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Analysis: Did Cardinal O’Malley open a door to papal criticism from US bishops?

Denver, Colo., Jan 22, 2018 / 04:37 pm (CNA).- It is no secret that the pontificate of Pope Francis has been a challenge for Church leaders to navigate, and the bishops of the United States are no exception.  A man often called the Pope of surprises, who has encouraged Catholics to “make a mess,” the pontiff’s spontaneity, new approaches, and willingness to rebuff traditional consultative mechanisms has, more than once, seemed to catch American bishops off-guard.

But for the most part, America’s church leaders have been careful to emphasize their unity with Pope Francis. The bishops have mostly expressed strong public support for Francis, even while offering widely differing takes on the meaning of his teachings, especially regarding the interpretation of the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.  

Although some sitting American bishops have privately expressed reservations about the Pope’s leadership, none had deemed it appropriate to publicly correct the Pope.

Ecclesiastical culture emphasizes fraternity, harmony, and the appearance of getting along, and the American bishops have seemed to stress those values during the Francis pontificate.
 
In 2013, Archbishop Charles Chaput told a reporter, “I’ve never been critical of the Holy Father and would never speak ill of him.” That sentiment might have been considered a universal commitment among America’s bishops.

At least until this weekend, when Cardinal Sean O’Malley issued a strong criticism of some recent comments from Pope Francis.

The criticism was a response to remarks Pope Francis made about a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, who is accused of covering up acts of sexual abuse for his one-time friend, the disgraced Fr. Fernando Karadima. Barros has claimed to be innocent, and Francis has been a staunch defender. In 2015, he appointed him to lead the Diocese of Osorno, and shortly thereafter, he told an official at the Chilean bishops’ conference that opposition to the appointment was “silliness.”

“Think with your head, and do not be carried away by the noses of the leftists, who are the ones who put this thing together,” the Pope told Deacon Jaime Coiro during a brief meeting in May 2015 at the Vatican.

Karadima was a prominent figure in Chile, and many Chileans have been critical of the Vatican for the handling of his case. Although he was found guilty of sexual abuse by a Vatican tribunal, he was not laicized because of his advanced age. Before Francis arrived in Chile, there were large protests in the country, and several churches were vandalized. The matter of Barros’ appointment was a part of the conversation.   

On Friday, Francis told a reporter “the day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Francis may have meant otherwise, and Barros’ situation is complicated, but the Pope was largely understood to be accusing Barros’ accusers, some of whom are Karadima’s victims, of calumny-- slander or detraction.  

For many, this was a bridge too far.

O’Malley’s statement called the Pope’s remarks a “source of great pain” for abuse survivors.  

“Words that convey the message ‘if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed’ abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile,” O’Malley’s statement read.

On his return flight from South America yesterday, the Pope apologized for his remarks, and tried to clarify them, while continuing to express support for Barros.

O’Malley’s statement praised the Pope’s support for abuse survivors, and it can hardly be called “speaking ill” of Francis. But it was certainly a direct criticism of his comments.
 
It is not surprising O’Malley was unhappy with the Pope’s remarks. O’Malley took over the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003, after the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, who was widely reported to have been negligent in his response to allegations of sexual abuse among the clergy. Boston was the epicenter of the “Long Lent of 2002,” which began the sexual abuse scandal in the United States, and O’Malley, arriving in the midst of the fervor, bore the brunt.

By many accounts, O’Malley handled that responsibility admirably. He met with victims, engaged in complicated litigation, dealt with canonical and civil trials of priests, and, to his chagrin, oversaw the closure of some Boston parishes.

He became, in many respects, the face of the American Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

But O’Malley was not alone. Since 2002, the leaders of the Catholic Church have worked, with a great deal of actual unity, to ensure safe Catholic environments for children and vulnerable adults. The 2002 documents guiding that work have led bishops to establish lay-led review boards, to implement background checks and abuse-prevention trainings, and to establish offices for child protection in their dioceses.

While some bishops have expressed concern about “mission creep” among child protection professionals, or advocated for a stronger stated correlation between homosexuality and some acts of sexual abuse, the bishops have been unified in recognizing a problem, and working to root it out.

Most American bishops have had the difficult experience of meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse, and apologizing for their suffering.

The issue has not been characterized by ideological division. The current chairman of the bishops’ committee on child and youth protection, Bishop Ed Burns of Dallas, is widely perceived to be hard-working, non-political, and collaborative. Most observers would say that those adjectives describe the character of the bishops’ approach to child-protection.

And, for the most part, their efforts have had effect. Sexual abuse prevention policies have largely worked to screen potential predators from among the clergy, and the Church in the US has begun to rebuild its credibility on the issue of sexual abuse.

O’Malley’s statement emphasized the Church’s concern for victims of sexual abuse, and its commitment to safe environments. While his concern for Karadima’s victims rang true, the statement may have also been motivated by a concern that the Pope’s remarks would be a step backward for the public credibility of the Church in the US, which has taken many painful steps in order to move forward.

Given the difficult work American bishops have done to address sexual abuse, it makes sense that O’Malley offered a response to the Pope.  But his statement was certainly outside the norm for American bishops in the modern era.

In the Church’s long history, criticism from bishops aimed at the Pope is not uncommon.  But contemporary critique from American bishops is usually far less direct and far more veiled than O’Malley’s statement. His statement may prove exceptional: a singular correction on a unique issue. Or it may have pave the way for other kinds of statements.

O’Malley’s concern was likely shared by other American bishops, but, since Pope Francis has apologized, it seems unlikely that there will be more statements from American bishops on this issue.

But other significant issues are looming.

This year, the Pope will lead a synod on vocations and young people, where some expect that clerical celibacy may be an issue for discussion. And during this year, the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, some predict debate on the encyclical’s interpretation.

Humanae Vitae, especially, is an issue that the bishops of the United States have stressed over the past few decades. Several American bishops have long-standing affiliation with natural family planning apostolates, and, especially since the 2012 HHS mandate, the USCCB itself has invested in a pastoral emphasis on the teachings of Humanae Vitae.  If there was any perception that those teachings were at risk of being de-emphasized, American bishops might view that as a bridge too far, as O’Malley did in this case.

And, given the work the bishops have done to promote priestly vocations over the past twenty years, they could be similarly concerned if they felt that Rome might give conflicting signals about clerical celibacy.

The American bishops might stick to their emphasis on unity and fraternity. But, with difficult conversations on the horizon, and with O’Malley setting a new precedent, it’s possible that other bishops might feel empowered to offer more direct criticism, if they felt it was needed.

On those issues, of course, it is not clear whether the Pope would respond to criticism with a mid-flight apology.  

Full text of Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference from Peru

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2018 / 10:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a conversation with journalists on his return flight from Peru to Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis discussed the people of Peru and Chile, clerical sexual abuse, his recent in-flight marriage celebration, and the Amazon region, among other topics.
 
Here is CNA's full transcript of the Pope's in-flight press conference:


Greg Burke: Holy Father, thank you after a long and intense journey, at times warm, where you touched people's hearts, the holy people faithful to God, with a message of peace and hope, but also faced the challenges of the Church in Chile, the Church in Peru and also the two societies, with a special intention for the human dignity of the indigenous peoples and for the Amazon. Thank you for the opportunity to follow it closely and now let’s try to delve a bit further into the themes of the trip.

Pope Francis: Good evening and thanks for your work. It was a trip... I don’t know how you say in Italian, but in Spanish you say “pasteurized,” as you do with milk. You don’t pass from cold to hot, from hot to cold. And we passed from the south of Chile, a fresh, beautiful landscape, to the desert, the forests of Maldonado, then to Trujillo, the sea, and then to Lima. All the temperatures and all the climes. And this is tiring. Thanks so much! Now, the questions.

Greg Burke: Yes. We have questions from Peru and Chile to start. Armando Canchanya.

Pope Francis: Let’s start with those about the trip, all of them, and when we finish, if something is missing about the trip, I’ll tell you, and then the other questions if there are any.

Greg Burke: Perfect! Armando Canchanya of RPP, Perù
 
Armando Canchanya (RPP, Perù): Thanks for letting us accompany you. You went through three cities. I wanted to ask you about this trip. What does the Holy Father take with him from the trip to Peru?

Pope Francis: I take the impression of a believing people who have had many difficulties and they had them historically. But they have a faith that impresses me, not only the faith in Trujillo, where popular piety is very rich and very strong, but also the faith on the streets, and not only in Lima where evidently you see it, but also in Trujillo, also in Puerto Maldonado, where I thought to have an event in a place like this one, but it was a full square and when left for another, the streets as well. It’s a people who went out to express their joy and their faith.

It is true that you have, as it says today at noon, a saintly land. They are the Latin American people who have more saints, and high-level saints. Toribio, Rosa, Martin, Juan. High level. I believe that faith has run deep, very deep ... I take from Peru an impression of joy, of faith, of hope, of [a people] walking again, and above all, many children. I returned to that image that I saw in the Philippines and Colombia, the dads and the moms along my route raising up their kids, and that says “future.” It says “hope,” because nobody brings a child into the world if they do not have hope.
The only thing I ask is that they take care of their wealth, not only that of the churches and the museums — that the works of art are great — and not only of the suffering, that have enriched them so much, but the riches that I have seen in these days.

Greg Burke: Thank you Holy Father! Now Giovanni Hinojosa from the Republic of Peru

Giovanni Hinojosa: The political class has defrauded the people with acts of corruption and negotiated pardons, but so have members of the Church, like the Sodalitium...

Pope Francis: The problem of corruption...I wouldn't know how to respond to you historically, the progress of corruption of other countries in the world, you know that some countries in Europe there is a lot of corruption...some, not all. Yes in Latin (America) there are a lot of spotlights of corruption. Today this way of speaking about Odebrecht, for example. But this is a sample. The origin of corruption is...I would say that it is original sin which then carried...I wrote a booklet one time, very small, called "Sin and Corruption" and the motto I use is sinner yes, corrupt no. All of us are sinners, but I think that all of us here, at least I admit it on my part, treat a friend badly, steal, do drugs,or try not to...God's forgiveness is above all of this. I am not afraid of sin, I am afraid of corruption, because corruption impairs the body and the soul. And a corrupt person is so sure of themselves that they cannot go back. They are like those swamps that you try to get out of and they suck you [back]. It's a swamp. Yes, it's the destruction of the human person.

I don’t know if you want to ask something more about corruption. After I pass to the Sodalitium, no? Of course, the politician has a lot of power. The businessmen also has a lot of power. The businessmen who pays half of his workers is corrupt. And a housewife who is accustomed and believes that it is normal to exploit the maids either with salary or with the way she treats them, is corrupt. I remember a conversation I had with someone, a professional, young, 30 years old, who told me that he was carrying the thing, young, he was 30 years old. And he told me that he treated his domestic staff in a non-noble way. I told him, but you cannot do this, this is a sin. Father, he told me, we are not going to buy these people with me, these people are here for that. And this is what the sex trafficker thinks, the slave labor handler, they are corrupt.

And is there corruption in the Church? Yes, there are instances of corruption in the Church. This has always been so. Men and women of the Church have engaged in the game of corruption. And that serves as a bridge for the Sodalitium.

The situation of the Sodalitium began with the case of a person who appeared very virtuous, who died, and investigating his life, it was discovered that he had led a double life (Editor’s Note: he is referring to the case of German Doig Klinge, who died Feb. 13, 2001).  This is the first chaos of the Sodalitium that I know of, but that happened in the past, twenty or twenty five years ago. And after that, there was an allegation of abuse, not only sexual, but of manipulation of the conscience by the founder.  The case of the founder went to the Holy See, he was sentenced, he was not expelled from the Sodalitium, but he lives alone. One person attends to him.  He declares himself to be innocent of the evidence of the case and has appealed to the Apostolic Signature, which is the supreme court of justice at the Vatican. According to the information I have, the appeal will be released in less than a month.  It has been a year. But what has happened now?  That trial was the trigger for other victims of this person to make civil and ecclesial claims. If the Apostolic Signatura decides in favor of the appeal, it will not make sense, because many, many serious cases are accumulating. Civil justice has intervened and, in this chaos, that is necessary, it is a matter of justice. I am not very informed, but the thing is very unfavorable for the founder.

On the other hand, this was not only a personal situation, there were things that weren't clear. Almost two years ago, I named a visitator in the person of Cardinal Tobin of Newark. Since the visit, he has discovered things that he doesn't understand and that aren't clear, and I named two economic viewers. And this is the third abuse, which also went up to the founder. And after a study, he recommended a custodian for the Sodalitium. Four weeks ago I sent the letter, and two weeks ago I named [him]. Concerning the procedures, it is a similar case to that of the Legionaries, which was carried out by Benedict XVI. In this, he was very strong. He didn't tolerate these things, and from him I’ve understood not to tolerate them as well. The legal status is [that they are] under a custodian, and the apostolic visit continues.
 
Greg Burke: Now, we’re passing on to Chile, with Juan Pablo Iglesias of La Tercera.

Juan Pablo Iglesias (La Tercera): At first, your message was very strong about [clerical sexual] abuse, but the last day [in Chile] you made a statement [saying some victims] are committing slander. Why do you believe Barros more than the victims?

Pope Francis: I understand the question perfectly. On [Bishop] Barros, I only made one declaration. I spoke in Chile, and this was in Iquique, at the end. I spoke two times about the abuse, with a lot of strength, in front of the government, which was to speak in front of the country, and in the cathedral with the priests.

What I said to the priests is what I feel most deeply about this case. You know that Benedict XVI began by taking a zero tolerance [approach], and I have continued with zero tolerance. After almost 5 years of being Pope, I have not signed any "permission of pardon.” In the cases of dismissal from the clerical state, it's a definitive sentence in first instance. The person condemned has the right to appeal to the tribunal of the second instance. The tribunal knows that if there is clear proof of abuse, they cannot appeal the sentence. What can be appealed are the procedures: lack of procedures, irregularities, then there you have to make a review of the process. If the second instance confirms the first, there’s only one exit left for the person and that is appealing to the Pope, as a grace.

In five years, I have received — I don’t know the number — 20 or 25 requests for “grace” that have come in. I didn’t sign any. Only in one case, which wasn’t grace but the argument of a juridical sentence, in the first year of the pontificate.

I found myself with two sentences, one very serious from the diocese, and one from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was the strongest. The one from the diocese was very serious and very conditioned… with these conditions, one needs to wait a time to see that… that is, the case wasn’t closed. (Editor note: The comments appear to refer to the case of Italian Mauro Inzoli)

As must be done with good jurisprudence, always in favor of the accused. I opted for the most lenient sentence, with the conditions.

After two years, it was decided that the conditions weren’t completed and so I let the other work. It was the only case in which I hesitated because there were two sentences and there was a juridical principle “in dubia pro reo” and so for this I opted for that. That is my position.

In the case of Bishop Barros, I had it studied, I had it investigated, I had it worked on a lot. And truly there is no evidence. I use the word evidence. Then I will speak about proof. There is no evidence of culpability, it seems that it will not be found. There is a coherence in another sense. I am waiting for evidence to change position, but I apply the judicial principle basic in any tribunal: “nemo malus nisi provetur” — no one is guilty until it is proven.

I used the word "proof" and I believe that gave me a hard time. I said it in Spanish, as I remember, I was entering and a journalist from Iquique asked me: ‘In Chile we have a big problem with Bishop Barros, what do you think?' I think that the words I said were these. First I thought about whether to respond or not, and I said yes [I would], because he had been bishop of Iquique, and a parishioner is asking me. I said, the day that I have proof I will speak. I think I said, ‘I don’t have proof,’ but it is recorded, you can find it.

The answer was: the day that I have proof, I will speak. The word 'proof' is what caused [concern]. No one is bad “sino probetur.” I would speak about evidence and, of course, I know that there are a lot of people who have been abused and that they cannot show proof, they do not have it. They cannot [show it] or sometimes they have it, but they are ashamed and hide it, and suffer in silence. The drama of those who have been abused is tremendous. Terrible. Two [months] ago I tended to a woman who was abused 40 years ago — 40, married with three children. This woman hadn’t received Communion from that time, because in the hand of the priest she saw the hand of the abuser. She couldn't go near. And she was a believer. She was Catholic. Sorry to continue in Spanish, but I want to be precise with the Chileans. The word “proof” wasn’t the best [word to use] in order to be near to a sorrowful heart. I would say evidence.

The case of Barros was studied, it was re-studied, and there is no evidence. That is what I wanted to say. I have no evidence to condemn. And if I were to condemn without evidence or without moral certainty, I would commit the crime of a bad judge.

I have another thing to say… I’ll explain it in Italian.

One of you came up to me and said: have you seen the letter that came out? They showed me a letter that I had written years ago when the problem with Barros began. I need to explain that letter, because it is also a letter in favor of prudence, how the problem with Barros was managed. That letter does not tell of a momentary fact; that letter is the narration of more or less 10-12 months. When the scandal with Karadima was discovered, we all know this scandal, we began to see many priests who were formed by Karadima who were either abused or who were abusers. In Chile there are four bishops who Karadima invited to the seminary. Someone from the episcopal conference made a suggestion that it would be better perhaps if these four bishops renounced their positions, resigned, took a sabbatical year while the storm passed, to avoid accusations, because they are good bishops.

And Barros, Barros already had been bishop there for 20 years and was about to finish his military bishopric. He was an auxiliary, then bishop of Iquique and then military bishop for almost 10 years, and 20 years a bishop. But let us ask if the accusations against him, perhaps explaining them...and he diligently resigned. And he came to Rome and I told him: ‘No, we don't play this way, because this is to admit culpability in advance, and then, as in any case, if there are culpable parties, it will be investigated.’ And I rejected it. This is about the 10 months contained in that letter. Then, when he was appointed and all this protest took place, he gave me his resignation for the second time. I said, ‘No, you go.’ I spoke with him for a long time, others spoke at length with him… you go. You know what happened there the day he took possession, the protests. They continued to investigate Barros, but there is no evidence and this is what I wanted to say: I cannot condemn him because I don't have the evidence and this is what I wanted to say. I cannot condemn him because I do not have the evidence. But I am also convinced that he is innocent.

I will pass to a third point, that of the letter I explained clearly: what those who have been abused feel. With this I have to ask forgiveness because the word "proof" wounded, it wounded many people who were abused, but I must go to look for the certificate, I have to do that — a word on translation, in the legal jargon, I wounded them. I ask them for forgiveness because I wounded them without realizing it, but it was an unintended wound. And this horrified me a lot, because I had received them. (But) in Chile I received two [abuse victims] as you know, I met others that I kept hidden. In every trip, there is always some possibility. The ones in Philadelphia were published, three (meetings) were published, then the other cases no… And I know how much they suffer, to feel that the Pope says in their face ‘bring me a letter, a proof.’ It's a slap. And I agree that my expression was not apt, because I didn't think, and I understand how the Apostle Peter, in one of his letters, says that the fire has been raised. This is what I can say with sincerity. Barros will remain there if I don't find a way to condemn him. I cannot condemn him if I don't have — I don't say proof — but evidence. And there are many ways to get evidence. Is that clear?

(They announce turbulence on the plane)

They tell me that after the turbulence of Barros and the Sodalitium, we have a more meteorological one...I’ll stay here.

(He sits in a row of seats with the journalists during the turbulence).

Matilde Burgos, CNN Espanol: (Follow up question about Bishop Barros and about a possible distance between the Pope and the people in Chile)

Pope Francis: The case maybe started with the bad decision of the resignation, and he began to be accused. But there is no evidence of abuse. Covering up an abuse is abuse. There is no evidence. There isn’t. The best they believe is this, to provide the evidence quickly. If you think it is like this honestly. I, in this moment, do not think it is so, because there is none. But my heart is open to receive it.

And the other from Chile is made up.


I came from Chile happy, I did not expect that many people in the street. And they weren’t paying an entry fee. The people were not paid nor taken in collectively. The spontaneity of Chile was very strong, even in Iquique, and I thought it was going to be a little thing. But you saw what it was. In the south, the same and in Santiago, the same. The streets of Santiago spoke for themselves.

In this, I think that the responsibility of the informant is to go to the concrete facts. There was this, and this. The thing about a divided people, I do not know where it comes from, it is the first time I hear of it. Maybe Barros is the cause of this, but placing it in its reality it could be because of this. But my impression of Chile was very strong and rewarding. Then, I would like to go back a moment to what most moved me about Chile, at least a moment.

Greg Burke: Let's move on to the Italian group. Andrea Tornielli, Vatican Insider.

Andrea Tornielli (Vatican Insider/La Stampa): Your Holiness, I wanted to talk about what you said in the past day in the Amazon, because there was a new element in that speech: not only the threat posed by the big economic groups, but also the threat — indeed you have talked about perversion — of some environmental policies that end up stifling people's lives. So is there an environmentalism that is against man?
 
Pope Francis: Yes, yes in that area, I could not at this moment describe it well, but to protect the forest and to save some tribes who ended up outside the forest, because the forest is being finished by exploitation. But the most concrete fact of this case is in the statistics of the area. You will surely find the precise data. It is a phenomenon of preserving the environment and then isolating it, they have remained isolated from real progress. The number that was given there, in that area, the information they sent to prepare the trip, I have studied it.

Greg Burke: Aura Miguel, of Radio Renascenca.

Aura Miguel (Radio Renascenca): The wedding on the airplane. From now on, what would you say to the parish priests, to the bishops will be asked by couples if they can marry them I don’t know where, on the beach, on boats, airplanes?

Pope Francis: You’re imagining a cruise with a wedding. Eh, this would be… One of you told me that I’m crazy for doing these things. The thing was simple. The man was on the first flight. She wasn’t there. I spoke with him… then, I realized that he had become awkward. I spoke of life of how I thought of life, then the life of the family. A nice chat. Then, the day after both of them were there and after we took a photograph, they told me this: ‘We were going to get married in a church, we were married civilly, but the day before’ - you could tell it was a small city - ‘the church was toppled by an earthquake and there was no wedding.’ This was 10 years ago, maybe eight, the earthquake was in 2010, eight years ago. And then [they thought]: “tomorrow we’ll do it,” and “the day after tomorrow.” That’s the way life goes and then the daughter [came] and another daughter. I interrogated them a bit. And the answers were clear, for their whole life…. “You know these things. Do you have a good memory of the catechism?” “We have taken the pre-matrimonial classes.” They were prepared and I judged that they were prepared. They asked me. Sacraments are for people. All of the conditions were clear and why not do today … and not delay it for tomorrow… and maybe after ‘tomorrow’ it  would have been eight or 10 years more. This is the answer. I judged that they were prepared, that they knew what they were doing, that each of them was prepared before the Lord with the sacrament of penance. When they had arrived at that point, it was all over. They told me that, they said it to some of you… “We’re going to the Pope to ask if he’ll marry us.” That’s how the thing went. But tell the parish priests that the Pope interrogated them well. And then they had done the pre-marriage course, and they were aware.

Greg Burke: Holiness, we’ve done almost an hour, but I don’t know if we can still do one or two [questions].

Pope Francis: Yes, about the trip.

Greg Burke: On the trip. Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

Pope Francis: Yes, because about Peru, almost nothing [has been asked].

Nicole Winfield (AP): Ah, no more Chile... Holy Father, yesterday Cardinal O’Malley made a statement on these comments about Bishop Barros and he said that words such as these are a source of pain for the survivors of abuse with the effect of making them feel abandoned and discredited… you said that you didn’t feel well [at knowing the victims felt abandoned], and I imagine, I wonder if it was precisely the words of Cardinal O’Malley that made you realize the pain [caused], and then a question linked to this: the Commission for the Protection of Minors, led by Cardinal O’Malley. There was the expiration last month of the first members. There are people who see in this expiration, they ask themselves if this is a sign of a “non-priority” of the protection of minors.

Pope Francis: I understand, I understand. On Cardinal O'Malley, I saw his statement, and he said, "the Pope has always upheld this, the Pope has zero tolerance, the Pope said the other.. with this unhappy expression."
 
And this has made me think of the word "proof." [It is] calumny, [if] anyone says with obstinacy, without evidence, that he did this, he did that... it is calumny. If I say that he stole and he did not steal, then I am slandering [him], because I do not have evidence, I do not have evidence that he did that to them.

But I have not heard of any victim of Barros... they have not come, they have not given evidences of the judgment. It is a little up in the air. It is a thing that you cannot assume.

You, with goodwill, tell me: there are victims [of Bishop Barros, or of the alleged coverage of Bishop Barros]. But I have not seen them because they have not come to me. It is true that Barros was part of the group of young men [around Karadima]. Barros entered the seminary, I don't know when, but he has been a bishop 24 years. He was probably a priest 15 years, many years. He entered as a very young man,... he says that he did not see it, he was part of the group but then he went another way. And on this we should be clear. One that accuses without evidence, with obstinacy, this is calumny.

But if a person comes and gives me the evidence, I am the first to listen to him. We should be just. I have an appreciation for Cardinal O'Malley, I thank him for his statement because it was very just. He said all that I did and that I do, that the Church does, and then he spoke of the sorrow of the victims. Not in this case, in general. Because many victims feel that they are not able to bring [forward] a document or a testimonial.

The commission was appointed for 3 years I believe, it has expired. I will study a new commission and they, the same commission, decided to renew a part, to nominate new members and others renew. But also before the start of the trip, the definitive list of the commission has come, and now it follows (that) there were some observations on someone that they should clarify, because they are studying the new people. There were two observations that they should clear up. Cardinal O'Malley has worked well, has worked as he should. No, please, do not think that... the time has been a normal amount of time for a nomination of people.

Greg Burke: Holiness, we’ll do a final question, if it’s about the trip.

Unknown Journalist: One of the aims of the Church is to fight against poverty. Chile, in 20 years has lowered the poverty level to 11 percent. Is it, in your perspective, the result of a liberal political [system]? Is there good in liberalism, do you think? I have another small question regarding Cardinal Maradiaga: what do you think of the news of money that regards him? Thanks.

Pope Francis: About Cardinal Maradiaga, it’s not from the trip but I will answer: he has made a signed statement. I say what he said.

About liberalism, I will say that we have to study the cases of liberal politics well. There are other countries in Latin America with liberal politics. I’m not a technician, but in general a liberal political [system] that doesn’t engage all of the peoples, leads downwards. I don’t know in Chile but we see that in other Latin American countries, things are going down.

About the trip, I would like to say something that really moved me: the women’s jail. Well, I have an ever sensitive heart… I’m very sensitive the jails and inmates. I always ask myself about jails, why them and not me. But, to see these women, to see the creativity of these women, the capacity for change, their capacity to change their lives, to reinsert themselves in society with the force of the Gospel. One of you told me that I saw the joy of the children. It moved me. And, I was very moved by that meeting, one of the most beautiful things of the trip. Then, at Puerto Maldonado, that meeting with the indigenous. We are there because obviously - in a moment you’re in their world, no? - that day was the first meeting of the Synod for the Amazon, which will be in 2019. I was so moved by the “Hogar Principito”, to see these kids, the majority abandoned, those young boys and girls who were able, with education, to move ahead. They are professionals. It moved me so much. It’s a work to bring the person upwards. This moved me so much.

Then, the people, the warmth of the people. And today it was unbelievable what was there. The warmth of the people, and I say this nation has faith. This faith was contagious for me and I thank God, and I thank you for the work that awaits you, to write articles and news on the questions you’ve asked me. Thanks for your patience and thanks for the questions. Many thanks.

Greg Burke: Thanks, Holiness, for you patience. Have a good rest and a good dinner.

 

Mid-air marriage was to avoid further delay, Pope Francis explains

Aboard the papal plane, Jan 22, 2018 / 10:16 am (CNA).- Addressing concerns Monday about the pastoral implications of his witnessing a marriage aboard a plane while in flight, the Pope said that he judged the couple to be prepared for the sacrament, and didn't wish them to delay the regularization of their situation any longer.

“All of the conditions were clear, and why not do it today and not delay it for tomorrow? Tomorrow would possibly have been eight or 10 years from now,” Pope Francis said Jan. 22 while en route from Lima to Rome.

Aura Miguel of Radio Renascenca had asked him about his Jan. 18 witnessing of the marriage of two flight attendents, Paula Podest and Carlos Ciuffardi, while en route from Santiago to Iquique, Chile.

The Pope's decision had raised questions among commentators and various priests concerning the liceity and even the validity of the marriage. Miguel asked, “From now on, what would you say to the parish priests, to the bishops, whom fiances are going to ask to marry them I don’t know where – on the beach, on boats, on airplanes?”

Pope Francis noted to those on the plane that “One of you told me that I’m crazy for doing these things,” but responded that “the thing was simple: The man was on the first flight. She wasn’t there. I spoke with him; then, I realized that he had become awkward. I spoke of life: of how I thought of life, then the life of the family. It was a nice chat.”

“Then the day afterwards both of them were there, and when we took a photograph, they told me this: 'we were going to get married in a church, we were married civilly, but the day before' – you could tell it was a small city – 'the church was toppled by an earthquake and there was no wedding'. This was 10 years ago; maybe eight – the earthquake was in 2010, so it was eight years ago. And then 'tomorrow we'll do it', and 'the day after tomorrow' – and that's the way life goes. And then the daughter, and another daughter.”

“I interrogated them a bit,” Pope Francis explained. “And the answers were clear.” They had taken marriage preparatory classes. “They were prepared and I judged that they were prepared,” he said.

“They asked me. And sacraments are for people. All of the conditions were clear, and why not do it today and not delay it for tomorrow?”

“This is the answer,” he said. “I judged that they were prepared, that they knew what they were doing, that each of them was prepared before the Lord with the sacrament of penance … that’s how the situation went.”

“But tell the parish priests that the Pope interrogated them well,” he said. “And that they had done the pre-marriage course.”

Francis says comments on sexual abuse in Chile were 'not the best'

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2018 / 08:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Aboard the papal plane from Lima to Rome Sunday, Pope Francis said that comments made to Chilean journalists Jan. 18 were not intended to cause pain for victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Francis said that he had meant to explain to Chileans that because he has not seen evidence that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros helped to cover up acts of sexual abuse, it would be unjust to condemn him.

The pontiff said that his use of “the word 'proof' was not the best in order to draw near to a suffering heart.”

The Pope asked for forgiveness from victims he may have wounded, stating that unintentionally causing them harm “horrified” him, especially after he met with victims in Chile, as he has done on other trips, such as to Philadelphia in 2015.

“I know how much they suffer, to feel that the Pope says in their face 'bring me a letter, proof,' it's a slap,” he said.

He also explained that he is aware that victims may not have brought forward evidence because it is unavailable, or because they are otherwise ashamed or afraid.

“Barros’ case was studied, it was re-studied, and there is no evidence,” Francis told journalists Jan. 21. “That is what I wanted to say. I have no evidence to condemn him. And if I condemn him without evidence or without moral certainty, I would commit the crime of a bad judge.”

“If a person comes and gives me evidence,” he continued, “I am the first to listen to him. We should be just.”

Barros is accused by four victims of clerical sexual abuse of colluding to cover up the crimes of his longtime friend, Fr. Fernando Karadima. Francis has long defended Barros, who claims to be innocent. Barros has been a subject of controversy since his 2015 appointment to lead the Diocese of Osorno.

Karadima, who once led a lay movement from his parish in El Bosque, was convicted of sexually abusing minors in a 2011 Vatican trial, and at the age of 84, he was sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

During his Jan. 15-18 visit to Chile, Pope Francis met with abuse survivors, but when questioned about Barros by journalists on his last day in the country, he said, “the day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

The Pope's comment was met with fierce opposition, as critics said he was insensitive to abuse victims.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and one of nine members of the Pope’s Council of Cardinals, issued a statement Jan. 20 voicing criticism of the Pope’s remarks.

“It is understandable that Pope Francis’ statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator,” O’Malley said.

“Words that convey the message 'if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed' abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile,” he said.

Since he was not personally involved in the Chilean cases, O'Malley said he couldn't speak as to why the Pope chose to use the specific words he did when responding to reporters.

“What I do know, however, is that Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the Church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones.”

“Accompanying the Holy Father at numerous meetings with survivors I have witnessed his pain of knowing the depth and breadth of the wounds inflicted on those who were abused and that the process of recovery can take a lifetime,” O'Malley said, adding that Francis' many statements insisting on a “zero-tolerance” policy for abuse in the Church “are genuine and they are his commitment.”

During the press conference, the Pope said that he had seen O’Malley’s statement and that he has appreciation for the cardinal: “I thank him for his statement because it was very just.”

“[O'Malley] said all that I did and that I do, that the Church does, and then he spoke of the sorrow of victims” in general, Francis said. “Because many victims feel that they are not able to bring [forward] a document or a testimonial.”

Aboard the flight, the Pope also explained the background of letter he wrote to Barros two years ago, and which has recently surfaced.

The letter illustrates a dialogue of 10-12 months between him and Barros, he said, beginning at the time the scandal concerning Karadima was revealed.

Francis said that at that time, someone from the Chilean bishops' conference suggested that the four bishops who had been close to Karadima should resign or take a sabbatical year until the scandal had passed over, “because they are good bishops.”

At this time, Barros, who had been a bishop since 1995, followed this advice and submitted his resignation to the Holy See. Pope Francis said that he did not allow the bishop's resignation, because to do so would be “to admit culpability in advance,” in his opinion. And in this case, as in any, “if there are culpable parties, it will be investigated.”

In 2015, when Francis appointed Barros bishop of Osorno, Chile, there were protests, and again, Barros submitted his resignation, Francis said.

“I spoke with him for a long time, others spoke at length with him...” We all told him to continue as bishop, the Pope noted.

“They have continued to investigate Barros, but there is no evidence and this is what I wanted to say: I cannot condemn him because I don't have the evidence... But I am also convinced that he is innocent.”

O'Malley is the head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which just concluded a 3-year mandate in December. The Vatican has not issued any statements on the the commission since its expiration, causing some to speculate on the future of its existence.

In the most recent meetings of the Council of Cardinals, O'Malley spoke on the commission's continued work, explaining that it is in the Pope's hands to decide whether to reconfirm current members and whom to appoint as new members.

In the presser, Francis said that before the start of his trip, he had received a list of recommendations for new members, which he is now studying. The Pope did not say whether O'Malley would be reappointed.

Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Chairman Praises House for Passing Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act

WASHINGTON–Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, thanked and praised the House of Representatives for passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act today with a bi-partisan vote of 241-183.

"As Chairman of the United States Bishops' Committee, I offer gratitude and praise to the House of Representatives for passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 4712). This common-sense legislation offers a simple and widely supported proposition: a child born alive following an abortion should receive the same degree of care to preserve her life and health as would be given to any other child born alive at the same gestational age. I call on the Senate to pass this bill as well and ensure that the lethal mentality of Roe does not claim new victims – vulnerable human beings struggling for their lives outside the womb."

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protections Act, House of Representatives, abortion, preservation of life and health, vulnerable human beings

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

Bishops’ Conferences Look to Youth to Bring Hope for a Better Future in the Holy Land

WASHINGTON—Noting the deteriorating prospects for peace in the Holy Land, representatives of bishops' conferences from several countries, including the United States, acknowledged the struggle of the young people they met but called them the "hope for a better future."

The bishops made their annual solidarity visit to the Holy Land January 13 – 18, 2018. They visited Gaza, met with school children there and in the West Bank and in Israel as well as with students at Hebrew University and Bethlehem University. They also visited l'Arche in Bethlehem and a home of the elderly in Beit Emmaus.

In a communique issued at the end of their visit, the bishops cited the many challenges (unemployment, discrimination, and lack of opportunity) faced by youth, particularly those living in the West Bank and Gaza. But in their discussions with Israeli youth, the bishops found that many shared with their Palestinian counterparts the "same aspirations for peaceful coexistence."  

For the bishops, it was clear that it is the youth from West Bank, Gaza and Israel who are resilient and courageous in keeping alive the hope for a peaceful resolution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops along with bishops from other nations on this solidarity visit have long decried violence as a way to resolve conflict but instead strongly supported a two-state solution in which a secure Israel coexists with a viable and independent Palestinian state.

The bishops called on communities in their respective countries to act in solidarity with youth who have an essential role in promoting peace through actions such as prayer, and supporting programs that create jobs, provide housing and foster dialogue.

The Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land has met every January since 1998 to pray and act in solidarity with the Christian community in the Holy Land. Bishops representing Europe, North America, and South Africa participated in this visit.

The bishops' statement is available at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/global-issues/middle-east/israel-palestine/holy-land-coordination-communique-january-2018.cfm

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Holy Land, Gaza, West Bank, Israel, Bethlehem, L'Arche, Beit Emmaus, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, youth, violence, independent Palestinian state, dialogue

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane 
202-541-3200


Chairmen Applaud New HHS Initiatives on Conscience and Religious Freedom

WASHINGTON–Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the USCCB's Committee for Religious Liberty, offered the following joint statement in response to the creation of a new Division on Conscience and Religious Freedom within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights and other related administrative actions:

"We applaud HHS for its significant actions to protect conscience rights and religious freedom. For more than forty years—dating back to the Church amendment of 1973—Congress has enacted federal laws protecting rights of conscience in health care. We are grateful that HHS is taking seriously its charge to protect these fundamental civil rights through formation of a new division dedicated to protecting conscience rights and religious freedom. For too long, we have seen medical professionals, including pro-life nurses like Cathy DeCarlo, who have been coerced by their employers into participating in abortion. And we have seen states like California, New York, and Oregon demand that even religious organizations cover elective abortions in their health plans. These violations of federal law require a remedy from HHS. 

We are pleased to see HHS's proposed regulation to enforce civil rights laws to protect Americans involved in HHS-funded programs, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments on this proposal.  We also appreciate the Administration's action to rescind a 2016 guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that required states to provide Medicaid funding to family planning providers like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions.

Conscience protection should not be subject to political whims, however. Permanent legislative relief is essential. We urge Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act in order to give victims of discrimination the ability to defend their rights in court. No one should be forced to violate their deeply held convictions about the sanctity of human life."

A list of current federal laws protecting conscience rights can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Federal-Conscience-Laws.pdf

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Keywords: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS, conscience, religious freedom, religious liberty

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

Love is in the air: Pope marries couple mid-flight during Chile visit

Aboard the papal plane, Jan 18, 2018 / 07:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his five years in office, Pope Francis has gained a reputation for embracing spontaneity. Today, he did it again with another papal first: witnessing the marriage of two flight attendants on board his flight from Santiago to Iquique.

According to journalists traveling with the Pope, the couple – Paula Podesta and Carlos Ciuffardi – went to the Pope during the Jan. 18 flight to ask for his blessing.

The couple told Francis they had been civilly married, but said they had not been able to get married in the Church because their parish was destroyed in the massive 8.8 earthquake that rocked Santiago in 2010.

In response, the Pope offered to convalidate their marriage on the spot. Ignacio Cueto, owner of the airline company, LATAM, was a witness in the ceremony.

According to Ciuffardi, who spoke briefly with journalists after the ceremony, the Pope asked the couple if they were married yet, and when they explained why they hadn't been married in the Church, he said “do you want to get married?”

The Pope, Ciuffardi said, asked them “Are you sure, absolutely sure?” They said yes, gave the Pope thier rings and asked Cueto if he would be a witness. The Pope then blessed the rings, placed their hands together, offered some brief reflections and pronounced them man and wife.

The Holy Father celebrated the marriage of 39-year-old Paola Podestà Ruiz and 41-year-old Carlos Ciuffando Elorriaga, during the LATAM 1252 transfer flight from Santiago to Iquique. ????Credit: Vatican Media/CNA #FranciscoEnChile Read the full story here: https://t.co/XOOr9rR9mT pic.twitter.com/ORtfTN1TpL

— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) January 18, 2018 According to Ciuffardi, Francis told them what happened “was historic,” because “never has a Pope married a couple on a plane.”

Referring to the rings, Francis jested that they shouldn’t be too tight, because “they would be a torture,” nor too loose, because they might lose them.

Since they didn't have an official marriage certificate to sign, Pope Francis asked the cardinals with him to draft one, so they grabbed a piece of blank copy paper and each signed their names and what role they played in the ceremony. One of the cardinals also signed as a witness.

#PopeFrancis married these flight attendants aboard the papal plane flying to Iquique, #Chile this morning.

Their wedding was canceled when an earthquake destroyed their church in Santiago in 2010.

Join us in congratulating the happy couple! #FranciscoEnChile pic.twitter.com/3pQ64oy7nP

— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) January 18, 2018 The Pope gave the couple two rosaries, Podesta received a white rosary and Ciuffardi a black one.

The couple – who have two children, Rafaela, 6, and Isabela, 3 – said they will be traveling with the Pope to Iquique, and from there will take a different flight to another destination, and will celebrate after.  

“It was something historic, really. Very exciting. What he told us was very important: he told us 'this is the sacrament that the world needs, the sacrament of marriage. Hopefully, this will motivate couples around the world to get married’,” Ciuffardi said.

Pope appeals for unity, non-violence in Chile's torn Mapuche zone

Temuco, Chile, Jan 17, 2018 / 07:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Chile's largely indigenous Araucania region, long divided by violent conflict. He stressed the importance of unity, which he said cannot be achieved through violence or forced uniformity.

Pointing to Jesus' prayer that “they may all be one” at the end of John's Gospel, Pope Francis noted that it is at this “crucial moment” before his death that Jesus “stops to plea for unity.”

“In his heart, he knows that one of the greatest threats for his disciples and for all mankind will be division and confrontation, the oppression of some by others,” he said, and urged those present to take Jesus' words in the prayer to heart.

We must “enter with him into this garden of sorrows with those sorrows of our own, and to ask the Father, with Jesus, that we too may be one,” Francis said, and prayed that “confrontation and division never gain the upper hand among us.”

Pope Francis spoke during his Jan. 17 Mass in Chile's Araucania region in Temuco, which for years has been torn apart by violent conflict surrounding the plight of the area's Mapuche people, an indigenous group present largely in south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina.

He traveled to the region as part of his Jan. 15-18 visit to Chile, after which he will make an official visit to Peru from Jan. 18-21.

The largest indigenous group in Chile, the Mapuche resisted Spanish conquest during colonial times by using guerrilla warfare tactics to evade soldiers and maintain control of their land.

They continued to resist after Chilean independence in 1818, however, in the 1860s the military gained control, and the majority of their land was given over to members of the military and incoming immigrants.  

Despite the launch of some initiatives aimed at restoring parts of their land and the creation of scholarships for Mapuche students, the Mapuche live in one of the poorest areas of Chile and claim to be mistreated by authorities.

Some of the Mapuche have in recent years adopted violent means of protest, and have bombed trucks and land of non-Mapuche people they say are illegally inhabiting the area.

They have also set fire to churches, burning more than two dozen in 2016 and 2017, according to the Chilean prosecutor's office. Just last Friday three more churches were firebombed in the Chilean capital Santiago in protest of the Pope's visit.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and authorities are unsure whether Mapuche activists are to blame, however, leaflets criticizing the upcoming visit of Francis and calling for a “free” Mapuche nation were dropped at the scene.

The field attached to the Maquehue Airport, where Pope Francis landed and celebrated Mass, had once been used as a detention center where many indigenous peoples were tortured during Chile’s military government under Augusto Pinochet.

In the lead up to the Pope's trip, a number of the Mapuche had protested the use of the airport for the papal Mass given the serious human rights violations that took place there, arguing that the land belongs to them and not the government. Two more attacks on churches took place shortly before the Pope's arrival to Temuco, however, no one has claimed responsibility for these either.

In his homily, Pope Francis recognized that in the past, the airport had been the site of “grave violations of human rights,” and said he was offering the Mass for “all those who suffered and died, and for those who daily bear the burden of those many injustices.” He paused in a moment of silence for all who died.

“The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross bears all the sin and pain of our peoples, in order to redeem it,” he said, and pointed to the day's Gospel reading from John, in which Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples.

Unity is a gift which must be “persistently sought” for the good of all, and for future generations, he said, but cautioned against what he named as two temptations that can “poison the roots” of this unity.

First, Francis warned against the temptation to confuse unity with uniformity, saying “Jesus does not ask his Father that all may be equal, identical, for unity is not meant to neutralize or silence differences.”

“Unity can never be a stifling uniformity imposed by the powerful, or a segregation that does not value the goodness of others,” he said. Rather, the unity that Jesus refers to is a “reconciled diversity” which recognizes the value of the individual contribution of each tradition and culture.

This unity “will not allow personal or community wrongs to be perpetrated in its name,” the Pope said, adding that “we need the riches that each people has to offer, and we must abandon the notion that there are higher or lower cultures.”

It also requires both listening to and esteeming one another, which in turn builds solidarity. And solidarity, he said, is the most effective weapon against “the deforestation of hope.”

He also warned against the temptation to obtain unity with the use of violence, and cautioned against two forms of violence which he said stifle the growth of unity and reconciliation rather than encouraging them.

The first, he said, are the “elegant agreements that will never be put into practice.” They consist of nice words and detailed plans, and while these are needed, they end up “erasing with the elbow what was written by the hand” when they go unimplemented, he said, explaining that this is a form of violence “because it frustrates hope.”

Second are the actual acts that take place, he said, insisting that “a culture of mutual esteem may not be based on acts of violence and destruction that end up taking human lives.”

“You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division,” he said. “Violence begets violence, destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”

Rather than using these two avenues, which are “the lava of a volcano that wipes out and burns everything in its path,” the Pope urged attendees to pursue a path of “active non-violence” as a political style, and told them to never tire of promoting true and peaceful dialogue for the sake of unity.

After Mass, Pope Francis will head to the mother house for the Sisters of the Holy Cross order, where he will each lunch with around 11 people, eight of whom will be Mapuche.

Award to pro-abortion politician a matter of protocol, Vatican says

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The conferral of the Vatican’s Order of St. Gregory the Great to Dutch politician and pro-abortion activist Liliane Ploumen was part of an ordinary diplomatic exchange of honorific titles, and does not mean that the Vatican supports Ploumen’s abortion campaigns, a Vatican spokesperson explained Jan. 15.

Responding to requests of clarification, Paloma Garcia-Ovejero, deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, said that “the honorific of the St. Gregory the Great Pontifical Order that Liliane Ploumen, then Minister for Development received in June 2017, during the visit of the Dutch Royals to the Holy Father, is part of the diplomatic praxis of the exchange of decorations among delegations during official visits between heads of state and government to the Vatican.”

Garcia-Ovejero said that the decoration “cannot be by any way considered an endorsement to the pro-abortion and birth control politics advocated by Mrs. Ploumen.”

Liliane Ploumen, a Dutch politician, served as Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation from Nov. 5, 2012 to Oct. 26, 2017.

In that capacity, she was part of a delegation of the Dutch monarchy that visited Pope Francis on June 22.

On that occasion, the Vatican returned to the Dutch Royal Family a stick belonging to William I, Prince of Orange, that had previously been lost in the Jesuit Catalan archives.

The stick – in fact a scepter – depicts the coat of arms of William of Orange. The stick was used by Louis of Nassau, the brother of William of Orange, during the 1574 Mookerheyde battle in 1574. It was lost, came into the hand of a Spanish general and eventually the superior of the Jesuits. Eventually, it got lost in the Catalan archives.

The occasion included an exchange of honorary titles, an element of diplomatic praxis that usually grabs no headlines.

Diplomatic visits to the Vatican are highly choreographed affairs.

During an official state visit to the Vatican, the most solemn kind of diplomatic meeting, protocol dictates that a solemn procession from St. Peter’s Square, into the Vatican, to the Cortile San Damaso, which accesses the Apostolic Palace.

The procession is greeted by three blasts of trumpets, and then the delegation enters the Apostolic Palace and walks through the rooms.

There is even a specific protocol for walking through Apostolic Palace. The procession toward the Papal Library, where the meeting takes place, is led by a Swiss Guard sergeant, follow by 6 Sediari Pontifici, ceremonial servants, in the case of head of state and 8 Sediari Pontifici for monarchs.

These details explain that a royal family enjoys a sort of “right of precedence” in Vatican protocol, and for that reason the visit of a Royal Family is a serious and solemn event.

The visit of the King William Alexander and Queen Maxima was not an official state visit, but a mere audience, and so an exchange of honorifics would not ordinarily to take place. However, the presence of the royal family, and the solemnity of returning of the Dutch scepter, might have suggested to the Secretariat of State a protocol designed to highlight the audience, including the conferral of honors, a Vatican source explained to CNA. 

In some cases, the Vatican can ask not to proceed with an exchange of awards or honors, especially when some of the members of the other delegations can be controversial, a source close to the Vatican diplomatic service told CNA Jan. 15.

However, the exchange of decorations took place during the Dutch visit.

The presence of Ploumen in the Dutch delegation has sparked controversies because she is an abortion advocate.

In 2017, Ploumen launched an international campaign to support abortion, designed to counter the Trump administration’s decision to cut off funds for NGOs that facilitate abortion. Ploumen’s organization, named “She Decides,” collected nearly $400 million.

However, news of her award did not grab any headlines until Ploumen herself showed off the medal in a recent interview to the Dutch television BNR.

In the interview, the Dutch politician presented the decoration as a personal award, and said that while her the pro-abortion campaign ““was not mentioned” as the reason for the decoration, but, she said, “the Vatican knows that I founded ‘She decides’, but this did not prevent them from awarding me.”

“It is interesting,” she added.  

The honorific was apparently given without significant previous consultation. In a statement released Jan. 15, Cardinal Wilhelm Ejik, Archbishop of Utrecht and Primate of the Netherlands, stressed that he “was not involved” in the process that decided “to give the decoration of Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order St. Gregory the Great, which the former minister Ploumen received last year.”

Cardinal Ejik said that he had not initially been aware that the decoration had been given to the minister.

Established in 1831, the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great is one of the five orders of knighthood of the Holy See, and can be bestowed to Catholic men and women, but also – in rare cases – to non Catholics. The honor is a recognition of personal service to the Holy See and to the Church.