Archive of December 17, 2013

Release abducted nuns, Orthodox bishop urges Syrian rebels

Homs, Syria, Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Orthodox bishop in Syria has called for the release of 12 nuns kidnapped by Islamist rebels, saying they “have done no harm to anyone.”

“We’ve now reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong? It’s a crime. The abductors want to demonstrate that they show no mercy,” Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, told Aid to the Church in Need Dec. 11.

The bishop told the international Catholic pastoral charity that there has been no communication with the nuns, and that he believes they are being held in Yabrud, a rebel-held town 12 miles from their Orthodox convent of St. Thekla in Ma'loula.

The nuns, along with three women from their convent's orphanage, were abducted after Ma'loula, located 35 miles north of Damascus, was seized by rebel forces Dec. 2. Their captors are presumed to be Islamist fighters of al-Nusra Front.

“I am very sad that they have been abducted,” the bishop said.

The television station Al Jazeera broadcast video of the nuns last week.

“They said they had been removed for their own safety,” Bishop Alnemeh reported. “We don't know how recent the recordings are and how the sisters are doing now.”

The Syrian government is negotiating with rebels who are demanding that hundreds of imprisoned women activists be freed in exchange for the nuns’ freedom, the Associated Press reports.

Bishop Alnemeh said the nuns have been completely apolitical.

“They were neither on the side of the regime nor on that of the opposition. Their convent took in refugees regardless of their religion, including Muslims.”

Pope Francis called for prayers for the nuns in his Dec. 4 general audience.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Dec. 13 said there has been “a significant adnd deeply alarming rise” in abuctions of religious figures, journalists, activists, and human rights supporters by opposition groups. He said Syrian government forces have also engaged in “arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of individuals.”

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulous Yazigi of Aleppo and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yuhanna Ibrahim of Aleppo were abducted in April. Bishop Alnemeh said their fate is unknown, though there are rumors that only one bishop is still alive, and is being kept in either Syria or Turkey.

Bishop Alnemeh urged the international community, governments of neighboring countries and other organizations to bring an end to the Syrian civil war, now in its 32nd month.

The war is rooted demonstrations which sprang up nationwide on March 15, 2011 protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath Party.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people.

There are 2.3 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. An additional 6.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

Syrians are facing food insecurity, and a severe winter storm has brought freezing temperatures and snow to bear upon refugees in Lebanon without adequate shelter.

The Syrian civil war is being waged among the Syrian regime and various rebel groups, including both moderates such as the Free Syrian Army, Islamists such as al-Nusra Front, and Kurds.

On Dec. 11, both the US and UK announced the suspension of all “non-lethal” support, such as vehicles, communications equipment and medicine, to rebels in northern Syria, after the Islamic Front, a new rebel alliance, seized a Turkish border crossing operated by the Free Syrian Army.

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Vatican secretary of state encourages diplomats to work for human dignity

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his first meeting with the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin emphasized their role in working together towards peace and the good of man.

His Dec. 13 address came a day after Pope Francis encouraged the 17 newly appointed ambassadors to collaborate for an end to human trafficking.

“In a time in which many parts of the world are faced with numerous forms of violence and the persistence of social inequality, I would like to renew before you the guarantee of my willingness to collaborate in the search for peace and respect for the dignity of every human being,” Archbishop Parolin said.

He referred to Pope Francis' words to the same body, spoken March 22, shortly after his election as Bishop of Rome, “That, indeed, is what matters to the Holy See: the good of every person upon this earth,” saying that this statement is “the compass” which will guide his work for peace and respect for human dignity.

Archbishop Parolin was himself the apostolic nuncio to Venezuela, and worked for some time in the Secretariat of State, and so knew many of the persons whom he was addressing in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

He referred to himself a “travelling companion” of the ambassadors, because of their common human nature, which gives rise to a fraternity which was the subject of Pope Francis' message for the 2014 World Day of Peace.

“We cannot remain indifferent to the suffering that dramatically affects human beings,” he urged.

“We must show that peace is possible,” rather than a utopian ideal that can only be aimed at, he said. But he added that peace is not a creation of men, of political systems, “but rather a real asset that comes from God, and which we are able to contribute to building through personal and joint commitment and solidarity.”

To be peacemakers, collaborating with God, he told the ambassadors, “it is necessary to work together for the establishment of a true culture of peace, courageously responding to the challenges that imperil the authentic co-existence among persons and peoples.”

“Thus, we answer one of the deepest aspirations of man, the aspiration to well-being. Is not the mission of diplomats one of working for a better world, for the establishment or strengthening of ever-more fraternal relations?”

Archbishop Parolin noted that every human person “is created to experience joy and seeks joy, true joy.” While this true joy is “often obscured” or is absent, “it is present in the good that is done every day” and “in progress towards peace and towards mutual understanding among peoples, fragile and limited though this may seem. It is the joy of encounter and exchange, of dialogue and reconciliation.”
“This is the humanity that we seek to build together! A humanity that it a true family, a humanity in which dialogue prevails over war for the resolution of disagreements.”

He continued, “We know that many of today's men and women are in need, along their path, of encounter with profoundly human and brotherly people able to give them hope for the future. Pope Francis wants Christians to be these people; and hopes that the Church will announce, testify to, and bear joy.”

“He repeated this with insistence in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which can ideally be read in conjunction with the letter that he addressed to his faithful as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, at the opening of the Year of Faith. From the beginning, it speaks of a Church whose doors are open, a symbol of light, friendship, joy, freedom, and trust. To conclude the Year of Faith, in a letter addressed to the universal Church, Pope Francis repeated his conviction of will for a Church that is less concerned with strengthening her confines, bu is rather seeking encounter and communicating the joy of the Gospel.”

Joy, for Christians, he concluded, “has its foundation in the person of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate a few days from now. May joy and peace help your peoples to grow and progress towards a better future!”

The British ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, told CNA Dec. 13 that Archbishop Parolin's speech “made a very positive impact,” and noted that it was one of “a series of important pronouncements” from the Holy See addressing human dignity in recent days.

He mentioned the Caritas campaign against world hunger launched Dec. 10; Pope Francis' speech the previous day to new ambassadors; and a speech by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary of Relations with States, at a Georgetown University conference on freedom of religion.

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Minn. archbishop grieves, issues apology over clergy sex abuse

Minneapolis, Minn., Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop John Nienstedt has apologized for sex abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis, urging Catholics to be hopeful that continued progress will be made in preventing the crimes.

“The negative news reports about past incidents of clerical sexual abuse in this local Church have rightly been met with shame, embarrassment and outrage that such heinous acts could be perpetrated by men who had taken priestly vows as well as bishops who failed to remove them from ministry.”

“I am here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel. You deserve better,” the archbishop said in his Dec. 15 homily at two Masses at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis.

The archdiocese’s newspaper The Catholic Spirit on Dec. 5 published a list of 32 priests who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors. Another two on the list were accused of sexual relations with women. The list included the priests’ assignments, dates of removal from ministry, current status, and current place of residence.

The archdiocese first compiled the list in 2003 in response to a request from New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was studying clergy sex abuse under a commission from the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

The Archdiocese of Minneapolis list was published after a court order following allegations of clergy sex abuse and allegations that some church officials covered up the abuse. The Diocese of Winona was also ordered to disclose a list of accused priests.

Several of the Minneapolis diocese’s priests were not previously known to the general public to have faced abuse allegations. About one third of the listed clergy have died. Three of the accused priests served at the same parish in 1984, St. Joseph’s Church in Lino Lakes, Minn. Some priests on the list denied wrongdoing.

Archbishop Nienstedt responded to the list in his homily, saying that while “only one of the crimes against minors has happened in this archdiocese since 2002, that is still one too many.”

He said “the majority” of abuse allegations concern incidents in the 1970s and 1980s. This fact is not intended to “excuse” the abuse or “diminish the harm done to their victims.”

Rather, he said, “it does indicate that progress is being made in reducing the incidence of such terrible misconduct.”

“There is reason, even now, to be hopeful.”

Between the Masses at Our Lady of Grace Church, the archbishop delivered a statement to reporters.

Archbishop Nienstedt said that when he arrived in the archdiocese seven years ago, he was told that clerical sex abuse “had been taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it.”

“Unfortunately I believed that,” he said. “And so my biggest apology today is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did.

He told reporters that when the latest story began to break in late September, “I was as surprised as anyone else,” the Star Tribune reports.

The archbishop said in his homily that he and his staff are committed to ensuring a safe environment for everyone, “especially minors and vulnerable adults” in churches, Catholic schools and other programs. They are working to reach out to victims, to regain Catholics’ trust and to reassure clergy of their gratitude and that their legal and canonical rights will be safeguarded.

“With your prayer and God’s grace, I believe that we will emerge from this difficult period to become a stronger, more focused, more prayerful and more purified local Church,” the archbishop said.

“But the key to that process lies in our ability to remain a people of hope – hope not in our own resources, but rather hope in the person of Jesus Christ, who can make all things new.”

He emphasized that the Holy Eucharist can help Catholics become “a people of action who can address past wrongs and find ways to do better in the future.”

Archbishop Nienstedt said a former slave who became a canonized saint is a good intercessor for the archdiocese as it works to address sex abuse.

St. Josephine Bakta, born in Sudan, was kidnapped at the age of nine and sold into slavery. She was abused emotionally and flogged every day until she bled. After an Italian merchant bought her and brought her to Venice, she came to know a “good and kind and loving” master, Jesus Christ.

Through encountering Jesus, she learned “that she was loved and that she was a free child of God.”

“For the first time in her life, she became a woman of hope,” the archbishop said. As a religious sister she spent the rest of her life sharing this hope with others.

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Holiness means 'letting God write our history,' preaches Pope

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2013 (CNA) - Pope Francis’ daily homily focused on the importance of allowing God to be active and present in our daily lives.

“This is holiness: to let God write our history. And this is a Christmas wish for every one of us, that the Lord writes your history and that you let him write it.  May it be so!” he preached on Dec. 17 in the chapel of the Saint Martha guesthouse.

God’s joy “was to live his life with us,” explained Pope Francis. Even after mankind sinned, God did not abandon us but rather came closer, wishing to “make history” with us.  

“When God wishes to say who he is, he says ‘I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob.’ But what is God’s last name? It is ours, each one of ours. He takes our name to be his own last name,” reflected Pope Francis.

“Approaching Christmas, one may come to think: if He has made his history with us, if He has taken his last name from us, if he has allowed us to write his history, at least we can allow Him to write our history.”

Pope Francis then acknowledged that the genealogy of Jesus found in today’s gospel may seem unexciting at first glance, but actually contains a very important truth.

“One time I heard someone say: ‘But this bit of the gospel seems like a telephone directory!’ But no, it’s quite another thing. This passage of the gospel is pure history.”

Just as Jesus “is consubstantial” with God the Father, he takes the origin of his humanity from “his mother, a woman,” explained the Pope. The ancestry provided in the gospel then demonstrates Jesus’ human place in history.  

“God did not want to come to save us without history. He wanted to make history with us.”

This history is not a perfect one: in the list of Jesus’ ancestors, Pope Francis said, “there are saints... but in this list there are also sinners.”

Despite the sinfulness of human beings, “God has put himself in history! He is with us. He has made the journey with us,” encouraged the Pontiff.

Today is Pope Francis’ 77th birthday, which he requested be celebrated by the residents and staff of the Saint Martha guesthouse attending morning mass together.


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Pope Francis' 77th birthday marked with simple celebration

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - December 17 is the 77th birthday of Pope Francis, who wanted to celebrate the day in the familial setting of his St. Martha residence.

The Pope asked that those who live and work at the residence join him for the daily 7 a.m. mass there. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, concelebrated mass with the Pontiff on behalf of the entire College.

During the homily he preached on today’s gospel reading containing the genealogy of Jesus, Pope Francis took the opportunity to remember the names of some of the staff who were present.

Pope Francis then followed his usual custom after mass of greeting everyone in attendance. Today, the Papal Almoner, Msgr. Konral Krajewski, presented four homeless people who live in the Vatican area to the Pontiff.

Everyone sang a birthday song to the Pope before going in to breakfast together at the residence.

The Secretary of State, Msgr. Pietro Parolin, has sent his best wishes and greetings on behalf of everyone in his office.

Several other celebrations have been held throughout Rome in honor of the the Pontiff. A local Catholic center for youth, the “Centro San Lorenzo” has organized a day of prayer and adoration for Pope Francis. The 24 hour vigil will take place just down the road from the Vatican, beginning at midnight on Dec. 16 and ending at the same hour on the seventeenth.

Earlier in the week, the children and staff of the Vatican’s Santa Marta clinic held a birthday party for the Pope, complete with a birthday cake, candles, song and even the gift of a sweater.

Others have sent the Pontiff a four-foot-tall birthday card bearing the image of Mary under her title “Untier of Knots.” In the 1980s, the then Jorge Bergoglio saw this baroque image when he was a student in Germany and brought the devotion back to South America.

Journalists dedicated to special coverage of Vatican activities, known as “vaticanistas,” will gather on Tuesday evening in Rome’s “Campo di Fiori” to celebrate in honor of Pope Francis.

Luis Avellaneda, the secretary of Pope Francis’ childhood church in Buenos Aires, told Vatican Radio that although there are no specific plans for a celebration there, “certainly in Masses of the day we will pray. We will pray for all the intentions of the Holy Father, who for us is very far away: we're at the end of the world ... But we are very close to the heart of the Holy Father.”

Another special birthday surprise for the Pope came in the form of a victory for his favorite soccer club, “San Lorenzo de Almagro.” Upon being told about their win, one Italian newspaper reports that Pope Francis exclaimed, “what a joy!”

Some players and managers of the soccer club hope to present Pope Francis, who is also their chaplain, with their newly-won league championship trophy.

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Green Bay priest appointed bishop of Marquette, Mich.

Marquette, Mich., Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has named Father John F. Doerfler of the Diocese of Green Bay as the next bishop of Marquette, Mich.

Bishop-designate Doerfler, who has cross-country skied in the area before, said he was first attracted to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by “its natural beauty.”

“I now have the opportunity to experience the beauty of the people of faith in this diocese,” he said Dec. 17.

Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay praised the appointment.

“I could not be more delighted that the Holy Father has chosen to elevate Father John Doerfler to the episcopacy,” he said Dec. 17, explaining that the bishop-designate has “excelled in his service” to the Green Bay diocese and has been “a trusted adviser on moral and canonical issues.”

“His presence, ministry and expertise will be sorely missed here, but he will bring many gifts to the Diocese of Marquette,” Bishop Ricken said.

Bishop-designate Doerfler has been the vicar general of the Diocese of Green Bay since 2005.

Born Nov. 2, 1964 in Appleton, Wisc., to Henry and Germaine Doerfler, he graduated from Appleton West High School in 1983 and received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and classics from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

The bishop-to-be was a seminarian at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology. He holds a licentiate in canon law from The Catholic University of America and both a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family in Washington, D.C.

Bishop-designate Doerfler was ordained a priest on July 13, 1991.

He has served as parochial vicar and administrator at several parishes of the Green Bay diocese, including St. John Nepomucene Parish in Little Chute, Holy Trinity Parish in Casco, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, St. Joseph Parish in Sturgeon Bay, and St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. He has also been rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis.  

Bishop-designate Doerfler has served in diocesan positions as chancellor and judge for the tribunal. He has taught at the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corner and has published several articles on medical ethics.

He is the chaplain to the northeast Wisconsin chapter of Legatus, an organization for Catholic businessmen, and has served in Hispanic ministry. He has worked with Catholic organizations including Teens Encounter Christ, Courage, Widows of Prayer and Retrouivaille.

In an interview published by Legatus Magazine in June 2010, Bishop-designated Doerfler said he was “highly involved” in his high school youth programs as a teenager.

His parents had a “very vibrant faith” and he “grew up in church in one way or another.”

He said he decided to pursue a vocation to the priesthood when he realized he couldn’t picture himself doing anything “other than working with the Church.”

The bishop-to-be will become the Marquette diocese’s thirteenth bishop. The diocese has more than 68,000 Catholics out of a population of 321,000. It has 90 priests, 44 permanent deacons and 51 vowed religious, covering an area of over 16,200 square miles.

Bishop-designate Doerfler’s ordination is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2014 at Marquette’s St. Peter Cathedral.

The diocese’s previous bishop, Alexander Sample, now heads the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore.

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Pope Francis declares sainthood of early Jesuit, Peter Faber

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis recognized the sainthood of early Jesuit Peter Faber on Dec. 17 after holding a private audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The decision, “enrolling in the catalogue of Saints” one of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus, was announced through the Holy See press office. The announcement said the Pope had “extended to the Universal Church the liturgical cult in honor of Blessed Peter Faber.”

It was also announced that Pope Francis had authorized the congregation to acknowledge a miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Maria Teresa Demjanovich, a sister of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, from New Jersey who died in 1927; the heroic virtues of Emmanuel Herranz Estables, a Spanish priest who died in 1968; and the heroic virtues of Giorgio Ciesielski, a Polish layman and father who died in 1970.

The means of St. Peter Faber's canonization is equivalent to that of St. Angela of Foligno, whom Pope Francis canonized Oct. 9. According Italian publication La Stampa, St. Angela's canonization diverged from the normal process involving the recognition of a second miracle attributed to the saint's intercession.

Such a canonization is done “when such a saint has been from a remote period the object of veneration, when his heroic virtues (or martyrdom) and miracles are related by reliable historians, and the fame of his miraculous intercession is uninterrupted,” La Stampa wrote.

St. Peter Faber was born in 1506, and studied at the University of Paris, where he met St. Ignatius Loyola and St Francis Xavier; the three went on to become the founders of the Society of Jesus. St. Peter Faber was ordained a priest in 1534, and served across Europe.

He died in 1546, and his relics are kept at the Church of the Gesu, the Jesuits' mother church in Rome. His feast has been kept Aug. 2, the anniversary of his death, by the Society of Jesus, and he was beatified in 1872 by Pius IX.

Pope Francis has referred to the new saint at least twice in his pontificate, both in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii gaudium” and in his Sept. 30 interview with Jesuit publications.

In “Evangelii gaudium,” Pope Francis quoted the saint as saying “time is God's messenger,” making a point about the need for patience, an ability to listen, and docility to the Holy Spirit, in the process of drawing others closer to God.

In his Sept. 30 interview, the Pope cited St. Peter Faber as a Jesuit who had particularly affected him, saying he was moved by the priest's “dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”

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NY judge orders first permanent block against HHS mandate

New York City, N.Y., Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A federal judge in New York has issued the first permanent injunction against the federal contraception mandate, a ruling that religious freedom advocates are praising as a major victory.

“There is no way that a court can, or should, determine that a coerced violation of conscience is of insufficient quantum to merit constitutional protection,” wrote Judge Brian Cogan of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn in a Dec. 16 ruling.

He explained that the controversial mandate “burdens plaintiffs’ religion by coercing them into authorizing third parties to provide this coverage through the self-certification requirement, an act forbidden by plaintiffs’ religion.”

Judge Cogan issued the ruling in a case brought by the Catholic archdioceses of New York and Rockville Centre, as well as associated Catholic institutions within the archdioceses. The lawsuit challenged the federal contraception mandate, arguing that it amounts to an unconstitutional violation of religious freedom.

The mandate, issued as a directive under the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraceptives, sterilization, and some products that may cause early abortions.

In his ruling, Cogan dismissed the complaints of the archdioceses themselves, because they are already exempt from the mandate in its finalized form, which was released by the Obama administration after an extensive revision process.

However, he granted permanent injunctive relief to the remaining plaintiffs that were not already exempt: Cardinal Spellman High School, Monsignor Farrell High School, Catholic Health Care System – or ArchCare – and Catholic Health Services of Long Island. The injunction protects the organizations from the demands of the mandate and from the penalties for failing to comply with it.

This marks the first time a judge has granted a permanent injunction in a case challenging the mandate, although other institutions have received temporary injunctions. Some 89 cases against the federal regulation have been filed by a total of nearly 300 plaintiffs across the country. Many are still working their way through the court system. The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear a challenge to the mandate brought by two for-profit business owners, with a ruling expected next summer.

In the New York case, the federal government argued that it had adequately provided for the religious freedom of the organizations through an “accommodation” offered to non-exempt religious employers, whereby they would act to trigger a third-party administration to provide the coverage. The plaintiffs argued that the plan still required them to facilitate the coverage that they found morally objectionable.

In his ruling, Cogan commented that despite the accommodation, the Catholic organizations faced “substantial” burdens on their religious beliefs and “coercive pressure” to comply with the mandate. He noted that the institutions were given the options of violating their religious beliefs or paying thousands of dollars per employee per year in fines.

The judge rejected the Department of Health and Human Services’ claim that there is no viable alternative to the mandate in providing access to contraceptives and related products. Rather, he stated, “numerous less restrictive alternatives are readily apparent,” such as the government directly providing contraceptives to individuals.

“It would set a dangerous precedent to hold that if the Executive Branch cannot act unilaterally, then there is no alternative solution,” Cogan commented, adding that “Congress may pass appropriate legislation” if the Executive Branch is unable to create an alternative on its own.

He also rejected the argument that alternatives to the federal mandate would be less effective or too burdensome on women. If such alternatives “only entail filling out a form,” he suggested as an example, the “burden of filling out that form should fall on those who have no religious objection to doing so.”

Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Archdiocese of New York, welcomed the ruling in a Dec. 16 statement.

“The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second class citizens with second class First Amendment protections,” he said.

“Religious freedom is our ‘First Freedom,’ guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States,” he confirmed, adding that the decision reiterates that freedom of religion is not merely the freedom to worship, but also “must include how we act in accord with our religious beliefs.”

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Pope appoints, confirms members of bishops' congregation

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2013 (CNA) - On Dec. 16 Pope Francis made appointments at the Congregation for Bishops, confirming as its prefect Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a position he has held since 2010.

He also appointed Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., as a member of the congregation. Cardinal Wuerl currently serves on several pontifical councils, as well as committees of U.S. bishops. He also served as relator general for the October 2012 Vatican Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.

The Congregation of Bishops is responsible for what pertains to the “establishment and provision of particular Churches and to the exercise of the episcopal office in the Latin Church” – primarily, overseeing the process of selecting and appointing bishops.

At the same time, Pope Francis confirmed and appointed several members of the congregation, and confirmed its Consultors.

The confirmed members were: Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone, Zenon Grocholewski, George Pell, Agostino Vallini, Antonio Cañizares Llovera, André Vingt-Trois, Jean-Louis Tauran, William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Leonardo Sandri, Giovanni Lajolo, Stanislaw Rylko, Francesco Monterisi, Santos Abril y Castelló, Giuseppe Bertello, and Giuseppe Versaldi as well as Archbishops Claudio Maria Celli, José Octavio Ruiz Arenas and Zygmunt Zimowski.

Other members of the Congregation appointed by Pope Francis include: Cardinals Francisco Robles Ortega; Ruben Salazar Gomez; Kurt Koch; and João Braz de Aviz; as well as Archbishops Pietro Parolin; Beniamino Stella; Lorenzo Baldisseri; Vincent Nichols; Paolo Rabitti; and Bishop Felix Genn.

Neither Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia, 78, nor Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, 65, were confirmed as members of the congregation.

Despite speculation that Cardinal Burke was not confirmed for political reasons, Pennsylvania-based speaker and author Fr. John Trigilio said that this is not the case.

The cardinal “has contributed and continues to contribute a great deal to the Church universal and the Church in the United States,” Fr. Trigilio, who is president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and a priest of the Harrisburg diocese, explained to CNA Dec. 16.

Cardinal Burke remains prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the supreme tribunal of the Church, his primary position in the Roman Curia, one that is “even more influential and has more impact” than a seat on the Congregation for Bishops.

“That tells me that this is not a political shuffle, as it has been portrayed,” Fr. Trigilio said, adding that it is a mistake to “read between the lines” in search of a rebuke of Cardinal Burke.

“If the Pope had a lack of confidence in Cardinal Burke, he would have taken away all of his jobs and retired him.”

In addition to his prefecture, Cardinal Burke remains a member of the Congregations for Clergy, Divine Worship, and the Causes of Saints.

Thomas Peters, an American blogger, noted that Cardinal Burke has been in Rome at the Signatura since 2008, and that thus, “if you asked me to pick who has a better working knowledge of the makeup, demands and expectations of the American episcopate right now I would say the state-side Cardinal Wuerl … so from one aspect, this is a move towards efficiency.”

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Archbishop cooperates with investigation over 'touching' charge

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop John Nienstedt has temporarily stepped down and is cooperating in a police investigation involving a claim that he inappropriately touched a young man during a group photo four years ago.

In a Dec. 17 letter, the Saint Paul and Minneapolis archbishop denied the charge made by a male youth claiming that his buttocks were inappropriately touched after a 2009 confirmation ceremony in the archdiocese.

“True, I am a sinner, but my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors,” the archbishop wrote. “I have met victims and I know the lasting damage that such abuse causes.”

He stated that his normal practice is to stand for group photos “with one hand on my crozier (staff) and the other either on the right shoulder of the newly confirmed or on my pallium (the short stole), which hangs from my chest.”

“I do that deliberately and there are hundreds of photographs to verify that fact,” he said.

The archbishop said he does not know the identity of the accuser, but maintained that “this allegation is absolutely and entirely false.”

“I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor and I have tried to the very best of my ability to serve this Archdiocese and the church faithfully, with honor and due regard for the rights of all, even those with whom I disagree,” he said.

“I have taken strong stands on the moral teachings of the Church and been criticized for it. I would not have done so if I did not believe those teachings and was personally bound to living up to them in practice.”

Archbishop Nienstedt voiced his hope that the investigations “be thorough but quick” and asked for prayers. Bishop Lee Piché, an auxiliary of the St. Paul archdiocese, will stand in and cover the archbishop's tasks in the interim.

Archbishop Nienstedt has voluntarily stepped aside from all public ministry during the investigation, which includes him not participating in the solemnities of Christmas and the Mother of God.  

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis also released a Dec. 17 statement acknowledging the allegation and expressing a willingness to “cooperate fully” with local police.

The archdiocese reiterated its commitment to ensuring safe environments for young people, as well as the importance of due process for everyone involved.  

“The steps taken in response to the allegation against the archbishop demonstrate and reaffirm the archdiocese’s commitment to disclosure,” the statement read.  

“These steps further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established. This is the position of the archdiocese and the archbishop himself.”

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the individual involved and the archbishop as justice is pursued and all may move forward on a path toward healing.”

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