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Pope Francis meets Russian Orthodox Church’s ‘foreign minister’ at the Vatican

Pope Francis meets with Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk at the Vatican on Aug. 5, 2022. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jul 12, 2024 / 09:18 am (CNA).

Pope Francis received a top-ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church for private discussions at the Vatican this week.

The Holy See Press Office confirmed on July 12 that the pope received Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, on Thursday afternoon.

Metropolitan Anthony is essentially the “foreign minister” of the Moscow Patriarchate and considered to be second only to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

The Vatican has yet to release any photos or details regarding the discussions between the pope and Russian metropolitan. 

The meeting took place two days after Pope Francis expressed his “great sorrow” over Russia’s attacks on two hospitals in Kiev, including Ukraine’s largest children’s medical center.

As the Russian Orthodox Church’s chief ecumenical officer, Anthony has met Pope Francis twice since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The pope kissed the Orthodox metropolitan’s pectoral cross during a brief encounter after a Wednesday general audience in May 2023 and had a “lengthy conversation” with Anthony shortly after he was appointed in 2022.

Pope Francis has wanted to meet with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine.

The two have not met since their historic first meeting in the Havana airport in February 2016 — the first meeting between a pope and a patriarch of Moscow.

A planned second meeting between the two leaders in Jerusalem in June 2022 was canceled following a video call between the pope and the Russian patriarch in March of that year.

The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

Pope Francis meets Russian Orthodox Church’s ‘foreign minister’ at the Vatican

Pope Francis meets with Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk at the Vatican on Aug. 5, 2022. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jul 12, 2024 / 09:18 am (CNA).

Pope Francis received a top-ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church for private discussions at the Vatican this week.

The Holy See Press Office confirmed on July 12 that the pope received Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, on Thursday afternoon.

Metropolitan Anthony is essentially the “foreign minister” of the Moscow Patriarchate and considered to be second only to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

The Vatican has yet to release any photos or details regarding the discussions between the pope and Russian metropolitan. 

The meeting took place two days after Pope Francis expressed his “great sorrow” over Russia’s attacks on two hospitals in Kiev, including Ukraine’s largest children’s medical center.

As the Russian Orthodox Church’s chief ecumenical officer, Anthony has met Pope Francis twice since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The pope kissed the Orthodox metropolitan’s pectoral cross during a brief encounter after a Wednesday general audience in May 2023 and had a “lengthy conversation” with Anthony shortly after he was appointed in 2022.

Pope Francis has wanted to meet with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine.

The two have not met since their historic first meeting in the Havana airport in February 2016 — the first meeting between a pope and a patriarch of Moscow.

A planned second meeting between the two leaders in Jerusalem in June 2022 was canceled following a video call between the pope and the Russian patriarch in March of that year.

The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

Communism is ‘imminent’ in Mexico, bishop says

Cristóbal Ascencio García, the bishop of Apatzingán in the Mexican state of Michoacán, asked the Catholic faithful to pray "that a Mexico [living] in freedom and a Mexico capable of showing its faith and love may not be lost." / Credit: National Basilica of St. Mary of Guadalupe

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 12, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Cristóbal Ascencio García, the bishop of Apatzingán in the Mexican state of Michoacán, said that with the victory of presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum and her left-wing party MORENA in the June 2 elections, the arrival of communism to Mexico is “imminent.” 

In a Mass celebrated on June 30, a month after the elections, the prelate thanked those who remain in prayer for Mexico and pray “in face of the imminent arrival of communism.”

The prelate said “it’s becoming increasingly clear” that the electoral process that led to Sheinbaum’s victory “was an election [orchestrated by] the state, with as many irregularities as had ever been seen.”

Sheinbaum, the candidate of the Let’s Continue Making History political coalition comprised of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the Labor Party (PT), and the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM), was the winner of the presidential election and will take office on Oct. 1 of this year.

MORENA and its allied parties will also govern 23 of the country’s 32 states and will have a majority of the seats in the Congress of the Union, Mexico’s federal bicameral legislative body.

Given the electoral backdrop, Ascencio called on the Catholic community to remain firm in the faith: “What I congratulate is the Christians, the Catholics who continue to pray with the rosary and inviting people to pray the rosary before the arrival of communism.”

The bishop of Apatzingán, a diocese that is located in an area hard hit by the violence of organized crime, explained that communism is “an atheistic ideology that diminishes freedoms, especially freedom of conscience and religious freedom.”

In addition, he asked the Catholic faithful to pray “that a Mexico [living] in freedom and a Mexico capable of showing its faith and love may not be lost.”

During the six-year term of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — founder of MORENA — with initiatives promoted mainly by his party, abortion has been decriminalized up to 12 weeks of gestation in the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Baja California, Colima, Guerrero, Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo, and Aguascalientes. In Sinaloa, abortion was decriminalized up to 13 weeks of pregnancy.

On May 17, 2019, five months after taking office, López Obrador instituted what he called “the national day to fight homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, and biphobia” in Mexico.

In May 2020, López Obrador’s then-secretary of the Interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, encouraged the legal recognition of “the name and gender” of a child or adolescent who identifies as “trans.”

During these six years, using its social media, the Mexican government and its departments have celebrated the so-called gay “pride” month of June.

‘Irregularities’ in the elections

Ascencio said that there were “irregularities, votes sold, bought,” in low-income areas of the country.

“Here in Apatzingán I realized that [they bought] each vote for 1,000 or 1,500 pesos [about $56 to $84], but later speaking at a meeting I had in Morelia [the capital of the state of Michoacán], bishops from throughout Mexico, in some parts of the southeast of the country [they bought] a vote for 5,000 pesos [about $280].”

For the prelate, the elections should have been annulled due to “so many irregularities that have never been seen before.”

The bishop denounced the coercion exerted by organized crime to obtain votes in favor of certain political parties. “We just have to open our eyes,” he said, calling on the community to be aware of the problems that affected the integrity of the democratic process.

According to official figures from the National Electoral Institute, during the June 2 election day, 5,089 incidents of irregularities were reported throughout the country, most of them minor, such as cases of people who tried to vote without a voter registration card. However, 29 polling stations had to be closed due to robberies, gun violence, and ballots being burned, among other factors.

‘Do you have faith? Then the Lord needs you’

Recognizing the violence that exists in the country, but especially in the Diocese of Apatzingán, Ascencio pointed out that the Catholic Church should not only be a place of mourning. “Jesus did not come to found a funeral home to receive the dead but to care for them; it’s a work of mercy,” he said.

The prelate pointed out that “our faith is not, nor should it be, a garment that is utilized when we die, when we wear black [as a sign of] mourning,” and encouraged Catholics to “have faith so that our hopes are replete with the mercy of God.”

The bishop also urged the community to persevere in noble causes such as peace, security, and freedom in Mexico.

“From our faith, let us fight with all our soul so that the world around us stops being a flow of injustice, a constant flow of blood and disenchantment. Do you have faith? Then the Lord needs you,” Ascencio emphasized.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Coach says making sign of the cross before game ‘is not superstition, it’s faith’

"Without God, nothing in life has meaning," says Spanish national soccer team coach Luis de la Fuente Castillo. / Credit: Junta de Andalucía (CC BY-SA 2.0)

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 12, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The coach of the Spanish national soccer team, Luis de la Fuente Castillo, surprised viewers by explaining during an interview with Cope, a media outlet of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, that making the sign of the cross before each game begins “is not superstition, it is faith.” 

The former soccer player made the statement about his making the sign of the cross being not a matter of superstition but of faith in response to a question from journalist Helena Condi. 

“I have faith,” said the coach of the team that will play in the Euro Cup final on Sunday after having defeated France earlier this week.

There have been several occasions in which de la Fuente has spoken openly about his faith. During an interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo, he said that if one does not believe in God, life “would have no meaning.”

“It’s something you have to live, it should have been explained to you. I’m religious because I have decided to be. I come from a religious family, but during my life, I have had many doubts and I have been away from religion,” he said in October 2023.

However, he related that at one point in his life he decided to reach out again and lean on God in everything he does.

“There are not one, but a thousand reasons to believe in God. Without God, nothing in life has meaning,” he stated on that occasion.

Likewise, in an interview with El Periódico, he said that he prays every day and that he has “a good relationship with God.”

“So I ask him, St. Fermin and the Virgin of La Vega to help us, to be close,” he said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Church-builders Louis and Zélie Martin: St. Thérèse’s incomparable parents

A tapestry of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, hangs in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Oct. 16, 2015, in preparation for their canonization. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

National Catholic Register, Jul 12, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Friday, July 12, is the feast of Sts. Louis and Marie-Azélie Martin, canonized together by Pope Francis in 2015.

The date was chosen as their feast because it was on this day in 1858 that they were married at Notre Dame Basilica in Alençon, France, and committed themselves together to living to the full the sacrament of matrimony and its twofold call not just to human, but eternal, love and life.

The sacraments are signs and means of intimate communion with God: They bring him to abide in us and us in him; because God’s life is eternal, the sacraments are all aimed ultimately at heaven. The sacrament of matrimony is directed toward the mutual sanctification of the spouses and the procreation and education of children to be saints as well.

We see that very clearly in the life of the Martins. They were both already seeking holiness prior to their marriage: Louis had spent time in an Augustinian monastery but couldn’t master Latin, and Zélie had sought to become a Sister of Charity but, because of respiratory difficulties and migraines, was not accepted. God had another holy vocation for both of them in mind.

Zélie prayed that God would give her many children who could become consecrated to God. God blessed them with nine, four of whom died soon after they were divinely consecrated in baptism, while the other five discerned vocations to live out a more intimate form of consecration as religious sisters.

The most famous of their children is St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who spoke effusively about how she had been blessed with “incomparable parents” and how God had given her “a mother and a father more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

When they were beatified in Lisieux in 2008, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints emphasized in his homily: “Louis and Zélie understood that they could sanctify themselves not despite marriage but through, in and by marriage, and that their nuptials would be considered as the starting point for a mutual rise.”

He proposed them as models for engaged couples in purity of heart, for married couples in mutual love and honor, for parents as ministers of love and life, for educators in guiding the vocational choices of the young, for widows and widowers in approaching loss with faith, for the dying in peaceful surrender to God, and for every Catholic in living with a missionary spirit.

He said their being raised to the altars was an occasion for everyone to think of their own mom and dad and to thank God for them, not just for their cooperating with God in giving them life but also for their collaborating with God in leading them to him and to his Church.

I’ve always enjoyed celebrating 25th, 50th, and other major anniversaries liturgically in parishes and have always encouraged couples to give this witness to God’s fidelity and their own. It’s one of the best ways to inspire young people not to be afraid to make the commitment of marriage at a desacralized time when far fewer young men and women are willing to make such lifetime commitments to God and to each other.

Married couples, like Louis and Zélie Martin, are called by God to be church-builders. The main image to understand marriage in the early centuries of Christianity was as a “domestic church,” because so many of the first Christian places of worship were Christian homes, like Priscilla’s and Aquila’s (Rom 16:5). St. John Chrysostom (d. 407), the patron saint of Christian preachers, wrote: “The Church is, as it were, a small household, and … indeed a house is a little Church.”

Recent popes and Church documents have frequently underlined how the family built on the sacrament of matrimony is meant to be a “little Church” where God is present, welcomed, adored, loved, and spoken to and about.

The Second Vatican Council taught: “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation that is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state” (Lumen Gentium, 11). St. John Paul II wrote about how the family is a “church in miniature (ecclesia domestica), such that in its own way the family is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church” (Familiaris Consortio, 49).

Pope Benedict XVI declared in a 2007 catechesis: “Every home is called to become a ‘domestic church’ in which family life is completely centered on the lordship of Christ and the love of husband and wife mirrors the mystery of Christ’s love for the Church, his bride.” Pope Francis underlined in his exhortation on family life: “The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches” (Amoris Laetitia, 87). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes: “The family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity” (No. 1666).

On the feast of the first married couple canonized together, it is a chance to celebrate God’s power working through the sacrament of marriage to sanctify marriages and families, make them true domestic churches, and thereby build up the Church on earth and the communion of saints in heaven.

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA's sister news partner, on July 9, 2019, and has been updated and adapted by CNA.

Pro-life roundup: Arkansas abortion amendment disqualified

Abortion supporters celebrate as petitions for the abortion amendment arrive at the Arkansas Capitol Building on July 5, 2024. On Wednesday, July 10, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston rejected a pro-abortion group’s request to add a far-reaching abortion amendment proposal to the November 2024 ballot. / Credit: Courtesy of Family Council in Arkansas

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 17:25 pm (CNA).

Here’s a roundup of abortion-related developments that took place in the U.S. this week. 

Arkansas disqualifies abortion amendment

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston rejected a pro-abortion group’s request to add a far-reaching abortion amendment proposal to the November ballot because the group did not follow the proper procedure when submitting signatures.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders commented that the development showed that “the far-left pro-abortion crowd in Arkansas” are “both immoral and incompetent.”

Thurston notified Arkansans for Limited Government, the group behind the proposal, in a letter sent on Wednesday.

The group claimed to have gathered over 100,000 signatures — well over the 90,700 required to add an amendment proposal to the ballot. Thurston, however, said the group failed to identify its paid canvassers or to indicate that the canvassers had followed state law regarding gathering signatures.

Additionally, Thurston said that after subtracting the signatures invalidly obtained by paid canvassers the group only had 87,382 signatures, more than 3,000 short of the minimum required signatures.

“The first part of our review is to ensure that the sponsor has complied with all statutory requirements for submitting a petition. Because you failed at this first step, it is my duty to reject your submission,” Thurston wrote.

Arkansans for Limited Government has denied that it failed to meet the requirements and said it “will fight this ridiculous disqualification attempt with everything we have.” 

Currently, Arkansas protects unborn life beginning at conception, only allowing abortion in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger.

If successfully passed by Arkansas voters, the abortion amendment would mandate that the state not “prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict” abortion before 18 weeks of pregnancy. The amendment would further prohibit the state from restricting abortion at all stages in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or health of the mother.

Republicans block effort to enshrine Roe v. Wade

Senate Republicans blocked a bill titled the Reproductive Freedom for Women Act that would have expressed support for enshrining Roe v. Wade into federal law.

The record vote on Wednesday was 49 in favor and 44 against, meaning the measure fell well short of the 67-vote supermajority required for passage. All but two Republicans — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins — voted against it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who brought the measure to a vote, was vocal about the vote, claiming: “Senate Republicans told every woman in America: ‘Your body. Our choice’” and that “once again stood with the MAGA extremist anti-freedom agenda.”

Trump calls North Dakota pro-life law ‘an issue’

As speculation swirls about Donald Trump’s new vice president pick, the former president criticized North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum for signing a “heartbeat” law that protects unborn life past six weeks of pregnancy.

Speaking on Fox News Radio on Wednesday, Trump emphasized his belief that abortion is a “states issue” but went on to say that Burgum signing a six-week abortion ban is “a little bit of an issue.”

“It’s a pretty strong ban; I think Doug is great,” Trump said, “but he has taken a very strong stance, or the state has, I don’t know if it’s Doug, but the state has, so it’s an issue.”

Arizona abortion supporters sue state for using term ‘unborn human’

Arizona for Abortion Access, the group behind the effort to add a broad abortion amendment proposal to the November ballot, is suing the state for its use of the term “unborn human being” in a pamphlet to be distributed to voters at the polls.

In its suit, filed in the Arizona Superior Court on Wednesday, the group says that the use of the term “unborn human being” demonstrates impartiality because it is “tinged with partisan coloring,” “frequently used by anti-abortion activists,” and is “rooted in anti-abortion advocacy.”

Instead, Arizona for Abortion Access argued that the word “fetus” would be a “neutral, objective, and medically accurate term” to use in voter materials.  

The Arizona secretary of state’s office is currently verifying the signatures submitted by Arizona for Abortion Access to add the amendment proposal to the ballot. If successful, the amendment would invalidate the state’s law protecting unborn life at 15 weeks as well as most of the state’s pro-life laws.

20,000 attend Mass marking 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in U.S.

The Mass was celebrated at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. / Credit: Gregory A. Shemitz, courtesy DeSales Media Group

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

More than 20,000 people participated in a Sunday, July 7, Mass marking the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States. The Eucharist was celebrated by the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Cardinal Christophe Pierre, and held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

A news brief from the Neocatechumenal Way sent to ACI Prensa, CNA’S Spanish-language news partner, said that the Mass was in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1974 visit to New York by the initiators of this apostolate, Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández.

Participating in the Mass were thousands of young people from different parts of the United States who arrived in Brooklyn after having made several days of pilgrimage to shrines and holy places in the country.

“At the end of the liturgy, about 1,000 young men rose up to show they are entering a seminary to begin their preparation for the priesthood; another 1,500 young women stood up to express their desire to give their lives to Christ by entering a convent or as missionaries,” the news brief highlighted.

Although Argüello did not attend the Mass in person, he joined the celebration with a video call from Madrid, Spain.

He recalled how in 1974 he visited several parish priests in New York from a list given to him by the then-archbishop, Cardinal Terence Cooke, and how only the last of the priests he met agreed to start a community of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Pierre’s homily

“On this significant anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States, I greet you on behalf of Pope Francis and reaffirm his support and appreciation for the work that the Way does in the service of evangelization,” the prelate said at the beginning of his homily.

Next, the cardinal recalled what the Holy Father told the members of the apostolate in 2018 in Italy: “Your charism is a great gift from God for the Church of our time. Let us thank the Lord for these 50 years.”

After recalling the importance of going out to find “the lost sheep,” the nuncio recalled that “Pope Francis often speaks of opening the doors to people who live in all the situations of moral poverty, to those who have strayed from God, and accompany them back. It is necessary for the Church to open a way back. Is there a way back from addiction, from violence, from despair? God can make a way where it seems impossible.”

“There is a thirst for God that secularization cannot satisfy … This is the mission of the Church: to open the door for sinners to return,” he stressed.

The French cardinal also said that “our failures prepare us for the mission, so that we won’t judge the sins of others: Only those who have experienced the power of grace can show sinners the way back to God.”

Accompanying Pierre at Mass were Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, with Auxiliary Bishops Michael Saporito and Elias Lorenzo; Bishop Robert Brennan of Brooklyn with Auxiliary Bishop James Massa and Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn; and other American bishops, in addition to about 300 priests.

In the United States there are 1,100 communities, in addition to hundreds of families on mission.

There are also nine Redemptoris Mater diocesan seminaries, where 300 seminarians are now preparing for the priesthood and a total of 270 priests have already completed their formation. The seminaries are in Newark, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Denver; Dallas; Brooklyn, New York; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Miami; and Philadelphia.

What is the Neocatechumenal Way?

The Neocatechumenal Way, a July 3 statement notes, was “officially approved by the Holy See in 2008, not as an association or movement, but as a post-baptismal catechumenate, as an instrument to help parishes and dioceses in the work of evangelization.”

The Neocatechumenal Way is present in 135 countries with some 25,000 communities, making a total of more than 1 million members.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Diocese of Toledo to pay $1 million to three priest sex abuse victims

Rosary Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio. / Credit: Susan Montgomery/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Toledo will pay out a seven-figure sum to three victims of priest sexual abuse after agreeing to a settlement.

The payout will go to victims of disgraced priest Michael Zacharias, who was convicted on five counts of sex trafficking by a federal jury in Ohio last May. His crimes, committed between 1999 and 2020, involved three victims, two of whom were minors when Zacharias began abusing them.

Konrad Kircher, a Cincinnati-area attorney who represented the victims, told CNA on Thursday that he was pleased with the results, which he called “a success” for his clients.

“My clients were the three victims who testified in Zacharias’ case,” he said via phone. “When the criminal trial was over, I contacted the Diocese of Toledo and asked them to consider compensating my clients for what they had been through, otherwise I would proceed with a lawsuit.”

The diocese responded by establishing an “Independent Healing and Reconciliation Program” for the three victims, Kircher said. “Those have been done around the country for large pools of clients,” he noted.

The compensation amount was ultimately decided following recommendations from two judges were were appointed as independent administrators of the process.

“The two judges were compassionate, thorough, and analytical,” he said. “They interviewed my clients about the abuse; it was a very cathartic experience [for the victims].”

Kircher declined to comment on the payout amount, though the Toledo Blade this week reported that the amount was “just over $1 million” for the three victims.

Toledo diocesan spokeswoman Kelly Donaghy, meanwhile, declined to comment on the matter. 

“The Diocese of Toledo will not comment on any outreach work or activities related to any abuse victims as their privacy and healing is of the utmost priority to us,” she told CNA via email on Thursday. 

Zacharias was sentenced to life in prison in November. He had faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars.

The convicted sex offender was subsequently laicized by Pope Francis in March of this year after a request from the Toledo Diocese. The dismissal from the clerical state removed the priest’s ability to licitly execute the functions of the priesthood, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death.

Zacharias reportedly began grooming some of his underage victims while still a seminarian at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said last year. 

The ex-priest “used his affiliation and position of authority to groom the boys and grow close with their families,” the DOJ last year, “before ultimately coercing the victims into engaging in commercial sex acts and manipulating the opioid addictions they developed.”

Asked if the Toledo Diocese was planning to extend the reconciliation program to any other priest abuse victims, Kircher said he was “hopeful.”

“I don’t know what their intentions are,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it was a success. I hope they extend that success to other victims.”

The St. Benedict medal: a defense against demonic attacks

Portrait of St. Benedict (1926) by Herman Nieg (1849–1928); Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria; “Exorcism of St. Benedict,” by Spinello Aretino, late 14th century. / Credit: Public Domain

National Catholic Register, Jul 11, 2024 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

Temptations in a fallen city, memories of a beautiful woman, a poisoned chalice, the attacks of an envious priest, curses from a pagan priest, a rock that won’t budge, another that falls on a young monk, a kitchen in flames, a dragon that lurks to devour a fleeing monk, threats from Gothic warlords, and the prospect of a destroyed monastery.

St. Benedict, whose feast the Catholic Church celebrates on July 11, endured constant attacks from the enemy throughout his life. The life of a monk only heightens the constant spiritual warfare we all face in the Christian life.

In fact, Benedict even had to use force to manifest his authority as abbot over his monks oppressed by the enemy, as related in Father Robert Nixon’s newly compiled and translated book “The Cross and Medal of Saint Benedict: A Mystical Sign of Divine Power” (TAN, 2024):

“Benedict found this monk outside wandering around aimlessly when he should have been in the oratory in prayer. With a certain degree of paternal severity and charitable discipline, he reprimanded him for his lack of wisdom and discernment and struck him with his staff. At this, the monk fell down, motionless. And after that, the devil ... never troubled him again. It was as if the staff of Benedict had not struck the hapless monk but had rather driven away the wicked tempter himself!” (p. 14).

St. Benedict has come to be recognized for the power of his actions against the enemy, alongside St. Michael, as a major protector against evil, particularly through the medal that bears his image.

Nixon’s book offers an overview of how the medal rose to prominence as a Catholic devotion and received papal approval, couching it within the story of St. Benedict’s life and the rise of his order of monks.

If you’ve seen the back of a St. Benedict medal, you may have noticed a series of letters. The first set is arranged in and around the shape of the cross: C S P B C S S M L N D S M D. The next set is arranged in a circle around the cross: V R S N S M V S M Q L I V B.

This arrangement first came to serious attention in the year 1647 in relation to the Benedictine Abbey of Metten in Bavaria when it prevented a series of diabolic attacks. Although some of the laity already had medals with these letters engraved, no one at the time understood their meaning. It was only in researching the library’s manuscripts that a 15th-century illustration of St. Benedict pointed to the full prayer they abbreviated:

“Cross of our Holy Father Benedict. May the cross be light to me. May the dragon not be a leader to me. Get behind me, Satan: Never persuade me to vain things. What you like is evil; may you yourself drink your venom!” 

Due to a widespread story of the medal preventing the effect of curses and bringing about exorcisms and healings, which Nixon details in his book, its use spread across Europe, with Pope Benedict XIV approving an official blessing for it and granting it indulgences in 1741.

The great father of modern Benedictine monasticism, Dom Prosper Guéranger, speculated why God would grant so many favors to those who invoke his help through St. Benedict’s medal. In an age when “rationalism is so rife,” God has deigned to offer help to those “who put their confidence in the sacred signs marked on the medal” with “strong and simple” faith (Guéranger, “The Medal or Cross of St. Benedict,” author’s preface). It’s as if to laugh at the devil and his plans to pull people away from God through the alleged sophistication of the modern world, overcoming them with simple signs pointing us to the cross and the protection of a holy monk.

Of course, the medal should not be used in a superstitious way. It expresses our faith and confidence in God, which conquers the power of the enemy through the blood of Christ. Within God’s plan of salvation, there are certain key defenders of God’s people. St. Benedict proved himself as one over his own monks in spiritual combat. Through the efficacy of his medal, he has manifested himself as a fatherly defender of all who invoke his help. 

Throughout history, the monastic life has served as a constant beacon calling us to greater conversion of life and prayer. Turning to St. Benedict can lead us to embrace some of his spiritual principles, such as humility, obedience, stability, hospitality, the prayerful reading of Scripture in “lectio divina,” and viewing our work as a means of honoring God.

Wearing the medal

If you would like to purchase a St. Benedict medal or a rosary with the medal affixed, crafted by Benedictine monks, you can visit the gift shop at Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma. The monks can bless the medal with the approved blessing after purchase, if you request it in the order notes. 

Medals are also available at EWTNRC.com.

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA's sister news partner, and has been adapted by CNA.

Missouri priest pleads guilty to $300,000 theft from parish 

St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Wardsville, Missouri. / Credit: Diocese of Jefferson City

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

A priest in Missouri pleaded guilty this week to stealing $300,000 from a church at which he was pastor for nearly a decade.

Father Ignazio Medina admitted to “transporting stolen property across state lines” after a federal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri said in a press release this week.

Medina was pastor at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Wardsville, Missouri, from 2013 to 2021. Officials discovered “financial irregularities” at the parish in 2018, after which was discovered “a bank account that was not previously reported” on parish financial documents.

The priest began including the account in annual parish reports, and by 2020 it contained nearly $360,000.

The pastor was transferred to a new parish in 2021, the attorney’s office said, after which “it was discovered that he had emptied that bank account.” Medina had sent a $100,000 check to a sister in Tucson, Arizona, and had written a $200,000 check for himself.

Medina “claimed the bank account was funded by donations that were not intended for the parish itself but rather were intended for his own discretionary use,” according to the prosecutor’s office.

Parishioners contradicted that claim, arguing that their donations to the parish “were intended for parish purposes, not for Medina’s own discretionary use” and that they “never had any conversations with Medina authorizing a different use of the funds.”

The priest further alleged that he was “refunding donations” from the account and that his sister in Tucson “was one of the donors.” The sister, however, told investigators that she had not donated any money and that the $100,000 check was to care for her mother.

The priest faces up to 10 years in prison, the prosecutor’s office said.

In addition to the criminal conviction, Medina faces Church sanctions over the financial malfeasance as well as a separate violation involving sexual solicitation.

The Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, announced last year that Medina had been found guilty of “abuse of ecclesiastical power” stemming from the financial mismanagement. The priest had made “full restitution of the missing funds,” the diocese said at the time, and had also been ordered to pay more than $25,000 to cover diocesan audit and legal fees.

In January of this year, meanwhile, Medina was found guilty of sexual solicitation of an adult during confession and was permanently barred from holding any office in the Church or hearing confessions.

He is also barred from celebrating Mass without the express permission of the bishop.

“I want to be clear that sexual solicitation during confession is a sacrilege, a crime in our Church, and a grave form of abuse; it cannot be tolerated,” Jefferson City Bishop W. Shawn McKnight said at the time.