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West Virginians meet their new Catholic bishop as humble, holy man

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Christopher Gunty

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- People from around the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston already have a good feeling about their new shepherd, Bishop Mark E. Brennan, who was installed Aug. 22 as the ninth bishop of the diocese.

Ron and Jenny Gaither came from Fairmont, southwest of Morgantown, for the installation of the bishop because they believe he is an honest and holy man. The parishioners of St. Anthony in Fairmont said they were hoping to get someone who could help Catholics in West Virginia forget about the scandals in the church. They said they had heard from priests who already met Bishop Brennan that he is a wonderful man.

John Neely of St. John Neumann Parish in Marlinton, a town with a population just over 1,000, said he hopes the bishop will be concerned with the rural parts of the state. "It's very important to get someone down to the parishes," he said, noting that they haven't had bishops visit in 20 years.

Many of the priests in the rural areas serve three or four parishes. "Our pastor has an hour (to drive) to each of his other churches," Neely said. "They do everything for themselves; they don't have an office staff."

He said he wants Bishop Brennan to be "a man of the people and for the people -- the poor people of the diocese."

Father John Chapin Engler Jr., is one such pastor of three parishes in a rural part of the state northwest of Charleston.

Before solemn vespers Aug. 21, Father Engler said, "It's a new day. I'm just thrilled" with the appointment of Bishop Brennan. He said the people of the diocese had been praying a prayer provided by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who was apostolic administrator of the diocese from September 2018 until Bishop Brennan's installation.

The people of the diocese prayed for a humble and noble pastor full of zeal and a love for Jesus and the poor. "It's almost like he knew when he wrote it" the kind of man the pope would appoint.

He praised Bishop Brennan for showing up in his own Ford Taurus, carrying his own bag and serving breakfast at Wheeling's Catholic Charities Aug. 21.

Father Engler's country parishes in Bancroft, Nitro and Dunbar are small -- 30, 50 and 70 parishioners. He said their needs are the same as many others in the diocese, "to continue to try to be a light for people in darkness."

Noting that the state is about 4% Catholic and "that means 96% are not," Father Engler said of the new bishop: "He seems to have a knack for reaching out, with a pastoral zeal for the poor."

He said the bishop had already agreed to visit his three parishes for their combined Labor Day picnic. That sends a good message to his people that they won't be forgotten, he said.

Sam and Karen Gross came from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral in Charleston, where Sam is a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus and participated in the honor guard at the installation Mass.

"He's a fresh change," Sam said, noting that Bishop Brennan's crosier is made of wood, not gold.

Karen said she believes the bishop will help heal and end the divisiveness in the church and "bring a spiritual message to us so we can all be disciples of Jesus Christ."

The Grosses also mentioned the challenges of life in the diocese, noting that priests in rural parishes have needs that parishioners in Charleston, Morgantown and Wheeling cannot even imagine.

She said the bishop is humble and approachable. "You can tell by his demeanor that he puts others ahead of himself," she said. "Jesus brought him to us for a reason."

Morgan Yost, who works for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston on the program staff of the youth ministry office, said she hopes the bishop will see the youths as part of the church community now, not just in the future, and hopes he will see that they have a role in the church.

She said the bishop sent a video message to a Catholic summer youth camp held in Huttonsville shortly after his appointment was announced July 23. In that video, he said he hoped to be able to visit the camp in person next year.

Lia Salinas, director of Hispanic ministry for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, attended the installation Mass to honor her former boss. Bishop Brennan had been archdiocesan vicar for Hispanics; he was a Baltimore auxiliary bishop until his appointment to Wheeling-Charleston.

"He's a pastor who smells like his sheep. We're sorry to lose him but we know this is what West Virginia needs," she told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan media outlet.

"He's a person you grow to love, a real servant of God," Salinas said.

She described the bishop as hard-working and a people person, noting that he will spend as much time talking to a janitor as with a clergyman or a business executive.

That attitude was visible after the installation Mass when Bishop Brennan standing on a small balcony on the corner of the cathedral blessed the crowd gathered on Eoff Street below. Returning to the street level, still in his liturgical vestments, the bishop crossed the street to greet residents of the Formosa Apartments who had been sitting on chairs in front of their building.

Yvette Smith, Zyanne Hamlin and Kiara Moore, who live in the building, and Carrie Chambliss, who lives around the corner, were pleased to meet the new bishop, whose cathedral directly faces the apartments.

Smith said she hopes the church opens more doors and helps the homeless and others in need, like those who live in the Formosa.

Chambliss added that maybe they could use some prayers too, "because we're all sinners."

"I expect good things from him," she said.

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Gunty is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Latin American bishops urge action to save burning Amazon rainforest

IMAGE: CNS photo/NASA, NOAA handout via Reuters

By Lise Alves

SAO PAULO (CNS) -- "Crying out to the world for solidarity," leaders of the Latin American bishops' council urged international action to save the Amazon rainforest as massive fires continued to burn.

"We urge the governments of the Amazonian countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community to take serious measures to save the lungs of the world," said the statement Aug. 22 by the top officers of the council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

"What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue, but is of global reach," the bishops said. "If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers."

The Amazon produces 20% of the world's oxygen, according to scientific measurements.

Brazil's space research institute, which is responsible for satellite monitoring of the Amazon, had reported that the number of wildfires, common in July and August, had reached a record number already in 2019, with 72,843 fires spotted.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, Aug. 21 and 22 released satellite imagery showing how smoke from the fires had created "a shroud that is clearly visible across much of the center of South America."

French President Emmanuel Macron called on world leaders to place the fires at the top of their agenda as they meet in France for the Group of Seven summit starting Aug. 24. Attendees will include President Donald Trump, Macron and the leaders from Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said publicly that he believes nongovernmental agencies -- including Catholic-backed agencies such as the Land Pastoral and the Indigenous Missionary Council -- are behind the illegal burnings because they have opposed his call for development of the rainforest. The organizations have strongly denied the allegations.

In its edition released Aug. 23, the front page of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, led with two articles about the Amazon fires. The first, titled "The Amazon must be protected," included general coverage of the fires' scope and the alarm launched by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. A second article reported on the CELAM statement under the headline, "Save the forest to save the world."

In their statement, the bishops noted that the upcoming October Synod of Bishops for the Amazon will discuss the plight of the indigenous living in the area as well as the deforestation of the region. Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.

"Hope for the proximity of the Amazon synod, convened by Pope Francis, is stained by the pain of this natural tragedy," the bishops said. "To the brethren indigenous peoples who inhabit this beloved territory, we express all our closeness and join your voices with yours to shout to the world for solidarity and pay attention to end this devastation."

And while the deforestation of the world's largest tropical forest and the violence against the indigenous population there have been a great concern to the Catholic Church, the upcoming synod also has caused apprehension for the Bolsonaro government.

In February, the Brazilian government was forced to deny that it was spying, through its intelligence agency, ABIN, on more "progressive" bishops and priests working on the synod.

The government's Institutional Security Cabinet, known as ISC, however, admitted it was worried that the meeting would be used to criticize the Bolsonaro administration's stance on environment and indigenous rights.

"There are no general criticism of the Catholic Church. There is the functional concern of the Minister of State Chief of the Institutional Security Office for some points of the synod's Amazon agenda that will take place at the Vatican in October this year," said an ISC statement at the time.

The CELAM bishops, quoting Pope Francis from his homily at his papal inauguration in March 2013, requested to "please ask all those who hold positions of responsibility in the economic, political and social fields, all men and women of goodwill: (to) be guardians of creation, of the design of God inscribed in nature, guardians of the other, of the environment; let's not let the signs of destruction and death follow the path of our world."

The declaration was signed by Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, of Trujillo, Peru, CELAM president, as well as the officers of the organization.

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Chair of USCCB’s Committee on Migration Denounces New Rule Undermining Existing Protections for Immigrant Children

WASHINGTON— Today, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, condemned the final rule published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) relating to the care and custody of immigrant children under the Flores Settlement Agreement. The agreement sets forth foundational principles and critical protections regarding the care, custody, and release of immigrant children who are in federal custody, including the general requirements that they be housed in the least restrictive setting and in licensed facilities for childcare.

The rule will drastically undermine existing Flores protections for immigrant children in federal custody.

“This rule will have heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children – those whom Pope Francis has deemed ‘the most vulnerable group’ among migrants,” said Vásquez. “It is an attempt by the Administration to circumvent existing obligations and undermine critical protections for these children. This rule will jeopardize the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention. We oppose this rule that we believe is unlawful and inhumane. Countless children will be harmed by this new rule and this is simply not acceptable.”  

USCCB also opposed this rule when it was initially proposed by DHS and HHS by submitting comments detailing concerns with the rule and urging it be rescinded.

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Keywords: USCCB, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Committee on Migration, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, Immigration, Flores

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Media Contact:
Mark Priceman
202-541-3064

 

Matters of life and death: Pope to bring his message to southern Africa

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stringer, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Rejecting violence, promoting interreligious harmony, caring for the environment and stamping out government corruption are expected to be high on the agenda Sept. 4-10 when Pope Francis visits Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius.

"The pope's very presence will be his principle message to the people of Mozambique," said Father Giorgio Ferretti, an Italian missionary and pastor of the cathedral in Maputo, Mozambique. "Just the fact of him walking these streets, meeting the people, speaking to them will be a great message of peace."

After 15 years of civil war in Mozambique, a peace agreement was signed in 1992, concluding a two-year mediation process facilitated by the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio, the Catholic archbishop of Beira and representatives of the Italian government.

The country has been at peace for 27 years, "but there still hasn't been a real de-militarization of some parts of what had been the armed opposition, so we must still pray and work for peace in this country," Father Ferretti said. "Then, in the north of the country, in the province of Cabo Delgado -- where there are Americans, Italians and others involved in the extraction of gas -- there has been disorder; it still is not clear at all whether we are dealing with Islamic fundamentalists, but there has been violence."

When the incidents began in October 2017, many were quick to suspect Islamic fundamentalists; however, others believe the violence is more closely linked to the foreign expansion of the natural gas industry in a region where most people are very poor.

St. John Paul II's visit to Mozambique in 1988 "laid the foundations for a commitment to peace," Father Ferretti said. "Now, the visit of Pope Francis can be like a final seal on that process for an effective and definitive peace in the country. This is the great hope of the church and the people for the visit of the pope."

Leah Marie Lucas is director of Caritas Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, where in addition to the insecurity mentioned by Father Ferretti, people are struggling to recover from the devastation caused by Cyclone Kenneth in April.

Pope Francis will not be visiting the areas devastated by Cyclone Idai in March or Cyclone Kenneth a few weeks later, but he is likely to remember the hundreds of Mozambicans who died in the violent storms and the thousands left homeless.

In Cabo Delgado, some people already were displaced by the violence when the cyclone wiped out more homes, Lucas said. "Even if they remain close to their home village, they are not able to farm, and this year will experience serious food security challenges."

More frequent and more violent super storms like Idai and Kenneth are headline-making signs of the devastating impact climate change already is having on the countries of southern Africa and the Indian Ocean, including Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius.

Franciscan Father Jean-Charles Rakotondranaivo, "custos" or superior of Franciscans in Madagascar and Mauritius, said people in the two nations "are already experiencing the effects of climate change," much of it caused by the people themselves.

Particularly in Madagascar, "we are experiencing rapid and growing deforestation," he said. "In 50 years, we have lost three-quarters of our forest" to meet the demand for fuel wood and charcoal and to clear areas for farming.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Catholic overseas aid and development agency, has been working in Madagascar for more than 50 years; meeting the challenges of climate change while helping poor farmers is a key part of its work there.

Partnering with other development agencies, for example, CRS is helping farmers sow plants that can stabilize sand dunes along the southern coast and prevent them from encroaching on farm plots. Another project helps subsistence farmers create cooperatives and generate income by growing spices since the island is the world's largest producer and exporter of vanilla and also produces black pepper, cloves, turmeric and cinnamon.

Shaun Ferris, CRS director of agriculture and livelihoods, said soil and water management is a key focus of the agency's programs in Madagascar "where more than 50% of all households can be classified as food insecure, and 90% of the country's population lives on less than $2 a day."

Pope Francis' social-environmental encyclical, "Laudato Si'," was "a brilliant document," Ferris said, and its message "is the message of the decade" because climate change and ecological degradation are real and strongly contribute to poverty, hunger, conflict and migration.

Father Rakotondranaivo sees the pope's repeated condemnations of corruption and his teaching on politics as service as another essential message for the region, particularly for Madagascar.

Unfortunately, he said, having political and civil responsibility too often is seen "not as a service but as a great privilege, a way to enrich oneself. Generally, politicians get rich very quickly. Madagascar is a country rich in natural resources, but the population is very poor. The inequality between a handful of rich and the poor majority is blatant. It is time to wake politicians up to focus more on the common good."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Update: Australian pro-life leaders organize to block bill legalizing abortion

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giovanni Portelli, courtesy Right To Life NSW

By Catherine Sheehan

SYDNEY (CNS) -- Thousands of pro-life supporters demonstrated in the streets of Sydney, expressing their opposition to a bill in the New South Wales state parliament that would permit abortion until birth for any reason.

The demonstration Aug. 20 called on members of parliament (MPs) to defeat the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill that was introduced Aug. 1.

The bill passed Aug. 8 in the Legislative Assembly, the lower house of the state parliament, 59-31, following a limited three-day period for comment.

The bill is pending in the Legislative Council, the upper house of parliament. Legislators had planned to vote on the bill by Aug. 23. However, in response to MPs angry at the lack of due process, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejilkian announced the vote had been delayed until mid-September. Berejilkian supports the measure.

New South Wales is the only Australian state where abortion remains a criminal offense. Abortion is permitted only when the mother's physical or mental health is in danger.

As MPs debated the bill in the lower house, the pro-life movement maintained a vigil lasting several days outside of parliament. Many were young women concerned about the lack of protection in the bill for women and babies.

Bethany Marsh, 21, a university student, was one of those leading the peaceful but lively gathering.

The chairperson of LifeChoice Australia told Catholic News Service many young women are increasingly opposed to the ideology behind the push for abortion on demand, which pits women against their unborn children.

"The bill, while claiming to be 'compassionate', is possibly the most demeaning and inhumane piece of legislation to have ever been considered by the NSW parliament," she said.

"The presence of hundreds of young women outside parliament should have sent the message, loud and clear, that we, the young pro-life generation, do not want these abhorrent practices."

Later, thousands gathered for the Stand for Life Rally Aug. 20 in Sydney's Martin Place to protest the bill. The rally brought together secular pro-life groups and representatives of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney addressed the crowd, saying they were evidence of "people power" and "God power." He thanked participants for saying "'no' to a bill that says you can kill babies right up to birth and even after they're born."

MP Tanya Davies, a member of the Liberal Party who voted against the bill, said the public deliberately had been shut out of the democratic process.

"Citizens of NSW, you have an equal voice in this debate and up to now the process has been designed to exclude your voice and the voice of your communities," she told the crowd.

She called for "a tsunami" of opposition to the legislation over the next three weeks.

If enacted, the legislation would further the financial aims of abortion providers, Rachel Carling-Jenkins, CEO of Right To Life NSW, told Catholic News Service.

"This is harmful to mothers who, instead of getting the help they need during a crisis, will be automatically be redirected to the cheapest option, i.e., termination of their unborn child," Carling-Jenkins said.

"This bill opens up an opportunity for abortion providers to further profit from women uncertain of their options."

Tiana Legge, CEO of Women and Babies Support, said the lack of restrictions on abortion in the legislation would make pregnant women even more vulnerable to coerced abortion.

"What we've heard from women is that many are pressured and coerced and coercion can take many forms," Legge said. "It can include a male partner who is using physical or emotional threats and violence against her to coerce her to have an abortion. It can also involve pressure from parents, others close to them or work colleagues and also just a general lack of support."

In its present form, the bill does not require that women seeking abortion be offered counseling, that babies born alive after failed abortions be rendered medical assistance, or that parental consent be obtained before performing abortions on minors young than 16. It also does not prohibit sex-selective abortion.

The bill mandates, however, that a doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion must refer a woman seeking an abortion to another doctor willing to perform the procedure.

MPs in the lower house sought to have protections for women, babies and medical practitioners added to the legislation, but the amendments were rejected.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

USCCB Appoints Chieko Noguchi as Director of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has appointed Chieko Noguchi as Director of the Office of Public Affairs. She begins work on September 9.  

Ms. Noguchi spent the last ten years with the Archdiocese of Washington, serving as director of media and public relations since 2011. In 2016, she received the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Francis in recognition of her dedication to the Church. Prior to joining the Archdiocese, Ms. Noguchi worked for global public relations agencies Porter Novelli and Ketchum. She began her career on Capitol Hill, working for then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in both his congressional and political offices. Ms. Noguchi is a graduate of American University in Washington and is raising her family in Virginia.  

Upon making the appointment, Monsignor J. Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the USCCB, said, “Chieko brings an extensive blend of Church and private sector experience to the Conference’s communications mission. We look forward to working with her to carry the bishops’ Gospel witness into the public square.”
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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Chieko Noguchi, Director of Public Affairs, Archdiocese of Washington, Monsignor J. Brian Bransfield, General Secretary
 
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Media Contact:
Miguel Guilarte
202-541-3200

 

Angel Has Fallen

Fly tying gives Vermont religious brother a supportive connection to vets

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic magazine

By Cori Fugere Urban

BURLINGTON, Vt. (CNS) -- The Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Burlington was quiet on a steamy summer day except for the sound of a fan and occasional banter among the veterans who concentrated on the tiny pieces of feathers, fur and thread in front of them.

Their hands worked diligently, yet carefully, illuminated by adjustable desk lamps. Their task: Tying fishing flies.

The therapeutic task and the camaraderie are what has them hooked on their weekly get-together sponsored by Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc.

Dr. Leigh Wheeler, 75, a parishioner at St. Andrew Church in Waterbury, Vermont, was an infantry officer in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and drives 35 miles each week to join the group. He finds support from the other veterans who empathize with his experiences in the war, especially having had a "number of contacts with the enemy" and witnessing soldiers being killed in action.

"It's a comfortable environment," the retired emergency physician told Vermont Catholic magazine, publication of the Burlington Diocese.

Project Healing Waters is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and related activities including education and outings. The nonprofit organization is incorporated in Maryland.

Though not a veteran, Edmundite Brother Francis Hagerty, a spiritual and retreat director based at St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont, is active in the Burlington group.

He began fly fishing in the 1980s after a friend got him interested and taught him the basics. Soon he was taking a fly-tying course and learned how to tie flies that mimic insects and small fish that fish like to eat.

"I enjoyed catching fish on flies that I had made myself. That got me hooked; but I found there is a lot more to fly fishing," he said.

Brother Hagerty always has loved being in nature and fly fishing has brought him closer to it. "The more I've learned about the life cycles of insects and the habits of fish, the more deeply I have appreciated the beauty of creation and the wonder of it all," he said.

Daphne Zencey, a Project Healing Waters volunteer and Veterans Administration peer support specialist, is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran. She also is a former Project Healing Waters participant.

"We are searching for that camaraderie and being part of a group of veterans who understand a different perspective of life and serving the greater good," she said.

Brother Hagerty's fly-tying skill and his presence are appreciated in the group, Zencey added.

The Edmundite likes fly fishing because it pulls him into a meditative mood.

"I need to approach the water slowly and carefully, so I don't spook the fish," he explained. "I need to watch for insects and perhaps fish rising to catch them. I need to observe the water flow, and think, 'If I were a trout, where would I be?'"

Then there's the sounds of the water and the rhythm of casting. "The intense focus on all these things help me to quiet myself and feel the wonder of creation more deeply," he said.

Cliff Lang, a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Burlington and a U.S. Army veteran, enjoys fly tying and building fly rods then fishing "in any river I can find."

"It's a 'me' time. It takes your mind away from troubles," the former mechanic and truck driver said. "You feel blessed to be out in a stream or brook and be back with nature."

Moe Forcier, a retired Vermont Department of Public Safety training officer who lives in Jonesville, Vermont, is another Army veteran. He said fly tying and fishing in Project Healing Waters "takes your mind off your demons because you have to concentrate." And when he is outside fishing, "it is kind of like a prayer ... being in tune with God through nature."

Brother Hagerty said a veteran once told him, "When you're tying flies or fishing, all the bad stuff goes away."

Fly tying pauses the busyness of the religious brother's life and gives him an opportunity to be alone with God. "I might be working on something that is fairly intricate, but I find myself quieted and able to listen to God's still, small voice," he said.

He has to be vigilant in his prayer, too, alert for the signs of God trying to catch his attention. He calls these signs "Oh, wows" because they show him something he hadn't noticed before or something with which he is familiar but now sees differently. They make him say to himself, "Oh, wow."

The Department of Veterans Affairs recorded 25 veteran suicides in Vermont in 2016.

Aware of this and knowing several friends who were deeply affected by their experience in the military, Brother Hagerty knew that fly tying and fishing have to be good for vets because he knows how the activities help him.

"I got involved with (Project Healing Waters) as a volunteer, and it has been a privilege to help folks heal and a blessing for me."

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Urban is content editor/staff writer for Vermont Catholic magazine of the Diocese of Burlington.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Update: Appeals court upholds Cardinal Pell conviction on abuse charges

IMAGE: CNS photo/AAP Images, Erik Anderson via Reuters

By

MELBOURNE, Australia (CNS) -- An Australian appeals court upheld the conviction of Cardinal George Pell on five counts of sexually assaulting two choirboys more than two decades ago.

A three-judge panel of the Appeals Division of the Supreme Court of Victoria announced its decision Aug. 21 in Melbourne with the cardinal in attendance.

"Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today," said his spokesperson, Katrina Lee. "Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence," and his legal team will study the panel's judgment before deciding whether to appeal to the High Court of Australia.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said an investigation of the cardinal by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not begin until after the entire civil process concludes.

"As in other cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case," he said.

Nevertheless, Bruni said, as the Vatican affirmed in February when the cardinal's conviction was announced, "the Holy Father had already confirmed the precautionary measures imposed on Cardinal Pell upon his return to Australia, that is, as is the norm, the prohibition from exercising public ministry and from any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors."

Possible church penalties, including removing a cleric from the priesthood, are imposed only after the doctrinal congregation completes its process.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson had read the appeals panel decision during a 30-minute hearing. She said the court was split 2-1 on the cardinal's argument that the conviction was "unreasonable" given the evidence presented at trial to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Justice (Chris) Maxwell and I accepted the prosecutor's submission that the complainant was a compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth," Ferguson said.

The third judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, agreed with Cardinal Pell's attorneys.

The chief justice also told the court that the three judges unanimously agreed to throw out the two other grounds for appeal: that the cardinal should have presented his not guilty plea in person to the trial jury in December rather than by video and that the cardinal's lawyers were not permitted to play a 19-minute animation to the jury in their closing statement.

Ferguson said the court decided that Cardinal Pell must continue to serve at least three years and six months of the six-and-a-half-year sentence he received following his conviction in December.

"Whether he will be released on parole will be a decision of the adult parole board, not the court," she said.

"While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system," the Vatican "recalls that the cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court," said Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

"At this time, together with the church in Australia, the Holy See confirms its closeness to the victims of sexual abuse and its commitment to pursue, through the competent ecclesiastical authorities, those members of the clergy who commit such abuse," Bruni said.

The surviving victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said that he never wished to damage the church and he had never sought compensation.

"After attending the funeral of my childhood friend, the other choir boy, I felt a responsibility to come forward," he said. "Some commentators have suggested that I reported to the police somehow for my own personal gain. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said through his lawyer, Vivian Waller.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops' conference, said the bishops "believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today's judgment accordingly."

The archbishop also acknowledged the pain of survivors of abuse and the deep differences of opinion among Catholics about whether Cardinal Pell was treated fairly.

Survivor support groups applauded the judges' decision. "For many survivors, a conviction being upheld against a high-profile, once-powerful perpetrator underlines faith in the justice process and the possibility of speaking out," said Pam Stavropoulos, spokesperson for the Blue Knot Foundation.

The decision from the three-judge panel followed a two-day hearing June 5-6 in which Cardinal Pell, 78, and his attorneys argued that his December 2018 conviction on five counts of sexually assaulting two choirboys was "unreasonable" given the evidence presented.

The conviction occurred during the second trial for Cardinal Pell. The first trial in September 2018 resulted in a hung jury.

The guilty verdict regarded one count of "sexual penetration," in this case oral sex, and four counts of indecent acts with or in the presence of a minor under 16 years of age.

The jury accepted the victim's testimony that the incidents occurred in the sacristy of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996 when the cardinal was an archbishop.

Following the conviction, the former key adviser to Pope Francis was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. He began serving the sentence in March and is being held in solitary confinement in Melbourne Assessment Prison because of the nature of the offenses and his high profile in Australia.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli, the cardinal's successor, said in a statement Aug. 21 that the two trials and appeal demonstrate how "the complexity of the search for the truth in this matter has tested many, and may very well continue to do so."

The archbishop said his "thoughts and prayers are with the man who brought this matter before the courts," and said that if the survivor should want pastoral and spiritual support, he was ready to offer it.

Archbishop Comensoli also said, "In Christian charity, I will ensure that Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence, according to the teaching and example of Jesus to visit those in prison."

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, where Cardinal Pell served as archbishop from 2001 to 2014, said the appeal panel's "split decision" is "consistent with the differing views of the juries in the first and second trials, as well as the divided opinion amongst legal commentators and the general public. Reasonable people have taken different views when presented with the same evidence and I urge everyone to maintain calm and civility."

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USCCB Chairmen Applaud Proposed Regulations Preventing Government Discrimination Against Faith-Based Federal Contractors

WASHINGTON— Bishop chairmen of three committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed support for proposed regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) clarifying religious protections that may be invoked by federal contractors, including faith-based organizations.

Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, FL, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, issued the following statement:

“Faith-based groups should have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field as they seek to partner with the federal government to provide critical social services. These proposed rules protect religious liberty, a core constitutional right, by clarifying existing religious exemptions consistent with federal law and recent Supreme Court precedent. We are grateful to the Administration for taking this step, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments with OFCCP.”

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Robert J. McManus, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Bishop James D. Conley, religious freedom, religious liberty, federal contractors, Department of Labor, OFCCP

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Miguel Guilarte
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