Archive of May 23, 2014

Pope reportedly displeased by sumptuous canonization banquet

Vatican City, May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Vatican official has revealed that Pope Francis was displeased by an extravagant banquet at a Vatican office during the recent canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, Italian media are reporting.

“I can’t reveal what he said (the Pope). I informed him about it and I can only say that he was not pleased, so to speak. But I can assure you that these incidents will not happen again,” said Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Vatican Prefecture for Economic Affairs, during an interview on the Italia 1 television network.

Photos of the event appear to depict some 150 guests – including businessmen, journalists and some Italian religious – gathered on the veranda of the Vatican Prefecture for Economic Affairs during the April 27 canonization ceremony for a VIP banquet that reportedly cost private sponsors nearly $25,000.

Cardinal Versaldi said he was not aware of the celebration on the veranda of the prefecture and the he had only granted permission for a few people to have access to view the canonization ceremony.

Photos of the party published on the website Dagospia appear to show numerous guests including well-known Italian journalists such as Bruno Vespa, Maria Latella and Marco Carrai, who is a close collaborator of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, as well as the president of the Vatican’s Institute for Religious Works, Ernst von Freyberg.

According to L’Espresso, the Pope was also displeased at how Communion was distributed on the balcony during the Mass using a regular glass cup instead of a ciborium or paten.

The photos appear to show Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, secretary of the prefecture and member of the commission charged with overseeing the Holy See’s economic and administrative bodies, distributing Holy Communion to attendees at the banquet.

“I’m not talking about the veranda,” Msgr. Vallejo Balda said in response to questions about the banquet. “Thank God we have other problems.”

L’Espresso said that in the wake of Pope Francis’ displeasure, officials are seeking to determine who was responsible for the event, which was held on one of the verandas at the Vatican while thousands spent the night waiting to attend the ceremony.

“Like many of you, I was also surprised and outraged by this. I have immediately begun the search for an explanation, which is still in progress, and I have informed all of the chief authorities in order to try to find the person responsible for all of this, which clashes with the spirit of a canonization and especially with the style Pope Francis wanted for this celebration, one of sobriety and participation by the people,” Cardinal Versaldi said.

L’Espresso claims the “host” and “organizer” of the banquet was Francesca Chaouqui, an Italian woman who also sits on the Vatican financial oversight commission.

The magazine also published what it said was the invitation to the event sent on behalf of the prefecture, which includes the names of the banquet’s two sponsors, identified as Assidai – the medical insurance company used by many executives - and Italian petroleum giant Medoilgas.

The report included messages allegedly from Chaouqui thanking the sponsors for the collaboration.

Chaouqui said she was not the organizer of the banquet and that the report by L’Espresso was an attempt to “discredit her” before the Pope.

From the outset of his pontificate, Pope Francis has often stressed the need for austerity and has voiced his concern for the poor and those most in need, always fostering a culture of global solidarity.

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Nigerian bishop calls on global community to fight Boko Haram

Jos, Nigeria, May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - One day after bombings in his city killed nearly 120, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, has called on the international community to take tangible steps in helping to defeat a radical Islamist group.

Two bombs went off in Jos, capital of Nigeria’s centrally located Plateau State, on May 20. One blast was in a market, and the other was outside a nearby hospital. At least 118 people were killed, and 56 injured. The second bomb, set off half an hour after the first, killed rescue workers.

Archbishop Kaigama told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need May 21 that “the international community can help in a number of important ways. The sale of arms is of grave concern. In short, the (government) needs help in cutting the supply lines of Boko Haram and others.”

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful,” launched an uprising in 2009 and hopes to impose sharia law on Nigeria. It has targeted security forces, politicians, schools, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.

The group “is faithful to its target of eliminating and destroying Christianity from parts of the country,” commented Archbishop Kaigama. “The only difference is that we are not just seeing Christians dying and being abducted, we are seeing attacks on Muslims who (Boko Haram) considers are not Muslim enough.”

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009, including at least 1,600 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons, and some 57,000 refugees.

While the militants have not claimed responsibility for this week’s bombings in Jos, they have acknowledged being behind a string of earlier attacks. They were also blamed for attacks on two villages in Borno state May 19 and 20 which killed 27.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan called the attacks in Jos a “tragic assault on human freedom” and said his government “remains fully committed to winning the war against terror and … will not be cowed by the atrocities of enemies of human progress and civilization.”

Jonathan has been criticized for his government’s failure to do enough to block Boko Haram.

Archbishop Kaigama commented that “the problem is that the government thought that they did not have to apply all the force that was necessary to defeat them but they have been proved wrong,” adding that the government had done “too little, too late” and now “lacked the capacity” to deal with the Islamists.

“All the money used for the military has not been used properly,” he asserted. “Quite a lot of the budget was used for security but we do not see the fruits.”

He went on to appeal for concrete aid in such areas as intelligence gathering, border protections, and countering arms sales.

“While we appreciate what has been done recently with so many coming together in solidarity with us – and it really is great that the whole world is talking about it – what we need to do is work together to find solutions and put economics and other interests to one side.”

Boko Haram has drawn increased international attention since its April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, from their boarding school in Borno state.

The U.S. has deployed 80 military personnel to neighboring Chad to assist in intelligence gathering in northern Nigeria and surrounding areas, and is sharing intelligence with the Nigerian military.

Chad, Niger, and Cameroon have also pledged to join a force countering Boko Haram.

Both the U.S. and the U.K. are flying surveillance aircraft over Nigeria; a U.K. spy plane broke down on Tuesday, but has been repaired and is again operational. Israel has sent intelligence experts and specialists in hostage negotiation to help rescue the abducted schoolgirls.

After years of receiving requests from human rights and religious freedom organizations, the U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization late last year. The designation allows the U.S. government to freeze or seize its bank accounts, to deport its members and associates, and to sanction the group’s supporters.

On May 22, the U.N. Security Council approved sanctions against Boko Haram including an arms embargo and asset freeze.

Jos itself has been relatively peaceful for two years: “People were beginning to move freely from one end of the town to another without fear,” said Archbishop Kaigama.

“We thought we had moved beyond all this (violence) and so to wake up to this is very demoralizing. It is very tragic and unexpected,” he said of Tuesday’s bombings.

This is not the first time Archbishop Kaigama has appealed for peace and international aid. The prelate, who has led the Jos archdiocese since 2000, had told Vatican Radio in July 2012 that he and his priests were discouraged by foreign governments’ silence regarding the violence there.

A peaceful resolution “cannot be left to just one country,” he had said, urging a “collective effort.”

Many countries had issued travel warnings for their citizens, but otherwise remained silent.

And yet, Archbishop Kaigama told Vatican Radio two years ago, “this is the time we need them to express solidarity, that human show of love and support.”

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Religious leaders back US work for Holy Land peace

Washington D.C., May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Two U.S. bishops have joined other religious leaders in asking Secretary of State John Kerry to continue “determined U.S. leadership” in negotiating for peace between Palestine and Israel.

“Indeed, no past progress toward peace has occurred in this conflict without U.S. leadership, facilitation and resolute support,” said the May 20 letter to Kerry from the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East.

The letter was signed by more than 30 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, including Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the emeritus Archbishop of Washington.

“A two-state agreement, in which both peoples will live in peace, security, and mutual recognition, represents the only realistic resolution of the conflict,” the letter continued.

“Over time, developments on the ground and failures of leadership are making that goal more difficult to achieve.”

The religious leaders professed unity in their support for Kerry’s commitment to peace, saying this commitment needs his “continued, determined engagement.”

“We continue to be committed to mobilizing public support of our members in synagogues, churches and mosques across the country for your efforts, and we look forward to meeting with you at an appropriate time to discuss ways we can help.”

The letter comes ahead of Pope Francis' May 24-26 pilgrimage to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, during which he will pray for peace in the Middle East.

He will arrive in Amman, the Jordanian capital, May 24 and pay a courtesy visit to the nation's king and queen, and will later address national authorities.

That afternoon he will say Mass, then visit Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist was baptizing. There, Pope Francis will address refugees and the physically disabled.

The following day, Pope Francis will travel to Palestine to visit Bethlehem, meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saying Mass, and praying the Regina Caeli.

He will lunch with Palestinian families at the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova, and then make a private visit to the grotto of the nativity. After this, he will be greeted by refugee children, and then depart by helicopter for Israel.

He will meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople; the two will sign a joint declaration, after which there will be a public ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

On May 26, Pope Francis will meet Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, the Sunni cleric entrusted with the city's Muslim holy places.

He will then visit the Western Wall and lay a wreath at Mount Herzl, the site of Israel's national cemetery, and then make a discourse at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial of the Holocaust, and meet with Jerusalem's chief rabbis.

In the afternoon he will meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew, aside the Orthodox parish on the Mount of Olives, after which he will meet with priests, religious, and seminarians at the church of Gethsemane.

Pope Francis will say Mass with the ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Papal suite at the Cenacle, and he will preach at the Mass.

In the evening, he will fly from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, say farewell to Israel, and return to Rome.

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Pope's Yad Veshem visit lauded for interreligious significance

Jerusalem, Israel, May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A local youth has praised Pope Francis’ decision to visit Jerusalem’s Yad Veshem holocaust memorial during his Holy Land trip, saying that it raises awareness to what the Jewish community suffered.

“It’s very important that other religious people will visit this site. I mean it’s not only for Jews, but also for other cultures to see what it was,” a young man named Shai told CNA May 23.

“I believe the Jews know what happened, and I think other religions need to know it too. I mean it’s part of the human history, because not only Jews were in this period of time. It’s very important.”

Yad Vashem was established in 1953, just five years after the foundation of the State of Israel, as a living memorial of the Holocaust, and has become a world center for holocaust documentation, research, education and commemoration.

Shai, who declares himself an atheist but comes from Jewish roots and believes “in the spirit of Judaism,” hails from Tel Aviv, Israel and was visiting the memorial with a group of friends.

The memorial, he said, is “like the central, the spirit of Judaism all over the world. I mean this is part of our history and we have to remember all of the 6 million Jews who were in the holocaust.”

Greek for “catastrophe,” the holocaust was the mass slaughter of roughly 6 million Jews during World War II by Nazi Germany, a party that was led by Adolf Hitler throughout the German Reich and German-occupied territories.

According to Yad Vashem’s website it was founded on four pillars, and is first of all dedicated to commemorating the lives of the 6 million Jews that were killed during the holocaust, as well as to the communities that were destroyed during the warring years in order to give them an eternal remembrance.

Displays in the museum contain vast amounts of historical information on the holocaust, as well as personal belongings, authentic photographs and original art done by Jews who either perished or went into hiding when the persecution began.

The memorial also has an extensive database of victims’ names, which researchers are still working to expand by searching for the names and life stories of individuals. As of now close to 3.1 million Jews are listed in the database, which was added to their webpage in 2004.

It is also the only organization worldwide that officially recognizes non-Jews who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

A second pillar of the memorial is to document the events that took place by collecting evidence in order to give an accurate and detailed account of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people.

Housing the largest collection of holocaust documentation in the world, Yad Vashem has 125 million pages of evidence, 420,000 photographs and over 100,000 survivor testimonies that give witness to the inhumane crimes committed against the Jewish people, as well as videos.

Making research another top priority, the memorial has published various documents on their historical findings, and continues to work with scholars who both investigate and examine elements of the holocaust that have not been fully uncovered.

Also established by Yad Veshem is the International Institute for Holocaust Research, which organizes and facilitates numerous projects, symposiums, workshops and conferences on their findings, as well as encourages further exploration of holocaust events.

Finally, the memorial also established an International School for Holocaust Studies in 1993, which offers educational programs as well as produces educational material on holocaust events.

It also provides guidelines on how to approach the topic with varying ages teaches through the use of art, music, literature, theology and drama. The school contains 17 classrooms, a pedagogical center and an auditorium.

The Pope’s presence here, Shai noted, is “very important for this country and for the Jews all over the world.”

Regarding the fact that for the first time in history a Jewish Rabbi, Abraham Skorka of Argentina, will be among the Roman Pontiff’s delegation to the Holy Land, the youth stated that “I think this is very good.”

“It makes me happy that the Pope makes a relationship with other cultures and not saying that the Catholic is the only religion in the world. I mean, you can say that but it’s not true,” Shari observed.

“So he basically is trying to make peace with other religions. It’s very good, I’m very happy that he will do that.”

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Pope Francis entrusts Holy Land trip to Virgin Mary

Rome, Italy, May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis privately visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning to pray and entrust to the Virgin Mary his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

After 15 minutes of meditation and prayer before the image of Mary known as Salus Populi Romani, Pope Francisco offered a bouquet of white and yellow roses at the feet of the Virgin.

Since the beginning of his papal ministry in March 2013, this is the eighth visit Pope Francis has made to the Virgin Mary, under whose protection he has placed his pontificate.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, the archpriest of the basilica, Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, explained that Pope Francis sees Mary as a maternal guide and inspiration for his actions.

Pope Francis will travel to the Holy Land May 24-26. He will visit Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist was baptizing. He will also travel to Palestine to visit Bethlehem.

In Jerusalem, he will visit the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, the church of Gethsemane, and the Cenacle.

The Pope will address refugees and the physically disabled on his trip. He will meet with Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, the Sunni cleric entrusted with the city's Muslim holy places, as well as Jerusalem's chief rabbis.

He will also meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople; the two will sign a joint declaration, after which there will be a public ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

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CNA will bring your prayer intentions to the Holy Land

Jerusalem, Israel, May 23, 2014 (CNA) - CNA's special coverage team has arrived in the Holy Land for Pope Francis' historic visit.
This weekend they will be bringing the prayer intentions of our readers to Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre.

Readers who wish to share their intentions can write them in the comment section of this page. Those that follow CNA on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram can also do so by using the hashtag #CNAprayer with their intention.

In addition, prayer requests can be sent to [email protected]

We will receive all of these intentions until Sunday, May, 25th.

Pope Francis will travel to the Holy Land May 24-26. He will visit Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist was baptizing. He will also travel to Palestine to visit Bethlehem.

In Jerusalem, he will visit the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, the church of Gethsemane, and the Cenacle.

The Pope will address refugees and the physically disabled on his trip. He will meet with Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, the Sunni cleric entrusted with the city's Muslim holy places, as well as Jerusalem's chief rabbis.

He will also meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople; the two will sign a joint declaration, after which there will be a public ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

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The Official Motto of Pope's Pilgrimage: 'That they may be one'

Jerusalem, Israel, May 23, 2014 (CNA) - The leaders of the Catholic communities in Israel, Jordan and Cyprus have chosen the logo and motto for the Pope's pilgrimage which will begin on Saturday, May 24.

The motto is ¨That they may be one¨ and the logo presents the two Apostles and brothers Saint Peter and Saint Andrew embracing. The Holy Land Review reports that the logo and motto were presented at the recent Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land, celebrated on March 11 and 12 in Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The motto for the pilgrimage, The Holy Land Review notes, recalls that when Pope Francis announced his trip to the Holy Land, he expressed his desire to commemorate the meeting in Jerusalem between

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, who announced his trip in January on the 50th anniversary of this meeting.

Pope Francis' pilgrimage will have three phases: Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and will include an Ecumenical Meeting with all the representatives of the Christian churches of Jerusalem, together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in the Holy Sepulchre.

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Holy See did not violate torture convention, UN committee says

Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A U.N. anti-torture committee report has said that the Holy See did not violate the international Convention Against Torture.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio the committee’s observations are “an acknowledgement of the good faith efforts of the Holy See to comply (with) always and to advance the Convention Against Torture.”

The U.N. Committee on the Convention Against Torture released an advanced unedited version of its concluding observations on May 23.

“The committee did not conclude that the Holy See, its officials, and those acting on its behalf, in conjunction with it, or under its direction or control have violated the Convention Against Torture,” the Holy See stressed in a communique.

The Holy See said the observations include many positive findings that show the committee acknowledges “the good faith efforts of the Holy See to comply with the Convention Against Torture, to institute reforms to prevent sexual abuse; and to compensate and facilitate the care and healing of sexual abuse.”

The committee observations cited the Holy See’s “clear condemnation” of the use of torture and noted Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 statement to prison chaplains that the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances.”

The U.N. committee acknowledged that the Holy See, Catholic dioceses and religious orders have instituted “important efforts” to prevent sex abuse. It welcomed Pope Francis’ comments on sex abuse on April 11, 2014, when he told the International Catholic Child Bureau: “We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger.”

The committee said the Holy See should ensure effective monitoring of accused clergy, prevent the transfer of clergy who face credible abuse accusations, and report allegations to civil authorities. It said the Holy See should ensure its officials react properly to credible allegations and should sanction any official who fails to do so.

The extent to which the convention applies to all Catholic clergy was a matter of debate at the hearings on the Holy See.

The U.N. committee report said that signatories to the convention have “international responsibility” for their officials and for “non-state actors” in “any situation in which they exercise jurisdiction or effective control.”

However, Vatican officials have repeatedly stated that there is a distinction between the Holy See and the global Church. International treaties are signed by countries rather than global institutions, they stressed, so while the Church as an institution exercises moral, spiritual and pastoral responsibility over its ministers, the Holy See’s signature on the anti-torture convention in 2002 has as its legal jurisdiction only the Vatican City State.

Critics have accused the U.N. of using the hearing as an opportunity to harass and target the Catholic Church by focusing on sex abuse. They have argued that sex abuse – although a terrible offense – does not meet the definition for “torture” laid out in the convention.

That definition states that torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

The United Nations’ Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child held hearings about the Holy See earlier this year. That committee similarly focused on the Catholic sex abuse scandals, but also criticized Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

The Holy See communique noted that the anti-torture committee report rejected interpretations of the Church’s stance against abortion as a form of torture. This properly safeguards the freedom of religion and efforts to protect human life, the Holy See said.  

Some members of the anti-torture committee had criticized Catholic opposition to abortion at its hearings in early May. One committee vice-chair, the American Felice Gaer, told the Holy See delegation that the committee has found that criminalizing abortion in all circumstances can violate the convention against torture.

The Holy See communique reiterated support for the Convention Against Torture. It voiced willingness to enact measures to prevent “any cruel and inhuman behavior” and to continue to support all victims.


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UN report shows reform efforts in Church, observers say

Washington D.C., May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A U.N. anti-torture committee’s report on the Holy See recognized Church efforts to combat sex abuse, but some problems in the committee’s approach risk undermining international treaty agreements, observers said.

“It is encouraging to see the Committee Against Torture affirm and praise the important reforms the Church has put into place to protect children and its ongoing commitment to those reforms,” Ashley McGuire, an advisory board member of Catholic Voices, said May 23.

She noted that the report cites Pope Francis’ words that the Church “will not take one step backward” in its response to sex abuse and to sanctioning its perpetrators.

The U.N. committee reviews the activities of countries that have signed the Convention Against Torture, meeting with delegations from signatory countries every five years. The hearing on the Holy See’s adherence to the convention took place in Geneva in early May. The committee report was released May 23.

The committee report cited the Holy See’s “clear condemnation” of the use of torture and noted Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 statement to prison chaplains that the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances.”

The committee acknowledged that the Holy See, Catholic dioceses and religious orders have instituted “important efforts” to prevent sex abuse. It said the Holy See should ensure effective monitoring of accused clergy, prevent the transfer of clergy who face credible abuse accusations, and report allegations to civil authorities.

Noting that the committee did not find that the Holy See violated the Convention Against Torture, McGuire said the report is the first time that an international institution such as the United Nations has “publicly affirmed that the Church has reformed and moved forward.”

McGuire said the committee also backed away from the “extremist argument that to be pro-life is to be pro-torture.” The committee vice-chair, U.S. appointee Felice Gaer, had told the Holy See delegation that the committee had found that criminalizing abortion in all circumstances can violate the anti-torture convention.

A more critical view of the committee came from James Kelly, president of the Atlanta-based Solidarity Center for Law and Justice. He said the committee review of the Holy See’s report on the anti-torture convention revealed “some disturbing abuses occurring within the human rights treaty body system.”

Kelly said that while the U.N. committee noted that rape does not fall under the definition of torture laid out in the convention, it also used ambiguous language, utilizing the terms “torture” and “sex abuse” in “close proximity” in a way that could confuse the reader.

He said the committee unduly burdened the human rights treaty body system, which is not intended to serve as tribunals or courts of law. The manner in which the Holy See hearing was conducted means that countries must begin to treat the proceedings like a tribunal or a court or “they will become victims of a distorted quasi-judicial process,” he cautioned.

Kelly particularly criticized Gaer, saying that she significantly relied upon the work of two non-governmental organizations in a manner that showed a lack of impartiality.

He contended that Gaer attempted to expand the legal definition of torture to include abortion opposition and also used the news media to advance that interpretation in a way that was “improper and misleading.”

In addition, Kelly said Gaer approached the hearings as if they were a law-making body. He alleged that she acted as if the convention can be amended through the committee hearing process, rather than by formal amendment by state parties to the convention.

If these problems are not corrected, Kelly warned, they will “continue to weaken” the convention system, which he said is an “important vehicle for protecting human rights throughout the world.”

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Austrian couple excommunicated for simulating Mass

Vienna, Austria, May 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Austrian bishop has announced that a married couple, including a leader with a dissenting Catholic organization, have excommunicated themselves for simulating a celebration of a Mass.

Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Innsbruck has announced the “self-excommunication” of Martha and Gert Heizer. He cited their announcement of holding “private celebrations of the Eucharist without a priest.”

“I believe that the Heizer couple knew what situation they are causing and what their actions mean for the Church,” he said in a May 22 statement on the Innsbruck diocese’s website.

The bishop explained that the Mass is by its nature “a celebration of the whole Church” and a priest must be present.

Martha Heizer, 67, is a leader with the group We Are Church Austria. Simulations of the Mass regularly took place in the Heizer home.

The Heizers issued a statement saying they believed they had not been excommunicated because they said they belong to the Church through baptism “as long as we do not leave voluntarily.”

They said they would work “for reform in the Catholic Church.”

Bishop Scheuer said that he considers the excommunication “a defeat for the Church” because the couple did not rethink their actions.

“With great regret, I find there has been no rethinking until now by those involved.”

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