Vatican City, Dec 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The European body responsible for monitoring financial transparency issued a report Dec. 12 detailing the progress made by the Vatican's financial bodies.
The Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee published the report as a follow up to their July report, which had found the Vatican to be “compliant” or “largely compliant” on nine of the 16 “key and core” recommendations for combating terrorist financing and money-laundering.
According to the progress report “it is clear … that much work has been done in a short time to meet most of the Moneyval technical recommendations.”
Such progress reports are part of the standard procedure in Moneyval investigations. The Vatican's was prepared at the committee's Dec. 9-13 plenary assembly. Progress reports will now be prepared every two years, but the Holy See has offered to provide an update prior to Dec. 2015.
The choice of the Holy See to report on its progress whenever requested can be considered a clear signal that the Vatican is carrying forward its commitment to financial transparency.
Moneyval's progress report also traces the history of Vatican anti-money laundering laws, highlighting milestones, beginning with the initial law, which was issued at the end of 2010.That law was then revised early in 2012 following Nov. 2011 visit from Moneyval which noted deficiencies.
International cooperation was reinforced with a Dec. 2012 amendment to the law, and in Oct. 2013, Law XVIII was adopted, which re-wrote and strengthened the Vatican's anti-money laundering legislation. Also this year, the position of the Vatican's financial overseer, the Financial Information Authority, was strengthened under Pope Francis.
The progress report says that Vatican’s new legal structures for combatting money-laundering and other financial crimes was “much improved,” but still needed to be tested in practice.
It also praised “wide ranging” measures to “rectify deficiencies in all areas.”
The progress report also noted a surge in the filing reports of possible suspicious transactions. John Ringguth, Moneyval's executive secretary, maintained that “data about the suspicious transactions report” and “the current investigations” in the Vatican that led to a seizure of funds “prove that the Vatican takes seriously the combating of money-laundering.”
The suspicious transactions reports are expected to reach 150 by the end of this year, compared to only six in 2012.
The report also stressed that “Vatican City State requested mutual legal assistance on a domestic case.” According to a Vatican source who spoke to CNA Dec. 12, this passage refers to the request submitted by Vatican authorities to Italy in the case of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a former official of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See who was arrested by Italian police last June and is now undergoing a trial in Italy for alleged money smuggling.
The progress report also underscored that it was “somewhat surprising” that there had not yet been formal inspection by the Financial Information Authority of the Vatican's two financial institutions, the Institute for Religious Works, or “Vatican bank”, and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.
The report also stressed that “the new professional structure” of the Financial Information Authority, set out in its revised statutes, “will need supplementing with more trained and experienced … staff to handle the full range of its functions.”
René Bruelhart, director of the Vatican financial watchdog, told L’Osservatore Romano Dec. 12 that “since the authority now also functions as a prudential supervisor,” there is need of additional staff and that the body will soon be hiring more regulators.
Overall, Moneyval indicated that the Vatican's existing anti-money laundering laws are effective and deterrent, reassuring foreign counterparts that the Holy See is committed to ending money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Church’s welcoming stance on immigration is rooted in the person-centered recognition of human dignity, said one of the leading Hispanic bishops in the U.S. Church.
“For us, as Catholics – following the example of Jesus in the Gospels – there is no way that we cannot be in favor of the immigrant,” said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.
The Catholic position on immigration is a “humane position,” he told CNA in a November interview, “humane, and therefore very divine”
The archbishop spoke at the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Archbishop Garcia-Siller is himself an immigrant from Mexico to the United States, arriving in 1980 and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1998. He currently serves on the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration.
At its root, the archbishop said, the issue of immigration “is about people” because it “deals with human beings” and the “dignity of the human persons” who leave their homes to settle in a new country.
The Church sees “the faces of many who are suffering, and are divided as families” and seeks to reconnect those families with their loved ones, he said. In addition, the Church asks that Catholics reach out to ease the suffering of immigrants, “not because they are citizens but because God created them.”
Archbishop Garcia-Siller lamented that “many people do not understand” the Church's teachings on immigration. Selfish interests, a lack of knowledge, and misinformation about the realities of immigration have led to a poor understanding of both the situation faced by immigrants and “the values that the Gospels present,” he said.
There is also an unfortunate tendency to overlook or forget the history of the United States, the archbishop said.
“Our country was founded with immigrants,” he pointed out. “Immigration is part of the reality of the United States.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that nations have the obligation, as much as they are able, “to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.”
The Church also holds that nations have the right and duty to ensure border security and law enforcement that is both just and humane for the common good.
In recent months, the U.S. bishops have been emphasizing the need to increase lawful means for immigrants to enter the country, in order to focus enforcement on those who pose a threat to public safety, including smugglers, human traffickers and terrorists.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a 2003 pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” laying out several policy goals for immigration reform.
These goals include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.; an emphasis on family unity though a reduction in backlogs and waiting times for family members; and a program to allow low-skilled migrant workers to enter the U.S. legally and work under safe conditions.
The bishops have also called for due process protections for immigrants and policies that “address the root causes, or push factors, of irregular migration, such as the absence of living wage jobs in sending communities and persecution.”
A comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate incorporates many of these goals. However, the bill has faced ardent opposition in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has vowed not to consider the measure but to instead pass a series of smaller, piecemeal bills on immigration.
Archbishop Garcia-Siller expressed doubt that national immigration reform will be passed in the next year.
The subject is a “political game at this point,” he said, predicting that polarized opinions on the topic will prevent a sufficient amount of bipartisan support within Congress.
But even without bipartisan political support for immigration reform, the bishops will continue to work to make the Catholic position on immigration “more known,” Archbishop Garcia-Siller said.
He encouraged Catholics to educate themselves on the facts surrounding immigration, such as the fact that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes and share many common values.
In addition, the archbishop asked the faithful to reach out as individuals and as a group to immigrant communities, and to start “just talking to people who are hurting.”
Archbishop Garcia-Siller also advised immigrants to continue to place an emphasis on education and leadership in order to help encourage “integration into larger society with roots, with values, to contribute positively to the makeup of the U.S.”
“We need many more leaders, but leaders who don't forget about the past, who are very connected to the present, and with something to propose for the future,” he said.
Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 13, 2013 (CNA) -
Legislation introduced in Pennsylvania to prevent discrimination could end up prohibiting Catholic schools from requiring teachers to abide by Catholic teaching, religious freedom advocates in the state are warning.
“The Church has been precise, in its moral teachings, in distinguishing between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. It has condemned all forms of hostility to any individual on the basis of her or his actual or perceived sexual orientation,” Amy B. Hill, communications director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told CNA on Dec. 11.
“However, the Church also teaches that sexual activity between persons of the same gender cannot be reconciled with its beliefs and doctrines. It similarly does not condone heterosexual relations outside of marriage.”
A proposed Pennsylvania bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation fails to make this distinction, she said.
Supporters of the bill are using controversy over the firing of Michael Griffin, a French and Spanish teacher at Holy Ghost Preparatory School, to advocate for the bill’s passage.
On Dec. 6, the school fired Griffin after he announced his intention to contract a same-sex civil “marriage” with his partner.
The all-boys Catholic school in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem, Pa., is independent of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is governed by a board composed of lay members and members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.
The school’s president, Fr. James McCloskey, said in a Dec. 7 statement that the teacher’s decision was incompatible with the school’s Catholic mission.
“Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment,” he explained.
Fr. McCloskey said that Griffin had acknowledged that his contract requires adherence to Church teaching but still said “that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony.”
“Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately,” he stated.
Griffin told the New York Daily News he had been teaching at the school for 12 years and had been with his partner the same number of years. The 35-year-old teacher is an alumnus of the school. He said administrators and fellow faculty knew he was gay and the school invited his partner to school events.
He and his partner contracted a civil union in 2008. He said he did not discuss his sexuality with students, but he said a few “could probably put two and two together.”
Catholic teaching does not condemn any sexual orientation. It holds that all human persons should be treated with dignity and respect. However, it also understands the choice to engage in homosexual activity to be sinful and believes that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman.
Griffin resides in New Jersey, where a court decision earlier this year mandated the redefinition of civil marriage to recognize same-sex couples.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Daylin Leach claimed that a bill he supports to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity would have prevented the Catholic school from firing Griffin on moral grounds, the Philadelphia-area news site Newsworks reports.
Hill responded by saying that on its face, the bill would indeed prevent Catholic schools from requiring teachers to follow Catholic doctrine.
She said the law would be “an inappropriate use of governmental power to coerce religious institutions into abandoning their faith.”
“It would force the school to go to court to try to have the law declared unconstitutional,” she said. As proposed, the bill does not have an exemption protecting the constitutional liberties of religious employers “to teach and practice principles of their own religious faith.”
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said in an action alert that the legislation is “intolerant and prejudiced against people of faith.”
The legislation will “jeopardize many churches and their charitable outreach,” the alert said, warning that similar laws have closed Catholic adoption agencies and “trampled religious liberty.”
Kiev, Ukraine, Dec 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholic leaders in Ukraine say they are “profoundly disturbed” by the government's use of security forces to break up a massive protest in Kiev's Independence Square.
“We declare our support and solidarity with all those on the Independence Square who are standing with dignity and witnessing to the dignity of their fellow citizens and of the whole nation,” the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church said Dec. 11, according to Vatican Radio.
“We strongly support the peaceful character of this civic gathering and declare our rejection of any type of violence,” they continued. “We pray to God Almighty for peace, justice and the triumph of truth for our people.”
Police moved into the protest camp early in the morning of Dec. 11. They detained at least nine people and some police reportedly used violence.
The protests began after the government's Nov. 21 announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union.
Protesters occupied government buildings and at times filled the square with more than 100,000 people.
A Nov. 30 police effort to break up a student protest left dozens injured. On Dec. 8, protesters toppled and broke apart a statue of communist leader Vladimir Lenin.
The Dec. 11 police action started to dismantle protest camps and tear down barricades the protesters had put up in front of municipal buildings. One opposition political party, the Fatherland Party, said government troops broke into its offices on the evening of Dec. 9, National Public Radio reports.
Both the European Union and Russia are competing to strengthen their ties in the Ukraine. The Russian government is advocating that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with a long history of control from Moscow, enter a Eurasian customs union with several other former Soviet republics.
Ukrainians in the Kiev area and in western Ukraine tend to favor the European Union, while those in the Russian-speaking east tend to have an affinity for Russia, the BBC reports.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced “disgust” at the Ukrainian government's reaction to the camps, while the U.S. State Department is considering several responses, including sanctions.
The Greek-Catholic bishops condemned actions restricting civil liberties, free expression and “peaceful civic manifestation.” Their statement was signed by the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and other members of the permanent synod.
The Roman Catholic bishops’ conference of Ukraine said it “strongly condemns” the use of force against the protesters, warning that the actions increase social tensions and could provoke “unforeseen consequences.”
The Roman Catholic bishops said limits on human rights, including free expression of beliefs, is “unacceptable and shameful,” according to a statement published on the website of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv.
The Roman Catholic bishops’ conference of Poland also voiced their “prayerful solidarity” with the people of Ukraine.
The Lviv-based Ukrainian Catholic University adopted a statement against the government action at a Dec. 11 general meeting that characterized the police as “brutal invaders” who “violently attacked peaceful demonstrators.”
The Society of the Ukrainian Catholic University announced support for civil disobedience against the government and called for the current government’s resignation. The statement also cited the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops’ call for prayers for peace and justice.
EU Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said that Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych still intends to sign an agreement to establish closer ties with the EU.
Yanukovych's main opponent, former Prime Minsister Yulia Tymoshenko, is now in jail on charges she exceeded her authority regarding a gas deal with Russia in 2009. Her supporters, including many EU politicians, charge that her trial was politically motivated.
Vatican City, Dec 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his daily Mass, Pope Francis cautioned Christians not to be overly-critical of those who preach the Gospel, emphasizing that focusing too much on personal precepts keeps us from being happy.
Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading in which Jesus compares the generation to children who are always unhappy or dissatisfied, the Pope stated that “The people of God have a certain allergy to the preachers of the Word: they persecuted the prophets, (even) killed them.”
The pontiff’s Dec. 13 homily was directed at those who were present for his morning Mass in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse.
Following the day’s readings, Pope Francis explored the meaning of the Gospel passage, taken from Matthew, explaining that the unhappiness of the people in that generation was because they were “not open to the Word of God.”
Their refusal to listen, he noted, had nothing to do with the message, but the messenger, adding that “They reject John the Baptist,” who came “neither eating nor drinking,” saying that he was “a man possessed.”
They rejected Jesus, the Pope observed, referring to him as “a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners,” going on to say that the people always had a reason to criticize the preacher.
“The people of that time preferred to take refuge in a more elaborate religion,” the Pope emphasized, “in the moral precepts, such as the group of Pharisees; in political compromise, as the Sadducees; in social revolution, as the zealots; in gnostic spirituality, such as Essenes.”
“They were (happy) with their clean, well-polished system. The preacher, however, was not (so pleased),” the pontiff explained, recalling that Jesus reminded them of how their ancestors had treated the prophets in the same way.
These people, noted the Pope, claim to accept the truth, “but the preacher, preaching, no.”
“They prefer a life caged in their precepts, in their compromises, in their revolutionary plans or in their (disembodied) spirituality.”
"These Christians are closed, they are trapped, sad,” observed the Pope, “these Christians are not free. Why? Because they are afraid of the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which comes through preaching.”
Stating that “This, then, is the scandal of preaching,” the pontiff recalled the words of Saint Paul in which the apostle referred to “the scandal of preaching that ends in the scandal of the Cross,” adding that “that God should speak to us through men with limits, sinful men, scandalizes.”
“And what scandalizes even more,” stated the Pope, “is that that God should speak to us and save us by way of a man who says he is the Son of God but ends (his life) as a criminal. That scandalizes.”
“These sad Christians,” the pontiff observed, “do not believe in the Holy Spirit, do not believe in the freedom that comes from preaching, which admonishes you, teaches you – slaps you, as well – but it is the very freedom that makes the Church grow.”
In seeing “these children who are afraid to dance, to cry, (who are) afraid of everything, who ask for certainty in all things,” Pope Francis reflected, “I think of these sad Christians, who always criticize the preachers of the Truth, because they are afraid to open the door to the Holy Spirit.”
Concluding his homily, the Pope urged the Mass attendees to “pray for them,” and to “pray also for ourselves, that we do not become sad Christians, cutting off the freedom of the Holy Spirit to come to us through the scandal of preaching.”
Vatican City, Dec 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Manfred Lütz, a close colleague of Benedict XVI, revealed in a recent interview that he is still in contact with retired pontiff, who still considers himself in the service of the Church, and of Pope Francis.
Lütz explained in a Dec. 4 interview with CNA that during a recent visit with Benedict, the previous Pope “said he didn't leave the service of St. Peter, that he lives the service of St. Peter in another way.”
“He's praying, and this is an important aspect, he said, of the service of St. Peter.”
Manfred Lütz is a German psychologist and theologian, and was present in Rome for the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s Dec. 5-7 plenary on “Proclaiming Christ in the Digital Age.”
The theologian explained that he originally met Cardinal Ratzinger when he first came to Rome in 1980, because the two lived together for “some weeks” near a German cemetery inside of the Vatican, adding that “I lived here to study, and so I know him since that time.”
In his recent conversation with Benedict XVI, Lütz stated that “for me, it was a very, an emotional vision that Pope Francis is there as the Pope and behind Pope Francis there is another pope…Benedict, who is praying, like Moses, for Pope Francis and the Church.”
Lütz noted that although Benedict is “old physically… mentally he was very good. He had a better memory than me!”
The occasion of his meeting with the Benedict XVI, Luetz stated, was a book that he has written with Cardinal Cordes, the previous president for the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” about a speech the retired pontiff made in Freiburg, Germany emphasizing that “the Church has not to be too near to the world.”
“We'll say the Church has to be in the world, this is clear, but the Church has not to be too much involved in power of the world…and this is the same thing that Pope Francis says.”
So this is a book, he noted, “about the two popes and about this aspect where the two popes have an identity.”
“Benedict said to us that he also has the impression that theologically he is very in the same line with Pope Francis.”
In comments made to journalists on Dec. 6 at the presentation of the new “Bible World” iPad application, Archbishop Georg Genswein, Prefect of the Papal Household and personal secretary to Benedict XVI, revealed that “between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis there is a very good relationship,” which he helps to facilitate.
“My job,” noted the archbishop, “is compared with a bridge” between the two.
Bible World is an app that was launched by the Saint Paul Society in honor of their 100 year anniversary, and which contains the written word, and allows you to navigate the various places and figures of the Bible in an animated modern way.
Echoing the words of Lütz, archbishop Genswein explained that the previous pontiff is “an old man, but right now very clear, very sharp, and very good,” and that he “receives a lot of visits.”
The Papal prefect also revealed to journalists that it is “a great hope” that Benedict XVI will attend the April canonization of his predecessors Bl. John Paul II and John XXIII, but “it is not confirmed.”
Denver, Colo., Dec 13, 2013 (CNA) -
The archbishop of Denver has voiced deep sadness and promised prayers for the victims of a shooting at a Colorado high school on the afternoon of Dec. 13.
“Today, we offer our prayers and profound sympathy for all those involved in the shooting at Arapahoe High School,” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila in a statement.
“I am saddened by this tragedy, which has been repeated too often in recent memory,” he said. “My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and my prayers, as well as those of the faithful in the Archdiocese of Denver, are with them.”
According to police reports, a gunman walked into Arapahoe High School – located in the southern Denver suburb of Centennial – and tried unsuccessfully to confront a specific teacher, who learned of the situation and left the building. The gunman reportedly injured three people before apparently killing himself.
One victim was reported to be in serious condition, while the two others were listed as being in good condition.
Some students fled the school during the shooting, while others stayed in locked-down classrooms.
“I was scared and shaking,” one student told the Denver Post.
Police slowly cleared the school, searching students as they were allowed to leave. Many distressed parents rushed to the school in an effort to find their children.
Arapahoe High School has approximately 2,100 students. It is about eight miles from Columbine High School, the scene of a deadly shooting in 1999 that left 15 dead, including two gunmen. Colorado was also the scene of the July 2012 shootings at a movie theater in the east suburb of Aurora, which killed 12 and wounded dozens more.
The Dec. 13 shooting took place just a day before the one-year anniversary of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adult staff members, as well as his mother and himself.
As news of the Arapahoe High School shooting broke, many other schools in the Denver area, including Catholic schools, went into secure lockdown. No other incidents have been reported.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called the shooting “an unspeakable horror” and “something no child, no family should have to endure.”
Archbishop Aquila voiced gratitude that “first responders, school teachers and administrators were able to react with effective lockdown procedures.”
“Unfortunately for all of us, however, we are once again confronted with the effects of a culture that has little respect for life and is desperately in need of the healing that only God can give.”
“As we prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ, let us keep our youth in our prayers,” he said. “In these last weeks of Advent, let us pray that as a culture we find the path to peace, which begins with accepting God’s mercy and forgiveness.”
Rome, Italy, Dec 13, 2013 (CNA) -
The consecrated women of Regnum Christi, the lay association of the Legion of Christ, have elected Spaniard Gloria Rodriguez as their next general director.
The lay association's general assembly, which has been meeting in Rome since Dec. 2, marks the first time the consecrated women have elected their leadership through a participatory process.
One delegate to the association's general assembly, Marilú Rodriguez, said the election process will choose a government that will help Regnum Christi “to continue going deeper into our identity” and guide the women “on the path that we have begun.”
“It is a collegial act, an expression of maturity and responsibility,” she said.
Gloria Rodriguez, 38, expressed her gratitude to the team of councilors she has worked with since 2012. She said all the consecrated women of the lay association are in her heart, Regnum Christi reported Dec. 11.
Rodriguez has been a consecrated woman for 15 years. She is from Madrid and studied psychology at Madrid's Complutense University.
Her mission will be to lead the association in fidelity to its mission. She will work in communion with the Legionaries of Christ, lay consecrated men and non-consecrated laity.
The Regnum Christi general assembly was composed of 42 delegates. The assembly elected Rodriguez, five councilors and a general administrator to lead their apostolic movement for the next six years. Candidates must be at least 35 years old and have been consecrated for five years since making their final promises.
The councilors are Paula Errázuriz of Chile, Viviana Limón of Mexico, Mari Carmen Ávila of Mexico, Denise Funke of Canada and Cristina Danel of Mexico. Beatriz Pimentel of Venezuela is the general administrator.
The general assembly, which began Dec. 2, also worked to revise and approve a draft of its new statutes and other documents, including its rule of life and its formation process.
Regnum Christi said the election is “an important step in the renewal process” of the association.
The Legion of Christ’s founder, Father Marcel Maciel, was removed from public ministry in 2006 after he was revealed to have led a secret life of grave impropriety. The congregation and its affiliated lay associations has been undergoing reform.
As of mid-November, there were 630 consecrated women in Regnum Christi, including 26 in formation.