Archive of August 8, 2013

Consolata Missionaries celebrate ten years in Mongolia

Ulan Bator, Mongolia, Aug 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Consolata Missionaries have been in Mongolia for ten years, evangelizing a people searching for God and helping improve their lives in a land where more than 20 percent live on less than $1.25 a day.

“People here naturally have been searching for God and looking for meaning to their way of life,” Sister Sandra Garay, an Argentine member of the Consolata Missionaries serving in Mongolia, told CNA Aug. 7.

Mongolia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union until the collapse of communism, and 39 percent of its population is non-religious.

The Consolata Missionaries have a “fervor of evangelization,” Sr. Garay said, adding that the community is celebrating a decade of their presence in Mongolia, bringing the consolation of Mary to those in spiritual and material need.

The community is one of religious priests and sisters consecrated to God for the evangelization of peoples, especially wherever the Gospel is not yet known. It was founded in 1901 by Blessed Giuseppe Allamano.

Their mission in Mongolia “started from scratch,” Sr. Garay said, “and it's a new beginning in the pastoral mission of Mongolia.”

“It is a difficult terrain, but God works wonders. And the Year of Faith encourages a hope for our people.”

The first Catholic mission to Mongolia was that of John of Pian of Carpine, a Franciscan sent by Innocent IV in 1245. That mission failed, as did one in the following decade.

The first modern mission to Mongolia was the establishment of a mission in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, in 1922, entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

But a People's Republic was set up two years later under Soviet influence, and religious expression was suppressed until the communist government's fall in 1992.

A little over half the population is Buddhist, and most of the remainder is non-religious. Islam, shamanism, and Christianity have mere footholds among the people.   

In 2002, the Ulaanbaatar mission was elevated to a prefecture apostolic. The prefecture covers the entire country, and the mission's superior, Fr. Wenceslao S. Padilla, a priest of the Immaculate Heart Congregation, was appointed prefect.

He was consecrated a bishop in 2003. Bishop Padilla oversees the 13 religious congregations which have more than 80 missionaries serving in Mongolia.

Sr. Garay said the nation of 2.9 million has about 1,200 Catholics, 870 of whom are native Mongolians.

The Church encounters tremendous challenges there, in a nation covered by steppes, which experience frigid winters. Nearly half the country's people live in Ulaanbaatar, and many of the rest are nomadic.

Sr. Garay explained that “naturally, coming from a different climate, culture, language and topography, initially it was tough.”

“But as a missionary, God takes control and we get adapted.”

She concluded on a hopeful note, saying, “we shall continue the pastoral plan of evangelization in welcoming people searching for God and empowering them with education and fostering basic needs.”

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Possible sainthood cause for Chesterton sparks excitement

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Devotees of the English writer and Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton rejoiced at the news that a Catholic bishop in England is seeking to open an investigation into whether he should be declared a saint.

“A lot of people have been hoping for this for a long time,” Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, told CNA Aug. 6. “Chesterton has a huge devotion to him around the world, particularly here in America. There are people who have long believed that he is someone who should be raised to the altars and have already privately started asking for his intercession.”

Ahlquist made the announcement on Aug. 1 during the American Chesterton Society National Conference at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., citing Martin Thompson, head of an English Chesterton group.

Thompson said that Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton is “sympathetic” to those who desire to see Chesterton canonized and is “seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.”

Ahlquist said the announcement caused “huge cheering and applause and great emotion” at the conference.

“People jumped to their feet, they started cheering. People were crying. It was a great moment,” he added.

Chesterton lived from 1874 to 1936. Under the influence of his wife Frances, he became a devout Anglican Christian. He later converted to Catholicism in 1922.

Known for his witty writing and love of finding truth in apparent paradox, Chesterton authored literary essays, novels, poetry, plays, philosophical works and Christian apologetics. His short stories include the Father Brown mystery series, and he influenced the thinking of many converts and writers, including C.S. Lewis.

Ahlquist said Chesterton was “an articulate defender of the Catholic faith” and “very prophetic.”

“He definitely saw what’s going on in our culture with regard to the attack on life, the attack on marriage, the huge economic disparities that exist,” he said. “Chesterton seems to get it right about all those things. But he does it with joy, with charity, and with goodness, without banging the table of condemnation.”

In Ahlquist’s view, Chesterton’s cause for canonization may have gotten a boost from Pope Francis’ election.

A March 10 letter to Thompson from Miguel Angel Espeche Gil – an Argentine ambassador who heads a Chesterton group in Argentina – noted that the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, “encourages us in our aspiration to see the initiation of the Cause of Chesterton to the altars.”

Cardinal Bergoglio, who was elected as Pope Francis on March 13, approved the text of a private prayer for the canonization of Chesterton.

Pope Francis was also a member of an honorary committee of a conference for the Argentine Chesterton Society and celebrated a Mass for the conference. He owns several books by Chesterton.

The first stages of a canonization cause include collecting evidence of heroic virtue.

Ahlquist said that Chesterton’s personal character showed this.

“There’s a goodness that just exuded from him,” he explained. “The biographical accounts of Chesterton always portray him as being very joyful, and humble and good, so that everyone was just drawn to that, including his intellectual and philosophical enemies. The people who violently disagreed with Chesterton on the issues were drawn to him as a person because of his charity.”

Ahlquist cited stories of Chesterton emptying his pockets for the poor and showing great love and appreciation for children.

“He would always stand in the presence of a woman, no matter how old or how young she was. He would always make the sign of the cross over a room before he would enter it,” he said.

Chesterton would receive the Eucharist with great emotion, explaining “I am afraid of that tremendous reality.”

Still, the apologist is “not the stereotypical saint,” Ahlquist continued, pointing to Chesterton’s profession as writer was “right in the midst of the heartbeat of London journalism.”

Ahlquist, a former Baptist, said the idea that someone like Chesterton could be a saint attracted him to the Catholic Church.

“The fact that a 300-pound, cigar-smoking journalist might be a saint of the Catholic Church made me understand what the communion of saints is all about. They’re not just one particular type of person.”

Any investigation for sainthood can take many years, and not all causes succeed. A Vatican investigation and two recognized miracles attributed to the candidate’s intercession are necessary for the candidate to be declared a saint.

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Cooperate with gift of grace, exhorts Cardinal George

San Antonio, Texas, Aug 8, 2013 (CNA) - Through the “miracle of grace,” the faithful are able to be vessels for God’s will, overcoming their earthly desires while being truly themselves, said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Ill.

He explained that the contrast of sin and grace exists within each human person, and we must seek to “have deep desires” that move beyond our worldly inclinations and towards the eternal.

“We must pray for the desire deeply, so that what God desires, so much so that he sent his only son as our savior, will be our desire as well.”

Cardinal George delivered the homily during Mass on August 7, the second day of the Knights of Columbus 2013 Supreme Convention, which was held in San Antonio.

He began his homily quoting a poem about the difference in the responses of Eve and Mary to what God asked them, contrasting the “fatal apple” with the “fatal tomb.”

“The contrast between fatal apple and fatal tomb, between Eve and Mary, the contrast between sin and grace is something whose consequences are revealed for the first time as the Lord, who had been Adam’s friend, questions him, and reveals to Adam himself that his desire to be free was apart from God’s ways.”

Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day, the cardinal said that we – like Adam – experience distorted desires. As we struggle to cope with them, we should “contemplate the wonder of God’s grace,” as well as “the gift of his very life in the blessed Virgin Mary, and also in ourselves.”

Once we have received the gift of grace, he explained, we “truly cooperate with God,” and “we are truly ourselves,” making it possible for God to use us “in such a way that his will for the world be done.”

“This is the great miracle of grace,” he said.

Cardinal George then emphasized that when miracles happen, they “reveal God’s ways,” as much as sin reveals “the distortion of desire.” In a miracle, we are able to see the world “as God would have it be,” and as it would have been if Adam and Eve had not sinned, forgetting their original freedom.

“In visible miracles, we see how matter obeys,” he noted, stating that there is a curtain, a veil, which separates humanity “clumsily” from God, and that when it opens, we are able to see in a physical miracle a world “without disease,” where “the lion and the lamb can lie down together.”

But the miracles which are “far greater,” he expressed, are the ones in which “the human will is contained,” as exemplified by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“In her there were no obstacles to God’s ways…she was full of grace.”

In the Gospel, he said, we are able to “marvel again at how beautiful she is,” how her every thought, word and action were “spirit-filled.”

We seek to follow in the path of our mother, he continued. In Baptism, “we take into our very being God’s own relationship with the Son.” And there are many times in our lives that  “the creativity of love” works in ways that we do not understand, but which “are enough for us to follow,” so that we can “constantly and joyfully live in the hope that we too are chosen and predestined to live forever with God and his saints.”

“Here we are protectors of God’s gifts,” he said, and “the most important of those gifts is the gift of grace.”

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Pope fervently praying for apartment gas explosion victims

Vatican City, Aug 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis is “deeply saddened” to hear about the 11 people killed and 60 injured by a natural gas explosion at an apartment building in Argentina’s third largest city.

“The Holy Father, deeply saddened to hear the painful news of the violent explosion that happened in Rosario … prays for the repose of the deceased, and raises fervent prayers to the Lord that he grant comfort to those affected by misfortune, inspiring in all feelings of Christian hope and fraternal solidarity,” reads an Aug. 7 telegram sent to Archbishop José Luis Mollaghan of Rosario.

The message, which was sent in the Pope’s name by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was read in public during a Mass and procession for Tuesday’s feast of Saint Gaetano, Argentina’s most popular saint.

The cause of the Tuesday morning blast is under investigation, but according to interviews the local media conducted with residents, the massive explosion was happened when a repairman was trying to replace a gas valve.

Residents of the nine-story, three-tower complex had been complaining of leaks and low gas pressure for weeks and a July 26 repair by the company Litoral Gas SA did not resolve the issues.

“So the residents' committee consulted with gas repairmen, and they said the valve had to be changed. That was the work they were doing,” resident Marcos Morales explained to La Capital newspaper.

Judge Juan Carlos Curto, who is investigating the incident, emphasized to reporters that the blast “isn't something that just happened yesterday, but rather it had been coming for days with different jobs by Litoral Gas and by repairmen, not just the detained one, and this resulted in yesterday's repair job that was directly linked to the explosion.”

The strength of the morning blast severely damaged two buildings and collapsed a third. It also caused authorities to close a large part of downtown Rosario, which is home to 1.2 million people.

Search and rescue efforts have been going on since the explosion, with most of the work being done by hand and lightweight equipment, since several of the buildings affected by the blast seem near collapse.

The latest count of victims lists 11 fatalities, 60 wounded and 11 missing, according to the Associated Press.

Pope Francis finished his message by extending the victims and their families the consolation of his apostolic blessing.

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Pope strengthens financial crimes laws, oversight body

Rome, Italy, Aug 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has issued a declaration that increases the power of the Financial Information Authority and continues the Vatican's efforts to update its statutes that prevent money laundering.

The purpose of this motu proprio is “strengthening the Vatican’s work to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism,” René Brülhart, director of the Financial Information Authority, told CNA Aug. 8.

Specifically, the motu proprio says that Brülhart’s office will exercise “prudential supervision” over all Vatican organizations that “perform professional activity of a financial nature.”

By taking that step, the Pope both confirmed and extended the power of the Financial Information Authority, said Vatican press office director Father Federico Lombardi in an Aug. 8 interview with Vatican Radio.

Pope Francis also brings the Vatican into line with a July 2012 evaluation made by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s committee for fighting money laundering, which recommended the change.

The declaration extends the Authority’s reach by placing the numerous Vatican departments and all non-profits that have legal status in Vatican City under its supervision.

The final innovation of the Pope’s motu proprio – a Latin phrase that means “on his own initiative" – is the creation of a group called the Financial Security Committee.

“The role of this new committee is exclusively coordination and it doesn’t change the competence of the AIF at all,” Brülhart explained, referring to the Financial Information Authority by its Italian acronym.

The committee is composed of top officials from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the Vatican City government, the city-state’s promoter of justice, and the head of the Financial Information Authority.
Monsignor Peter Brian Wells, the Assistant Secretary of State for General Affairs and the highest-ranking American official in the Vatican State department will chair the committee.

It will meet every four months and is tasked with agreeing on internal procedures for assessing the risk of money laundering or the financing of terrorism, promoting the active collaboration between Vatican bodies, and soliciting experts’ advice and studies.
On a more lighthearted note, Brülhart, who will serve as the committee’s secretary, clarified that although the title of the motu proprio mentions preventing the financing of weapons of mass destruction, it is simply a reference to the terminology of the international statutes that have been created to combat money laundering.

“No, the Vatican is not worried about somehow financing WMD,” he said.

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Mysterious Missouri priest showed up to pray with crash victim

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 8, 2013 (CNA) - After emergency responders spent an hour trying to remove a young woman from her wrecked car near Center, Mo., a priest appeared with anointing oil and prayed with her, and then inexplicably vanished.

“He came up and approached the patient, and offered a prayer,” Raymond Reed, the New London fire chief explained to KHQA about the Aug. 4 incident.

“A sense of calmness came over her, and it did us as well. I can't be for certain how it was said, but myself and another firefighter, we very plainly heard that we should remain calm, that our tools would now work and that we would get her out of that vehicle.”

Once the victim, Katie Lentz, was removed from her car and put into an Air Evac helicopter, the emergency responders wanted to thank the priest, but he had disappeared.

The two-lane Missouri state highway on the which the crash occurred had been blocked off for a quarter of a mile throughout Lentz' rescue, barring bystanders and nearby vehicles.

Lentz' older-model Mercedes was struck by another car which passed into her lane. That car's driver has been charged with DWI.

Rescue workers spent an hour trying to get Lentz out of her car, but the solid materials of its construction were dulling the fire department's emergency equipment.

Lentz eventually asked the workers to pray aloud with her, and at that time the priest appeared to pray with them and re-assure them. Another fire department arrived with fresh equipment, and Lentz was removed from her car.

She is now in a local hospital, having already undergone a surgery on some broken bones. She is in serious condition, and faces further surgeries.

“All along the way, her foremost request is for people to pray and to pray out loud,” Luntz' mother told KHQA. “We would like nothing more than to carry that message forward for her.”

The priest's identity is unknown. According to KHQA, the Jefferson City diocese has not “heard directly from any” of its priests about the incident.

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US asks for investigation into Cuban dissident's death

Havana, Cuba, Aug 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has called for an investigation into the death of the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, who died in Cuba last year.

Diplomatic sources said Powers spoke with the Cuban chancellor, Bruno Rodriguez, during a lunch hosted on Tuesday by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez for the delegations that took part in the U.N. Security Council debate.

News of the conversation follows claims by Spanish national Ángel Carromero that Paya was deliberately killed by Cuban secret service agents rather than in an accidental car crash.

In an interview published by the newspaper El Mundo, Carromero said that he had been in a car with Paya when another vehicle began to follow and harass them. The vehicle, which Paya identified as belonging to the Communists, then began to ram them from behind and forced them off the road.

Claims that Paya died in a car accident were “the perfect alibi to cover up the death of the only opposition figure that could have the lead the transition in Cuba,” Carromero said.

Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, expressed gratitude over the news of the ambassador’s conversation with Rodriguez in a post on her Twitter account. 

“Thank you Ambassador Power for your words to the Cuban foreign minister. The UN can help to put an end to the impunity of the Cuban government,” she said.

In statements to Diario Las Americas, Paya said there is will in the Cuban government to clarify the facts surrounding the death of her father, despite evidence that contradicts the official version of events, including testimony from eyewitnesses and from nurses at the hospital where Oswaldo Paya the other three men involved in the crash were taken.

She also said the government never provided her family with results from the autopsy performed on her father, despite their repeated request and the fact that such results are usually provided to families within a month.  

“We trust that a serious investigation will be opened, but we understand that it is a long process that could take several months,” she added.

More than 100 world leaders recently marked the first anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Paya by joining together to call on the United Nations to carry out an independent and international investigation.

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Before Pope's election, conclave warned of Europe's waning faith

Vatican City, Aug 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - When Cardinal Prospero Grech delivered a meditation to the cardinal-electors at the beginning of the 2013 conclave, he emphasized the value of the new evangelization in the face of Europe's loss of faith.

“In the West, at least in Europe, Christianity itself is in crisis … there is a rampant secularism and agnosticism which has diverse roots,” Cardinal Grech, an Augustinian, told the 115 cardinal-electors in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel March 12.

“You feel therefore the urgency of the new evangelization which begins with the pure kerygma (Gospel proclamation) announced to non-believers, followed by a continuing catechesis nourished by prayer.”

Cardinal Grech was delivering a meditation to the cardinal-electors on the problems facing the Church and the need for discernment “concerning the grave duty incumbent on them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the Universal Church, having only God before their eyes,” according to the document which governs the conclave process.

The text of his meditation, delivered in Italian, was recently released in the “Acts of the Apostolic See,” the Vatican's official journal of record.
He began his meditation with a humble apology, saying that at 87 years old, he “is among the oldest in the College of Cardinals, yet in terms of appointment I am just a newborn.”

Cardinal Grech was only made a cardinal in Feb., 2012. He added that his life has been once of study and that his knowledge of the Curia is “not above a third grade level.”

“Only as such do I dare to present this simple meditation in the Lord's name,” he concluded his apology.

He noted that the conclave is a “strong moment of grace” in salvation history but added that it is also a moment of “the maximum responsibility.” The nationality or race of the man to be elected Pope is unimportant, he said.

“The only thing of importance is if, when the Lord asks the question 'Peter, do you love me?', that he can respond in all sincerity, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.' Then the sheep entrusted to him by Jesus will be safe, and Peter will follow Christ, the chief Shepherd, wherever he goes.”

Cardinal Grech said he was not there to “make a sketch” of the next Pope, “and much less to present a working plan for the future pontiff.”

“It is my intent,” he explained, “to draw from the Scriptures some reflections to help us understand what Christ wills for his Church, reflections which may assist you in your discussions.”

Having explained his aim, Cardinal Grech began the preface to his meditation. His prefatory remarks focused on the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the scandal of the cross – both Christ's and the Church's.

He called the Kingdom of God a “moment of grace and of reconciliation,” brought through Christ and the Church, and warned against the temptation, since Vatican II, to give into religious “indifferentism,” not stressing the necessity of baptism for salvation.

The proclamation of the Kingdom of God is “the proclamation of 'Jesus Christ, and him crucified,'” he stressed. The scandal of the cross, he said, “humbles the hubris of the human mind and elevates it to accept a wisdom which comes from above.”

Christ's cross, he emphasized, must not be relativized, but regarded as the one, universal way to salvation, offered to “the modern world, which suffers from an existential depression.”

Christ crucified, he told the cardinal-electors, is “intimately tied to the Church crucified” and the persecution of the Church for proclaiming Truth.

“Persecution is a constitutive element of the Church, as is the weakness of her members,” which he called a “a cross which is to be embraced.”

He noted the pedophilia scandal, and the acts of Benedict XVI to humble the Church and to remove the evil at all costs. In light of this, Cardinal Grech called for a greater “transparency” because the Church can be “obscured or hidden.”

He called for courage in the face of the scandal, and to “trust only in God” rather than placing faith in political solutions.

After finishing his preface, Cardinal Grech moved to discuss God's will regarding the Church. Christ's “highest desire” is “the unity of his body,” he noted, in a plea for Church unity, both within and without the Catholic Church.

With regard to ecumenism, he said that “to desist from dialogue would run explicitly contrary to the will of God.” He also said the future pontiff would face the problem being able “to hold onto the unity of the Catholic Church herself.”

“Between extremist ultra-traditionalists and extreme ultra-progressives … there will be always the peril of minor schism.

“Unity at any cost,” he urged. “Unity yes, but this does not mean uniformity.”

Cardinal Grech emphasized that it is “evident that this does not close the door to intra-ecclesial discussion, present in all of Church history. All are free to express their thoughts on the task of the Church, yet which are proposed in line with the deposit of faith which the Pope together with all the bishops has the task of preserving.”

He lamented that both theology and philosophy today are suffering, and that “we need a good philosophical foundation from which to develop dogma with a valid hermeneutic that speaks in a language intelligible to the contemporary world.”

Saying this, Cardinal Grech, who had been a priest 12 years when Vatican II began, noted that “certainly laws and traditions which are purely ecclesial may be changed, yet not every change signifies progress; we must discern whether changes act to augment the holiness of the Church or to obscure it.”

Having addressed all of these issues, Cardinal Grech then moved on to what he called an “even more pressing chapter,” the secularism and abandonment of Christianity in the West, and especially in Europe.

The roots of this secularism and agnosticism, he said, include relativism; a materialism that “measures everything in economic terms;” governments' desire to remove God from society; the sexual revolution; and scientific advances that recognize neither moral nor humanitarian brakes.

In the face of a culture which is ignorant not only of Catholic doctrine but of the very “ABCs of Christianity,” he stressed the urgency of the new evangelization and its position as the central-most issue for the Pontiff who was to be elected.

Cardinal Grech added, however, that while doors are “closing” in Europe, they are being widened elsewhere, particularly in Asia.

And even in the West, he said God will “preserve a remnant of Israel that will not kneel before Baal,” adding that the remnant is seen especially in the new movements which “contribute strongly to the new evangelization.”

“Be on guard, though, that particular movements not believe that the Church is exhausted in them.”

He re-assured the cardinal-electors that “God cannot be defeated by our carelessness” and that “the Church is his.”

Cardinal Grech then turned to consider the importance of the sensus fidelium – sense of the faithful –  found among the “anawim,” the “simple faithful,” in whose prayerful hearts the “Logos of God shines.”

He told the cardinal-electors this because, he said, while it is common to say that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, we “do not always take this into consideration in our plans for the Church.”

Cardinal Grech emphasized that God is always greater, that the Holy Spirit “transcends every sociological analysis and historical prediction.” The Spirit “exceeds” all the scandals that obscure Christ's face in the Church.

He concluded his remarks by noting Michelangelo's fresco “The Last Judgement,” before which the cardinal-electors would shortly be casting their votes for the new Pope.

Christ's raised hand in the fresco, he told them, was there “to illumine your vote, that it might be according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh …. in that way the one chosen will not be only yours, but essentially His.”

Cardinal Grech finished his meditation by telling the cardinal-electors, “the Lord be with you and bless you.”

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Bishops say confusion around CRS in Madagascar cleared up

Washington D.C., Aug 8, 2013 (CNA) - The U.S. bishop who chairs the board of Catholic Relief Services said that local Church leaders in Madagascar have given their assurances that the international aid agency adheres to Catholic teaching.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said that he and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York –president of the U.S. bishops’ conference – had spoken to Madagascar’s Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of Antananarivo and Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina about allegations that Catholic Relief Services was involved in contraception and abortifacient distribution.

“They assured us clearly that they did not feel that this was something that CRS was doing, that they had great respect for CRS and great regard for the work that was being done,” Bishop Kicanas told CNA on Aug. 5. 

His comments counter a report from the Population Research Institute which contended Madagascar’s Catholic Church was alienated from the U.S.-based Catholic relief agency and believed its work to be violating Catholic teaching. The report cited both African archbishops.

The Washington, D.C.-based institute on July 26 charged that the relief agency was “using funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in concert with some of the world’s biggest population control / family planning organizations.”

On Aug. 5, Bishop Kicanas and other officials from CRS and the U.S. bishops’ conference spoke with Archbishop Razanakolona, the head of Caritas Madagascar.

According to the U.S. bishops’ conference, the archbishop said he was surprised to see himself quoted in the Population Research Institute report. He said he is sure that the relief agency follows Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception, and that Catholic Relief Services has been a good partner that collaborates with staff in his archdiocese.

“Certainly the quotes do not reflect the conversation that we heard in our discussions with the archbishops,” Bishop Kicanas told CNA, suggesting there may have been “a translation issue” in the critical report.

Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, stood by the institute’s report, saying that CRS’ responses amounted to “blanket denials and general statements.”

“We did an investigation. We’re convinced that what we saw and what we heard is true, and we reported accurately,” Mosher told CNA Aug. 6.

He said he accepts that there is no current evidence of CRS involvement in family planning in Madagascar. However, he said that his reports focused on CRS cooperation with family planning in the U.S. Agency for International Development-backed SanteNet2 project in Madagascar, discontinued last month.

He said evidence for this cooperation with SanteNet2 is “indisputable.”

“There is simply too much evidence to ignore,” Mosher said, citing the statements of bishops, clergy and CRS staffers.

“I would not make such charges publicly if they had not been made privately and if no action had been taken. And I would not make them publicly if I didn’t have ample evidence to back them up. And there’s more evidence forthcoming, so stay tuned.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference, however, denied the claims. An Aug. 2 statement said that Archbishop Tsarahazana told Cardinal Dolan there had been some confusion on his archdiocese that was quickly resolved.

Joan Rosenhauer, Catholic Relief Services’ executive vice-president of U.S. operations, told CNA Aug. 5 there was confusion about “who was doing what,” but when the matter was investigated, they determined “that CRS was only doing programming that was consistent with Church teaching.”

The agency’s communications director, John Rivera, added that some reports about the relief agency confused the actions of CRS staffers with those of non-staff community health workers, who are chosen locally and are part of the Madagascar government’s health care system.

“Health programs in Madagascar are required by the government to work through government systems and structures, including the community health workers. These are not CRS staff, and they are not supported by CRS projects to engage in any activities that are contrary to Catholic teaching,” Rivera said.

CRS involvement in the country’s health care programs, including children’s health, nutrition and malaria prevention, required the agency to work through and train the community health workers, including those that are not employed by the agency, he explained.

Mosher said that the local archbishop had told PRI that these workers were under the supervision of CRS employees and were filing their reports with these employees. He noted employment among relief workers often overlaps.

“On the ground level, you don’t have three or four different people walking around to different villages. You have one, representing the whole project,” he said. “And so people on the ground naturally, as the Archbishop of Toamasina told us, are confused at how Catholics can be doing such things.”

Mosher said an independent commission should be created to respond to the Population Research Institute’s report.

He was also skeptical towards CRS partnerships with non-Catholic organizations that support some practices Catholics oppose. He cited Pope Benedict XVI’s January 19 address to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum plenary session, which said Catholics “must exercise a critical vigilance and at times refuse funding and collaborations that, directly or indirectly, favor actions or projects that are at odds with Christian anthropology.”

In an Aug. 7 statement, Mosher noted that Catholic Relief Services receives much of its annual funding – about $500 million – from the United States Agency for International Development.

He observed that the agency is only eligible for this funding “because it is viewed by the U.S. government as a legally separate, non-profit, non-governmental organization,” rather than “juridically a part of the institutional Church, reporting directly to the U.S. bishops.”

He suggested that the U.S. bishops conference should change the juridical status of CRS to make it part of the institutional Church. Doing so, he said, would mean forfeiting some federal funding but would also put the agency in a position to report more directly to the bishops.

However, CRS responded in a statement explaining that although its legally separate status allows the agency to receive federal money, “the bishops always have been in charge.”

“CRS was founded 70 years ago by the bishops and to this day remains an agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” the group said, noting that the majority of its board continues to consist of U.S. bishops. It added that the organization “must be invited into any country where we work by the episcopal conference, and we continue to serve there only with the conference’s approval and support.”

Top officials also defended the agency’s policy on partnerships with the government and other aid organizations.

“No one can possibly address the universal needs of the world today alone. Partnerships have to take place,” Bishop Kicanas said. “What CRS is obviously concerned about is that we partner with people only in ways that we can faithfully do that.”

When CRS partners with groups that disagree with Catholic doctrine, the extent of their work together is limited to efforts that align with Church teaching, such as work to prevent malaria or offer clean drinking water, he said.

The agency’s commitment to Church teaching makes it ineligible from some USAID grants, the bishop continued, but there are others that can be used to “benefit people who live in very desperate situations” in a moral and charitable way.

He also noted that all employees, regardless of faith background, must participate in training programs to understand Catholic teachings and how to uphold it as employees of the relief agency.

“Pope Francis has very much called us to be a Church in the world, interacting in the world, including with people who disagree with us,” added Rosenhauer, and “there’s a rich body of teaching about how we make those decisions.”

She explained that the agency has a “very elaborate process” to guide its decisions about partnerships and contracts through consultations with its board of directors, other bishops, moral theologians, and U.S. bishops’ conference committees including the pro-life committee.

With some 5,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries, she said, CRS welcomes any information about issues that may arise “so that we can investigate and make any corrections if necessary.”

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