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DC priest: celibacy allows a priest to give himself for others

Denver, Colo., Jul 17, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Commentators and critics, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have in recent months called for an end to the discipline of priestly celibacy, especially in the wake of revelations of widespread historical sexual abuse in the United States, and in response to a perceived dearth of priests in some parts of the world. 

“We cannot bring about real reform of the Roman Catholic priesthood unless we do away with mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests in the Latin rite,” Washington D.C. priest Peter Daly wrote in a July 15 op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter.

Father Carter Griffin of the Archdiocese of Washington, author of “Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest,” told CNA in an interview that celibacy has been intrinsically linked to the Catholic priesthood from the very beginning, when Jesus, who was himself celibate, ordained the apostles as the first priests.

Christ enjoined celibacy on some of his disciples, Griffin said, and others who were already married practiced marital continence— abstaining within marriage— after becoming priests.

“Celibacy allows for a certain openness of heart, kind of wideness of heart, which facilitates a man's capacity to live his priesthood, and to give himself to others,’ Griffin said. 

“[Jesus] really had to be available to everyone...if his heart had a privileged share [of love] going to his wife or children, he simply couldn't do what he intended to do. And I think that sense of being ordered to love as a priest, priestly love, and really spiritual fatherhood...is in my opinion one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, for celibacy.”

Celibacy also points to the existence of God and supernatural realities, Griffin said, by reminding others that “our highest goods are not earthly pleasures, but in fact even greater and higher.”

Daly argued in his op-ed that priests who are allowed to marry and have children will better understand their role as spiritual fathers.

“With real parents in the priesthood, it would make us more aware of the vulnerability of children and more outraged at their abuse,” Daly wrote.

Griffin admitted there could be some truth to that claim, and said that a seminarian’s natural father has an important and often overlooked factor in the formation of new priests. But the benefits of understanding different forms of fatherhood also could work in the other direction, he said.

“There are many things I've learned as a spiritual father that have proven to be very helpful to the many natural and biological fathers that I am close to and get to know,” he said.

“The question comes, at what cost?” he cautioned, however.

“There is going to be this sort of challenge of living these two vocations [marriage and the priesthood] in the way that they're really both demand to be lived.”

Daly also argued that celibacy restricts the pool of eligible candidates for priesthood and “diminishes its quality,” while fostering “a culture of mendacity and secrecy, which contributes to sexual cover-ups,” as well as being physically unhealthy for men.

Responding to the objection that allowing married priests would cause an uptick in vocations, Griffin said this could be true— at first— but presented some major caveats.

“There are plenty of mainstream denominations which just have not married clergy, but women clergy, and all these other restrictions lowered, and they still can't find enough,” he pointed out.

“So the idea of this being some kind of magical cure, 'just let them get married and suddenly the seminaries will burgeoning and everyone will be back to 1955,’ is a little bit false.”

In addition, Griffin said that in his opinion the vocations crisis would not be solved by lowering the requirements of the priesthood, because although the numbers may tick up slightly, the overall quality and holiness of the priests will likely not improve.

“If the right thing for us is celibate priests, then let's figure out how to build the Catholic culture as it's been done every time that this question has come up from century after century...I think we need to change what is causing the dearth in vocations, rather than simply change the standards for entering seminary,” he said.

On the question of whether a celibate life leads to dangerous sexual repression, which in turn leads to abuse, Griffin pointed out the many healthy and well-adjusted celibate people— both Catholic and non-Catholic— who throughout the centuries have sacrificed sexual relations for some sort of a higher good.

“An objection like that could only be made in a culture that is suffering from the aftershock of the ‘Sexual Revolution,’ which has tried to convince us that we really cannot control ourselves sexually, that the sexual urge is something that simply has to be indulged, and any restrictions on it are necessarily unhealthy,” he commented.

“All of us know people who are not married who are wonderfully balanced and good people. And the vast majority of priests are happy in their vocation and are doing good work and faithful. So to take some examples from the headlines and to draw universal conclusions from them seems to be not the right move.”

Griffin pointed out that being married does not abolish the possibility of a person abusing children, any more than it abolishes the possibility of a person committing adultery against their spouse.

“It's precisely not living marriage well that is adultery. It's precisely not living celibacy well that is any kind of infidelity. And yes, there are unfaithful celibate priests, and the problem is that they're unfaithful. The problem is not that they're celibate,” he explained. 

“I think here the problem is a lack of priestly zeal, or a lack of justice, or a lack of a sense of the purpose of the priesthood. Because the purpose of the priest is not to garner power for himself, in this kind of clerical mindset, but it's to pour himself out for others. His whole purpose in life is to serve...and so if we're not doing that, if we're not setting an example, or we're not pouring ourselves out in that way, let's focus on that problem, instead of saying 'it's a boy's club' or something like that.”

Specifically on the “boy’s club” objection, that a married priesthood would foster greater respect for women among a mostly male culture in places like seminaries, Griffin said an attitude of “clerical arrogance” does exist in some places, but not a majority.

“I think in good formation and good seminary culture, I don't see any of that,” he said. 

“I see brothers growing together and really thriving and striving for holiness in their Christian lives and encouraging each other, and that kind of building of a fraternal and paternal bond among these men I think will bear tremendous fruit.”

In terms of helping to build a Catholic culture in which priestly celibacy can truly work, Griffin said it’s important for young men to see celibacy, and chastity in general, modeled for them in a joyful way, whether they plan to enter the priesthood or not. He also mentioned the importance of fostering a family culture where vocational discernment is taught and valued.

Finally, he said an emphasis on chastity, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture, should help to counterbalance the deadening and dulling effects of such things as internet pornography, which he said make “seeing the beauty of chastity, let alone the beauty if celibacy, more difficult.”

“I think having parents who really take seriously the healthy and integral formation of their children to really grow up to become holy men and women, really authentically Christian, living chaste, holy, purity...I think the vocations crisis would frankly disappear, if we really could redouble our efforts as Catholic families in those three ways.”

Griffin concluded by relating his own experience as a celibate priest.

“My experience has been similar to many other priests, which is that celibacy has in fact been a gift,” he said.

“I planned to get married, I would have loved to have gotten married and had a family in many respects, but the Lord has used those desires and kind of transformed them, and I'm the happiest guy alive. And I think that a lot of priests would say the same thing. I hope that people are able to, in sorting through all the stuff being thrown at them, are able to still see that— that many priests are joyfully and beautifully living out their vocations.”

 

Facing dire financial situation, Pittsburgh diocese looks to make changes

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 17, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is evaluating options to respond to severe financial strains, exacerbated in the last year by the sex abuse crisis, a diocesan official said Wednesday.

“The challenges that we’re facing are similar to that of many other churches, I think, throughout the country,” said Msgr. Ronald Lengwin, Vicar for Church Relations for the diocese.

He told CNA that already-existing financial struggles had been greatly compounded by the sex abuse crisis that broke last summer.

In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, identifying more than 1,000 allegations of abuse at the hands of some 300 clergy members in six dioceses in the state, including 99 from Pittsburgh. It also found a pattern of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations – either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Since that report was released, Mass attendance has dropped 9% and offertory donations have declined 11%, CBS Pittsburgh reported.

Lengwin told CNA that the decline in Mass attendance and collection money had been going on before the sex abuse scandal was unveiled. Ten years ago, he said, some 187,000 people attended Mass in the diocese each Sunday. By 2018, that number had dropped to about 120,000 – a decline of more than 30%.

The abuse scandal has intensified problems that were already present for the local Church, including parishes that had been borrowing from the diocese to pay insurance premiums, creating an unstable financial situation.

When the diocese set up a survivors’ compensation program to aid the healing of abuse victims, it expected to receive about 250 claims, based on the number of allegations that had already been received, and estimates constructed from talking to other dioceses.

“But now we’re looking at 350-400 claims,” Lengwin said. “We don’t know what that final number will be, but we have reason to believe it will be significant.”

The decline in offertory money, combined with the unexpectedly high number of victims’ compensation filings, means that the diocese could be millions of dollars short in addressing survivors’ claims and other diocesan expenses.

With limited resources, Catholic leaders are looking for solutions. Thirty-two employee positions have been eliminated. Bishop David Zubik has emphasized that responding to abuse victims remains a top priority.

“We’re trying to identify additional money that exists,” Lengwin said. The diocese has sold most of its parcels of property already, and a small building that previously served as a headquarters for the local Catholic newspaper is expected to be sold soon.

In addition, a court hearing will be held in coming weeks, as the diocese seeks permission to use money from an already-established foundation to fund payments of abuse claims.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is working toward consolidating and merging a number of parishes, a process that was already underway before last summer.

CBS Pittsburgh reported that Bishop Zubik has also warned that “more than a few” diocesan schools could close, saying that each school must prove its financial stability in order to stay open.

“Even before abuse crisis last summer, we had engaged in a program to consolidate our schools,” Lengwin said. “Now it’s clear that won’t be enough.”

Embattled Crookston diocese reaches $5m abuse settlements, will release depositions and files

Crookston, Minn., Jul 17, 2019 / 02:55 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota announced Wednesday that a $5 million settlement has been reached in 15 sexual abuse lawsuits filed against it, bringing to conclusion all open sexual abuse litigation against the diocese. The diocese says it will be the only one in Minnesota to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection. Crookston's bishop, however, is still accused personally of covering-up abuse.

“To all victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as the Bishop of Crookston I apologize for the harm done to you by those entrusted with your spiritual care. Although you can never be fully compensated for your suffering, we are thankful this litigation has now come to a good end and are hopeful this settlement offers you justice and will be helpful for healing,” Crookston’s Bishop Michael Hoeppner said in a July 17 statement.

“To you, the faithful of this local Church, I say thank you for your continued prayer: for victims of sexual abuse; for a fair resolve to these cases. Let us all now, humbly, offer prayers of thanksgiving.”

The statement said that insurance carriers will cover most of the settlement amount, while the diocese will be responsible for $1,550,000 in payments. The diocese said that money would come from the sale of a camp and a Newman Center, and from estate gifts. Hoeppner said that some funds would also come from diocesan cash reserves. He emphasized that no funds from the annual diocesan appeal would be used.

The settled lawsuits were filed in 2016 and 2017, during a three-year “window” which allowed alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse to file civil suits even after the state’s statute of limitations for abuse litigation had expired. The diocese said that its settlement agreement had been reached “after years of negotiation and mediation."

“Because of this settlement, the Diocese of Crookston can avoid filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,” Hoeppner said.

“All other dioceses in Minnesota have filed or announced their intent to file for financial reorganization. We will not have to lay off staff. We can joyfully and steadfastly continue our mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to this time and place. We pledge our continued efforts to rid the Church and world of sexual abuse and provide a safe environment for all.”

In addition to funds, the settlement will require the diocese to make public the names and files of priests accused of sexually abusing children, and depositions from clergy sex abuse lawsuits in the diocese will also be made public.

While the settlement resolves abuse litigation against the diocese, it is likely not the end of difficulties for Hoeppner. The bishop has been accused of pressuring a diaconal candidate in the diocese, the father of a diocesan priest, into recanting his own allegation of abuse against a Crookston priest.

Several sources have told CNA that Hoeppner is likely to face a canonical investigation of those charges by Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, through a process devised by Pope Francis in May, which came into effect June 1.

It is expected that the soon-to-be released depositions could factor heavily into any investigation into the allegations against Hoeppner. If the bishop is found to have interfered with a legal or canonical investigation into a claim of sexual abuse, he could be removed from his office in the diocese.

 

Parents petition UK court to move comatose daughter to Italy

London, England, Jul 17, 2019 / 12:52 pm (CNA).- Parents of a comatose five-year-old are attempting to move their child to Italy from a London hospital after doctors in the United Kingdom declared any further medical treatment to be futile and ordered the removal of “life-sustaining treatment.” 

Tafida Raqeeb has been in a coma since February 9, after she suffered from a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which resulted in a burst blood vessel in her brain. Her parents said she was “completely healthy” prior to the injury.

On July 16, her parents asked the High Court in London to allow her to leave the country. 

AVM is a rare condition that can occur anywhere in the body, and consists of tangled blood vessels and arteries. Its cause is unknown, and the malformed blood vessels are thought to have been present since birth. 

The AVM triggered cardiac and respiratory arrest, as well as a traumatic brain injury. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital say there is no chance she will recover from her coma. 

According to the Barts Health NHS Trust, which administers the Royal London Hospital, doctors have determined that “further invasive medical treatment is futile.” Two doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa, Italy, however, disagree. They were able to examine Tafida via a video link on Friday, and they agreed to care for her in Italy. They said they did not believe her to be brain dead.

“Brain death” is usually defined as the irreversible loss of all functions of the brain, including the brainstem, and is marked by a coma, lack of reflexes, and the inability to breathe without mechanical assistance. Once a person has been declared brain dead, they have no chance of recovery and are clinically considered deceased. 

An online petition supported by the family requesting that Royal London Hospital allow Tafida to be transferred to Gaslini Children’s Hospital, insists that the child does not meet the clinical conditions of brain death and should remain on life support. 

“Following extensive brain surgery at King’s College hospital, doctors informed her parents that she was brain dead and to consider making preparations for her funeral,” reads the petition.

“A brain stem test indicated that Tafida did not meet the qualification of ‘brain death’ as she made gasping movements and therefore could not be removed from the ventilator.” 

Since then, Tafida has remained on a ventilator at Royal London Hospital. According to the family, a neurologist has declared her to be in a “deep coma,” from which she is beginning to emerge. Her parents say she is able to open her eyes and move her limbs, as well as being able to swallow and react to pain. 

Tafida’s mother, Shelina Bergum, has said that doctors initially proposed giving Tafida a tracheostomy and allowing her to return home, to continue recovery. 

“The medical team have now changed their mind and want to withdraw ventilation to end her life,” Bergum wrote as part of a separate online petition organized by the family. 

Tafida's case follows similar campaigns by parents in the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, who were both terminally ill children in NHS care. In 2017, doctors sought to remove Charlie Gard from his ventilator, despite his parents’ wishes to transfer him to a hospital in New York City. He ultimately passed away in hospice at the age of 11 months, after life support was removed. 

Less than a year later, the parents of Alfie Evans also objected to NHS attempts to remove his ventilator, saying they wished to move him to a hospital in Italy. Alfie’s life support was eventually removed, and he survived for five days breathing on his own before passing away shortly before his second birthday.

French lawmakers pass bill on Notre-Dame; new report says cathedral nearly collapsed during fire

Paris, France, Jul 17, 2019 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- France’s Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill on the rebuilding of Notre-Dame Cathedral— three months after a fire destroyed the church’s roof— even amid disagreement on the best way to proceed with the restoration.

The April 15 fire destroyed the wooden roof of the cathedral as well as a spire that was added to the 800-year-old church during a 19th century renovation.

The bill establishes a legal framework for the distribution of funds donated for the cathedral's renovation.

The French Senate first approved the bill May 27, which at the time mandated that the rebuilding be faithful to Notre-Dame's “last known visual state.”

Yesterday’s bill passed the National Assembly by a 99-8-33 vote. The architectural form of the reconstruction is not directly addressed in the text of the new law, AFP reports.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron had previously initiated an architectural competition to submit a variety of suggestions for the restoration; Macron has also called for “an inventive reconstruction” of the cathedral with a more contemporary design. 

Macron has said that he intends the restoration to take five years. Critics in parliament reportedly complained that the project was being rushed in order to have the construction finished in time for Paris’ 2024 hosting of the Olympic Games.

"The hardest thing is now ahead of us. We need to strengthen the cathedral for ever and then restore it," Culture Minister Franck Riester said as the bill was passed, as reported by AFP.

The bill also aims to organize the nearly $1 billion in donations that poured in from throughout the world to rebuild the cathedral. French luxury goods rivals, the billionaires Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault, pledged 200 and 100 million euros apiece, AFP says.

Officials had been in the process of a massive fundraising effort to renovate the cathedral against centuries of decay, pollution, and an inundation of visitors. French conservationists and the archdiocese announced in 2017 that the renovations needed for the building’s structural integrity could cost as much as $112 million to complete.

A recent New York Times analysis has also suggested that the cathedral came very close to completely collapsing, and that the brave actions of Paris’ fire department likely saved the building from further damage. The arched stone vault is still at particular risk of collapse, and tourists are not yet allowed inside.

The Times report also detailed a miscommunication between a security guard and an employee monitoring the building’s fire alarm, which meant the fire was not discovered until it had already been burning for 30 minutes.

The area around Notre-Dame still contains higher than normal amounts of lead, due to the collapse of the lead and oak spire, a source of concern for Paris authorities. Workers are currently working to clear debris from the site and have not started renovations.

Due to France’s laws regarding secularization, the French government owns all churches built before 1905, including Notre-Dame. The government lets the Archdiocese of Paris use the building for free, and will continue to do so in perpetuity. The Archdiocese of Paris is responsible for the upkeep of the church, as well as for paying employees.

During Mass on June 15 in a side chapel, the cathedral's first since the fire, Archbishop Michel Aupetit emphasized that the church is no mere cultural heritage of France, but is meant for the worship of God.

About 30 people assisted in the Mass, including canons of the cathedral and other priests, wearing hard hats for safety. The Mass was said in Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs, a side chapel that housed the crown of thorns, a relic which a fireman rescued from the blaze along with the Blessed Sacrament.

 

Abortion provision limited in some Irish hospitals by conscientious objection

Dublin, Ireland, Jul 17, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Documents from the Republic of Ireland's health department show that abortion services are limited at nine of the country's 19 maternity hospitals, in part due to conscientious objectors.

In a May 2018 referendum, Irish voters repealed a constitutional amendment recognizing the right to life of unborn children and equal to mothers' right to life. Legislators then enacted legislation allowing legal abortion.

Ireland now permit medical abortions to be performed by general practitioners through nine weeks of pregnancy. Hospitals are allowed to perform surgical abortions through 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, abortions may be performed in “exceptional circumstances.”

The law permits medical professionals who conscientiously object to abortion to refrain from participation in the procedure; however, doctors who object to abortion must refer women to doctors who will perform them.

A statement from the Department of Health, obtained by TheJournal.ie, says that “the HSE [Health Service Executive] has advised that where conscientious objection has arisen in relation to the provision of termination of pregnancy services, hospital groups are working with the hospitals in question to find an appropriate solution.”

Of the nine maternity hospitals that do not offer full abortion services, five are due to to “operational issues”, and four are related to conscientious objection and recruitment, according to an April update sent to the national health department.

Some of the hospitals are small, and have argued that abortion provision there would be unnecessarily expensive.

South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel, about 30 miles south of Thurles, has “the smallest number of births in the country (900 a year) and maternity services represent a small part of its activities; to establish a service in the hospital will require dedicated clinics, which may have little or no demand”, according to one of the documents.

The HSE added that abortion provision at South Tipperary “would not represent optimal use of scarce resources given the proximity of STGH to other hospitals providing the service.”

The health department has said it is “extremely disappointed that, at this stage, there are still only 10 hospitals providing full ToP (termination of pregnancy) services”.

“From the outset the Minister and the Department have been very clear that government policy is to normalise ToP service provision within our maternity hospitals and that services will be provided from all 19 maternity hospitals,” the Department of Health stated.

“In that context, it is not acceptable that the NWIHP [National Women & Infants Health Programme] should seek to defer introduction of the service on the basis of low demand or because of sufficient regional coverage or, indeed, because of preference to provide services on a networked basis.”

Dr. Trevor Hayes, a consultant obstetrician/gynecologist at St. Luke’s General Hospital in Kilkenny, maintained at a July 6 pro-life rally in Dublin that health minister Simon Harris is “obsessing with abortion” and is “trying to bully good men and women to get involved in their abortion against their conscience.”

Continued pressure to back abortion would force doctors, nurses and other medical professionals out of medicine and add to “the staffing crisis already crippling the health service,” Hayes predicted.

Hayes is one of several consultant colleagues at St. Luke's who have told management they would not perform abortions. He told that rally that abortion is “a procedure that helps no one and takes the life of the child ... Abortion is not life-saving, it’s life-ending. It’s not health care, and no amount of spin can make it health care.”

The health department's documents show that “it is unlikely” that abortion service will begin at St. Luke's General Hospital in 2019.

In May, the Irish bishops' conference objected to job requirements mandating that certain consultant doctors be willing to participate in abortions, saying the country’s abortion law had promised to safeguard conscience rights for medical professionals.

An advertisement for two consultants, for obstetrics/gynecology and anesthesia, at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin says applicants must be willing to participate in abortions.

“This precondition runs totally counter to a doctor’s constitutional and human right to freedom of conscience,” said the bishops.

The bishops’ conference said such preconditions may rule out the best possible person for the job by eliminating candidates solely because they are unwilling to perform abortions.

“A doctor who is eminently qualified to work as a consultant in these fields is denied employment in these roles because of his/her conscience,” said the bishops.

“Doctors who are pro-life and who may have spent over a decade training in these areas and who may otherwise be the best candidate for these positions are now advised that, should they apply, they would not be eligible for consideration," they said.

A spokesman for the National Maternity Hospital argued that the specific posts were funded by the HSE for the purpose of abortions.

“They are therefore for individuals willing to contribute to the provision of these services. Other past and future posts are not affected. The conscientious objection guidelines for staff in both hospitals remain unchanged,” the spokesman said, according to RTE.

At least 640 general practitioners in Ireland signed a petition in November objecting to the new obligation of referring patients to other doctors for abortions.

The majority of the country's 2,500 GPs are unwilling to perform abortions. Only between 4 and 6 percent of GPs have said they would participate in the procedure.

At the July 6 All Ireland Rally for Life, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, said: “I march today because I believe it remains as important as ever to affirm the sanctity of all human life. The direct and intentional taking of the life of any innocent human being is always gravely wrong – we must avoid becoming desensitized to the value of every human life.”

He called for more help for vulnerable women, for mothers and fathers who are in crisis, and for “parents who feel that they have made the wrong choice in having an abortion.”

Sri Lankan Christians 'have no hate in their hearts,' Ministerial hears

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Survivors of deadly Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka have forgiven their perpetrators, but distrust between religious groups threatens a tenuous peace in the country, one survivor said on Tuesday.

Survivors “are on the path to recovery,” Yamini Ravidran told a global religious freedom gathering July 16 in Washington, D.C.  “They have no hate in their hearts,” she said.

Tuesday marked the first day of meetings and discussions at the U.S. State Department of the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Ministerial is a gathering of religious and civic leaders from all over the world, as well as leaders of non-governmental organizations and over 100 foreign delegations.

On Tuesday, attendees heard testimonies of survivors of religious persecution and terror attacks targeting churches, mosques, and synagogues.

Ravidran was joined on a panel by Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 were killed in a shooting in October, and Dr. Farid Ahmed, a survivor of a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Sunday targeted three Christian churches—two Catholic churches and a Protestant church—and three resort hotels in Sri Lanka, as well as a residence and a zoo, killing over 250 people and injuring around 500.

“Easter Sunday is supposed to be a day of celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Ravidran said, but in 2019 that day “was going to permanently change the lives of many.”

Outside one church targeted in the attacks, children were asked by their Sunday school teacher how many were willing to die for Christ, she said. Most raised their hands, and “only a few minutes later, this became a reality for many of them.” Out of the 32 victims of the bombing of that church, 14 were children, she said.

Before the bombings, these children “could be called the first generation” in the country that “did not experience war, division, or brutality,” Ravidran said. A decades-long civil war ravaged the country and religious communities are still healing from the division of the conflict—division that could once again be fanned into flames. As a result, emergency restrictions, recently lifted after the decades-long conflict, have returned, Ravidran said.

The attack “has empowered some of the extremist elements” in the country, she said, and has “left us with a fear psychosis like never before.”

Catholic and Christian churches were closed for weeks after the attack, with the first public masses at Catholic churches held three weeks after Easter on May 12; attendees had to pass through strict security checks, the Guardian reported.

“There has been an increase in the distrust between communities,” Ravidran said, with instances of hate speech targeting Muslim communities.  

However, “the people of Sri Lanka are deeply resilient and compassionate,” she said, having survived previous disasters including the deadly 2004 tsunami and the civil war. Survivors of the bombings are forgiving the perpetrators, and “that is what we see in Sri Lanka,” she said.

U.S. withholds funding from UN population fund for third year

New York City, N.Y., Jul 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The United States has said it will not support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the third year in a row, the UN agency announced on Tuesday morning. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will not contribute the expected $32.5 million to the agency. The funding instead will be transferred to the US Agency for International Development, where it will be used for family planning programs in line with the Mexico City policy, as well as maternal and reproductive health activities. 

Pompeo said the United States would not support the UNFPA because of its partnership with the Chinese government through its office in that country. 

"China's family planning policies still involve the use of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization practices," a state department spokeswoman said.

The State Department said that, according to the fund’s own materials, the agency “partners on family planning with the Chinese government agency responsible for these coercive policies."

The UNFPA denies that its work in the country is related to sterilization or abortion. Sarah Craven, the chief of the UNFPA’s office in Washington, DC, told CNN that the agency is “trying to end (China’s) sex-selective abortion and coercive birth limits,” and that they are in no way assisting the Chinese government with these goals. 

“It’s literally the opposite,” said Craven to CNN. 

The UNFPA also denies that their work is contributing to abortion or sterilization, and was critical of the United States’ decision to once again forego funding the agency. 

“UNFPA has not yet seen the evidence to justify the serious claims made against its work,” said the organization in a statement published to its website. “UNFPA does not perform, promote or fund abortion, and we accord the highest priority to universal access to voluntary family planning, which helps prevent abortions from occurring.”

Additionally, the UNFPA said it “opposes coercive practices, such as forced sterilization and coerced abortions,” and considers them to be human rights abuses. 

While the agency maintains its separation from coercive use of abortion and sterilization, the use of both practices as tools of population control have been closely contested.

The Holy See’s Permanent Observer mission to the United Nations has long warned of the use of coercive policies in matters of population. In a major address to the International Conference on Population and Development in September 1994, the then Vatican diplomat to the UN Archbishop Renato Martino told the conference that women are often the “primary victims” of population policies which “often tended towards coercion and pressure, especially through the setting of targets for providers.”

Martino specifically cited the practice of promoting sterilization to women as a “family planning” option, often without the women understanding the permanence of the procedure. He also noted the increasing campaign to recognize abortion as a “human right.”

In April of this year, the Holy See’s current Permanent Observer to the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, spoke at a conference held to evaluate the progress made since the 1994 summit. 

In his speech, Auza underscored the Church’s opposition to ongoing attempts at the UN to legitimize and promote abortion as a human right and to see it as a legitimate tool in population control. 

“Suggesting that reproductive health includes a right to abortion explicitly violates the language of the [1994] International Conference on Population and Development, defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations, and divides efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially those yet unborn,” he said.

UK again delays implementation of age restriction for online pornĀ 

London, England, Jul 17, 2019 / 12:10 am (CNA).- A planned restriction on websites that host pornography in the United Kingdom, set to go into effect July 22, has been delayed for another six months. This marks the third delay for the proposed rules, which mandate that porn websites verify that users are over 18.

"I'm extremely sorry that there has been a delay...mistakes do happen, and I'm terribly sorry that it happened in such an important area," UK Digital Minister Margot James told the BBC.

Then-Digital Minister Matt Hancock signed a commencement order for the Digital Economy Act in 2017 as a means to curb pornography access by those under 18.

To view online pornography, internet users would need to confirm their age by entering information from a driver’s license, credit card, or passport. If users do not wish to input their personal information, they may purchase a special ID card, available at thousands of retail shops across the nation for under £10.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) would supervise the age checks, and internet service providers would block websites which fail to comply, the BBC reported.

The rules cover sites where more than a third of content is pornographic. This rules out platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, which are known to have small pockets of pornography. Non-commercial pornographic sites will also be exempt.

The rule was originally scheduled to take effect in April 2018, but in March the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced it would begin “later in the year.” In June, the department announced the program would not launch until July because the UK government failed to properly notify European regulators of the change.

Originally, websites that failed to follow the age verification rules were expected to face a nearly $330,000 fine, but this will not be enforced because of the difficulty enforcing payment from porn companies overseas. Rather, the government said a threat to block noncompliant websites should be sufficient to ensure conformity, the BBC reported.

In March 2019, Matt Fradd, author of The Porn Myth and creator of the new 21-day porn detox STRIVE, voiced support for increased restrictions surrounding pornography.

“If it’s something as simple as age verification, I’m all for it,” he told CNA at the time.

“It just sounds like we are expecting the same thing of people online that we already expect of them offline.”

Among the available age verification services is AgeID, built by MindGeek, which operates and owns several common pornographic sites. Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the UK Health and Social Care Committee, said putting Mindgeek in charge of age verification is akin to putting “a fox in charge of the hen house.”

Mindgeek has said that it is not in their interest to attract minors to its sites.

Some critics of the new rule say it violates the privacy of pornography users and that personal data could be at risk of leakage under the new policy.

Others, however, say it does not go far enough in protecting children from encountering pornography.

Children’s access to online pornography has been identified as a significant problem: A 2016 study by internet security company Bitdefender found that about 1 in 10 visitors to porn video sites is under age 10.

Fight the New Drug, an organization that works to educate on the harmful effects of pornography, has highlighted numerous studies showing the negative impact of pornography on underage users, including the creation of addictions, changes in sexual taste, and physical impact on the brain.

“Just more broadly, I would say pornography perverts a child’s understanding of human intimacy and sexual life, which is a very beautiful thing,” Fradd stressed.

“It’s as pernicious as sex is beautiful and human intimacy is worthwhile. Since those two things are beautiful and worthwhile, the corruption of it [in regards to] a child is all together something despicable and horrid.”

London boys' schola tour brings music from Old Spain to the New World

London, England, Jul 16, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Franciscan mission priest St. Junipero Serra would perhaps recognize some of the music that will be sung in an upcoming tour of the London Oratory Schola Cantorum Boys Choir in Utah and California, which will include three of the Spanish missions.

The schola, perhaps best known for its work featured in the soundtracks for the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, chose the missions for their next tour because of the many invitations they have received to sing in the area. But most of all, they chose them because they will be singing music from their new album entitled “Sacred Treasures of Spain.”

“The Spanish history behind the missions is of immense significance, and ties in with the repertoire which we are singing,” Charles Cole, the director of the boy’s choir, told CNA.

“Many pieces of Spanish renaissance music and indeed composers themselves crossed over to New Spain and have become part of an amazing and beautiful heritage which reaches into the chain of missions. So singing this music in those beautiful churches has a resonance and appeal which was too much to resist,” Cole added.

The music of the album which will be sung on the tour will include music from Spanish Renaissance composers such as Tomás Luis de Victoria and Francisco Guerrero, who were also priests, and Alonso Lobo, among others.

While the recording of the album itself took just three days, the music is well-known to the boys, because they have sung most of these songs during the liturgy, Cole said.

“In a sense the choir is always preparing for an album, because we return to these pieces over and over again in the context of the liturgy, and we try to refine and purify the performance singing over the long term,” he said.

The schola was founded in 1996, and the boys, ranging in age from 7-18, are educated in the Junior House of the London Oratory School. They rehearse and sing multiple times throughout their school day.

The Spanish album is the second such album recorded by the choir. The first, “Sacred Treasures of England,” was released in 2017.

Cole said there is a distinct difference between the English sacred music and the Spanish sacred music on the albums, even though both styles of music profess “profound truths” and are of “staggering quality.”

In the English album, “the music sometimes points to the struggle in times of adversity, hinted at by (William) Byrd’s inclusion of the text ‘have mercy on me’ at the end of his Ave Verum Corpus,” Cole said.

“On the other hand, Byrd’s contemporaries in Spain, some of whom are presented on Sacred Treasures of Spain, were working unimpeded in the most fertile Catholic conditions imaginable: under the powerful patronage of Philip II, their music has a sense of freedom and purity allowing them to achieve an extraordinary level of quality in their polyphonic writing which is staggeringly crafted.”

Some of the pieces on the album include Guerrero’s “O Sacrum Convivium”, “O Quam Gloriosum” by Victoria, and “Versa est in Luctum” by Lobo.

The boys choir has already toured Spain to perform these pieces, Cole said, and they are looking forward to bringing these works of sacred music to the U.S. missions.

“...these missions are so beautiful, but each one is unique and special in its own way. We are very excited to bring the choir there. It is wonderful to bring alive the sound world of these Spanish renaissance composers in so fitting a place as these missions...it will be a tour we will remember forever.”

The album, Sacred Treasures of Spain, can be found on both Amazon and iTunes, with the proceeds of sales going to support the choir program.

The schola’s 10-day tour of the Catholic missions on the West Coast of the U.S. begins on July 18. The tour begins with performances in Salt Lake City and continues in California, where they will be singing in Santa Paula, Santa Barbara, Carmel, and San Francisco.