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Florida bishops: Serial killer's execution is 'unnecessary'

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 21, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops is pleading for Gov. Ron DeSantis to stop the execution of Gary Ray Bowles, who confessed to murdering six men during a six month period in 1994.

“As we approach the date of Gary Ray Bowles’ scheduled execution, we urge you to grant a stay,” said an Aug. 14 letter, signed by Michael B. Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the state’s bishops.

Bowles’ execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 22. He was first sentenced to death in May 1996, after pleading guilty to the murder of Walter “Jay” Hinton, and then re-sentenced to death in 1999 after his initial death sentence was overturned. While in prison for Hinton’s murder, he was convicted of three other murders, and sentenced to two life sentences.

When Bowles was arrested for Hinton’s death, he admitted that he had killed a total of six people. As Bowles’ crime spree spread from Jacksonville, Florida to Montgomery County, Maryland, he was dubbed the “I-95 Killer.”

He killed men in three states, two of which presently use the death penalty. At the time of the crimes, the death penalty was legal in all three states.

Bowles met most of his victims in gay bars, and offered to have sex with them in exchange for money. He would then beat and strangle the men to death, and rob them. At the time he was arrested, he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

The letter said that while Bowles’ “violent actions” ended the lives of six people, and caused “great grief” to their loved ones, “each of us is more than the worst thing we have done.”

“Mr. Bowles is more than a man who committed multiple murders,” said the bishops’ conference.

“He is a human being who survived many years of childhood abuse and, after escaping his stepfather’s violence as a young teenager, endured years of homelessness and child prostitution.”

“Neuroscientific research has found that such traumatic experiences severely affect a child’s developing brain, and thus affect subsequent behavior,” the letter added.

The bishops’ conference wrote that Bowles does not pose a danger to society as long as he remains in prison without parole, and that the death penalty is not necessary. Instead, “premeditated, state-sanctioned homicide of Mr. Bowles would only perpetuate the cycle of violence that victimized him, and which he later perpetuated.”

“Killing him will only further erode the sense of the sacredness of human life and implicate us all – the citizens of the State of Florida – in his death.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Florida Catholics, as well as others opposed to the death penalty, will be gathering at locations around the state, including the governor’s mansion and across the highway from the Florida State Prison’s Execution Building. They say they will be praying for  Bowles, his victims, the families of the victims, and for an end to the death penalty.

If Bowles is executed, he will be the 99th person sentenced to death in Florida since the state reinstituted its death penalty in 1976. His will be the second execution presided over by DeSantis, a practicing Roman Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is today “inadmissable,” because “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” and “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Pope Francis: Self-interest and hypocrisy destroy the Church

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis decried hypocrisy and self-interest Wednesday, saying that Christian community should always be characterized by generosity and solidarity.

"A life set only on profiting and taking advantage of situations at the expense of others inevitably causes interior death," Pope Francis said Aug. 21 in Paul VI Hall.

“And how many people say they are close to the Church, friends of priests, bishops, while they are only looking for their own interest. These are the hypocrisies that destroy the Church,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks.

Pope Francis said he asks the Lord to “pour over us His Spirit of tenderness, which overcomes all hypocrisy and puts into circulation that truth which nourishes Christian solidarity.”

The pope said that solidarity is “the inalienable expression of the nature of the Church,” which he called the “tender mother of all, especially the poorest.”

“Being members of the body of Christ makes believers co-responsible for each other. Being believers in Jesus makes us all co-responsible for each other,” he said.

“Among Christians we cannot say: 'Poor person, he has a problem at home, he is going through this family difficulty'. But, I must pray. I carry it with me. I am not be indifferent. This is being a Christian,” Francis explained.

Throughout Pope Francis’ general audience, a young girl who appeared to have a mental disability, danced across the stage clapping her hands in front of the pope in Paul VI Hall.

“We have all seen this beautiful girl - she is beautiful … victim of an illness and does not know what she is doing,” he said.

Pope Francis asked the audience if they had prayed for this young girl and her family. “Whenever we see someone suffering we must pray,” he said.

The pope stressed the importance of concrete acts of generosity in the life of a Christian, particularly with one’s time and money.

“The sign that your heart has converted is when conversion reaches your pockets,” he said. “There  is where we see if one is generous with others, if one helps the weakest, the poorest.”

In the life of the Church, there have always been Christians who stripped themselves of unnecessary things to give them to those who needed them, Pope Francis said.

He pointed to the example of the early Christians described in the Acts of the Apostles.

“A concrete example of sharing and communion of goods comes to us from the testimony of Barnabas: he owns a field and sells it to deliver the proceeds to the Apostles,” Francis said.

“The Christian community is born from the overabundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit and grows thanks to the leaven of sharing between brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a dynamism of solidarity that builds the Church as the family of God,” he said.

Pope Francis also pointed out that there were negative examples of hypocrisy and selfishness among this same community. He described the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira described in chapter 5 of the Acts of the Apostles.

Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property to give the proceeds to the apostles, but retained for themselves a portion of the purchase price.

To which St. Peter responded, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the Holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the land? ... Why did you contrive this deed? You have lied not to human beings, but to God.”

Upon hearing these words from Peter, Ananias fell down and died. “This cheating interrupts the chain of free sharing... and the consequences are tragic, are fatal,” Pope Francis said.

“We could say that Ananias lied to God because of an isolated conscience,” he said. “Hypocrisy is the worst enemy of this Christian community, of this Christian love: that of pretending to love each other, but only looking for one's own interest.”

“To fail in the sincerity of sharing … in the sincerity of love, means to cultivate hypocrisy, move away from the truth, to become selfish, to extinguish the fire of communion and turn to the frost of interior death,” the pope said.

Vatican ‘acknowledges the court's decision’ to dismiss Cardinal George Pell's appeal

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2019 / 04:18 am (CNA).- The Vatican said Wednesday it acknowledges the decision by the Court of Appeals in Victoria to uphold the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, while recalling Pell’s insistence of his innocence throughout the judicial process.

The conviction of Cardinal George Pell on five counts of abuse was upheld by the Court of Appeals in Victoria Aug. 21. After an appellate panel announced its decision at a court proceeding, the cardinal was returned to prison.

“While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system... the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, said Aug. 21.

Bruni stated that “as the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.”

Pell’s legal team has said it will thoroughly examine the over 300-page judgment before deciding whether to petition the Australian High Court in Canberra. Such an effort is expected by legal experts to offer very slim chance of success, given the appeal court result.

Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence.

Bruni concluded his brief statement Aug. 21 by expressing the Holy See’s closeness to victims of sexual abuse and confirming its commitment to carry out appropriate ecclesiastical procedures against clergy who have committed abuse.

The Vatican announced in March the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would carry out a canonical process against Pell at the conclusion of the judicial process in Australia.

In response to questions, Bruni confirmed to journalists Aug. 21 that the CDF is “awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case.”

Bruni also referenced the precautionary measures imposed on Pell on his return to Australia in summer 2017, per Vatican norms: “the prohibition from exercising public ministry and from any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors.”

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two choristers after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.

The cardinal, 78, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned. He has been held in solitary confinement for 176 days. Pell is not permitted to celebrate Mass in prison.

He may now be transferred from the intake and evaluation facility at which he is currently being held to a different prison in Victoria.

Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence.

A statement from the Australian archbishops’ conference Wednesday said the bishops “believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today’s judgement accordingly.”

The statement also noted the Australian bishops’ commitment to bringing healing to those who have suffered abuse and to ensuring Catholic spaces are always safe, especially for children and vulnerable adults.

Individual Australian bishops also released statements Wednesday, including Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who said “reasonable people have taken different views when presented with the same evidence” in Pell’s case, urging people “to maintain calm and civility.”

“I know that there are many in the Catholic community and beyond who will find it difficult to come to terms with this judgment,” Fisher said, “especially those who know the Cardinal and will struggle to reconcile this outcome with the man they know. I thank them for persevering in faith, hope and love.”

“As we wait to hear whether the legal process will continue, I will seek to provide pastoral support to those Catholics who may have found their faith tested,” the archbishop added.

The current Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter A. Comensoli, said in his statement that he knows “the complexity of the search for the truth in this matter has tested many, and may very well continue to do so.”

He expressed his prayers and support for the man who brought the case against Pell before the courts, offering “pastoral and spiritual help, should he seek it.”

Comensoli also said that he will ensure “Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence, according to the teaching and example of Jesus to visit those in prison.”

Minnesota archbishop reflects on the significance of a pastoral heart

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St Paul and Minneapolis reflected in a recent interview on several major milestones: his 60th birthday, 30 years as a priest, and 10 years as a bishop.

In an interview with the Catholic Spirit, the archbishop emphasized the importance of a pastoral heart in the priestly vocation.

“Being a pastor of a diocese is a little bit like being a pastor of a parish. It’s the same desires that you have for being able to make Christ known, being able to serve people, being able to bring the presence of Christ not only through the sacraments but also through God’s word,” he said.

The archbishop celebrated Mass on July 1 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in honor of the 30th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Hebda will also commemorate his 60th birthday on September 3, and 10 years of being a bishop on December 1.

Born in Pittsburgh, Hebda entered Saint Paul Seminary after he graduated from Harvard and received his JD from Columbia Law School. He was ordained in 1989 and, seven years later, he began his role at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, where he served until he was appointed bishop in 2009.

He said it was initially tough to leave behind a college ministry, where he had been placed as Director of the Newman Center at Slippery Rock University two years prior to his assignment in Rome. However, he said a priest must have a pastoral heart no matter the assignment.

“A priest has to bring a pastoral heart to whatever task is before him. Even if it’s an administrative position, he has to bring to that a pastoral heart,” he said.

“I came to recognize, though, that it was in the work that I was doing (at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, responsible for interpreting Church law), even though it was very technical, legal work, that I was being given an opportunity to really participate in Christ’s priesthood.”

In any vocation, he said, the most important thing is to place God above all else. He said this fosters acts of service for others.

“I think [God] wants us to put him first in our lives. We love God and we love our neighbor. It’s a way in which we’re also going to have our hearts expanded so that we can serve others, too,” he said.

The archbishop has led Minnesota’s largest archdiocese through a turbulent period. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015 amid many abuse claims that had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse.

He is also leading the archdiocese toward a 2021 synod to address pastoral concerns and discern the call of the Holy Spirit.

In preparation for the synod, the archdiocese will have 20 prayer events and spiritual talks. The first one will kick off on September 24. Hebda expressed hope that the process will lead the archdiocese to a richer connection to the Holy Spirit.

“My hope is that we might, together, be able to detect the presence of the Holy Spirit. That we would find reassurance in that. We would be reinvigorated by that realization, as well,” he said.

“I also am trusting that the process will help us to identify priorities for moving forward in a way that’s reflective not only of my own thinking but also the thinking of the faithful of the archdiocese, whether it be our priests, whether it be our lay faithful, whether it be men and women in consecrated life, it will all have a chance to shape the next steps we take as an archdiocese.”

Archdiocese to break ground for Bl. Stanley Rother shrine in November 

Oklahoma City, Okla., Aug 21, 2019 / 12:01 am (CNA).- The shy and unassuming Blessed Father Stanley Rother, a missionary priest and martyr from a farming family, would likely be surprised to learn that the largest Catholic Church in Oklahoma will bear his name.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced that it will be breaking ground for the Blessed Stanley Rother shrine in November. The $40 million shrine will seat 2,000 and be the largest Catholic church in the state once it is complete.

The project is the “signature element” of the archdiocese’s first-ever capital campaign, the archdiocese told Oklahoma News 4.

Besides the main church, the shrine site will include a prayer chapel devoted to Bl. Stanley Rother, where he will be buried, religious education and ministry classrooms, and a museum and pilgrim center with artifacts and stories about Rother’s life.

“Padre Francisco”, as Rother was affectionately called at the mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala where he served, was shot and killed by masked gunman early in the morning on July 28, 1981, in the midst of the country’s civil war. Rother had refused to call for help, not wanting to endanger anyone else at the mission.

The five-foot-ten, red-bearded missionary priest was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Okla., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

In June 2015, the Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to recognize Fr. Stanley Rother as a martyr. Pope Francis recognized his martyrdom in early December 2016, and on Sept. 23, 2017, Rother was beatified at a Mass in Oklahoma City.

“The groundbreaking for the shrine will be a significant moment in the life of the Church in Oklahoma and for the broader community,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City told News 4.

“The shrine is being built to honor Blessed Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma original and the first U.S.-born priest and martyr ever beatified. It will be a place of pilgrimage where the faithful will come from near and far to honor Blessed Stanley at his final resting place and to seek his intercession for their many needs. It will be a place of welcome, serving all people.”

The groundbreaking for the shrine is set to take place at 3 p.m. on November 3 in Oklahoma City.