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Digital rosary discovered to be hackable, Vatican says it has fixed bugs

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2019 / 07:40 pm (CNA).- Shortly after the new “smart rosary” bracelet was released last week, the Vatican discovered an easy route for hackers to retrieve a user’s personal information. The issue has since been fixed.

Launched on Oct. 15, the device is called an eRosary and allows users to track their prayers, find spiritual resources, and connect with an online prayer community.

A few days after its release, Fidus Information Security, a cyber security consulting service, discovered the device’s weak safety measures, which could have allowed hackers to gain access to a user’s personal information such as their phone number, date of birth, gender, and height.

“One of our researchers decided to check out the code, and in just 10 minutes found some glaring issues,” Andrew Mabbitt, founder of Fidus, told The Register tech site.

According to Fidus, the most glaring concern was a glitch that would allow a hacker to access a user's password - a four-digit PIN - without connecting to the user’s email. The application uses API calls to talk to its backend system. Upon request for a user’s email address, the system would send over a readable text of the user’s PIN through the API.

Father Frédéric Fornos, international director for the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, told The Register that Vatican coders were placed on the problem immediately after he heard about the issue on Oct. 17. Since then, the issue has been corrected.

According to The Register, Fidus also found that, because there are unlimited password guesses, hackers would be able to retrieve the pin number by “brute forcing” - a means to retrieve hidden information through excessive trial and error. However, a Vatican spokesperson said this issue has also been resolved.

The eRosary was launched under the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and developed by the Taiwan-based tech company GadgTek Inc.

The Bluetooth device in the bracelet connects to Click to Pray, a phone app on iOS or Android that reminds people to pray. It also includes reflections, campaigns, and an electronic bulletin board, where users may request or find prayer intentions.

The eRosary activates when the user makes a sign of the cross. It tracks the user's progress and, in connection with the user’s phone, provides visual aids and audio reflections on the mysteries of the rosary.

The device is available on Amazon.it for 99 euros, roughly $109.

According to an Oct. 15 press release from Click to Pray, the eRosary is an opportunity to connect young people together in prayer.

“Aimed at the peripheral frontiers of the digital world where the young people dwell, the Click To Pray eRosary serves as a technology-based pedagogy to teach the young how to pray the Rosary, how to pray it for peace, how to contemplate the Gospel,” the press release said.

 

How parishes can help address the epidemic of domestic abuse

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons need additional training to address, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

Fr. Chuck said that many priests and deacons have little preparation to assist victims of domestic violence, and that more seminary training would be helpful for both preparing priests and raising awareness on the issue.  

He said that “When I Call for Help,” a pastoral letter on domestic violence from the USCCB, is a helpful resource for clergy looking for more understanding.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

Some 27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics have responded to this dire need in various ways, from organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims to working to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

In recent years, the group has marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month by asking people to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and has called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Sometimes, Fr. Chuck said, priests are not well trained and do not know how to handle situations in which parishioners come to tell them about abuse. They may offer inadequate advice and solutions.

Fr. Chuck participated in a symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University of America in 2016. Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

Still, sometimes priests do not attend these events, Fr. Chuck acknowledged, and raising awareness about the importance of the problem is key.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, but at the same time, “we’re making progress.”


An earlier version of this article originally ran on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.

Abortion legalized in N Ireland, after deadlock in devolved legislature

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Oct 21, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Northern Ireland's devolved legislature failed Monday to block a change to the region's law imposed by the British parliament. As a result, both abortion and same-sex marriage will now be legal in the region.

Same-sex marriages are expected to begin taking place in Northern Ireland by February 2020, while the new abortion law is set to take effect by April 2020.

Previously, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life was at risk or if there was risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The British parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 in July, with amendments legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage.

That act took effect Oct. 22 because the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties, was not able to do business by Oct. 21.

Pro-life members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, largely comprised of members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), recalled the assembly Monday for the first time since January 2017 in order to block the relaxed abortion restrictions. The DUP favors union with the UK and is known to be a right-of-center political party on many issues.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, told The Guardian that she hoped the recall would allow assembly members to debate the issue at the local level, and would allow those opposed to the changes officially to voice their opposition.

However, in order for the assembly to make any binding changes, the election of a speaker of the assembly with cross-party support was required. This proved impossible when the nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party walked out of the Oct. 21 meeting, the BBC reported. The assembly also would have needed to form an executive (similar to an administration), which could also not be done without cross-party presence and support.

Members of the assembly from Sinn Fein, a left-of-center nationalist party, as well as the Green Party and People Before Profit did not participate in the Oct. 21 session.

Incumbent speaker Robin Newton, a member of the DUP, also went against party leader Foster and refused to suspend normal assembly rules to allow for the introduction of the Defence of the Unborn Child Bill 2019, a DUP initiative that, had it passed by midnight, could have blocked the new abortion law.

Foster called it a "shameful day" for Northern Ireland, according to the BBC.

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, celebrated the "decriminalisation of women that will take effect from midnight,” the BBC reported.

Abortion has been legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks since 1967, and it was legalized in the Republic of Ireland in 2018. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the rest of the UK since 2014.

Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

In September, religious leaders of Northern Ireland called on Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to reconvene the local legislative assembly in order to block the new liberalizing abortion laws.

“Our Northern Ireland political parties have it in their own hands to do something about this,” the religious leaders said in a Sept. 30 joint statement.

“There is no evidence that these [legal] changes reflect the will of the people affected by them, as they were not consulted. They go far beyond the ‘hard cases’ some have been talking about,” the statement added.

Signatories of the statement included leaders of the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches.

The Northern Ireland Catholic bishops’ conference previously condemned the move by the British Parliament as an “unprecedented” use of authority in the region.

Earlier this month, the High Court in Belfast had ruled that the region's ban on the abortion of unborn children with fatal abnormalities violated the UK's human rights commitments.

In September, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Belfast to protest the impending change to abortion restrictions in the region.

Louisiana court skeptical, but lets challenge to abortion regulations continue

Baton Rouge, La., Oct 21, 2019 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s pro-life legislation will be allowed to continue, but the state is confident that it will prevail after the lower court re-examines whether the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the regulations.

The 5th Circuit’s Court of Appeals declined to dismiss the case altogether, but also stated that those suing the state did not have standing for many of their claims, and that the case never should have been allowed to go forward.

The case was heard by Chief Judge Priscilla Owen, along with Judges Don Willett and Andrew Oldham.

The state was being sued by an abortion clinic and two doctors, who were seeking an injunction blocking “virtually all of Louisiana’s legal framework for regulating abortion.” They argued that even if some of the regulations and provisions were constitutional, the entirety of them as a whole were not.

The panel of judges on the court said that a good number of the things the plaintiffs were challenging do not meet the legal standard to actually bring a case to court.

“Plaintiffs challenge a bevy of legal provisions that appear incapable of injuring them,” said the opinion. The plaintiffs stated they were attempting to get an injunction under what they have termed the “cumulative effects” theory.

“The plaintiffs’ theory, as we understand it, is that Louisiana’s various laws and regulations regarding abortion cumulate to an undue burden,” said the opnion. “But before any federal court can analyze the ‘cumulative effects’ of Louisiana’s laws, we must know which laws plaintiffs have standing to challenge. Again, jurisdiction first.”

Among the provisions challenged in the case are regulations concerning the privacy of medical records, a law that forbids abortion facilities from having a name that would make someone think the state is operating the facility, laws that require the suspected sexual abuse of a child be reported to authorities, and a law that requires abortion facilities to have clean bathrooms. The opinion stated that it is simply not possible for the plaintiffs to claim that they have been somehow harmed by these laws.

The opinion also contained a list of 10 provisions that were challenged in court by the plaintiffs without alleging how or if the regulations actually applied to them. These included regulations regarding proper flooring and wall finishes for new or relocated abortion facilities, regulations regarding laundry facilities at clinics with “in-house laundry,” and provisions requiring that only “qualified medical staff” and “qualified nursing staff” be employed at abortion facilities.

The judges said that the plaintiffs did not properly explain how these regulations actually applied to them, as their clinic was not relocating, nor were the plaintiffs seeking to hire unqualified medical staff at the clinic.

Louisiana’s attorney general was hopeful about the future of the case.

“This lawsuit was always an overreach—it was filed by abortion clinics and doctors with poor safety records to evade regulation, even on common sense safety measures that benefit and protect women,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed very basic rules that apply when State laws are challenged in federal courts.”

Democratic US presidential candidates seek to limit charter schools

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 02:28 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has released a K-12 education plan that, among other proposals, pledges to quadruple federal funding for schools that serve low-income students, but also would place some limits on charter schools.

The New York Times notes that Vermont Senator and fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders issued a similar proposal to limit charter schools in May.

Charter schools receive public funds but are privately operated. Warren’s plan would end “high-stakes testing”— tests that are used to make important decisions affecting the school — as well as ending federal funding for opening new charter schools and banning for-profit charters.

The New York Times notes that charter schools expanded in popularity and support under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, but there is evidence that public opinion is turning away from charter schools as a means of facilitating school choice.

The Times reports that Warren and her Democratic rivals are vying for endorsements from teachers’ unions, which generally oppose the expansion of the charter sector.

Sister Dale McDonald, P.B.V.M., director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told CNA in March that the NCEA has supported “fair and full choice” or “parental choice” for more than two decades.

The NCEA’s membership includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S.

While the group mainly advocates for Catholic education and schemes such as tax credits to help low-income families send students there, the NCEA has also supported charter schools as a means of providing additional school choice to parents.

In guidelines on school choice published in May 2018, the NCEA stated of charter schools that they “typically provide for a clear, focused mission, a smaller student population that facilitates creation of community, more innovative teaching practices, greater parental and local community involvement, clear educational and fiscal standards and accountability measures and fewer state and local school board bureaucratic regulations.”

A major school choice case regarding tax credits for students who choose religious schools, a scheme that the NCEA supports, is currently pending in the Supreme Court. The court in July agreed to hear a case addressing the question of whether states  can deny tax credit programs to parents and children who choose religious private schools.

Amazon synod bishops sign new version of Vatican II-era 'Catacombs Pact'

Rome, Italy, Oct 21, 2019 / 08:50 am (CNA).- In the Roman catacombs Sunday morning, some bishops participating in the Amazon synod signed a pact about how they want to conduct their particular churches in the Amazon region, following the style of a similar Catacombs Pact signed during the Second Vatican Council.

The two-page document is called “Pact of the Catacombs for the Common Home,” and says it is “for a Church with an Amazonian face, poor and servant, prophetic and Samaritan.”

Quoting a line from Pope Francis’ homily at the opening of the Amazon synod, it says, “so many of our brothers and sisters in the Amazonia are bearing heavy crosses and awaiting the liberating consolation of the Gospel, the Church’s caress of love. For them, with them, let us journey together.”

It was signed by an estimated 40 bishops after a Mass celebrated with about 250 people in the Catacombs of Domitilla in the south of Rome in the early morning Oct. 20. The Mass’ main celebrant was Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who holds the position of relator, or chairman, of the Amazon synod.

Hummes is the archbishop emeritus of San Paolo, Brazil and the president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), a driving force behind the synod.

Crux reported that Emeritus Bishop Erwin Krautler of Xingu, Brazil, was the impetus behind developing the Catacombs Pact during the Amazon synod.

The Oct. 20 declaration was modeled after the Pact of the Catacombs: A Poor Servant Church, an agreement signed by 42 bishops on Nov. 16, 1965, near the close of the Second Vatican Council.

The 11 points of the 1965 Pact of the Catacombs mostly centered on the commitment to avoid wealth and to live “according to the ordinary manner” of their people in regards to food, housing, transportation, and related things, and to renounce symbols of power.

The document, which was later circulated and adopted by about an additional 500 bishops, was likewise signed after a Mass in Rome’s Catacombs of Domitilla.

The signatories of the 1965 “pact” included many Latin American bishops, and is said to have had an influence on the development of “liberation theology,” much of which has been condemned by the Church.

In 1984 and 1986, while prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger issued two instructions, approved by Pope St. John Paul II, denouncing many aspects, tendencies, and conclusions of liberation theology.

The Oct. 20 declaration notes a gratitude for the bishops of the Second Vatican Council who signed the 1965 Pact of the Catacombs for the poor, and says they remember “with veneration” all those “who shed their blood for this option for the poor, for defending life and fighting for the protection of our Common Home.”

They state their decision “to continue their struggle with tenacity and courage” in the midst of a “feeling of urgency that prevails in the face of aggressions that today devastates the Amazon territory, threatened by the violence of a predatory and consumerist economic system.”

Invoking the Holy Spirit, they commit themselves “personally and communally” to 15 points, including the commitment “to abandon... all types of colonist mentality and posture,” instead “welcoming and valuing cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity in a respectful dialogue with all spiritual traditions.”

The signatories denounce violence against the autonomy and rights of native people and their ways of life and state a commitment to “announce the liberating novelty of the Gospel of Jesus in welcoming the other and the one who is different.”

A commitment was also stated to “walk ecumenically with other Christian communities in the inculturation and liberating proclamation of the Gospel with other religions and people of good will…”

They promise to establish “a synodal lifestyle” in their particular churches, in which representatives of native people, missionaries, and other lay people have a “voice and vote” in everything “that concerns the governance of the communities.”

They commit to recognize and value the work already being done in ecclesial ministries in their communities and to move from “pastoral visits to pastoral presence,” “ensuring the right to the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist…”

The bishops promise, as well, to recognize the service and “real diakonia” of women in the Amazon, and to “consolidate them with an adequate ministry of women leaders in the community.”

Several of the points refer to the protection of our “Common Home,” making the promise to live a simple and “happily sober lifestyle” in the face of consumerism and “extreme global warming and the depletion of natural resources.”

They promise to “defend the Amazon jungle” by cutting down on their production of waste and their use of plastic, and by using public transportation whenever possible.

The bishops who signed the pact call themselves not “the owners of Mother Earth, but rather the sons and daughters,” and commit themselves “to an integral ecology in which all is interconnected, the human race and all creation, because all beings are sons and daughters of the earth and over them the Spirit of God moves (Gen 1:2).”

They declare their commitment to renew the preferential option for the poor in their churches, especially for native peoples, and to help them to “preserve their lands, cultures, languages, stories, identities and spiritualities.”

The signatories also promise to “cultivate true friendships with the poor, visit the simplest people and the sick, exercise the ministry of listening, comfort and support that bring encouragement and renew hope.”

The pact closes by saying they place themselves under the protection of the prayers of the Church, and they request to be helped with the intercession, affection, and “when necessary, with the charity of fraternal correction,” of their ecclesial communities.

Amazon synod's controversial carved figures thrown into Tiber River

Rome, Italy, Oct 21, 2019 / 08:15 am (CNA).- A video uploaded to YouTube on Oct. 21 shows two men taking several wooden figures of a nude pregnant woman from a church near the Vatican and throwing them into the Tiber River.

The figures have been present at several events connected to the Vatican’s Amazon synod, and have been the subject of considerable controversy: some have characterized them as images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, others as the indigenous religious figure “Pachamama,” while Vatican spokesmen have characterized them more vaguely as symbols of “life.”

From the four-minute video it appears the event took place around dawn Oct. 21, when a person holding the video camera appears to enter the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina. The church is in the immediate area of the Vatican, and has been the location of events at which the controversial carved figure of a woman has been present.

Inside the church, a man is seen entering a side chapel and then leaving with a figure. The two people then exit the church and the video shows them carrying five of the carved images of the woman toward Castel Sant’Angelo. The men throw the figures from the side of the Sant’Angelo bridge into the Tiber River.

No faces are shown and the video was uploaded to YouTube under an anonymous account. As of publication, the video had amassed over 12,000 views.

Video has emerged of two men entering a church near the Vatican and stealing indigenous statues. They then filmed the statues being thrown into the Tiber River. #AmazonSynod #SinodoAmazonico pic.twitter.com/IXx5NgFDZN

— EWTN News (@EWTNews) October 21, 2019  

The same YouTube account uploaded a second video of the event Oct. 21. The second video is shorter, of higher video quality, and has been edited with music added.

In the caption beneath the second video, it says the action was taken “for only one reason: Our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, his blessed Mother, and everybody who follows Christ, are being attacked by members of our own Church. We do not accept this! We do not longer stay silent! We start to act NOW!” [sic]

“Because we love humanity, we can not accept that people of a certain region should not get baptised and therefore are being denied entrance into heaven,” the caption continues. “It is our duty to follow the words of God like our holy Mother did. There is no second way of salvation. Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!”

Asked about the event at a press conference Oct. 21, Paolo Ruffini, head of Vatican communications, called it a “stunt.”

He said it is difficult to be asked for a Vatican reaction to something that had happened only a short time earlier, adding that “to steal something from a place and, in sum, to throw it away, is a stunt.”

Recalling comments he had made last week that the figure “represents life, fertility, the earth,” Ruffini said Oct. 21  that discarding the statues “is a gesture that seems to me to contradict the spirit of dialogue that should always animate everything.”

“I don’t know what else to say. It was a theft,” Ruffini added.

Fr. Giacomo Costa, a communications official for the Amazon synod, said Oct. 21 the carved figure represents life in the Amazon in the same way a “glass of water” or “parrots” represent life in the region.

Focus on the statues, and the gesture of throwing them into the Tiber river, “doesn’t make sense,” Costa said.

The priest added that “really, however, it is never constructive to steal an object.”

The controversial image was part of a tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican Oct. 4 and an Amazonian Via Crucis Oct. 19. The same figure has been present in the vicinity of the Vatican at various events happening during the synod, under the “Casa Comun” initiative, many of which have taken place at the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina.

The Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian region is a meeting on the life and ministry of the Church in the Amazon. It is taking place at the Vatican Oct. 6-27.



A small group of people supporting an alleged Marian visionary in Texas were also present outside the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina Oct. 21, protesting the Amazon synod. Four people stood outside the church, two of whom held signs with “the synod is heretical” written in English, Italian, and Latin.

The group handed out small slips of paper to passersby with the text: “Christ and Mary have come with new words and warnings The Amazon synod is heretical Do not miss the signs”

Both the signs and the slips of paper pointed people to visit the website of a group supporting an alleged Marian apparition, which supporters call “Our Lady Mystical Rose of Argyle.” The Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, Michael Olson, said in August the alleged apparitions are not real, and released video evidence of the alleged visionary hiding a rose she later claims to have been manifested by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Supporters of the alleged apparitions say that Satan is trying to discredit their visions.

The protestors, among them the alleged visionary, were present outside Santa Maria in Traspontina at around 1:00 pm Oct. 21, but by 3:00 pm were no longer seen there.

 

This story was updated at 8:46 MDT Oct. 21, 2019.

Amazonian 'Way of the Cross' prayed during Vatican's Amazon synod

Vatican City, Oct 20, 2019 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- An “Amazonian Stations of the Cross” was prayed outside the Vatican Saturday, organized as part of a set of semi-official events connected to the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.

 

Imágenes del Via Crucis Panamazónico #SinodoAmazonico #sinododelaamazonia pic.twitter.com/XVu27S3O8g

— Walter Sánchez Silva (@WSanchezSilva) October 19, 2019  

The “Via Crucis Amazonico” Oct. 19 was held as part of the “Casa Comune” project, an initiative promoting more than 115 events hosted by a loose network of groups, connected in varying degrees to the Catholic Church.

Among the organizations involved in the project are an advocacy organization backed by bishops’ conferences in Latin America; two aid and development organizations of the German bishops’ conference; and a Brussels-based confederation of social justice groups.

 

Algunas imágenes del Via Crucis Panamazónico esta mañana en el Vaticano #SinodoAmazonico #SinododelaAmazonia pic.twitter.com/x3CeO2u2bB

— Walter Sánchez Silva (@WSanchezSilva) October 19, 2019  

The Saturday Stations of the Cross were attended by people indigenous to the Amazon region and their supporters, along with religious, priests, and bishops participating in the synod on the Amazon, an Oct. 6-27 Vatican meeting of bishops called to discuss the Church’s pastoral ministry in the Amazon region.

Among the participating bishops were Cardinal Pedro Barreto, Archbishop of Huancayo and vice president of the Ecclesial Network of Panama (REPAM) - the principal organizer of the Casa Comune project, along with Bishop Roque Paloschi , Archbishop of Porto Velho and president of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) - another one of the organizations sponsoring the Casa Comune initiative.

The Stations of the Cross, like most of the events organized by the Casa Comune project, included both traditional Christian symbols and the use of symbols and images derived from the culture of indigeneous Amazonian groups.

 

Via Crucis Amazónico este sábado en el Vaticano #SinodoAmazonico #sinododelaamazonia pic.twitter.com/ZsJLBMPXSF

— Walter Sánchez Silva (@WSanchezSilva) October 19, 2019  

The Way of the Cross began near the Castel Sant’Angelo, roughly one kilometer from St. Peter’s Square, and concluded outside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Participants carried objects symbolic of Amazonian culture, among them a large canoe, bowls with food, indigenous musical instruments, along with the controversial, and now familiar, image of a naked pregnant woman, which has been described variously as a Marian image, as an indigenous religious symbol of Pachamama, or Mother Easter, or as a symbol of life.

As the stations began, participants placed on the ground the canoe, the image of the woman, and photographs of the “martyrs of the Amazon,” among whom was Saint Oscar Romero, the only one of the persons represented who has been canonized by the Catholic Church.

 

Via Crucis Panamazónico #SinodoAmazonico #sinododelaamazonia pic.twitter.com/gZEvREObT1

— Walter Sánchez Silva (@WSanchezSilva) October 19, 2019  

The other persons identified as “Amazonian martyrs” were Sister Cleusa Coelho, Marçal de Souza, Josimo Morales, Fr. Vicente Cañas, Sister Inés Arango, Galdino Pataxó, Fr. Alcides Jiménez, Sister Dorothy Stang, Msgr. Alejandro Labaka, Fr. Ezequiel Ramín, Father Rodolfo Lunkenbein, Father Simao Bororo and Chico Mendes.

After initial chants, the meaning of the celebration was explained: “Remember the martyrs of the way, the lives given by the Kingdom of life. We also remember our lives, the joys and hopes that brought us here, and the sadness and anguish of our people of Panamazonía and the earth. ”

Then, the smoke of some plants that burned in a bowl was spread among the attendees with a feather.

After this initial ceremony, the “Way of the Cross” itself began with its 14 stations, plus an added 15th station dedicated to the resurrection. A large wooden cross, in which a rosary and photographs of the martyrs were nailed, headed the entourage.

The 14 stations were adapted from the traditional Stations of the Cross, and each station was accompanied by a phrase or theme: "human rights," "the great projects of 'development' in the Amazon Basin," "reconciliation," "encounter," "the cultures of Panamazonía," " a call for all,” “ the destruction of nature,” and others.

At the end of each station, a different person read a brief reflection. Among the messages that were conveted was thatt “Mother Earth weeps for the excessive exploitation that is committed in the 9 countries of the Panamazonía.”

Forgiveness was also requested “for the mistakes made as a Church and as humanity; especially through of the abuses of colonization, the systematic violence to human rights and the ethnocide carried out of so many peoples throughout the continent.”

One reflection warned that "scientists and environmentalists presage darkness and shadows of death for our land if we do not stop the indiscriminate use of resources." Therefore, "the call as Church is to announce the Gospel of Jesus and denounce the abuses that Sister Mother Earth experiences."

 

Imágenes del Via Crucis Panamazónico realizado hoy en el Vaticano #SinodoAmazonico #sinododelaamazonia pic.twitter.com/dBA6JDGWua

— Walter Sánchez Silva (@WSanchezSilva) October 19, 2019  

Upon arriving at St. Peter's Square, while meditating on the final station, some participants lay on the ground, upon the photographs of the so-called martyrs of the Amazon, pretending to be dead. At the end of the 15th station, dedicated to the Resurrection, the people lying on the ground rose, conveying resurrection from the dead, and raising their hands to heaven in thanksgiving.

Finally, one woman’s face was painted with Amazonian signs, and adorned her with a crown of feathers, and then raised overhead in a canoe, amid songs and applause from participants.

 

A version of this story was first reported by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Vatican documents detail suspicious investments at Secretariat of State

Vatican City, Oct 20, 2019 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- A confidential report from the Vatican’s anti-corruption authority shows that the Secretariat of State has used about $725 million, most of which came from the pope’s charity fund, in off-books operations.

Italian weekly L’Espresso published a report Oct. 20, revealing information from three confidential Vatican documents, one of which is a report from the pope’s anti-corruption authority, called the Office of the General Auditor, claiming to have found serious financial crimes and corruption within the Secretariat of State.

The documents, L’Espresso reported, detail the use and management of extra-budgetary funds by the Secretariat of State, “deriving in large part from the donations received by the Holy Father for charitable works and for the sustenance of the Roman Curia.”

At least most of the money was drawn from Peter’s Pence, the annual collection through which Catholics are invited to support the charitable activities of the pope.

L’Espresso reported these funds are being used “in reckless speculative operations,” and that the same report by the General Auditor says about 77% of the assets (about $558 million) were put into Swiss and Italian branches of the investment bank Credit Suisse.

A second confidential document acquired by L’Espresso is the 16-page decree authorizing the Oct. 1 search of the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF). The raid was ordered by the Vatican City’s prosecutors, called “promoters of Justice,” and led to the suspension of five Vatican officials and employees.

At the time of the raid, a Vatican statement said documents and devices were taken in connection to an investigation following complaints made last summer by the Institute for Religious Works (IOR)— commonly called the Vatican Bank— and the Office of the Auditor General.

The search decree indicates, according to L’Espresso, that the complaints indicated by the Vatican originated from the general auditor and the director of the IOR, Gian Franco Mammi. In the same document, the prosecutors, Gian Piero Milano and Alessandro Diddi, state that they believe they have found “serious indications of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, money laundering and self-money laundering.”

Other reports provide details into the Vatican’s 200 million euro ($223 million) investment purchase of a 17,000 square meter apartment building in London.

L’Espresso said that documents show a connection with Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, who was reportedly first approached and asked to invest 200 million euros, on behalf of the Vatican, in an oil company in Angola.

This was the idea of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then bishop and second-ranking official of the Secretariat of State, according to L’Espresso. Becciu is a former papal nuncio to Angola.

When this project fell apart, Mincione reportedly proposed instead making the investment in the London property, converting a former Harrod’s warehouse into luxury apartments.

The deal went through with the Vatican purchasing 45% of the property in 2012 through Mincione’s Athena Capital Global fund. When the London real estate market took a downturn, the Vatican, in 2018, pulled out of Mincione’s fund and purchased the remaining 55% of the property.

CNA asked Becciu this week for comments about allegations made in relation to his role in the London real estate transaction; the cardinal has not yet responded.

The London property deal was reportedly signed by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, at the time an official at the Secretariat of State, in November 2018. The Vatican’s London investment was then given over to a different Italian investor, Gianluigi Torzi.

Those are the investments which IOR director general Gian Franco Mammi supposedly reported to the Vatican prosecutors in 2018, leading to the investigation and this month’s raid on the Secretariat of State and subsequent suspension of five officials and employees.

The L'Espresso report claimed that another person involved in the deal was Fr. Mauro Carlino, once a personal secretary of Cardinal Becciu, who was one of the five employees suspended from the Secretariat of State this month.

Carlino was named head of information and documentation at the Secretariat of State by Pope Francis this summer. 

The L’Espresso report was written by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, one of five people investigated and charged by the Vatican for the publication of confidential documents in the 2015 scandal referred to as “Vatileaks II.” Fittipaldi and a fellow journalist were later acquitted on the basis of a lack of jurisdiction.

The Secretariat of State is the central governing office of the Catholic Church and the department of the Roman Curia which works most closely with the pope. It is also responsible for the governance of the Vatican City state. The Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority oversees suspicious financial transactions, and is charged with ensuring that Vatican banking policies comply with international financial standards.

Grant offered for creation of artificial wombs to help premature babies

s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, Oct 20, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A university in the Netherlands has been awarded a $3.3 million grant for the development of a working prototype of an artificial womb that will closely resemble biological conditions and aid in the development of premature babies.

The Horizon 2020 EU program awarded the grant to researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands for their continued development of the artificial wombs, in which the baby will be immersed in fluids and will receive oxygen and nutrients via an artificial placenta attached to their umbilical cord, The Guardian reported.

These wombs differ from previous models of artificial wombs in that they more closely resemble the actual biological environment of a real womb, the researchers have said. A photograph in the Guardian of an artist’s rendition of what the artificial wombs could look like shows large red suspended balloon-like structures, with several intravenous tubes connected to them.

Guid Oei, a professor at Eindhoven and a gynecologist, told The Guardian that current protocols for premature babies deliver oxygen and nutrients directly to yet-underdeveloped organs, putting them at risk for damage.

“When we put the lungs back underwater then they can develop, they can mature, but the baby will receive the oxygen by the umbilical cord, just like in the natural womb,” he said, according to The Guardian.

An artificial womb would allow the child to continue to develop in an environment that closely mimics a real womb, Oei added, including environmental factors such as a replication of the mother’s heartbeat.

“When they are in this environment, they just feel, and see, and smell, and hear the same sounds as when they are in the womb of the mother,” he told The Guardian.

Typically, human babies are considered premature if they are born before the 37th week of pregnancy. Normal pregnancies last for about 40 weeks. Babies born on or before the 25th week of pregnancy are considered particularly at risk for complications and death.

According to USA Today, the earliest premature baby ever recorded to survive outside of the womb, born in San Antonio, Texas, turned 3 years old in 2017 and at the time was a “healthy toddler.”

Researchers hope to have the first-of-its-kind artificial womb ready for real-world use within five years.

Artificial wombs called “biobags” were successfully used on premature lambs by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2017. After roughly a month inside the fluid-filled bags, the premature lambs had continued developing normally as if they had been in their natural womb.

Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer at the University of Manchester, told The Guardian that artificial wombs raise ethical questions that should be thought through before their debut in clinics and their use on human babies.

“The law treats fetuses and babies very differently, so how does the subject of the artificial womb fit in? Is it possible to turn off the artificial womb, and in what circumstances?” she told The Guardian.

“It is clear that the legal and ethical issues emerging from the technology must be talked about now, in advance of the artificial womb becoming a reality,” she added.

Because they are not yet used in real-world clinics, there is little information available on the ethics of an artificial womb from a Catholic perspective. Guiding principles for Catholic morality regarding reproductive problems include not separating the sexual act from the reproductive act, and respect for the human dignity of both the parents and the child. For example, under these principles, in vitro fertilization and surrogate pregnancies are morally impermissible.

In 2014, Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that in the case of a woman who had successfully given birth after a womb transplant, the procedure was licit by Catholic principles and “would be analogous to a situation where a kidney fails to function,” and a donor provides a healthy organ to someone in need.

The womb was donated by a woman who was past her reproductive years, and the pregnancy resulted from the recipient’s own ovaries. Had the womb been donated with a contraceptive mentality on the part of the donor (such as donating a functioning womb during childbearing years in order to avoid conception), or had the pregnancy resulted from the use of the donor’s ovaries instead of from the birth mother’s ovaries, the procedure would be considered problematic from a Catholic perspective, the priest noted.

But in the case at hand, “by donating the uterus she (the donor) is not compromising her reproductive function nor is she compromising any significant hormonal function,” he said.

According to a 2010 article by David T. Reiber on artificial wombs, published in The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, “the most obvious benefit of (artificial wombs) would be the ability to save the lives of babies born at extremely early gestational ages, and as I have stated, the technology would be morally permissible when used for this purpose.”

However, he added, the technology also raises important ethical questions, including “if a miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, were to occur because of profound fetal anomaly, would it be appropriate to use AWT to attempt to rescue the fetus, or should the child be allowed to die as perhaps God intended? If AWT actually functions as it is imagined, would it be ethical to use it to bring to term a severely disabled child who would not have survived without it?”

Other considerations would include whether it would be moral to transfer a premature baby to an artificial womb for corrective, but not life-saving, surgery, or to transfer multiples from the natural womb in order to give them a better womb environment and to prevent complications.

Potential abuses of artificial womb technology, Reiber stated, would include women who want to deliver early for convenience or comforts’ sake, or if employers would force women to deliver early and use artificial wombs in order to allow them to come back to work earlier than if they had given birth naturally.