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US bishops endorse bill to provide legislative fix for DACA recipients

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2018 / 06:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge ruled on Tuesday evening that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program must be re-opened to new applicants, and the following day the USCCB announced support for the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act of 2018,” which would codify DACA into law.

DACA is an Obama-era federal program that protects people who were brought to the United States illegally as children from being deported and also provides for work permits. DACA recipients, who are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” must renew their DACA status each year.

President Donald Trump has sought to end DACA, saying that the initial program was only an executive order that went beyond the scope of presidential powers.

While other court decisions have ordered that the federal government begin to accept DACA renewals, the April 24 decision by Judge John Bates was different in that it re-opened the program for new applicants. Bates said that he did not believe the Trump administration provided a strong enough case for why the program should end.

Trump has urged Congress to pass a law that would combine some of DACA’s provisions along with immigration reform, but so far these efforts have not been successful.

Bates’ decision will go into effect in 90 days, unless the Trump Administration issues new reason as for why it is ending DACA.

The USCCB’s Committee on Migration issued a letter of support April 24 for H.R. 4796, dubbed the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act of 2018.”

The bill would shield “Dreamers” from deportation and would provide for a path to citizenship for certain qualified persons. Additionally, the USA Act of 2018 would increase border security and would seek to address corruption in Central America – a major cause of “irregular migration.”

The bill was introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), and is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of representatives.

The letter is signed by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who is chairman of the USCCB’s committee on migration.

“While a larger solution is still needed to fix our broken immigration system, we urge Congress to first focus on passing H.R. 4796, as written, or similar bipartisan and narrowly-tailored legislation,” said the letter.

“Any legislation passed should provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, not undermine our family-based immigration system or terminate existing protections for vulnerable migrants, and ensure that border security measures are just, proportionate, and humane.”

Vasquez said it was a “moral duty” to protect Dreamers, and that they are “valuable members of our communities.”

In Northern Ireland, anti-abortion graffiti hits Catholic churches

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Apr 25, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two Catholic churches in Northern Ireland have been targeted with graffiti bearing a message opposed to abortion, ahead of a key referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

Between the late hours of April 22 and the early morning of April 23, a vandal painted on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh a slogan “Save the 8th. Save Ireland.” The Eighth Amendment protects unborn children under the republic’s constitution and could be repealed in a May 25 vote.

Another slogan was tagged on St. Columcille’s Church in Carrickmore in County Tyrone sometime between April 23 and April 24. It appeared to say the traditionally Protestant Democratic Unionist Party’s stand against abortion would benefit the unborn who will play in the Gaelic Athletics Association and those who will speak the Irish language, the promotion of which is a subject of controversy among DUP members.

“Only DUP speaks for Irish unborn to speak Irish and play GAA vote DUP,” the slogan said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Police are investigating criminal damage at both churches.

Sinn Fein, a nationalist party with significant Catholic support, has endorsed the repeal effort in the Republic of Ireland, which would legalize abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy. Its party has endorsed legalized abortion in cases of rape, fetal abnormality, and where a woman’s mental or physical health faces serious threat, the Irish Times reports.

Garath Keating, a Sinn Fein counselor, said he was “absolutely horrified” at the graffiti in Armagh. He suggested that anyone who objected to Sinn Fein’s stance on the abortion referendum should “protest at our office or in a public forum, not write it on a church wall.”

“I can’t comprehend how anybody could think this is a useful way to convey their point of view,” Keating continued. “There is plenty of opportunity and forums for public discussion in respect of any of the matters, but to take to spreading your message by writing on a place of worship is horrifying and despicable.”

Thomas Buchanan, a DUP member of the Legislative Assembly, said, “there are strong feelings among members of the community about Sinn Fein's policy on abortion, however that does not excuse anyone engaging in criminal damage.”

“It is totally wrong and inappropriate to smear a place of worship, or any public building, with graffiti to make any sort of political point,” he said, according to BBC News.

Another Sinn Fein candidate, Órfhlaith Begley, said the incident was “blatant sectarian vandalism” and a “sectarian hate crime.”

Pro-abortion rights campaigners have also acted at churches. In the grotto of the Mary Immaculate Church in Inchicore, Dublin, some activists placed upon the altar a sweater bearing the phrase “Repeal.” They took a photo and shared it on social media.

Abortion advocacy is also underway in Northern Ireland, which has its own laws. The Department of Health on April 25 released a new report advocating abortion in cases where the unborn child has physical abnormalities.

“Women and babies in Northern Ireland do not need abortion. What women really need is access to holistic, life-affirming and compassionate healthcare that cares for both lives when faced with a difficult prenatal diagnosis,” said Bernadette Smyth, spokesperson for Northern Ireland's leading pro-life group, Precious Life.

Australian nun to be deported from Philippines for alleged political activism

Manila, Philippines, Apr 25, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Australian Catholic nun who has been working as a missionary in the Philippines for nearly 30 years has been ordered to leave the country on the grounds of allegedly joining protest rallies.

Sister Patricia Fox, 71, will be deported within 30 days, after the immigration bureau revoked her missionary visa. Her deportation order stated that she was “found to have engaged in activities that are not allowed under the terms and conditions of her visa,” according to Reuters.

“She has not participated in any partisan activity. She is a nun,” said Jobert Pahilga, one of Fox’s lawyers, in a report from Reuters.

“We will file a motion for reconsideration on this order,” Pahilga continued.

While her missionary visa was cancelled on Monday, Fox will still be able to enter the Philippines as a tourist, but not as a missionary.

Fox’s deportation comes only a week after she was arrested at her convent and detained for 22 hours by authorities. She was later released after “no probable cause” was found for her arrest.

Fox has been a legally documented alien in the country with a missionary visa, who has served as the Philippine superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion. Her primary focus has been working with the rural poor for the past 27 years.

Allegations brought against Fox have included participating in political rallies, which according to Philippines immigration law, would violate her right to stay in the country. However, Pahilga has denied these claims, saying she “has done nothing wrong or illegal,” that would warrant her deportation.

Fox did travel to Tagum City in an effort to gather data on human rights violations against farmers within the region. Fox noted that she stood in solidarity with the farmers during a rally in an effort to promote human rights – not politics.

“I would call it religious because we are called to stand beside the poor,” Fox said, according to CBCP news, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ news outlet.

“I haven’t joined partisan political rallies but I have been active in human rights issues,” she continued.  

CBCP also reported that they were told Fox was primarily arrested for being an “undesirable alien” within the country because she participated in the farmer rally protests.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines originally ordered an investigation into Fox for “disorderly conduct” and brought claims against her for involvement in political activity reaching beyond the scope of her missionary work.

“It’s a violation of sovereignty,” Duterte recently said, noting that Fox does “not have that right to criticize us. Do not insult my country.”

Duterte’s administration has recently barred several human rights activists from re-entering the Philippines in a campaign to limit foreigners in the nation. The president has also made headlines with his crusade against drugs within the nation, which has caused international controversy and left thousands of apparent users and dealers dead.  

One activist group, Bayan (Nation), spoke out against Fox’s deportation, calling it “despicable and utterly shameful.”

“The Duterte regime is paranoid and afraid of an elderly nun working for human rights and social justice for the poor,” said Renato Reyes, a leader of the group, according to Reuters.

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila also recently said that the actions brought against Fox were a “form of persecution and harassment.””

“This is political,” Pabillo said. “The government is trying to intimidate individuals and groups who are in pursuit of social justice for the oppressed and the poor.”

Fox has 30 days to leave the Philippines upon receipt of the immigration order.

Franciscan University highlights sexual assault policies following criticism

Steubenville, Ohio, Apr 25, 2018 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- Franciscan University in Steubenville has said it is committed to reporting and investigating all allegations of abuse in alignment with Title IX requirements and the school’s Catholic identity, following claims that it has mishandled abuse cases in the past.

“While many schools provide Title IX training that meets requirements, here, we hold our students to a higher standard,” David Schmiesing, vice president of Student Life, told CNA in email comments.

“We frame our Title IX training within the context of a Catholic understanding of human sexuality and the dignity of the human person. For example, during Orientation Weekend for all new students and parents, we provide a talk on the truth and beauty of human sexuality that sets the stage for our online training on the specifics of our sexual misconduct policy,” Schmiesing said.

Schools that receive federal funding are obliged to comply with Title IX, a federal law that requires schools to have appropriate reporting procedures in place for allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.

Franciscan University came under fire in an April 16 article in the National Catholic Reporter, which included claims from some alumni of the University, who alleged that some instances of past sexual harassment or assault were mishandled by the school.

The article's publication was supported by a grant from The Media Consortium, which has partnered with Bitch Media to produce the “DIShonor Roll,” a series of stories on the handling of sexual assault at college campuses following the #MeToo campaign.

Jenn Morson, the freelance journalist who authored the Reporter article, told CNA that she was only made aware of the grant after she had filed her story.

The Media Consortium is a 501c3 non-profit “dedicated to values-driven journalism. Founded in 2006, the Media Consortium's mission is to support and grow the impact of the independent and community news sector.”

Its leadership includes Julie Falk, Executive Director of Bitch Media, and Caitlin Hendel, CEO of the National Catholic Reporter. The Media Consortium has reportedly been the recipient of several grants from the Open Society Foundation, funded by progressive billionaire George Soros.

According to the description on Media Consortium’s website, the DIShonor Roll project, launched in February, seeks “to solve the problem of sexual violence on campus” with “consistent, powerful storytelling that puts a human face on campus sexual violence.”

“To that end, the Media Consortium, partnering with Bitch Media, is launching #DishonorRoll. Twice a month, a wide consortium of news outlets, working with project editors at Bitch Media, will publish stories on different aspects of campus sexual assault.”

Grants of $500 are available through Media Consortium to any media outlets or journalists who want to participate in the project. Other articles in the project include “Is Campus Rape Activism Accessible?”, “I Kissed Consent Goodbye: Purity Culture and Sexual Violence on Evangelical Christian Campuses” and “Everything Scold is New Again”, published on Bitch Media, and “Christendom College alumni call for Title IX response to sexual assaults” published by the National Catholic Reporter.

According to its 2016 tax filings, the mission of Bitch Media is “to provide and encourage an engaged, thoughtful feminist response to mainstream and popular culture.”

Morson's article detailed several alleged stories of mishandled sexual assault or harassment incidents at Franciscan on an alumni Facebook page.

According to the Reporter, Annie, a Franciscan alumna whose name had been changed, shared in the Facebook group that when she was raped in the spring of 2007, she was encouraged by a priest at Franciscan to seek counseling, but not encouraged to contact the authorities.

Another student, Jennifer, claimed that in 2008, Franciscan’s then-Director of Student Life, Catherine Heck violated her privacy by forcing her to call her parents after an incident of sexual assault, and by sharing the story with other RAs at the time.

Another student, Margaret, claimed a mishandling of a 2005 sexual assault incident.

"I had to tell my story several times to different faculty members and a review board made up entirely of men," Margaret said. "They asked me why I was drinking in the first place, what my dress looked like, and if I had any other encounters with [the male student] before this happened."

According to Margaret, the review board took no action against the male student after they believed there was no proof that the incident was not consensual.

The Reporter also discussed a current graduate student, identified as Mary, who said she and other women were harassed by "a man in their department," and filed a complaint with the university. They said they were not interviewed about their allegations, but were subsuently notified that the university had concluded there was no "reasonable cause to believe" the man had violated misconduct policies.

Franciscan officials told CNA that in order to protect the privacy of those involved, it could not speak about specific cases in the past or present involving sexual abuse.

“We can say that if a case involves criminal actions, we strictly follow our policy and encourage students to report alleged criminal sexual misconduct to law enforcement agencies,” Brenan Pergi, vice president of Human Resources and deputy Title IX/EEO coordinator, told CNA.

Since 2011, Franciscan has also reviewed and improved existing policies and procedures in reporting sexual misconduct, John Pizzuti, Franciscan’s Title IX/EEO coordinator and director of Campus Safety and Compliance, told Franciscan Magazine. The school has also established Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with the Steubenville Police Department and sexual victims advocate group Alive Inc., outlining the terms and details of handling cases of sexual misconduct.

“In total, since 2011, almost two dozen new programs, designed to ensure the safety of all students, have gone into effect at Franciscan. Key staff members have received comprehensive training in helping victims of sexual misconduct. And the entire process of reviewing complaints - from reporting to adjudicating and appealing decisions—has been strengthened and clarified,” Emily Stimpson Chapman wrote in Franciscan Magazine.

Some sources in the Reporter article also claimed that the emphasis in Title IX training at Franciscan was Church teaching on sexuality and the prevention of being in situations that could lead to sexual assault, rather than on reporting incidents.

"Everything at (Franciscan University) is talked about with a religious lens. Even the way they discuss sexual assault and harassment focuses on what the church teaches on premarital sex, modesty and avoiding situations that lead to sexual assault, as opposed to taking the report for what it is," said Marisa Bortz, who worked as a sexual assault advocate and prevention educator for ALIVE, Inc., in the same county as Franciscan.

Catherine Heck, assistant vice president of Student Life and deputy Title IX/EEO coordinator, noted that “FUS encourages both prevention and reporting. Like most colleges and universities we work hard to prevent the tragedy of sexual misconduct from occurring in the first place. Equally important is our immediate support and action if a complaint is made. If we receive a report of sexual misconduct, we investigate and resolve the complaint in a timely manner.”

“All University employees (with the exception of counselors and certain pastoral staff) are obligated to promptly report actual or suspected discrimination, harassment, or sexual misconduct to our Title IX coordinator or deputy,” Pergi added. “Franciscan University encourages students and staff members to immediately report any and all cases of sexual misconduct. When a report is made, the University seeks to provide ongoing support to the student or staff member making the report.”

Furthermore, Franciscan officials said that their policies reflect the Catholic culture and identity of the school, when it comes to such topics as the Title IX issue of “consent.”

“We carefully and thoroughly describe the concept of ‘consent’ for students and emphasize that non-consensual sexual activity is a violation of our policy and an attack on human dignity,” Heck said. “We also make it clear that all sexual contact outside of the covenant of marriage is inconsistent with Catholic teaching and the University’s expectations for our students - consent is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient.”

The full list of policies and procedures can be found on the University’s website, and are “based on our respect for the dignity of the human person as expressed in Church teaching as well as being guided by federal, state, and local statutes,” Pergi noted.

“We seek to respect the rights of everyone involved, while creating a safe and positive learning environment for students, staff, and faculty members,” he said.

Editor's note: Subsequent to the publication of this story, CNA was contacted by Jenn Morson, referenced above. The article was updated for clarity.

Dominican priest: Lack of belief within the Church enables the diabolical spirit

Rome, Italy, Apr 25, 2018 / 01:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- According to one exorcist working in Italy, the average time needed for a person to be freed from demonic influence in an exorcism is taking much longer than it did in even the recent past.

Whereas before it was common for a person to be liberated in one session, even if the blessing lasted several hours, now on average sessions are growing longer and multiple meetings are required for a person to be completely freed from the devil's grasp.

Fr. Francois Dermine, O.P., an exorcist of nearly 25 years, told CNA he believes the prolongation can be attributed to a few basic elements: the high diffusion of atheistic attitudes in society at large; the reduction of the understanding of faith as merely an intellectual concept; and a growing lack of belief within the Church, even among priests and bishops, in the devil and his actions.

Though there are no set rules for how long it should take for someone to be liberated from demonic obsession or possession, Fr. Dermine said that “some people can be liberated with very few blessings, though many require months.”

Others, if they are serious cases of possession, “can take a year.” However, longer sessions like this did not really happen until recently, after the 1960s, he said.

“One blessing was enough – a blessing of one hour, two hours, three hours, six hours, but one blessing was enough to liberate one person of a possession. But now it's different. It's becoming very long.”

“I think the reason for that is our society is becoming more and more atheistic, people are going away from prayer and the sacraments … so there are fewer defenses against the devil.”

Another important, but “abnormal” factor, he said, is a lack of faith within the Church itself, because during an exorcism, “the exorcist prays in the name of the Church.”

“If, within the Church, you have the clergy and also a certain number of bishops who do not believe in the devil or his actions, then the exorcist is deprived of the power of the prayer of the Church.”

Because of this, “the exorcist is liberating [people] more slowly. Before it was not the case.”

Fr. Dermine was ordained a priest in 1979 and has been an exorcist since 1994, He currently serves as the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Ancona-Osimo, and was one of the speakers presenting at an April 16-21 course on exorcism offered by the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome.

In his comments to CNA, Fr. Dermine said there is a general lack of formation on exorcism and the actions of the devil in the Church today.

Noting how this year's course on exorcism had 295 students most of whom are priests studying at pontifical universities, enroll, Fr. Dermine said the high number can be attributed at least in part to the fact that courses on exorcism and the devil are not included in theological curricula.

“There is a void,” he said, “so they want to learn what is not taught to them but should be taught.”

In the past, it was common for a theological curriculum to include courses on angels, demons, and their influence. “It was very important for moral theology and also for the theology of exorcism, but now it does not exist anymore,” Dermine said.

“So it's a sign that within the Church faith in these things is not as strong as it was before.”

However, the exorcist said that while it is crucial that priests be instructed on the topic, it is important not to dwell on the devil too much, in order to avoid superstition.

Fr. Dermine also voiced concern that the practice of the faith is becoming more intellectual, but less spiritual, and is therefore at times being reduced to a sort of “moralism” void of actual belief.

“Our faith is becoming more and more intellectual. We have to inform the person, we have to instruct the person with catechism, it's very important. I myself am a Dominican, I am a moral theologian, I teach theology, I believe in formation,” he said, while emphasizing that “problems cannot be solved only through information.”

Faith, he said, is above all “a mystery of salvation; we have to be saved from something, from someone, and this someone is also the devil.”

Because of this, simply changing our behavior is not enough, because “this is a sort of moralism; but our faith is not a moralism.”

Moral principles are important, but they are not the full picture, he said, explaining that Christ came to save men from sin and death, and from the actions of the devil, and because of this, it is important to know the devil and how to fight him.

Speaking of the qualities needed in an exorcist, Fr. Dermine said he believes being an exorcist is a “vocation within a vocation,” and as such, is not something priests should strive for, because it is a call from God.

Rather, he said exorcists ought to be appointed by their bishop, without trying to pursue the job themselves.

A strong personal prayer life is also something essential for an exorcist, he said, and stressed that someone called to this role is not a “super priest”, but is “a person named by the Church, and that's all.”

Fr. Dermine said the majority of exorcisms he performs are not full on possessions, but are rather blessings or prayers of liberation for people who have opened the door to the devil through actions such as fortune telling or the reading of tarot cards, or who have been attacked by the devil or cursed in some way.

He pointed to a growing superstitious and “magical” mentality in global society, saying dappling in spiritualism and occult practices can open the door to demonic activity, and make it easier for the devil to take hold of a person or influence their life.

It is important for exorcists to know the difference between someone with a genuine charism who receives spiritual gifts from God, and a medium, who is a person that may have the ability to predict or foretell past or present events, but whose abilities do not come from God.

In the case of mediums, many “think it's normal to have these phenomena, but it's not normal,” he said, adding that “many times these people have a lot of problems, but they don't understand why they have these problems,” so they come to an exorcist for help.

For those who have opened the door to the devil through occult activities, “we must try to convince these people to renounce these phenomena, which is not always easy because many of these people feel important because they have these paranormal phenomena, but they pay a very heavy price for these faculties.”

“They must renounce them because they are not moved by God,” Fr. Dermine said, explaining that every true charism that comes from God is meant to produce a spiritual or salvific effect.

Court of Appeal rejects plea from Alfie Evans' parents

Liverpool, England, Apr 25, 2018 / 12:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An appeal by the parents of ailing toddler Alfie Evans was dismissed by the UK Court of Appeal Wednesday, leaving the child to remain at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in England.

Tom Evans and Kate James had been appealing to take their son, Alfie, to Italy for treatment, after the child survived the removal of life support, against their will, at Alder Hey Hospital.

“It’s disgusting how he’s being treated. Not even an animal would be treated this way,” Evans said earlier in the day, adding that Alfie is “fighting.”

Alfie is a 23-month-old toddler who is in what physicians have described as a “semi-vegetative state” due to a mysterious degenerative neurological condition that doctors at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in London have not been able to properly diagnose. He has been hospitalized since December of 2016.

Against the wishes of his parents, Alfie’s life support machine was removed on Monday, and hydration was withheld from him. Although he was expected to die within minutes, he began breathing on his own, and several hours later, doctors re-administered oxygen and hydration. The hospital also withheld food for nearly 24 hours before allowing the toddler to again receive it, Alfie’s father said.

In a hearing on Tuesday, Judge Anthony Hayden of the High Court again denied Alfie the right to travel elsewhere to seek continued treatment, saying his ruling would be the “final chapter in the case of this extraordinary little boy.”

That ruling was upheld when the Court of Appeal dismissed appeals from Alfie’s parents late Wednesday.

Alife’s case first attracted international attention in March, when London’s Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s decision to end life support for Alfie. Judge Hayden of the High Court had ruled that “continued ventilator support is no longer in Alfie’s interests.”

Alfie's parents had repeatedly made requests to transfer him to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome, for further diagnosis and treatment. Tom Evans traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis in person April 18, where he plead for asylum for his family in Italy, so that his son could be moved.

Earlier this week Alfie was granted Italian citizenship in hopes that he would be allowed immediate transfer to Rome to be treated at Bambino Gesu Hospital.

However, the UK judge ruled that the transfer would not be in Alfie's best interest, and he would not be allowed to travel to Rome or Munich, where another hospital had offered to treat him. An air ambulance had been ready and waiting to transport Alfie to Italy if the transfer was approved.

Pope Francis had offered prayers for Alfie and his family several times, including at a general audience and in several Twitter posts.

“Moved by the prayers and immense solidarity shown little Alfie Evans, I renew my appeal that the suffering of his parents may be heard and that their desire to seek new forms of treatment may be granted,” he said on Twitter Monday.

Analysis: Pope’s personal theologian expected to lead major Argentine archdiocese

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Apr 25, 2018 / 11:54 am (CNA).- The Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina announced this week that Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, Pope Francis’ personal theologian and ghostwriter, will be replaced at the helm of the university by Miguel Ángel Schiavone, a long-serving lay professor at the university.

The April 23 statement announcing his replacement said that the Fernandez will “collaborate with the new rector as an adviser, in waiting for his next pastoral destination.”

Officials from the pontifical university (UCA), speaking on background, told CNA that Fernandez has long hoped to leave the university and become the head of an Argentinean archdiocese, while remaining a close advisor to Pope Francis. The same sources told CNA that Fernandez would like to be named Archbishop of La Plata, considered to be the second most important archdiocese in Argentina, after Buenos Aires.

Archbishop Héctor Aguer, the current Archbishop of La Plata, will turn 75 in May 2019. 75 is the age at which diocesan bishops are required to submit letters of resignation to the Pope.

Archbishop Fernandez is a controversial figure in the Church in Argentina, because of some of the publications of his past, and because of his open claim that he can interpret Pope Francis at almost every turn.  

In fact, in 2014 he published the book “Il Progetto di Francesco, Dove vuole portare la Chiesa” (“Francis' Project: Where does he want to lead the Church") with Italian journalist Paolo Rodari, and he regularly appears in the Argentine press as to interpret the gestures or words of the Pope.

Fernandez was born in 1952 in the small rural town of Alcira, in the Province of Córdoba. He was ordained a priest in August 1986 in Río Cuarto, a mostly rural diocese. In 1988 he obtained a degree in theology with a biblical specialization at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and then obtained a doctorate in theology at the UCA in 1990.

With the recommendation of then-Archbishop Bergoglio, he moved in the early 90’s to Buenos Aires, where he was appointed a consultor to several commissions within the Argentinean bishops’ conference and the Latin American Bishops Council (CELAM).

According to a source close to the Argentine bishops’ conference, Fernandez showed a great capacity for writing, and especially for incorporating into the drafts of official documents positions that seemed completely opposed, thus appeasing bishops of various ideological positions.

This ability is reportedly what convinced Cardinal Bergoglio to bring Fernandez as an expert to the V General Conference of the Latin American Bishops, held in 2007 at the Brazilian Marian shrine of Aparecida. It is said that Cardinal Bergoglio, head of the drafting committee of the General Conference, relied heavily on Fernandez’ ability to synthesize a diverse set of viewpoints in his writing.

Aparecida, many sources have claimed, solidified the relationship between the future Pope and the theologian.

On December 15, 2009, Cardinal Bergoglio appointed Fernandez as rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. However, much to the frustration of Cardinal Bergoglio, Fernandez was not able to take the oath of office until May 20, 2011, after he had answered objections to his appointment raised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which assessed concerns about the orthodoxy of certain elements of his scholarship.

An avid writer, by the time Fernandez was chosen by Cardinal Bergoglio to head the UCA, he had written more than 100 articles and books, many of them combining biblical passages with “self-help” themes, in texts including “Activity, Spirituality and rest” (2001). “Living in Peace” (2003), “Catechesis with Spirit” (2003), “Grace and a Wholesome Life” (2003), “Keys to Living Fully” (2003), and “Incarnated Spiritual Theology” (2004,) a book that was featured in the Argentinean soap opera “Esperanza Mía,” about an illicit love affair between a priest and a nun.

The book commonly regarded as his most unusual is 1995’s “Heal me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing.”  Regarding the book, Fernandez explained that: “in these pages I want to synthesize the popular feeling, what people feel when they think of a kiss, what they experience when they kiss... So, trying to synthesize the immense richness of life, these pages emerged in favor of kissing. I hope that they help you kiss better, that they motivate you to release the best of yourself in a kiss.”

Not surprisingly, “Heal me With Your Mouth” has disappeared from most official lists of Fernandez’ works.

Pope Francis named Fernandez the titular Archbishop of Tiburnia on May 13, 2013, thus making him the first rector of UCA to become an archbishop. According to the UCA sources consulted by CNA “Archbishop Fernandez was less than gracious upon receiving the episcopate, and wrote a couple of articles in ecclesial reviews running a true victory lap and denigrating his past critics with very unkind words.”

This reaction did not sit well with many in Argentina, but by that time, sources say it was clear that Fernandez was one of Pope Francis’ closest collaborators.

In fact, the Pope entrusted him with drafting his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, a text in which Fernandez cited his own prior scholarship as a source document.

Pope Francis later appointed him vice-president of the commission for the message of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, held in October 2014, and later appointed him a member of the pontifical roster of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in October 2015. He was then nominated by the Pope for the commission for the elaboration of the synod’s final report.

Fernandez’ controversial role in the drafting of Amoris Laetitia, especially the critical chapter VIII, was denounced by Vatican analyst Sandro Magister and then criticizied by Professor Michael Pakaluk of the Catholic University of America. Writing for Crux in January 2017, Pakaluk argued that “the most important footnote in Amoris Laetitia may not be, as many suppose, one dealing with access to the sacraments for Catholics in ‘irregular’ situations. Instead, it may be a footnote that’s not actually in the document but which should be, since one of the sentences in Amoris is lifted nearly verbatim from an essay published [by Fernandez] in 1995 in a Buenos Aires theological journal.”

“These instances of material plagiarism call into question Fernandez’s suitability to be a ghostwriter for the pope.  A ghostwriter should remain a ghost. By quoting himself, Fernandez has drawn attention to himself and away from the pope,” Pakaluk added.

“Worse than that, Fernandez strains the consciences of the faithful… in the plagiarized sentence do we find ‘the magisterium,’ or Fernandez’s own theological speculations?” Pakaluk asked.

Acknowledging his influence in drafting Amoris Laetitia, Fernandez published in August 2017 a long essay in “Medellin,” the theological Magazine of CELAM, titled  “Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia: What is left after the storm.”  

In the essay, he tried to make the case for greater latitude when deciding giving Communion to the divorced and remarried:  “It is also licit to ask if acts of living together more uxorio [i.e. having sexual relations] should always fall, in its integral meaning, within the negative precept of ‘fornication.’ I say ‘in its integral meaning’ because one cannot maintain those acts in each and every case are gravely dishonest in a subjective sense. In the complexity of particular situations is where, according to St. Thomas [Aquinas], ‘the indetermination increases.’”

Elsewhere in the same essay, Archbishop Fernandez lamented the conflict sparked by footnote 351: “Although the question of the possible access to the communion for some divorcees in a new union has caused much commotion, the Pope intended - unsuccessfully - that this move be made in a discreet manner. Therefore, after developing the presuppositions of this decision in the body of the document, the application to communion for the divorced in new union was made explicit in the footnotes.”

In its farewell message, the UCA statement thanked Fernandez for starting during his tenure the “Coordination for Social Commitment” and several university outreach initiatives aimed at serving the poor in Buenos Aires and the other provinces in which the UCA has campuses.

According to CNA’s UCA sources, Fernandez has never been shy about defending issues related to the life of the unborn, marriage, family or euthanasia. “Everyone at UCA taking strong positions on these key issues, even when they were politically radioactive, always received the rector’s support,” one source said.


At the same time, Fernandez has also been very vocal in expressing that “in many issues I am far more progressive than the Pope.”

Archbishop Héctor Aguer, whom Archbishop Fernandez may replace in La Plata, is regarded as an intellectual and pastoral leader in the mold of Pope John Paul and Benedict XVI. He completed a colossal neo-gothic cathedral for the Archdiocese during his tenure and both his Catholic university and his seminary are regarded by many as among the most orthodox in the country. During the 16 year-run of his popular Saturday radio show, Aguer has proven to be one of Argentina’s most outspoken bishops when it comes to the defense of Church teachings, even at the cost of straining relationship with other bishops and local politicians.

Archbishop Aguer has declined to comment about the possibility of being replaced by Archbishop Fernandez.

Council of Cardinals prep new constitution for Roman Curia

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2018 / 08:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals met this week to continue their discussion of curial reform and to work on the draft of a new apostolic constitution outlining the structure and duties of the Roman Curia.

There is no predicted release date for the apostolic constitution, but the drafting and editing “will take some time,” according to an April 25 Vatican communique. When finished, it will be presented to Pope Francis for further consultation and final approval.

The major part of this week’s meetings, which took place April 23-25 at the Vatican, were dedicated to re-reading the current draft of the constitution, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a briefing April 25.

The Council of Cardinals – who advise the pope on matters of Church governance and reform – also discussed how the Roman Curia can be at the service to the Holy Father and the particular Churches; the pastoral character of curial activity; and the institution and operation of the third section of the Secretary of State, which was established in November to oversee the Holy See’s diplomatic corps.

They also conversed on the announcement of the Gospel and the missionary spirit as a perspective that characterizes the activity of the whole Curia.

During the meetings, the pope and cardinals received an update on the progress of the reform of the Vatican communications system by Msgr. Lucio Ruiz, secretary and acting prefect of the Secretariat for Communications.

Notably, there was no update on the state of the Vatican’s financial reforms, a typical topic of the council’s reunions.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), gave a report on the work of the commission on behalf of children and vulnerable adults, including an explanation of what took place during the PCPM’s recent plenary meeting in Rome.

O’Malley also welcomed a group from the United Kingdom, called the “Survivor Advisory Panel,” and reiterated the PCPM’s commitment to begin their work with first listening to victims of sexual abuse and their experiences.

All members of the council were present throughout the week except for Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, who has been in Australia since last summer facing charges of historical sex abuse. Cardinal Reinhard Marx was absent Monday.

As usual, Pope Francis was present for all sessions apart from Wednesday morning, when he holds the weekly general audience.

Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the Council of Cardinals – also known as the “C9” – serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus, the apostolic constitution which governs the Roman Curia.

The council’s next round of meetings will take place June 11-13.

Pope Francis will visit Bari to host ecumenical day of prayer for peace

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2018 / 07:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will travel to the Italian town of Bari July 7 for an ecumenical gathering with the heads of other Christian churches to pray for peace in the Middle East.

According to the April 25 Vatican communique announcing the visit, the event will primarily be “a day of prayer and reflection on the dramatic situation of the Middle East which afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith.”

The pope has invited faithful to prepare for the event with prayer and will invite heads of the Christian churches and communities in the region, which is home to several different Catholic and Orthodox rites.

Located in Italy's southern Puglia region, Bari is home to the relics of St. Nicholas. Widely known by his more commercialized title of “Santa Claus,” St. Nicholas is one of the most important saints in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pope Francis lent relics of the saint, which consisted of several bone fragments, to Russia last summer in a bid to build further bridges with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The relics were sent from Bari to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow from May 22-July 12, 2017, marking the first time in 930 years that a part of St. Nicholas' body left Bari for veneration abroad. While in Russia, the relics were venerated by more than two million Orthodox faithful, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Francis sent the relics after Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill made a specific request during the historic meeting with Pope Francis in Havana, Cuba in February 2016.

Since the Bari encounter in July is designed to be an ecumenical gathering, it is likely that Patriarch Kirill will attend alongside other leaders. It is also likely that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will also attend, given how frequently he and Francis meet.

St. Nicholas was one of the most venerated saints in Christianity even before his relics were taken from Myra, Turkey, by 62 sailors from Bari in 1087. At the time, the sailors made an expedition to Myra to save St. Nicholas’ relics from Muslims who had conquered the city where the saint had lived and served as a bishop in the fourth century.

At the same time that the pope lent the relics of St. Nicholas to Russia, he also lent the relics of St. Philip to Patriarch Bartholomew in Turkey.

St. Philip's relics arrived in the Turkish city of Izmir, also known as Smyrna in ancient Greek, May 8, 2017, where they remained for the summer.

During his life, St. Philip evangelized the area and was also martyred there. His relics had been secured in Rome’s Santi Apostoli Church since the sixth century; however, in 2016, they were taken out and underwent an examination. They were then exposed for public veneration.

The common veneration of saints and relics is one area where ecumenism is practiced today. Pope Francis himself has often spoken of prayer as a way to build bridges and bring members of different rites and confessions together.

Pope Francis: The Christian life is a battle against evil

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2018 / 04:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis spoke about the temptations encountered in the Christian life, encouraging the faithful not to be discouraged by the struggle, but to be reassured and strengthened by the prayers of the Church.

“It is difficult to fight against evil, to escape from its deceptions, to regain strength after a tiring struggle, but we must know that all of Christian life is a battle,” the pope said April 25.

“But we must also know that we are not alone, that the Mother Church prays so that her children, regenerated in Baptism, do not succumb to the snares of the evil one. Strengthened by the Risen Lord, who defeated the prince of this world, we too can repeat with the faith of St. Paul: ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me,’” he said.

At his Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis continued his reflections on the sacrament of Baptism – including its power over the evil of sin and the hope that Christians gain through the prayers of others and through membership in the Catholic Church.

We know from personal experience how easily, even in the Christian life, we are tempted to separate ourselves from God, “from his will, from communion with him, to fall back into the bonds of worldly seductions,” Francis said.

Baptism is not a “magic formula, but a gift of the Holy Spirit,” he continued, emphasizing that it “prepares us, gives us strength for this daily struggle, even the struggle against the devil who – as St. Peter says – like a lion tries to devour us, to destroy us.”

Quoting from the Rite of the Baptism of Children, he said the sacrament enables “those who receive it to fight against the spirit of evil, believing that God has sent his Son into the world to destroy the power of Satan and transfer man from darkness into his kingdom of infinite light.”

Another important aspect of the sacrament, the pope noted, is that one never goes to the baptismal font to receive Baptism alone, but is always accompanied by the prayers of the entire Church, as can be heard in the litany of the saints.

The prayers of the Church are always active, he said, encouraging those present to enter into this prayer, praying for the people of God and for those in need.

In the Baptism of adults, following the litany of the saints, the prayer of exorcism and the pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of the catechumens takes place.

These are gestures, Francis said, which since ancient times have assured those preparing to be baptized that the prayer of the Church assists them “in the fight against evil, accompanies them on the path of good, helps them to escape the power of sin to pass into the kingdom of divine grace.”

This is one reason that, for adult catechumens, the path includes repeated prayers of exorcism pronounced by the priest, he said. These prayers call for the liberation of the person from everything which separates him or her from Christ, preventing intimate union with him.

After his catechesis on Baptism, Pope Francis made several comments about the upcoming Inter-Korean Summit, which will take place April 27 in Panmunjeom, the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area.

It will be attended by both the South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and marks the first inter-Korean summit in eleven years. The intended focus of the summit is the North Korean nuclear weapons program and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The meeting will be a good opportunity to begin a “transparent dialogue and concrete path of reconciliation... in order to guarantee peace in the Korean Peninsula and in the whole world,” the pope said.

He assured the Korean people of his personal prayer for peace and the closeness of the whole world, saying, “the Holy See accompanies, supports and encourages all useful and sincere initiatives to build a better future, in the name of meeting and friendship among peoples.”

The pope also encouraged those with political responsibilities to be “artisans” of peace, adding that God is the Father of all and the Father of peace, and inviting those present to join him in praying an ‘Our Father’ for the Korean people.