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Michigan announces investigation into seven Catholic dioceses

Lansing, Mich., Sep 21, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has opened an investigation into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the state.

The inquiry was confirmed 21 Sept. in a statement posted on the attorney general’s official website, and will include all seven of the dioceses in Michigan: Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and the Archdiocese of Detroit.

While the investigation was confirmed publicly on Friday, a spokesman for Schuette told local media that the process had been launched in August 2018.

"The Michigan Department of Attorney General has determined that a full and complete investigation of what happened within the Catholic Church is required," the statement from Schuette said.

"This investigation is and will continue to be independent, thorough, transparent, and prompt. My department and this investigation will find out who knew what, and when."

The department’s official website also gave details of how to contact investigators, saying they wanted to hear from anyone with “information about the Catholic Church that you think would help [the investigation].”

In a statement given to local media, Schuette’s office said that the investigation will cover accusations of "sexual abuse and assault of children and others by Catholic priests,” including priests from religious orders, in Michigan. The the investigation will cover a period of nearly 70 years, from 1950 until the present. 

It is unclear if the investigation will be limited only to allegations of abuse committed by priests, or if it will extend to all clergy and lay employees of the Church in Michigan. The attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for clarification on this point.

In addition to direct accusations of abuse, the attorney general will also examine “any allegations related to the cover-up of sexual abuse or assault” by Church authorities.

In response to the announcement, Catholic dioceses in the state both welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement released by the Archdiocese of Detroit, which serves nearly 1.5 million Catholics, said that they “looked forward” to working with state officials and said that the archdiocese would actively participate in the inquiry.

The Archdiocese of Detroit also stressed its “full confidence” in archdiocesan safe environment policies, which it said have been in place for 15 years. The statement called the investigation “the next phase of our commitment to transparency and healing."

The Diocese of Saginaw issued a similar statement which noted their own commitment to safeguarding procedures and welcomed “the opportunity to work with law enforcement authorities to determine if there is more it can do to protect children.”

The announcement of the investigation follows the conclusion of a similar inquiry led by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. A grand jury report into the sexual abuse of minors in six dioceses in that state was released in July. That report identified more than 300 alleged abusers and 1,000 victims.

The Michigan attorney general’s office is already conducting similar investigations into Michigan State University and the Flint water crisis.

In addition to serving as attorney general, Schuette is also the Republican candidate in the upcoming election for governor in Michigan. He is running against Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a former prosecutor and state legislator.

A recent poll by Mitchell Research showed Schuette trailing his opponent by 10 points. Real Clear Politics puts Whitmer ahead by an average of 10.6 points and currently predicts a “likely Democrat” victory.

Schuette’s seven-year record as attorney general has attracted criticism during the campaign, with his opponents saying that the attorney's social conservatism is out of step with Michigan voters.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a statewide ban on gay marriage, a policy Schuette publicly supported. In 2016, he joined a lawsuit challenging federal school guidance on transgender students.

More recently, the attorney general issued an opinion in July challenging the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s determination that existing state bans on sex based discrimination were also applicable to sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

Schuette said the Commission’s reasoning was “invalid” and in clear conflict with the “original intent” and “plain language” of the legislation.

On Sept. 19, the U.S. bishops’ conference announced a series of new policies in response to recent sexual abuse scandals. These included a new third-party reporting mechanism for making complaints of sexual misconduct against a bishop, with such complaints being forwarded to civil law enforcement when appropriate.

No sign of Italian priest kidnapped in Niger

Niamey, Niger, Sep 21, 2018 / 02:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- There has been no sign of an Italian missionary priest kidnapped in Niger Monday night, a member of his community said.

“We have no news of Fr. Pierluigi. There has been no claim by the kidnappers at present,” Fr. Mauro Armanino of the Society of African Missions (SMA) told Vatican news agency Fides.

“However, the kidnappers have obtained a first result: everyone is talking about them all over the world,” he continued. “With the abduction of a Western missionary, a group which is probably not even a big group, has managed to gain global visibility.”

Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli, a member of the Society of African Missions, was serving in an isolated parish in South Niger, with few means of communication and transportation and little access to health care and water for residents, according to Vatican News.

The region has seen recent violence by jihadist groups. The Italian Foreign Ministry is investigating the case and has been in contact with the priest’s family.

Armanino suggested that the captors may be Fulani herdsman, mostly Muslim, who have increasingly clashed with local Christian farmers over scarce resources.  

Local sources told Vatican News the kidnapping could also be related to the priest’s strong stance against the local practice of female genital mutilation.

Pope Francis in Vilnius, the 'city of mercy'

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis will arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 22. During his first day in the city, the pope will take a walk in the streets of the Old City, and he will head toward the Gate of Dawn, one of the ancient points of access to the Lithuanian capital. There, he will pray the Rosary and deliver a speech before an icon of Mary Mother of Mercy.
 
The speech and the rosary were not initially part of the pope’s schedule in Vilnius. They were a last minute addition to program, and a very meaningful one.
 
Inessa Caukaskien, a member of the Vilnius pilgrimage center, told CNA that “the Gate of Dawn is one of the most ancient and important place of pilgrimage in Lithuania.”
 
The Icon of Mary Mother of Mercy is a significant object of devotion. One of the few icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary without the infant Jesus in her arms, it was painted between 1620 and 1630, and dressed and crowned of silver in the 18th century.
 
The painter is unknown, but the pilgrimage center records more than 8,000 graces obtained thanks to the prayers offered in front of the icon.
 
It was first known as the painting of the Madonna of the Gate of Dawn Chapel. It was Pope Pius XI who decreed that the name of the icon would become the Icon of the Holy Mother of Mercy.
 
St. Faustina Kowalska lived briefly in 1929 at the convent of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Vilnius, attracted by this veneration. It was in Vilnius that St. Faustina envisioned for the first time her devotion to Divine Mercy.
 
Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that “Sr. Faustina and the image of Divine Mercy are tangibly put together with the Holy Mother of Mercy icon by the fact that the shrine was the first place where the original image of Divine Mercy was exposed for a public veneration.”
 
He added that “the strong tie with the image of Divine Mercy and the Mother of Mercy Chapel continues to this day, marking Vilnius very much as a City of Mercy.”
 
“When Saint John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, Grusas continued, “he mentioned the cities where she has been, and among them was Vilnius. He gave a mandate of being apostles of mercy and to continue to spread that message, which is what we are continuing to try to do. This is the city where through St. Faustina, with the help of Bl. Sopocko, we spread around the world the message of mercy, we continue to proclaim that message today.”
 
St. John Paul II was linked to the Holy Mother of Mercy, too. There is a reproduction of the Icon in the Lithuanian chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica.
 
“That image,” Grusas told CNA, “is very much beloved by St. John Paul II. As a matter of fact, when he was elected pope, he went to the Lithuanian Chapel to pray in front of the reproduction of the icon. There, he prayed for his papacy. When he came to Vilnius, he also brought his cardinal’s zucchetto here, to fulfill a promise he had made to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, we have in the sacrity both Cardinal Wojtyla’s zucchetto and also his papal zucchetto, which he left as well.”
 
John Paul II kicked off his Sep. 4, 1993 visit to Lithuania with the rosary in the Chapel of the  Gate of Dawn. Pope Francis, then, will do the same.
 
The pope is also scheduled to go to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, where the original image of Merciful Jesus painted under St. Faustina indications is exposed and where perpetual Eucharistic adoration take place.
 
In this way, Pope Francis will honor his visit to the “city of mercy.”

 

Legal challenge to abortion law in Northern Ireland delayed

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sep 21, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A legal challenge to the prosecution of a Northern Irish woman who allegedly procured abortifacient medication for her underage daughter which was to have begun Thursday has been adjourned.

Declan Morgan, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, said Sept. 20 that “dealing with the case in the absence of understanding the Public Prosecution Service response to the Supreme Court would be entirely inappropriate.”

Abortion is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health. Abortion pills are illegal in Northern Ireland.

In June, the UK Supreme Court threw out a case challenging Northern Ireland's abortion law, saying the commission which brought the case does not have standing to do so. However, the judges also said the current law violates the European Convention on Human Rights by banning abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, and incest.

Morgan has delayed the hearing challenging the law, directing prosecutors to respond to the Supreme Court's indications within two weeks.

The woman faces two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying the pills with intent to cause a miscarriage under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

She had purchased the pills online in July 2013 for her 15-year-old daughter.

Bernie Smyth, a spokesperson for the pro-life group Precious Life, said outside the Belfast court that “the importance of this case is to send a very clear message out to the people in Northern Ireland, to women in Northern Ireland who would feel maybe their only option is to purchase very dangerous illegal abortion pills and we are saying there is another way.”

“It is vitally important that we uphold the law here in Northern Ireland,” iNews reported Smyth as saying.

Elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, and Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

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

In its June 2018 judgement, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that banning the abortion of unborn children with serious, but not fatal, abnormalities is compatible with the ECHR.

Northern Ireland's abortion law could be taken up by either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is currently suspended. The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party, is opposed to changing the law. Sinn Féin, another prominent party in Northern Ireland, backs a liberalization of the abortion law.

British prime minister Theresa May has said abortion should be a devolved issue for Northern Ireland. But Labour MP Diana Johnson is expected to introduce next month into the British Parliament a bill to decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland.

Catholic groups aid Philippines in wake of Typhoon Mangkut

Cebu, Philippines, Sep 21, 2018 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following a powerful typhoon that struck several Northern provinces in the Philippines late last week, Catholic relief groups are working to provide essential post-storm aid.

Typhoon Mangkut made landfall at Baggao in the province of Cagayan Sept. 14, bringing with it winds of 125 mph. At least 88 people have been killed and more than 60 are missing, according to Time.

UCA News reported that the typhoon has brought damage to 30 provinces across the Philippines and more than 264,000 people have been affected, including over 37,000 displaced individuals.

The most damaged regions are Cagayan Valley, a major source of the country’s corn and rice, and Benguet, a landlocked area known for its agriculture and mining. In some areas, residents have lost access to food, clean water, and other necessities.

Catholic Relief Services said an estimated 1.6 million farmers and fishermen have been affected, and up to 90 percent of the area’s corn and rice crops have been destroyed.

Due to landslides caused by the typhoon, many mountain communities remain isolated, and more damage is expected to be found as emergency teams gain access to these areas.

“We are having difficulty reaching distant barangays (villages) because of boulders, debris and landslides along the roads. The soil is still saturated and unsettled and we are concerned about additional landslides,” said Aprilynn Villamar, an emergency program officer with CRS.

“Some families in evacuation centers are not sure where they will go or how they will rebuild their houses. There are evacuees who are showing signs of shock. This is the most devastating thing they've ever experienced.”

Catholic Relief Services is sending water purification and storage kits to areas hit by the typhoon, and said shelter kits and cash assistance will follow shortly.

Caritas Internationalis has launched an appeal in Rome for financial relief efforts in the Philippines, saying, "After the storm has passed people will need help to restore their livelihoods.”