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U.S. bishops announce new abuse-prevention measures and call for McCarrick investigation

Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference has announced new accountability measures in response to recent clerical sex-abuse scandals. The reforms include the establishment of an independent reporting mechanism to receive complaints against bishops, and the development of a Code of Conduct for bishops.

A statement released Sept. 19 by the USCCB’s Administrative Committee said that the new steps being taken to combat abuse are “only the beginning,” and that consultations were underway with laity, clergy, and religious on how better to “repair the scandal and restore justice.”

The Administrative Committee’s statement announced four key policies.

The first is the creation of a confidential, third-party reporting mechanism to handle “complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop.” This system, the statement said, will direct those complaints to the appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

The statement also said that the USCCB’s Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance had been instructed to develop proposals for policies to address restrictions on bishops who have either resigned or been removed following “allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.”

The Administrative Committee also announced it has begun a process for developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the “sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.”

Finally, the statement said, the committee supported a full investigation into the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including the allegations made against him concerning the sexual assault of minors, adults, seminarians, and priests, and the Church’s response to those allegations.

“Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services,” the statement said.

Recognizing the widespread criticism of Church authorities in the wake of recent scandals, the committee said they “welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.”

“This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient.”

The bishops also urged any victims of abuse to come forward, either to Church authorities or to civil law enforcement.

“To anyone who has been abused, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement.  If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services. With compassion and without judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”

According to the statement, the committee met to discuss the proposals last week. The announcement also follows a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and senior U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops’ conference.

“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers. For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better,” the statement said.

Ballot initiative could end legal brothels in one Nevada county

Mound House, Nevada, Sep 19, 2018 / 02:07 pm (CNA).- Lyon County is one of the 10 counties in Nevada that allow for legal prostitution. But this November, Lyon County voters will have an opportunity to end the practice.  

The initiative is a project of the End Trafficking and Prostitution Political Action Committee. Brenda Simpson, who works with the committee, told the BBC that prostitution is a type of slavery.

A recent petition has gained enough signatures from Lyon County residents to introduce a ballot initiative to close the four brothers in the rural county. If the initiative is successful, the political action committee hopes to imitate it in other counties as well. Similar efforts are already underway in Nye County.

Brothels have been legal in some of Nevada’s counties since 1971. Advocates argue that legalized prostitution ensures safety measures are followed and benefits both owners and women. Opponents, however, argue that prostitution preys on vulnerable women who are usually not making a truly free choice.

Melissa Holland, executive director of the nonprofit Awaken, which fights to end sex trafficking, cited a two-year research study which found that legalized prostitution improves the lives of brothel owners rather than the women who work in them.

The 2007 study found violations against women – including sexual violence and drug abuse – in the legal brothels of Nevada, she told the BBC.

Holland also said many women in both legal and illegal prostitution were exploited when they were young, and were raised to look at themselves as objects.

“They turn 18, and they’ve grown up in a state that says, ‘Hey, this is a viable option for you, so let’s legally continue the exploitation,’” she said, according to the Washington Post.

“That’s not choice. These women were not raised to actually look at themselves and choose this. They have been told this is what you’re good for, and Nevada has said let’s make that a viable option.”

Editor's note: This story previously stated that 16 Nevada counties permit prostitution. 10 counties permit prostitution. The story has been corrected.

Never again, again: Bishops promise action, but will it make a difference?

Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2018 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- The moral credibility of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy is under serious scrutiny, both by the faithful and the wider world.

Something must be done - this is the consensus of cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity as the Church continues to grapple with the fallout of the sexual abuse crisis. What, exactly, will be done remains to be seen.

Calls for transparency and accountability in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals strike many of the faithful as reasonable and obvious - yet neither of those words seems easily translatable into the curial language and culture of Romanitas

Amid an impetus for urgent reform, the Church faces the challenge of taking action that is effective, rather than merely dramatic.

What has been proposed? And what effect might it have?

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In recent months, many bishops and lay leaders have called for new canonical structures and procedures in response to the various crises erupting in the Church.

Some have suggested creating another “new” process for accusing and trying bishops in a canon law court, others have floated the idea of a network of regional or national tribunals tasked with handling the existing backlog of clerical sex-abuse cases.

Much of what has been proposed so far, however, has already been tried.

Apart from the USCCB’s own Essential Norms, adopted in the wake of the 2002 sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis has made a number of significant canonical reforms over the last five years. Most significantly, 2016’s Come una madre amorivole created an entirely new legal mechanism for charging and trying a bishop accused of mishandling allegations of abuse, or of abusing his office in some other way.

Yet despite the publicity surrounding the announcement of those structures, they have yet to be put into action, and are unlikely even to be tried.

When asked recently about particular cases involving bishops, Pope Francis said he had decided that his own reforms were not “practical” or “convenient” and that he was instead trying to preserve their “spirit” in the way he handled individual cases.

Many canonists, including those working in the Curia, have expressed frustration at the possibility that more reforms will be promulgated on paper, while few of them take hold at the practical level. 

In the meantime, they say, cases are being handled in an increasingly ad hoc manner. In the case of McCarrick, for example, it has been hard for canonists to parse exactly what procedure is being followed.

Following the announcement by the Archdiocese of New York that it had received an allegation against McCarrick and deemed it credible, the then-cardinal was removed from public ministry.

In July, the Holy Father accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals – itself an historic event – and at the same time ordered McCarrick to live a life of prayer and penance pending the outcome of a “canonical process.” Canon lawyers have noted that this seemed to be, for good or ill, the imposition of a legal penalty before the legal process had concluded - or perhaps even begun.

There has been no announcement about what kind of “process” will be followed in resolving McCarrick’s case. Nor has the Holy See clarified what charges, exactly, he will face. It seems unclear how a new legal structure could bring clarity to that situation, rather than more confusion.

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Another proposal made in recent months has been the establishment of regional commissions and tribunals for handling abuse cases, something which has been suggested before.

Baroness Sheila Hollins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, has been among the most recent voices to suggest that this might serve to clear the languishing backlog of abuse cases clogging the courts at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The problem she identifies is a serious one.

Following his election in 2013, one of Pope Francis’ first curial reforms was to decree a Vatican-wide hiring freeze, which is still in effect. Since then, the pope has ordered the dismissal of three American priests working on abuse cases in the CDF, with a fourth leaving for personal reasons earlier this year.

Those working within and alongside of the CDF all report that there is simply not enough manpower to process the workload, something that Msgr. Robert Geisinger, the CDF’s in house prosecutor, has lamented more than once.

As a result, more than one U.S. bishop has resorted to flying to Rome to personally petition that cases waiting for adjudication be moved to the top of the pile.

But the proposed regional tribunals would not solve the problem of a backlog, at least not in the short term. New courts would take years to come online, and even longer to prove effective. In the meantime, the structural and procedural upheaval needed to create them could cause chaos in a system that is already badly stretched. 

Marie Collins, a former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and herself a survivor of abuse, has been a critic of this proposal for a more straightforward reason. She has observed that the call for regional tribunals does not address the fact that the underlying problem is a lack of resources.

During her time on the PCPM, Collins spoke openly of her frustration at the pace of change. She specifically singled out the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles abuse cases, for criticism. Since then, she has become an outspoken skeptic of further canonical reform, and pointed to the fact that few resources are actually devoted to making the current system work.

“The argument for going to local tribunals...is because the CDF is under resourced and understaffed, and so [is] unable to cope with all the abuse cases coming in from around the world: the question should be why is the CDF under resourced and understaffed?”

One curial official who has worked with the CDF told CNA that some staffers also have the impression that there is little practical commitment to the kind of real reform that would involve the addition of more qualified personnel to handle abuse cases.

“If ‘where your treasure is there will your heart be too,’ then by that measure Rome’s heart isn’t in this,” the official told CNA.

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Back in the United States, several ideas for reform have been floated.

One is a third-party reporting mechanism for accusations against bishops, through which people would present allegations directly to the apostolic nuncio in Washington.

But any new third-party reporting system instituted by the U.S. bishops cannot guarantee Roman action, nor does recent evidence indicate that such action could be counted upon.

In the case of Archbishop McCarrick, it has emerged that in 2000 Fr. Boniface Ramsey presented a written account of accusations of McCarrick sharing a bed with seminarians to the nuncio. A 2006 letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State confirms that some of Ramsey’s concerns made it to Rome, but no action was apparently taken until years later.

It has also been suggested that a new lay-led review board could review complaints made against bishops. This idea is not without precedent.

In 2002, the USCCB called for lay-led review boards in every diocese. The U.S. bishops also created a National Review Board comprised of lay experts, to advise the USCCB on dealing with the problem of sexual abuse. Those bodies have had considerable effect on the life and culture of the Church in the United States.

The idea of creating more lay-led boards now is, in some senses, an appealing option. But it is not clear whether new boards would actually address the current problems.

The National Review Board itself has seemed skeptical. In August, the board issued a statement denouncing “a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power that led to a culture of silence” in the face of abuse.

Action is needed, the board said, but the “evil” which had come to light “will not be stemmed simply by the creation of new committees, policies, or procedures.”

Both U.S. proposals would also appear to effectively insulate American bishops from being required to act upon allegations made against their peers. The reticence of bishops to act in such circumstances is widely considered to have been a major contributing factor in the recent scandals, especially in the case of McCarrick.

But through systems that would largely exempt bishops from investigating or addressing claims of episcopal misconduct, U.S. Church authorities run the risk of seeming to distance themselves further from the kind of personal moral leadership called for by the National Review Board and others.

“What needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church’s culture, specifically among the bishops themselves,” the National Review Board’s August statement said.

Cultural change is more difficult than procedural reform. Absent the release of confidential files or sweeping changes in personnel, it will be hard to demonstrate in the short term. But it also seems to be the most pressing call made by ordinarily lay Catholics.

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On Sept. 13, following a meeting between Pope Francis and the leaders of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo released a statement as president of the USCCB. In it, he said that he and the other American bishops looked forward to “actively continuing our discernment together, identifying the most effective next steps.”

What these steps will be, and when the Church will take them, remain to be seen. But the bishops may find that by themselves, they are not enough to satisfy the skepticism shared by lay Catholics and a growing number of rank-and-file priests and religious.

The call has been for leadership. To satisfy it, bishops will likely need to show a commitment to change that is personal, not institutional.

Cardinal 'blanches' while celebrating recurring miracle of saint's liquefied blood

Naples, Italy, Sep 19, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples usually does not faint at the sight of blood.

He has celebrated the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius, an early martyr, many times over the years.

But this year, something caused Sepe to “blanch” and sit down during the Sept. 19 celebration of the miracle, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

While he refused to leave the altar, Sepe felt too faint to carry the phials of blood outside to show the crowds who had gathered in anticipation of the miracle, which typically occurs three times a year.

It is unknown what caused Sepe to feel ill during the celebration, though ANSA reported that it was “perhaps because of the heat.”

The blood did liquefy during the celebration, according to ANSA.

St. Januarius, or San Gennaro in Italian, is patron of Naples was a bishop of the city in the third century, whose bones and blood are preserved in the cathedral as relics. He is believed to have been martyred during Diocletian persecution.

The reputed miracle is locally known and accepted, though has not been the subject of official Church recognition. The liquefaction reportedly happens at least three times a year: Sept. 19, the saint's feast day, the Saturday before the first Sunday of May, and Dec. 16, the anniversary of the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

During the miracle, the dried, red-colored mass confined to one side of the reliquary becomes blood that covers the entire glass. In local lore, the failure of the blood to liquefy signals war, famine, disease or other disaster.

The blood did not liquefy in December 2016, but Monsignor Vincenzo De Gregorio, abbot of the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, said it was a sign that Catholics should pray rather than worry about what the lack of miracle could mean.

“We must not think of disasters and calamities. We are men of faith and we must pray,” he said at the time.

The vial has sometimes changed upon the visit of a pope.

On March 21, 2015, Pope Francis met with priests, religious and seminarians at the cathedral and gave a blessing with the relic.

Sepe then received the vial back from the pope and noted that the blood had partially liquefied.

The last time blood liquefied in the presence of a pope was in 1848 when Bl. Pius IX visited. The phenomenon didn’t happen when St. John Paul II visited the city in October 1979, or when Benedict XVI visited in October 2007.

Ireland repeals Eighth Amendment, clearing path for legal abortion

Dublin, Ireland, Sep 19, 2018 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which provided legal protection for the unborn, was officially repealed Sept. 18. The repeal was enacted when President Michael D. Higgins signed the country’s 36th Amendment into law, clearing the way for legal abortion in Ireland.

The removal of the Eighth Amendment follows the decisive result of the national referendum held in May. Only one county, Donegal, voted to keep the amendment. Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

While it has not yet been determined under what circumstances abortion will become legal, the government is proposing that it be allowed throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Legislation to this effect will be introduced by the government next month.

It is unknown when Ireland’s first abortion facility will open, but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this will likely be by 2019.

The Church vocally opposed the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, and many of Ireland’s hospitals are either run by the Church, or have historically been administered by religious orders. Varadkar has said that Catholic hospitals will not be permitted to opt out of performing abortions, making further conflict between the Church and the pro-abortion movement likely.

At the same time, Ireland is also facing a potential shortage of doctors willing to participate in abortions. Despite 66% of Irish voters favoring the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, surveys show that roughly seven out of 10 general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions. This means that doctors may have to be flown in from other countries, or a list of willing doctors will be circulated among the public.

Dr. Ruth Cullen, the spokesperson for Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign said in a statement on the campaign website that while Tuesday was “a day to remember all the lives saved by the 8th Amendment,” it was “also a sad day for human rights as a vital life-saving human rights provision of the Constitution has been removed.”

Abortion, said Cullen, “is far from progressive and compassionate as those who campaigned for repeal claim it will be.” She is “confident” that Ireland will eventually come to regret the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and realize they “opened the door to the greatest injustice and discrimination of our time.”

Brooklyn diocese reaches $27.5m settlement over abuse by lay volunteer

Brooklyn, N.Y., Sep 19, 2018 / 10:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Brooklyn and an after-school program reached a $27.5 million settlement Tuesday with four men who were sexually abused as minors by a layman who volunteered at a parish in the New York City borough.

The men were abused between 2003 and 2009 by Angelo Serrano, 67, who taught catechism and helped to organized religious education at St. Lucy – St. Patrick's parish in Brooklyn. Serrano abused the boys, who were between the ages of 8 and 12, at the church, in his apartment, and at the after-school program. Serrano received a stipend from the church, and had a desk there.

“The diocese and another defendant have settled these lawsuits brought by the four claimants who were sexually abused by Angelo Serrano at his private apartment many years ago,” the Brooklyn diocese said in a Sept. 18 statement, the New York Times reported. “Mr. Serrano was a volunteer worker at a local parish; he was not clergy or an employee of the diocese or parish.”

A portion of the settlement is being paid by the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center, an after-school program located next to the parish.

Serrano was arrested in 2009, and is now serving a 15-year sentence.

A suit against the diocese was set to go to trial next year, had the diocese not settled.

The victims' suit listed the then-pastors of St. Lucy – St. Patrick's, Fr. Stephen P. Lynch and Fr. Frank Shannon, as co-defendants.

According to the New York Times, a judge wrote that “The record is clear that Lynch and Shannon had knowledge that for years Serrano often had several boys, including plaintiff, sleep over at his apartment … In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present.”

Fr. Lynch testified, the Times reported, that he saw Serrano “kiss an 8- or 9-year-old boy on the mouth and inappropriately embrace the boy.”

A secretary at the parish, Beatrice Ponnelle, also testified about Serrano's behavior with minors.

Earlier this month, the New York attorney general issued subpoenas to the state's dioceses asking for documents related to sexual abuse allegations and the Church’s response to them.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced a civil investigation into Church entities and said the office’s criminal division is willing to partner with local district attorneys “to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any individuals who have committed criminal offenses that fall within the applicable statutes of limitations.”

 

Pope Francis meets Bono

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2018 / 10:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- U2 front man Bono had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican Wednesday afternoon, saying afterward the Holy Father was “incredibly gracious with his time, his concentration.”

Speaking to journalists following the just over 30-minute meeting Sept. 19, Bono said they “let the conversation go where it wanted to go,” discussing “big themes,” such as the future of commerce and how it might serve sustainable development goals.

Irishman Bono, born Paul David Hewson, also said that having just come from Ireland, they “inevitably” spoke about “the pope’s feelings about what has happened in the Church.”

He said he explained to Francis that to some it looks like “the abusers are being more protected than the victims,” and that he “could see the pain” in the pope’s face. “I felt he was sincere, and I think he’s an extraordinary man for extraordinary times,” Bono said.

Bono met Pope Francis alongside the president of the pontifical foundation Scholas Occurrentes, José María del Corral.

Scholas is an international organization founded by Pope Francis as an initiative to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter among youth through technology, arts and sports.

Bono is a co-founder of the ONE Campaign, an advocating organization that aims to combat poverty, which signed an agreement to partner with Scholas.

He said the exact way in which the two organizations will work together is yet to be decided, but he is looking forward to the partnership and really admires the work Scholas does.

This was Bono’s second papal meeting. He also had an audience with St. John Paul II in 1999.

Bono is the second U2 member to meet Pope Francis in recent years after the band’s lead guitarist, The Edge, greeted the pope during an audience as part of a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine in 2016.

Pope Francis: To honor one's parents, follow the saints

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2018 / 05:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There are many saints who demonstrate that even if one comes from a difficult childhood without good parents, hope can still be found in Christ and the mission received from him, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

The commandment to honor father and mother “can be constructive for many young people who come from stories of pain and for all those who have suffered in their youth,” he said Sept. 19.

“Many saints – and many Christians – after a painful childhood lived a bright life, because, thanks to Jesus Christ, they were reconciled with life,” he said, pointing to the example of Bl. Nunzio Sulprizio, who died at 19 from bone cancer after being orphaned at a very young age.

Bl. Sulprizio will be canonized in Rome Oct. 14 during the Synod of Bishops on young people.

The pope also encouraged Catholics to learn from the witness of St. Camillus de Lellis, who, he said, “from a disordered childhood built a life of love and service; to St. Josephine Bakhita, who grew up in horrible slavery; or to the Bl. Carlo Gnocchi, an orphan and poor man; and to the very St. John Paul II, marked by the loss of his mother at an early age.”

The wounds of one’s young life have the potential to be transformed, by grace, when it is discovered “that God has prepared us for a life of his children, where every act is a mission received from him,” Francis said.

The pope’s general audience catechesis on the theme of the Ten Commandments continued today with a reflection on the commandment “to honor thy father and mother.”

Looking back on one’s childhood, especially if it was difficult, “we discover that the real mystery is no longer ‘why?’ [something happened] but ‘for whom?’ For whom did this happen to me?” Francis asked. This is when people can begin to honor their parents “with the freedom of adult children and with merciful acceptance of their limits.”

As it says in Deuteronomy, he quoted, “honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that your days may be prolonged, and you may be happy in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

The commandment says that honoring one’s parents “leads to a long, happy life,” he noted. This acknowledges what the human sciences have said: “that the imprint of childhood marks the whole of life.”

He explained that whatever history one comes from, this commandment gives “the orientation that leads to Christ: in him, in fact, the true Father is revealed, who offers us ‘to be reborn from above’.”

The fourth commandment “does not talk about the goodness of parents, it does not require fathers and mothers to be perfect,” he said.

“It speaks of an act of the children, regardless of the merits of the parents, and says something extraordinary and liberating: even if not all parents are good and not all childhoods are sunny, all children can be happy, because the achievement of a full and happy life depends on the right gratitude to those who have placed us in the world.”

“Honoring father and mother therefore means to recognize their importance also through concrete actions, which express dedication, affection and care,” he said.

Adding comments off-the-cuff, he asked those present, if they are not currently close with their parents, if they would consider returning to a relationship with them. He also told children they should never insult their parents or the parents of others.

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern for the entire church and a means of expressing all the bishops' unity with the pope, Pope Francis said. Replacing Blessed Paul VI's 1965 document that established the Synod of Bishops and building on changes made to the synods over the past five decades, Pope Francis issued an apostolic constitution, providing a theological explanation of the synod's role in the church and updating rules for how a synod is prepared for, conducted and implemented. The constitution, "Episcopalis Communio" ("Episcopal Communion"), also states for the first time that voting members of the synod do not necessarily have to be priests. In preparation for the October synod on young people and vocational discernment, the Union of Superiors General, the organization of leaders of men's religious orders from around the world, elected two religious brothers to be members of the synod. Discussing the normal voting members of the synod, Pope Francis' new rules, which were published only in Italian Sept. 18, said that "according to the theme and circumstances, others who are not honored with episcopal duties can be called to the synod assembly with a role to be determined by the Roman pontiff." Asked if that meant that women or women religious could be full voting members of the synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, said that according to the new rules the men's Union of Superiors General "can elect any male religious, even nonpriests, as the pope had permitted by exemption in the last two synodal assemblies. As for women, they are already present as observers and participate in the synodal assembly and the small groups and have a right to speak." "At the moment, it is established that the men's union of superiors elects members," but the women's International Union of Superiors General does not. Bishop Fabene said, "For now, that it how it is." But the main changes Pope Francis made to the synod are less visible and more profound. Blessed Paul established the synod as an instrument through which "bishops chosen from various parts of the world are to offer more effective assistance to the supreme shepherd," the pope. But Pope Francis, almost from the beginning of his papacy, has called for the entire church to be "synodal." Marking the 50th anniversary of the synod in 2015, the pope said the church should be synodal at every level, with everyone listening to one another, learning from one another and taking responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel. Through baptism and confirmation, all members of the church have been anointed by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis has taught. But, even more, he has said, the entire church community is infallible when its members discern together and speak with one voice on matters of faith and morals. "The 'sensus fidei' (sense of faith) makes it impossible to rigidly separate the 'ecclesia docens' (teaching church) and the 'ecclesia discens' (learning church), because even the flock has a 'nose' for discerning the new paths that the Lord is opening up to the church," Pope Francis said in 2015. In the new constitution, Pope Francis said each bishop must be "simultaneously a teacher and a disciple," proclaiming the Gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit, but also listening to what the Holy Spirit has inspired the lay faithful to tell him. "While in its composition it is configured as an essentially episcopal body, the synod still does not live separated from the rest of the faithful," he wrote. "On the contrary, it is an instrument suitable for giving voice to the whole people of God precisely through the bishops." Obviously, the pope said, the synod is not a Catholic parliament. "In the church, in fact, the aim of any collegial, consultative or deliberative body is the search for the truth or the good of the church," so prayerful discernment ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal year 2019, which begins Oct. 1, and asked Congress to work with the Trump administration to more than double that number. The 30,000 figure is one-third less than last year's 45,000, which had been the lowest number on record. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the number Sept. 17. A group of advocates, on a Sept. 18 conference call with reporters, said the number had been issued without consulting Congress, which is required by law. That has led to hope that Congress can persuade the administration to increase the number. With just days left in the current fiscal year, the administration has processed only 20,918, less than half of the fiscal 2018 allotment, said Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service. "Our hearts are at least big and wide enough to welcome 75,000 people into the country," said Mary Giovagnol, executive director of Refugee Council USA, on the conference call. Smyers said there is a basis for the larger number. "We have, right now, enough refugees who are approved or far enough in the security check process to be far greater than 75,000," she said. The low numbers hurt the United States in more than one way, according to Scott Cooper, director of national security outreach for Human Rights First. "It's been so helpful and strategically for us through many, many years. The people who are fleeing these conflicts are the victims of these conflicts. They are not a threat to us," said Cooper, who served 20 years in the Marines. "We are welcoming the victims of these conflicts," he added, noting the humanitarian nature of refugee admissions. "If we're turning our backs and closing our doors ... we're harming ourselves and shooting ourselves in the foot, quite honestly." The 30,000 figure is "deeply disturbing and leaves many human lives in danger," said a Sept. 18 statement by Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, and chairman of the of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration. "To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation. Offering refuge to those fleeing violence, torture, or religious persecution is a cornerstone of our history. We as a country are blessed with vast resources making us capable of securely welcoming those fleeing harm," Bishop Vasquez said. "Congress should strongly urge the administration to return to a refugee admission level that reflects local community response and support of refugees, global refugee protection needs, and our long history of compassionately welcoming refugees," he added. "I'm not going to tell you anything you don't know, but remind you of everything you know to be true In the Abrahamic tradition," said Lutheran Bishop Michael Rinehart, chair of the board of directors of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. "There is a charge to care for the stranger; who for any reason cannot go home." The Bible is filled with "the story of migration, the exile from the Garden of Eden, Abraham and Sarah, the Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt for a new life," he said. "But due to migration it's (the Bible) filled with rules on how immigrants are to be treated. It's not a minor thing in the Bible. 'Love them as yourselves, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.'" In the New Testament, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph flee Herod's persecution into Egypt. Jesus tells of a Judgment Day: 'When I was a stranger you welcomed me. ... Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me," Bishop Rinehart added. "Jesus make the despised Samaritan a hero because he cares for someone who's in a rough spot -- the neighbor who practices hospitality regardless of ethnic or religious background." Catholic voices in particular blasted the new, lower number in separate statements issued Sept. 17. "At a time when ...