Catholic News Service – Top Stories

CNS Top Stories

Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For a few hours, Gio Gomez left the warmth of the Florida sun and headed north toward an arctic blast in Washington. She protected herself from the winter breeze while wrapped in a yellow and white Vatican flag outside the building ...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For a few hours, Gio Gomez left the warmth of the Florida sun and headed north toward an arctic blast in Washington. She protected herself from the winter breeze while wrapped in a yellow and white Vatican flag outside the building of the Organization of American States, the place where diplomats and an array of officials from the three American continents Jan. 11 were weighing "the situation in Nicaragua."

She made the trek from her home in the Miami-Dade area to Washington, she told Catholic News Service, to show support for the Catholic clergy in the Central American nation of Nicaragua.

Her native country has, for almost a year, been undergoing a crisis involving a government accused by detractors, like Gomez, of killing and injuring its citizens, violating their human rights (as well as their right to free and fair elections), threatening independent media and usurping power.

In the middle of it all, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, from its bishops to the laity, has been in the thick of the drama. The country's bishops attempted to dialogue with the government after massive protests and unrest erupted in April 2018 when Ortega administration officials announced a plan to reduce pensions as a cost-cutting measure while increasing employee contributions to the social security system.

Though the government rescinded the proposal, the violent reactions toward it yielded hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries after police and pro-government forces clashed with dissenting civilians.

The country, which had showed modest but stable economic growth, also plummeted financially, resulting in even more public demonstrations of discontent. Those demonstrations migrated beyond the borders of Nicaragua. They regularly occupy space on Twitter via the hashtag #SOSNicaragua and expanded abroad in places like Washington and Florida, where Nicaraguan expats who feel they cannot be heard at home, are urging multilateral organizations such as the OAS to act against the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, whom they largely blame for the crisis.

"Gentlemen, ladies, don't be indifferent, they're killing people," Gomez shouted in Spanish. She was with about 200 other Nicaraguan immigrants outside the OAS building in Washington, as the regional forum met to weigh what action, if any, to take.

Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Washington-based OAS, an organization of 35 independent states from North, Central and South America, called for the urgent session in January to address the allegations against Nicaragua, an OAS member state.

During that meeting, Paulo Abrao, executive secretary for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH for its Spanish acronym), said the organization had determined that 325 Nicaraguans had died and at least 2,000 had been injured since anti-government demonstrations began in April 2018.

At least one of those deaths included the killing of a student from a Jesuit high school in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Alvaro Conrado Davila, 15, a student at the Loyola Institute, died April 20, 2018, after being hit in the throat by a rubber bullet.  

But Nicaragua Foreign Minister Denis Ronaldo Moncada Colindres disputed the accusations against his government. In a scene reminiscent of the Cold War, he accused the OAS secretary-general during the meeting of being a pawn of the U.S., reminded representatives of member states gathered in the room of "Yankee troops" marching into other Latin American countries and of past interventionism in the region, and said if illegal action was taken against Nicaragua, they could be next.  

"The government of Nicaragua rejects and condemns this convocation," he said, accusing Almagro of supporting terrorist groups that advocate overthrowing legitimate governments such as the one run by Ortega and Murillo.

But even the legitimacy of the Nicaraguan government is in question. The Ortega administration, which has ruled the country for more than a decade, has been accused of using the country's judicial system to quash any significant political opposition groups. The administration exerts control over all branches of government.

Moncada Colindres classified those opposing Ortega as terrorists or as paid actors of the "ultra-right" of the United States, posing as pacifist workers for nongovernmental organizations, he said, but intent on attempting a coup. He used the example of a priest in Nicaragua threatening violence against local police. Media reports said the priest was trying to calm the situation by marching through the streets with the Eucharist.

Though the relationship between the government and a church on the side of the Nicaraguan people seems tense at best, it wasn't always so.

In a Jan. 3 telephone interview with CNS from Managua, Catholic journalist Israel Gonzalez Espinoza explained that in the past Catholic authorities had worked with the Ortega government, including in an effort that resulted in 2006 with getting a national law approved that banned abortion. The relationship between the church hierarchy and government was "cordial," Gonzalez said, and differences were discussed privately.

In 2014, the country's bishops met with Ortega and presented him with a document, an "X-ray," of the country's problems, Gonzalez said, including the need to guarantee free and fair elections in 2016. They also pointed out in the document the need to stop "political manipulation of religious symbols for political interest" and the "appropriation of terminology and values of the Catholic religion" incorporated into partisan slogans.

"They never received a response" from the administration, said Gonzalez, who covers the Catholic Church for the Spanish-language online site Religion Digital.

By the time the Nicaraguan bishops met with the Ortega administration last year to try broker peace and open a dialogue following the protests, government officials had dug in their heels.

"They just wanted to talk about the economic situation, that was their 'war horse,' saying that at the international level, Nicaragua was an economically stable country" and the government shouldn't be questioned, Gonzalez said.

But since then, the economy contracted. The Inter Press Service news agency reported in September that "more than $900 million have fled the financial system" in Nicaragua since the conflict started. The economic instability seemed to fuel public shows of discontent.

Catholic churches have served as places of refuge during some of the clashes, especially since young Nicaraguans, many of them Catholic, have been involved in some of the demonstrations.

Prelates such as Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez have come under fire and even physical attack by pro-government groups for speaking out against the Ortega administration. That's what prompted Nicaraguans abroad, such as Gio Gomez, to seek help abroad, not just for other Nicaraguans, but also the Catholic Church as an institution in Nicaragua.

"Their rights are under attack," said Gomez, waving a blue and white Nicaraguan flag as OAS members left the building. Though no action was taken against the Ortega administration Jan. 11, the OAS is considering various upcoming diplomatic options.

Though OAS representatives from Venezuela and Bolivia backed Nicaragua, many seemed to side with Secretary-General Almagro, who offered strong rebuke during the meeting saying that the "grave" situation in Nicaragua prompted a deeper look at the country because democracy cannot exist amid repression and violation of human rights.

When a government openly violates basic human rights, he said, "it's obvious that it has forgotten that sovereignty is rooted in the people."

Referencing the OAS meeting, Nicaragua's Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said to online news site Confidencial in early January that "if an observation has merit, I think it has to be evaluated well, and those things that need to be changed, well, they need to change, for benefit of the country."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: January 17, 2019, 5:22 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- About 1,000 young Catholic Australians left their homeland to participate in World Youth Day in Panama.

But, since they were in the neighborhood -- well, make that hemisphere -- about half of them made a visit to Washington prior...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- About 1,000 young Catholic Australians left their homeland to participate in World Youth Day in Panama.

But, since they were in the neighborhood -- well, make that hemisphere -- about half of them made a visit to Washington prior to World Youth Day to take part in the annual March for Life. The other half made a pilgrimage to Mexico City to see the site where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego.

Why, though, would Australians want to participate in the march when American law plays no role in Australian law?

"What America does in this (issue) does affect the whole world," said Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia's largest city, citing the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, and how state laws are affected.

Australian law, according to Archbishop Fisher, similarly makes distinctions on what belongs in the federal purview and what is germane to its states, such as New South Wales, where Sydney is located.

Abortion is still outlawed in Australia's states, "but the courts have ruled that to save the life or health of the mother, an abortion may take place," he said.

"It's hard in Australia to get late-term abortions," the archbishop said, defining "late-term" as the third trimester.

Australia's biggest pro-life challenge is euthanasia, Archbishop Fisher said. A couple of states have already legalized the practices, and advocates of physician-assisted suicide would like to alter the law so that medical professionals "legally be required to cooperate" with any euthanasia wish, he added.

Another challenge for the Catholic Church in Australia is a Royal Commission report issued last year on clergy sex abuse.

The Royal Commission said the bishops should urge the Vatican to change canon law so that "the pontifical secret" -- the confidentiality surrounding a canonical investigation and process -- "does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse."

Further, the Royal Commission asked that the bishops urge the Vatican to eliminate the "imputability test" of canon law when dealing with cases of clerical sexual abuse. This test means, in essence, that a person's level of guilt for a crime is lessened to the degree that he or she was not aware that the action was wrong; if the imputability is diminished, canon law would recommend a lesser penalty for the guilty.

The commission also recommended the bishops work with the Vatican to amend canon law to remove the time limit for commencement of canonical actions relating to child sexual abuse, but the bishops, in a response to the report, said this was already the practice in Australia.

Archbishop Fisher said two Australian states have already made it law requiring for priests to break the seal of the confessional -- a law that, as reported by Australia's state broadcaster ABC, priests have said they will not follow.

The archbishop said it was presumptuous of the Royal Commission to think that one nation's bishops would ask the church worldwide to "alter its universal teaching." He added he found it ironic that, following a recent case where a criminal defense attorney turned out to be a police informant, Australia's legal community wants to "enshrine" lawyer-client confidentiality in Australian law, yet not extend "confessional privilege" to the church.

Changes in the law, Archbishop Fisher said, would not help uncover more abuse, but would likely hinder it, as any priest considering confessing to abuse would instead not confess to keep the abuse from being reported.

Be that as it may, he added, confession is an "underutilized" sacrament in Australia. There are "church centers in the cities where thousands" of Catholic go to confession, Archbishop Fisher said, "but in the parishes, it's much, much less."

The archbishop said he hopes the Vatican meeting with the heads of bishops' conferences worldwide on clergy sex abuse drives home a few points: "that it's not Anglo-Saxon, it's not a media beat-up and it's of world proportions."

The problems surrounding the issue are "severe, they're real and they're universal" Archbishop Fisher said. "Sadly, I think there are bishops around the world who still do not get it," Archbishop Fisher said, but they should, he added, "learn from the American, the Irish and the Australian experience" before the issue comes knocking at their own door.

- - -

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: January 17, 2019, 2:22 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has created a set of pastoral guidelines to inspire and improve the church's work in addressing the crime of human trafficking and the care of its victims worldwide.

The Migrants and Refugees Section o...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has created a set of pastoral guidelines to inspire and improve the church's work in addressing the crime of human trafficking and the care of its victims worldwide.

The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development released its "Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking" Jan. 17 at a Vatican news conference.

"Pope Francis' insistent teaching on human trafficking provides the foundation for the present pastoral orientations which draw also from the longstanding practical experience of many international Catholic NGOs working in the field and from the observations of representatives of bishops' conferences," the text said.

"While approved by the Holy Father, the orientations do not pretend to exhaust the church's teaching on human trafficking; rather, they provide a series of key considerations that may be useful to Catholics and others in their pastoral ministry, in planning and practical engagement, in advocacy and dialogue," it said.

The Migrants and Refugees Section also released a separate publication, "Lights on the Ways of Hope," which compiles Pope Francis' teachings on migrants, refugees and human trafficking.

"Its purpose is similar to that of the 'Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,' to serve one and all as an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events" concerning the movements of people today, and as "a guide to inspire" people to look to the future with hope, the book's introduction said.

The nearly 500-page volume collects more than 300 complete or excerpted speeches, messages and reflections by the pope on the three themes.

Additionally, the collection is available online at https://migrants-refugees.va/resource-center/collection/ with a robust search engine to help people who are looking to study more in-depth what the pope has said, Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio, the section's undersecretary, said at the news conference.

While the printed volume compiles Pope Francis' teachings from 2013 to the end of 2017 in Italian and English, the online version will offer other languages and be updated with more recent talks by Pope Francis as well as the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II on migrants, refugees and human trafficking, said Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, the section's other undersecretary.

While the collected teachings offer a more academic service, the pastoral guidelines on human trafficking have the specific aim of inspiring action, aiding current efforts and reaching the long-term goal "to prevent and ultimately dismantle this most evil and sinful enterprise of deception, entrapment, domination and exploitation," Father Czerny said.

The International Labor Organization estimates there are more than 40 million victims of human trafficking around the world. It estimates 81 percent of victims are trapped in forced labor, 25 percent are children and 75 percent are women and girls. It also estimates that the trafficking of human beings for forced labor or sexual exploitation generates $150 billion a year, making it the third-largest crime industry in the world behind drugs and arms trafficking.

The complex and global nature of human trafficking requires a global and multidisciplinary response, the guidelines said.

"The booklet will help the church play its important role in this struggle," Father Czerny said, also announcing his office will host a three-day conference in April at the Vatican to discuss implementing the guidelines.

The orientations are "offered to Catholic dioceses, parishes and religious congregations, schools and universities, Catholic and other organizations of civil society and any group willing to respond," he said.

"They are for planning and evaluating practical pastoral engagement as well as advocacy and dialogue," adding that many of the points "should be read as proposals for policy" for governments.

"It is up to citizens to make it clear to their state that this is something that is going on within our borders" and requires action by the state, which is ultimately responsible for protecting the human rights and security of those within its borders, Father Czerny told reporters.

One area of concern, he said, is that the large numbers of migrants and refugees moving across borders are providing "fertile ground" for traffickers.

Looking specifically at North America's border concerns regarding "caravans" of people escaping Central and South America, he said it is "very important to see that migration policy and trafficking are linked."

"The more difficult you make it for people to move, the more likely they are to be trafficked so that is a very important consideration if we are really concerned about human rights and human dignity," said Father Czerny.

While the church has been actively engaged on multiple levels and places in the fight against trafficking for many years, "this handbook is really the first coherent publication pulled together" on the subject, making it "an important step" in this battle, he said.

The guidelines present pertinent quotes and teachings from Pope Francis and detailed input from church leaders, scholars and experts working in the field of trafficking.

They offer a reading and analysis of "Why does the depravity of human trafficking persist in the 21st century? How can it remain so hidden?" as well as an understanding of "How does the ugly, evil business of human trafficking operate?" Father Czerny said.

It concludes, he said, with action guidelines addressing, "What can be done to alleviate and eliminate human trafficking? How can it be done better?"

The 40-page booklet is available at https://migrants-refugees.va/resource-center/documents/ in formats suitable for professional reprints or for sharing online.  

- - -

Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: January 17, 2019, 2:10 pm