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Bangladesh fire victims receive condolences from pope

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Feb 21, 2019 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has offered his solidarity and prayers to victims of a massive fire in the center of the  Bangladeshi capital, which has reportedly claimed 78 lives so far.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the conflagration in the centre of Dhaka,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, Feb. 21.

“He extends his solidarity to all affected, and prays especially for the repose of the deceased and for the healing of those injured.”

The fast-moving fire swept through a densely populated historic district of Dhaka late Wednesday night, the BBC reported. Many residents were trapped, including, reportedly, a bridal party. Many are still missing and the death toll is expected to rise.

The blaze reportedly began in a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a residential building. A witness told the BBC he saw an electricity transformer explode which set off a chain reaction of chemical explosions.

The pope also offered his encouragement to the Bangladeshi emergency personnel as they assist victims, and upon all he invoked “the divine blessings of consolation and strength.” Emergency crews reportedly battled the blaze for five hours and were hindered by narrow streets and a lack of access to water.

Fires and building collapses are a major problem in the densely populated Bangladeshi capital of 18 million residents, as major incidents in the last several years have demonstrated.

A blaze in the Nimtali district of the city killed 124 people in June 2010.

In April 2013, an eight-story garment factory collapsed near the capital, killing at least 1,136 workers and prompting demands for better oversight from Western retailers and local manufacturers. A fire in November of the previous year killed 112, and another fire killed eight in May.

Bangladesh is the world's second-largest garment exporter. Several European clothing retailers, including H&M, the single largest clothing buyer in Bangladesh, have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which obliges them to conduct safety inspections and pay for repairs at factories in the nation. Walmart, the second largest buyer, has yet to sign the agreement.

Pope proposes 21 'reflection points' for discussion at abuse summit

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 11:56 am (CNA).- Pope Francis on Thursday gave participants in a Vatican summit on protection of minors in the Church a list of nearly two dozen discussion points for actions Catholic Church leaders could potentially take in the follow-up to the meeting.

The pope said during opening remarks Feb. 21 that the criteria were formulated by various bishops’ conferences and organized by him into the list, stating they are “guidelines to assist in our reflection” and “a simple point of departure.”

The 21 points include suggestions to have periodic reviews of protocols on safeguarding, handbooks of steps authorities should take in abuse cases, provisions for facilitating the participation of lay experts in investigations, and the direction to inform civil authorities and higher Church authorities in compliance with civil and canonical norms.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, responding to questions from journalists in the afternoon on Thursday said the points are complete, and a “roadmap” for the bishops’ discussions this week.

He also said that were they to be made into concrete proposals, they would need “substantial revision.”

In regard to one point, that broaches the idea of amending the Code of Canon Law to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 14 to 16, Scicluna clarified that bishops' conferences already have the power to create their own legislation in regard to the minimum marriageable age, and that many had already raised the age to 16 for both men and women.

“The pope is suggesting making that universal law,” Scicluna said.
 
Other points the pope raised in the list were to “accompany, protect and treat victims, offering them all the necessary support for a complete recovery” and to establish easily-accessible groups made up of experts, including both clerics and laypeople, to which victims can report crimes.

Several of the suggestions are on the theme of seminary formation of priests and the proper penalties for priests or religious who commit abuse.

One suggests initial and ongoing formation for seminarians and candidates for religious life, to help them “develop their human, spiritual and psychosexual maturity, as well as their interpersonal relationships and behavior.”

Another recommends observing “the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed” and another recalls the right to defense and the importance of the presumption of innocence.

“Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation,” it states.

Scicluna, a canon lawyer and adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, agreed. In reference to a question about releasing names of accused clergy, Scicluna said, “for simple allegations, it is my opinion it is premature.”

“You need a credible allegation as the lowest threshold,” he said, in order to not cause undue harm to someone’s good name. “We’re for disclosure, but in the right way. It’s legitimate to declare there are credible allegations.”

Peter Isley, victim of clergy sexual abuse and a spokesperson for “End Clergy Abuse” responded to the 21 reflection points, calling them “not very concrete points.”

“I’ll tell you what the roadmap in here is, it’s a circle,” he told journalists Feb. 21.

Isley was vocal in his opinion that the ideas presented in the list of reflection points do not go far enough in implementing “zero tolerance” against priests who have abused minors or bishops who have covered it up. “There is nothing there that wasn’t there yesterday,” he stated.

Referencing a point in the list, he said, “They put together a handbook [when] this is about the rape and sexual abuse of children!”

Isley added that he believes a priest who has abused a minor “has betrayed the priesthood,” and should not only be removed from ministry, but should have the “honor” of priesthood taken away through laicization.

If you are a bishop, “you make very, very sure, that if your priest has assaulted a child, and you know he has, that he’s not going to harm a child in the Catholic Church ever, ever, ever again,” he said.

“You take that man out of ministry, that’s the first thing, because he could harm a child. What kind of pastor wouldn’t do that?”

Scicluna said in the press conference that “punishment needs to take care of the common good, so they [clerics found guilty of sexual abuse of minors] cannot be in active ministry,” echoing a reflection point that says: “Decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave public ministry.”

He added that in his opinion, however, the decision to dismiss a priest from the clerical state, also called laicization, should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

At the presser, Scicluna also noted that while there is currently no compiled statistics on abuse cases being handled in the CDF, the material exists. He said that he recently spoke with Cardinal Luis Ladaria, CDF prefect, and he said the possibility exists for those statistics to be compiled, contextualized, and published “in the near future.”

Libel damages paid to UK pro-life charity

London, England, Feb 21, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A British pro-life charity has been awarded thousands of pounds in a court case after a local government council made libellous statements about the group last year.

 

Lambeth Council in south London paid £5,000 to Life, a non-sectarian pro-life organization, after the UK’s High Court ruled that statements from the council were libellous and damaging.

 

News of the payment was released in a statement read in the High Court Feb. 19, with lawyers representing Life relating the distress the council’s actions had caused to staff and volunteers.

 

The libel case centered on events at the Lambeth Country Show held in July last year, when organizers at the event disassembled the stall operated by Life and evicted staff and volunteers from the grounds.

 

The eviction followed a series of tweets by Lambeth Council member Ed Davie in response to several twitter users who objected to the pro-life organization being permitted to have a stall at the show.

 

Davie said in July that Life “wasn’t officially allowed” to exhibit at the show, were “not on the approved list of exhibitors,” and that he would “make sure” they were not permitted to remain at the grounds during the festival.

 

The annual event was held in Brockwell Park, south London, and was attended by approximately 150,000 people over the course of the weekend of July 21, 2018.

 

Davie went on to claim that Life had used “inaccurate information” in their application to exhibit at the show. Lambeth Council’s official Twitter account repeated that allegation later that day.

 

The claims against Life were repeated in the national press in subsequent days.

 

Life offers information and support to women in crisis pregnancies and provides accommodation for homeless pregnant women.

 

The organization said they explicitly described themselves as “a pro-life charity” in their application. Their submission to Lambeth Council included pictures of similar stalls they had run at past events. Their application was submitted in January 2018, and approved by the council in April.

 

Anne Scanlan, Life’s Director of Education, told CNA in July that “nothing on our stall was offensive.”

 

“There were lifelike fetal models and pictures of the unborn baby at different gestational stages which can be seen on any pregnancy website, including the National Health Service,” Scanlan said.

 

On Tuesday, Liz Parsons, Head of Advocacy for Life, called the damages “a victory for common sense and freedom of expression.”

 

“In a climate where the prolife voice is being shut down by local authorities across the country, we want to be clear that we are not going anywhere. For almost five decades we have stood firm in our provision of support for women and advocacy for the life of the unborn,” she said in a statement released by Life.

 

“The stall at Lambeth sought to educate people about the unborn baby and advertise our care services for pregnant women, including those who are homeless or in need of emotional and practical support. We must, and will challenge any organisation which tries in any way to impede this important work.”

 

Lambeth Council released a statement on the announcement of the settlement this week.

 

“Lambeth Council and Life reached a settlement on October 12, 2018 in relation to threatened claims arising from the removal of Life’s stall from the 2018 Lambeth Country Show. Lambeth agreed to pay Life £5,000 in damages, publish an apology on Twitter and has undertaken not to publish, or cause to be published, the same or similar words to those originally tweeted by the Council on July 22, 2018.”

Covington Catholic student sues Washington Post over Nathan Phillips story

Covington, Ky., Feb 21, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Attorneys for Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann announced they filed a $250 million dollar lawsuit against the Washington Post after the newspaper reported that Sandmann harassed a Native American man following the March for Life.

The suit alleges that the Washington Post “engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann.” They are seeking “compensatory and punitive damages.”

“This is only the beginning,” said the attorneys in a statement. Sandmann is being represented by attorneys Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry from the law firm Hemmer DeFrank Wessels.

The attorneys said are seeking $250 million as that was the amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid when his company, Nash Holdings, bought the Washington Post back in 2013.

A short video published to Twitter in January appeared to show Sandmann, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, standing in close proximity to Native American activist Nathan Phillips and smirking while Phillips changed and played a ceremonial drum.

Phillips was in Washington, D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples’ March, and the incident occurred near the Lincoln Memorial. Phillips told the media that the students had swarmed him, and had repeatedly chanted “build the wall” or “build that wall.”

The video quickly went viral, and many people called for the suspension or expulsion of Sandmann and his classmates as a punishment for their seemingly disrespectful behavior.

Sandmann’s diocese, as well as his high school, initially published statements condemning the behavior in the video.

As the weekend progressed, however, additional video was discovered that showed a far more nuanced context to the encounter between Phillips and Sandmann.

The new footage showed that Sandmann and his classmates had been harassed by members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, and began a counter-chant of their student section chants in an effort to drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites. The students denied chanting “build the wall,” and that chant could not be heard on various videos of the incident.

Additionally, video showed that Phillips had wandered into the crowd of Covington Catholic High School students - not the other way around - and had began beating a drum in Sandmann’s face.

In a statement released the day after the video went viral, Sandmann said that he had smiled in an effort to diffuse the tension of the situation and show that he was not a violent person.

The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School both withdrew their statements condemning the students. Bishop Roger Foys of Covington spoke to Covington Catholic students and apologized for his premature response to the incident.

A third-party investigation into the Covington Catholic students came to the conclusion that they had not instigated the encounter and that there was no evidence of them making any offensive or racist statements.

 

California bill would remove reporting exemption for priests in confessional

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 21, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A state senator in California introduced a bill Wednesday which would seek to force priests to violate the sacramental seal of confession in suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Clergy are already mandatory reporters in the state of California, but there is a legal exemption for material disclosed in the confessional.

 

Senator Jerry Hill announced Bill 360 in the California senate on Feb. 20.

 

“Individuals who harm children or are suspected of harming children must be reported so a timely investigation by law enforcement can occur,” Hill said in a statement announcing the bill.

 

More than 40 professions, including clergy, are already covered by state law requiring them to notify civil authorities in cases of suspected abuse or neglect of children. The current legislation provides an exemption for “penitential communications” between an individual and their minister if the requirement of confidentiality is rooted in church doctrine.

 

The Code of Canon Law states that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” A priest who intentionally violates the seal incurs an automatic excommunication.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “every priest who hears confessions is bound under severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him,” due to the “delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons.”

 

Despite the centrality of the sacramental seal to Church teaching and discipline, Hill insisted that there should be no recognition of the privileged nature of confession in the law.

 

“The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes — with no exceptions, period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk,” Hill said.

 

A spokesman for the California Catholic Conference told local media that the bill clearly targeted essential religious freedoms.

 

"Getting the government in the confessional has nothing to do with protecting children and has everything to do with eroding the basic rights and liberties we have as Americans," said Steve Pehanich in a statement for the conference reported by local news outlets.

 

The California bill is not the first attempt to compel priests to violate the sacramental seal. A Royal Commission investigation into child sexual abuse in Australia last year recommended that legal exemptions be removed for clergy who learned about abuse in the confessional.