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As Fr Pfleger abuse inquiry continues, Chicago archdiocese counters 'misconceptions' of priest's supporters

Chicago, Ill., Feb 25, 2021 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Defenders of outspoken activist priest Fr. Michael Pfleger are wrong to claim an investigation has cleared him of decades-old sexual abuse allegations or to claim that the priest was singled out, the Archdiocese of Chicago has said.

“It is mystifying why anyone would believe the leadership of the archdiocese, which has consistently supported Fr. Pfleger’s good works, would concoct a ruse to remove him,” the Chicago archdiocese said Feb. 24.
 
“Let’s be clear. This case began when an adult male came forward to the archdiocese on his own with an allegation of child sexual abuse,” the archdiocese continued. “His brother subsequently came forward to the archdiocese with an allegation of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese did not have any prior contact with these men, nor did it look for them or anyone else. These men have made serious allegations, which demand that we follow the same process as we have in other cases.”
 
Earlier that day a group of about 100 people gathered outside the headquarters of the Chicago archdiocese to call for Pfleger’s reinstatement, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
 
Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish in Chicago. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.
 
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation of abuse.
 
Two brothers have come forward, saying they were each sexually abused separately by Pfleger dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s when they were 12 or 13 years old.
 
The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed a complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.
 
Pfleger denies the accusations.
 
“Let me be clear and restate what my lawyers said in the beginning,” the priest said on Twitter Feb. 24. “I am innocent of these false allegations. When this is over, which I hope is soon, I will have much more to say.”

Pfleger’s causes include advocacy on behalf of the Black community, opposition to gun violence, and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.
 
At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests; that a woman cannot be ordained a priest is a truth belonging to the deposit of faith.
 
The Saint Sabina Facebook page made claims about the Pfleger investigation in a Feb. 24 post, claims that the Chicago archdiocese disputed.
 
The post claimed that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has “completed their investigation on Fr. Pfleger with the results unfounded. #Facts.” The post claimed that Illinois officials had concluded their investigation 20 days previously. “The archdiocese has not given us an update as to when Fr. Pfleger can return even though the allegations have been deemed baseless. #facts.”
 
“With all due respect, our request is simple: Reinstate Fr. Michael Pfleger and clear his name. Period,” the post said.
 
In the archdiocese’s view, there is a “basic misunderstanding” about the state officials’ investigation.
 
“Our understanding is that the (Department of Children and Family Services) is not directly investigating the veracity of the allegations against Fr. Pfleger,” the archdiocese emphasized. Rather, the department is investigating whether there is a “risk of harm” to children. Depending on the contents of the letter the archdiocese receives from state officials, “there may be no conclusion about guilt or innocence in this case.”
 
There is also disagreement over whether Illinois officials have completed their investigation into whether there is currently a minor victim and have notified the relevant parties.
 
Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services, confirmed to the Sun-Times that the archdiocese was sent a letter Feb. 4 and Pfleger Feb. 24. Neither the archdiocese nor Pfleger’s attorney say they received a letter.

Eugene Hollander, an attorney representing the two alleged victims, said he “would not put much stock” in the findings. Neither brother gave a statement to the department, he said.

The Chicago archdiocese and the Chicago Police Department have ongoing investigations into the accusations.
 
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, a parishioner at St. Sabina, is among those urging the priest’s reinstatement.
 
“It is time for the archdiocese to expedite the process and bring a renewal, a rebirth and a restoration of Fr. Pfleger’s good name, his dignity and his decency,” she said, according to the Sun-Times. “Time is of the essence because in the court of public opinion, time becomes the jury.”
 
The Chicago archdiocese stressed the need to take every abuse allegation seriously and to follow the same process.

“The Church has been accused, at times correctly, of not taking accusations seriously, of conducting cursory investigations and restoring misbehaving priests to ministry prematurely,” the archdiocese said. “We are convinced that the procedures for dealing with these cases, developed and enhanced over the years, work. They should be followed by all organizations that care for and educate young people. It is ironic that we are now accused of taking too long to consider allegations because a priest is prominent and well regarded.”
 
Stressing the need to spend time on accusations to arrive at a “just conclusion,” the archdiocese said it would work on all cases, “always giving priority to the protection and healing of victims.”
 
“Fr. Pfleger has always been free to comment as he and his attorneys see fit,” said the archdiocese. It said his comments were restricted only insofar as he could not name his accusers and the circumstances they described. “He was encouraged to make public his declaration of his innocence,” the archdiocese added.
 
The archdiocese rejected claims it has not reached out to the parish.
 
“In addition to the letters sent by the cardinal, our Office for the Protection of Children and Youth has contacted St. Sabina multiple times, explaining the process and offering assistance. The offers were refused,” said the archdiocese’s statement.
 
Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies.
 
In 2011 the priest was suspended from ministry at St. Sabina and barred from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. He was reinstated after he apologized.

What changes may be coming to the College of Cardinals in 2021?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 06:37 pm (CNA).- When Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako turns 80 on Feb. 27, the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will drop to 127, seven more than the limit of 120 set by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II.



In 2021, five more cardinals will turn 80, and thus age out of voting in the conclave: Cardinals Wilfrid Fox Napier, George Pell, Maurice Piat, Beniamino Stella, and Angelo Scola.



This means that by the end of the year, cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will be down to 122, prompting questions of whether Pope Francis will appoint more.



During his pontificate, Pope Francis strongly reshaped the College of Cardinals. In seven years, he has summoned seven consistories (one per year) and created 101 new cardinals, 79 of whom are eligible to vote in a conclave and 22 of whom are not, because they are above the age of 80. To put this in perspective, St. John Paul II summoned nine consistories in 27 years of his pontificate, an average of one every three years. 



A conclave now would be composed of 73 cardinals created by Pope Francis, 39 created by Benedict XVI, and 16 created by John Paul II. 



Many observers in the Roman Curia believe that, taking into consideration Pope Francis’ modus operandi and the ongoing generational shift within the Curia, it is likely that the pontiff will choose to expand the College of Cardinals to 130, and give the red biretta to the new prefects of the Vatican dicasteries.



Cardinal Robert Sarah's replacement– Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Feb. 21 – will likely be a non-cardinal in need of a red hat. 



Cardinal Beniamino Stella, 79, will leave the Congregation for the Clergy when he turns 80 next August. 



Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, is already 77 and will soon retire. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is 76.  Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is 76 too, while Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, is 77. 



The president of the Vatican City State administration, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, turned 78 last October.



This means that the pope could have six new prefects to appoint in the Roman Curia, all positions traditionally run by cardinals.



This, plus the ongoing reform and restructuring of the Curia, will give Pope Francis the opportunity to expand the College of Cardinals, thus having a greater influence on who his successor will be.

 

NY archdiocese reports slight offertory downturn as Child Victims Act payments loom

New York City, N.Y., Feb 25, 2021 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York on Wednesday offered an update on finances in the archdiocese, noting that although offertory was down overall for the fiscal year, the percentage of offertory given online increased.

He also noted that a large number of clerical abuse lawsuits filed under New York’s Child Victims Act present a challenge to the financial stability of the archdiocese.

“Thanks to the generosity of you, our people, the dedication and commitment of our pastors and priests, and the hard work behind-the-scenes of people in the field and in the chancery, we have
managed to hold our own in some ways, but continue to face some uphill battles in others,” Dolan wrote in a Feb. 24 Flocknote.

Dolan pointed to clerical abuse claims brought under the Child Victims Act, which the state enacted in 2019 following the revelations of abuse perpetrated by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The law set up a one-year window for clergy sex abuse lawsuits in cases where the statute of limitations had previously expired. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has since extended the window for filing lawsuits until Aug. 14, due to complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York archdiocese has since 2016 offered an independent compensation program for victims of clergy sex abuse. Those victims who accepted compensation from the archdiocese in the fund would waive the right to sue for more money later.

CNA reported in December 2017 that nearly 200 clergy sex abuse victims had already received compensation totaling more than $40 million from the New York archdiocese; the figure may now be as high as $200 million.

Dolan said the flood of new lawsuits presents a financial challenge to the archdiocese.

“We are still assessing what the economic impact will be on the archdiocese, although
it is likely to be extremely significant. Cases continue to be filed, and we are anxious to reach just settlements with those who have meritorious claims, just as we already did through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program,” Dolan said.

“We are prayerful and hopeful that our primary insurance carrier recognizes the moral imperative to resolve meritorious suits as soon as possible though unfortunately we have met resistance in our effort. We will continue to press and will report back soon.”

Although offertory collection overall dropped by 10% since the beginning of the pandemic until the end of the fiscal year on Aug. 31, 2020, a greater percentage of the archdiocese’ parishes began using online giving services.

Online giving activity more than doubled, from 10% to 25% of all offertory, Dolan said.

Dolan noted that most of the archdiocese’ parishes had applied for and received Paycheck Protection Program loans, after being encouraged to do so by the archdiocese.

“Fortunately, most of our needy parishes properly made use of the Paycheck Protection Program funds, which went to pay the salaries of parish and school staff, and partially offset this overall decline in offertory throughout the archdiocese,” Dolan said.

“In so many cases, a parish is not just a place of worship but a second home for people. It is important that we continue our effort to support these communities of worship.”

The Cardinal’s Annual Stewardship Appeal met its goal of $20 million this year, he said.
 
Although the New York Catholic Conference initially opposed the Child Victims Act, the conference eventually dropped its opposition, the archdiocesan spokesman told CNA in January. When the bill was amended to allow lawsuits by alleged victims of not only religious clergy, but also alleged victims of public employees such as public school teachers, the conference stopped opposing it.

Man dies on his knees in front of altar in Mexico City church

Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 25, 2021 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A church in Mexico City was the scene on Sunday of the death of Juan, a man in his sixties who got down on his knees to pray at the entrance of the church, made his way up the main aisle still on his knees, passed out, and died within minutes in front of the altar.

The same afternoon the parish priest celebrated Juan’s funeral Mass accompanied by several parishioners.

The official report states that Juan entered Jesus the Priest parish church, around noon on Feb. 21, and died shortly thereafter on his knees in front of the altar, about 45 minutes before the start of the afternoon Mass.

The sacristan, who witnessed the man’s collapse, quickly informed the pastor, Fr. Sajid Lozano, who called an ambulance, but "there were several signs indicating there was no more we could do because he had already died," the priest said.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Lozano said that “Juan came on his own two feet to his funeral Mass with his body present there, which is the death of the just, a death without suffering.”

"Juan had the strength and the courage to come to the house of God to take his last breath," he added.

According to the magazine Desde la Fe, a publication of the Archdiocese of Mexico City, very few people knew Juan, but moved by the way he died, many participated in the funeral Mass.

Police and paramedics "told us that the death had occurred due to a sudden heart attack and that there were no signs of violence," the priest told the archdiocesan magazine. The authorities also gave the priest permission to go ahead with the Mass and suggested that he find one of Juan's relatives.

Mexican law states that when a person dies outside of a hospital, the body cannot be removed until the coroner and local prosecutor come to examine the body to verify there was no foul play.

Consequently, Juan’s body had to be left right where he died. As the Sunday Mass was scheduled to begin shortly at 1 p.m., Lozano made the impromptu decision to make it the funeral Mass for the deceased.

A young man who was passing by near the church was able to identify the body and then accompanied the authorities to the family's residence. The son of the deceased was at home, and shocked by the news, went to the church to participate in the funeral Mass.

As a sign of respect, Juan’s body was covered with a white sheet brought by one of the faithful and a candle was placed at his feet.  

Lozano told ACI Prensa that “death is still a painful and unexpected event”, and it is “only through faith that we have the hope that it is not the end of everything, but the beginning of eternal life."

The pastor told Desde la Fe that the faithful "prayed for a person they did not know, but that he was a member of the community."

The dramatic turn of events “made a big impact on the people,” surprised by what had happened, and “together we reflected that death is only the end of our pilgrimage in this world, but the beginning of eternal life," he concluded.

 

Who might be Cardinal Sarah's successor?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 04:44 pm (CNA).- After Robert Cardinal Sarah's retirement as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, the big question around the Vatican is who will take his place.

Informed sources say that Pope Francis would be looking at three possible options.

The first would be that Pope Francis would raise Archbishop Arthur Roche, 70, from the congregation's secretary to its prefect.

Archbishop Roche was appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Benedict XVI in 2012. Before, he was president of the British International Commission on Liturgy from 2002 to 2012. He also served as auxiliary bishop of Westminster from 2001 to 2002, coadjutor Bishop of Leeds from 2002 to 2004, and Bishop of Leeds from 2004 to 2012.

During Pope Francis' pontificate, he has been a go-between Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah in liturgical issues. He was entrusted with writing a commentary to the motu proprio Magnum Principium, which shifted the responsibility of translating liturgical texts to bishops' regional and national conferences. The comment came out along with the publication of the motu proprio.

In 2019, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Roche as a member of the team to examine the appeals on delicta graviora, the gravest crimes dealt by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which includes the sexual abuse of minors.

The second option is Bishop Claudio Maniago of Castellaneta. Maniago, 62, has been president of the Italian Bishops Conference's Commission on liturgy since 2015. In that position, he oversaw the new translation into Italian of the Roman Missal, which included a new version of the Our Father.

Pope Francis appointed Bishop Maniago as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and in 2016.

The third option would be Bishop Vittorio Viola of Tortona. A member of the Order of Friars Minor, Viola, 55, has been a bishop since 2014.

Pope Francis picked Viola as bishop, raising him from his position of president of the Assisi Caritas. He had also been the Custodian of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi. He got to know Pope Francis during the pope's visit to Assisi on Oct. 4, 2013, when he sat next to him during a lunch with the poor.

Viola was ordained a priest by Bishop Luca Brandolini, one of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini's closest collaborators.

Viola is also a good friend of Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, who was secretary of the Congregation for the Divine worship from 2003 to 2005.

Pope Francis reportedly appreciated how Bishop Viola handled the parishes' re-organization in Tortona, and he showed strong decision-making skills. Bishop Viola was among the candidates to take over the position of Archbishop of Genoa. Pope Francis opted for a Conventual Franciscan in Genoa, Fr. Marco Tasca. But rumors insist that the pope had already decided to call Viola to the Vatican.

House passes Equality Act, which bishops warned would ‘punish’ religious groups

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, a bill that the U.S. bishops have warned would trample religious freedom protections while codifying gender ideology in federal law.

 

By a vote of 224 to 206, the House passed the Equality Act only six days after it was introduced on Feb. 18. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under civil rights law and forbids discrimination on the basis of those classes in a number of areas.

 

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) has opposed the legislation, saying it upholds gender ideology and the redefinition of marriage and frames gender as simply a “social construct.” Furthermore, it would “punish” religious groups opposed to these beliefs, the conference warned.

 

Through the bill, Congress is forcing “novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations,” stated a Feb. 23 letter by five USCCB committee chairs to members of Congress.

 

The bishops were Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of Oakland, chair of the USCCB education committee; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB domestic justice committee; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the bishops’ religious liberty committee; Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, chair of the marriage subcommittee; and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the USCCB pro-life committee.

 

The act, they said, “includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct.”

 

They warned that the bill could force church halls to “host functions that violate their beliefs.” Women would have to share shelters, sports, and locker rooms with biological males identifying as transgender females. Religious adoption agencies would have to match children with same-sex couples or possibly face closure.

 

The legislation prevents religious freedom claims from being made by individuals and groups under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The landmark 1993 law has been invoked by many as a defense against various government mandates, but the Equality Act would override those religious freedom protections.  

 

During House debate over the legislation, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said the bill “dismantles Title IX” protections for girls’ sports. Religious adoption agencies in several states have already been shut down because of mandates that they place children with same-sex couples, she said.

 

“The Equality Act stipulates that religious beliefs and faith no longer matter in the Democrats’ new world order,” Hartzler said.

 

The bill would override conscience protections for health care workers, said Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.). The act would “force both people and organizations in everyday life and work settings to speak and act in support of gender transitions, including health care workers and licensed counselors, even when it’s against their professional judgement,” she said.

 

Under the act, “it is Washington, D.C., that ultimately decides the morality of our children and our churches,” Herrell said.

 

Pro-life groups have also warned that the legislation could expand taxpayer-funded abortion, as it amends civil rights law to forbid “pregnancy” discrimination. Thus, they say that women seeking abortions under the law could claim discrimination if they are denied an abortion.

 

“Tragically, this Act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience,” the bishops wrote in their Feb. 23 letter.

 

The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List called the bill a “Trojan horse” that upholds “a ‘right’ to abortion,” as it “equates abortion with pregnancy and childbirth.”

 

The president of a Catholic college also warned that, under the legislation, professors could be censored for teaching the truth about marriage and sexuality.

 

“It doesn’t ensure equality for our faculty, who would not be allowed to proclaim the truth about human dignity and sexuality,” Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, said of the act.

 

President Biden promised to sign the act within his first 100 days in office. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

HHS nominee won’t say if parents can refuse child’s gender transitioning

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A nominee for assistant health secretary on Thursday wouldn’t say if government officials can intervene when parents refuse their child’s gender transitioning.

 

Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), appeared before members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday for a confirmation hearing. Levine, a biological male who identifies as transgender female, is currently Pennsylvania’s health secretary.

 

When pressed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) on the matter of minors being allowed to transition genders, Levine would not directly answer his questions.

 

“Do you support the government intervening to override the parent’s consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and/or amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia?” Paul asked Levine. He stated his “alarm” that Levine was not directly answering his questions.

 

Levine responded that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field,” and told Paul “if confirmed to the position of assistant secretary of health, I would certainly be pleased to come to your office and to talk to you and your staff about the standards of care and the complexity of this field.”

 

Roger Severino, the former head of the HHS civil rights office, stated that Levine’s answer manifested “ideology” rather than “science.”

 

“I met with Dr. Levine while at HHS and asked a simple question. ‘What does it mean to be male or female?’ Much like @RandPaul, I couldn't get an answer,” Severino tweeted. “Science is about clarity and openness to review while ideology is about subjectivity backed by coercion of those who disagree.”

 

Severino is currently a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), and directs the center’s HHS Accountability Project.

 

As Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Levine reportedly supported allowing minors to start hormone therapy, but only with their parents’ consent.

 

In a 2017 address at Franklin & Marshall College on transgender medicine, the health secretary said that teenagers could start taking puberty blockers at the start of puberty, and with the consent of parents, a therapist, and a physician.

 

For 14-16 year-olds, they could take cross-gender hormones with a gradual dosage increase, Levine said, while most transgender surgeries take place after the age of 18.

 

Regarding homeless youth who identify as LGBT, Levine said they do not have the “luxury” of protocols, so the transition process could be “accelerated” for them.

 

Levine also opposed religious exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate that were granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Levine called the exemptions “immoral and unethical.”

 

On Thursday, Paul repeatedly questioned Levine on the matter of children transitioning genders.

 

“Dr. Levine, do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” Paul asked.

 

Levine said that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field, with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.”

 

Paul said in response that he was “alarmed” that Levine was “not absolutely willing to say minors shouldn’t be making decisions to amputate their breasts, or to amputate their genitalia.”

 

“I’m alarmed that you won’t say with certainty that minors should not have the ability to make the decision to take hormones that will affect them for the rest of their life,” he said.

 

Plan to exhume body of US-born nun buried in England withdrawn after outcry

CNA Staff, Feb 25, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A religious order announced on Thursday that it had withdrawn an application to exhume the body of its US-born founder following an outcry in England, where the nun is buried.

In a Feb. 25 statement, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus said that it had abandoned plans to transfer part of the mortal remains of the Venerable Cornelia Connelly to Philadelphia.

“A decision has been made to withdraw the application to the Historic Churches Commission for the exhumation of the Venerable Cornelia Connelly,” said the statement signed by Veronica Openibo, Pauline Darby, Cecilia Nya, and Marie Ursino, members of the Society Leadership Team.

Connelly, who was born in Philadelphia in 1809, died in 1879 in the English town of St. Leonards-on-Sea, where she founded a school. 

The mother of five, convert, and founder of a religious congregation was buried in the Convent Cemetery in Mayfield, East Sussex. But her body was moved in 1935 to the chapel of Mayfield School, which she established in 1872.

Her order hoped to transfer her remains to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia. An announcement about the move was still visible on the cathedral’s website on the morning of Feb. 25 but was later removed.

It said: “The sacred remains of the foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Venerable Cornelia Connelly, soon will be translated from England to a new tomb in our Cathedral Basilica.”

“Venerable Cornelia Connelly is a native Philadelphian and her cause for canonization is well underway. Her tomb will be located in the rear of the Basilica on the Race Street side.”

The announcement included a poster with an artist’s drawing, with the title “The future home of the Venerable Cornelia Connelly tomb.”

The proposal encountered fierce opposition when the order applied to the Southern Historic Churches Committee for permission to extract Connelly’s coffin before returning it through an opening made in the side wall of the 14th-century chapel below ground level.

The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, reported on Feb. 19 that the committee had received 120 objections to the plan. A petition against the exhumation gained more than 1,400 supporters.

The order initially defended the proposal, saying that Connelly’s remains would “provide an important focus for veneration” at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul ahead of potential developments in her canonization cause.

“Remains would also be retained at Mayfield School, continuing the long tradition of the veneration of the foundress by Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, members of the school community and others who come to the chapel for prayer,” a spokesperson said.

“We are saddened by any pain and upset this move causes. The society believes that by being in the cathedral, alongside St. Katherine Drexel, another Philadelphia founder, Cornelia’s life, legacy and our charism will have the potential to be recognized, seen and shared by a larger number of people, allowing a greater spotlight on her work and cause for canonization.”

According to a biography on the order’s website, Connelly was born into an affluent family and raised as a Presbyterian. After she was orphaned at the age of 14, she was baptized in the Episcopal Church and married a clergyman, the Rev. Pierce Connelly. 

The marriage was reportedly happy, although one of their five children died at the age of six weeks and another died at the age of two after being knocked into a vat of boiling sugar by a dog.

Both she and her husband converted to Catholicism. Pierce Connelly believed that he had a vocation to the Catholic priesthood. In 1845, she took a vow of perpetual chastity, enabling her husband to train for the priesthood, after he refused to heed her requests to reconsider.

She then began to explore a vocation to religious life, desiring to found an order called the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. Pope Gregory XVI asked her to establish the foundation in England, which was undergoing a Catholic revival after centuries of persecution. She founded the order in 1846.

She became involved in a painful dispute with her husband, who demanded that she return to him. In 1849, he filed suit in a British court. The case, which was highly publicized, was finally dismissed in 1858.

In 1862, six sisters from England brought the Society to the United States. Today the order is present in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe.

The first steps to open Connelly’s canonization cause took place in 1953. Pope John Paul II declared her “Venerable” in 1992, recognizing that her life was marked by heroic virtue.  

Where is Pope Francis going in Iraq and why? A CNA Explainer

Rome Newsroom, Feb 25, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).-  

 

In a week’s time, Pope Francis is expected to make history by becoming the first pope to travel to Iraq. His March 5-8 trip will take him from excavations of historical biblical sites dating back thousands of years to churches where Catholics suffered horrific terrorist attacks only a few years ago. 

With meetings planned with Iraqi political leaders and prominent Muslim clerics, the pope is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq in a little over three days.

Here is a breakdown of the places where Pope Francis is scheduled to visit in Iraq.

Friday, March 5: Baghdad



Speech at Presidential Palace 

Upon arrival at Baghdad International Airport, the pope is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the airport before visiting Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace, where the pope will give a speech to a gathering of civil authorities.

The pope’s meetings with Iraqi authorities come at a time when the country is facing severe political, socioeconomic, and security challenges, including a protest movement calling for an end to government corruption, high levels of unemployment, and the sectarian divisions within the political system established after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Cathedral Our Lady of Salvation

The Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, also known as Sayidat al-Nejat, was the site of a suicide attack by the Islamic State during Sunday Mass in 2010 in which more than 50 people were killed. 

The terrorists killed two priests and took more than 100 hostages before Iraqi security forces stormed the church with the support of U.S. forces. The beatification process of the 48 Catholics who died inside the church advanced from the diocesan phase to the Vatican in October 2019.

The cathedral was also one of six churches bombed in August 2004 when five car bombs in Baghdad and one in Mosul were detonated in cars parked outside churches, killing a total of 12 people and injuring more than 70.

Pope Francis will visit the cathedral and give a speech to local bishops, priests, religious, and other Iraqi Catholics. 

A mural of the pope with Vatican and Iraqi flags has been painted on a wall outside of the cathedral in anticipation of the pope’s visit, according to photos posted on social media.

Saturday, March 6: Najaf and the Plain of Ur



Meeting with Shiite Cleric in Najaf

On his second day in Iraq, Pope Francis will travel on Iraqi Airways to Najaf to meet with Ali al-Sistani, an influential leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq.

Najaf is considered one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in Shiite Islam, after only Mecca and Medina. It is the burial place of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of Muhammad and the first Shiite imam. The question of Ali’s right to the caliphate resulted in the major schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Not far from Najaf is the tomb of the prophet Ezekiel in Al Kifl, where the historic Jewish synagogue at the site is now contained within a newly built Shiite mosque.

Interreligious Meeting in the Plain of Ur

Pope Francis will then travel to the plain of Ur in southern Iraq, which the Bible records as the birthplace of Abraham. The archaeological site at Ur, excavated in the 20th century, includes a Mesopotamian ziggurat and ancient complex of houses. 

The pope plans to give a speech at an interreligious gathering in Ur because of the importance of Abraham for all three major monotheistic religions. In Judaism, Abraham is revered as the first patriarch of the Jewish people. Muslims believe that Muhammad is a descendent of Abraham’s son Ishmael.

Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad

Pope Francis will end the day with Mass at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, upon his return to Baghdad. The cathedral, called Mar Yousef, was built in the 1950s. It was recently restored by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako.

The Chaldeans are one of several Eastern Catholic communities found in Iraq. Tracing back their history to the early Christians through their connection with the Church of the East, Chaldeans made up two-thirds of Iraqi Christians before the population was diminished by Islamic State violence. Other Eastern Rite communities in Iraq include Syriac Catholics, Armenian Catholics, and Melkite Greek Catholics.

Sunday, March 7: Mosul and the Nineveh Plains

Memorial in Mosul

Pope Francis will spend his final full day in Iraq in the northern Nineveh Plains, where the Islamic State carried out a genocidal campaign against Christians, Yazidis, and other minority groups after taking Mosul in the summer of 2014.

The pope will be welcomed at the Erbil Airport by the religious and civil authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan before traveling by helicopter to Mosul, where he will pray for the victims of war at Hosh al-Bieaa square.



Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Bakhdida

Pope Francis will then travel by helicopter to visit the local Christian community in Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh, at the Syriac Catholic Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where he will pray the Angelus.

The cathedral, also known as Al-Tahira Cathedral, was desecrated and its interior was charred after the Islamic State set it aflame after taking control of the town in 2014. Restoration of the cathedral was recently completed by Aid to the Church in Need. A new Marian statue sculpted by a local Christian artist was placed atop the bell tower in January.

Stadium Mass in Erbil

On his last evening in Iraq, Pope Francis will offer Mass at the Franso Hariri International Stadium in Erbil on March 7. This Mass is expected to be the largest gathering of Iraqi Catholics with the pope during his trip.

Local authorities in Kurdistan have said that 4,500 people have registered for the Mass. A special identification card issued by Erbil’s Catholic University will be required to enter the stadium for the Mass.

Monday, March 8: Travel back from Baghdad to Rome



After a farewell ceremony on Monday morning at the Baghdad International Airport, Pope Francis will fly back to Rome on Alitalia, traveling 1,800 miles in just over five hours. The pope will answer journalists’ questions during a press conference on his return flight. 

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda told CNA that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the region could be a turning point for the country’s diminished Christian population.

“It has the potential to change the trajectory of the Christian presence in Iraq from one of a disappearing people to one of a surviving and thriving people,” the Archbishop of Erbil said.

Former HHS official: Becerra could promote abortion internationally

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2021 / 11:16 am (CNA).- A former official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned Thursday that health secretary nominee Xavier Becerra could pose grave implications for the global pro-life cause.

 

If confirmed as HHS Secretary, Becerra’s priority in the job would be abortion, said Valerie Huber, former U.S. Special Representative for Global Women's Health at HHS, during an interview on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that will air Thursday night. 

 

“Having someone who is such a radical pro-abortion advocate will move that agenda to its limits,” Huber said. 

 

Becerra is currently California’s attorney general. During his tenure, he has upheld state pro-abortion laws that forced crisis pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions, and required Catholic nuns to have abortion coverage in their health plans. He has also pushed for easier access to the abortion pill regimen and supported lawsuits against abortion restrictions in other states. 

 

At his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Becerra would not name a single abortion restriction that he supported. 

 

Huber noted the Biden administration has already allowed for U.S. global health assistance to fund international pro-abortion groups by repealing the Mexico City Policy. 

 

“By its being rescinded, that means that U.S. taxpayer dollars are going to be used to promote and to fund NGOs around the world who provide abortion,” Huber said. 

 

She said Becerra’s nomination could also have a wide-ranging impact on abortion not just within the United States, but overseas. 

 

“Most pro-life advocates here in the United States and citizens who don’t want their taxpayer dollars used for abortion often focus only on what’s happening here within the borders of the United States government,” Huber said. 

 

“What that does is gives a president and an HHS secretary who is so focused on abortion plenty of space for mischief-making that could result in abortion being deemed an international human right,” she said. 

 

Huber added that HHS is “ground zero for either the protection of life or the promotion of abortion.” She called Becerra “unfit” for the role of HHS secretary. 

 

During Becerra’s confirmation hearing this week, he was pressed by senators on his record on abortion and religious freedom. 

 

In one exchange during Becerra’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), asked Becerra why he voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion. 

 

Becerra replied, “When I come to these issues, I understand that we may not always agree on where to go, but I think we can find some common ground on these issues.”

 

Romney said, “I think we can reach common ground on many issues, but on partial-birth abortion it sounds like we’re not going to reach common ground there.”