Thursday 29 February 2024

Mother-and-Baby redress scheme to open from 20 March

The Mother-and-Baby Institutions Payment Scheme is to open on 20 March with priority being given to older applicants.

After a number of delays, the first payments are expected to be made in the second quarter of the year.

It comes after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's apology following the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother-and-Baby Homes over three years ago.

Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman said the redress scheme was a key element of the Government’s action plan for survivors and former residents of Mother-and-Baby homes and county home institutions.

He said his department has advised people that in the majority of cases, the process involves a simple application form and there will not be a requirement to submit records.

The payments range from €5,000 for mothers who were in one of the institutions for less than three months with those who spent up to six months entitled to €10,000 for example.

The figure increases with length of stay but there are very few women at the higher end of the scale.

However, 24,000 survivors were deemed ineligible to receive payment.

University of Galway lecturer and co-director of the Clann Project Dr Maeve O'Rourke described the situation as "unconstitutional discrimination".

"One of the huge problems with this scheme is that 24,000 of the estimated 38,000 people alive now who were born in the institutions are fully excluded from the scheme," Dr O'Rourke said.

She said: "So that's about two-thirds of the people still alive who were born in the institutions are not eligible at all.

"And that's because the Government has put a requirement that you have to have been kept in one of the institutions for more than six months.

"So people who were separated from their mother before the age of six months are considered not to have suffered harm, deserving of redress.

"It seems to me to be unconstitutional discrimination. We haven't had any rational explanation as to why a person who was in an institution for just over six months before being unlawfully separated, versus a person who was there for five months, 29 days, you know why they're different."

She added: "And so certainly, we've actually advised people to seek legal advice. I don't actually think this scheme will survive constitutional litigation, but that isn't something that people should be forced to do.

"The amounts are quite limited. For example, a woman as a mother who was detained for up to three months will be entitled to €5,000.

"So really for the sake of these payments, it's extremely upsetting for these people, and highly unfortunate that the Government hasn't yet amended it."

Dr O'Rourke also wants to see all those eligible for payments to be given an enhanced medical card as well.

Under the redress scheme, as currently designed, those who were detained in institutions for less than six months do not qualify for this card.

Dr O'Rourke said the crucial aspect of the abuse was the unlawful and forced family separation and the lifelong consequences as a result, not the number of months spent in the institution.

She said the enhanced medical court is something that everybody should be accessing including those who suffered abuse when they were boarded out.

Minister O’Gorman has also announced the appointment of the former CEO of the Adoption Authority of Ireland Patricia Carey to the role of Special Advocate for Survivors following a recruitment campaign through the Public Appointments Service.

Patricia Carey’s remit includes Mother-and-Baby Institutions, County Homes, Magdalen Laundries, Industrial and Reformatory Schools, and related institutions, and those adopted, boarded out, or the subject of an illegal birth registration.

Motion laid in Scottish Parliament recognising 'iconic' St Giles'

A motion has been laid in the Scottish Parliament recognising St Giles' Cathedral as "a prominent part of the life of Edinburgh and Scotland for 900 years".

It  commends the "iconic" cathedral, which was probably founded by King David I in 1124, for "its various projects, designed to reach out to people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths across the city".

The citation continues stating that "1.5 million people from around the world visited St Giles' in 2023, underlining its status as a dynamic centre celebrating Scotland's heritage and culture, as well as being an active place of worship".

The motion was laid down by Miles Briggs, a Lothian MSP, and will now be circulated for other MSPs to sign.

Rev Dr George Whyte, the interim moderator of St Giles', said: "We very much appreciate the recognition given by the Scottish Parliament and we remain committed to continued service in the years ahead."

The full motion reads: "That the Parliament congratulates St Giles' Cathedral on being a prominent part of the life of Edinburgh and Scotland for 900 years; recognises that the church is an iconic building, linking various facets of the city; acknowledges that 1.5 million people from around the world visited St Giles' in 2023, underlining its status as a dynamic centre celebrating Scotland's heritage and culture, as well as being an active place of worship; notes what it believes to be the integral role that it played as a national church with the lying in state of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Honours of Scotland service for His Majesty King Charles III; commends St Giles' on its various projects, designed to reach out to people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths across the city, and wishes St Giles' Cathedral all the very best for the next 900 years."

New Bishop of Peterborough 'excited' by 'surge' in vicar recruits

A newly-appointed Church of England bishop has said a "surge" in the number of people wanting to become vicars was "exciting".

The Right Reverend Debbie Sellin will be installed as Bishop of Peterborough in a service at Peterborough Cathedral on 3 March.

Her diocese includes Northamptonshire and Rutland as well as parts of Cambridgeshire.

She said she would spend her first few months meeting people across the area.

The figures of people being recommended for ordination training - the first step in becoming a vicar in the Church of England - have shown a downward trend in recent years across the country.

Figures from the Church of England showed there were 591 recommendations in 2020, 510 in 2021 and just 378 in 2022.

Yet Bishop Sellin said she believed the Diocese of Peterborough was going against that trend.

She said: "There's a real surge and in the Diocese of Peterborough, there's been an increase in the number of people coming forward to become a vicar in the past few years, which is amazingly exciting."

She said she thought would-be clergy were attracted by the efforts churches had made to engage with more people.

She said: "I think what we're trying to do as a church is see the bigger picture and the contact we have is not just on a Sunday morning - that's only part of what we do.

"Many churches will be reaching out to their local communities in the way that's right for them.

"We're realising that those levels of contact are equally important to the numbers of people that are coming into our services on a Sunday morning."

The Bishop said she would not be spending all of her time at Peterborough Cathedral, but would be travelling across the whole of the diocese.

She said: "One of the main jobs a bishop does is to care for the clergy in a diocese and support them to do the jobs they do well.

"So having that wider view helps me understand where support can come [from], where people can work together.

"I'll be spending a lot of my first few months just getting around and meeting people."

Stonewall funded Church of England guidance that said primary schoolchildren can be transgender

Church of England guidance telling primary schools that children as young as five can be transgender was funded by Stonewall, it has emerged.

The controversial LGBT charity gave the Church a grant to fund two editions of the Valuing All God’s Children report, including the 2019 version that remains in use nationwide.

It comes after Christian parents urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to axe the guidance, which says primary school-aged children can change their gender identity and advises schools on how to create “inclusive” environments for trans pupils.

The Rt Rev Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, told the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, last year that Stonewall was not involved in writing the report.

Gender-critical campaigners have called for the guidance to be scrapped, and said the revelation that it had been funded by Stonewall should be a “wake-up call” for the Church.

Last month, The Telegraph revealed that a Church of England primary school had allowed a four-year-old boy to join as a girl and then hid the child’s sex from other pupils, who were later described by parents as traumatised.

Valuing All God’s Children tells the 4,630 Church of England schools across the country that primary schoolers should be “at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgment or derision”.

‘Significant grant’

The Rt Rev Jonathan Frost, the Bishop of Portsmouth, has now admitted in a written response to a question submitted to Synod that Stonewall funded the report’s second and current third editions, published in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Gender-critical campaigners have criticised Stonewall for the training it offers organisations, which encourages them to tell employees to always state their pronouns and use gender-neutral language.

The Bishop of Portsmouth said the funding, the value of which neither the Church nor Stonewall has disclosed, was given by Stonewall after the Department of Education gave the charity a “significant grant” for “work in this area”.

“They recognised the quality of our work in Valuing All God’s Children, so were keen that we should be enabled to develop it to include the prevention of transphobic bullying through an updated version,” he said.

“Stonewall were not involved in the writing of our document but simply passed on a grant to enable us to do so, and to help with the distribution costs.”

Two Stonewall executives are thanked in the 2017 and 2019 editions: Dominic Arnall, who was head of projects from 2015 and 2018; and Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton, head of education programmes from 2016 to 2022.

Valuing All God’s Children is currently being updated after the Department for Education (DfE) published a consultation in December on new guidance for schools on how to respond to gender-questioning pupils.

‘Transgender ideology’

That DfE guidance does not use the word transgender, says children cannot change their legal sex and advises schools to only use sex-based pronouns.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern and a former lay member of Synod, said that the Church’s current guidance “pushes transgender ideology”.

“It is time for it to be scrapped and for the Church of England to shape its guidance on the Bible,” she added.

“It needs to ensure that the next version is completely free from the influence of Stonewall and its allies.”

Helen Joyce, director of advocacy at Sex Matters, said: “This is further evidence of Stonewall’s influence behind the scenes, and how it has embedded policies that run counter to equalities law and safeguarding, and harm girls and gay teenagers in particular.

“The Church of England probably entered into this arrangement in good faith. But it should come as a wake-up call for the Church – and all other school leaders – to put safeguarding first and refuse to take money from or work with any organisation that does not.”

Christian parents last month wrote to Justin Welby asking him to scrap Valuing All God’s Children.

‘Political agendas in schools’

Among its signatories were Nigel and Sally Rowe, who claimed in 2017 that a Church of England primary school had said their six-year-old son would be deemed transphobic if he did not recognise another boy as a girl.

Miriam Cates, the Tory MP for Penistone and Stockbridge, said: “Activist groups should not be enabled by any education providers to push their political agendas in schools.

“Taking money in return for allowing Stonewall to essentially dictate the Church of England’s policy is a complete failure by those in authority.

“This guidance should be withdrawn as a matter of urgency and replaced with new rules that put the safeguarding of children first.”

The Church of England and Stonewall were approached for comment.

Chinese authorities sweep aside religious protesters

The Chinese authorities have arrested more than 100 people, including Buddhist monks and members of ethnic minority groups, for protesting against a state-sponsored dam project that would allegedly destroy six Buddhist monasteries and force the relocation of around 2,000 people from two villages.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on 22 February that the arrests followed rare protests in Tibet’s Dege County on 14 February, which called for the Gangtuo hydropower station project to be scrapped.

One of the sites threatened is Wonto Monastery, which includes thirteenth-century murals. 

Around 300 monks live in the Wonto and Yena monasteries located close to the proposed site for the dam, and both have cultural and religious significance for locals.

The dam project is part of China’s National Development and Reform Commission’s 2012 plan to build a 13-tier hydropower complex on the Drichu River, located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze.

Reportedly, around 300 Tibetans had gathered outside the Dege County Town Hall to protest against the project but met a severe police response, which used water cannon, pepper spray, and tasers to break up the protests.

“Some of the arrested protesters required hospitalisation due to rough treatment,” a source told RFA. Following the protests, the authorities closed all main roads and restricted internet access in the area.

In Yunnan province, also on China’s southern border, the state policy of “sinicisation” of religion pursued since 2017 has led to the demolition of the minarets on 90 per cent of mosques.

The authorities demolished the dome and minarets of the historic Najiaying Mosque at Nagu town last May, provoking clashes between local residents and police. 

Now the mosque, first constructed in the fourteenth century, has been reopened after being refitted in line with the Communist Party’s policy of aligning religions to Chinese culture.

Signage outside the Najiaying Mosque now reads: “Obey the Party. Be grateful to the Party. Follow the Party”. 

Several schools linked to the mosque have been closed, and children are banned from entering the mosque.

In the Philippines, six bishops have called on the government to do more to protect fishermen from Chinese incursions into the country’s territorial waters.

The bishops – all from regions with significant fishing industries – warned that “a policy of appeasing the Chinese aggressors is worsening the situation of our poor fisherfolk”.  

They also complained that Chinese illegal fishing vessels have caused “widespread destruction of coral reefs, marine sanctuaries and the habitat of fish and sea-dwelling animals”.

Anonymous cardinal publishes rebuke of Pope Francis, lays out what next pope should focus on

The College of Cardinals

A document written by a member of the College of Cardinals is making waves for arguing that the Church under Pope Francis is “more fractured than at any time in her recent history.” 

It also lays out seven “practical observations” intended to “guide much needed conversations about what the Vatican should look like in the next pontificate.”

Published on Thursday, February 29 by the Daily Compass under the pseudonym “Demos II,” the essay is similar to an article released in March of 2022 titled “The Vatican Today” by “Demos I,” who was later revealed to be George Cardinal Pell of Australia.

The Vatican Tomorrow” assesses the alleged strengths and “shortcomings” of Pope Francis while arguing that “the next pontificate must … be one of recovery and reestablishment of truths that have been slowly obscured or lost among many Christians.”

The author firstly contends that Francis has helped emphasize “compassion toward the weak, outreach to the poor and marginalized, concern for the dignity of creation and the environmental issues that flow from it, and efforts to accompany the suffering and alienated in their burdens.”

At the same time, the document observes that Francis has an “autocratic, at times seemingly vindictive, style of governance.” 

He also possesses “a carelessness in matters of law; an intolerance for even respectful disagreement; and – most seriously – a pattern of ambiguity in matters of faith and morals causing confusion among the faithful.”

In explaining why it was published under a pseudonym, the essay notes that in “today’s Roman environment, candor is not welcome, and its consequences can be unpleasant.” 

The document also observes that there has been an “emergence of a small oligarchy of confidants with excessive influence within the Vatican – all despite synodality’s decentralizing claims.”

Among the seven observations made by the article’s author, there is a repeated emphasis placed on the need for sound governance, doctrinal clarity, and renewal of the Vatican’s institutions by the next pope.

“The Pope is a Successor of Peter and the guarantor of Church unity,” the essay observes. “But he is not an autocrat. He cannot change Church doctrine, and he must not invent or alter the Church’s discipline arbitrarily. He governs the Church collegially with his brother bishops in local dioceses.”

“From the start, the current pontificate has resisted the evangelical force and intellectual clarity of its immediate predecessors,” it continues. “The dismantling and repurposing of Rome’s John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and the marginalizing of texts like Veritatis Splendor suggest an elevation of ‘compassion’ and emotion at the expense of reason, justice, and truth. For a creedal community, this is both unhealthy and profoundly dangerous.”

The author then shares further criticisms of Francis. “Among the marks of the current pontificate are its excessive reliance on the motu proprio as a tool for governance and a general carelessness and distaste for canonical detail.” 

It also notes that “one of the key flaws in the current pontificate is its retreat from a convincing ‘theology of the body’ and its lack of a compelling Christian anthropology … precisely at a time when attacks on human nature and identity, from transgenderism to transhumanism, are mounting.”

While arguing that “global travel” was well suited for John Paul II due to his “unique personal gifts” and the era in which he lived, the circumstances in the world and Church have changed. 

“The Church in Italy and throughout Europe – the historic home of the faith – is in crisis. The Vatican itself urgently needs a renewal of its morale, a cleansing of its institutions, procedures, and personnel, and a thorough reform of its finances to prepare for a more challenging future. These are not small things. They demand the presence, direct attention, and personal engagement of any new Pope.”

The author also worries about the current state of the College of Cardinals. “The College of Cardinals … requires men of clean character, strong theological formation, mature leadership experience, and personal holiness,” the document reads. 

“It also requires a Pope willing to seek advice and then to listen. It’s unclear to what degree this applies in the Pope Francis pontificate.”

“The current pontificate has placed an emphasis on diversifying the college, but it has failed to bring cardinals together in regular consistories designed to foster genuine collegiality and trust among brothers,” it continues. 

“As a result, many of the voting electors in the next conclave will not really know each other, and thus may be more vulnerable to manipulation. In the future, if the college is to serve its purposes, the cardinals who inhabit it need more than a red zucchetto and a ring. Today’s College of Cardinals should be proactive about getting to know each other to better understand their particular views regarding the Church, their local church situations, and their personalities – which impact their consideration of the next pope.”

The document concludes by hoping that the “cautionary reflections noted here may be useful in the months ahead” and that they will “help guide much needed conversations about what the Vatican should look like in the next pontificate.”

Priests pray for Francis' death – archdiocese distances itself

The Archdiocese of Toledo has distanced itself from two diocesan priests who prayed for the death of Pope Francis. 

The Spanish archdiocese announced on Thursday in response to an enquiry from that it condemns any kind of aversion towards the Holy Father. 

The two priests had been informed that they would have to publicly ask forgiveness for their words because they had offended the ecclesial community and outraged the faithful. 

"The Archdiocese of Toledo in no way accepts responsibility for the statements made." 

Furthermore, the archdiocese does not rule out the possibility of reprimands against the priests in the future.

Several Spanish and Latin American priests - including two from the Archdiocese of Toledo - had said in a live video on YouTube that they would pray for the death of Pope Francis. 

"I pray a lot for the Pope, that he goes to heaven as soon as possible," said one of the clergymen from Toledo. 

Most of the others echoed this intention and said they would also pray for Francis' speedy death. 

"Then let us pray even more fervently," added the other priest from Toledo afterwards. 

The clerics recorded the video on 22 February, the feast of the Cathedra Petri - the Holy See. 

On a traditionalist YouTube channel, the priests discussed hand communion, which they are fundamentally opposed to, at a "counter-revolutionary priests' regulars' table", as they themselves described their online conversation.

The priests have since announced via the platform "X" (formerly Twitter) that they were misunderstood. They had spoken about the Pope "in a humorous way". 

The priests apologised for their careless choice of words. 

One of the diocesan priests from Toledo is said to be one of the initiators of the petition against the Vatican's blessing document "Fiducia supplicans", reported the magazine "Vida Nueva" on Wednesday. 

With the campaign, several priests from the archdiocese wanted to persuade Pope Francis to revoke the declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had allowed the blessing of homosexual and remarried couples under certain conditions. 

In the Spanish church, Toledo is considered a hotbed of conservative clerics.

Former Archbishop Aupetit: France "has become a totalitarian state"

Guaranteed "freedom to terminate a pregnancy" will soon be part of France's constitution. 

After the Senate voted in favour of President Emmanuel Macron's project on Wednesday evening, both chambers of parliament have now given the green light. 

They must now approve it again on Monday in a joint session with a majority of 60 per cent.

At the end of October, Macron promised to enshrine a "right to abortion" in the constitution. Experts consider the current wording of a "guaranteed freedom to abort" to be legally weaker. 

According to surveys, 86 per cent of French people are in favour of a complete liberalisation of abortion. Opponents of abortion condemned the new regulation. 

Former Parisian archbishop, bioethicist and doctor Michel Aupetit tweeted: "The law imposes the conscience to kill." France has reached a low point. "It has become a totalitarian state."

Abortion under certain conditions has been legal in France since the 1970s. The "Neuwirth" law of 1967 and the "Veil" law of 1975 abolished the total ban ("Law of 1920"). 

Since 1967, French women have been allowed to take the pill; in 1975, abortions up to the 10th week, and since 2020 up to a maximum of 14 weeks, have been exempt from punishment.

"Abortion must remain the exception"

Simone Veil (1927-2017), then Minister for Family Affairs and Auschwitz survivor, emphasised in the parliamentary debate in November 1974: "I say with all my conviction: Abortion must remain the exception, the last resort for hopeless situations. But how can we tolerate abortion without it losing its exceptional character; without society seeming to promote it?"

In autumn 2020, following heated debates, the National Assembly extended the time limit for abortions from 12 to 14 weeks. 

Since 2001, an annual average of around 230,000 abortions have been carried out in France, around a quarter of them outside of hospitals. Around one in four pregnancies is terminated as a result. The use of abortion drugs at home is permitted up to the seventh week.

At the time, those in favour of extending the time limit argued that many pregnant women were currently going to Spain, the UK or the Netherlands, where abortions are permitted up to 22 weeks. 

Furthermore, only around three per cent of gynaecologists and midwives in the country currently performed abortions themselves. 

As a result, there are long waiting times, which ultimately make abortions no longer legally possible.

Moscow Patriarchate: "Fiducia supplicans" is dangerous

The Russian Orthodox Church is massively criticising the Vatican's declaration of principle on the blessing of same-sex couples in the Catholic Church. 

The chairman of the biblical-theological commission of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion, sees the document"Fiducia supplicans" as a "very serious departure from Christian moral norms", as he told the state news agency RIA Novosti in an interview on Thursday. 

Although the Vatican is not going as far as Protestant churches, "all this is perceived as a very dangerous signal and a concession by the leadership of the Catholic Church to those liberal circles that are trying to dictate their agenda".

According to Hilarion, his theological commission was commissioned by Patriarch Cyril I to analyse the Vatican document. It had come to the conclusion "that the Holy Scriptures cannot justify this new practice in any way". 

The metropolitan left it open as to when the commission's report will be published. He complained that the Vatican letter does not expect so-called irregular couples to convert or change their lifestyle.

Cyril I dismissed Hilarion as head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign office in mid-2022 and sent him to Hungary, where he has since served as Metropolitan of Budapest. 

However, the clergyman continues to head the theological commission. 

The document "Fiducia supplicans" (imploring trust) of 18 December allows blessings for unmarried, remarried and homosexual couples in the Catholic Church in the sense of pastoral acceptance.

Limited blessing for couples

In order to avoid confusion with a marriage, the blessing may not take place as part of a liturgical celebration. They should also not take place in an important place in the church building or in front of the altar. 

The Vatican also emphasises that the blessings neither approve nor justify the situation in which the people concerned find themselves.

The blessing document has triggered a fierce debate in many countries and within the Vatican.

Among others, the Catholic bishops of Africa opposed it by a large majority.

Priests protest Argentina government’s funding cuts for city slums

After President Javier Milei’s administration decided to cut funds for public works in poor neighborhoods and slums in Argentina, dozens of priests released a letter protesting the measure.

A decree promulgated by Milei on February 23 radically reduced the share of a tax collected on the purchase of foreign currency that is directed to integrate the slums into the cities. Until then, nine percent of such funds should be used in poor neighborhoods. Now, that portion corresponds to only 0.3 percent.

A significant part of such money used to be transferred to co-ops that employ mostly local slum residents and were hired by the government for sewerage, public lighting, and pavement works.

Such co-ops are connected to popular movements, which largely rejected Milei during the presidential campaign last year. His administration suspected there were irregularities in the use of the funds and investigated it, but no evidence of corruption was found.

According to the Spanish-language news website InfoBae, since the creation of the program in 2019, almost 1,300 construction works have been carried out.

The public letter was released by the so-called curas villeros (slum priests in Spanish), an ecclesial ministry developed during the 1960s and 1970s by missionaries who live and work in Argentina’s poorest neighborhoods. The document was also signed by the clergy members in charge of the Church program Hogares de Cristo (homes of Christ), which gives support to drug addicts.

The priests begin the text by saying that “one of the main functions of the State is to look after the most disadvantaged,” an idea that directly opposes Milei’s ultra-libertarian ideology and his intention of reducing the State’s participation in the South American country’s economy and society.

The declaration then recalled that “the slums did not appear on the maps” in the past, and only after a few decades the Argentinian society understood that it needed to deal with them.

“People talked about their eradication, then urbanization, till the concept of urban integration was quite established. With comings and goings, steps were taken in this direction,” the letter read.

The priests emphasized that policies were gradually established to improve the slums’ conditions, giving to many of their residents better access to sanitation, water, electricity, schools, and community centers.

“Others were able to expand and improve their humble homes. It is not good to disconnect the State from the slums and settlements. Reducing the funds that benefit more than 5 million residents, most of them minors, is a very hard blow,” the priests continued.

The document concluded by saying that the program is one of the few that focus on the hardest core of poverty in Argentina. The priests ask the national government to “check what is necessary so that socio-urban integration is an increasingly effective reality.”

According to Father Lorenzo de Vedia, known as Padre Toto, a missionary in one of the largest slums in Buenos Aires, the funds that have been cut were “fundamental for the integration of slums and settlements into the urban environment.”

“That money was used to improve several aspects in the lives of the residents of such districts,” he told Crux.

Father Pablo Viola, a vicar in a poor neighborhood in Córdoba, emphasized that those funds “generated work for slum residents and helped those people to progress.”

“Cutting that money means to block the prosperity of many people. There are 5 million slum residents all over Argentina, and part of them counted on that program,” he told Crux.

Viola recalled that Milei’s administration has been reducing other social relief actions, something that has been affecting not only the poor but also the middle classes.

“We think that reducing the funds for civic organizations which assist the poor is a mistake connected to an inability to understand the reality in Argentina. That increases the malaise we have been experiencing,” he said.

Viola described that it’s already noticeable how Milei’s policies have impacted poor neighborhoods in Córdoba, “zones where some progress was possible in the past and which are now stagnating again.”

Padre Toto affirmed that after the letter was released the government branch in charge of the program accepted to receive them for a meeting.

In Viola’s opinion, the government should listen to civic organizations and the Church in order to better understand Argentina’s social problems.

“It’s fundamental that this administration comprehends the importance those funds have,” he said.

Archbishop of Canterbury apologises for not meeting Bethlehem pastor over pro-Palestinian rally concerns

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a public apology for declining to meet a Bethlehem-based pastor during a UK visit earlier this year over concerns about such a meeting happening against the backdrop of the Gaza conflict.

Archbishop Justin Welby cancelled plans to meet Lutheran pastor Munther Isaac in the latter half of February 2024, explaining he could not meet the pastor if he shared a platform with the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at a pro-Palestinian rally, reports the Guardian.

“Recently I declined to meet with Rev Dr [Munther Isaac] during his UK visit,” the archbishop Tweeted on 29 Feb. 

“I apologise for and deeply regret this decision, and the hurt, anger, and confusion it caused. I was wrong not to meet with my brother in Christ from the Holy Land, especially at this time of profound suffering for our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. I look forward to speaking and praying with him next week.”

Isaac, the pastor of the Christmas Evangelical Lutheran church in Bethlehem, has been highly critical of Israel in Gaza, the Guardian notes. His Christmas sermon went viral when he said that if Jesus Christ was born today it would have been under the rubble.

During his visit to the UK, the pastor spoke at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign rally where Jeremy Corbyn was also a speaker, after being invited by Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK.

Welby’s defenders, the Guardian notes, would argue the archbishop has spoken out strongly about Gaza, but that he also has to consider the impact on other communities. Most obviously this includes the huge increase in antisemitism since October 2023 occurring in the UK.

“In the current climate of wokery and anti-wokery, of critical race theory, anticolonialism and all that, Jews are seen as the embodiment of whatever is causing problems – and therefore as legitimate targets of abuse, mostly verbal but occasionally physical, a convenient simplification to make the world a less frustrating place,” Peter Oppenheimer, a retired Oxford academic and former President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, recently told the Catholic Herald.

It is believed the archbishop feared his meeting with the pastor could cause problems for Britain’s Jewish community, the Guardian says.

During Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader, the party was dogged with accusations of antisemitism being rife among some members, with Corbyn being heavily criticised for not taking a clearer stand on the problem.

But that has not been enough to save the archbishop from finding himself lambasted for his decision not to meet the pastor, it appears, amid ongoing concerns about the situation in Gaza for its tiny Christian minority.

“The small Christian community in Gaza has discovered what is hell on earth,” Isaac told the Guardian. “Most of them have lost their homes: 45 destroyed completely and 55 partially destroyed. There is no life left for them. This war will most likely bring an end to Christian life in Gaza. Everyone wants to leave.

“It is so painful for us to see the Christian church turn a blind eye to what is happening, offering words of concern and compassion, but for so long they have been silent in the face of obvious war crimes. Churches seem paralysed, and they seem willing to sacrifice the Christian presence in Palestine for the sake of avoiding controversy and not criticising Israel. I have had so many difficult conversations with church leaders.”

The Catholic Church has faced similar criticism and a similar quandary to the Church of England in navigating the conflicting interests in the war in Gaza, with the Jewish community criticising the Vatican’s stance and messaging both on the conflict in general and on Israel’s right to defend itself.

The Palestinian Ambassador to the Holy See recently met with the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States to discuss the ongoing war in Gaza. 

The Palestinian envoy praised the Pope’s appeals for peace in Gaza and for statements made by other senior Vatican officials on the war, and for the “relentless” efforts of the Holy See to push for a lasting peace in the Holy Land.

Future conclaves need protecting from media interference and ‘megalomaniac occult powers’

The Remnant Newspaper - Pope Francis Drafting New Document to Reform the  Papal Conclave

Amid ongoing concerns about the health of the 87-year-old Pope, a prominent progressive supporter of Francis has suggested making changes to the rules governing conclaves in order to slow down the election of the next pope, and guard against the possibility that well-timed leaks or other forms of interference might influence the outcome.

Specifically, veteran Italian church historian Alberto Melloni has proposed that there be only one ballot a day during the time the cardinals are gathered in the Sistine Chapel to select a new pope, with each ballot day followed by a day of pause for conversation and reflection.

Melloni also called for the acceptance of the election result by the nominated candidate to be slowed down also, giving the candidate who receives more than two-thirds of the vote, and thus who’s elected as pope, a full night to consider and to consult before making a final decision.

Under such a system, Melloni noted, the conclave of 2005, which required just four ballots and roughly 24 hours to elect Pope Benedict XVI, would have lasted ten full days instead.

Melloni is best-known as a key figure in the “Bologna school” associated with the late historian Giuseppe Alberigo, which produced a multi-volume history of Vatican II (1962-65) that popularised a progressive reading of the council.

His essay about a slower conclave appeared 26 Feb. as part of the online edition of Il Mulino (“The Mill”), a popular Italian journal of culture and politics.

In effect, Melloni argues that current events, including the Russian war in Ukraine and the Israeli/Hamas conflict in Gaza, offer reminders that there are forces on the world stage seeking some form of either regional or global hegemony – and that the Catholic Church, as he puts it, is a “natural antagonist and objective obstacle” to such ambitions.

For all its faults, Melloni argues, the Catholic Church is a uniquely unarmed but nevertheless powerful global institution, which various states and non-state actors might wish to influence or subvert.

In that context, Melloni says, the clerical sexual abuse scandals have created “a button with which anyone can ostracise anyone else, leaving it to history to sort out justified accusations from the unjustified, and to God to compensate the innocent and punish the guilty”.

For that reason, Melloni suggests, the next conclave “will have to protect the elected person from the risk of being delegitimized by an accusation designed to divide cardinals who challenge the election of an unworthy person from those who instead consider the election valid, at least for the presumption of innocence”.

Historically, Melloni argues, the function of a conclave has not been to ensure that the holiest or most qualified person is elected pope, but simply to guarantee that the outcome would be considered legitimate and the authority of the new pope accepted.

In an age of artificial intelligence, social media and mass computing power, Melloni writes, that function of establishing legitimacy faces new threats related to the capacity to circulate damaging accusations against public figures on a mass scale and in real time.

Doing so with regard to the abuse scandals, Melloni says, is merely a question of “will and means”, both of which “can arise within states, or in those large companies that act like superpowers of computing and which can place their megalomaniac servility at the service of occult powers, as we’ve already seen in various public affairs”.

To remain compactly behind the newly elected pope even in the teeth of such an attack, Melloni writes, will require a compact and united College of Cardinals truly certain of its choice, for which more time may be required.

Lengthening the conclave, he argues, “would guarantee time for conversation and discussion within the college, which is more necessary than ever to reach a more shared electoral process and to allow candidates time to withdraw, in the well-founded expectation that someone could use true or even plausible information against them.”

A slower process, Melloni says, would also counteract “the media tendency to paint a conclave with the colours of an American primary, made up of tricks, money and ideological manoeuvres”.

Moreover, Melloni also says that the custom of holding two ballots back-to-back inside the conclave was designed to replace the older custom of “accession”, in which a cardinal could change his vote after a ballot in which no one received a two-thirds majority. The system was cumbersome and also compromised the secrecy of the first vote, since ballots had to be checked to ensure that a cardinal wasn’t voting for the same candidate twice. The option was suppressed in 1903.

As to whether Pope Francis might adopt such a reform, Melloni says “probably, yes”, while voicing concern that the advisors on Church law to whom the pontiff might entrust such a project lack both the “ecclesiological talent” and “legal virtuosity” of earlier generations of canonists.

Nonetheless, Melloni argues, a reform is necessary to avoid the risk that “warring nations and the great players in the media market” might subvert the conclave, provoking a “fatal impasse in the unity of the Church”.

Ukrainian Church opens beatification cause for former leader

The Ukrainian Catholic Church has opened a cause of the beatification of the late Cardinal Ljubomyr Husar, who led the Eastern-rite Church through a period of growth after the collapse of Communism.

In opening the cause for his predecessor, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said that “the strength of his word and his spirit have continued to serve as orientation and support for people in daily life, especially in the days of the terrible war we are experiencing.”

Born in Lviv in 1933, the future prelate fled to the US with his family in 1944. Ordained to the priesthood in the US, he eventually returned to Ukraine, where he became vicar general and then Major Archbishop of Lviv. 

As the Ukrainian Catholic Church consolidated its position, he transferred his see to Kiev in 2004, remaining in that post until his resignation in 2011. 

He died in 2017 at the age of 84.

In Alaska, permanent deacons are primary spiritual leaders in remote villages

Fewer than a dozen priests now serve the 46 parishes in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, according to Catholic Home Missions, a newsletter published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“These churches typically only see a priest for Mass every one to three months,” said Sister Kathy Radich, OSF, coordinator of rural ministries for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of the diocese, which is the largest in the United States in area (about the size of Oregon). 

“COVID-19 travel restrictions ... left about half of our churches without a priest for more than a year.”

Catholic chapel where two men celebrated ‘marriage’ now subject to deconsecration

The private Catholic chapel where two Spanish men celebrated their civil “marriage” last weekend is subject to “canonical effects” and deconsecration, according to the Archdiocese of Madrid and a Catholic priest with jurisdiction in the area.

The Holy Trinity Chapel, located on the grounds of the Finca El Campillo, a property used as a wedding venue in the town of El Escorial, was the scene of a celebration of the two men’s civil marriage last Saturday.

Cristina González Navarro, who owns the property, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that at the event inside the chapel “there was no priest” and that “a wedding wasn’t held,” but she refused to offer more details about what the ritual consisted of.

What is known, through images posted on social media, is that the chapel was full of guests and that the men, dressed in formal attire and holding hands, left the chapel walking down the aisle as a Catholic bride and groom do at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony for the sacrament of marriage.

 According to photos on social media, some elements of the Catholic liturgy apparently were used during the ceremony, including an image of the Virgin of Hakuna by sculptor Javier Viver. 

The two men exchanged rings and at one point knelt on white kneelers in front of the sculpture of the Virgin and before a cross made of two branches tied together.

On the shoulders of the men was draped a white cloth with blue stripes in a gesture similar to the one used in the veiling rite of the Mozarabic liturgy. In this Catholic rite, the wife’s head and the husband’s shoulders are covered and as they kneel they receive a blessing.

Statement from the archdiocese

Father Florentino de Andrés, pastor of St. Bernabé Parish in El Escorial, told ACI Prensa that the chapel has not been deconsecrated and that the ceremony was carried out without his knowledge. The priest was emphatic that “it was not with my permission.”

De Andrés also said that he will speak with the owners of the property to determine what took place and if confirmed as reported, he will call for the chapel to be deconsecrated.

The Archdiocese of Madrid also weighed in with a statement confirming that “it was not informed or consulted about the possibility of holding said celebration, being a unilateral act of the property [owners] that will have canonical effects in this regard. In no case is it permitted to perform a civil marriage within a religious venue.”

The Feb. 26 statement stressed that “family chapels can only be used for the purpose that the Church grants them,” and therefore “they cannot be a place for public religious celebrations, unless expressly authorized by the diocese.”

In addition, the archdiocese specified that “they cannot be used for commercial purposes or as places for civil celebrations of any kind. In fact, at the time [they were built] they were intended to be solely for the private devotional use of the family that owned it and in no case to be offered as an optional for-profit service of a company that plans social events.”

Beyond the controversy over the improper use of a Catholic church, those who own chapels that are located on private land are subject to ecclesiastical regulations (canons 1115 et seq.) for the correct use of these sacred places, as summarized by the Archdiocese of Madrid in its statement.