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Italian journalists named to leading positions in Vatican communications

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2018 / 12:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Tuesday appointed two Italians to leading positions within the communications department, naming veteran Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli editorial director and making Professor Andrea Monda the new director of Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Giovanni Maria Vian, who had been director of the Vatican newspaper since 2007, was given the title of “director emeritus” by Pope Francis.

Paolo Ruffini, who was made prefect of the Dicastery for Communications in July, noted in a Dec. 18 statement that the new appointees “have in common being journalists who look beyond the appearance of things… who know how to go deep; who can listen.”

“Both are writers as well as journalists. Both can speak to all generations, so even to young people. Both are bridge builders,” he said.

About L’Osservatore Romano, Ruffini said, “The newspaper of the Holy See is one of the pillars of our communication, called to be increasingly involved in the process of integration of the Vatican information system.”

A continuation of Pope Francis’ reform of Vatican communications, Tornielli’s appointment fills the until-now vacant seat of editorial director of the Dicastery for Communications. The department’s previous prefect, now-consultor Msgr. Dario Vigano, had previously undertaken the tasks of the position in an unofficial manner.

According to the dicastery’s statutes, the task of the editorial director is to address and coordinate the dicastery’s editorial lines, lead the strategic development of new forms of media, and oversee the integration of traditional media and digital media with attention to the universal dimension of the Holy See’s communications.

Tornielli, 54, is married and the father of three children; he splits his time between Rome and Milan.

He holds a degree from the University of Padova in History of the Greek Language and from 1992-1996 served as editor of the monthly publication 30 Giorni. From 1996-2011 he worked for the newspaper Il Giornale.

Tornielli began working for La Stampa in April 2011, where he has also been the coordinator and a writer for “Vatican Insider,” a sub-section of the La Stampa website, which is focused on Vatican news and analysis in Italian and English.

In a statement Dec. 18, Tornielli said he is grateful to Pope Francis for the appointment and to Ruffini of thinking of him for the position.

Commenting on the long history of the Holy See’s media, previously called Vatican Radio, he said that the Vatican communications “continue to transmit the message of the Successors of Peter and also to give voice to those who have none, thanks to a presence in many different languages, unique in the world.”

“I am convinced that there is a growing need for journalism to tell the facts before commenting on them,” he said.

“I will try to put myself at the service of the clear information structure of the Holy See and of the great journalistic and technical skills it expresses, to help communicate, with all means and using all platforms, in a simple and direct way, the Pope’s teachings that – as the daily homilies of Santa Marta demonstrate – accompany the people of God in every part of the world.”

Monda, 52, is married with one son, and is a native of Rome. He holds a degree in Jurisprudence from Rome’s Sapienza University and a degree in Religious Sciences from the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Since 2000, he has taught courses on literature and on Christianity at the Pontifical Lateran and Pontifical Gregorian universities.

He is an author and journalist, with publications in Avvenire, a publication of the Italian bishops, and La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit-run journal overseen by the Vatican.

Monda also teaches religion at a classical high school in Rome and is the host of a religion program on the Catholic TV2000 station called “Buongiorno Professore.”

“I will do my part to the end to continue the work done by Professor Vian and all my predecessors, confident of being able to say, in my small way, that: ‘I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act also with insufficient instruments,’” Monda said.

He noted that he looks forward to working with Paolo Ruffini and contributing, through the directorship of L’Osservatore Romano, to the completion of the reform of Vatican communications.

“It would be nice to imagine that an important and authoritative newspaper like L’Osservatore Romano could be read by young people all over the world who dream of good journalism,” he said.

 

Pope Francis: Through virtue, political life can be a form of charity

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2018 / 11:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis identified political virtues and vices in his 2019 peace message released Tuesday, offering examples from the “Beatitudes of a Politician.”

“If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity,” Pope Francis wrote in his message for the 2019 World Day of Peace, released Dec. 18.

The pope encouraged international leaders to “practise those human virtues that sustain all sound political activity: justice, equality, mutual respect, sincerity, honesty, fidelity.”

“Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility. Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest … Blessed be the politician who works for unity,” Francis said, quoting the late Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận’s “Beatitudes of a Politician.”

Other blessed “political beatitudes” include working “to accomplish radical change” and being “capable of listening.”

Pope Francis warned that “politics also has its share of vices, whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions.”

“When political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction,” he said.

Francis stressed that “political addresses that tend to blame every evil on migrants and to deprive the poor of hope are unacceptable,” adding that there is a “need to reaffirm that peace is based on respect for each person, whatever his or her background.”

“We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power,” he said.

“To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile,” Francis continued.

The World Day of Peace --  instituted by St. Pope Paul VI in 1968 -- is celebrated each year on the first day of January. The pope provides a special message for the occasion, which is sent to all foreign ministers around the world.

In the 2019 message, signed on the Dec. 8 feast of the Immaculate Conception and published Dec. 18, Pope Francis described peace as being like “a delicate flower struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence.”

“Offering peace is at the heart of the mission of the disciples of Christ. And this offer is addressed to all those men and women who hope for peace amid the tragedies and violence of human history,” he said.

Pope Francis added, “One thing is certain: good politics is at the service of peace. It respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations.”

 

Meet Lidia Bastianich, the woman who cooked for two popes

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec 18, 2018 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If you were asked to cook for the pope, what would you choose to make? This was a real question for chef Lidia Bastianich in both 2008 and 2015 – the years in which Benedict XVI and Pope Francis visited the United States.

“I remember vividly,” Bastianich told CNA. “It was an extraordinary experience.”

“When I got asked to cook for Pope Benedict, I didn’t believe it was going to happen. I remember I laughed and said, sure, Monsignor, I would love to, but is that a reality?”

Bastianich, 71, is a chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur. An Italian immigrant who came to the United States as a young girl, she is an expert in Italian-American cuisine who has hosted several cooking shows on public television. Her memoir My American Dream was published earlier this year.

The process of cooking for a pope during an apostolic journey begins well before he arrives, with the formation of a team of chefs and wait staff. From there, the menu of the meals is planned and sent to the Vatican for approval.

Benedict XVI

Doing research, Bastianich learned that Benedict’s mother had been a cook and she thought that he would have “some good food memories” from that time in his life, which she wanted to evoke.

For Benedict XVI they were scheduled to prepare two meals: a large dinner for the pope and around 50 cardinals and bishops the first night, and on the second night a smaller dinner that would also be his 80th birthday celebration.

For the first big dinner the menu included string bean salad with sheep’s milk ricotta, pickled shallots, and toasted almonds; ravioli with pecorino and pears; risotto with nettles, fava beans, and ramps; whole roasted striped bass with boiled fingerling potatoes and a frisee salad. And for dessert: apple strudel with honey vanilla ice cream.

For the dinner celebrating his birthday and his third anniversary as pope, they prepared asparagus salad with pecorino, fava beans, and green chickpeas with lemon and olive oil; and a round, flat pasta filled with meat, called “agnolini,” in chicken broth.

The main dish was a beef goulash with a side of pan-fried potatoes and onions, served with sauerkraut and sour cream for a German touch. Dessert was an apricot and ricotta crostata and a chocolate-hazelnut cake with the words “Tu es Petrus”, topped with a two-foot-tall marzipan mitre.



After the meal, Benedict told Bastianich that the meal was “very good. The flavors of my mother.”

“I was so happy that he ate, that he enjoyed it, that the memories were those of his childhood,” she said. “I wanted to make him feel at home.”

One special moment she recalls was when they brought in his birthday cake and sang “Happy Birthday” in English and Italian. They handed him the knife to cut the cake, but when he hesitated, Bastianich reached over. “I actually helped him cut it!” she laughed.

Another touching moment, Bastianich noted, took place after the dinner: a diplomat performed a violin sonata and Benedict invited the whole kitchen staff to come, sit down, and listen to the music with him.

Pope Francis

For Pope Francis, Bastianich’s first instinct was to go with an Argentine theme and serve lots of meat, but the Vatican turned down her first menu proposal because Francis must eat lighter things for his health.

Instead she chose to focus on his northern Italian heritage, preparing heirloom tomatoes, house-made burrata, and steamed lobster; capon soup with Grana Padano raviolini, veal medallions, Boscaiola, porcini, corn, and fresh tomato; and concord grape sorbet with angel food cake for his first dinner in New York.

Bastianich and her staff were also in charge of preparing Francis’ breakfasts, though all he wanted each morning was some fresh orange juice, tea, and toast.

They also prepared his bedside table at night with a glass of water and a banana, she said. “I put a few cookies, too. I wasn’t supposed to, but I put a few cookies.”

Friday’s lunch consisted of cooked and raw vegetable salad with ricotta; risotto with porcini, summer truffles, and Grana Padano Riserva; and roasted pears and grapes with vanilla gelato.

At dinner they served pear and pecorino-filled ravioli, aged pecorino, whole roasted striped bass, late summer vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and lemon, and apple crostata with local honey ice cream.



One memory of Pope Francis’ visit stands out for Bastianich in particular. After lunch on Friday, he went to rest in his room, she said. The staff were in the kitchen taking a coffee break and discussing their plans for the next meal when they suddenly heard the pope’s security staff running and shouting “Papa, Papa!”

“And all of a sudden, we see [Pope Francis] enter the kitchen,” she said. “And he peered in and said, “Posso avere un caffe, per favore?” – “Can I have a coffee, please?”

“He sipped on his espresso and he talked to each one of us. He spent a good 20 minutes with us in this simple kitchen, us dressed in our chef clothes. It was so intimate, so wonderful.”

Before leaving, she recalled that “he reached into his pocket and pulled out a rosary for each one of us, and handing it to us said, ‘pregate per me,’ pray for me … It was extraordinary.”

Her Catholic faith

Bastianich has been a Catholic from birth and said that personal prayer is very important to her. “I feel that ever more… I need to talk to God because I need his guidance,” she said.

She also noted that she has a special devotion to the Madonna of the Miraculous Medal, which she carries with her every day.

Despite growing up in communist Yugoslavia, “the faith was always a part of me, I always believed,” she said. Unfortunately, at this time, her family could not go to Mass and she had to be baptized in secret. Her grandmother taught her and her brother prayers when they would visit.

When she was 10 years old, Bastianich’s family escaped back into Italy, staying for two years in a camp for political refugees before immigrating to the U.S.

A benefactor paid for her to attend a Catholic school run by a religious order and she said that those two years were when she really learned about her faith. During this time, she would also cook with the sisters in the school’s kitchen.

Those years in the refugee camp, when food was scarce, have given her a greater appreciation for helping people out of her abundance, she said. “He gave me so much, but what he gave me is not mine to keep, I have to share, he has to show me the way that I can share what he has given me with others.”

....

Watch EWTN News Nightly's interview with Lidia Bastianich:



This article was originally published on CNA April 5, 2018.

Vatican asks bishops to meet with victims ahead of February summit

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2018 / 07:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Organizers of the Vatican’s February meeting on sexual abuse have sent a letter to the participating bishops asking them to meet with abuse victims in advance of the gathering.

“We urge each episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome, to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured,” the letter states.

“Absent a comprehensive and communal response, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world,” it continues.

“The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened.”

The gathering, which will take place Feb. 21-24, 2019, is focused on the protection of minors from sexual abuse within the Church. The pope has asked the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, and the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, to attend.

The bishops were also asked to answer by January 15 a questionnaire attached to the letter for use in internal preparations. Sharing information in advance is meant to facilitate, the letter says, the expression of opinions “constructively and critically,” and to get a full picture of the current situation to see where reform is most needed.

The letter also expresses Pope Francis’ thanks for the support of the bishops and his view that “collegial cooperation” is what will help them to tackle the challenges the Church is facing.

The letter concludes by saying that “each of us needs to own this challenge, coming together in solidarity, humility, and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency, and holding everyone in the Church accountable.”

The letter is signed by the summit’s organizing committee, which is made up of members nominated by Pope Francis in November: Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, and Fr. Hans Zollner.

Papal spokesman Greg Burke said about the letter Dec. 18 that organizers are asking bishops to meet with victims in their own countries before February as “a concrete way of putting victims first, and acknowledging the horror of what happened.”

A Vatican communication said the organizing committee is making “steady progress in preparations for the gathering,” which will focus on the themes of “responsibility, accountability, and transparency.”

For bishops to meet with victims is “to follow the example of Pope Francis,” according to the statement. “Such personal encounters are a concrete way of ensuring that victim survivors of clerical abuse are first and foremost in the minds of all at the February gathering."

Full of Grace Cafe: Small-town parish opens thriving coffee shop, community center

Baton Rouge, La., Dec 18, 2018 / 04:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Fr. Josh Johnson arrived as pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church over a year ago, he slept in a room above the choir loft.

The church and rectory had been ravaged by a flood a couple years prior that had destroyed or damaged 95 percent of the small town of St. Amant, Louisiana. The pastor of Holy Rosary had also left due to health reasons, leaving the wrecked parish without a pastor.

Knowing he was coming into a difficult situation, Johnson called in the big guns: he asked communities of cloistered nuns to surround his new parish in prayer.

“I immediately reached out to the cloistered convents and was like: ‘Hey y'all, here's the deal. I'm going to this parish that's just been devastated, can y'all please adopt this parish as spiritual mothers and intercede for these people?’” Johnson told CNA.

Then he bumped up the amount of time that the sacraments would be available to his parishioners. He rearranged the schedule so that his staff could start their day with Mass and adoration.

Fast-forward to today - the prayers of those nuns, and of the people of the parish of Holy Rosary, have come to fruition in the booming and thriving Full of Grace Cafe, a one-stop-shop community center run out of the renovated rectory.

The full name of the rectory-turned-community-center is: Full of Grace Cafe: Quenching God’s Thirst for Charity & Justice.

And the name fits, because it’s hard to come up with a service that Full of Grace Cafe doesn’t offer.

It’s a coffee shop, but it’s also a food pantry and a soup kitchen and a diaper drive and a laundromat. There are volunteer Human Resources specialists, psychological counselors, a hair stylist, a Creighton FertilityCare specialist and an ultrasound machine. There’s a room for small groups and bible studies. There’s a fireplace and a pool table and a courtyard for outdoor movie nights and socials after Mass.

That wasn’t the original vision. At first, Johnson had the simple idea to move the existing food pantry to a more prominent location, and to maybe one day open a coffee shop.

“I had a very small vision at first, just put the food pantry up front, that way when people come to our campus, you see a beautiful church, and then you see a space for service of the poor,” he said.

“And then from that, different parishioners just began to share their dreams.” All of the services are offered pro bono by parishioners who wanted to share their gifts with the community, Johnson said.

“One lady came to me and said I have the gift of doing hair, and then she said my friends do too, and we would love to come and do hair for free there. And so I said ok, cool, it can be a food pantry and a salon.”

As word got out about the cafe, the offers of help just kept coming.

“And then someone said why don't we make it a soup kitchen too? I love to cook. These people out here can cook well! So I was like ok, we can do that. Then another woman who works with me, she's a Creighton fertility care specialist, and she was like, I can walk with couples and do Creighton FertilityCare for people who are infertile or who have endometriosis or cysts on their ovaries or who want to do Natural Family Planning.”



Johnson also recruited the help of local branches of Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, and other non-profits in the area to bolster the services and to provide legal help and counseling.

He said he hopes to bring Jesus to people in a way that is non-threatening, in a way that informs, but doesn’t force anything. He said he wants people to feel heard, and for them to know that the cafe is a place where people can come and mutually share their gifts and their lives.

“The goal is really to have a place where the body of Christ can come together to give and receive,” he said.

“I'm going there to receive too, I'm certainly going to give in there, but I'm also receiving. Like when I do a bible study with our parishioners, God speaks to me through their wisdom and through their love for the Lord. And whenever I'm with the poor I'm receiving as much as I'm giving, so its a place of mutuality, where I can give to you and I can receive your gift and we can accompany each other toward heaven.”

Johnson is not foreign to mission work. Before he became a priest, he spent time serving with Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta, India. He’s served the poor with a religious order in Jamaica, and several years ago he was on mission at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the cafe is just a means, Johnson said, not an end. The goal is to point people to Jesus, and ultimately, to make saints.

“On the wall for (Mother Teresa’s) home for the dying and the destitute, there's a quote on the wall that Mother Teresa said to God,” Johnson said. “She said: I will give Holy Mother Church saints. And I remember when I saw that quote it pierced my heart, so it’s on my ordination card...and this is my way of drawing people to the sacraments.”

Johnson himself left the Church when he was young. What brought him back, he said, was the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is what brought me back to Jesus and so I believe if I could just get people to come to our campus, then I have the opportunity to point them to Jesus and the Eucharist because the Eucharist is where transformation happens,” he said.

“The Eucharist is going to do everything else, I've seen Jesus work miracles, it’s so cool,” he said.

He’s invited Protestants to come to Eucharistic adoration at his parish, and “I've just seen legit transformations... people who don't even know what's going on have these hardcore transformations because Jesus is alive, and I think we just need to believe that Jesus is God and that he can do what he says he does.”

Johnson has endless stories of all kinds of providential encounters that have happened through the Full of Grace Cafe. There was Micky, a homeless man who wanted community and is now connected to a bible study. There was a distressed young man in the parking lot who needed a job - and was able to take a roofing job that another man had told Johnson about the day before.

Something else Johnson wanted to emphasize was the evangelizing aspect of the Full of Grace Cafe. He didn’t just want to offer food or laundry services to people in need without also trying to tell them about Jesus, he said.

“One thing I noticed in seminary, helping out at Catholic apostolates, when they did work for the poor and with the poor, they wouldn't evangelize well,” he said. “They would give people food, like handouts and stuff, but they wouldn't try to tell people about the story of salvation, and share Jesus with people and really proclaim the faith.”

That’s why in every room of Full of Grace Cafe, there are scripture verses on the wall and pictures of saints. “And they're really diverse saints, because I want everyone who comes to see a saint who looks like them,” he said, from Our Lady of Kibeho to Our Lady of Guadalupe to Fr. Augustus Tolton, St. Jose Sanchez, St. Dymphna, Saints Peter and Paul and more.

“So whether you're white, black, Asian or Hispanic, you're going to see someone who looks like you who's a saint, so you're going to be inspired. You're going to see scriptures on the wall. You're going to meet people who aren't just going to give you a hand-out, but who are going to ask you your story and ask if they can pray with you. I want it to be a place where people would legit encounter Jesus.”

He’s also hoping that he will find an order of religious sisters who will fill the convent in the back of the cafe and help out at the parish.

“I want nuns!” he said. So far he’s had a few different orders of religious sisters come and visit to see if the parish would fit them.

“I want nuns who love Jesus and who love the poor and who love the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.

Johnson said one of the most rewarding things about Full of Grace Cafe has been seeing how willing his parishioners are to pitch in and share their gifts with the community.



“They're like my kids,” he said of his parishioners. “It’s like wow, I'm younger than them because I’m only 31, but I'm like oh man, look at my kids, they're happy about this, they're excited about doing ministry.”

“I recognize I am a limited member of the Body of Christ,” he added. “I'm a necessary member for sure, but I'm very limited, my role is limited, so if I can just build up my parishioners to say yes to being the particular member of the body of Christ that they're called to be, I've done my job well because then we're gonna run, we're gonna thrive.”

The projects at Holy Rosary parish and Full of Grace Cafe have only just begun.

Taking another cue from Mother Teresa, the next step for Johnson is, unsurprisingly, building an adoration chapel and setting up perpetual adoration.

“I've been telling people ok, now, we have to set up perpetual adoration because I don't want any of us to become a bunch of heretics out here thinking we're gonna work our way to heaven,” he said. “We've got to focus on the Eucharist and we're going to see so much more supernatural fruit.”

He said that when Mother Teresa’s sisters prioritized time in prayer in front of the Eucharist, they saw their order and apostolates flourish in new ways.

“We're going to follow the model of saints,” he said. “We're going to next focus on getting an adoration chapel built so that we can have really hardcore time of just Jesus and I, and adore the Lord and watch him work! Watch the Lord do his thing, and he will, he will. It’s so exciting.”

All photos courtesy of Fr. Joshua Johnson.

What Makes a “Holiday”? A Theory of Festivity

What does it mean to celebrate?

From bartender to priest: 'God is very insistent!'

Santander, Spain, Dec 17, 2018 / 08:17 pm (ACI Prensa).- How do you go from being a bartender who has not attended Mass for 15 years to becoming a priest?

For Fr. Juan de Cáceres, the answer is that God was persistent in pursing his heart and revealing his call.

Today, Fr. Juan is a priest of the Diocese of Santander in Spain. But he had been away from the sacraments for 15 years when he had a conversion that allowed him to hear God’s call in his life.

After finishing his undergraduate studies, Juan enrolled in law school. However, he was not a good student, and in 2006, at the age of 28, he decided to quit law school to open a trendy bar in Santander.

However, with the onset of the economic crisis in Spain, what had initially promised to be a successful business became the focus of his financial problems, compounded by the crisis of turning 30 and feeling a lack of direction in his life.

“I was really lost, drowning in debt and with the [economic] crisis, there were almost no customers. In addition, my friends quit going out like they used to. They began to get married and stopped dating. I found myself all alone,” he said in an interview with the El Diario Montañés news.

While Juan had stopped going to Mass 15 years ago, a friend invited him to some talks on prayer, which became the turning point that changed his life.

At first, he went to the talks to spend time with his friend. But something within him changed little-by-little: he began to go to Mass again, returned to confession, and re-enrolled in school.

His life started to come together again, until two years after that new beginning, he “felt the call” to the priesthood.

But his first reaction was “to say no.”

“I came up with all kinds of objections: my work, my debts, my life. I thought what I needed to do was to settle down, meet a woman who would make me very happy and have a family. But God is very insistent! And from then on, he would not let that thought out of my heart or mind,” he told El Diario Montañés.

When he decided to discern a vocation, he asked then-Bishop Vicente Jiménez of Santander if he could enter seminary in another city, because “had to keep his distance” from his past life. He entered a seminary in Pamplona, about 120 miles away.

“I was working at the bar up to the day before going to Pamplona, where I spent three fantastic years,” he recalled. During that time, Fr. Juan also worked with the Chinese Catholic community.

He was ordained a priest last January and was assigned to serve four parishes in Santander. He also teaches religion classes three days a week to teenagers.

The experience of being a bartender ended up having value for the priest, who noted that during those years, “I was sort of a confessor to everyone.”

He also helps foster vocations in the diocese because as he explains, “a lot of people have felt the same way I did, but they haven't figured out how to follow up…I'm here to listen and guide.”

 

This article was originally published July 18, 2018 by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

The case against Pell: new details emerge

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2018 / 06:05 pm (CNA).- Following the conviction of Cardinal George Pell in the Australian state of Victoria last week, new details have emerged about the nature of the crimes for which he has been found guilty.

Pell was found guilty Dec. 11 on five charges of sexual abuse of minors, following accusations that he sexually assaulted two former members of the Melbourne cathedral choir.

A sweeping court injunction prevents the nature of the accusations, the progress of the case, or the even the result of the trial from being discussed by the media in Australia.

Despite the gag order, CNA has spoken to several individuals who attended Pell’s trial in person, as well as others present for pre-trial hearings in early 2018.

During the March preliminary hearings, the defense petitioned for the allegations against Pell to be heard in two separate trials, the first concerning the accusations of the Melbourne choristers, and the second related to allegations from Pell’s time as a priest in Ballarat. Other charges Pell faced were dropped during the pre-trial committal hearings.

Sources say that five counts of sexual abuse were allegedly committed by Pell against the two choristers immediately following a 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in Melbourne’s cathedral. Pell is accused of abusing both choir members in the same incident.

Only one of the alleged victims was present in court to give evidence against Pell. The other alleged victim, according a 2017 report from The Australian newspaper The Age, died of a drug overdose in 2014.

Before his death, the deceased man reportedly told his mother at least twice that he had not been a victim of sexual abuse. The other former choir member reportedly told the deceased man’s mother only after the man died that both had been abused by Pell, The Age reported, citing a 2017 book on Pell by journalist Louise Milligan.

According to the prosecution, Pell and the choir members “went missing” from a recessional procession at the end of a Mass celebrated by the archbishop. Pell is alleged to have abused the choristers somewhere within the cathedral sacristy immediately following that Mass.

Milligan has reported that the abuse might have taken place in the early months of 1997, but sources told CNA that the prosecution identified a period between August and December 1996, shortly after Pell was installed as Melbourne’s archbishop.

In June 2017, a priest who says he was with the archbishop every time Pell celebrated Mass at Melbourne’s cathedral was questioned by police about a timeframe that seems to match the one identified by prosecutors.

The priest told police that there was no occasion when Pell would have been alone with choir members. “At no time before, during or after Mass was the Archbishop in direct contact with anyone except that I was present,’’ the priest said, according to The Australian.

“I was always standing next to him and usually at an arm’s length away.’’

Pell was known to habitually celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, at which the choir regularly sang, while he served as Archbishop of Melbourne.

However, Melbourne’s cathedral was undergoing restoration work at the time of his installation in August 1996, which prevented Pell from being installed in the cathedral building itself or from regularly celebrating Mass there for several weeks.

In fact, during the pre-trial committal hearing in March 2018, records were produced showing that during the period between August and December 1996, Pell only celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Sunday Mass twice.

According to a source present for the pre-trial hearing, on both of the occasions on which Pell celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Mass during the designated period, the choir held practices for the taping of a Christmas performance immediately following the 10:30 Mass, when the absence of two choristers would have been immediately noticed.

Cathedral and choir leaders and former members testified at the pre-trial hearing that choir leaders kept a close eye on the children and would have noticed if any slipped away. Former choir director Peter Finigan testified at the committal hearing that while it would have been possible for two choir members to break from their group, he did not remember that it had ever happened.

“Two altos going missing would have stood out right away, as would their late arrival for the practice straight after Mass,” a source present at the committal hearing told CNA.

“That much was crystal clear.”

During the same committal hearing in March, a pastoral associate at the cathedral, Rodney Dearing, told the court that Pell required help to remove his vestments after every Mass, and it would have been nearly impossible for the archbishop to expose his genitals while fully vested, or to commit other sexual acts in the vestments.

Dearing also told Victoria police that the layout of the cathedral did not align with the accusations.

“I can’t understand, knowing the layout [of the cathedral] and how things worked, how it could have occurred,” Dearing told police, according to Australian media reports filed before a gag order on the trial was instituted.

CNA has previously reported that concerns were raised about the layout of the cathedral sacristy, where the abuse is alleged to have taken place, which is open-planned and usually full of people following Mass.

Further evidence was reportedly heard during the November trial confirming that Pell only celebrated 10:30 a.m. Mass in the cathedral twice during the alleged timeframe of the events, and the court heard witness testimony that Pell had been with guests immediately following Mass on one of the two Sundays.

Sources close to the trial underscored to CNA that cases of sexual abuse often rely on the persuasive testimony of the victims, and that due to the nature of sexual abuse crimes, corroborating evidence is difficult to present. In such cases, the relative reliability of the victims can be a crucial factor.

During Pell’s trial, the judge reportedly excluded both the prosecution and the defense from disclosing to the jury or discussing in court anything which could bear upon the credibility of the accuser.

When asked how the jury could have delivered a unanimous conviction despite the seeming weight of evidence in his favor, several trial attendees noted that Pell refused to give evidence in his own defense.

“Pell didn’t take the stand, and that definitely made a negative impression; it doesn’t look good if you won’t deny it with your own lips,” one source told CNA.

Others close to the cardinal defended the decision not to have Pell take the stand.

“If you hire Robert Richter [Pell’s lead lawyer], you bloody well take his advice,” one source close to Pell noted. Some sources believe that Pell’s attorneys were concerned that the cardinal would try to give expansive answers from the witness box, rather than confine himself to narrow responses on points of fact.

Instead of Pell’s testimony, recordings were played for the jury of Pell’s interviews with police and state authorities, in which he had previously answered questions about the charges and denied ever sexually abusing a minor.

The Melbourne trial began in June, ending first in a hung jury and a mistrial, with jurors reportedly siding 10-2 in favor of Pell’s innocence. A second hearing with a new jury began in November, delivering a unanimous conviction on Dec. 11. The gag order remains in place pending Pell’s sentencing and expected appeal, and ahead of the trial on the Ballarat allegations expected to begin early next year.

Prior to the institution of the gag order, questions were raised by Australian media and legal figures about the possibility that jury pools could be tainted by years of negative coverage of Pell.

In other Australian states, high-profile cases like Pell’s have the option of being tried by a judge only, without a jury, called a bench trial. Victoria, where Pell is on trial, is one of the only jurisdictions in Australia not to have this option.

On Dec. 13, two days after the Pell conviction, Victoria state Attorney-General Jill Hennessy told the Australian newspaper The Age that she had asked her department to examine the option of judge-only trials in high profile cases, where an impartial jury might be difficult to find. This followed the exoneration of former Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson, whose conviction for failing to report child sexual abuse was overturned by a judge on appeal.

In the Wilson case, appellate judge Roy Ellis noted that media portrayals of the Church’s sexual abuse crisis might have been a factor in the guilty verdict.

Such portrayals “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes,” he said.

The state of Victoria has faced sustained criticism for the use of suppression orders by the state’s courts. Despite an Open Courts Act passed in 2013 aimed at improving judicial transparency, Victorian courts issued more than 1500 suppression orders between 2014-2016.

It has been reported that local media petitioned Victoria County Court to lift the suppression order on the Pell case, but that no decision had been issued on that request.

 

Catholic News Agency has not published, broadcast, or distributed this news story in Australia.

California priest convicted of sexually assaulting San Diego seminarian

San Diego, Calif., Dec 17, 2018 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- A California priest was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting a seminarian. After his conviction, Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo will be listed on California’s sex offender registry, and could face up to six months of incarceration.

During a week-long trial, the San Diego seminarian assaulted by Castillo testified that the priest approached him Feb. 4 in a restaurant bathroom and groped his genitals twice.

The assault followed a night in which Castillo took two seminarians to a bar and restaurant after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where the priest served as parochial vicar. The seminarian said they had several drinks, and that Castillo encouraged him to drink to excess.

The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight, and that Castillo approach him from behind and groped him.

In September, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego told CNA that the diocese had not publicly commented on the allegations because “we need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear.”

Castillo's defense did not address consent, but instead denied that contact between the men was sexual.

The priest told jurors Dec. 14 that when he touched the seminarian, he was trying to put pressure on the man’s stomach in order to help him stop vomiting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Castillo told jurors he put one hand on the seminarian’s back and then “tried to put my other hand on his stomach.”

“My mom always put pressure on my stomach to calm down, stop the vomiting. That’s what I was taught as a kid,” he said. Castillo added that he might have “accidentally” touched the seminarian’s genitals, but that he couldn’t recall.

Castillo sent text messages to the seminarian after the incident, offering apologies, but not specifying what the apologies were for, San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Castillo told jurors he was apologizing for encouraging the seminarian to drink to excess. However, in one exchange, a seminarian accused the priest of “sexually com[ing] on to seminarians.”

Castillo responded: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

A jury decided Dec. 17 that Castillo’s contact constituted misdemeanor sexual battery. He is expected to be sentenced within a month.

Castillo, who is also known as Juan Gabriel Castillo, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. The priest, 35, was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said that “upon reviewing the facts regarding the allegation of sexual assault against Father Castillo, the diocese of San Diego removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately and permanently.”

“We are deeply saddened by the victimization of one of our students, and the damage to society and the Church that it represents.”

'100 Nativities in the Vatican' seeks to show true meaning of Christmas

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2018 / 04:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 100 nativity scenes are on display near the Vatican as the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization seeks to share the history and spirituality behind the nearly 800-year-old Christmas devotion.

“The nativity, in addition to being a beautiful cultural tradition transmitted [by] the genius of St. Francis of Assisi and spread throughout the world, is a strong instrument of evangelization,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the pontifical council, said at the exhibit’s opening.

“Every Christmas many people stop before the mystery of God-made-man, represented with statues, which in many cases are authentic masterpieces of art, to pray, reflect and discover the love of God who becomes a child for us,” Fisichella continued.

The indoor nativity display brings together 126 diverse nativities from Taiwan to Panama made from a variety of materials including pinecones, aluminum, coral, yarn, and papier-mache. Among the many historical nativities from Italy is a modern rendition of the nativity made entirely out of pasta.



The exhibit is completely free to encourage families and school trips to rediscover the meaning of Christmas -- the birth of Jesus, organizers said. While viewing the nativity scenes, visitors can read reflections on the meaning of the nativity from saints throughout history.

St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 in a cave outside of Rome using a live donkey and ox to surround a manger and an altar with the Holy Eucharist as the presence of the newborn Christ child.

Francis was partly inspired by the relic of the wooden boards from Christ’s manger in the crypt the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, where they can still be viewed and venerated today.

The mystic St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) received a vision of the nativity in which “the Virgin knelt down with great veneration in an attitude of prayer.”

“She gave birth to her son from whom radiated such an ineffable light and splendour that the sun was not comparable to it,” St. Bridget wrote.



Several of the historic seventeenth and eighteenth century nativity scenes from Italy display the nativity scene among ruins of ancient columns of palaces. This imagery both alludes to Jesus’ royal lineage from the House of David, and to a pagan legend that the Temple of Peace in Rome would collapse if a virgin gave birth.

The annual “100 Nativities” exhibit was started in 1976 by Italian Manlio Menaglia, who worried that the Catholic devotion was being overshadowed by other Christmas decorations. This is the first year that the nativity exhibition is under the leadership of the Vatican.

“100 Nativities in the Vatican” can be viewed inside the Saint Pius X Hall along the Via della Conciliazione. It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through January 13, 2019.

Credit for all photos: Courtney Grogan / CNA.