
The cardinal’s doctors at Loyola University Medical Center have settled on his course of treatment.
The 75-year-old cardinal will begin chemotherapy on Sept. 5. Each session will last three weeks. He will undergo chemotherapy during the first two weeks of each session and then spend a week without chemotherapy to allow his immune system to recover.
He plans to keep his regular work schedule, the archdiocese said. During weeks without chemotherapy, he will reduce his public schedule on account of his weakened immune system.
Medical tests found that the cardinal had a liver nodule which contained cancerous cells. He also had cancer cells in his right kidney. The tests could not confirm whether there is cancer elsewhere in his body.
The archdiocese said that Cardinal George is grateful to all those who have sent cards and e-mails expressing their concern and promising their prayers.
This is the cardinal’s second battle with cancer. He was first diagnosed in 2006 when at the age of 69 he underwent a five-hour operation to remove his bladder, prostate gland and sections of his ureters, the tubes which connect the kidneys to the bladder. Doctors believed the procedure had eliminated the cancer.
The archdiocese will announce his doctors’ evaluation of his current battle with cancer after the chemotherapy is completed.
In his Aug. 26 column for the archdiocesan paper Catholic New World, Cardinal George encouraged others to use his diagnosis as a time to “reflect upon God’s goodness and grow closer to Christ.”
He explained that he plans to say “little” about his cancer and his treatment even though it will “probably be a trying time for me in the next several months.”
Cardinal George has headed the Archdiocese of Chicago since 1997. He previously led the Diocese of Yakima, Wash. and the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore. He is a past president of the U.S. bishops’ conference and a past vicar general of the Oblates of Mary religious order.
The cardinal submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict XVI upon turning 75, as required by Church law, but the Pope has not yet granted it. Cardinal George had not expected the Pope to accept his retirement for another three years.
On Aug. 24, he told reporters that the cancer diagnosis “might change the timeline a little bit” on his remaining in office.
He is the first Archbishop of Chicago to live to retirement age.
“I’m very lucky to be the first one to live with this position long enough to retire and I’m hoping to be able to do that,” the cardinal said, according to the suburban Chicago newspaper The Daily Herald.