Browsing News Entries

New birth control patch would administer contraception via self-injecting needles

Atlanta, Ga., Jan 17, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Scientists and researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta are working on a birth control patch that would inject a contraceptive drug into women’s skin through biodegradable microneedles.

The quarter-sized patch would be applied to the skin for five seconds, allowing the needles “painlessly” to pierce the skin and break away, remaining in the body to slowly administer the contraceptive hormone levonorgestrel.

Currently, the needles are designed slowly to release the contraceptive hormone over the course of one month, though the team of scientists has said that the goal would be to develop a six-month patch.

In an article on the patch recently published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the authors said it could eventually be used instead of the birth control pill, or other forms of long-term birth control such as hormone shots or implantable devices such as IUDs.

“Non-hormonal contraceptive methods, such as condoms and diaphragms, provide physical barriers for pregnancy protection, but these barrier methods, even when accompanied by spermicide, usually have high failure rates due in part to poor patient acceptance and compliance with correct use,” the study, authored by Dr. Mark Prausnitz and team, states.

“Hormonal contraceptives, such as oral pills, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices, subdermal injections and implants, generally provide a better level of effectiveness, but either require frequent dosing, which has significant compliance problems, or delivery by healthcare professionals, which can be especially problematic in low-income countries,” it adds.

“Hence, there has been tremendous interest in a contraceptive that is safe and effective, enables long-term contraception, facilitates good patient access and compliance through self-administration, and has low cost suitable for use globally.”

In the study, the scientists expressed hope that the patch could make long-term contraceptives more widely available, especially in developing countries, since women will be able to apply the patch themselves.

“To provide greater access to contraception, we developed a delivery system for contraception based on a microneedle patch designed to enable self-administration of a long-acting contraceptive that is safe, effective and low cost,” they said.

The study, which was received by Nature Biomedical Engineering in March 2018, was made possible through funding from the United States Agency for International Development.

The Western push to increase access to contraceptives and abortion has been denounced by critics as ideological colonization.

“By what moral right do Westerners send the message that the world would be a better place with fewer Africans in it?” Mary Eberstadt, senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, told CNA in 2018. She was responding to a report from the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission, which declared a need for universal access to contraception and birth control within the next 12 years, particularly in the developing world.

“Such campaigns are going to look as ugly in history's rearview mirror as the twentieth-century eugenics movement does today,” she said at the time.

Nigerian Catholic Obianuju Ekeocha, the author of “Target Africa,” has also been an outspoken pro-life advocate who has opposed bringing contraceptives to Africa and other developing places.

“Unlike what we see in the developed Western world, there is actually very high compliance with Pope Paul VI’s Humanae vitae. For these African women, in all humility have heard, understood, and accepted the precious words of the prophetic pope,” Ekeocha wrote in a 2012 open letter to Melinda Gates.

The patch is still in development, and has only been tested on rats thus far. Scientists cited concerns about skin irritation at the site of the patch and the need for more clinical trials before the patch could be released to the general public.

The microneedle patch technology could also potentially be used to deliver vaccines throughout remote and underdeveloped areas as well, the study noted.

Indiana Catholic school opens 'adoration club'

South Bend, Ind., Jan 17, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- It’s not unusual for a school to offer an after school drama or Spanish club. Some schools even offer a robotics club. But few schools offer a club dedicated to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

St. Joseph Grade School in South Bend, Indiana does just that.

“Our main purpose for starting the adoration club is for students in Kindergarten all the way up to eighth grade to have time to spend time in Eucharistic adoration, to teach them how to use their time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and [to] really deepen their relationship with Christ,” Katherine Soper, a second grade teacher at the school told CNA.

Sober said she is excited to offer students an opportunity to pray weekly in the presence of the exposed Eucharistic host. There are now 22 students enrolled in the club, Soper said, but more are expected to join.
 
The club, which will launch on Jan. 31, will start each after-school meeting  with a mini lesson and snacks.

The first few lessons will discuss reverence, proper manners in adoration, and expectations. The next series of lessons will review adoration history and miracles.
 
Afterward, the students will head to the chapel for an hour of adoration. During adoration,  students will be led in a rosary, the Gospel, and reflections on scripture. Music will also be incorporated into club, using contemporary and Latin hymns.
 
“We will be praying a guided rosary where it will walk you through the mysteries and then we will have time for reflection. We will have a Gospel reading with a Gospel reflection and then more silence for students to pray.”
 
“The goal for the Eucharistic adoration time is to give the students a time to reflect and silence. We see a need for students to have a time for silence [and] prayer.”
 
Soper was involved with a similar club in a prior teaching position, at St. Anthony of Padua’s School in South Bend. Having started at St. Joseph Grade School this year, she decided to bring adoration club to the new school.
 
She said many of the students in her second grade class have shown excitement for the club.

“One of my students leaned over to me and said ‘when are we going back? I really want to go back,’ and when she said that to me I know I couldn’t give up on my idea on starting the Eucharistic adoration,” she said.

“These students have a burning desire to deepen their relationship with Christ and her little statement of ‘when are we going back,’ even though she was kind of distracted, I took that as a sign that she felt God’s peace and she felt God’s comfort in Eucharistic adoration.”

Vatican releases online guide to combat $150 billion human trafficking industry

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican said yesterday that the most significant cost associated with human trafficking is the exploitation and degradation of its victims.

 

With a new online guide, the Vatican seeks to combat the “ugly business” of human trafficking, which is estimated to generate $150 billion dollars a year, by examining the different levels of its complex international supply chains to target this grave evil at its roots.

 

“Approved by the Holy Father, this handbook reflects current Catholic teaching and courageous ministry, especially the ministry of the sisters on the front lines,” Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section, said on the guide’s release January 17.

  “These pastoral options offer a reading, a comprehension, ‘Why does the depravity of human trafficking persist in the 21st century?” he continued. “How does the ugly, evil, business -- and we underline the word business -- operate?”



 

The guide is the result of the Vatican Migrants and Refugee Section’s consultation with researchers and practitioners working in the field to address human trafficking and enslavement, and “the Church’s full response was considered, in terms of strengths, weaknesses, pastoral action and policy options,” according to Czerny.

 

The handbook -- named “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking” -- is broken down into ten sections, each analyzing human trafficking from a different angle and providing recommendations.

 

These recommendations range from targeting and prosecuting consumers of human trafficking to aiding in the full spiritual and psychological recovery of its victims.

 

The Vatican will host a conference focused on the implementation of these guidelines in early April.

 

Targeting Demand

 

More attention needs to be placed on those consumers who drive the demand for human trafficking, in addition to the traffickers themselves who supply it, according to the Vatican office.

“People who generate the demand share real responsibility for the destructive impact of their behaviour on other human persons, and for the moral values violated in the process,” the guide states, noting that “the buying of so-called sexual services, in all forms including pornography, internet based cyber-sex, strip clubs and erotic dancing venues, is a serious offence against human dignity and human integrity.”

 

The guide goes on to recommend that states consider “criminalizing those who take advantage of prostitution or of other uses of sexual exploitation provided by those who have been trafficked.”

Last year, Pope Francis expressed a similar sentiment in his World Day of Prayer address, “If there are so many young women victims of trafficking who end up on the streets of our cities, it is because many men here — young, middle-aged, elderly — demand these services and are willing to pay for their pleasure. I wonder then, is the principal cause of trafficking really the traffickers? I believe the principal cause is the unscrupulous selfishness of the many hypocrites in our world. Of course, arresting traffickers is an obligation of justice. But the true solution is the conversion of hearts, cutting off demand in order to dry out the market.”

 

Ethical Supply Chains

 

The Vatican is calling for an ethical assessment of both business models and consumption, particularly in the industries such as agriculture, fishing, construction and mining where human trafficking is deeply embedded.

“The Church encourages both sides of the commercial relationship – entrepreneurs who provide and end-users who consume – to engage in this ethical reflection and then to make the changes that are called for,” the guide states.

 

“Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act,” Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate in 2009. “Hence the consumer has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in-hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise.”

 

On a broader level, the Vatican office recommends that countries implement legislation that requires “all companies, particularly those working transnationally and outsourcing in developing countries, to invest in the transparency and accountability of their supply chains.”

 

Adding that there needs to be special and intense prosecution of organized crime engaged in people smuggling and trafficking nationally and transnationally, along with prosecution of connivance by local and national authorities.”

 

Ways of Hope

 

Along with the guidebook, a compilation of all of Pope Francis’ teachings on migrants, refugees, and human trafficking entitled “Lights on the Ways of Hope” was also released in hardcover and online in English and other languages. The searchable digital version will continue to be updated as the pope comments on human trafficking in the future.


“I hope that this collection of teachings may indeed illuminate our steps on the pathways of hope, providing food for inspiration and prayer, preaching and pastoral action,” Pope Francis wrote in the introduction to the book released Jan. 17.

The pope reflected on examples of migration and enslavement throughout the history of salvation, from the betrayal and sale of young Joseph by his brothers to Abraham and Sarah’s departure from their homeland in response to God’s promise.

“Indeed, like human history, the history of salvation has been marked by displacements of every sort – migration, exile, flight, exodus – and yet all reaching out with hope for a better future elsewhere. And even when the displacement is a criminal enterprise, as in the case of trafficking, let no one be robbed of the hope of being rescued and set free,” Francis said.

Mexican bishops make statement on gasoline shortage

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 17, 2019 / 03:19 pm (ACI Prensa).- Amid a crisis caused by the shortage of gasoline in Mexico and the government's fight against the theft and adulteration of fuel, the country's bishops have appealed to the citizenry and called for more truthful and objective information to be given.

Several Mexican states and the country's capital have been affected by a shortage of gasoline in recent days, with long lines at operating gas stations.

The situation is related to a series of measures taken by the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to deal with the theft and adulteration of fuel, which is costing the country around $3 billion a year. The government has shut down pipelines, from which fuel is tapped, using trucks and trains to transport fuel instead.

López Obrador has charged that the fuel theft has occurred with complicity within the government and Pemex, the state-owned oil company.

The shortage,which has produced long lines at gasoline stations in several cities, has caused a controversy among the citizenry and political groups a little more than a month after Lopez Obrador took office as president.

Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López of Monterrey, president of the Mexican bishops' conference, expressed in a Jan. 13 statement his support for “the measures taken by the president of the Republic to address the problem of the theft of gasoline which has negatively affected our country.”

“I ask citizens to support this measure, asking the authorities to not let themselves be intimidated by actions which, in the past, were common and which caused so much harm, but rather enforce the laws and quickly respond to this situation, hoping that as soon as possible this problem will be resolved,” he said.

Archbishop Carlos Garfias Merlos of Morelia, vice president of the conference, encouraged waiting for “adequate information” on Lopez Obrador's strategy to deal with the theft of gasoline.

“At this time, there are many versions, many interpretations, which I don't think give us enough specifics to be able to give an opinion. I hope we can have objective information as soon as possible and have an explanation about everything that has happened.”

Archbishop Garfias expressed his desire that those affected by the shortage will have their dissatisfaction redressed.

In the states where there has been a fuel shortage, he said, “there has been a lot of discontent, a lot of dissatisfaction, and I hope that we will have an adequate explanation.”

However, he noted that “when corruption appears, when there are signs of a lack of truth, when there is deception, when there are lies, it's always going to be important to have a strategy to be able to find a way to make it clear where is the lie, the corruption, the theft, and that justice be done.”

 

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

Amid shutdown, DC Catholic Charities aids furloughed workers

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- It is a crowded-but-calm scene on Thursday morning, just before 9 a.m., in the lobby of the James Cardinal Hickey Center in downtown Washington, DC. About 50 people, including a woman with a seven-month-old baby girl, are packed in chairs against the walls, waiting for Catholic Charities of Washington, DC to officially open for the day.

 

A little after 9 a.m., people are asked to check in with a receptionist before they are led downstairs to begin meeting with Catholic Charities workers.

 

Unlike the majority of the people serviced by Catholic Charities, these people are not homeless, or even jobless: they’re furloughed government workers facing a partial government shutdown which has already lasted 26 days.

 

"We don't normally serve people who are government workers. That's not our normal population; (which is) people who are homeless, or have lost their jobs or don't have the ability to feed their families,” Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington president and CEO Fr. John Enzler explained to CNA.

 

“So this is a different group, and we want to be there for them as well, because this is a shock to their system to have no income, to have no paycheck."

 

This is the first time anyone can recall Catholic Charities of Washington being asked to provide assistance for furloughed workers.

 

For three days, at a set time and location, any furloughed government worker or federal contractor is eligible to receive up to $500 to help with rent, medical needs, or “essential home supplies.” Catholic Charities writes a check directly to the service provider. Catholic Charities explained on their website that they are not currently assisting with water, gas, or electricity bills because companies that service the Washington area have already established programs to help furloughed workers.

 

While the first two distribution days saw a “decent crowd” according to Enzler, Thursday’s was by far the largest. He told CNA that he suspected this was due to the location of the office, which is near all of the city’s metro lines. The first two locations were accessible only by car.

 

Catholic Charities of Washington got involved through a partnership with United Way of the National Capital Area. The President and CEO of United Way, Rosie Allen-Herring, reached out to Catholic Charities, and asked them to be one of the three charities to receive money to assist furloughed workers. Catholic Charities was picked because they have a "pretty broad spectrum of services," Enzler said, and are present throughout the southern Potomac area.

 

"It's a chance for us to become a player in trying to help people who have been affected by the shutdown," he added.

 

Catholic Charities COO Pat Dunne told CNA that he “didn’t know what to expect” when it came to assisting furloughed workers. He said that it was “a question of getting the word out, and our communications folks worked really hard to get the word out to everyone."

 

One of the people who received word that Catholic Charities would be providing assistance to federal employees was a woman named Zenola.

 

Zenola told CNA that she has worked for Housing and Urban Development for nearly 20 years. She has been furloughed the entire length of the shutdown.

 

She said that her daughter saw a notice about the program on Facebook, and she called Catholic Charities to ensure she would be able to receive assistance.

 

“They told me to come on down,” she said.

 

This past month without pay has been tough for Zenola and her family.

 

“We’ve been hit pretty hard as far as our January bills,” she said, and although she has tried to save money, she’s “exhausted” her savings account trying to keep up with bills for her mortgage, car, and other expenses.

 

Zenola was grateful to Catholic Charities for the assistance, and said she and her family “really, really, really” appreciates it.

 

Catholic Charities received $36,000 to allocate on a first-come, first-served basis, and Enzler expected that money would be exhausted on Thursday. His prediction looked to be accurate: by 9:45 a.m., the lobby was full once again.

He's walked 2,800 miles to the March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last weekend, John Moore arrived at the Washington Monument in the US capital, after a walking pilgrimage from San Francisco that began in April 2018, in time to attend Friday's March for Life.

Moore has been accompanied in his 2,800 mile pilgrimage by Laura, one his six children, who drove and gave him assistance along the way.

The Moores are from Gallup, N.M., where they own a business renting space to RVs and campers, and John is a member of the Knights of Columbus.

“It’s from the site of the March for Life West Coast in San Francisco to the National Mall in Washington DC,” John told Voice of the Southwest. “I’ll end on January 18th of 2019 – that’s the March for Life there in Washington DC.”

Speaking to the Gallup diocese's paper in May, Laura said, “Usually if we’re close to the town we’re staying in, we settle in to a hotel and then [I] pick him up at the end of his walk, but today he’s going down a dirt road that doesn’t show up very clearly on maps, so every 20 minutes I’m driving up.”

Laura has been scouting the route for her father, making sure he has food and water throughout his day of walking, and picking up at the conclusion of each day's journey.

Once they got out of San Francisco, Laura said, they received a lot of support from people along the way.

“In San Francisco there were a lot of people who got in my dad’s face and were screaming at him pretty vulgarly. And then the further away we get from San Francisco the more support he gets. Not that he didn’t expect the bad stuff. He just kept his mouth shut and kept walking.”

“It actually surprises me how many non-religious people are intrigued by what he does. We’ve had a couple people stop to talk to us and they’re not religious at all. They don’t know anything about the March for Life,” said Laura. “People will stop and give my dad water, some people will walk with him for as long as they can, some people will give him money. A lot of people tell him how cool they think it is.”

John intends to donate the money he's received along the way to the Knights of Columbus for its effort to provide ultrasound machines to pro-life pregnancy centers; the project recently donated its 1,000th machine to the Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic in the Diocese of Arlington.

He's been making walking pilgrimages for some time: he's walked at least 13 times to the shrine of Chimayo; made a Kansas pilgrimage in honor of Fr. Emil Kapaun, an army chaplain who died in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean war; and walked to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta in Las Cruces, and to Mount Cristo Rey outside El Paso.

As he walks, John carries one of two wooden crosses: one displaying the Divine Mercy, and a chaplain's cross and barbed wire in honor of Fr. Kapaun, and another with the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Laura told Voice of the Southwest it would be an opportunity for spiritual growth for her, and a chance to grow even closer to her father.

“I think that God’s been preparing me to learn how to be alone, and I feel like that’s what this road trip is – gonna help me ultimately be alone with myself and be friends with myself and get closer to God in that aspect,” she said. “I feel like I’m really blessed with this opportunity to spend all day focusing on it instead of having to make time for it.”

John spoke recently to Columbia magazine about his cross-country pilgrimage, saying he walks “to humble myself before God, to be a witness for Christ and to pray for others … It’s a walk of faith.”

“If I’m out in the middle of nowhere on a trail, I’ll pray the rosary. But when you’re walking a pilgrimage like this, it’s very dangerous. You can’t be listening to music. You always have to pay attention and stay focused.”

He said his devotion to Fr. Kapaun is rooted in the fact that “his faith was greater than his fears. I’ll tell you what: I’m kind of a big chicken. I hate heights and have to go over big bridges. And the farther east we go, all this traffic makes you anxious.”

“It’s a daily grind and sometimes I don’t want to walk, but you just have to go and not do anything stupid. It takes a lot of faith. Faith has to be greater than your fears,” John told Columbia.

“This not a matter of me being successful. It’s a matter of keeping a promise – a promise I made to the Knights, to the people at the March for Life, to the unborn and to God.”

Senate passes ‘religious test’ resolution on Knights of Columbus

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2019 / 10:45 am (CNA).- The Senate yesterday passed a resolution saying it would be "unconstitutional" to consider membership in the Knights of Columbus a disqualifying criteria for public office. The resolution passed by unanimous consent, meaning it went unopposed by senators of either party.

 

The Jan. 16 resolution was drafted and introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) in response to recent questions put to a judicial nominee, which suggested membership in the Knights could prevent someone serving impartially as a judge.

 

Citing the protection of religious liberty in the Constitution, the resolution noted that past candidates, including President John F. Kennedy, had suffered from “significant anti Catholic bigotry.”

 

“It is the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates clause 3 of article VI of the Constitution of the United States,” the resolution states.

 

Article VI includes the provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

 

On Dec. 5, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised concerns about membership in the Knights of Columbus while the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.

 

In her questions to Buescher, Hirono said that the Knights have “taken a number of extreme positions.” Harris used her questions to label the organization as “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and against “marriage equality,” and suggested that Buescher could be unable to give a fair hearing to cases on these issues.

 

In his speech introducing the resolution, Sasse said that the anti-Catholic lines of questioning were "the same kind of garbage" which faced President Kennedy in 1960.

 

At least six other judicial nominees have faced scrutiny from Democratic senators over their Christian faith or membership in the Knights of Columbus since the 2016 election.

 

The Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization with approximately 2 million members. Last year they carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes. As a Catholic organization, it holds views that are in line with Church teaching.

 

A recent Marist Poll survey, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, found high levels of  support for religiously committed candidates for the federal bench.

 

The poll found that 59 percent of Democrats supported people for whom “religion is important” serving as federal judges. The same poll found 60 percent of independents and more than 7 in 10 Republicans (73 percent) also supported religiously committed judges.

 

“Americans rightly support religious freedom and reject religious tests for public office,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson in a statement.

 

Anderson said that the Constitutional bar against religious tests “continues to strongly resonate with the overwhelming majority of Americans” and that the Marist Poll results showed a clear majority for those who “believe that faith should not be a barrier to someone’s appointment to public service.”

 

The resolution was passed by the Senate the day after William Barr went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings on his nomination for the post of Attorney General.

 

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Barr, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, if he thought his religion disqualified him from serving in office, observing that “some of my colleagues think it might.”

 

Spokesperson for the Knights of Columbus Kathleen Blomquist welcomed the passage of the Senate resolution.

 

“The Knights of Columbus is grateful that the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed that membership in a religious organization does not make a person unfit for public office,” she told CNA.

 

“We have also been gratified by the reaction of people of different faiths—including Senator Sasse — who never want to see a litmus test imposed on individuals based of their faith, a position that the vast majority of Americans support.”

Holy cow: Farm animals receive blessing outside St Peter's Square

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2019 / 10:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Farmers from across Italy brought their animals to the Vatican for a blessing Thursday, turning the street outside St. Peter’s Square into a farmyard of horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, hens, sheep, rams, goats, geese, ducks, and rabbits.

The animals (and their owners) were present for the annual Jan. 17 blessing for the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt, a third- to fourth-century saint who lived an austere and holy life in the Egyptian desert. Because the saint spent most of his life close to nature, in Italy he is venerated as a protector of animals.

Organized by an Italian farmers’ association, some family pets, such as cats and dogs, were also present for the benediction, which was given by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The event began with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica (in which the animals did not participate, preferring the comfort of their pens and food). The blessing by Comastri followed.

The day’s festivities also included a parade of horses down the main street leading to St. Peter’s, with a performance by a mounted police band.

At Mass, Comastri pointed to a 16th-century statue of St. Anthony of Egypt, also known as St. Anthony the Abbot, which travels from the home to home of families of the farming association for use in family prayer.

St. Anthony “understood that God is the only true richness of life and understood that God came to meet us in Jesus,” he said.

“This is a sign that the agricultural life, life in contact with daily labor, is the healthiest life and the life closest to God. And when people, families, are close to God, they have nothing to fear.”

Without a voice at home, Nicaraguans ask Washington-based OAS for help

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For a few hours, Gio Gomez left the warmth of the Florida sun and headed north toward an arctic blast in Washington. She protected herself from the winter breeze while wrapped in a yellow and white Vatican flag outside the building of the Organization of American States, the place where diplomats and an array of officials from the three American continents Jan. 11 were weighing "the situation in Nicaragua."

She made the trek from her home in the Miami-Dade area to Washington, she told Catholic News Service, to show support for the Catholic clergy in the Central American nation of Nicaragua.

Her native country has, for almost a year, been undergoing a crisis involving a government accused by detractors, like Gomez, of killing and injuring its citizens, violating their human rights (as well as their right to free and fair elections), threatening independent media and usurping power.

In the middle of it all, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, from its bishops to the laity, has been in the thick of the drama. The country's bishops attempted to dialogue with the government after massive protests and unrest erupted in April 2018 when Ortega administration officials announced a plan to reduce pensions as a cost-cutting measure while increasing employee contributions to the social security system.

Though the government rescinded the proposal, the violent reactions toward it yielded hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries after police and pro-government forces clashed with dissenting civilians.

The country, which had showed modest but stable economic growth, also plummeted financially, resulting in even more public demonstrations of discontent. Those demonstrations migrated beyond the borders of Nicaragua. They regularly occupy space on Twitter via the hashtag #SOSNicaragua and expanded abroad in places like Washington and Florida, where Nicaraguan expats who feel they cannot be heard at home, are urging multilateral organizations such as the OAS to act against the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, whom they largely blame for the crisis.

"Gentlemen, ladies, don't be indifferent, they're killing people," Gomez shouted in Spanish. She was with about 200 other Nicaraguan immigrants outside the OAS building in Washington, as the regional forum met to weigh what action, if any, to take.

Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Washington-based OAS, an organization of 35 independent states from North, Central and South America, called for the urgent session in January to address the allegations against Nicaragua, an OAS member state.

During that meeting, Paulo Abrao, executive secretary for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH for its Spanish acronym), said the organization had determined that 325 Nicaraguans had died and at least 2,000 had been injured since anti-government demonstrations began in April 2018.

At least one of those deaths included the killing of a student from a Jesuit high school in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Alvaro Conrado Davila, 15, a student at the Loyola Institute, died April 20, 2018, after being hit in the throat by a rubber bullet.  

But Nicaragua Foreign Minister Denis Ronaldo Moncada Colindres disputed the accusations against his government. In a scene reminiscent of the Cold War, he accused the OAS secretary-general during the meeting of being a pawn of the U.S., reminded representatives of member states gathered in the room of "Yankee troops" marching into other Latin American countries and of past interventionism in the region, and said if illegal action was taken against Nicaragua, they could be next.  

"The government of Nicaragua rejects and condemns this convocation," he said, accusing Almagro of supporting terrorist groups that advocate overthrowing legitimate governments such as the one run by Ortega and Murillo.

But even the legitimacy of the Nicaraguan government is in question. The Ortega administration, which has ruled the country for more than a decade, has been accused of using the country's judicial system to quash any significant political opposition groups. The administration exerts control over all branches of government.

Moncada Colindres classified those opposing Ortega as terrorists or as paid actors of the "ultra-right" of the United States, posing as pacifist workers for nongovernmental organizations, he said, but intent on attempting a coup. He used the example of a priest in Nicaragua threatening violence against local police. Media reports said the priest was trying to calm the situation by marching through the streets with the Eucharist.

Though the relationship between the government and a church on the side of the Nicaraguan people seems tense at best, it wasn't always so.

In a Jan. 3 telephone interview with CNS from Managua, Catholic journalist Israel Gonzalez Espinoza explained that in the past Catholic authorities had worked with the Ortega government, including in an effort that resulted in 2006 with getting a national law approved that banned abortion. The relationship between the church hierarchy and government was "cordial," Gonzalez said, and differences were discussed privately.

In 2014, the country's bishops met with Ortega and presented him with a document, an "X-ray," of the country's problems, Gonzalez said, including the need to guarantee free and fair elections in 2016. They also pointed out in the document the need to stop "political manipulation of religious symbols for political interest" and the "appropriation of terminology and values of the Catholic religion" incorporated into partisan slogans.

"They never received a response" from the administration, said Gonzalez, who covers the Catholic Church for the Spanish-language online site Religion Digital.

By the time the Nicaraguan bishops met with the Ortega administration last year to try broker peace and open a dialogue following the protests, government officials had dug in their heels.

"They just wanted to talk about the economic situation, that was their 'war horse,' saying that at the international level, Nicaragua was an economically stable country" and the government shouldn't be questioned, Gonzalez said.

But since then, the economy contracted. The Inter Press Service news agency reported in September that "more than $900 million have fled the financial system" in Nicaragua since the conflict started. The economic instability seemed to fuel public shows of discontent.

Catholic churches have served as places of refuge during some of the clashes, especially since young Nicaraguans, many of them Catholic, have been involved in some of the demonstrations.

Prelates such as Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez have come under fire and even physical attack by pro-government groups for speaking out against the Ortega administration. That's what prompted Nicaraguans abroad, such as Gio Gomez, to seek help abroad, not just for other Nicaraguans, but also the Catholic Church as an institution in Nicaragua.

"Their rights are under attack," said Gomez, waving a blue and white Nicaraguan flag as OAS members left the building. Though no action was taken against the Ortega administration Jan. 11, the OAS is considering various upcoming diplomatic options.

Though OAS representatives from Venezuela and Bolivia backed Nicaragua, many seemed to side with Secretary-General Almagro, who offered strong rebuke during the meeting saying that the "grave" situation in Nicaragua prompted a deeper look at the country because democracy cannot exist amid repression and violation of human rights.

When a government openly violates basic human rights, he said, "it's obvious that it has forgotten that sovereignty is rooted in the people."

Referencing the OAS meeting, Nicaragua's Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said to online news site Confidencial in early January that "if an observation has merit, I think it has to be evaluated well, and those things that need to be changed, well, they need to change, for benefit of the country."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Australia delegation makes pre-WYD stops at March for Life, Guadalupe

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- About 1,000 young Catholic Australians left their homeland to participate in World Youth Day in Panama.

But, since they were in the neighborhood -- well, make that hemisphere -- about half of them made a visit to Washington prior to World Youth Day to take part in the annual March for Life. The other half made a pilgrimage to Mexico City to see the site where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego.

Why, though, would Australians want to participate in the march when American law plays no role in Australian law?

"What America does in this (issue) does affect the whole world," said Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia's largest city, citing the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, and how state laws are affected.

Australian law, according to Archbishop Fisher, similarly makes distinctions on what belongs in the federal purview and what is germane to its states, such as New South Wales, where Sydney is located.

Abortion is still outlawed in Australia's states, "but the courts have ruled that to save the life or health of the mother, an abortion may take place," he said.

"It's hard in Australia to get late-term abortions," the archbishop said, defining "late-term" as the third trimester.

Australia's biggest pro-life challenge is euthanasia, Archbishop Fisher said. A couple of states have already legalized the practices, and advocates of physician-assisted suicide would like to alter the law so that medical professionals "legally be required to cooperate" with any euthanasia wish, he added.

Another challenge for the Catholic Church in Australia is a Royal Commission report issued last year on clergy sex abuse.

The Royal Commission said the bishops should urge the Vatican to change canon law so that "the pontifical secret" -- the confidentiality surrounding a canonical investigation and process -- "does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse."

Further, the Royal Commission asked that the bishops urge the Vatican to eliminate the "imputability test" of canon law when dealing with cases of clerical sexual abuse. This test means, in essence, that a person's level of guilt for a crime is lessened to the degree that he or she was not aware that the action was wrong; if the imputability is diminished, canon law would recommend a lesser penalty for the guilty.

The commission also recommended the bishops work with the Vatican to amend canon law to remove the time limit for commencement of canonical actions relating to child sexual abuse, but the bishops, in a response to the report, said this was already the practice in Australia.

Archbishop Fisher said two Australian states have already made it law requiring for priests to break the seal of the confessional -- a law that, as reported by Australia's state broadcaster ABC, priests have said they will not follow.

The archbishop said it was presumptuous of the Royal Commission to think that one nation's bishops would ask the church worldwide to "alter its universal teaching." He added he found it ironic that, following a recent case where a criminal defense attorney turned out to be a police informant, Australia's legal community wants to "enshrine" lawyer-client confidentiality in Australian law, yet not extend "confessional privilege" to the church.

Changes in the law, Archbishop Fisher said, would not help uncover more abuse, but would likely hinder it, as any priest considering confessing to abuse would instead not confess to keep the abuse from being reported.

Be that as it may, he added, confession is an "underutilized" sacrament in Australia. There are "church centers in the cities where thousands" of Catholic go to confession, Archbishop Fisher said, "but in the parishes, it's much, much less."

The archbishop said he hopes the Vatican meeting with the heads of bishops' conferences worldwide on clergy sex abuse drives home a few points: "that it's not Anglo-Saxon, it's not a media beat-up and it's of world proportions."

The problems surrounding the issue are "severe, they're real and they're universal" Archbishop Fisher said. "Sadly, I think there are bishops around the world who still do not get it," Archbishop Fisher said, but they should, he added, "learn from the American, the Irish and the Australian experience" before the issue comes knocking at their own door.

- - -

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.