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Priest reports possible eucharistic miracle at Connecticut church

null / Sidney de Almeida / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2023 / 11:20 am (CNA).

A local Connecticut television station is reporting that the Archdiocese of Hartford is investigating a possible Eucharistic miracle that may have taken place during the celebration of the Mass at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Thomaston.

On March 5, 2023, at the conclusion of Mass, Father Joseph Crowley announced that a Eucharistic minister witnessed something unexplainable as he was distributing communion.

“One of our eucharistic ministers was running out of hosts and suddenly there were more hosts in the ciborium. God just duplicated himself in the ciborium,” an emotional Crowly told the faithful.

“It’s really, really cool when God does these things, and it’s really, really cool when we realize what he's done and it just happened today,” the priest said.

“Very powerful, very awesome, very real, very shocking. But also, it happens, and today it happened,” he said.

“They were running out of hosts and all of a sudden more hosts were there. So today not only did we have the miracle of the Eucharist, we also had a bigger miracle. It's pretty cool,” the priest said.

Watch Crowley describe the possible miracle in the video below:

WFSB Eyewitness News reported Friday that “the Archdiocese of Hartford is looking into this possible miracle.” 

A Vatican-endorsed exhibit “Eucharistic Miracles of the World,” featuring documentary evidence of 152 such miracles, has visited over 3,000 churches on its international tour. In the 21st century, there have been four eucharistic miracles recognized by the Catholic Church, the Magis Center reports. The Magis Center,

In 2013, in a church in Legnica, Poland, a consecrated host that fell to the floor was put into water so that it would dissolve. Instead, it became streaked with red stains. Forensic testing concluded, “In the histopathological image, the fragments were found containing the fragmented parts of the cross-striated muscle. It is most similar to the heart muscle.” 

In 2006, a consecrated host at a parish in the Chilpancingo-Chilapa Diocese of Mexico appeared to be bleeding. Tests later found the presence of blood. “The reddish substance analyzed corresponds to blood in which there are hemoglobin and DNA of human origin,” the study found.

In 2001, witnesses reported seeing the face of Jesus appear on a consecrated host in Chirattakonam, India.

And in 2008, at a church in Sokolka, Poland, a priest dropped a consecrated host which then appeared to bleed. Tests later found that “the altered fragment of the host is identical to the myocardial (heart) tissue of a person who is nearing death. Additionally, the structure of the muscle fibers and that of the bread are interwoven in a way impossible to produce by human means.”

‘Rise again’: Jesus gives life when hope seems lost, Pope Francis says

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus reflection from the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City on March 26, 2023. / Vatican Media

CNA Newsroom, Mar 26, 2023 / 08:01 am (CNA).

On the fifth Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis challenged the faithful to do as they did when they were little children learning how to walk: letting God take them by the hand.

That way, the pope assured, even when they fall or feel discouraged, they won’t be alone. On the contrary, “it is precisely in these moments that he comes closer than ever to restore us to life,” the pope said in his Angelus address March 26.

Speaking from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope pointed to the Gospel of the day, which narrates the resurrection of Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus. In what is his last known miracle before Easter, Jesus arrives when all hope is lost, but when he asks for the tomb to be open, prays to the Father, and shouts to Lazarus “Come out!” his friend comes back to life. As to Lazarus, Jesus repeats to each one of us: “Get up, get back on the path, regain confidence!” the pope recalled.

The Holy Father recognized how easy it is for us to feel hopeless or to meet people who have given up hope: because of a painful loss, an illness, a bitter disappointment, a wrong or betrayal suffered, or a serious mistake made. At these moments, he said, ”life often seems like a closed tomb, where everything is dark, and all around, one sees only sorrow and despair.” But Jesus “approaches our tombs and says to us, as then: ‘Take away the stone.’”

Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the recitation of the Angelus on March 26, 2023. Vatican Media
Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the recitation of the Angelus on March 26, 2023. Vatican Media

On the day after having promulgated an updated version of the Church's norms to prevent and counter sexual abuse against minors and vulnerable adults, the pope spoke words of comfort and hope to all those who suffer: “Do not let yourself be imprisoned by pain, do not let hope die: Come back to life!” he urged.

For Francis, the Gospel’s message is clear: “Jesus gives life even when it seems that all hope has gone.” That is to say, “Jesus invites us not to stop believing and hoping, not to let ourselves be crushed by negative feelings.”

The pope acknowledged that everyone likely carries in their hearts some burden or some suffering and urged the faithful to revisit chapter 11 of St. John's Gospel and meet Jesus, who is near. “Can we open our hearts to him and entrust our worries to him? To open the tomb of problems and look over the threshold, towards his light?” Francis asked.

“And in turn, as small mirrors of Godhs love,” he continued to ask, “do we manage to illuminate the environments in which we live with words and gestures of life? Do we bear witness to the hope and joy of Jesus?”

Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the recitation of the Angelus on March 26, 2023. Vatican Media
Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the recitation of the Angelus on March 26, 2023. Vatican Media

Before ending his address, the pope recalled that we are all sinners and left a special word for confessors: “Dear brothers, do not forget that you, too, are sinners, and you are in the confessional not to torture: to forgive, and to forgive everything, as the Lord forgives everything.”

After praying the Angelus in Latin with the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the victims of the tornado in Mississippi and earthquake survivors in Turkey and Syria. He also prayed for peace and reconciliation in Peru.

The pope also recalled war-torn Ukraine, remembering the special ceremony of consecration to Mary that united the Vatican and the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal on March 25, 2022.

“Yesterday [March 25], the solemnity of the Annunciation, we renewed our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the certainty that only the conversion of hearts can open the path that leads to peace,” he said. 

“Let us continue to pray for the martyred Ukrainian people,” he urged. 

Marianists in Spain under fire for lack of transparency regarding sex ed program

null / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 26, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Parents of students at a Marianist school in Spain expressed their “stark distrust” in the Marianists and in their sex ed program “Crea2 para amar” (Created to Love) after a tense meeting in which they were denied access to the materials being taught to their children.

The event took place March 16 in the auditorium of Our Lady of the Pillar School in Madrid and was attended by a large representation of parents of elementary school students.

Representing the school were the principal, Brother Valeriano Sarto, SM; the head of pedagogical department of the Network of Marianist Schools, Belén Blanco; and the director of elementary education, Covadonga García.

The meeting began with a speech by the principal in which he acknowledged that the informational meeting should have been held at the beginning of the school year, months ago.

Next, Blanco explained the “fundamentals” of the “Created to Love” program for about an hour. The elementary school director concluded by describing the content that was offered to the students of those courses.

When the time came for parents to speak, they expressed their doubts and asked to know in advance the content being taught to their children in the same way that mathematics, language, or history classes are done through an online platform.

The images surrounding the controversy

The origin of the controversy stems from the fact that more than 5,000 parents have already signed an online petition by Educators against Indoctrination placed on the (CitizenGo) portal, which denounces alleged inappropriate content of the “Created to Love” program.

The signature campaign is based on images that the Marianists deny are part of the program. However, Blanco, in response to questions from those present, admitted that “these images were part of an internal platform for a while” during the time the program was being created.

The petition gives a number of examples of objectionable content such as “Why can’t I dress like a girl if I feel like a girl?” “I’m not a girl or a boy because I have a penis or a vulva. I’m a girl or a boy because I know what I am. And only I decide.”

However, “the images weren’t approved” by the board of the Marianist Schools of Spain, despite the fact they were posted on the internet.

Blanco said that there was “an internal communication failure” involved in the dissemination of the images, which was publicly acknowledged last June at the Valencia school, again on Feb. 17 in Ciudad Real, and through a general statement issued March 10.

Before concluding, Blanco promised that “more complete information will be given next year” and defended the sex education program that is taught in Marianist schools in Spain: “We only have reasons to be satisfied with the effect that it’s having in the schools.”

‘There’s no language of the Church’

After the meeting, a father of several students consulted by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, said that “they haven’t given clear messages. People don’t know what they’re going to give in class."

In addition, he lamented that, in the general scheme of content that was presented on a screen, “there’s no language of the Church, but of gender ideology. I don’t see any word that references the social doctrine of the Church.”

Gender ideology considers biological sex to not be determinative for the person but that a person can define his or her orientation and sexual identity according to the person’s preferences and even contrary to his or her nature, which different governments try to impose through the education of children and young people.

Specifically, the father wondered why in the section referring to the ethical-religious dimension, the content is listed as: “Gender violence,” “Sexual abuse of minors,” and “Discrimination against women. Sexism."

A mother of a large family confirmed to ACI Prensa that the requests for specific information were repeated without success and that school officials have refused to withdraw the program, not even as a precautionary measure.

“The principal ended the meeting without responding or letting many of us parents speak who had asked to speak. They’ve shown themselves for who they are,” she said.

Another parent of several students at the school admitted that the fundamentals presented by Blanco “were well done,” but speaking with ACI Prensa, he corroborated that “there were many protests” and that the feeling of “helplessness” reigns among the parents.

In addition, he lamented that, at the end of the meeting, “the entire audience was left thinking: Why don’t they give us an explanation [of the specific content]?”

All this creates “stark mistrust,” he concluded.

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

Pope Francis, Mississippi bishop offer prayers for victims of deadly tornado

Damage from a series of powerful storms and at least one tornado is seen on March 25, 2023 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. At least 26 people have reportedly been killed with dozens more injured following devastating storms across western Mississippi and Alabama on the night of March 24, 2023. / Will Newton/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 26, 2023 / 07:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Sunday offered prayers for the victims of a deadly tornado that struck parts of Mississippi and Alabama Friday night.

Cutting a swath of ruin across the impoverished Mississippi Delta, the twister killed at least 26 people and left twisted piles of debris where homes, businesses, and neighborhoods once stood. The death toll is expected to rise, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) warned.

Speaking after his weekly Angelus reflection in St. Peter’s Square March 26, the pope included victims of the storm among those suffering around the world from war and natural disasters.

“Yesterday, the solemnity of the Annunciation, we renewed the consecration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the certainty that only the conversion of hearts can open the way that leads to peace,” he said.

“Let us continue to pray for the tormented Ukrainian people. And let us stay close also to the earthquake victims of Turkey and Syria,” he said. “Let us also pray for the population of the state of Mississippi, struck by a devastating tornado.”

On Sunday President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration to speed federal aid to the area, adding that he and First Lady Jill Biden are praying for the victims of the storm.

“Jill and I are praying for those who have lost loved ones in the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and for those whose loved ones are missing,” Biden said in a statement.

“The images from across Mississippi are heartbreaking. While we are still assessing the full extent of the damage, we know that many of our fellow Americans are not only grieving for family and friends, they’ve lost their homes and businesses,” he added.

The National Weather Service warned that more severe weather is possible for the area on Sunday.

‘Wiped off the map’

The loss of 25 people so far in Mississippi makes the March 24 twister the deadliest tornado in the state in at least 50 years, Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger reported. One man died in Alabama.

Much of the destruction is centered in the rural Mississippi towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork, about 60 miles northeast of Jackson, USA Today reported. Drone footage the Clarion Ledger posted on its website showed the breathtaking scale of the damage.

“It is almost complete devastation,” Royce Steed, emergency manager in Humphreys County, where Silver City is located, told USA Today. “This little old town … is more or less wiped off the map.”

Kenterica Sardin, 23, looks on from her damaged home after a series of powerful storms and at least one tornado on March 25, 2023 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. At least 26 people have reportedly been killed with dozens more injured following devastating storms across western Mississippi. Will Newton/Getty Images
Kenterica Sardin, 23, looks on from her damaged home after a series of powerful storms and at least one tornado on March 25, 2023 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. At least 26 people have reportedly been killed with dozens more injured following devastating storms across western Mississippi. Will Newton/Getty Images

At least 18 of the dead were from Rolling Fork, with other residents still unaccounted for, the Clarion Ledger reported.

“There are nearly 20 homes on Seventh Street with around 80 residents. Every home was a complete loss,” the news outlet reported.

MEMA officials have preliminarily categorized the tornado with an EF-4 rating. That classification is for tornadoes packing wind gusts from 166 mph to 200 mph, according to the AccuWeather weather service.

The Clarion Ledger spoke with Seventh Street resident John Brewer, a long-haul trucker who was home with his wife, Joyce, when the tornado roared through the neighborhood. The tornado lifted his 27,000-pound truck and dropped it on his neighbor’s home, killing L.A. Pierce and his wife, Melissa.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, issued a statement Saturday pledging the support of the diocese’s Catholic Charities disaster response team.

“At this time, we join in prayer for all those affected by the storms that crossed our state and for the repose of the souls of those lost to these devastating tornadoes,” Kopacz said.

“We pray for those who are desperately trying to reach loved ones and unable to reach them, as well as those still seeking safety who are missing as a result of the storms,” he continued.

“We give thanks and pray for first responders, who are working tirelessly in affected communities trying to reach those missing, restore power, and assist those surviving,” the bishop added.

“I encourage all to continue to pray and find ways to support all affected communities,” Kopacz concluded.

Nordic bishops issue letter affirming Church teaching on human sexuality

Bishop Erik Varden O.C.S.O, of the Catholic Territorial Prelature of Trondheim, Norway, at the vespers at Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome. / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Mar 25, 2023 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

Bishops from the five Nordic countries have released a letter on the traditional Christian teaching on sexuality, upholding the “embodied integrity of personhood” against modern transgender ideologies.

“Now, notions of what it is to be a human, and so a sexual being, are in flux. What is taken for granted today may be rejected tomorrow. Anyone who stakes much on passing theories risks being terribly hurt. We need deep roots,” the eight members of the Nordic bishops’ conference say in the letter, which was released Saturday.

“Let us, then, try to appropriate the fundamental principles of Christian anthropology while reaching out in friendship, with respect, to those who feel estranged by them,” they continue. “We owe it to the Lord, to ourselves, and to our world, to give an account of what we believe, and of why we believe it to be true.”

The pastoral letter is being read aloud at Masses this weekend at Catholic churches in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland. EWTN Norway provided CNA with a copy of the letter.

Cardinal Anders Arborelius, the bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, is among the document’s eight signers.

The others are: from Norway, Bishop Erik Varden of Trondheim, Bishop Berislav Grgić of Tromsø, and Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo; from Denmark, Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen; from Iceland, Bishop Dávid Tencer of Reykjavik and Bishop Emeritus Pierre Bürcher of Reykjavik; and from Finland, Father Marco Pasinato, apostolic administrator of Helsinki.

“Our mission and task as bishops is to point towards the peaceful, life-giving path of Christ’s commandments, narrow at the outset but growing broader as we advance,” the bishops state in the letter.

“We would let you down if we offered less,” the bishops say, adding, “we were not ordained to preach little notions of our own.”

The bishops explain that there is room for everyone in the Church, which, according to a fourth-century text, is “the mercy of God descending on mankind.”

“This mercy excludes no one. But it sets a high ideal,” the letter states.

The pastoral letter begins by recalling the 40 days and nights of rain that flooded the earth in the days of Noah.

It says that when Noah and his relatives stepped back onto the cleansed earth, God made his first covenant with man, promising that a flood would never again destroy the earth.

God asked mankind, instead, to revere God, to construct peace, and to be fruitful, the bishops said. To ratify the covenant, God created a sign: a rainbow.

“This covenantal sign, the rainbow, is claimed in our time as the symbol of a movement that is at once political and cultural,” the bishops note. “We recognize all that is noble in this movement’s aspirations. In so far as these speak of the dignity of all human beings and of their longing to be seen, we share them.”

“The Church,” the letter continues, “condemns unjust discrimination of any kind, also on the basis of gender or orientation. We declare dissent, however, when the movement puts forward a view of human nature that abstracts from the embodied integrity of personhood, as if physical gender were accidental.”

The bishops also say in the letter they protest that such a view is imposed on children as “not a daring hypothesis but a proven truth.”

Transgenderism is “imposed on minors as a heavy burden of self-determination for which they are not ready,” the bishops lament, calling it “curious” that in an intensely body-conscious society, the body is in fact taken too lightly.

People now refuse to see the body “as significant of identity, supposing that the only selfhood of consequence is the one produced by subjective self-perception, as we construct ourselves in our own image,” they observe.

The bishops explain that we are, instead, created in the image and likeness of God, in both body and soul.

“The image of God in human nature manifests itself in the complementarity of male and female,” the letter states. “Man and woman are created for one another: The commandment to be fruitful depends on this mutuality, sanctified in nuptial union.”

The letter goes on to say that the union of a man and a woman, as an image of God’s communion with mankind, is not always easy or painless.

“For some it seems an impossible option,” the bishops acknowledge. “More intimately, the integration within ourselves of masculine and feminine characteristics can be hard. The Church recognizes this. She wishes to embrace and console all who experience hardship.”

The Nordic bishops say they recognize that “the yearning for love and the search for sexual wholeness touch human beings intimately” and they want to be there to accompany everyone as they gradually grow in wisdom and virtue.

“We are called to become new women and men,” they say in the letter. “In all of us there are elements of chaos that need to be ordered. Sacramental communion presupposes coherently lived consent to the terms of the covenant sealed in Christ’s blood.”

They point out that circumstances may mean, therefore, that a Catholic is unable to receive the sacraments for a time. But “he or she does not therefore cease to be a member of the Church. Experience of internal exile embraced in faith can lead to a deeper sense of belonging. Exiles often turn out that way in Scripture. Each of us has an exodus journey to make, but we do not walk alone.

The bishops’ letter also offers some advice to those who are perplexed by the traditional Christian teaching on sexuality.

“First: Try to acquaint yourself with Christ’s call and promise, to know him better through the Scriptures and in prayer, through the liturgy and study of the Church’s full teaching, not just of snippets here and there. Take part in the Church’s life,” the bishops counsel.

“Secondly,” they add, “consider the limitations of a purely secular discourse on sexuality. It needs to be enriched. We need adequate terms to speak of these important things.”

The Church, they say, “shall have a precious contribution to make if we recover the sacramental nature of sexuality in God’s plan, the beauty of Christian chastity, and the joy of friendship, which lets us see that great, freeing intimacy can be found also in non-sexual relationships.”

You can read the full text of the bishops’ letter and watch a video of the letter being read below.

Pope Francis accepts resignation of vice president of German bishops’ conference 

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of the Diocese of Osnabrück served as vice president of the German bishops' conference from 2017 to 2023. / Courtesy of Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner

CNA Newsroom, Mar 25, 2023 / 08:56 am (CNA).

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a German bishop on Saturday who played a key role in the German Synodal Way and had come under pressure over his handling of clerical sexual abuse in his diocese.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode had previously refused to step down, despite an abuse report finding he had mishandled cases in his diocese in northwestern Germany.

The Holy See announced March 25 that Pope Francis had accepted the bishop of Osnabrück’s request to resign, CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported. There was no indication prior to Saturday’s announcement that Bode had offered to resign.

The 72-year-old bishop had been vice president of the German bishops’ conference since 2017. 

Reacting to the news, Bishop Georg Bätzing — the conference president — said on March 25: “Today I lose my closest companion on the Synodal Way, which still has many stages ahead of us.”

Only two weeks ago, Bode made headlines when he announced he would implement resolutions passed by the controversial process, including the introduction of liturgical blessings of same-sex unions. He previously publicly supported women deacons. 

In a statement published Saturday, Bode said: “In the almost 32 years of my episcopal ministry, almost 28 of them as bishop of Osnabrück, I have borne responsibility in a Church that has not only brought blessings but also guilt.” 

“Especially in dealing with cases of sexualized violence by clergy, for a long time I myself tended to focus more on the perpetrators and the institution than on the victims,” Bode admitted. “I misjudged cases, often acted hesitantly, made many wrong decisions, and failed to live up to my responsibility as a bishop.”

Until two months ago, Bode repeatedly refused to resign, despite an interim abuse report published Sept. 20, 2022, finding he had mishandled abuse cases in the diocese he led since 1995.

The 600-page interim report was titled “Sexual violence against minors and vulnerable by clergy in the Diocese of Osnabrück since 1945.”

The report said in the first decades of his term, Bode “repeatedly” kept people accused of abuse in office or appointed them to other positions, including management tasks in youth pastoral care.

In December, an advisory body of sexual abuse survivors called for canonical procedures against Bode.

The victims’ council said it had filed an official complaint in Rome and referred to the decree Vos estis lux mundi, issued in 2019 by Pope Francis, which is aimed at providing norms and procedures for addressing the handling of clerical sexual abuse. The Vatican on Saturday announced that the pope has approved an updated version of those norms, which are now part of canon law.

In a statement accompanying their complaint, the council called on Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, head of the metropolitan archdiocese, to take “steps of action” against Bode.

In addition to Bode, several other prominent German bishops have been accused of mishandling cases of sexual abuse. They include Synodal Way initiator Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Synodal Way president Bishop Georg Bätzing — the successor to Marx as president of the bishops’ conference — and Hamburg’s Archbishop Heße.

All of them have so far remained in office.

Pope Francis extends ‘Vos estis’ decree to counter both lay and clerical abuse

Pope Francis speaks at the general audience in Vatican City's Paul VI Hall on Feb. 22, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Mar 25, 2023 / 08:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis permanently decreed Saturday an updated version of Vos estis lux mundi, his landmark legislation to counter sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. 

The decree promulgated March 25 extends the Church’s norms for handling of abuse to cover lay leaders of international associations of the faithful recognized by the Vatican. 

Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”) reaffirms an obligation to report cases of “vulnerable adult” victims of abuse, including violence against religious women by clerics and cases of harassment of adult seminarians or novices by a superior.

It also includes protections for people who witness acts of abuse, in addition to those who submit reports of alleged abuse, stipulating that no “obligation of silence” may be imposed on those who report, witness, or are victims of abuse.

The new norms will go into force on April 30 and replace the pope’s previous provisional version of Vos estis lux mundi published nearly four years ago.

The norms regard what are called, in canon law, “delicts against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue,” consisting of sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts through violence, threat, or abuse of authority; and the production or possession of child pornography.

In the apostolic letter signed on the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Pope Francis wrote that it is “good that procedures are universally adopted to prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful.”

The pope said that the updated version of the norms takes into account the comments he received from bishops’ conferences and the Roman Curia on Vos estis lux mundi since it was published.

Pope Francis first promulgated Vos estis lux mundi in May 2019 on an experimental basis for a period of three years. 

The norms for the Church’s handling of sex abuse placed seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the misuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The decree also established obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, required that every diocese had a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

According to the law, the metropolitan archbishop conducts the investigation into a suffragan bishop with a mandate from the Holy See. The metropolitan is required to send reports to the Holy See on the progress of the investigation on a strict timeline.

The metropolitan archbishop may use the assistance of qualified laypeople in carrying out the investigation, though it is primarily his responsibility, the norms state. Bishops’ conferences may establish funds to support these investigations.

Since the pope first promulgated Vos estis lux mundi, a number of bishops have been investigated and sanctioned under the norms for mishandling of abuse cases, including U.S. Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota, and several Catholic bishops in Poland.

Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was cleared after a Vos estis lux mundi investigation found no “semblance of truth” in the allegations of abuse. 

Holding leaders accountable

The new norms call for the presumption of innocence of all those who are under investigation and to safeguard “the legitimate protection of the good name and privacy of all persons involved, as well as the confidentiality of personal data.”

The updated version also requires that dioceses and eparchies must have an office or organization that is easily accessible to the public to receive reports of abuse, which include not only abuse of children and vulnerable adults but also covers sexual violence and harassment resulting from the abuse of authority. 

Archbishop Filippo Iannone, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Legislative Texts, explained that the latest version of Vos estis lux mundi “takes up what has already been established by the new penal law canon law, in force since December 2021, and identifies them in minors, in those who habitually have an imperfect use of reason, and in vulnerable adults to whom the law ensures particular protection.”

“I believe this new norm, wanted by the pope, demonstrates the particular attention that the Church reserves for the weakest and most defenseless people, whose freedom and dignity must be respected and protected by all, punishing their violation in an exemplary way,” Iannone said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, also had high praise for the permanent application of Vos estis lux mundi.

“I think that this document is a clear indication that the Holy Father is saying that people in authority in the Church are going to be held responsible for how they handle [abuse],” Cupich said in an interview with Vatican News published March 25.

“So, it’s a clear indication that the Holy Father is going to hold people responsible, not only those who have committed abuse, but those in authority who have responsibility for handling them in a way that protects victims and gives justice to victims.”

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the pope’s official confirmation of Vos estis lux mundi introduces new elements “in the history of canon law, such as the criminal relevance of the abuse of a vulnerable adult.”

“Among the changes is a further clarification of who the victims of abuse are. Previously, we spoke of minors and vulnerable persons, now we also speak of ‘vulnerable adults’ and ‘persons who habitually have an imperfect use of reason,’” Scicluna said.

He added: “This law concerns the future and makes it very clear that when it comes to an allegation against a layperson in the leadership of an international association, reference must be made to this particular law, which has become universal.”

In the pope’s apostolic letter, Francis underlined that “crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological, and spiritual harm to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.”

“In order for these phenomena, in all their forms, [to] never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission,” Pope Francis said.

A magical shrine: Orlando basilica ministers to Catholics visiting Disney World

A statue of St. Michael the Archangel is one of several opportunities for outdoor veneration at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando near the major theme parks. / Credit: KEVIN SCHWEERS | CATHOLIC HERALD

Orlando, Fla., Mar 25, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Tens of millions of people visit the Orlando area each year, and while some only frequent the “altars” of Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter during their stay, others carve out time to worship the source of all blessings. They are welcomed with open arms at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe — a spiritual oasis nestled amid limitless dining, retail, and entertainment options.

“Let Mary Queen be your spiritual home while you are in Orlando,” said Missionary of Mercy Father Anthony Aarons, the church's rector. Visitors from every continent make up the majority of the congregation and often share where they are from after Mass or during confession. “Our priests are available to speak with you and our gift shop is your one-stop shopping place for religious gifts,” he said.

The large, 2,000-seat shrine commands attention from passersby on I-4, the region’s primary highway, and is situated near major attractions including Disney World, Universal Orlando, and retail outlets. It features many stained-glass windows and side chapels, including one devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The broad main altar and gold-tone organ pipes behind it are bathed in natural sunlight, which bounces off the crystal backing of the crucifix suspended overhead. Marian-themed art on display includes a 17th-century painting of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the back of the basilica attributed to Spanish painter Bartolomé Murillo. A gift shop offers books, rosaries, statues, and other religious goods.

Daytime sunlight bathes the crucifix and altar of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe near Orlando’s top tourist destinations. Credit: KEVIN SCHWEERS | CATHOLIC HERALD
Daytime sunlight bathes the crucifix and altar of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe near Orlando’s top tourist destinations. Credit: KEVIN SCHWEERS | CATHOLIC HERALD

Outside, the grounds include a rosary garden, chapel, bell tower, and religious statues. Natural amenities include a peaceful pond populated by turtles, fish, and birds with nearby willow trees and other greenery.

Like many vacation destinations, the Orlando area is climbing closer to pre-pandemic levels of tourism. More than 70 million people visited from 2017 to 2019, according to estimates published by Visit Orlando. After the number of visitors plummeted in 2020, approximately 59 million people came in 2021, the most recent data available.

The Orlando basilica’s Marian-themed art on display includes this 17th-century painting of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, attributed to Spanish painter Bartolomé Murillo. Credit: KEVIN SCHWEERS | CATHOLIC HERALD
The Orlando basilica’s Marian-themed art on display includes this 17th-century painting of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, attributed to Spanish painter Bartolomé Murillo. Credit: KEVIN SCHWEERS | CATHOLIC HERALD

The schedules for Mass and confession reflect the vacation-friendly vibe. Daily Mass is celebrated at 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. and Saturdays at noon. On weekends, a 6 p.m. Saturday Vigil Mass and Sunday Masses at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., and noon are offered.

The wide availability of confession year-round is striking — approximately 24 hours total over six days between Monday and Saturday. Weekdays it is offered 10-11:30 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. On Saturdays, priests are present to counsel penitents for six hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Father Aarons, this is in keeping with the church’s designation by Pope John Paul II as a shrine, sought out by pilgrims who can gain a plenary indulgence through confession and the usual requirements.

Icons and statues adorn the main entrance of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, near the busy I-4 highway in Orlando. Credit: KEVIN SCHWEERS | CATHOLIC HERALD
Icons and statues adorn the main entrance of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, near the busy I-4 highway in Orlando. Credit: KEVIN SCHWEERS | CATHOLIC HERALD

This year is the 30th anniversary of the shrine’s 1993 dedication. Its opening was the culmination of decades of work by local Catholics to address the spiritual needs of their brethren from every corner of the globe, growing in scale along with the entertainment nearby.

Since becoming rector last August, Aarons has expanded offerings for the faithful. He added the weekday morning Mass and a noon Mass on Saturdays in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (unless a feast or obligatory memorial precludes it); a First Saturday speaker series; First Friday eucharistic exposition and Benediction with Divine Mercy Chaplet; and he converted the former gift shop into a conference center.

This story originally appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald and is published here on CNA with permission.

Why the Stations of the Cross were a daily devotion for Mother Angelica

Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN. / EWTN

Denver, Colo., Mar 25, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

It is tradition for Catholics around the world to participate in the Stations of the Cross each Friday during Lent. However, for EWTN foundress Mother Angelica, it was a daily devotion. 

EWTN chaplain Father Joseph Mary Wolfe collected Mother Angelica’s spiritual guidance that she shared with him into a book titled “Mother Angelica’s The Way of the Cross,” published by EWTN Publishing. 

In an interview with EWTN News Nightly, Wolfe discussed the inspiration behind the book, which features actual pictures of the stations then-Rita Rizzo (Mother Angelica’s given name) prayed in front of in her hometown of Canton, Ohio, before entering the monastery. 

It was during a visit to St. Anthony’s Church, the church where Rizzo prayed the Stations of the Cross as a teenager in Canton, that Wolfe thought it “would be wonderful if we could take these actual stations that she prayed before and make them available to people.” 

The Stations of the Cross were very meaningful to Mother Angelica. Wolfe recalled the advice she gave him when she encouraged him to pray the Stations of the Cross daily, “because she knew that I would find strength in that.”

“Life has troubles. Life has sufferings. It has difficulties,” he said. “So when we go to the Stations of the Cross, we’re reflecting on Our Lord’s sufferings but also his love and something of his strength and his love is imparted to us.”

Mother Angelica herself had a variety of sufferings from her family’s breakup, her mother’s depression, the poverty she grew up in, and her own physical problems. Due to this, Wolfe said, “Mother could relate to people because she understood their sufferings.” 

“Mother said to me one time that suffering was her companion that kept her dependent on God,” he said.

Wolfe recalled an interaction with a woman who was left debilitated after surgery on a brain tumor. “She said, ‘You know, I think the most important lesson that Mother left me ... is how to suffer, how to suffer well,’” he said.

Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday in 2016. Wolfe was with her during her last moments. He remembered the suffering she was in on the Good Friday before she passed. Together with caregivers and fellow sisters, he and the friars prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet with her at 3 p.m., which seemed to give her peace. 

“There’s a crucifix that was in her room. And so I took that crucifix, as I had done many other times on Good Friday, and held it up to Mother and she kissed it for the last time,” he revealed.

“She always wanted to kiss not the feet on the corpus, but the open heart,” he added.

This story was originally published on CNA on March 17, 2022.

Pope issues updated 'Vos Estis' text for handling abuse cases

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has updated the procedures for investigating allegations of sexual abuse or the cover up of abuse, specifying that the leaders of Vatican-recognized international Catholic lay associations and movements have the same responsibilities over their members that a bishop has over the priests of his diocese.

The updated version of "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" (You are the light of the world), published March 25, also expanded the categories of victims covered by the regulations to include vulnerable adults.

The original text spoke of the crime of "sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person." The updated text read, "a crime against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue committed with a minor, or with a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason, or with a vulnerable adult."

"Anything that expands the categories of those who should be protected is to be welcomed," Oblate Father Andrew Small, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Catholic News Service March 25.

Father Small also pointed to the updated document's insistence that not only must dioceses and bishops' conferences have a "system" for reporting abuse or its cover up, they also must have "organisms or offices easily accessible to the public" to accept reports.

Making the procedures "well known and publicly accessible is part of justice," he said.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Legislative Texts, told CNS the updated document was based on four years of experience operating under the previous version, but the update also was need to incorporate changes Pope Francis made in 2021 to the Code of Canon Law's "Book VI: Penal Sanctions in the Church."

The new rules go into effect April 30.

Boston Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said in a statement that with the updated text, "the church's ongoing work of preventing sexual abuse by ministers of the church received a further boost."

Updating the norms, "Pope Francis has reconfirmed the serious responsibilities on bishops and others in leadership positions to ensure robust safeguarding policies and procedures are in place and are effective," the cardinal said.

One thing the updated version did not do, however, was provide mandatory and explicit steps for revealing publicly when a bishop has been asked to or forced to resign because of abuse or covering up abuse allegations.

Many Catholics, including bishops, have called for such public notification after news reports revealed that a bishop who "resigned" had been sanctioned by the Vatican.

In September, the Vatican confirmed it had placed restrictions on the ministry of Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Dili, East Timor, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for nonviolent resistance to Indonesia's 24-year occupation of his homeland.

And in November, the French bishops revealed that Bishop Michel Santier of Créteil, who announced in 2021 that he was retiring for health reasons, had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct and disciplined by the Vatican.

Archbishop Filippo Iannone, prefect of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, was asked whether Catholics in general have a right to know when a bishop or priest has been disciplined for abuse or for covering up abuse.

"A distinction must be made between those who have a legitimate interest in the case," specifically the victim, and the public, the archbishop said.

Asked the same question, Bishop Arrieta responded that "it depends on the level of scandal" and how widespread knowledge of the case is. "If the damage is limited to the victim and the victim is informed of the outcome (of the process), then you could argue that justice has been served."

In his statement, Cardinal O'Malley said that "as much as possible, those impacted by abuse should be keep informed about the status and the eventual outcome of any case pursued because of any accusation made. Communicating the process of the church's disciplinary system goes to the heart of its effectiveness. Judgments should be made available to interested parties, especially to those making accusations and the victims of sexual abuse."

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, told Vatican News "one of the strongest changes" the pope made was to add laypeople leading Vatican-recognized organizations or movements and priests leading clerical associations to the list of those covered by "Vos Estis." Like bishops, they must act when allegations of sexual abuse or the abuse of power are made, or they can face a "Vos Estis" process.

Abuse within several Catholic movements have made headlines in the past several years. Perhaps the best known was the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, founded in Peru in 1971. An internal investigation in 2017 found that Luis Fernando Figari, who began the movement and headed it until 2010, and three other high-ranking former members abused 19 minors and 10 adults.

In 2017 the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life banned Figari from living in a Sodalitium community, participating in Sodalitium activities or contacting any Sodalitium member.

Father Small said Pope Francis' update -- declaring "Vos Estis" to be "definitive" and no longer "experimental" -- shows that the church still has work to do in implementing its laws to punish abusers and those who cover up abuse. Expanding its coverage to include leaders of lay movements, he said, is an important part of the church's global safeguarding efforts.

The definitive text of "Vos Estis," Father Small said, "is a clear sign that a culture of impunity is over in the church."