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Relic of Venezuela's 'doctor of the poor' tours hospitals

The tomb of José Gregorio Hernández in the Church of Our Lady of Candelaria in Caracas, Venezuela. / Guillermo Ramos Flamerich via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, May 10, 2021 / 19:19 pm (CNA).

A relic of Blessed José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros, known as the doctor of the poor, is being brought to hospitals and clinics in Ciudad Bolívar to bring hope to the sick and healthcare personnel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Archdiocese of Ciudad Bolívar announced that the blessed’s relic will be brought to healthcare facilities and other institutions in the archdiocese May 6-14.

The archdiocese said the purpose of the tour is "to bring to the faithful and devotees the fragment of the bodily remains of the Venezuelan doctor who was an example of charity, service, and professionalism”, as well as "to encourage patients, healthcare personnel, and family members in the midst of the tribulations of being sick, especially during these times of pandemic.”

On May 6, the relic of Blessed José Gregorio made the rounds of the Ruíz y Páez University Hospital Complex, the Tórax Hospital, and the School of Medicine of the University of the East.

The archdiocese said that the relic will be brought to the local government hospital, the Virgen del Valle Oncology Unit, the Vista Hermosa detention center, and other places.

After May 14, there will be a second stage tour of the relic, which will be brought to every parish in the archdiocese through Nov. 20.

The relic will then return to Ciudad Bolivar Nov. 21 to be installed in a soon-to-be-announced church where it will be reserved for veneration and pilgrimages.

Blessed José Gregorio Hernández was born Oct. 26, 1864, in Isnotú in the Venezuelan state of Trujillo. He lost his mother when he was eight years old.

Hernández studied medicine in Caracas and received government funding to continue his studies in Paris in 1889 for two years.

After returning to Venezuela, he became a professor at the Central University of Caracas, where he began each lesson with the sign of the cross.

Hernández attended daily Mass, brought medicine and care to the poor, and made a profession as a Third Order Franciscan.

He eventually discerned a monastic religious vocation and gave up his professorship to enter a Carthusian monastery in Farneta, Italy, in 1908, with the name of Brother Marcelo.

After nine months, he fell ill, and his superior ordered him to return to Venezuela to recover. In Caracas, he received permission to enter the Saint Rose of Lima Seminary.

He returned to Rome three years later to study theology at the Pontifical Latin American College, but again became ill and was forced to return to Venezuela in 1914.

Hernández concluded that it was God’s will for him to remain a layman. He decided  to strive to become an exemplary Catholic as a doctor and give glory to God by serving the sick.

He devoted himself to academic research and serving the poor, particularly during the Spanish flu.

One day, as the doctor went to pick up medicine for an elderly poor woman, he was hit by a car. He died in hospital June 29, 1919, after receiving the last rites.

Former Coptic Orthodox monk hanged for bishop's murder

Saint Macarius Monastery in Egypt's Beheira governorate, November 2010. / Berthold Werner via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Alexandria, Egypt, May 10, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Wael Saad, a former monk of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was executed on Sunday for the 2018 murder of Bishop Epiphanius, the abbot of St. Macarius Monastery.

Saad’s brother told Reuters the family was told to receive his body from a morgue in Damanhour, 40 miles southeast of Alexandria, May 9.

Raymond Rasmi Mansour, another monk who assisted in the crime, has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Mansour had also been sentenced to death, but his sentence was reduced after winning an appeal.

Bishop Epiphanius' body was found July 29, 2018, with injuries to his head and back that suggest that he had been hit by a sharp object. 

Saad, whose monastic name was Isaiah al-Makary, was charged with the bishop's murder Aug. 11, 2018, and confessed to the murder the following day. Saad said that Mansour, whose monastic name was Faltaous al-Makary, assisted in the crime. Mansour attempted suicide in August 2018.

Saad was expelled from the monastery Aug. 5, 2018 for “inappropriate actions which violate monastic behavior and way of life.” The Coptic Orthodox Church said that his dismissal had been decided on before the bishop's death.

The bishop’s murder highlighted tension in the Coptic Orthodox Church over monasticism, ecumenism, and reform, and led to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate issuing several decrees on monasticism.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.

Tawadros II, Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, announced Aug. 1, 2018 that the Church's monasteries would stop accepting new brothers for one year. Those who established monasteries unapproved by the patriarchate were to be stripped of their priesthood and monastic state. No new monasteries could be founded except as a revival of old monasteries, and this was to be done under the care of a recognized monastery.

The Church also instructed its monks to close their social media accounts, and suspended the ordination of monks for three years. Permissions for monks to attend outside functions was also restricted.

Later that month the Church announced that unrecognized monasteries would have one month to submit to the supervision of the patriarchate. 

Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the New York Times that Bishop Epiphanius was “a senior figure in a reformist Coptic movement” that has been favored under Tawadros.

“His appointment, in May, to position in which he would work as a liaison with the Catholic Church was seen as a sign that conservatives were being sidelined, Mr. Tadros said.”

Pope Francis visited Egypt in 2017, and signed a joint declaration with Tawadros announcing that their Churches would recognize the validity of each other's baptisms.

Previously, the Coptic Orthodox Church had repeated baptism if a Catholic had sought to join it.

Conservative members of the Coptic Orthodox Church have reportedly resisted such reforms under Tawadros. According to a commentary by Engy Magdy in the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn's The Tablet, these conservatives are associated with Shenouda III, the immediate predecessor of Tawadros as Coptic Orthodox Patriarch.

The dispute goes back to tensions between Shenouda and Fr. Matta El Meskeen.

Fr. Matta was tasked by Cyril VI in 1969 with reviving monastic life at St. Macarius Monastery. The monk was focused on the spiritual life, openness to the thought of other Churches, and ressourcement.

While Shenouda was a disciple of Fr. Matta early on, after he was elected Pope of Alexandria in 1971 the two came into conflict. Shenouda restricted Fr. Matta to his monastery, and discouraged the reading of his books, according to an essay by Mina Thabet in Middle East Eye.

It was during this time, in 1984, that Epiphanius joined St. Macarius and became a monk. Epiphanius was a disciple of Fr. Matta, and was involved in ecumenism.

St. Macarius Monastery was long independent of the Coptic Orthodox hierarchy, but Shenouda restored it under the Church's authority in 2009, and appointed some 70 conservative monks, among them Saad and Mansour.

In the year after Shenouda's 2012 death, Epiphanius was elected abbot of St. Macarius, and consecrated a bishop.

New Montana law aimed at protecting women’s sports

lzf/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Montana’s governor signed a bill on Friday requiring public school athletic teams to be designated by biological sex rather than gender identity.

The "Save Women's Sports Act,” signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte (R), would limit participation in women’s sports to only biological females, excluding biological males identifying as transgender females. The law states, “Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex.” It is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

The bill follows a wave of comparable legislation in states including Idaho, Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Kansas. 

In a statement, Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for the group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said, “Allowing males to compete in girls’ sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities.” 

ADF is currently representing female track runners in a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut; the state in 2017 began a policy allowing biological males identifying as transgender females to compete in women’s athletics.

The lawsuit is based on Title IXof the Education Amendments of 1972, federal law which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs. The group has argued that policies allowing athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity can put girls at a disadvantage. 

Holcomb said that Gianforte and the state legislature “have acted to preserve a level playing field for all female athletes in the state, whether in high school or college.” 

“This bill protects athletic opportunities for women and girls and gives them vital legal recourse against unfair policies that arise,” she added. 

“In the face of ongoing pressure from woke corporations and special interests to reject this type of legislation, we are especially grateful to Gov. Gianforte, Rep. Fuller, and the Montana Legislature for taking a courageous stand and ensuring fairness for women and girls as they continue to pursue their dreams,” she said. 

The Human Rights Campaign, a group that says it fights for “LGBTQ equality and inclusion,” said in a tweet referencing the Montana law, “Sports are for everyone. This law is wrong.”

Some state governors, including Kristi Noem of South Dakota (R), have vetoed transgender sports bills or have pledged not to support them; Noem herself requested an amended version of a transgender sports bill to exclude strict requirements for college sports. Once her proposed amendments failed to pass the state legislature, she issued an executive order to “protect” women’s sports, adding that she would still work for a special legislative session to address the issue. 

Colorado Springs bishop calls for prayers after deadly shooting

Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs / CNA

Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Colorado Springs called Catholics to prayer on Monday after a shooter killed seven people, including himself, at a local mobile home community on Sunday .

“I join the people of Colorado Springs and the nation in mourning the tragic deaths of six family members and a gunman on Sunday,” Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs stated on Monday afternoon.

“We have seen far too many of these horrific acts in recent decades, and only the love of Christ will overcome the crushing despair that is a common symptom of the culture of death,” he said. 

The shooting occurred shortly after midnight on Sunday morning. The Colorado Springs Police Department said in a statement that officers arrived on the scene at Canterbury mobile home park and discovered six adults shot dead, with another mortally wounded. The injured man was taken to the hospital and later died from his injuries. 

The department said it believed the shooting occurred at a birthday party, and that “friends, family, and children were gathered inside” a home to celebrate. 

The shooter, who is believed to have been a boyfriend of one of the women shot and killed, “walked inside and began shooting people at the party before taking his own life,” said the police. None of the children present were harmed, and they are currently with relatives. 

The names of those killed have not yet been released, pending the notification of relatives. Police said they were seeking to determine a motive in the shooting.

“I invite all the faithful to pray for both those who died and for the survivors, and I especially invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that, through her motherly care, the children impacted by this senseless act of violence will find consolation and healing,” Bishop Sheridan said. 

Department Chief Vince Niski expressed his sorrow at the shooting. 

“Words fall short to describe the tragedy that took place this morning. As the chief of police, as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as a member of this community, my heart breaks for the families who have lost someone they love and for the children who have lost their parents,” said a statement from Niski. 

Niski said that the officers of his department were “left incredibly shaken” by the crime scene. 

“This is something you hope never happens in your own community, in the place that you call home,” he said. “When these types of unspeakable acts happen, there is nothing that can be done to fully rebuild what was lost or replace those who are no longer with us.” 

Niski vowed that “this department will do everything we can to find you the answers you deserve and be here with you with an unwavering support.”

 

CDF highlights its Note on Catholics in politics in letter to US bishops on Eucharistic coherence

Luis Cardinal Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome, June 28, 2018. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Denver Newsroom, May 10, 2021 / 15:16 pm (CNA).

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote Friday to the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding admission to Communion, affirming the centrality of the congregation’s 2002 note on Catholic’s participation in politics and the importance of safeguarding the rights of ordinaries in their local Churches.

A 2004 memo from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then the prefect of the same congregation, should “be discussed only within the context of the authoritative Doctrinal Note,” read the May 7 letter by Luis Cardinal Ladaria to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, which was obtained by CNA.

Archbishop Gomez had written the congregation in March to inform it that the US bishops will be addressing the situation of Catholics in public office who support permissive legislation regarding abortion, euthanasia, or other moral evils.

Cardinal Ladaria opened his reply by emphasizing that the 2004 letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick about the same problem “was in the form of a private communication to the bishops” and that “insofar, therefore, as these principles are not published by the Conference, they may be of assistance in the preparation of the draft of your document.”

He said Cardinal Ratzinger had “offered general principles on the worthy reception of Holy Communion in order to assist local ordinaries in the United States in their dealings with Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions. Cardinal Ratzinger’s communication should thus be discussed only within the context of the authoritative Doctrinal Note which provides the teaching of the Magisterium on the theological foundation for any initiative regarding the question of worthy reception of Holy Communion.”

The cardinal noted that the Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life was discussed during the 2004 US ad liminas, during which “it was clear that there was a lack of agreement regarding the issue of communion among the bishops,” and that “the development of a national policy” was not then under consideration.

He added that the problem arose again during the 2019-20 US ad liminas, and that the congregation “advised that dialogue among the bishops be undertaken to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic. The formulation of a national policy was suggested during the ad limina visits only if this would help the bishops to maintain unity.”

“This Congregation notes that such a policy, given its possibly contentious nature, could have the opposite effect and become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States. Thus, we advised during the ad limina visits that the effective development of a policy in this area requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Cardinal Ladaria urged that the episcopal dialogue would help the bishops “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.”

“The bishops should therefore discuss and agree to the teaching in the above-mentioned Doctrinal Note which affirms in article 3 that ‘Christians are called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism and accept that democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society.’ The bishops should affirm as a Conference that ‘those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life’,” the prefect of the CDF wrote.

Having done this, local ordinaries “would reach out to and engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions who adopt a pro-choice position regarding abortion legislation, euthanasia, or other moral evils, as a means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching,” stated Cardinal Ladaria.

After these “two stages of extensive and serene dialogue”, then would the USCCB “face the difficult task of discerning the best way forward for the Church in the United States to witness to the grave moral responsibility of Catholic public officials to protect human life at all stages.”

“If it then decided to formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion, such a statement would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter, while observing the prerequisite that any provisions of the Conference in this area would respect the rights of individual Ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See.”

The cardinal added that “any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholic, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”

He said that “it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”

Cardinal Ladaria urged that “every effort” be be made “to dialogue with other episcopal conferences” so as “to preserve unity” in the universal Church.

Archbishop Gomez transmitted Cardinal Ladaria’s letter to each of the bishops in the US May 8, as requested. He noted that the prefect “has provided us with important background and insight that should prove helpful to us in our continued prayer and discernment of this matter.”

Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2004 memo told US bishops that a Catholic politician “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” is engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.

In such a case, the politician’s “pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, adding that if the Catholic perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

That 2004 memo was an application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Local ordinaries have in recent months been teaching about admission to Communion.

In March, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois told a regional conference of the Canon Law Society of America that Catholics who publicly and obstinately advocate for abortion, including politicians, can and should be denied Communion: “I'm talking about their external actions. If they're living in a way or holding positions that are contrary to church teaching, then the Minister of Communion has to deny them the sacrament.”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix released Veneremur Cernui, an apostolic exhortation on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, in April. It says that “Holy Communion is reserved for those, who with God’s grace make a sincere effort to live this union with Christ and His Church by adhering to all that the Catholic Church believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.” This is why the Church “requires Catholic leaders who have publicly supported gravely immoral laws such as abortion and euthanasia to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they publicly repent and receive the Sacrament of Penance,” Bishop Olmsted taught.

In an April 14 column on Eucharistic coherence, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver wrote that “the Eucharist is a gift, not an entitlement, and the sanctity of that gift is only diminished by unworthy reception. Because of the public scandal caused, this is especially true in the case of public officials who persistently govern in violation of the natural law, particularly the pre-eminent issues of abortion and euthanasia, the taking of innocent life, as well as other actions that fail to uphold the church's teaching regarding the dignity of life.”

In a May 1 pastoral letter, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco taught that any Catholic formally cooperating with abortion should refrain from receiving the Eucharist.

During his homily at the Vigil Mass for Life in January, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas taught that Catholics should not receive Communion if they are contradicting “fundamental” Church teaching.

Bishop McElroy of San Diego recently wrote an essay in America Magazine arguing that refusing Holy Communion to pro-abortion rights politicians politicizes the Eucharist, and Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago took issue with Archbishop Aquila’s column on Eucharistic coherence.

In October 2019, while campaigning for president, Joe Biden was denied Communion at a parish in the Diocese of Charleston. A Charleston diocesan policy, which is also that of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Charlotte, states that “Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance.”

Catholics slam ‘lawless’ HHS ‘transgender mandate’

JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic groups and legal experts denounced the Biden administration’s notice on Monday that it would prohibit denial of gender-transition procedures in health care.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Monday issued a notice that it would include, as unlawful sex discrimination, “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” as well as “on the basis of gender identity.”

Legal experts warned that HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, a Catholic, would be enforcing federal law to require gender-transition procedures, under the policy of nondiscrimination.

“Becerra is threatening to put doctors and hospitals that disagree with current transgender ideology out of business, including those with medical, religious, or moral objections to conducting sex-reassignment surgeries on minors,” said Roger Severino, former head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights and current director of the HHS Accountability Project at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.

Mandating gender-transition procedures, while many doctors remain opposed to providing them, is not sound medical policy, he added.

“Becerra is trying to change the fundamental practice of medicine and science by the stroke of a pen, but will soon learn through lawsuits that sex as a biological reality won’t be so easily erased,” Severino said.

The HHS notice, announced on Monday, states that it is interpreting sex discrimination in health care to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the Affordable Care Act, Sec. 1557 prohibited sex discrimination in health care; the Obama administration interpreted that provision to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Thus, the administration said that the denial of some procedures, such as abortions and gender-transition surgeries, constituted unlawful discrimination in health care.

Using that interpretation, the administration in 2016 announced the “transgender mandate,” forcing all doctors who accept Medicaid and other federal funding to provide gender-transition surgeries upon the referral of a mental health professional. The administration did not allow exemptions for doctors who objected to the procedures because of conscience or medical reasons.

On Monday, the Biden administration said it was extending protections against sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. It cited the Supreme Court's June 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, where the court found that federal laws against sex-based employment discrimination also applied to cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity.

Becket, a legal group which is representing a coalition of doctors and religious groups opposed to the transgender mandate, said on Monday that the HHS announcement will “punish” doctors and hospitals opposed to the mandate.

Becket vice president and senior counsel Luke Goodrich said the group would be asking a federal court on Friday for a permanent injunction from the mandate.

HHS said that it would comply with existing court orders against the transgender mandate, as well as federal religious freedom protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, Becket said that the administration is still fighting these cases in court.

“In today’s announcement, HHS says it will comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and ‘applicable’ court rulings--but it is these very rulings HHS is fighting to overturn in court,” Goodrich said. Congress is also considering the Equality Act, a law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and which specifically overrides RFRA. The White House has supported the legislation and called for its passage.

Severino on Monday called the Biden administration’s announcement “lawless.”

“This lawless action circumvents the public rulemaking process followed by both the Trump and Obama administrations on this issue and contradicts an existing court injunction,” he said. Two federal courts have ruled against the HHS transgender mandate.

As head of the HHS civil rights office, Severino twice found Becerra – then-attorney general of California – in violation of federal conscience laws, due to his defense of state abortion mandates.

Other Catholic leaders condemned the HHS announcement.

“Coercing doctors to carry out highly controversial and unproven ‘treatments’ like administering puberty blocking hormones to children and performing irreversible sex changes – against their best medical judgment and conscience – is the latest effort by the Biden administration to force anyone who dissents from its radical ideology into compliance,” stated Grazie Pozo Christie, M.D., policy advisor for The Catholic Association.

Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, said the announcement was all about mandating gender-transitioning, and not about actual “health care.”

“Contrary to the misleading HHS announcement, no American is being denied care for broken arms, or standard medical procedures based on their gender ‘identity’ or sexual orientation. This move by HHS is a setup to normalize and strong arm doctors into administering puberty blocking drugs on children, performing sex-change surgeries, and more,” he stated. “Catholic hospitals and doctors are likely to come under increased pressure and scrutiny as a result.”

In 2020, the Trump administration said it would only interpret sex discrimination under biological sex, and not gender identity or sexual orientation.

German Catholics defy Vatican with blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples

A blessing service as part of a day of action in defiance to the Vatican’s ruling on same-sex unions in the Youth Church in Würzburg, Germany, May 10, 2021. / Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

CNA Staff, May 10, 2021 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

Priests and pastoral workers in Germany defied the Vatican Monday by conducting blessing ceremonies attended by same-sex couples.

Organizers held a day of protest on May 10 in response to the Vatican’s recent declaration that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

The ceremonies, known as “Segnungsgottesdienste für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers,” were promoted using the hashtag “#liebegewinnt” (“love wins”). Organizers said that the services were open to all couples, including -- and in particular -- those of the same sex.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that ceremonies took place in around 80 cities in Germany as well in Zürich, Switzerland’s largest city.

But it said that it was difficult to calculate the precise number of blessing services.

In the Bavarian city of Würzburg -- but also in other locations such as Aachen, Berlin, Frankfurt, Mainz, and Cologne -- several services were held at the same time.

Almost 130 participants gathered in the Augustinian Church, not far from Würzburg Cathedral, while almost 40 people attended a ceremony in the youth church at the same time.

Observers in Cologne, Munich, and Würzburg reported to CNA Deutsch that in many places a “modest number” took part in the campaign.

A blessing service at St. Augustin Catholic church in Würzburg, Germany, for couples, including those of the same-sex, May 10, 2021. / Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.
A blessing service at St. Augustin Catholic church in Würzburg, Germany, for couples, including those of the same-sex, May 10, 2021. / Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

A participant reported from Cologne that a total of six couples were blessed in the chapel of the local Catholic university community and a total of 23 people were present.

In many places, a general blessing was given at the end of the service, which, however, explicitly included homosexual couples and their relationships. Sometimes individual blessings were offered after the ceremony.

According to the organizers of a service at the Liebfrauenkirche in Frankfurt, “At the end of the Mass (...) Capuchin friars were available to all couples for personal blessings.” The church, dedicated to Mary, belongs to the Diocese of Limburg, led by Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference.

In the Augustinian Church in Würzburg too all couples -- expressly including same-sex couples -- were invited to “come and get” the individual blessing in a backroom, after the service.

The order of service varied from place to place. A participant who attended the blessing ceremony in Cologne told CNA Deutsch that the ceremony was like a “political event.” The event was led by a female pastoral counselor in liturgical robes, who explained that she had already quit her church service.

After some political statements, the Gospel was read aloud, followed by a speech. Finally, the song “Imagine” by John Lennon was played.

The Youth Church in Würzburg, Germany, May 10, 2021. / Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.
The Youth Church in Würzburg, Germany, May 10, 2021. / Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

At the Würzburg youth church, an organizer spoke about the “anger and sadness” that had prevailed since the Vatican intervention. A temporary “wall” was set up in the sanctuary and participants were asked to write down “everything that upsets you” and place it there.

The Church should not presume to define what love is, the organizer commented: “Love is not a sin, we are all blessed, fundamentally. Let us build on that.”

At the same time, in the nearby Augustinian Church, the priest emphasized that God’s blessing belongs to “all people.”

“We can’t help but bless,” the priest continued, adding that those who blessed same-sex partnerships were following their consciences.

Würzburg student pastor Fr. Burkard Hose confirmed in his address during the blessing ceremony that in the past many people had been blessed “in secret.”

“We will continue to do this,” he said, adding: “The Church does not have the authority to withhold blessings.”

Some blessings took place before May 10. Diocesan media reported that on May 7 in the city of Geldern, North Rhine-Westphalia, two Catholic priests conducted blessings of 35 couples before an altar covered with a rainbow flag.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its declaration on March 15 in a document known as a “Responsum ad dubium” (response to a question). In reply to the query, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the CDF answered, “Negative.” The congregation outlined its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

The Vatican statement, issued with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world. Several bishops expressed support for blessings of same-sex couples, while churches displayed LGBT pride flags, and a group of more than 200 theology professors signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

The backlash prompted bishops in other countries to express fears that the German Church was heading for schism. They included English Bishop Philip Egan, Australian Cardinal George Pell, and Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, added his name to an appeal, launched in Portugal, asking Rome to take action to stop a “schism” in Germany.

German Catholics have also criticized the day of blessing services. The group “Maria 1.0” urged the country’s bishops to unite with Rome in face of the protests.

Helmut Hoping, a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Freiburg, told CNA Deutsch that some of the priests conducting blessings “also openly advocate opening the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples in the medium term.”

The theologian also spoke of “schismatic tendencies” in the Church in Germany.

He said that “in several areas of Church doctrine and discipline, communion with the pope is being severed, for example when priests violate the clear ‘no’ of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to blessings of same-sex couples, which was published with the approval of the pope, and when bishops declare in advance that they generously tolerate this or declare such blessings theologically possible and pastorally necessary.”

Fr. Gero Weishaupt, a judicial vicar in the Archdiocese of Cologne and scholar of canon law, noted in an interview with CNA Deutsch that former Vatican doctrinal chief Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller and other theologians have warned for some of a possible schism in Germany.

“And one can ask oneself whether it is not already latently realized,” Weishaupt commented.

Several German bishops have previously spoken in favor of blessings for homosexual unions, including Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen), Helmut Dieser (Aachen), Reinhard Marx (Munich and Freising), Franz-Josef Bode (Osnabrück), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), and Heinrich Timmerevers (Dresden-Meissen).

CNA Deutsch reported that the bishop of Essen said in an interview last month that he would “not suspend a priest in his diocese or impose other Church penalties on him” if the cleric blessed same-sex couples.

Essen diocese recently hosted an event declaring that same-sex blessings were a matter of “not if, but how.”

But other German bishops have welcomed the CDF’s intervention. Among them are Rainer Maria Woelki (Cologne), Stephan Burger (Freiburg), Ulrich Neymeyr (Erfurt), Gregor Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Wolfgang Ipolt (Görlitz), Stefan Oster (Passau), and Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg).

Bishop Bätzing, elected leader of the German bishops’ conference in 2020, said last month that the day of protest was not a “helpful sign.”

He added that blessing services were “not suitable as an instrument for Church-political demonstrations or protest actions.”

In a May 6 interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, the 60-year-old bishop insisted that the Church in Germany remained close to Rome, despite tensions over same-sex blessings, Communion for Protestants, and the country’s “Synodal Way.”

He said: “It is absolutely clear that there are matters that we can only discuss at the level of the Universal Church. We will contribute from Germany with our reflections.”

“However, I would like to reject the accusation repeatedly used of us being schismatics or of wanting to detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome. Our bond with Rome and the Holy Father is very tight.”

Diocese of Buffalo drafting parish grouping plan

St. Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo / CiEll/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 10, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Buffalo is preparing to draft a plan for regrouping parishes, with a finalized plan due in September. 

Bishop Michael Fisher told participants at a May 8 virtual meeting that the plan will include the creation of “families” of three to six parishes that work closely with each other to provide for the spiritual, sacramental and educational needs of parishioners, the Buffalo News reported.

The parish plan will then be implemented over the next three years 

The Zoom meeting with Bishop Fisher was organized by the Movement to Restore Trust, a local group of lay Catholics founded in 2018 amid allegations of abuse cover-up by Bishop Richard Malone, Fisher’s predecessor. 

Malone resigned as bishop of Buffalo in December 2019, and Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany served as the diocese’s interim apostolic administrator until Fisher’s installation in January 2021.

"There are going to be lay leaders that are formed to help guide parishes in this renewal,” Father Bryan Zielenieski, the diocese’s vicar of renewal and development, said at the meeting as reported by Spectrum News. He added that clergy will be assigned to minister to the parish families rather than to single parishes. 

Father Zielenieski added that under the plan, individual parishes would maintain their own identities, corporate structures, trustees and parish councils, the Buffalo News reported. 

In recent years, the diocese has been rocked by revelations of past clergy sex abuse and allegations of a cover-up by former Bishop Malone, former auxiliary bishop Edward Grosz, and diocesan officials. 

In November 2018, Bishop Malone’s former assistant leaked records reportedly showing that the diocese worked with lawyers to conceal credible abuse allegations from the public.

While the diocese had reported the names of some priests credibly accused of abuse, it had not reported others, the records appeared to show. Bishop Malone denied claims that he had covered up abuse.

In September 2019, Malone again faced controversy when his secretary leaked audio of the bishop appearing to admit he knew a diocesan priest faced credible allegations of harassment, grooming, and a violation of the seal of confession - months before Malone removed the priest from active ministry.

Malone, who had led the diocese since 2012, resigned in December 2019 following a Vatican-ordered investigation of the diocese. Pope Francis named Bishop Fisher, formerly auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., as the new bishop of Buffalo in December 2020.

Following the August 2019 implementation of the Child Victims Act - which created a temporary “window” for child sex abuse lawsuits to be filed in old cases when the statute of limitations had expired - the Buffalo diocese was named in hundreds of abuse lawsuits. It filed for Chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. bankruptcy code in February 2020.

At least 260 lawsuits have been filed against Buffalo parishes and schools under the Child Victims Act, the Buffalo News reported. 

A bankruptcy judge ruled in February that the diocese has “no obligation” to retain a law firm on behalf of Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz, whom the state attorney general is suing for alleged cover-up of sexual abuse. Under the ruling, the bishops must pay their own legal fees, but may still have the right to seek reimbursement from the diocese’s insurers for their legal costs, the Buffalo News reported. 

A federal bankruptcy judge in April put 36 lawsuits against Buffalo Catholic parishes and schools on hold until this fall, stating that the lawsuits’ advancement would interfere with the diocese’s bankruptcy reorganization process. 

Nigerian priest whose followers stormed cathedral apologizes to bishop

Fr. Camillus Mbaka

Enugu, Nigeria, May 10, 2021 / 13:19 pm (CNA).

Fr. Camillus Mbaka, whose followers, believing him to be missing, vandalized the cathedral and episcopal residence in Enugu last week, apologized on Sunday to his bishop and to the Church.

“I am, on your behalf, kneeling down for the Church and I say may the Church forgive. What has happened has happened,” Fr. Mbaka said to his supporters May 9 while saying Mass at Adoration Ministry. “I am asking my Lord Bishop Onaga and all the priests of Enugu diocese and for everybody to rest the case.”

Fr. Mbaka, 54, is the founder of Adoration Ministry. He was ordained for the Diocese of Enugu in 1995. His ministry’s Facebook page has more than 2,600 followers.

His followers stormed the residence of Bishop Callistus Onaga of Enugu demanding to know the priest’s whereabouts May 5. They destroyed property, and desecrated the altar of the city’s cathedral.

Fr. Mbaka resurfaced hours after his followers stormed the episcopal residence demanding to know the priest’s whereabouts, as they thought he had gone missing.

The protesters claimed that Bishop Onaga had invited Fr. Mbaka for a meeting on May 2 and since then, Fr. Mbaka had not been seen.

Fr. Benjamin Achi, communications director of the Enugu diocese, described the alleged disappearance of Fr. Mbaka as “misinformation” in an interview with ACI Africa.

“He has resurfaced at 2:40 p.m. after a mob attacked the bishop's house this morning destroying lots and lots of things,” Fr. Achi said in reference to Fr. Mbaka.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Fr. Mbaka arrived at the residence of the Bishop of Enugu May 5 “in a motorcade amidst jubilation from his Adoration faithful.”

“He, however, stopped in front of the Bishop’s court and addressed his supporters urging them to remain calm and return to the Adoration ground for further information,” NAN reported.

During his May 9 Mass, Fr. Mbaka said, “I render my sincere unalloyed apologies to the Holy, Roman and Apostolic Church where I belong and say may the Mother Church forgive us in any way we didn’t do it well. Even in all that I said, where I didn’t say it well, we pray for their forgiveness.”

He recounted that “when the protest continued to gather more momentum that day, I was asked by my bishop to come and take away the protesters to avoid the situation getting out of hand.”

“You know the issue attracted media hype; Fr. Mbaka is missing, Mbaka has been kidnapped and all that. But I was never kidnapped,” the cleric clarified, adding, “I was at a place where my bishop asked me to proceed for personal prayer.”

Fr. Mbaka blamed the destruction on “hoodlums”, whom he said “hijacked” the peaceful protests in search of his whereabouts.

“There was a lot of mixed information. The devil entered the story,” he said, adding, “I did not clap for anybody for destroying anything. I heard that the search for Fr. Mbaka was hijacked; people joined and started breaking things.”

“I never knew that even a glass was broken. What I was praising you for was not for what was destroyed, but for your ability to search for your missing pastor,” he said, adding, “I wish to apologize to whoever misunderstood my statement.” 

“I, Fr. Mbaka, standing here, I am a child of the Holy Mother Church, and all the faithful are also children of the same mother Church,” he said, adding, “I stand here to tell you that nothing can destroy the Church. I speak as a messenger of God and a mere servant.”

He continued, “Fr. Mbaka has no problem with the Church and I do not have any problem with my bishop.”

“Enemies want to achieve that by causing discord, but I will not allow it because there is something in me that will conquer such problems. That thing is the gift of humility and obedience to the Church, to the glory of God,” Fr. Mbaka said.

He emphasized, “I can’t disobey the Church; who am I? How can somebody who has been serving the Church for 25 years come out to begin to fight the same Church? Everything in my life is for the Church.”

“We are to save the image and face of the Church, and the souls of the children of God. I am here for soul-saving; the church is not my property, because I belong to the Church,” Fr. Mbaka went on to say.

On May 6 Bishop Onaga announced a week of prayer for atonement and reparation. He described the May 5 incident as a “heinous act” against the sanctity of the Church and called on the people of God in the diocese to repent.

Peoria diocese continues promoting Sheen’s beatification cause

Archbishop Fulton Sheen / Dumont Network

Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Peoria is continuing to promote the cause for beatification of Ven. Fulton Sheen, almost 18 months after his planned beatification Mass was abruptly canceled. 

“We continue to promote the cause for both his beatification and canonization,” said Bishop Louis Tylka at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, Illinois, on May 8. Tylka was celebrating a Mass commemorating Sheen’s birthday. 

The bishop added that “so much more so” is the diocese promoting Sheen’s cause to further “the preaching and sharing of the Gospel.”

Bishop Tylka is coadjutor bishop of the Peoria diocese, and will become the diocese’s ninth bishop once current Bishop Daniel Jenky, CSC, retires in March 2022 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Born in El Paso, Illinois on May 8, 1895, Peter John Sheen was ordained a priest of the Peoria diocese on Sept. 20, 1919. He was called “Fulton” in honor of his mother’s maiden name.

On June 11, 1951, Sheen was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. He remained in that post until 1966, when he was named the Bishop of Rochester until his retirement in 1969 at the age of 74. 

In 1969, Sheen was given the title of Archbishop of the titular see of Newport, Wales, and was known as “Archbishop Fulton Sheen.” 

Tylka called Sheen a “trailblazer” due to his Emmy-winning television show “Life is Worth Living.” The show aired on television from 1952 until 1957. 

Sheen “reached millions of people because of [the show],” says Tylka. “He was so far ahead of his time in that reality that we take for granted today.” 

Sheen died on Dec. 9, 1979. In 2002, his cause for canonization was opened, and he was declared venerable in 2012. Seven years later, Pope Francis approved of a miracle attributed to the intercession of Sheen, and his beatification was scheduled for Dec. 21, 2019. 

However, two-and-a-half weeks prior to the scheduled beatification, the event was canceled at the request of the Bishop of Rochester. 

“With deep regret, Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C, Bishop of Peoria, announces that he has been informed by the Holy See that the beatification of Fulton Sheen will be postponed,” a Dec. 3, 2019 press release from the Peoria diocese stated. 

“Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision,” said the press release. “In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and who will be affected by this news.” 

The bishop of Rochester reportedly requested the delay of Sheen’s beatification due to concerns that he could be named in the final report of an ongoing investigation into clergy sex abuse in New York. The state attorney general’s office is conducting an ongoing investigation into New York’s bishops and dioceses.

Throughout his life, Sheen embraced the media as a means of evangelization. He launched “The Catholic Hour,” a radio show on NBC Radio, in 1930. The show ran for 22 years. 

“Life is Worth Living” aired nationally from 1952 until 1957, and won the Emmy for “Most Outstanding Personality” in 1953. He received two other Emmy nominations during his show’s run.