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Let clarity and compassion define sexual identity debates, bishops say

Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2017 / 03:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a time of cultural conflict and mistaken ideas about sexual identity, religious leaders have put forth their preferred approach.

Several leading Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have backed the Dec. 15 letter “Created Male and Female” published on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The letter stressed two themes: male and female are God-given differences that must be publicly acknowledged, and those who are confused about their own identity deserve authentic support.

“We hope this letter communicates to the public our shared understanding of the goodness of the creation of humanity as male or female and underscores our commitment to service of this truth with both clarity and compassion,” said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chair of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The letter said it is important to acknowledge the reality of sexual identity.

“We hope for renewed appreciation of the beauty of sexual difference in our culture and for authentic support of those who experience conflict with their God-given sexual identity,” it said.

Other signers of the letter include leaders in various Christian denominations and Churches, including Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Baptist. Another signer is Imam Faizal Khan, a founder of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area.

“The movement today to enforce the false idea – that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa – is deeply troubling,” the letter continued. “It compels people to either go against reason – that is, to agree with something that is not true – or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.”

The religious leaders’ letter affirmed that all human beings are created by God and have a God-given dignity.

“We also believe that God created each person male or female; therefore, sexual difference is not an accident or a flaw – it is a gift from God that helps draw us closer to each other and to God. What God has created is good,” they said, citing the Book of Genesis on the creation of humankind: “male and female he created them.”

The desire to be identified as the opposite sex is “a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth,” continued the letter. Their concerns deserve a response of “compassion, mercy and honesty.”

“As religious leaders, we express our commitment to urge the members of our communities to also respond to those wrestling with this challenge with patience and love,” they advised.

The letter also voiced concern about how children are affected by current trends in sexual identity.

“Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can ‘change’ their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults,” said the letter. “Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of ‘first, do no harm’.”

Voicing a desire for the health and happiness of all men, women and children, the religious leaders called for policies that “uphold the truth of a person's sexual identity as male or female, and the privacy and safety of all.”

In addition to Bishop Conley, Catholic signers of the letter include Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, who chairs the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The U.S. bishops’ conference said the latest letter follows three previous letters: a Dec. 6, 2010 letter “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment”; “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together,” from Jan. 12, 2012; and “The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared Witness,” dated April 23, 2015.

Apostolic nuncio to US speaks with EWTN News Nightly

Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2017 / 02:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dXoCmKN2XHo" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the US, spoke with EWTN News Nightly's Lauren Ashburn on Wednesday, discussing Pope Francis, his background, and his reception within the Church.

He mentioned the recently published work Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Una biographia intellettuale (Jorge Mario Bergoglio: An Intellectual Biography) by Massimo Borghesi, which discusses the influence on Pope Francis of Fr. Gaston Fessard, among others,.

Fr. Fessard was a French philosopher of the 20th century who has been called “a penetrating critic of Marxism.” He was central to the revival of Hegelian thought on history in France, and sought to be in dialogue with Hegel, considering his widespread influence in modern philosophy. Fr. Fessard was also active in the French Resistance and a critic of the collaborationist Vichy government.

Please read excerpts from the first half of Archbishop Pierre's conversation with Ashburn, edited for clarity and length. The first half aired Dec. 14, and the second will air Dec. 15 on EWTN News Nightly.

 

Lauren: Archbishop Christophe Pierre, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

Archbishop Pierre: Thank you for the invitation.

Lauren: Archbishop, in the fast-moving four and a half years Pope Francis has been Pope, much has been written about him – his “option” for the poor, his evident pastoral approach, the reform of the Vatican. Now we seem to be witnessing a new phase of his interest: the intellectual and cultural roots that drive him. What are they?

Archbishop Pierre: Well, your observation is very interesting, you know, because we have to recognize that the coming of this Pope has created wonder, and a lot of questions. And if you allow me, I would say, during my one year and a half presence in this country, I’ve noticed this sense of wonder. Especially from the people themselves. They are happy to see this Pope. They feel that he is near them. They feel that he understands their problems. And I think this is one of the characteristics of the Pope. But may I say, many of us, a lot of people say, ‘Who is he? Where is he coming from?’ I would say there are two directions. One direction is coming from South America. This is his background. I’ve been living in four countries, and working in countries in South America.

(Lauren: Including Mexico) Including Mexico. And I arrived in Mexico at the time of the famous Aparecida conference of the Latin American bishops of the last century. This conference is very important to understand Pope Francis, because he was one of the main actors, because he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. But he was one of the main actors. So this is one aspect. The second one is intellectual background. And precisely a couple of weeks ago, an Italian author, Massimo Borghesi, published a book.

Lauren: That would be this book. (Laughter)

Archbishop Pierre: Ah, you read it.

Lauren: It’s in Italian, however, so you are going to have to tell me what it says. Let me talk to you about this book. It claims that behind this simplicity lies a “deep and original thinking,” based largely on French philosophers and theologians. That comes as a surprise to the Argentinian and populist stereotype of Francis. You are a Frenchman, who has spent years serving many different countries worldwide. What is this “deep and original thinking”?

Archbishop Pierre: Well first and foremost this Pope has been educated in our own time. The book tells us that maybe the first important author having contributed to his formation is the Jesuit Gaston Fessard. Maybe Gaston Fessard is not well known in the United States. I happened, when I was pursuing my master’s in theology in the French Catholic Institute of Paris, to make a credit on Gaston Fessard. [sic] So I was very happy when I read this book; I said, ‘My God!’

Lauren: You both are following after Gaston Fessard.

But there is unease among bishops over his approach. How can that be that be rectified?

Archbishop Pierre: I have read the Pope is not very precise. The Pope is not, eh, not a great intellectual, he is more pastoral than dogmatic. I would say these things are stereotypes. And maybe also prejudice. So I think there is a great -- we especially with the bishops -- we have a great responsibility, to try to understand our Pope. And to understand him in all aspects of his personality before making a judgment. And I think this is precisely what we should try to do. And not to remain with a superficial judgement of who he is or what he is supposed to be according to our own judgement. And by the way, he is also the Pope.

 

Lauren: Archbishop Christophe Pierre, thank you for joining us.

Archbishop Pierre: Thank you.

 

Catholic Church in Australia commits to ensuring justice for sex abuse victims

Canberra, Australia, Dec 15, 2017 / 02:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a wide-ranging report released Friday, Australia’s royal commission found serious failings in the protection of children from abuse in the Catholic Church and other major institutions.

The commission recommended Dec. 15 that priests should be legally obligated to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional and that priestly celibacy should be made optional.

The Vatican responded by saying the report should be “studied seriously”, reiterating its commitment to hearing and accompanying victims of child sex abuse in the pursuit of healing and justice.

Church officials in Australia apologized for the suffering caused and pledged their commitment to ensuring justice, while also noting the impossibility of violating the secrecy of sacramental confession.

The report was the result of an investigation in which the commission reviewed thousands of accounts of child abuse from figures in major institutions. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in 2013 to investigate the handling of child sex abuse allegations by religious groups, schools, government organizations, and sporting associations.

Of the institutions examined, the most accusations were brought against the Catholic Church, in which more than 4,000 cases of child abuse reportedly occurred, making up 61.8 percent of all reported child abuse cases from religious entities.

In a previously released portion of the report, the commission found that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia serving between 1950 and 2009 have been accused of child sex crimes.

"Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. We will never know the true number," the report said.

"It is not a case of a few 'rotten apples'. Society's major institutions have seriously failed."

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian bishops' conference, said the report reveals a “shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families.”

He also reiterated his “unconditional apology for this suffering and a commitment to ensuring justice for those affected.”

Sister Ruth Durick OSU, president of Catholic Religious Australia, added that religious orders across Australia are will continue their recent work of reforming orders to better protect children.

“We acknowledge with gratitude the courage of all those survivors who have come forward to the Royal Commission,” Sr. Ruth said. “We will be taking very seriously the Royal Commission's report and have commissioned an initial assessment of its findings by the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.”

As part of the report, the commission made numerous recommendations, such as changes to Australia’s criminal justice system and various recommendations for the Catholic Church, “many of which will have a significant impact on the way the Catholic Church operates in Australia,” the bishops said in their statement.

However, among some of the controversial recommendations are that priests should be legally obligated to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional, and that they should face criminal charges if they refuse to do so.

In a statement in August, Hart stressed the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of confession while also ensuring that children are protected.

“Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Hart said in an Aug. 14 statement.

Confession “is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the Law of Australia and many other countries,” he said. “It must remain so here in Australia…(but) outside of this, all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so.”

Additionally, the report recommended that the Catholic Church make celibacy an optional requirement of the priesthood, rather than a mandatory one, because while celibacy is not a cause of child abuse, the commission considered it a contributing factor when combined with other risk factors, according to the BBC.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told the Guardian that changing the celibacy requirement is not the solution to the abuse crisis.

“We know very well that institutions who have celibate clergy and institutions that don’t have celibate clergy both face these problems. We know very well that this happens in families that are certainly not observing celibacy,” he said.

The Holy See also responded to the report, saying in a statement on Friday that it “deserves to be studied seriously.”

“The Holy See remains committed to being close to the Catholic Church in Australia – lay faithful, religious, and clergy alike – as they listen to and accompany victims and survivors in an effort to bring about healing and justice,” the Vatican statement said.

“In his recent meeting with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis said the Church is called to be a place of compassion, especially for those who have suffered, and reaffirmed that the Church is committed to safe environments for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”

At the end of the statement from the Australian bishop’s conference, the Church leaders restated their commitment to making amends for past abuse, and called on state governments to aid them in this task.

“Both leaders said the Church will continue to push for the introduction of a national redress scheme for the survivors of child sexual abuse in which the Church will participate.”

Philip Freier, the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, apologized for “the shameful way we sometimes actively worked against and discouraged those who came to us and reported abuse.”

Hartford auxiliary bishop resigns at age 72

Hartford, Conn., Dec 15, 2017 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See announced Friday that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Christie Macaluso from his position in the Archdiocese of Hartford at the age of 72.

Macaluso will continue to live at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, a Hartford suburb, “and will remain active in episcopal ministry to the extent that his health and circumstances permit,” the archdiocese stated.

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford expressed his goodwill for Macaluso and acknowledged his contribution to the archdiocese over the years.

“From my first days as Archbishop of Hartford, Bishop Macaluso has been of invaluable assistance thanks to his knowledge and experience of this local Church over many years,” Archbishop Blair stated Dec. 15.

“In the name of all the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese I wish him all the best and God’s blessing in days to come,” he continued.

Macaluso was born in Hartford June 12, 1945 to Albert and Helen Macaluso. He attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in theology. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford May 22, 1971.

Having also studied music and various languages, Macaluso additionally holds a master’s degree in psychology from New York University and a master’s degree in philosophy from Trinity College.

Macaluso has served in the Archdiocese of Hartford in both parochial and administrative positions. He was  assistant pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hartford and St. Joseph Parish in New Britain. In 1980, he was made dean of St. Thomas Seminary College, where he also served as a faculty member and was later appointed as president and rector. Macaluso also served as rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph from 1991-1997.

St. John Paul II named Macaluso a monsignor in 1995 and he was additionally made episcopal vicar of Hartford.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Hartford and consecrated a bishop in 1997. During his appointment as auxiliary bishop he also served as the vicar general of the archdiocese, and moderator of the curia.

Pope Francis: Music opens our hearts to the true meaning of Christmas

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2017 / 10:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Music and art are especially suited to helping us more deeply comprehend the true meaning of the mystery of Christmas, said Pope Francis in remarks on Friday.

“Art is an impressive means of opening the doors of the mind and heart to the true meaning of Christmas. The creativity and genius of artists, with their work, music and singing are able to reach the innermost depths of the conscience,” the Pope said Dec. 15.

“Art enters precisely into the depths of the conscience.”

“Christmas,” he continued, “is a feast that is heart-felt, participatory and capable of warming the coldest of hearts, of removing barriers of indifference towards our neighbors and encouraging openness towards others and a free gift (of self).”

“This is why today we need to spread the message of peace and fraternity proper to Christmas; we need to represent this event by expressing the authentic sentiments that animate it.”

Pope Francis spoke to those involved in the organization and performance of the 25th edition of the Vatican’s annual charity concert: “Christmas at the Vatican,” which will take place Dec. 16.

This year the concert supports two children’s projects: The Pontifical Foundation “Scholas Occurrentes” and a program to free children enslaved in the coltan mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It includes performances by Italian and international musicians and vocalists, including a children’s choir from Rome.

Scottish singer Annie Lennox and American singer-songwriter Patti Smith will also perform, as well as Suor Cristina, the young Ursuline Sister of the Holy Family who captivated millions when she won the 2014 edition of The Voice Italy.

Upon entering the Clementine Hall, the Pope was greeted by the sounds of a Christmas carol sung by various singers, including the children of the Italian “Small Choir of Piazza Vittorio” and members of the Art Voice Academy and Hallelujah Gospel Singers.

Pope Francis thanked all those who will take part, including performers and audience members, for showing concern for those in need of help and solidarity.

He said that he hopes the Christmas concert can be an opportunity to sow tenderness in the world, a word that is, he said, “much forgotten today.”

“Sow the tenderness, the peace and the welcome which spring from the cave of Bethlehem,” he said.

 

Swedish cardinal laments attacks on nation's Jewish community

Stockholm, Sweden, Dec 15, 2017 / 10:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Multiple attacks against the Jewish community in Sweden have sparked outcry from leaders who have spoken out against the violence. The Bishop of Stockholm sent a personal letter to an affected community expressing his solidarity with them.

“It's with deep sorrow that I have heard about the detestable attack on your parish. I just want to express my sympathy in this difficult situation. I pray that God will help and protect all of you,” read the note sent by Cardinal Anders Arborelius to a Jewish community which was attacked recently.

Over the weekend, bottle bombs had been thrown at a chapel on the grounds of a Jewish cemetery in Malmo, the country’s third largest city. This was the second time in recent years that the Jewish chapel had been attacked, following an arson attempt in 2009.

Additionally, a group of men attacked a synagogue in Gothenburg with firebombs last week. Three men were arrested on suspicion of attempted arson.

Hundreds of protestors gathered in Malmo last week, publicly shouting for violence against the Jewish community, saying, “we want our freedom back, and we will shoot the Jews,” according to the local public radio station. The next day, protestors also publicly burned an Israeli flag in Stockholm.

While there were no reported injuries or damages sustained by the recent anti-Semitic attacks, Malmo’s Jewish community sees the recent events as “extremely serious.”

“We strongly emphasize that we can never accept being subjected to threats and attacks,” the Jewish assembly said, according to the Times of Israel.

The attacks came ahead of the Jewish celebration of Hannukah, which began the evening of Dec. 12 and lasts through Dec. 20, and in the wake of U.S. President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“There is no place for anti-Semitism in Swedish society,” said the country’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in a recent statement, according to the Times of Israel.

Sweden’s Interior Minister for Justice Morgan Johansson noted the increased security around Jewish buildings in the country and said that they have a strong relationship with the police, who have been patrolling for anti-Semitic activity.

“It is always possible to do more,” Johansson said, according to the Local.

“But we have a high level of alert and have allocated more money to the police and security services. We have given them better resources to gain more control over groups that can present a threat.”

Antje Jackelen, the Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala, said that “I would like to assure you of the solidarity of the Swedish church in the fight against anti-Semitism and violence in the name of religion,” the Local reported.

That time a priest was reprimanded by a saint

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2017 / 09:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When white smoke poured out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on October 16, 1978, Fr. Eamon Kelly, a seminarian studying in Rome at the time, couldn’t have known that he was witnessing the election of a future saint.

Nor did he know that more than a dozen years after that election, he would be reprimanded by that same future saint, John Paul II, during one of his Wednesday general audiences.

It was Holy Week of 1992, and Fr. Kelly, a priest with the Congregation of the Legion of Christ, was on his annual pilgrimage to Rome.

But this year was different.

His youth group had brought along eight Russian young people, the tension of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War just barely in the rearview mirror of history.

Fr. Kelly had done some strategizing to make sure the Russian youth got a good seat.

“We had our tickets and we went in early, and we did get positions up against the barrier of the corridor,” Fr. Kelly said. “So that was fantastic, we were going to see Pope John Paul II.”

His German students gave up all of the seats closest to the aisle, so that the Russian young people would get to shake the Pope’s hand as he walked through the Paul VI audience hall.

“I had the kids observe how he did it – he’d shake hands but by that he’d already moved on to talking to the next person, greeting them,” Fr. Kelly recalled.

“So I told them this pope knows Russian, and you need to greet him politely when he’s two or three people away; say some nice greeting in Russian.”

They did, and it worked: sure enough, the Pope’s ears perked up when he heard the Russian greetings. As soon as he got to the group, he stopped walking.

“He started talking to them in Russian, and there was a tremendous chemistry going on, and everybody was super excited. Our six rows of kids had assimilated into about two,” Fr. Kelly said.

Eventually the Pope asked, in Russian, how the group was able to make it to Rome. All the Russian students turned and pointed at Fr. Kelly.

He was a head taller than most of the students, so Fr. Kelly suddenly found himself in straight eye contact with John Paul II.

“There was so much joy and appreciation and gratitude in his eyes that these kids were there,” Fr. Kelly said.

“But then, his look turned like a storm with a critical question – ‘Why didn’t you tell me before they came?’” the Pope demanded of the priest.

“You know, like I could call up the Pope and tell him we’re coming,” Fr. Kelly recalled with a laugh.

“I tried to give an excuse, I said it was hanging by a thread that it was going to happen, I just fumbled my way through it. What are you going to do when the Pope is asking you for accountability?” Fr. Kelly said.

In hindsight, Fr. Kelly said he maybe could have called an office in the Vatican to alert them of the Russian students, but he didn’t realize that this visit would be so important for the Pope.

But Russia was dear to St. John Paul II’s heart, as he had played a critical role in the peaceful fall of communism and the Soviet Union. Just a few years prior, he had met for over an hour with President Mikhail Gorbachev, who later said the peaceful dissolution of the USSR would have been impossible without the Roman Pontiff.

Perhaps their meeting in 1989 had also softened Gorbachev’s heart prior to World Youth Day 1991, when the leader allowed some 20,000 Russian youth to attend the event in Poland for the first time ever. The conciliatory move was the whole reason the Russian students were now meeting John Paul II in Rome.

“He said to me, 'This is the first group of Russians I’ve ever greeted in the audience hall',” Fr. Kelly said.

It’s possible that it may have been the first youth group from Moscow to visit Rome ever, Fr. Kelly said.

“I don’t want to claim that title, because there may have been others, but it’s unlikely that anyone would have been able to come before the start of communism,” he said.

He said the Pope was visibly moved by the Russian students.

“He was happy, he was happy. He said if he would have known that they were there, he would have greeted them formally from the stage.”

And the Russian students?

“They were elated.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 22, 2016.

A crash course in Miracles 101

Denver, Colo., Dec 15, 2017 / 03:32 am (CNA).- What do a grilled cheese sandwich and the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe have in common?

Both bore what appeared to be images of Mary. One was determined to be authentically miraculous, the other was not. Not to spoil any secrets, but it’s not Our Lady of the Grilled Cheese that converted Mexico and continues to draw millions of people on pilgrimage every year.

But have you ever wondered just how the Church determines the bogus from the divinely appointed?

In his book, “Exploring the Miraculous,” Michael O’Neill gives readers a crash course of sorts in “Miracles 101” - including common questions about the importance of miracles, an explanation of the approval process, and descriptions of the various types of miracles found within the Catholic Church.

“This is a very rare book in that it tries to cover the entire spectrum of miracles within the Catholic Church,” O’Neill told CNA.

Catholics by definition are people who have to believe in at least two miracles, O’Neill said - that of Christ’s incarnation and his resurrection, two pillars on which the Catholic faith rests.

For modern-day miracles, belief is never required of the faithful. The highest recognition that the Church gives to an alleged miracle is that it is “worthy of belief.” Investigations of reported miraculous events – which include extensive fact-finding, psychological examination and theological evaluation – may result in a rejection if the event is determined to be fraudulent or lacking in super natural character.

Or the Church may take a middle road, declaring that there is nothing contrary to the faith in a supposed apparition, without making a determination on whether a supernatural character is present.

But while official investigations can take years, the mere report of a miracle can bring Catholics from long distances, hoping to see some glimpse of the divine reaching into the human.

And it’s not just the faithful who find miracles fascinating.

“It's important for atheists and skeptics, those people who don’t believe, they’ve got to have an explanation for the inexplicable,” he said. “There’s something for everyone.”

The universal nature of the experience of the miraculous is also what draws people from all belief spectrums to these stories, O’Neill added.

“We all pray for miracles of one sort or another. They can be these really sort of small things like praying for an impossible comeback in a football game, or it can be a lost wallet or wedding ring,” he said.

“But they can also be these really big things, such as our loved ones, they fall away from the faith and we want them to return, or somebody from our friends or our family is very sick and we desperately implore God’s help for them. It’s something that everybody experiences.”

O’Neills own fascination with miracles started in college, when for an archeology assignment he studied the miraculous tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Marian apparition to which he’d inherited his mother’s devotion. He had heard stories about miracles associated with the image, both from within his own family and from the larger Church, and he wondered how much truth there was to the tales.

He also started learning about the larger tradition of miracles within the Church, and was struck by how the Church has carefully investigated thousands of claims over the years, only to select certain ones that it eventually deems as of divine origin.

“I thought that was fascinating that the Church would stick its neck out and say these things are worthy of belief,” he said.

Although he continued his engineering studies throughout college, a piece of advice at graduation from Condoleezza Rice, who was serving as vice provost at Stanford University at the time, stayed with him.

“She asked what we were going to do after graduation, and her advice was to become an expert in something,” he said.

“And I thought about what would be a great thing to study? My mind went back to all those hours I’d spent in the library and my promise to return to it someday and I said you know what? I want to be the expert on miracles.”

For a while he kept his studies private - he didn’t want to be seen as the guy who was obsessed with weird things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But eventually, he realized that many people were interested in miracles and found them helpful for their own faith.

“It’s a way that people feel connected to God, they know that God is a loving father watching out for them, so it’s one of those things - a miracle is a universal touchstone,” he said.

“No matter how strong we think our faith is or want it to be, we always want to know that God is there for us, and miracles are that sort of element that bridges the gap between our faith and our connection with God.”

In his book, O’Neill provides descriptions and examples of every basic category of miracle within the Catholic Church, including healing miracles from saints in the canonization process, biblical miracles, apparitions, locutions (audible messages from God or a saint), miraculous images, Eucharistic miracles, incorrupt bodies (those that either partially or fully do not decompose after death), and stigmata (the wounds of Christ appearing on some living people).

The most popular kind of miracle, and O’Neill’s personal favorite, are Marian apparitions - when Mary appears in a supernatural and corporeal way to a member of the faithful, most often with a message.  

There have been about 2,500 claims of Marian apparitions throughout history, and a major one that many people are currently curious about are the alleged apparitions happening at Medjugorje, about which the Church has yet to make a definitive decision of validity. Curiosity about Marian apparitions was also a large part of what spurred O’Neill to create his website, miraclehunter.com, where he files information about miracles in their respective categories and provides information on their origin story and whether or not they have been approved by the Vatican.

“The Vatican didn’t have a resource where you can find out what’s approved and what’s not, and what messages are good for our faith and what ones we should stay away from, so I tried to create a resource for the faithful for that,” he said. He’s now been running the website for more than 15 years.

O’Neill also loves Eucharistic miracles, because unlike several other types of miracles, whose validity are largely determined by faithful and reliable witnesses, science can be applied.

“They can check to see if it’s really human blood, and what type of blood, and in some cases you have heart muscle in these hosts that have turned into true flesh,” he said.

One of O’Neill’s favorite Eucharistic miracles occurred in Argentina while Pope Francis was still a bishop there.

It was August of 1996, and a priest in Buenos Aires, Fr. Alejandro Pezet, discovered a host in the back of his church, and so he took it and placed it in some water in the tabernacle to dissolve it. Over the next few days, days he kept an eye on it, and it grew increasingly red. The priest decided to present the case to Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, who ordered that the host be professionally photographed and eventually examined by a scientist in the U.S., who was not told the origin of the specimen he was testing.

The tests showed the sample to be heart muscle with blood type AB, the same blood type found on the Shroud of Turin.

“The scientist was an atheist and he said, why did you send me this heart muscle, what was the point of this? And they said it was a consecrated host, and actually that atheist scientist converted to Catholicism as a result of that study,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill also notes in his book that when considering miracles, it’s important to not go to extremes.

“The question of the role of miracles in our life of faith is an important one and requires avoiding two extremes: an overemphasis and credulity regarding the supernatural on the one hand and a denial of the possibility of divine intervention and a diminishment of the role of popular devotion on the other,” he wrote. Either way, obedience to the magisterium of the Church and their teachings on particular miracles is key.

Miracles are an important asset for the faith because of their ability to connect people with God, either as first-time believers or as long-time faithful who need a reminder of God’s presence.

“I like to think of miracles as a great way to engage young people, to get them excited about the faith,” he said. “They shouldn’t be the centrality of anybody’s faith, but it’s a way to open the door for people...so I think miracles can play a huge role in evangelization.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA May 8, 2016.

Guatemalan Supreme Court halts distribution of pro-abortion manual

Guatemala City, Guatemala, Dec 15, 2017 / 12:05 am (ACI Prensa).- The Supreme Court of Guatemala has ruled that the distribution of a manual promoting abortion must be stopped.

The manual, “Human rights, sexual and reproductive rights and healthcare for girls and adolescents,” had been financed by the UN Population Fund.

It had been promoted since 2015 by the Ombudsman for Human Rights at the time, Jorge De Leon Duque.

The Guatemalan judiciary issued its ruling Dec. 8. A press conference held by the Family Matters Association (FMA) and congressman José Rodrigo Valladares discussed the decision.

The Family Matters Association had filed for an injunction on June 22, 2017 against De Leon Duque “to invalidate the use of the manual and to demand the ombudsman's office stop promoting abortion.” Congressman Rodrigo Valladares subsequently joined the injunction filing.

The Supreme Court's ruling also ordered the Ombudsman's Office for Human Rights “to refrain from carrying out any activity which entails supporting or promoting abortion or abortion practices, their presentation (of it) as a right, the promotion of its legalization or the violation of the right to life from conception,” the FMA reported.

It also set a deadline of three months for the current ombudsman, Jordan Rodas Andrade, “to develop the necessary materials to counteract the harm done by the manual in question.”

In addition, the FMA stressed that the court has recognized that the ombudsman “has the grave and solemn obligation to defend life from its conception, an obligation he freely and voluntarily assumed by the oath to uphold the Constitution which he took in Congress at the time he accepted his office, if he wants to serve the nation.”

The court ruling states that “any report, study, investigation, publication, campaign or activity that the Ombudsman carries out must seek to defend the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Otherwise he would be exceeding his authority as provided by law.”

The FMA also emphasized that the court enjoined Rodas Andrade to avoid “reverting to the actions of your predecessor, and to refrain from carrying out any activity which promotes abortion directly or indirectly” and to not join the campaigns or use the slogans “ of those who in the supposed defense of the rights of women in vulnerable situations are promoting abortion under the disguised label of 'sexual and reproductive rights.'”

Current Ombudsman Jordan Rodas posted on his office's website a statement in which he disclaimed any responsibility for the manual promoted by his predecessor.

He pointed out that the manual “was not developed under my management,” but “was presented, published and distributed by the administration of my predecessor, Jorge De Leon Duque.”

In addition, Jordan Rodas emphasized that “starting August 20, the day I took office, until this very day, at no time have I made a statement about abortion.”

The FMA offered that it is “at the disposal of the ombudsman and his entire team, to give priority to and timely compliance with the Supreme Court's order.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Proposed Catholic hospital mega-merger assessed by Church officials

Denver, Colo., Dec 14, 2017 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic ethics and church law must be at the center of a merger of two major Catholic health care systems that, if approved, will create the largest non-profit health system in the country, an archdiocesan official says.

Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives and San Francisco-based Dignity Health announced the proposed merger Dec. 7.

They aim to create a new Catholic healthcare system, set to be based in Chicago. The combined health system will be run by the CEOs of both companies. It will include 139 hospitals, employ 159,000 people, and have a combined revenue of $28.4 billion.

The merger requires regulatory approval—and also scrutiny that it does not violate Catholic ethical and canonical norms.

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco are among those responsible for analyzing the moral and ethical considerations of the proposed merger for the health systems based in their respective cities, David Uebbing, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver, told CNA.

The USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” require that the merger of the healthcare systems receive a “nihil obstat” from the diocesan bishop in the places where the systems are headquartered.

Uebbing said the review process in Denver has already involved “an extensive, multi-month” analysis of the proposal and consultation with the bishops affected. The process has involved consultation with legal, canonical and health care ethics experts.

“A nihil obstat is a negative declaration that essentially says, ‘nothing stands in the way’,” Uebbing said. “A nihil obstat has limited scope, i.e., determining that there is nothing morally or doctrinally objectionable in the proposed corporate structure. It does not convey approval or agreement with the proposal.”

Both health care systems are sponsored by canonical organizations overseen directly by the Vatican, which, according to canon law, will also need to approve the merger.

A new name for the proposed system will be announced sometime after mid-2018, pending final approval from federal and state officials as well as Catholic officials.

The leaders of both health care systems said the proposed merger would be better for health care.

“We are joining together to create a new Catholic health system, one that is positioned to accelerate the change from sick-care to well-care across the United States,” said Kevin E. Lofton, the CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives.

He said the organization will have “the talent, depth, breadth, and passion to improve the health of every person and community we serve,” the Houston Chronicle reports.

Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Dignity Health, said the merger will build upon a shared mission and will “expand our commitment to meeting the needs of all people with compassion, regardless of income, ethnicity, or language.”

“We foresee an incredible opportunity to expand each organization's best practices to respond to the evolving health care environment and deliver high-quality, cost-effective care,” he continued.

Currently Catholic Health Initiatives has hospitals in 17 states, while Dignity Health has facilities in 22 states, including those operating under brands such as U.S. HealthWorks, the Sacramento Bee reports.

CNA contacted Dignity Health, and the Archdiocese of Chicago for comment but did not receive a response by deadline. Catholic Health Initiatives was unable to respond to a request for comment.

In 2012 Dignity Health, adopted a new board structure and changed its name from Catholic Healthcare West, deemphasizing its ties to the Catholic Church. Then-Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco determined the changes were consistent with Catholic morals.

At the time, it was reported that the system’s Catholic hospitals would continue to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

The system’s non-Catholic hospitals adhere to the system’s “Statement of Common Values.” Those rules prohibit abortion and in-vitro fertilization but not sterilization procedures like tubal ligations.

Catholic Healthcare West, later renamed Dignity Health, came under scrutiny following a 2009 incident at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, which is part of the health system. The hospital’s ethics board decided that a direct abortion could be performed on a woman who was suffering severe medical complications, in violation of Catholic teaching that direct abortion is inherently evil.

In December 2010 Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix revoked the Catholic status of the hospital after an investigation found both the hospital and its parent company involved in a pattern of behavior that violated Catholic health care ethics, including creating and managing a government program that offers birth control, sterilization procedures and abortion.

In January 2012 the health network’s CEO, Dean, said concerns about the system’s Catholic affiliation hindered potential agreements with other hospitals.

The expansion of Catholic hospitals operating according to Catholic teaching has drawn opposition from critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the MergerWatch project. Those groups co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.”

The report said the ACLU’s advocacy in the area was backed by various funders including the Arcus Foundation, which is a major funder of an influence campaign to restrict religious freedoms in areas that run counter to the foundation’s vision of LGBT advocacy and reproductive health.