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Pope thanks charity organization for generous service to the Church

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 07:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis met with members of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, telling them that in a world full of desperation, their charitable assistance helps the Church spread a message of hope to those most in need.

“Today’s world, so often torn by violence, greed and indifference, greatly needs our witness to the Gospel message of hope in the redemptive and reconciling power of God’s love,” he said April 27.

He voiced his gratitude to the organization “for your desire to assist the Church’s efforts to proclaim that message of hope to the ends of the earth and to work for the spiritual and material advancement of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, especially in developing countries.”

Pope Francis met with members of the Philadelphia-based charitable organization Thursday morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. They are gathered in Rome April 26-29 for their annual pilgrimage, during which they present the Pope with their annual contribution to his charities.

The Papal Foundation was established by U.S. Catholics in 1988 under St. John Paul II, to whom it offered its first donation of financial support in April 1990.

Since then, the organization, according to their website, has provided more than $111 million in grants and scholarships, the funds of which go toward building up the Church, educating and preparing leaders, and caring for vulnerable people, both young and old, throughout the world.

The primary purpose of the organization is to provide financial support for the Pope’s charities, with the commitment “to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church as we bring the love of Christ to a world in need.”

In 2015, the Papal Foundation awarded almost $15 million in grants and scholarships to various projects around the world, including to churches, seminaries, schools, hospitals, convents and monasteries, and in the areas of humanitarian aid, communications, and education.

Last year the foundation donated a whopping $10 million to support the Pope’s numerous global charitable initiatives.

In his speech, Pope Francis said he was happy to greet the group on their visit, particularly in the joy of the Easter season, when the Church “celebrates the Lord’s victory over death and his gift of new life in the Holy Spirit.”

“It is my hope that your pilgrimage to the Eternal City will strengthen you in faith and hope, and in your commitment to promote the Church’s mission by supporting so many religious and charitable causes close to the heart of the Pope,” he said.

“Each of us, as a living member of Christ’s body, is called to foster the unity and peace that is the Father’s will, in Christ, for our human family and all its members,” he continued.

Francis then said a “vital” part of their commitment to the work of the foundation is to pray for “the needs of the poor, the conversion of hearts, the spread of the Gospel, and the Church’s growth in holiness and missionary zeal.”

He also asked them to not forget to pray for him.

“Dear friends, with these words of encouragement, and with great affection, I commend you and your families to the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church,” he concluded. “To all of you I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abiding joy and peace in the Lord.”

Court ruling could yank funds for non-Catholics at Catholic schools in Canada

Regina, Canada, Apr 27, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Non-Catholic students at Catholic schools in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan will not receive taxpayer funding, a judge ruled last week.

The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association criticized the April 20 ruling, saying Catholic school divisions have “the right to decide to admit non-Catholic students” and to determine the extent to which their admission allows them to have “a truly authentic faith-based Catholic school system.”

“Our faith is a journey that includes inquiry of non-Catholics and growth of existing members. This requires inclusion and a welcoming spirit,” the school boards association said in a letter responding to the decision.

The association charged that the complaint threatens parents’ choices and limits the choices of non-Catholic parents.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled that any provincial government funding would violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the state’s duty of religious neutrality, and equality rights.

The ruling will take effect in July 2018.

The decision concerned a lawsuit between the Good Spirit School Division and the Christ the Teacher Catholic Separate School Division, the Canadian site Global News reports.

The lawsuit challenged the creation of a separate school division in 2003 in the village of Theodore, 130 miles northeast of Regina, before the village’s public school closed.

Some parents of non-Catholic students decided to send their children to the local Catholic school instead of busing them to a public school in another town.

A local public school division filed a legal complaint against the Catholic school division and the provincial government in 2005. The complaint charged that the funding was unconstitutional and wrongly put the Catholic school in the role of a public school. Funding of non-Catholic students at the Catholic school constituted discrimination against public schools, the complaint said.

The complaint also charged that the creation of the new school division was not qualified. It charged that the division was created to prevent the public school from closing.

Tom Fortosky, the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association president, said the association was “obviously disappointed” by the decision and was evaluating its response.

“This has already been a 12-year journey instigated by the public boards, and we don’t have much of an appetite to spend more on legal defense,” he said April 20. “However, we have an obligation to stand up for the constitutional rights of separate school divisions, so we are giving serious consideration to an appeal.”

Saskatchewan's head of government, Premier Brad Wall, has said the ruling “is not good news” for the province's students. “Consider the implications here … you could have massively overpopulated public schools and empty or near-empty separate schools. You could actually risk the viability of community schools because there's a number of people who will choose to send their students to the school closest to them.”

“We want to give parents as much choice as possible," Wall said April 24. “That's where we will stand on this issue and we're going to work to be able to preserve that stance.”

New study: Birth control pills reduce women's well-being

Stockholm, Sweden, Apr 27, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new Swedish study has shown that women who are taking the contraceptive pill might be putting themselves at risk for decreasing their overall health and well-being.
Mood swings, energy level shifts, and a “significantly lower” quality of  life were the reported side effects of the contraceptive pill when the three-month study had concluded.
“Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills we know surprisingly little today about the pill's effect on women's health,” said Professor Angelica Linden Hirschberg, one of the study’s leaders, according to the Karolinska Institute.
“The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression and there is a great need for randomized studies where it is compared to placebos,” Dr. Hirschberg continued.
The study that explored the side effects of contraception was conducted by the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm School of Economics, and included 340 healthy women between the age of 18-35. Their findings were recently published in the scientific journal “Fertility and Sterility.”
A randomized group of women in the study were given a placebo pill, and the other group was given a common contraceptive pill with levonorgestrel and ethniylestradoil. Both groups of women and the leaders of the study were unaware of which pills the women were taking.
Compared to the placebo group, the women taking the pill reported back saying their self-control, vitality and moods were all impacted by the contraception, and noted that their quality of life plunged significantly.
“This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunctions with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception,” stated Niklas Zethraeus, one of the study’s co-authors, according to the Independent.
While most women are aware that some side effects come will taking contraceptive pills, more and more studies are showing just how negative the impact can be.
Last year, a popular Danish study reported the adverse connection between hormonal birth control and depression, which linked women on the pill to a subsequent use of anti-depressants.
While this particular Swedish study did not pick up on any increase in depression, the researchers did note that contraception cannot be generalized and that different pills carry different side effects.
“All types of hormonal contraception have advantages and disadvantages. This possible effect on life quality adds to this knowledge and could be of particular importance for women who have experienced negative mood symptoms previously,” Dr. Hirschberg stated.
For the over 100 million users of contraceptive pills, the study’s researchers suggested that the negative life quality impact could be of “clinical importance” for women, and is something that women should be aware of.  

Pope donates rent for beach serving people with disabilities

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has donated the rent for a private Italian beach that allows disabled people to enjoy the shore, the charity that manages the project announced this week.

The group Work of Love, a Catholic non-profit, has rented part of the Little Madonna beach located near Rome since 2012 in an effort to give disabled people better access to the beach. It is equipped with ramps, walkways and specialized beach chairs and water-friendly wheelchairs, and includes amenities such as a snack bar, changing rooms, and showers.

The beach is run by a group of volunteers and specialized FINP (Italian Swimming Federation Paralympic) staff and is open every day of the week during peak summer swimming season.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, told CNN Pope Francis gave the group an undisclosed sum to "support the project that helps disabled youth and in particular to cover the cost of the annual rent for the beach known as the Little Madonna."

The beach is the only one of its kind in the region, and was created to allow all people to enjoy the beach “without architectural and mental barriers,” the group states on their site.

In a statement, the charity said they received the donation with "enthusiasm and astonishment."

It is not the first time Pope Francis has sponsored trips to the beach. Last summer, Archbishop Krajewski told Vatican Insider that the Holy Father had been treating Rome’s homeless to beach trips followed by pizza parties, sometimes with the Pope himself serving up a slice.

He said the van would take about 10 people each day to go swimming on the Italian coast, nearly 20 miles from Rome. The archbishop drove the van, while passengers sang and listened to the radio. At the beach, each guest was offered a swimsuit and towel and afterwards was treated to pizza.

“We certainly are not saving the world with some of these initiatives, we are not solving the problems of the homeless in Rome, but at least we are restoring to them a little dignity,” Archbishop Krajewski said at the time.

Other initiatives carried out by Archbishop Krajewski on behalf of the Pope include a dormitory, barber services and showers for those in need. In 2015, the Pope invited a group of homeless people in Rome to the Sistine Chapel. In 2016, he invited 2,000 homeless people and migrants to the circus. Pope Francis also sent an electronic scooter to an elderly couple with disabilities, who had difficulty getting around. He has also given Christmas gifts to poor migrants and umbrellas to the homeless.


The story behind the Irish priest whose prayers could heal

Dublin, Ireland, Apr 26, 2017 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father John Sullivan was a prominent Irish Catholic convert who was known for his healing prayers, his consolation for the troubled, and his devotion to God.

Now he is set to be the first ever person to be beatified in Ireland.

The beatification will take place May 13 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Dublin, where the Jesuit priest's body was interred. Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Congregations for the Causes of Saints will be involved in the ceremony. Church of Ireland leaders will also attend.

In a Feb. 18 homily at the church, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said Fr. Sullivan was “a man of learning” who was “always aware of his responsibility to care for those around him and especially the poor.”

Archbishop Martin reflected on the Gospel story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what was needed to attain eternal life. After telling the man to follow the Law of Moses and the Commandments, Jesus told him to sell all his goods and follow him.

“John Sullivan, faced with the same call, placed his life totally at the service of Jesus, renouncing wealth and worldly ambition and living the simplicity of life as a Jesuit,” Archbishop Martin said.

“His life would not just be marked by a rejection of outward wealth, but by a special concern for the poor and especially for the sick and the dying.”

The priest spent much of his life teaching at Clongowes Wood College in Ireland's County Kildare.

“By many accounts he was not a great teacher but the boys loved him,” according to Sullivan’s biography on the website of the Irish Jesuits, written by historian Thomas Morrisey, S.J.

He would often visit the sick, the dying, and people who were troubled.

Even while he lived, many people attributed their healings to his prayers, including the nephew of Irish Free State founder General Michael Collins. The three-year-old boy, who had the same name as his famous uncle, had infantile paralysis that bent his leg in intense pain. After lengthy prayers with the priest, he was healed.

Not long after Fr. Sullivan’s ordination, he visited the Royal Hospital for Incurables at Donnybrook, he visited a woman who was suffering from lupus. The condition had begun to affect her mind and she was being prepared for a move to a mental hospital. Father Sullivan stayed with her for a long time and prayed over her.

The next day she had returned to full mental health, a state which lasted until her death, and she was able to re-establish disrupted friendships.

People also attributed to him a gift for knowing the future, and a gift for ministering to those with scruples, obsessions or compulsions.

“When God forgives me my sins, he buries them beneath a large stone. It is desecration to root them up again,” he would say in response to such cases.

The priest was known for ascetic practices: sleeping on the floor instead of his bed, placing stones in his walking boots, eating the plainest food, and sleeping for only a few hours a night so that he could pray late into the night and early in the day.

Father Sullivan was born in 1861 on Dublin’s Eccles Street, not far from the church where he is buried. He was raised in the Protestant Church of Ireland.

His father, Edward Sullivan, was a successful barrister who became Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His mother, Elizabeth Bailey, was a devout Catholic from a prominent County Cork family.

He attended elite Protestant schools in Ireland before studying law in London. For a time, he stopped going to church. His father passed away when he was 24, providing a great shock to him.

By the early 1890s he appeared to have no clear religious views, but was moved by the Confessions of St. Augustine. He began to sit in on religious instruction classes and read a catechism and Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

In 1895 the U.K. government appointed him to a commission to investigate widespread massacres of Armenians in Asia Minor. He taught English in Greece and spent time at Mount Athos, a center of Orthodox Christian monasticism.

He was received into Catholic Church in 1896, at the age of 35. The event was a surprise to his family, and though it drew some criticism from some Protestants, Sullivan’s reputation was such that he was supported by both Protestant and Catholic friends.

He entered the Society of Jesus four years later.

Father Sullivan died Feb. 19, 1933, aged 71. His death prompted outpourings of appreciation and affection and his funeral turned into a procession through the streets of Dublin.

His vault at St. Francis Xavier Church has served as a place of prayer for many people, especially those seeking healing. The monthly Mass said for his canonization regularly draws over 200 people.

He was declared a Servant of God in 1960 under Pope John XXIII and declared Venerable by Pope Francis in November 2014.

A Dublin woman’s healing from cancer in 1954 after praying for his intercession was recognized as Father Sullivan’s first miracle by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2016.

Never tire of fighting for human rights, religious liberty advocate insists

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2017 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid a rising tide of violence, imprisonment, and harassment on account of people’s religious beliefs, the United States cannot grow weary of defending religious freedom, a leading advocate insisted Wednesday.

“It’s kind of a fatigue that people get on these kinds of issues, that ‘they’re happening everywhere and what can you do’,” Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told reporters on a conference call April 26. “And we think that’s really a tragedy.”

Any violation of freedom of religion “is something that impacts people on a very fundamental level,” he continued. “It’s human beings that are in jail, it’s human beings that are being tortured and persecuted. Religious beliefs are at the core of who we are and our identity as persons.”

USCIRF, a bipartisan commission which, in the words of its chair, “monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad” and makes policy recommendations to Congress, the State Department, and the White House, released its annual report on international religious freedom on Wednesday.

In 1998, the International Religious Freedom Act created the commission and mandated that both it and the State Department release annual reports on the state of religious freedom.

It also created the office of Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom. That office has been vacant since President Donald Trump assumed office.

“In order to help protect and preserve this right [religious freedom] for all, our American government should do more, and as a first step, nominate and confirm an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

“As a nation, we cannot ensure that the fundamental right of religious freedom is protected for all people if we do not actively address the egregious violations being committed by nations with whom the United States interacts, including our own allies,” he continued.

In the last year, the situation for global religious freedom grew worse, the USCIRF report said, “in both the depth and breadth of violations.”

For instance, the Islamic State perpetrated genocide against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, which in March of 2016 then-Secretary of State John Kerry declared was taking place, the first time the U.S had declared genocide as it was occurring since 2004.

Egregious abuses like “attempted genocide” and “wholesale destruction of places of worship” have overshadowed countless other abuses like anti-blasphemy laws, restrictive laws on association, registration laws for religious minorities, and government harassment of religious minorities in the name of national security, the report said.

One of the key aspects of the report is the commission’s recommendations for the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list. The State Department designates certain countries as CPCs to draw public attention to the areas where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place.

The CPC designation carries with it legal “tools” that the president and Congress can use to pressure these countries to improve the respect for freedom of religion there, like imposing sanctions or negotiating a binding agreement when necessary after previous consultations with the government in question, the report said.

Currently China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan occupy the CPC list.

In Burma, a whole class of persons, the Rohingya Muslims, are not recognized as citizens, thus remaining stateless and vulnerable to displacement and violations of their human rights. Christian minorities “are restricted from public worship and subjected to coerced conversion to Buddhism,” the report said.

North Korea features “one of the world’s most repressive regimes” where religious freedom is “profoundly repressed,” with people imprisoned, tortured, and killed because of their religious belief.

However, USCIRF also recommends that Russia, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam be on the CPC list.

Vietnam was previously designated a CPC by the State Department, but was removed from the list in 2006 despite USCIRF’s insistence that it remain.

“For the first time, we call out Russia as a CPC,” Fr. Reese stated on Wednesday at a teleconference introducing the report. “Vladimir Putin and the Russian government have shown themselves to be some of the worst and most serious violators of religious freedom in the world.”

He cited the recent ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating in the country by Russia’s supreme court as only the latest example of a troubling trend of violations, especially those related to the country’s use of an anti-extremism law. That law is used to crack down on religious minorities in the name of national security, USCIRF explained.

“The Russian government’s premeditated attack [on Jehovah’s Witnesses] demonstrates that it does not consider itself bound by internationally-recognized norms or conventions,” Fr. Reese said. “A Russian justice minister official reportedly described Jehovah’s Witnesses as a threat to public order and public security. Given that the witnesses are known globally for their pacifism and avoidance of politics, that statement is as absurd on its face as it seems.”

In the Caucasus region, the country’s anti-extremism law has been abused for years, Fr. Reese noted. “Anyone with a beard is considered an extremist and can be arrested,” he said.

He also noted that in Crimea, a Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in 2014, the nation is “imposing its very tough registration laws on the religions in the Crimea,” as well as the arrest of Muslim Tatar leaders and persecution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

In December 2016 another law passed the United States Congress to make major upgrades to the existing International Religious Freedom Act. Among other things, it called for the designation of “EPCs,” or “entities of particular concern” for non-state actors which perpetrate serious abuses of religious freedom, such as the Islamic State, which “can at times be the most egregious violators of religious freedom,” Fr. Reese noted.

USCIRF recommended that the State Department use the EPC label for three groups: the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The reason why groups like al-Qaeda and Boko Haram were not recommended for EPCs is because they lost territory and “political power” that other groups like the Islamic State had, Fr. Reese explained.

Additionally, the commission had previously recommended a CPC status for Egypt and Iraq, but decided not to do so in 2017.

In Egypt “we see positive steps,” Fr. Reese said, pointing to the government’s “engagement with minority religious communities” like the embattled Coptic Christians. However, these minorities are still subject to serious attacks by Islamic State affiliates, he maintained, and the country has “a dismal overall human rights situation.”

In Iraq, Islamic State “continues to commit genocide and ruthlessly targets anyone who does not adhere to its barbaric worldview,” Fr. Reese said, yet “the central government has tried to decrease sectarian tensions.”

“Tier 2” countries are not the worst violators of religious freedom, but serious abuses still took place in these areas. USCIRF listed Afghanistan, Azerbajan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey as Tier 2 countries.

Bahrain was listed as a Tier 2 country for the first time, Fr. Reese explained. “That government’s campaign against its majority-Shia Muslim population intensified during the year, particularly a significant increase in the number of arrests and unfounded charges against Shia clerics,” he said.

The report also made recommendations for U.S. refugee policy, including the reauthorization of the Lautenberg Amendment which would help with the resettlement of persecuted religious and ethnic minorities fleeing Iran. “We have supported that as a way of facilitating the resettlement of people who have suffered religious persecution,” Fr. Reese said.

These persons “are very vulnerable,” he said of those fleeing persecution, and they should “get a priority in terms of refugee status” which is “based on their vulnerability.”

President Trump, in a revised executive order in March, temporarily halted refugee resettlement and ultimately called for a cap to refugee admissions in FY 2017 at 50,000, down from the 85,000 the U.S. accepted the previous fiscal year and the planned number of 110,000 in FY 2017.

“In response, USCIRF urged the Trump Administration to continue refugee resettlement,” the report said. “While resettlement to a third country is only possible for less than one percent of the world’s refugees, it is a vital protection for the most vulnerable, especially at a time of appalling mass atrocities and unprecedented forced displacement.”

The number of those forcibly displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded, over 65 million as of 2016, according to the UN.

USCIRF also monitored abuses of religious freedom in Western Europe, including an increase of anti-Semitic incidents and Islamophobia.

Laws restricting religious dress and the “ability to wear symbols” like France’s ban on burqas “are causing more unrest and problems,” Fr. Reese insisted. “I think it’s something that we want our friends in Europe to take a second look at.”

Another recommendation the report made was for the U.S. to not refer to freedom of religion as “freedom of worship.”

Such a reference, it said, “does not convey all aspects of the internationally protected right to freedom of religion or belief, which includes choosing, changing, and sharing one’s beliefs, as well as holding no religious beliefs.”

Mexican pro-lifers demand expulsion of 'abortion ship'

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 26, 2017 / 03:34 pm (Church Pop).- With abortion illegal in Mexico, a ship providing the procedure has landed on the country's coast, drawing outrage from the local pro-life movement.

The boat, property of the the Dutch abortion NGO Women on Waves, was expelled from Guatemala in February this year and will be stationed off the Mexican coast April 21-23.

According to the Women on Waves website, during these days they will perform abortions on women “up to nine weeks pregnant.” The vessel dropped anchor in international waters across from the port of Ixtapa in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

Among the Mexican institutions that support the “abortion ship” are GIRE (Group for Information on Chosen Reproduction), the abortion multinational Catholics for Choice, and IPAS which funds abortion initiatives in various parts of the world.

The international pro-life website CitizenGo, however, said that Women on Waves is trying to “circumvent the law” and that “they are running interference by choosing precisely the dates prior to the tenth anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico City, Monday, April 24.”

In a petition drive addressed to the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto and senior military officials, CitizenGo said that “abortion in Mexico is in no case considered a right. It is decriminalized in the case of rape provided the rape has been reported.”

“And in the case of Mexico City it is decriminalized, not legalized – in specific circumstances,” the organization said. “Trying to circumvent the law is a malicious fraud. Attempting to change it is interference and an attack on national sovereignty.”

Smaller changes expected from Council of Cardinals' latest meeting

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 03:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals met this week to continue discussion on reforming the Roman Curia, focusing on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council Promoting the New Evangelization.

According to an April 26 communique, during their 19th session the cardinals studied texts to propose to Pope Francis regarding the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the three courts.

No big changes are expected out of this latest round of meetings – those changes were the new dicasteries formed last fall, Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office, told journalists at a briefing Wednesday.

This time, Burke said, the cardinals and Pope focused on regulation within the departments, hoping to arrive at something like a “new Pastor bonus,” the 1988 apostolic constitution of St. John Paul II that regulates the competencies and work of the Roman Curia.

In the meetings they inspected texts for the three courts of the Roman Curia: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura, and the Roman Rota.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is the tribunal in charge of cases involving excommunication and serious sins, including those whose absolution is reserved to the Holy See, while the Signatura functions as a sort of Supreme Court. The Rota, for its part, is akin to a court of appeals or court of “last instance,” and is also where marriage nullity cases are judged.

They also spent a significant amount of time discussing the selection and training of staff of the Holy See, both laity and clerics.

In addition to the nine members of the council and Pope Francis, officials of the State Secretariat, the Council of the Economy, and the Office of Work of the Apostolic See (ULSA) also took part.

Cardinal George Pell gave an update on the Secretariat for the Economy, particularly on the monitoring of budgets and “the formation of personnel and human resources.”

The cardinals, in addition to speaking about the tribunals and bishop selection, continued to discuss points brought up during the last round of meetings, including the possible restructuring of the Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples and Oriental Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave an update on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he heads, speaking about their plenary meeting in March and their visits to various ministries.

Carrying over from previous meetings, the council of cardinals also discussed decentralization, the relationship between bishops’ conferences and the Roman Curia, and how to be more in service to local bishops.

Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the council serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus.

Keywords that have come out of the cardinals’ meetings so far and which have emerged as guiding principles for the ongoing Curial reform are harmonization, simplification, synodality, and the Church’s “missionary drive.”

The council of cardinals is set to meet again June 12-14 to continue discussion on moving forward in reforming curial structures.

Archbishop Aquila allows Boy Scout troops under Catholic guidelines

Denver, Colo., Apr 26, 2017 / 03:04 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has announced that parishes in his diocese may continue to charter Boy Scout troops, as long as they follow requirements to ensure that Catholic identity and teaching are upheld.

In his latest column in the Denver Catholic, the archbishop said that individual pastors may continue allowing their parishes to charter a scouting troop, as long as they meet the guidelines laid out by the archdiocese’s code of conduct. Leaders and members should support the Catholic Church and her teachings; refrain from approving or engaging in conduct that contradicts Catholic doctrine or morals; and promote and respect the dignity of the human person and human sexuality according to natural law and Catholic teaching.

The archbishop’s column came in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision in January to allow transgender scouts – biological girls who identify as boys – as well as the organization’s decisions in 2013 and 2015 to allow openly gay members and leaders, respectively.

“These decisions are social experiments that are rationalized away without accounting for the impact on the clear majority of boys who do not have gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction,” the archbishop said. “Indeed, it is not hard to see that there will be lasting consequences for current and future generations of American boys as they try to understand their own sexuality in their formative years.”

Despite these unfortunate decisions, he said, the Boy Scouts insist that they will allow Church-sponsored troops to operate in accordance with their faith and will defend these troops if lawsuits arise.

Archbishop Aquila recognized that “the core elements of Boy Scouting remain praiseworthy,” and that many men for more than a century have received meaningful formation from the organization. And since non-Catholic members and leaders who accept the troops’ Catholic character can also participate, parish troops are a chance to witness and evangelize.

After consulting with leaders of diocesan troops, he said that he had made the decision to continuing allowing both Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, while calling for all parish-sponsored troops to “reinforce their commitment to forming boys and girls into virtuous Christian young adults.”

For those who would like an alternative to Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, he recommended American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers’ Girls Clubs, the Federation of North American Explorers, Columbian Squires, Trail Life USA, and Fraternus. He also encouraged prayer for “the strengthening of the moral foundations of our society, especially those institutions that provide formation to youth.”

The Denver archbishop’s decision echoes that of several other bishops in responding to the Boy Scouts of America.

When the Boy Scouts first admitted openly gay members in 2013, the Diocese of Lincoln said that it would continue allowing parish-chartered troops, but would continue to evaluate the situation.

After the July 2015 decision to allow openly gay leaders, Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville announced that his diocese would continue to charter scouting troops but would carefully monitor them to ensure that no ideology contrary to the Catholic faith was present.

Similarly, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Illinois said that his diocese would continue to charter scouting troops, but stressed the need to be vigilant in upholding Catholic values.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., who serves as the episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting told CNA that the committee was “cautiously optimistic” that Catholic organizations could still be involved with Boy Scouts, but said that great care was needed.

After the January announcement this year, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said that it would remain in dialogue with the Boy Scouts, but noted its concern that “the latest in a troubling pattern of behavior” by the organization suggested that it is “becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.”

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting has stressed on several occasions that according to the charter rules under which the Boy Scouts operate, “A Catholic parish can establish a membership guideline that follows Catholic teaching.” The Diocese of Phoenix and the Archdiocese of New Orleans have also voiced an intention to maintain Catholic troops that present models of Church teaching.

One prelate, Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, North Dakota, said that his diocese would disaffiliate from the Boy Scouts after their 2015 decision to allow openly gay leaders.  

In his column, Archbishop Aquila stressed Catholic principles of committing to “the dignity of the human person, the understanding of man and woman as made for each other, the virtue of chastity and the protection of children, especially from different forms of abuse, which includes enabling and/or encouraging gender dysphoria.”

He recognized the importance of not leading others – especially children – into scandal, and reiterated that “discussions about sexual attraction, orientation, and lifestyle choices have no place in scouting” but should be addressed by parents instead.


Jim Harbaugh: My priorities are 'faith, then family, then football'

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, now head coach for the University of Michigan football team, is also a Roman Catholic – and he said Wednesday that faith plays a major role in his life.

“The role that (faith) plays in my life is in the priorities that I have,” he said April 26, “faith, then family, then football.”

Coach Harbaugh spoke to CNA following a general audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square April 26. He and his wife, Sarah, greeted Francis following the audience and presented him with a gift from the team – a University of Michigan helmet and pair of cleats.

The helmet included both the Italian and American flags and a little cross by the chinstrap. The Pope gave Harbaugh “some marching orders,” the coach said, “he told me to pray for him.”

Following the encounter, Harbaugh and his family and the University of Michigan football team were hosted for lunch on the terrace of the EWTN Rome bureau offices. After lunch they held a brief press conference.

Harbaugh, 53, has been head football coach for the University of Michigan since 2015. He played college football at Michigan from 1983-1986 and played in the National Football League (NFL) for 14 seasons from 1987-2000. He has seven children.

Speaking to CNA about his experience meeting Pope Francis, Harbaugh quoted his father-in-law, Merrill Feuerborn, who told him, “To live in a state of grace, put your trust in the Lord, and be not afraid.”

“When I met Pope Francis today, I was riding on a state of grace,” he said, “that feeling was beyond description. And I know that there's something that I'm supposed to do with that opportunity, with that encounter, of meeting the Holy Father. I'm going to pray about it.”

Harbaugh is in Rome April 22-30. He brought along his family as well as almost his entire team and staff – some 150 people. He said he wanted to give his players an experience they might not otherwise have.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, he brought the team and staff to Rome for a week of team-building, cultural and historical experiences, and of course, spring practices.

The aim of this trip was to “have an educational experience like none other,” he told CNA.

“Not all learning is done in a classroom or on a football field, you know? It's out connecting to people, and having a chance for our players and staff to see things they've never seen before, eat things they’ve never tasted, to hear a language they've never heard.”

One goal for the trip was to connect his team with people they otherwise might not have met, he said. Their first day in Rome, the group met and picnicked with a group of refugees, including several from Syria.

Later on Wednesday, Harbaugh and some members of the team and his family visited the SOS Children’s Village, a community made up of homes for children who are in positions of family or social hardship.

Harbaugh said that attending the general audience and meeting Pope Francis was an emotional experience, not just for him but for his team as well. Asked what he hopes his team will take away from the experience, he said just that “the relationship with God is a personal one.”

He said his suggestion for each of his players would be to spend time in silence and think and pray “about what it means, and what they should take away from it.”

“Because we don't always know what to do with it,” he continued. “I don't know what to do with the encounter I had meeting Pope Francis today. What exactly did it mean? What opportunity was given and what am I supposed to do with that?”

Immediately afterward, Harbaugh said he was able to speak with a priest from Detroit, Msgr. Robert McClory, about the experience: “And that was the advice that he gave me: to be silent, to pray, to be with God and listen, and you'll get it, you'll figure it out.”

Two players had the opportunity to get a little bit closer to the Pope during the audience, which Harbaugh chose through an essay competition. The winners, offensive lineman Grant Newsome and defensive tackle Salim Makki, both said they are inspired by Francis.

Attending the audience “was just an incredible experience,” Newsome said.

“Not only as a Christian, but as a person in general, just to listen to someone who is so internationally renowned as Pope Francis and to hear him and have him bless us was just an incredible experience for me and I know for a lot of the other guys on the team.”

Makki, a Muslim, said he looks up to Pope Francis as a hero. “He's always shown that Muslims and Christians and Catholics can combine – we're all brothers and sisters, we can co-exist together.”

Jack Wangler, a senior wide receiver told CNA, “I can speak for everybody, I think: this has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip.”

“It's been great to come here with the team and use it as a bonding experience and a cultural experience, to expand what we've learned in the classroom,” said Catholic fullback Joe Beneducci.

He told CNA that he remembers reading about the Church and the Vatican at school and watching St. John Paul II’s funeral on TV. “Coming here to see it in person, it put it all in perspective and made me appreciate it just that much more.”

“I think it's brought me closer to my faith as well, which is very nice.”

About the qualities of a good sportsman, Harbaugh said, “It talks about it in the Bible: strive hard to win the prize. To have that motivation, to have that quality of perseverance and discipline and drive is what really makes a good athlete.”

Sunday, before they leave to return to Michigan, Harbaugh’s infant son, John Paul, will be baptized at St. Peter’s Basilica. His daughter, Addison, will also make her first Holy Communion.

In the press conference, Harbaugh told journalists that if he accomplished nothing else in his life, to have met the Pope, and see his son be baptized and his daughter receive First Communion at the Vatican, would make him feel like “a blessed man.”

“This has been the experience of a lifetime.”