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With Nigerian elections postponed, Catholic leaders stress peace

Lagos, Nigeria, Feb 19, 2019 / 12:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have voiced disappointment at a last-minute delay in Nigerian elections, but called for Christians to remain peaceful and participate in the postponed vote next weekend.

Just before polls were set to open Feb. 16, election officials announced that the presidential and national assembly elections were being postponed until Feb. 23.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), said the decision was due to a delay in the delivery of ballots, and not a political move.

“Our decision was entirely taken by the commission. It has nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence, nothing to do with availability of resources,” said Yakubu, according to Africa News.

Catholic Action Nigeria said the delay places a burden on citizens, especially those who underwent difficult travels to vote. The group asked Yakubu to consider resignation if the delay continues.

“INEC had four whole years to plan for this election. No matter the excuses being bandied now, the postponement makes us doubt the readiness, sincerity and capacity of INEC to give Nigerians a free and fair and credible election they truly deserve, even in the coming week,” the statement read, according to NAIJ.

At the same time, Catholic Action encouraged Nigerians to vote in the rescheduled election. The group said residents cannot quit working for a better nation.

Electors should “vote in a government that will put Nigeria and Nigerians first and uphold the values and dignity of human life as espoused through the social teachings of the Catholic Church,” the group said in its statement.

Catholics in the country also offered prayers for the future of their nation.

Father Ben Alozie challenged parishioners at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Catholic Church in Lagos to entrust the upcoming election to God’s providence.

“As a church, we are first Nigerians before being members of our congregation; therefore, we need to take that which is of concern to our country to God in the same way we take our individual needs to God for a solution,” he said Feb. 17, according to NAIJ.

“Saturday’s elections will determine to a large extent the fate of our dear country in the next four years; so, no amount of supplication is enough to God in order for us to have a peaceful country after the polls.”

Africa Independent Television reported that Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka asked Nigerians to take the rescheduling in good faith and not give up on INEC.

He disagreed with the call for Yakubu’s resignation, saying this would only lead to confusion at a time when the nation needs unity and a focus on a successful election.

The election in Nigeria comes as crashing oil prices leave the country facing economic uncertainty. The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Over the weekend, 11 people were killed in an attack by the group south of Maiduguri, the BBC reported.

Vatican restores priestly faculties to Ernesto Cardenal

Managua, Nicaragua, Feb 18, 2019 / 05:28 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has restored priestly faculties to 94-year-old Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, who had been suspended a divinis in 1984 for holding a cabinet position in Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, in violation of canon law.

“The Holy Father has graciously granted the absolution of all canonical censures imposed on Rev. Father Ernesto Cardenal, accepting the request he had recently made to him through the Pontifical Representative in Nicaragua, to be readmitted to the exercise of the priestly ministry,” said a Feb. 18 statement from the Apostolic Nunciature of Nicaragua.

The statement, signed by Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua, said that “Cardenal has been under suspension of the exercise of the priestly ministry for 35 years due to his political party involvement. The religious accepted his canonical penalty imposed on him and has always observed it without carrying out any pastoral activity. In addition, he had abandoned all political commitment for many years.”

Cardenal, a poet and Marxist liberation theology activist, actively collaborated with the Sandinista National Liberation Front revolution that ended the dictatorship of then-president Anastasio Somoza. He was appointed Minister of Culture the same day the Sandinistas were victorious on July 19, 1979, an office that he held until 1987.

He was suspended a divinis by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1984 for violating canon law by assuming a public office that involves the exercise of civil power.

Several other priests – including Ernesto’s brother Fernando, Miguel D’Escoto and Edgard Parrales – were also suspended.  

John Paul II publicly reprimanded Cardenal when he visited Nicaragua in 1983. In a now-famous photo, the Polish pope can be seen with a serious expression, standing before the Nicaraguan priest who is genuflecting and smiling.

Cardenal would say some time later that on that occasion the Holy Father asked him to “regularize his situation.”

In a January 2017 interview, Cardenal said that his suspension was still in place and he was “not interested in their lifting it.”

The statement announcing the lifting of Cardenal’s suspension references a request made by the priest to Pope Francis, indicating a change of position on the part of the priest since the 2017 interview.

According to the El Nuevo Diario news, Cardenal has been hospitalized in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua since Feb. 4 for a kidney infection.

Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez of Managua posted on Twitter Feb. 15 a photograph of the visit he made with Cardenal in the hospital.

“Today I visited in the hospital my priest friend, Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, with whom I was able to talk for a few minutes. After praying for him, I knelt down in front of his bed and asked his blessing as a priest of the Catholic Church, to which he gladly agreed. Thanks, Ernesto!” Bishop Báez wrote.

Analysis: What can the Vatican sex abuse summit deliver?

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- At a press conference in Rome this morning, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago underscored the scope and expectations around this week’s global Vatican summit on sexual abuse.

 

The cardinal made it clear that the three-day meeting was strictly dealing with the abuse of minors, and would not look at wider issues of clerical sexual abuse – most notably the sexual abuse of adults, including seminarians.

 

Cupich warned that “including other topics” would “inflate expectations” and distract from “the task at hand.”

 

The cardinal’s comments came barely 48 hours after it was announced that Theodore McCarrick had been expelled from the clerical state for a number of sexual abuse-related offences, including adult seminarians in dioceses he formerly led.

 

The hour-long question and answer session offered more details about the aims of the summit, which will include the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world. But the scrupulously narrow focus on minors, and the stated objectives of the conference raise a number of questions about what American Catholics, including many bishops, can hope to see from Rome in response to months of scandal.

 

The clear goal of the meeting is to impress upon the world’s bishops the seriousness of dealing with child sexual abuse at all levels of the Church hierarchy. To this end, Cupich highlighted measures already in place in the United States which, he noted, were proving successful, such as safe environment programs and enhanced screening of seminary candidates.

 

More broadly, bishops in the United States have noted the effectiveness of the 2002 reforms brought in by the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms, which have coincided with a steep decline in reported abuse cases.

 

But if the wider purpose of the three-day meeting is to impress the seriousness of the child abuse crisis on bishops from elsewhere, and even underscore effective measures already in place in the U.S., American focus remains on accountability for bishops and abuse cases of all kinds involving them personally.

 

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Discussing the future of episcopal accountability, Cupich made a surprising reference to Come una madre amorivole, the 2016 motu proprio issued by Pope Francis setting out legal mechanisms for reporting and handling complaints against bishops, including for negligence or abuse of office in abuse cases.

 

“It is the document Come una madre amorivole that outlines procedures for holding bishops accountable,” Cupich said. The reference to Come una madre was surprising to many, since Pope Francis had previously said in public that he had abandoned these very processes.

 

During the inflight press conference on his return from Dublin in October last year, Pope Francis said he had effectively junked the procedures of Come una madre because they “weren’t practical and it also wasn’t convenient for the different cultures of the bishops that had to be judged.”

 

Francis even went as far as expressing frustration that prominent reform advocate Marie Collins, herself a survivor of sexual abuse and a former member of Francis’ own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was “a bit fixated” with the document not being used.

 

For Cupich to suggest that Come una madre was once again a living document suggests a possible second papal reversal by Francis on his own reforms, even though his original reservations seemed to center on the very global applicability this week’s summit is meant to address.

 

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In November, an instruction from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops prevented U.S. bishops from voting on a raft of proposed measures aimed at increasing episcopal accountability – reforms which would have addressed many of the gaps left by the non-adoption of Come una madre in the first place.

 

The move left many frustrated but, on Monday, Cupich called the Baltimore measures “problematic” and said he did not believe they would have been adopted even if a vote had taken place.

 

Cupich floated an alternative proposal of his own during the Baltimore meeting. Reportedly drafted in concert with Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cupich's plan would rely upon existing structures within metropolitan provinces, instead of the creation of an independent national body to oversee complaints against bishops.

 

Both the original proposals and the so-called “metropolitan model” were turned over to a special USCCB committee for further study, and are expected to be discussed again in more detail when the bishops next meet, in June of this year.  

 

Despite the Baltimore setback, Cupich said, bishops’ conferences would have an important role to play in the future.

 

“The Holy Father does want episcopal conferences to take responsibility, that was never a question, but we have to do it in such a way that we work together with each other -- that is part of synodality -- that is part of the collegiality that this conference wanted to highlight,” Cupich said Monday.

 

What role this will be remains to be seen and, at least so far as it extends to episcopal abuse of adults like McCarrick’s, it seems unlikely it will become much clearer during this week’s summit.

 

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One thing the Chicago cardinal did say was that bishops have a personal responsibility to face up to.

 

“The Holy Father wants to make it clear to the bishops around the world, that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem… to make sure that people understand, on an individual basis as bishops, what their responsibilities are.”

 

Many commentators have noted in recent months that personal initiative and ownership have been distinctly lacking in some American bishops response to recent scandals, with many appearing to be waiting for a lead to follow, either from the USCCB or Rome.

 

A few have begun to take their own steps, especially after the inability to move forward as a group in Baltimore. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore recently announced an independent reporting mechanism for accusations of sexual abuse in the archdiocese.

 

Other options have been discussed. It has also been proposed that the canonical role of the Promoter of Justice could be given a broader remit in diocesan child protection policy, acting as a sort of attorney general by appointment of the local bishop, but with an enhanced degree of autonomy of action.

 

Other suggestions that bishops could implement without having to seek higher approval have included the passage of more nuanced and detailed laws for handling escalating clerical misconduct, in the hopes of addressing problem behavior early – before an act of child abuse is committed.

 

Such action would also allow bishops to address the sexual abuse of victims who are not technically minors, including people in their late teenage years and seminarians. Many have noted that the current legal framework, solely reliant on an age of consent, sees a case of child sexual abuse become an instance of mere moral failure when the victim turns eighteen.

 

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Cupich also told the world’s media that “there is a new day in terms of transparency,” and said that he hoped the upcoming summit would be remembered as a “turning point” in this regard.

 

It remains to be seen if this newfound commitment to transparency will extend to responding to calls for some kind of full disclosure about how Theodore McCarrick was able to rise through the episcopal ranks, despite apparent decades of complaints about his sexual abuse.

 

In Baltimore in November, Cupich spoke against a resolution by American bishops to encourage the Holy See to make available any documentation it could on that subject as soon as possible.

 

While talk at the press conference was of new days and strong messages, there is no shortage of Catholics in the United States and elsewhere already looking at this week’s meeting with a level of skepticism.

 

Indeed, the real challenge facing Cardinal Cupich and the other organizers may prove to be less about lowering “inflated expectations,” and more about convincing Catholics wearied by scandal that any progress made in the coming days will be meaningful.

Canonization causes open for Italian mother, religious sister

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2019 / 03:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican has announced the opening of canonization causes for two contemporary women, both of whom died in the 21st century. One, Enrica Onorante in Michisanti, was a lay woman and mother; the other, Mother Maria Bernardetta of the Immaculate, was a professed religious sister.

In an edict published in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, Onorante (“in Michisanti” denotes her husband’s surname) is described as a lay woman and mother who became known for her charitable work with developing countries.

While her life, from childhood, was marked by “a number of trials,” she was known for facing them “with trust in Divine Providence,” the edict states.

“A profound life of prayer enabled her to internalize her physical and moral suffering and spurred her to offer herself as a ‘living victim’, wholly abandoning herself to God’s will,” it adds.

Onorante became best known for her work as secretary for the Third World Help Committee of the Italian Episcopal Conference, which provided aid to various developing countries around the world.

“Discrete, attentive and always ready to welcome in order to serve, she made herself available for any task to further the mission of the Church,” the edict states. “With a truly ‘maternal’ style, she encouraged many men and women religious and priests from around the world in their pastoral work, thereby earning their esteem and affection.”

Her reputation for holiness and charity spread, and there is even an “Enrica Onorante Home” for impoverished children and their families named after her in Beira, Mozambique.

The cause for Servant of God Mother Maria Bernardetta of the Immaculate, professed sister of the religious congregation of the Poor Sisters of Saint Joseph, was also announced in an edict published in L’Osservatore Romano.

Mother Maria Bernadetta was born in Montella, Italy, a small town about 53 miles east of Naples, on October 15, 1918.

At the age of 17, she began her postulancy with the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph, an Argentinian-founded order of sisters who serve the poor in various apostolates, including schools, parishes, hospitals, missions, homes for single mothers, and nursing homes.

Three years later, she professed her first vows.

“For all of her Sisters she was an example of humility, piety, diligence, goodness and abandonment to Divine Providence,” the edict stated.

She served in communities throughout the world, including in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in the state of Virginia, “making herself available to all, lending an ear to seminarians and priests, supporting them in their priestly vocation and in difficult moments.”

“She lived by showing, in everyday actions, love for priests, her Sisters, her family and the poor,” it added.

The founder of the community of sisters, Mother Camila Rolon, has also been declared Venerable by the Vatican, meaning her life has been found to be one of heroic virtue and her cause for canonization is also open. Today, the sisters have communities in Virginia, Argentina, Uruguay, Romania, Madagascar, and Italy.

In both edicts announcing the canonization causes of the women, Catholics are encouraged to contact the postulators of the causes or the diocesan tribunals with “any information which could in some way offer elements favourable or contrary to the reputation of holiness of the said Servant of God.”

The edicts also requested that any writings from either Servant of God be submitted to either the postulator of their causes or to the tribunals.

“We would point out that the term ‘writings’ indicates not only printed works, which have already been collected, but also manuscripts, diaries, letters and all other private writings of the Servant of God. Those who wish to keep the originals may present duly certified copies,” the edicts state.

Once these testimonies and writings are collected, they will be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. If the congregation votes to keep the cause open, they will send a recommendation to the Holy Father, who can then issue a Decree of Heroic Virtues.

If this decree is issued, the person will then have the title of Venerable, and the cause continues. An approved miracle, through the intercession of a Venerable person, must be approved by the Vatican before one can be declared Blessed. A second miracle is needed for canonization.

 

Report: Children living in the shadow of war

Denver, Colo., Feb 18, 2019 / 01:50 pm (CNA).- A new report commissioned by an international children’s charity has revealed that 420 million children, or nearly one in five worldwide, lived in “areas affected by armed conflict and war” in 2017— a twenty-year high.

Save the Children (STC) commissioned the report and the Peace Research Institute Oslo conducted it, releasing this year’s findings Feb. 14.

According to a release from Save the Children, today’s conflicts are usually “protracted, urban and fought among civilian populations.” In addition, combatants increasingly flout international rules and norms, leading to more children being forced to live and grow up in conflict areas.

The report states that 142 million children are living in high-intensity conflict zones, defined as an area with more than 1,000 battle-related deaths in a year. Nearly 90 percent of Yemen’s children, 70 percent of Syria’s children and 60 percent of Somalia’s children were living in close proximity to high-intensity conflict in 2017, the report reads.

International agreements such as the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child include prohibitions on indiscriminate attacks and provisions for the protection of education for children, an obligation STC says is ignored in many modern conflict zones.

“It is shocking that in the twenty-first century we are going backwards on principles and moral standards that are so simple – children and civilians should never be targeted,” said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.

Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria and Somalia were the ten worst conflict-affected countries for children in 2017, the report states. All of these countries are located in the Middle East or Africa.

Keyan Salarkia, one of the report’s co-writers, told Vatican News that 870,000 children under the age of five have died in those countries during the last five years alone.

“The hospital waiting rooms were full of sick, starving children; so weak they didn’t even have the energy to cry,” Save the Children’s Chief Executive Helle Thorning-Schmidt said of her observation of the Yemeni conflict. A four-year-old civil war has plunged a vast majority of the nation’s 29 million people into pre-famine conditions; between 13,500 and 80,000 people have been killed so far and more than 2 million have been displaced from their homes.

The United Nations defines six “grave violations” against children, which include: being killed, maimed, recruited by armed groups or abducted, sexual violence, attacks on schools and denial of humanitarian aid. According to UN data grave violations against children rose worldwide from just under 10,000 in 2010 to a record number of more than 25,000 in 2017, though the report admits that the numbers may be significantly underreported. Similarly, the report notes that there are currently no comprehensive, reliable data on child casualties in conflicts around the world.

STC highlighted a general failure to uphold internationally-agreed on standards of conduct in conflict; a failure to hold perpetrators of violations to account; and a lack of practical action on the ground to protect children and support their recovery as three main dimensions of the “war on children.”

In terms of emerging solutions to these problems, the full report details a number of potential steps that can be taken to improve the lives of children in conflict zones. STC calls for the UN General Assembly to establish “a standing impartial, independent and international mechanism that can be activated to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses, notably children’s rights.”

Pope Francis has made advocacy for children in conflict zones a key focus during his pontificate, highlighting the plight of those suffering in places such as Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan.

Most recently, the pope called for prayers for the people of Yemen “because there are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have no medicine, and are in danger of death.”

“The cry of these children and their parents rises before God,” he said.

“I appeal to the interested parties and to the international community to urgently encourage compliance with the agreements reached, to ensure the distribution of food and to work for the good of the population.”

Francis said he is following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great concern, noting that the people of the country are exhausted by the conflict and the lack of access to food.