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Former Jesuit provincial on the Rupnik case: It is a ‘tsunami’ of lack of transparency

Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik with the official image of the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome. / Screenshot from Diocesi di Roma YouTube channel.

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 22:30 pm (CNA).

In an unusual Twitter thread, Father Gianfranco Matarazzo, SJ, former superior for the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) demanded full transparency from his community in dealing with the current situation of noted Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, accused of having abused several women religious from a Slovenian congregation almost 30 years ago.

“The ‘Rupnik case’ is a tsunami ... of injustice, lack of transparency, questionable management, dysfunctional activity, personalized work, apostolic community sacrificed to the leader and unequal treatment,” tweeted Matarazzo, who is currently the delegate for social ministry and abuse prevention for the dioceses of Sicily, Italy’s southern island. 

The former superior said that the statement released by the Jesuits on Dec. 2 barely describing the current situation of Rupnik “relaunches this tsunami.”

“A deadly damage to the Jesuit order, but even more so to Holy Mother Church. Another case study, as if it were not enough that has happened so far.” 

In the Twitter thread, Matarazzo asks “What is to be done?” and provides a list of actions to be taken by the Jesuits:

1. Accept full responsibility and consequences.

2. Offer a detailed reconstruction of everything that happened.

3. Convene a press conference and answer all questions in a transparent manner, without having to make run-up additions because forced to. 

4. Open wide the archives.

5. Father Hans Zollner SJ, who is credited as an authoritative voice on the subject of abuse and is always demanding of the bishops with respect to the handling of this tragedy, take a stand on his order (sic.).

Zollner is one of the leading experts in the field of safeguarding from sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He is a member of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors since its creation in 2014 and is the director of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) at the Gregorian University in Rome.

Who is Father Marko Rupnik, the Jesuit priest and artist accused of abuse?

Father Marko Rupnik, SJ. / Screenshot Vatican News

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 21:25 pm (CNA).

Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, a well-known Jesuit priest and artist, has been accused of abuse he allegedly committed in the early 1990s against at least nine consecrated women of the Loyola Community, a Slovian community co-founded by Rupnik and Sister Ivanka Hosta.

According to an official statement from the Society of Jesus, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith received a complaint against the Slovenian priest and requested that a preliminary investigation be launched.

The investigation was carried out by a Dominican religious who heard the testimony of several people.

During the preliminary investigation, precautionary measures were taken against Rupnik, such as the prohibition of “exercising the sacrament of confession, spiritual direction, and giving the Spiritual Exercises,” according to the official statement released in Italian by the Society of Jesus on Dec. 2. 

The Provincial of the Jesuits in Slovenia explained that the results of this investigation were delivered to the dicastery of the Holy See but that the Vatican declined in October to carry out a canonical process due to the statute of limitations, the order said. The complaint did not include minors.

Despite this, the precautionary measures imposed during the previous investigation remain in force, but now as “administrative measures.”

Who is Marko Rupnik?

Rupnik, in addition to being a priest, is the founder of the Aletti Spiritual Art Workshop, responsible for numerous religious works around the world.

During his youth, Rupnik studied at the School of Fine Arts in Rome and at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he earned a doctorate with a thesis on the theological meaning of modern art in the light of Russian theology.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II entrusted him with the renovation of the mosaic in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

Three years later, Pope John Paul II presided over the dedication rite of this chapel where Rupnik and his team restored the Wall of the Incarnation, the Wall of Ascension and Pentecost, and the Wall of the Parousia.

In February 2011, the Aletti Center, directed by Rupnik, renovated the main chapel inside the Spanish Bishops’ Conference building in Madrid.

Also in Madrid, the Slovenian priest decorated the main sacristy, the chapter house, and the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of Santa María la Real de Almudena.

During the presentation of this work, Rupnik was praised, mentioning that his “motto is to evangelize through beauty.”

Rupnik’s studio is also responsible for the wall of the main altar of the Shrine of the Holy Trinity in Fátima, Portugal, located opposite the site of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

In Italy, Rupnik designed the ramp and crypt of the lower Church of St. Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo, where thousands of faithful Catholics come to venerate the saint who bore the stigmata.

Some other notable works by Rupnik and his studio around the world are the Chapel of the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary in Italy; the Shrine of the Cave in Manresa, Spain, where the artist painted 90 faces of biblical figures; the Church of the Virgin of the Southern Cross in Australia; and the Chapel of the Holy Family of the Knights of Columbus at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.

The Jesuit priest is the author of the logo for the Jubilee of Mercy called by Pope Francis from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016.

Rupnik was also commissioned to create the official image for the Tenth World Meeting of Families that took place in Rome from June 22 to 26. 

A Lenten sermon in the Vatican 

In March 2020, Rupnik gave the first Lenten sermon for the pope and the Roman Curia at the Vatican.

During the preaching, the Jesuit priest stressed that “we are called to a continuous conversion” and that God “manifests himself in this world through our presence.”

That same year, the Vatican appointed Bishop Daniel Libanori, SJ, as commissioner of the Loyola Community, to which the nine women alleged victims of Rupnik belong.

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

Pope: Peace is possible with God’s help and our goodwill

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis asks for prayers to Our Lady to help us convert to God’s plan of peace, in particular for suffering Ukraine.

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Pope at Angelus: Mary helps us preserve our beauty from evil

During the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, Pope Francis invites Christians to entrust themselves to Our Lady, reminding us that Mary, the only human creature without sin in history, is with us in the battle, and she is our sister and Mother.

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Pope Francis: Cardinal Krajewski in Ischia “to express my closeness”

The Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity will visit the town of Casamicciola Terme, on the Italian island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, tragically affected by a flood on November 26.

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UK Supreme Court rules in favor of banning prayer, protests at abortion clinics

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A Northern Ireland law to ban pro-life advocacy near abortion providers, including advocacy of abortion alternatives, is “justifiable” and compatible with the rights of people who want to express their opposition to abortion, the U.K. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday.

The law prohibits “direct” and “indirect” pro-life “influence,” broadly defined, within 100 meters (about 328 feet) of an abortion provider. The designated areas have been called “censorship zones” by critics of the law, who include the legal group ADF UK.

“We are of course disappointed to see today’s ruling from the Supreme Court, which fails to protect the basic freedoms to pray or to offer help to women who may want to know about practical support available to avoid abortion,” Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said Dec. 7.

“Peaceful presence, mere conversation, quiet or silent prayer — these activities should never be criminalized in a democratic society like the U.K.,” he said.

The Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life voiced stronger criticism, calling the decision “a travesty of justice.”

“The judges in the Supreme Court ruled this is appropriate and justifiable, even though it breaches rights of freedom of speech and assembly protected by the European Convention on Human Rights,” the group said Wednesday.

“Our work to protect mothers and babies from abortion has always been peaceful and legal. We will use innovative and creative new methods to continue offering help and support to women outside abortion centers,” the group said.

The ruling concerned a query regarding the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Northern Ireland Bill, which passed in March. Prohibited activities near abortion providers include quiet or silent prayer as well as the distribution of leaflets that offer women alternatives to abortion.

Northern Ireland’s attorney general, Dame Brenda King, had referred the bill to the U.K. Supreme Court out of concern that it was incompatible with fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Abortion critics may protest anywhere outside of the designated zones, the court noted. Conviction under the law will not “interfere disproportionately with a protestor’s rights.” The context is “highly sensitive” and there is “particular importance” to protecting “the private lives and autonomy of women,” the court’s decision summary said.

“(W)omen who wish to access lawful abortion services have a reasonable expectation of being able to do so without being confronted by protest activity designed to challenge and diminish their autonomy and undermine their resolve,” the court said. Women and abortion provider staff are “a captive audience who are compelled to witness anti–abortion activity that is unwelcome and intrusive.”

The court’s explanation for the ruling also cited the bill’s stated aim of implementing obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Igunnubole objected that the law’s criminalization of “influencing” is “vague” and “uncertain” and “reduces the threshold of criminality to an impermissibly low level.”

“Northern Ireland’s broadly drafted law hands arbitrary power to police officers, with the inevitable consequence being the unjust arrest and prosecution of those expressing pro-life views, even though such views are protected under domestic and international human rights law,” he added.

Another critic of the law is Alina Dulgheriu. She changed her mind about having an abortion because pro-life advocates at the doors of an abortion clinic offered to help her. She now speaks on behalf of the pro-life group Be Here for Me.

“What kind of society withholds help from vulnerable women?” Dulgheriu asked. “I didn’t want an abortion but I was abandoned by my partner, my friends, and society. My financial situation at the time would have made raising a child very challenging.”

“Thanks to the help I was offered by a group outside of a clinic before my appointment, my daughter is here today,” she said. “My experience is typical of hundreds of others. Refusing charitable volunteers from offering much-needed services and resources for women in my situation is wrong. Let them help.”

For its part, Precious Life said it “will not be deterred by this court ruling.”

“Our legal team is now working on how this ruling can be appealed and challenged in the European Court of Human Rights,” the group said. “Meanwhile, we will redouble our efforts in our public awareness campaigns to expose the horrific reality of what abortion does to an innocent baby in the womb.”

“In a humane society, the safest place for a baby should be their mother’s womb. Precious Life will work to create ‘safe zones’ for all unborn babies and their mothers throughout Northern Ireland.”

Lois McLatchie, communications officer for ADF UK, cited a 2018 Home Office review of the work of pro-life advocates outside abortion clinics. The most common pro-life efforts include quiet or silent prayer or offering leaflets about alternatives to abortion and charitable support for women. The review found that instances of harassment outside abortion clinics are “rare” and police already have powers to stop it.

“Censorship zones go much further. They introduce a disproportionate and unjustified blanket ban on all pro-life activity, including offering meaningful charitable help and support to women where they need it most,” McLatchie said. “Authorities do not hold a right to silence the public expression of a viewpoint with which they simply disagree.”

In addition to the Northern Ireland law, several U.K. town councils have passed similar laws.

Observers expect the decision of the Supreme Court will likely influence the direction of similar legislation in Scotland, England, and Wales.

Parliamentarians in England and Wales have also conveyed concern about the direction of religious freedom within their jurisdiction as the Public Order Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Clause 9 of the bill proposes to institute “buffer zones” around abortion clinics nationwide, which campaigners argue would have a detrimental impact on outreach for women facing crisis pregnancies while raising fundamental questions concerning freedom of religion and expression. The clause faced notable scrutiny in the House of Lords on Nov. 22 as peers across the political spectrum expressed their unease with the introduction of buffer zones.

“Westminster’s proposal to ban such activities is much further reaching than Northern Ireland’s,” Igunnubole commented. He said it would ban “informing,” “advising,” “persuading,” or even “occupying space” or “expressing opinion” with a penalty of up to two years in prison.

“This is clearly grossly disproportionate. Nobody should be censored for simply holding pro-life beliefs,” he said.

House expected to pass same-sex marriage bill Thursday

null / Kulniz/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) on Thursday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.

C-SPAN Capitol Hill Producer Craig Caplan tweeted Wednesday that the House plans to vote on the final version of the RFMA Thursday morning, followed by a bill enrollment ceremony around 11:30 a.m. in the U.S. Capitol.

The final vote comes after the U.S. Senate, with the support of 12 Republicans, voted to pass the RFMA on Nov. 29. If it passes now, Biden, a Catholic, has pledged to sign it into law

While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states. 

The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.

“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.

“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasized. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”

Democrats blocked an amendment Monday offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

After the vote was initially delayed, Reuters reported that the legislation was expected to pass in the House later this week with bipartisan support.

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

DOMA, which the present bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

U.S. bishops back bill to protect pregnant workers as some warn it’s paid abortion leave

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops are confirming their support for the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) amid concerns that the proposed legislation could require employees to pay for abortion expenses.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bipartisan bill that promises protections for pregnant employees. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May. 

The legislation states that it aims to “eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”

The bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to make “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations” related to “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” — unless the employer can demonstrate that it would impose an undue hardship.

In a comment to CNA, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) confirmed its support. 

“As part of the USCCB’s longstanding advocacy in these areas [for women, children, and families in need], we specifically endorsed the version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act reported out of the Senate HELP Committee (Aug. 3, 2021), which added key conscience protections for employers,” James Rogers, the chief communications officer for the USCCB, told CNA in a statement. 

The USCCB has repeatedly expressed support for the PWFA and encouraged members of Congress to support it as well. This legislation, the bishops say, will empower women rather than enable the destruction of the unborn in abortion.

“We believe that version of the bill, read in light of existing religious liberty protections, helps advance the USCCB’s goal of ensuring that no woman ever feels forced to choose between her future and the life of her child while protecting the conscience rights and religious freedoms of employers,” Rogers added.

He concluded: “We are eager to find a way forward to address any impediments to the bill’s passage.”

Rogers commented on this in light of the bishops’ current work related to the pro-life issue.

“In standing with women, children, and families in need, we should have policies to ensure that pregnant, working women are afforded appropriate accommodations to ensure their own health and the health of their pre-born children,” he told CNA. “The bishops have also articulated a comprehensive vision for the Church and public policy to support families. This includes the Walking with Moms in Need initiative as well as the bishops’ Oct. 26 letter on family supporting public policies in the wake of the Dobbs decision” that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Abortion concerns

Some groups, such as CatholicVote, have warned that the bill — as it stands — could be used to force employers to pay for abortion-related expenses. They add that the bill does not provide adequate protections for religious organizations. 

The Catholic advocacy organization cautioned in November that, in the context of the current legal system and culture at large, “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” includes both contraception and abortion.

The group quoted Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina: “If an employee working for a religious organization requests time off to have an abortion procedure, H.R. 1065 could require the organization to comply with this request as a reasonable accommodation of known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky expressed similar concerns, with a spokesperson telling CNA: “The bill could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

Responding to concerns, a Republican Senate aide told CNA in a statement that “the legislation as introduced does not supersede current law protections for religious employers, which is why this legislation is endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Unlike the House version, the current version of the PWFA being considered in the Senate explicitly states in its text that the legislation would not require employer-sponsored health plans to pay for certain things — such as abortion.

Under section 7, it specifies that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed … by regulation or otherwise, to require an employer-sponsored health plan to pay for or cover any particular item, procedure, or treatment or to affect any right or remedy available under any other federal, state, or local law with respect to any such payment or coverage requirement.”

Pregnancy protections

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also supports the PWFA, saying that “no one should be forced to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy.” While Congress has outlawed pregnancy discrimination, the ACLU warns that employers routinely deny pregnant workers temporary job modifications, from more frequent breaks and schedule changes to reassignment of hazardous tasks.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. 

The act’s text mirrors the PWFA: “The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” it reads. 

It also clarifies: “This subsection shall not require an employer to pay for health insurance benefits for abortion,” except in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or where there are medical complications arising from an abortion.

The U.S. bishops stress the difference between the 1978 act and the PWFA in a backgrounder.

“While the current set of laws requires an employer to have already made an accommodation for a different worker and for the pregnant worker to be aware of this instance before a reasonable modification is required, the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act begins by asking if an accommodation is possible,” the bishops say. “This approach is modeled after the well-established Americans with Disabilities Act framework, with which employers are already familiar.”

Pope to make traditional Marian visits on Immaculate Conception

Pope Francis will celebrate today's Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception with the midday recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter's Square, followed by his traditional visits to the Salus Populi Romani icon at Rome's St. Mary Major Basilica and the statute dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Piazza di Spagna.

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Reuters exposes massive rape and forced abortion campaigns in Nigeria

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

According to a report published by Reuters today, a massive forced abortion program has been carried out by the Nigerian military on at least 10,000 women since 2013. In addition to exposing the Nigerian government’s forced abortion campaign, Reuters’ findings further evidence the use of rape as a weapon of war carried out by Islamist insurgents on Nigerian civilians.

As detailed in Reuters’ extensive article, 7 Division, the Nigerian military force in charge of countering the insurgents, has been forcing chemical and surgical abortions on tens of thousands of women who have been raped by Islamist insurgents such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State-West Africa Province (ISWAP), a self-proclaimed regional “caliphate” of ISIS.

Soldiers involved in the military’s forced abortion program stated to Reuters that the reason for the program was that the unborn children are believed to be “predestined” to be insurgents like their fathers, necessitating that the government “destroy (these) insurgent fighters before they could be born.” 

Reuters verified that the Nigerian military has beaten and coerced women, some as young as 12, into abortions in the most unsanitary conditions. 

Bintu Ibrahim, a woman who underwent one such forced abortion, told Reuters: “If they had left me with the baby, I would have wanted it.” 

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), an organization that monitors religious persecution globally, released a report in November noting a “sharp increase in genocidal violence from militant non-state actors, including jihadists,” in Africa. According to ACN, the situation is particularly dire in Nigeria, which “teeters on the brink of becoming a failed state” due to rising jihadism. 

ACN’s November report stated that in Nigeria the “number of attacks and killings has sharply risen, with more than 7,600 Christians killed” between 2020 and 2022. Though previous reports detailed Islamic extremists’ use of rape as a terror tactic, Reuters’ article sheds light on the massive scale of the jihadists’ rape campaign. Now, with Reuters’ findings, there is concrete evidence that Nigeria’s radical Islamic insurgents have been perpetuating a systematic campaign of torture and rape on women, with at the very least more than 10,000 victims since 2013. 

One woman, identified by Reuters as Fati, was kidnapped, regularly beaten and raped, and forcibly married off to three successive Islamist extremists. According to victims’ and Nigerian soldiers’ testimonies obtained by Reuters, Fati’s horrific experience is the norm for women captured by Boko Haram and ISWAP. 

Reuters details how after enduring repeated torture and rape at the hands of the jihadist militants for years, Fati was rescued by the Nigerian military only to undergo a forced chemical abortion in which she experienced “searing pain,” surrounded by other women who were similarly suffering through abortions. 

For the second consecutive year, Nigeria has been left off of the U.S. State Department’s list of countries that engage in or tolerate the world’s worst religious freedom violations, despite regular reports of kidnappings and killings of Christians.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced this year’s designations on Dec. 2, and although several Islamic terrorist groups active in Nigeria were listed, Nigeria itself was not.