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Sudan Christians released after arrest, torture for converting from Islam

Al-Fashir, Sudan, Nov 15, 2018 / 09:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of 13 Christian converts in Darfur, Sudan was arrested and tortured last month for their faith, World Watch Monitor and several Christian aid groups have reported.

The Christians were reportedly taken from a home in southwest Darfur on October 13 and detained and beaten. Some were released shortly after their arrest, while the rest were released on October 21.

According to the Barnabas Fund, an aid group that supports persecuted Christians, those who were arrested had converted from Islam to Christianity, and were being punished for apostasy and pressured to convert back to Islam.

Sharia law remains the dominating system of law in Sudan. While 2005 amendments to the country’s constitution removed some references to Sharia, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir in 2011 vowed a stricter adherence to Sharia law.

Tajadin Idris Yousef, the pastor of the group, who was also arrested, was then made to appear before a court on October 28 for refusing to recant his faith while in police custody.

According to World Watch Monitor, he faces apostasy charges and must report to local authorities every three days. Nine of the men arrested recanted their Christian faith. They were forced to pay fines, and were ultimately charged with “disturbing the peace.”

Sudan ranks fourth on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of most difficult places for Christians to live, after North Korea, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

Virginia Catholics praise dismissal of assisted suicide by state legislature

Arlington, Va., Nov 15, 2018 / 03:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Virginia Catholics are praising the decision of a joint commission of the state legislature to take no action on a study on assisted suicide.

Last year, Del. Kaye Kory (D-Fairfax) asked the Virginia state legislature to consider legalizing so-called “medical aid-in-dying” or physician-assisted suicide.

After receiving public comment, the Joint Commission on Health Care, which was tasked with studying the issue, voted 10-6 on November 7 to take no action on the issue.

“I was very pleased to receive the news that the Virginia Joint Commission on Health Care rejected efforts that might ultimately have led to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in our commonwealth,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington told the Arlington Catholic Herald.  

“The commission received nearly 3,000 public comments against legalizing assisted suicide, and comments against assisted suicide outnumbered comments for assisted suicide 8-1! I thank the leadership of the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Arlington Diocese’s Office for Marriage, Family and Respect Life and so many citizens, especially among our Catholic faithful, for standing up for life!” he added.

In a statement posted to the Virginia Catholic Conference website, director of the conference Jeff Caruso said that voters’ voices had been “heard loud and clear” on the issue.

“In prayer and in public, your voices are urgently needed to bring Gospel values to bear on vital decisions being made by those who represent you,” he said.

Of the 3,000 comments against assisted suicide received by the commission, about 2,000 of them them were submitted through the Catholic Conference, Caruso told the Arlington Catholic Herald.

“The gift of life is something that should never be abandoned or discarded and that's the principal that was upheld by the joint commission,” he said.

Caruso said it was “very significant” that the commission declined to take action on assisted suicide, because it is something that could be helpful in the continued fight against legalizing it in the future.

The vote included all of the commission’s Republicans, as well as one vote from a Democrat on the commission. One of the commissioners who voted against assisted suicide was a surgeon, another was a physician.

Del. Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg), who has experience as a surgeon, told the Virginia Mercury that he voted to take no action because he had witnessed people who had long-outlived their prognosis.

“The resiliency of the human condition is truly an amazing thing,” he said. “Each one of us has certainly, many, many times in our professional careers been faced with somebody who had no chance, they’re going to die in three months, and yet in fact it just wasn’t their time yet.”

The commission did pass several measures to improve health care in the state’s jails and prisons, including actions aimed at improving mental health and substance abuse.

Kory told the Virginia Mercury that she would not propose any assisted suicide legislation this year.

The seven states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized assisted suicide.

 

Harvard students hold Catholic Sex Week to explain Church teaching

Cambridge, Mass., Nov 15, 2018 / 12:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After Sex Week at Harvard University this year, the Catholic Student Association hosted a series of talks designed to offer insight on the Catholic understanding of sexuality.

Hosted Nov. 6-8, this was the first Catholic Sex Week the student organization had conducted. The events followed Harvard Sex Week on Oct. 28-Nov.4, which included discussions on polyamory, fetishes, and contraception.

Jack Clark, vice president of intellectual development for the Catholic Student Association, helped organize Catholic Sex Week, which he said was not a rebuttal to Harvard Sex Week but an opportunity for people to learn a different perspective on sexuality.

“After Harvard Sex Week, we kind of did a few events of our own just to get people talking, to present the Catholic view of sexuality,” Clark told CNA.

“I think the biggest goal was to educate ourselves and to a lesser extent the Harvard community on the reasoning and the belief behind the Catholic view on sex and sexuality.”

The event included three discussions – featuring as speakers Fr Patrick Fiorillo, the undergraduate chaplain; Steve and Helene Bowler, a Catholic married couple; and Dr. Janet Smith, the keynote speaker who also holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

At the talk on Tuesday, Fiorillo explained in detail some of the points in Humanae vitae, the landmark encyclical reaffirming Church teaching against contraception, which marked its 50th anniversary earlier this year.

On Wednesday, married couple Steve and Helene Bowler shared their personal experience transitioning from a failure to live out the Church’s teaching on contraception to an eventual cooperation with it. Clark said the family is sympathetic to the difficulty of this teaching, but emphasized the spiritual growth it has produced.

Smith spoke on Thursday about the topic “Why sex is complicated.” The discussion approached a general understanding of the Catholic teaching on sexuality and how it differed from a do-what-you-want attitude, said Clark.

“Dr. Smith’s talk was really emphasizing the role of sex and how it can’t be separated from real emotional intimacy, from procreation, from the family, and obviously, from a Catholic perspective, we look at men and women as complementary.”

The first two talks were held at the Catholic center and attracted about 30 people each. The third event was held on campus and welcomed 60 attendees. Jack was not sure if any non-Catholics attended the events, and said he did not yet know if the series would be repeated next year, but he said he sees the talks as a success.

“I don’t think there is a plan to set this up as an annual thing, but we certainly want to build on the moment that we created. I think people are talking about Catholic views on sexuality more than they have been… I am excited to see where that energy goes, whether it is reading groups or discussions or more talks.”
 

Bishop Malone criticized for $200,000 house renovation

Buffalo, N.Y., Nov 14, 2018 / 07:31 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York has come under fire for reportedly spending an estimated $200,000 to renovate his new home - a former convent near St. Stanislaus Church.

Malone had announced in April that he would sell his bishop’s mansion to help pay for compensation for victims of sexual abuse in the diocese. He has since moved into his new residence with his priest assistant.

Internal diocesan documents and emails detailed the cost of the renovation, and were released in a Nov. 12 report from Charlie Specht of local news station WKBW. The estimated expenses include $22,000 for ramp access for handicapped visitors, $30,000 for landscaping, $7,200 to install WiFi, and $46,000 for a garage addition and a parking spot for staff.

Malone wrote in email released by WKBW that a visiting priest was “alarmed about my living in such a run down neighborhood” when Malone took him by the new residence.

“I wasn’t surprised by [the priest’s] reaction...no successor of mine would want to go there!” Malone wrote.

Publicly, however, Malone has told the press that he was looking forward to moving in, and said “it’s a good thing for me to be over there” in a neighborhood where “there are some encouraging signs.”

Last month, Siobhan O’Connor, former executive assistant to Malone, leaked internal diocesan documents to the local press. The documents purported to show that the diocese culled down a list of over 100 clergy accused of “criminal, abusive or inappropriate behavior” to a final, publicly released list of just 42 who were “removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry” due to allegations. This list was originally released in March.

The diocese has since added names of accused clergy to the list, bringing the total number acknowledged by the diocese to 78.  

O’Connor reportedly suggested to Malone in March that he could live in the rectory of St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, taking up residence in a newly-vacated suite and allaying some of the additional costs of renovating the convent.

Malone thanked O’Connor for the idea at the time but said he needed the additional space for his “rather ample personal theological library” and his piano, and said he preferred to live in a residence that was solely his own, and not a parish rectory, WKBW reported.

According to additional emails, Malone requested that the convent be used solely as his residence, despite the fact that the building had been used for parish meetings, choir practices, and gatherings since the 1970s.

“I prize privacy above most everything,” Malone reportedly wrote. “I cannot live in a building that is used or meetings, or for anything other than my residence.”

Kathy Spangler, spokesperson for the diocese, responded to the situation in a statement to local media.

She said the rectory at the cathedral was “simply not suitable for the gatherings [the] bishop hosts and was therefore not considered,” and that the convent was chosen in order to “accommodate the many gatherings and events that a bishop hosts during the year.”

She said much of the expensive work was being done to make the building handicapped accessible, as well as other non-cosmetic improvements such as repairing air conditioning and bringing electrical systems up to code.

Spangler also said Malone would not have made the move to the convent if he were concerned for his safety in that neighborhood, and that the bishop “does not want to be alone.”

CNA reached out to the Diocese of Buffalo for further comment but did not receive a reply by press time.

 

Cardinal DiNardo hopeful for Church in US

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2018 / 05:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Acknowledging that he was disappointed by the Vatican's decision to block a vote on sex abuse reform measures, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Wednesday he nonetheless sees a hopeful future for the Church in the United States.

In the closing statement of the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly Nov. 14, the president of the conference focused on the upcoming meeting of bishops’ conference presidents in Rome, and hopes that the discussions there among representatives of the global Church will assist with the continued “eradication” of sexual abuse in the Church.

DiNardo offered praise for the various abuse victim testimony and abuse experts throughout the week, saying that they had given him direction and “such good counsel in these last few days.”

In the wake of the allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, DiNardo reiterated how over the summer, the bishops committed themselves to three goals: an investigation of the claims against McCarrick, developing an easier way to report abuse, and developing a means of holding bishops accountable.

“We are on course to accomplish these goals,” DiNardo told the crowd of bishops.

“That is the direction you and the survivors of abuse have given me.”

DiNardo then proceeded to outline some of the “action steps” the bishops hope to take in the coming future. These include the creation of a process for complaints that are reported to a third-party compliance hotline, the completion of a proposal for a lay commission, and the creation of a national network of diocesan review boards and lay experts that will oversee metropolitans.

These steps represented a combination of some of the proposals that came up over the course of the week’s general assembly.

DiNardo also said that the bishops will look to finalize protocol and standards, and will be creating new guidelines for the release of list of names of priests who have substantiated claims of abuse. He also called for a “fair and timely” investigation of McCarrick and a publication of the results.

The bishops will be “committed to take the strongest possible action at the earliest possible moment,” he said. He looks forward to the February meeting, as he believes that working with the global Church will serve to make the Church in the United States even stronger.

“We must thus as bishops recommit to holiness and mission of the Church,” he said. He said that he is “confident” that along with Pope Francis, the Church will move forward “decisively” after this February’s meeting.

And despite Monday’s initial frustration, DiNardo said that the past three days were “a sign of hope for me, not a disappointment.”