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Helena priest Father Stu to be portrayed in film starring Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson

Fr. Stuart Long. / Diocese of Helena

Helena, Mont., May 12, 2021 / 17:03 pm (CNA).

Father Stuart Long, who was a priest of the Diocese of Helena, is set to be the main character in a motion picture starring Mark Wahlberg as the priest himself and Mel Gibson as the priest’s father. The film is currently in production, with the release date yet to be announced. 

Father Stu, as he was affectionately known, pursued careers in boxing, acting, teaching, and museum management before discerning the priesthood.

“He was intense in his worldly life and he was intense in his priesthood,” said Dan Bartleson, communication services director for the Diocese of Helena. “His priestly ministry to the diocese here was transformative.” 

Wahlberg originally started working on the film in 2016, two years after Father Stu died at the age of 50. The movie was put on hold for a couple years until Wahlberg was able to secure Rosalind Ross as scriptwriter. While the exact details of the script have not been shared, the filmmakers assured the diocese and Bill Long, father of Father Stu, that the film will “do honor” to the late priest. 

“It’s based on a true story,” said Father Bart Tolleson, a priest of the Diocese of Helena and a longtime friend of Father Stu. “It certainly will take liberties with the story, but it will get interest in his life, and that alone is a good thing. It’s a great story.” 

Father Stu attended Carroll College, a Catholic university, but wasn’t Catholic at the time. He remembers being required to attend Mass as part of football game preparation, according to an interview with The Montana Catholic in 2010. In the same interview, he shared that he would often argue with the teachers, interrupt class, and ask ignorant questions that didn’t relate to the content.

“His conversion is phenomenal, from being an agnostic trouble maker to having a mystical encounter with God,” Father Tolleson said. “Then, he decided to become a priest.” 

An avid athlete, Father Stu played football for Carroll College, and later, pursued boxing, winning the Montana Golden Gloves championship in 1985. Faced with reconstructive jaw surgery after a fight, Father Stu gave up boxing and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Though he had some success with commercials and work as an extra in the movies, it was not the career he imagined.

While acting, he worked at a nightclub that was a comedy club and a bar. Finished with acting, he traded in the nightlife to work for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, where he eventually became the manager for seven years. He would ride his motorcycle, an artifact of his acting days, to and from the museum.

“One day, I was riding home after work, and I got hit by a car, and I smashed into a car in the next lane with my head,” Father Stu shared in the 2010 interview. “The witnesses told the sheriffs and reporters that I was rolling down the road and another car ran over the top of me. And here I am.” 

The accident proved pivotal in Father Stu’s conversion, leading him to have what he called a “religious experience” while in the hospital. Upon returning home and discussing marriage with his then-girlfriend, he entered RCIA. On the day he was baptized, he knew he was going to become a priest, he shared in the 2010 interview.

He discerned entering a religious order in New York, but ultimately decided to become a secular priest, for the Diocese of Helena. In 2003, he entered Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. 

During seminary, Father Stu had hip surgery wherein a fist-size tumor was discovered. He was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, an inflammatory condition in the muscles for which there is no cure. His body was already slowing down when he was ordained to the priesthood in December 2007. 

“That cross of his disease was the most powerful way to serve people,” said Father Tolleson. “He was tireless in his service and the Lord gave him many beautiful gifts, of counsel, of providing the sacraments. He was fearless even though he was limited.” 

The extent to which the Wahlberg film will cover the priesthood of Father Stu remains unknown, but it will be a “stepping stone to knowing who Father Stuart Long was,” said Father Tolleson.

“If Hollywood wants to tell part of Father Stu’s story, we think that’s a positive,” said Bartleson. “If that creates some energy around his life, then we would see that as a blessing, a part of something that is already going on here.” 

The film, titled “Stu” in some reports and “Father Stu” in others, is being financed in part by Wahlberg himself.

HHS Secretary: 'There is no law' against 'partial-birth abortion'

Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary. / vasilis asvestas/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 16:19 pm (CNA).

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday would not acknowledge an existing federal ban on “partial-birth abortion.”

During a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra if he agreed that partial-birth abortion is illegal.  

Becerra answered that “[t]here is no medical term like ‘partial-birth abortion’,” and that “[t]here is no law that deals specifically with the term ‘partial-birth abortion’.”

In 2003, Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush. The law amended the federal criminal code to outlaw partial-birth abortion, defining it as a procedure where a baby is partially delivered until either the baby’s head or trunk is outside the mother’s body, and the doctor acts to kill the baby. An exception was made for cases where the mother's life is in danger.

As then-congressman from California, Becerra voted against the law. Abortionist Leroy Carhart sued to prevent the 2003 ban from going into effect. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the ban in a 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart.

Later in the hearing, Rep. John Joyce, M.D. (R-Pa.) noted that 18 U.S. Code § 1531 “is literally titled ‘partial-birth abortions prohibited’.” The statute, he said, “very clearly defines” the “inhumane procedure.”

Becerra maintained that “partial-birth abortion” is “not a medically-recognized term.” He recommended calling the procedure “dilation-and-extraction,” and defended its use to “protect” the health of mothers as a late-term abortion procedure.

“Perhaps, if you were to talk about what you probably know as ‘dilation-and-extraction’ – which is a procedure used by OB-GYNs like my wife – to care for a woman who is having a difficult pregnancy where there’s a chance that the fetus will not survive, then we could talk about that,” he said.

Partial-birth abortion is also referred to as "Dilation and Extraction" (D&X). It is used in late-term abortions for women in their second and third trimesters.

Under the procedure, a baby is partially delivered – except for the head – at which point the abortionist jams scissors into the baby’s skull and uses a suction catheter to suck out the baby’s brains.

Becerra, a Catholic, added that he was not primarily questioning the use of the term “partial-birth abortion,” but was rather emphasizing “what the rights are to the woman under our statutes and under our precedents to provide her with reproductive care that she is entitled to.”

He defended late-term abortions by arguing they are done to protect the health of the mother.

“Under the law, a physician or any provider of health care” must obey the law, he said, “and right now, what our law says – and it’s pretty settled – is that a woman is entitled to reproductive rights.”

“And as my wife would tell you as a OB-GYN, is that the dilation-and-extraction procedure that is often used with late-stage abortions with women, it’s to protect the health and life of that woman,” he said.

One pro-life leader criticized Becerra for denying a law’s existence as a top administration official.

“Now the top health official in America, Becerra outright denies the existence of a law banning partial-birth abortion since 2003,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Wednesday.

During his confirmation hearings, Xavier Becerra dodged questions about his stance on partial-birth abortion – when an unborn child is partially delivered and then killed – deflecting with repeated claims that he would ‘follow the law’ as head of HHS,” Dannenfelser said.

In his confirmation hearings, Becerra would not say why he opposed the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban as a congressman, only stating that he would work to find “common ground” with those he disagreed with on abortion.

On Thursday, he said that “dilation-and-extraction” is a term commonly used in medicine, while “partial-birth abortion” is not.

“I think most medical practitioners will tell you they understand what a dilation-and-extraction procedure is. I doubt that most of them could give you a medical definition of what partial-birth abortion is,” he said.

In response, Rep. Joyce said, “As a physician myself Mr. Secretary, I think I clearly understand what a partial-birth abortion is.”

Other members reacted to Becerra’s answer on Wednesday.

“If he won’t uphold the law on partial birth abortion, how do we expect him to uphold the Hyde amendment or protect conscience rights?” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) tweeted.

“It’s absolutely horrifying that the top health official in the nation doesn’t even know the laws he swore to uphold and protect. @SecBeccerra this is absolutely the law of the land,” Lankford said.

On Wednesday, Becerra also repeated his claim that he “never sued any nuns” while attorney general of California. He first made the claim during his confirmation hearings, when he was grilled over the 2020 Supreme Court case of the Little Sisters of the Poor which pitted the sisters against Becerra.

While Becerra did not technically file a lawsuit directly against the sisters, he sued the federal government to take away the sisters’ religious exemption to the HHS contraceptive mandate. That action prompted the sisters to return to court to defend against threats to their religious freedom.

Becerra, in his testimony on Wednesday, praised increased funding in the 2022 fiscal year budget for the Title X family planning program. His agency is currently in the process of repealing pro-life funding restrictions in the program, with the aim of eventually allowing pro-abortion groups to once again receive Title X funding.

“The budget increases funding for Title X family planning programs to improve access to vital reproductive and preventive health services, and to advance gender equity,” he said.

Madison bishop prays for pro-abortion Catholic politicians

Diocese of Madison

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A second U.S. bishop last week publicly supported the Archbishop of San Francisco’s challenge to Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion.

“We pray for those leaders who pursue government policies and laws which seek to further entrench abortion rights and other assaults on innocent human life,” Bishop Donald Hying of Madison stated on May 7. “St. John Paul II opined, ‘A nation that kills its own children has no future’.”

Bishop Hying recommended a May 1 pastoral letter of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, “Before I Formed You in the Womb, I Knew You.” The letter outlines the Church’s teachings on worthiness to receive Holy Communion, and the necessity for Catholics to assent to the Church’s teachings, especially on the life issue.

In the letter, Archbishop Cordileone said that Catholics who cooperate with the “evil” of abortion – including pro-abortion politicians – should not present themselves for Communion. The Church has long taught that formal cooperation and immediate material cooperation with grave evil, such as the evil of abortion, precludes one from receiving Holy Communion.

“It is fundamentally a question of integrity: to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic liturgy is to espouse publicly the faith and moral teachings of the Catholic Church, and to desire to live accordingly,” he wrote.

He included a section on pro-abortion Catholic politicians. “You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” he said. “Please stop the killing. And please stop pretending that advocating for or practicing a grave moral evil – one that snuffs out an innocent human life, one that denies a fundamental human right – is somehow compatible with the Catholic faith. It is not. Please return home to the fullness of your Catholic faith.”

Hying called the letter a “timely reflection on the moral evil of abortion, the need to challenge political leaders who are pro-abortion — especially those who profess Catholicism — and the linkage between the Eucharist and communion with the Church in her doctrinal and moral teaching.”

“I encourage you to read and pray over this pastoral letter,” he told Catholics in his diocese.

Hying was the second U.S. bishop last week to publicly support Cordileone’s letter. Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix on May 6 called the letter “a powerful defense of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of all human life.”

In his statement on May 7, Bishop Hying recalled how he came to be involved with the pro-life movement, emphasizing the importance of the pro-life cause.

“As a young priest, I encountered many people, men and women both, who were profoundly wounded by abortion,” he said. “Their painful experiences led me to get involved in the pro-life movement, as I came to realize in a deeper way the personal and societal effects of abortion.”

The previous day, Bishop Olmsted exhorted bishops to speak out clearly against cooperation in abortion.  

“Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action,” Bishop Olmsted said, calling silence on the issue “a false patience and pastoral concern.”

“Such ‘patience’ is false because it is bereft of love and truth, and thus unmasks rather a deadly apathy towards one who professes the Catholic faith but whose public embrace of abortion puts his or her eternal soul at risk of damnation, and risks dragging untold numbers into hell by their example,” he said. 

Archbishop Cordileone issued his letter as the U.S. bishops are expected to address the topic of “Eucharistic coherence” this year, either at their spring meeting in June or at their fall meeting in November.

The bishops reportedly planned to discuss the broader teaching of Catholics’ worthiness to receive Holy Communion, not limiting their discussion only to Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

President Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, but has taken policy positions at odds with Church teaching on serious issues, such as abortion, marriage, and religious freedom. He has pushed for taxpayer-funded abortion and supports the Equality Act, a bill which the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned would “punish” religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage and transgenderism.

After Biden’s election to the presidency in November 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) convened a working group on his presidency. USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles noted the “unique” circumstances of Biden’s faith and his problematic policy positions as reasons behind the formation of the working group.

One of the conclusions of the working group – which met twice and made two main recommendations –was the need for a teaching document on the Eucharist. Such a document should instruct the faithful about worthy reception of Holy Communion, the group said, as well as about the responsibility of Catholic public officials to uphold the Church’s teachings in public life.

Officials who contradict the Church’s fundamental teachings, and who do so despite a pastor’s warnings, should not present themselves for Communion, the working group said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently sent a letter to Archbishop Gomez, calling for “serene” dialogue among the bishops when considering how to proceed on the matter of Communion for public officials who contradict the Church’s teachings.

Any “national policy” on Communion should only “help the bishops to maintain unity,” and, the Vatican added, could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.” So that such a policy would not produce discord, the bishops must “dialogue” among themselves and then with “Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

The bishops should first dialogue among themselves “to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic,” the Vatican said, and to “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.”

Then local ordinaries “would reach out to and engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions who adopt a pro-choice position regarding abortion legislation, euthanasia, or other moral evils, as a means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching,” stated CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria.

 “If it [the U.S. bishops’ conference] then decided to formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion, such a statement would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter, while observing the prerequisite that any provisions of the Conference in this area would respect the rights of individual Ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See,” the CDF stated.

Cardinal Ladaria added that “any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholic, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”

He said that “it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”

Some bishops have spoken out against denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders the Eucharist, based on their public policy stance, can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument, and by dialogue and reason, but rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue [of abortion],” said Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego at a February online panel.

Sunday Mass obligation to resume in Connecticut's dioceses

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Bridgeport

Hartford, Conn., May 12, 2021 / 14:07 pm (CNA).

The Latin rite bishops in Connecticut announced Monday that in each of their dioceses the general obligation to assist at Mass on Sundays and holy days will resume May 23.

The May 10 letter was signed by the ordinaries of the Archdiocese of Hartford and the Dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich, as well as the auxiliary bishop of Hartford.

“With confidence in the Lord’s grace and protection, we have decided to end the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation in person in each of our respective dioceses effective Saturday, May 22, 2021,” the bishops wrote in their May 10 letter.

They said, “we believe the time has come to review the importance that full participation at Mass has for the spiritual life of all believers and offer a heartfelt appeal for all Catholics to return to the Sunday celebration of Mass.”

The bishops’ decision cited the increase in vaccinated people, decreased hospitalizations around the state, and the stripping of many indoor restrictions on public gatherings as reasons to end the dispensation.

The letter said that the original intent behind the dispensation was to protect human life, “especially the frailest and most vulnerable in our midst from becoming infected by a disease which many doctors were unsure how best to combat.”

The bishops thanked their communities for their cooperation in observing the safety protocols “that resulted in no significant viral spread of Covid-19 at any celebration of Mass in our dioceses.”

The encounters with Christ at Mass, they said, “offer us a deeply personal opportunity for spiritual nourishment. By receiving Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, the Lord’s grace strengthens the daily life we share with him through our personal prayer and works of charity. Holy Communion is the celestial food that enlightens our minds, gives comfort to our hearts, and strengthens our wills to live the Church’s mission in word, deeds and manner of life.”

“While Christian discipleship involves a deeply personal relationship with the Lord, it is never a wholly private one. At our baptism, each of us received the Spirit of adoption, transforming us into Temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the one Mystical Body of Christ. The pursuit of holiness in our personal lives requires that we come together as a community of faith so that the Lord can bless, unite, and strengthen our shared hopes, dreams, challenges, and sufferings in service to Him,” they said, explaining the need to assist at Mass.

The Sunday and holy day obligation to attend Mass “is the Church’s expression of the deep, personal desire that burns in our hearts to come into the presence of the Lord whom we love, who gave His life for our salvation so that we may receive Him as food for our life’s journey unto eternal glory. For who among us does not want to spend time with someone we deeply love,” they asked.

“It must be our deep love for Christ that invites us to seek Him in person and by attending Mass, to welcome Him intimately into our lives as food for the journey of life.”

Legitimate reasons for being prevented from returning to Mass include, they said, “suffering from serious pre-existing conditions that may make a person more susceptible to falling ill from COVID-19; being ill and homebound or being a caregiver in close contact with someone who is; having tested positive for any contagious disease, including COVID-19; or being in quarantine due to exposure to any contagion or residing with someone who is quarantined.”

“For anyone facing these circumstances, please remember that the Lord will never invite you to do something that poses a danger to oneself or others,” the bishops of Connecticut wrote.

The bishops called for prayer that Christ, “in his great mercy, will deepen our appreciation, love and participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Argentine parish where Eucharistic miracles occurred receives relic of Bl Carlo Acutis

Bl. Carlo Acutis / carloacutis.com

Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 12, 2021 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

On the 29th anniversary of the first Eucharistic miracle that took place in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires’ Santa María parish, the community received a first class relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis.

Three Eucharistic miracles have taken place in this parish, in May 1992, July 1994, and August 1996. The history and investigation of these events are included in the Eucharistic Miracles of the World exhibition designed and created by Bl. Carlo Acutis.

The relic was received at a May 8 Mass.

The pastor of Santa María, Fr. Alberto Sorace, said, "it’s no small thing that this Eucharistic sign happened on the feast day of the Virgin of Luján”.

“We are in a time of tremendous grace” because despite the pandemic and the difficulties “the faith remains firm,” individually and as a community.

And “not because of our merits, God entrusted us with this sign that becomes a task, a challenge,” Fr. Sorace said. 

“As confirmation of this journey travelled, the Lord gives us the presence of the blessed” as “a companion on the journey”, so he can “help in this transmission, in this narration of the events that occurred. A verbal narrative that is transmitted with fidelity,” but “that also has to be translated not only into a sign, but also into deeds.”

The pastor thanked the laity who arranged for the relic to come to the parish and gave each of them a third class relic of Blessed Acutis.

On the feast of the Assumption in 1996, a host fell to the ground during the distribution of Communion and was placed in a container with water to dissolve. Ten days later it had transformed into blood.

An analysis conducted by Professor Ricardo Castañón Gómez revealed the presence of human DNA and blood.

In 2000, tissue expert Dr. Robert Lawrence found that the samples had human skin and white blood cells. After further studies had been performed by additional experts, in 2003 Lawrence concluded that the tissue was that of an inflamed heart, which means that "the person to whom it belonged must have suffered a lot."

In 2005, Castañón Gómez asked another expert, Professor Frederick Zugibe of Colombia University, to investigate. The scientist identified the tissue as coming from the left ventricle, and determined it to be living tissue that came from a suffering person.

Castañón Gómez concluded that through this miracle “the Lord wanted to show us his myocardium, which is the muscle that gives life to the whole heart, just as the Eucharist does with the Church. And why the left ventricle? Because that's where the purified blood comes from and Jesus is the one who purifies his Church from her sins."

Vatican abuse trial: Witness testimony gives conflicting view of victim, pre-seminary

View of St. Peter`s Basilica from the roof of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross on April 1, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, May 12, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

As the trial for alleged abuse inside a Vatican youth seminary continues, witnesses have given different views on the characters of the victim and the accused, and of the institution’s culture.

In a hearing May 12, the Vatican City State’s criminal court heard testimony from five witnesses, four of whom were students at the pre-seminary at the time the alleged abuse took place.

Located inside Vatican City State, the Pius X pre-seminary is a residence for about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18 who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are considering the priesthood.

The alleged victim, a 28-year-old identified only as L.G., has testified that beginning when he was 13 years old, while he was a student at the pre-seminary, he was sexually assaulted over a period of six years by a fellow student, the defendant Fr. Gabriele Martinelli.

Martinelli has defended his innocence of the charges, calling the accusations against him “unfounded” and intended to “strike” at the pre-seminary. Martinelli was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

The pre-seminary’s former rector, 72-year-old Fr. Enrico Radice, is also on trial on charges of impeding investigations into the abuse allegations against Martinelli, which he denies.

In the latest hearing, which began last year, witnesses who knew both the victim and defendant at the time of the alleged abuse testified to not having directly witnessed any abuse, even though several had at times, for periods of up to two years, shared a room with L.G.

One witness, Andrea Garzola, claimed that Martinelli once strongly touched his genitals when a game they were playing devolved into a fight. But he said that he did not think it was a “sexual advance.”

The same witness described Martinelli as being commanding and very close to the rector. He also said that he heard rumors about sexual actions between students and that one student, Kamil Jarzembowski, told him the rumors were about Martinelli.

Jarzembowski, who is from Poland, was the first to go to the media about the accusations against Martinelli, which were initially reported by the Italian investigative news program “Le Iene” in 2017.

Jarzembowski testified to the Vatican court in a March hearing that when he was roommates with L.G., he had heard Martinelli come into the room and perform non-consensual sexual actions with L.G. “tens of times.”

In his pre-trial testimony, Garzola had declared to have been told by Jarzembowski specifically that Martinelli was abusing L.G. But at the trial, Garzola denied the statement, saying: “I do not recognize those words.”

Another witness, who asked to be identified only by his initials because he will soon be ordained a priest, said he was a friend of the alleged victim, who told him he was abused by Martinelli at night.

“I had a friendship with L.G., it seems hard to me to think that he lied to me,” M.B. said.

M.B. testified that L.G. did not seem afraid of Martinelli and that there was conversation between the two of them.

Thomas Compagnoni, who was several years younger than L.G., said that the alleged victim had strongly encouraged him to attend the pre-seminary and that during his time there, he had never heard of any kind of abuse.

Fr. Francesco Vicini, a former student at the pre-seminary and now its vice-rector, was the fifth witness at the hearing.

He said that he shared a room with L.G. and Martinelli for a year, and for two years in total with L.G.

Vicini claimed that L.G. and Martinelli “fought about everything, L.G. was absolutely not afraid of Martinelli, he was not one to remain silent if he did not agree about something he would make himself heard.”

“I take it for granted that Martinelli did nothing, it seems obvious to me that he never needed to ask for clarification on rumors that were circulating in the pre-seminary,” Vicini said.

In pre-trial testimony given in 2018, Vicini had also claimed that L.G. was calm when he started at the youth seminary but that his demeanor changed as the years progressed.

“He had shown great jealousy towards Martinelli, for the role that Gabriele [Martinelli] held,” he said.

“Martinelli has a dominant character, but I respect him,” Vicini added at the time.

At a hearing in February, three different former students of the Pius X pre-seminary had testified that there was an unhealthy culture of ridicule and abuse of power while they were there.

The witnesses also alleged that reports of sexual abuse were ignored or dismissed by authority figures, including the cardinal in charge of St. Peter’s Basilica at the time, Cardinal Angelo Comastri.

At the February hearing, the Pius X pre-seminary was described by the former students as an environment with “psychological pressures,” where it was common to hear “homosexual jokes” and other lewd comments. Martinelli was described as having a “dominant role, very strong,” and a “homosexual demeanor.”

L.G. was described by one witness as “extremely credible,” but a bit delicate because of a difficult family situation.

One witness testified that Martinelli and L.G. seemed to hate each other and never speak, but that Martinelli also gave L.G. and another student special favors, positing that Martinelli was motivated by fear of what they could reveal about him.

The pre-seminary is run by a religious group, the Opera Don Folci, which is overseen by the Diocese of Como in northern Italy.

The next hearing of the abuse trial, which will include testimony from five more witnesses, will take place on June 7.

Uyghur journalist: ‘The Chinese government sees any religion as a threat to its rule’

Gulchehra Hoja speaks at a U.S. Embassy to the Holy See virtual event on May 11, 2021. / Screenshot.

Rome, Italy, May 12, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

For Gulchehra Hoja, the Chinese government’s systematic repression of Uyghur Muslims is personal: her mother, father, brother, and more than 20 relatives are detained in “reeducation camps” in Xinjiang.

“Last week, I learned that one of my relatives … had died in Chinese prison. His body has not been returned to his family,” Hoja said May 11 at a virtual event hosted by the U.S. embassy to the Vatican.

He was a “59-year-old father of three children, taken to the camp in 2017, and later sentenced to 19 years in prison just for studying religion,” she said.

Hoja, originally from China’s northwest Xinjiang region, has been working as a journalist for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service for nearly 20 years.

She shared what she has witnessed at the event, “Human Rights in China: Uyghurs and Religious Minorities,” hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

“The Chinese government has established a list of criteria by which the authorities would deem someone as extremist, just to name a few: growing a beard, wearing a headscarf or long dress, keeping religious books at home, naming your child with Islamic name, as Mohamed. Just having one of those criteria applied to you is enough to be sent to camps,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the Chinese government sees any religion as a threat to its rule,” she added.

The Chinese Communist Party government has detained more than a million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in internment camps in Xinjiang, where detainees have faced torture, forced labor, and death, according to the U.S. Department of State.

A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that more than 15,000 mosques have been damaged or demolished in the region since 2018, and an AP investigation found a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party of pregnancy checks and forced abortions, sterilizations, and implantations of IUDs on Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.

Rachel Harris, a professor at the University of London whose research has focused on Uyghur culture and religious practice, said at the event that she was worried that this “vibrant religious culture” is being “systematically destroyed.”

After she had conducted research in Xinjiang for more than a decade, Harris’ access to the region was cut off in 2012 when the Chinese government began refusing her visas. She said this was “presumably because of the sensitive nature of my research on Islam.”

“I have to assume that many of the women I know and their families have been incarcerated in these camps, and that likely they’ve been more recently drawn into the system of forced labor in the factories which now receive so-called ‘graduates’ from the camps,” she said.

“As well as my concerns for those women’s safety and wellbeing, I’m also concerned that their vibrant religious culture has been systematically destroyed, and that it will never revive in the form that I knew it.”

Harris explained that the Chinese government’s ongoing oppression of Uyghur ethnic minority has been “consistently masked by this rhetoric of terrorism.”

“But actually what we see is a much more widespread campaign against the daily practice of religion.”

“In May 2014, Xi Jinping himself instigated what he called a People’s War on Terror. Uyghur passports were confiscated, the ties with the outside world were cut off, a tight net of surveillance tracked people’s every movements, and construction began on the system of mass internment camps,” she said.

“And it is very important to know that this war did not target those who might be reasonably assumed prone to extremist violence. This was really about the wholesale criminalization of religious practice, and so we’ve seen numerous government documents talking, for example, about the 75 types of behavior that demonstrate religious extremism.”

No Vatican representatives spoke at the Rome-based virtual event hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

The Vatican Secretariat of State has not spoken publicly on the issue of the detention of Uyghurs in China. The Holy See signed in 2018 and then renewed in 2020 a two-year provisional agreement with the Chinese government, the contents of which have not been made public.

Pope Francis described the Uyghurs as a persecuted people in a book published last year. The Chinese foreign ministry responded by saying that the claim was groundless.

Patrick Connell, the U.S. embassy’s chargé d’affaires, said that “public acknowledgement of the egregious human rights abuses in China is an important step toward holding the Chinese government accountable.”

He noted in his opening remarks that Catholics in China have also faced severe restrictions in their right to worship.

“As part of the Chinese Communist Party’s expanding ‘Sinicization’ policy, which aims to bring religions even further under Communist Party control, China began enforcing new religious regulations May 1,” Connell said.

“The new law requires members of the clergy to prove that they ‘support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support the socialist system.’”

The U.S. diplomat pointed out that under the current restrictions, anyone in China “under the age of 18 is prohibited from participating in religious activities, including attending Mass or praying in a mosque.”

“Members of Catholic communities in China face other severe restrictions and limitations on their right to worship freely, with reports of government officials forcibly closing hundreds of churches, arresting Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns, and even forbidding them from engaging in any religious activity in their capacity as clergy. There’s pressure on schools to check up on the religious beliefs of their students and staff,” he said.

“Some have called this the worst crackdown on religion since the Cultural Revolution.”

Harri Uyghur, a human rights activist from China, was unable to speak at the event out of concern for his family’s safety. He asked instead for a note to be read at the event.

“I stand up for the human rights of people in China, particularly in Xinjiang. I have been contributing to the belief that all human beings are created equal. And what the Chinese government is committing in Xinjiang is not something normal human beings, including Chinese people, can ignore, nor stand aside from. The Chinese Communist Party should stop it immediately,” he wrote.

“I want to contribute for the good of the human rights of people in Xinjiang, but not at the cost of my parents or my family’s life, or their safety and wellbeing. I have done as much as I can. And I believe I can do more, but I really need to take a break, at least for now until my parents’ and in-laws’ safety and wellbeing is guaranteed.”

Five bishops, 220 priests have died from Covid in Mexico

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven in Mexico City, Mexico / Eduardo Berdejo/CNA

Mexico City, Mexico, May 12, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

According to a May 11 report from the Catholic Multimedia Center eight women religious, six men religious, and 12 deacons have also died from the coronavirus in the country.

A total of 24 bishops have come down with COVID-19, with 19 making favorable progress and recovering from the disease. Five bishops in the older age bracket have publicly shared they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

The diocese hardest hit has been the Archdiocese of Guadalajara with 24 priests dying from the virus, followed by the Archdiocese of Mexico with 21 priests and one of its auxiliary bishops, Francisco Daniel Rivera Sánchez.

According to the latest CMC report, the increase in deaths compared to its previous report was four priests, one male religious and one deacon. There were no new deaths of bishops or women religious.

The CMC noted that the decrease in cases among Catholics and the figures recorded by the Mexican government have made it possible to allow Masses with limited attendance, with a gradual increase.

Although no bishop has announced the end of the dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, the Archbishop of Guadalajara,Francisco  Cardinal Robles Ortega, has called on the faithful once again to participate in the Eucharist.

The Catholic Multimedia Catholic Center renewed its call for diocesan officials and parishioners who have solid information on COVID-19 cases in the Church to share this data with its Research Unit.

German foreign minister welcomes day of same-sex blessings ahead of papal audience

Pope Francis receives German foreign minister Heiko Mass in a private audience at the Vatican, May 12, 2021. / Vatican Media.

CNA Staff, May 12, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Ahead of an audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday, Germany’s foreign minister welcomed a day of same-sex blessings held in defiance of the Vatican.

Speaking before he met with the pope on May 12, Heiko Maas backed the blessing ceremonies held in around 80 German cities on Monday in protest at the Vatican’s “no” to same-sex blessings.

“At least I see that there is a great deal of openness in parts of the Catholic Church to social developments that one cannot ignore,” he said, according to the newspaper Die Welt.

“I very much welcome the fact that these discussions are being initiated again and conducted in more depth.”

Talking to reporters after his private audience with the pope, Maas said that the two men discussed the coronavirus pandemic, the future of Europe, violence in Jerusalem, Latin America, and the clerical abuse crisis.

The 54-year-old member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party is a baptized Catholic who was an altar server in his youth.

German media reported that he was the first German foreign minister in almost 20 years to secure a private papal audience.

The audience took place just two days after a nationwide protest against the Vatican’s declaration that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its pronouncement on March 15 in a document known as a “Responsum ad dubium” (response to a question).

In reply to the query, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the CDF answered, “Negative.” The congregation outlined its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

The Vatican statement, issued with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world. Several bishops expressed support for blessings of same-sex couples, while churches displayed LGBT pride flags, and a group of more than 200 theology professors signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

The exact scale of Monday’s day of protest remains unclear. According to the organizers, ceremonies known as “Segnungsgottesdienste für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers,” were held in around 100 churches, mainly in northern and western Germany.

CNA Deutsch reported that this would amount to less than 1% of the total number of churches in Germany.

Observers in Cologne, Munich, Würzburg, and other places told CNA’s German-language news partner that in many places a “modest number” of people attended the ceremonies, promoted using the hashtag “#liebegewinnt” (“love wins”).

Some blessings took place after the public ceremonies. In the Augustinian Church in Würzburg, for example, all couples -- expressly including same-sex couples -- were invited to “come and get” the individual blessing in a backroom, after the service.

One participant reported from Cologne that a total of six couples were blessed in the chapel of the local Catholic university community and a total of 23 people were present.

The participant told CNA Deutsch that the ceremony resembled a “political event.” The ceremony was led by a female pastoral counselor in liturgical robes, who explained that she had already quit her service with the church.

After some political statements, the Gospel was read aloud, followed by a speech. Finally, the song “Imagine” by John Lennon was played.

Writing in the Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagepost, Regina Einig criticized pastors who appeared in the media promoting the event.

“Some pastors were not even deterred by the meager demand for same-sex couples willing to be blessed in their parishes from verbose self-promotion in the media,” she wrote.

“In this sense, the initiative ‘Love Wins’ was a highly clericalistic action and at the same time an image of the self-referential Church against which Pope Francis urgently warns.”

The backlash against the Vatican prompted bishops in other countries to express fears that the German Church was heading for a breach with Rome. They included English Bishop Philip Egan, Australian Cardinal George Pell, and Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, added his name to an appeal, launched in Portugal, asking Rome to take action to stop a “schism” in Germany.

George Weigel, the biographer of St. John Paul II, and Fr. Thomas Weinandy, a Capuchin Franciscan theologian, also expressed concern about the direction of the German Church.

German Catholics were among those criticizing the day of blessings. The group “Maria 1.0” urged the country’s bishops to unite with Rome in face of the protests.

The Pontifex Initiative, a network of young German Catholics, called on the local Church not to pursue an exceptionalist path.

“With today’s actions, the ministers involved are hurting the people of God. Let us not forget that our faith is Roman Catholic. This attribute is not an ornamental accessory. It is the core of our identity,” it said in a May 10 statement.

Helmut Hoping, a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Freiburg, told CNA Deutsch that some of the priests conducting blessings “also openly advocate opening the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples in the medium term.”

Fr. Gero Weishaupt, a judicial vicar in Cologne archdiocese and a scholar of canon law, noted in an interview with CNA Deutsch that former Vatican doctrinal chief Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller and other theologians have spoken for some of a possible schism in Germany.

“And one can ask oneself whether it is not already latently realized,” Weishaupt commented.

Several German bishops have previously spoken in favor of blessings for homosexual unions, including German bishops’ conference chairman Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen), Helmut Dieser (Aachen), Reinhard Marx (Munich and Freising), Franz-Josef Bode (Osnabrück), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), and Heinrich Timmerevers (Dresden-Meissen).

But other German bishops have welcomed the CDF’s intervention. Among them are Rainer Maria Woelki (Cologne), Stephan Burger (Freiburg), Ulrich Neymeyr (Erfurt), Gregor Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Wolfgang Ipolt (Görlitz), Stefan Oster (Passau), and Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg).

Bishop Bätzing, elected leader of the German bishops’ conference last year, said last month that the day of protest was not a “helpful sign.”

He added that blessing services were “not suitable as an instrument for Church-political demonstrations or protest actions.”

Former Michigan school teacher donates $1.1 million to local Catholic schools

Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).

A former Catholic school teacher in Michigan donated $1.1 million to create an endowment for local Catholic schools, the Jackson Catholic Schools district announced on May 6. 

Donna Ambs, a 1958 graduate of St. Mary Star of the Sea grade school in Jackson, Michigan and longtime teacher for Jackson Catholic Schools, made the donation, the district announced. The district is comprised of four Jackson-area Catholic schools: Lumen Christi Catholic School, St. Mary Star of the Sea Elementary, St. John the Evangelist Elementary, and Queen of the Miraculous Medal Elementary.

“This is a very clear message to our students, teachers, parents and the Jackson Catholic community that Catholic education is important and here to stay in the Jackson community,” Tim Dewitt, executive director of Jackson Catholic Schools, told CNA.

Dewitt told CNA that Ambs’ donation will have a direct impact on the district’s teaching staff, supporting efforts to retain and recruit teachers.  

“The fund will be invested in the Catholic Foundation as an endowment.  Once a year there will be a determined amount of distribution that will then be allocated to all schools to help underwrite teacher salaries,” said Dewitt. 

Ambs was part of the the founding group of teachers at Lumen Christi High school in Summit Township, when it opened in 1968, the district said. She retired from teaching in 1997.

“As a former Jackson Catholic School teacher, Donna was happy to give back to the very place that helped enrich her life for so many years,” Lumen Christi Catholic School said in a May 6 press release.

“She believed the role of teacher was one of the noblest and most relevant professions in the world, and that it is vital that institutions like Jackson Catholic School be a welcome place for educators to build their careers and influence young lives,” the press release said. 

“This endowed gift will go on in perpetuity to ensure we have the very best Catholic teachers,” he said.

In March, the school district received another gift of $1 million as part of the school’s Illuminate the Future Capital fundraising Campaign. The campaign has a goal of raising $7 million for operational improvements.

The school system has secured $5.5 million in pledges, Dewitt told CNA.