Bishops set March 30 as day of prayer, fasting for religious liberty
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- The U.S. bishops have urged Catholics and "all people of faith" across the nation to observe March 30 as a day of prayer and fasting for religious freedom and conscience protection. The bishops announced the daylong observance in a statement titled "United for Religious Freedom" that was approved March 14 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee. They asked Catholics and others to join them in "prayer and penance for our leaders and for the complete protection of our first freedom --- religious liberty --- which is not only protected in the laws and customs of our great nation, but rooted in the teachings of our great tradition." The bishops said that among current threats to religious liberty is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces employers, including religious ones, to provide coverage of contraception/sterilization in their health plans. Prayer resources have been posted on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/resources-on-conscience-protection.cfm. Also, "Prayer for Religious Liberty" prayer cards are available as a downloadable PDF file. The cards are available in English and Spanish, and feature three different images: Mary as the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the U.S.; Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn; and St. Thomas More, the patron saint of the legal profession who was martyred for standing up for his religious beliefs.
Protests ramp up ahead of papal trip to Cuba; arrests decried
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- With the clock ticking down to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba March 26-28, efforts to ramp up peaceful public protests of government policies were being met by government crackdowns. More than 70 members of the "Damas de Blanco," or Ladies in White, were arrested during protests March 17 and 18 as they attempted to stage marches from the home of their late leader Laura Pollan to mark the anniversary of a 2003 crackdown on dissidents known as Cuba's Black Spring. They were released a few hours later, according to wire service reports. The government's actions were decried by a spokesman for the National Security Council in a White House statement and by a Cuban-American member of Congress in a speech on the floor of the House. For years, the Ladies in White have held weekly silent marches to protest the imprisonment of their husbands, sons and brothers. The last of the prisoners were released last spring in an agreement negotiated by Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino. But the protests of government restrictions have continued and the women have sought an audience with the pope during his visit. Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, said in a March 19 statement that the detention of the women "underscores the disdain of Cuban authorities for the universal rights of the Cuban people. The quiet dignity of the 'Damas' stands in stark contrast with the acts of those who are standing in the way of the basic aspirations of the Cuban people." Vietor also called for authorities to "abandon their tactics of intimidation and harassment to stifle peaceful dissent." He said President Barack Obama and the American people "remain steadfast in standing with the 'Damas' and other courageous voices in Cuban civil society who demonstrate the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future."
Despite past shortcomings, Irish church is fighting abuse, Vatican says
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- A Vatican-appointed investigation of the church in Ireland recognized serious shortcomings in the handling of accusations of the sexual abuse of minors, yet found that bishops, clergy and lay faithful are doing an "excellent" job in creating safe environments for children today. The investigators found that Irish bishops need to update their child protection guidelines, establish "more consistent admission criteria" for seminarians, and formulate policies on how best to deal with clergy and religious accused of abuse. In a summary of findings from the probe, formally known as an apostolic visitation, the investigators also warned of a "fairly widespread" tendency among priests, religious and laity to hold unspecified unorthodox views. "This serious situation requires particular attention, directed principally toward improved theological formation," the visitors found, stressing that dissent from the church's teaching authority would only hinder its renewal. On March 20, the Vatican released an eight-page summary of the findings and recommendations of the visitation to four archdioceses, religious institutes and seminaries in Ireland. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said "there is no large, more extensive document" giving details of the visitation. Rather, he said, "the summary is a synthesis of all the reports, materials," observations and recommendations made by the visitors as well as further observations made by the Holy See and Vatican offices involved in the investigation. "The Holy See re-echoes the sense of dismay and betrayal which the Holy Father expressed in his 'Letter to the Catholics of Ireland' (2010) regarding the sinful and criminal acts that were at the root of this particular crisis," the written summary said.
Bishop Lori named to Baltimore; new bishops named in Illinois, Florida
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., to be the new archbishop of Baltimore, and he also named new bishops for the dioceses of Rockford, Ill., and Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla. The appointments and the resignation of 76-year-old Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford were announced in Washington March 20 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Msgr. David J. Malloy, 56, who was general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2006 to 2011, has been named bishop of Rockford. He is currently pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Lake Geneva, Wis. Father Gregory L. Parkes, vicar general of the Diocese of Orlando, Fla., and pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Celebration, Fla., was named bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee. He will turn 48 April 2. Archbishop Lori, 60, has been the bishop of Bridgeport since March 2001. He is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, named grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem Aug. 29, will remain as apostolic administrator of the Baltimore Archdiocese until Archbishop Lori's installation May 16. "This archdiocese has been blessed with many outstanding leaders through the years and our Holy Father has continued this tradition with the naming of Bishop Lori as the 16th archbishop of the premier see," Cardinal O'Brien said. "I look forward to watching as his God-given talents and gentle nature bear much fruit for the glory of God and the benefit of his people in this holy church of Baltimore."
Restoring St. Patrick's Cathedral to cost $175 million, take five years
NEW YORK (CNS) --- St. Patrick's Cathedral, "America's parish church and the soul of the capital of the world," will undergo a $175 million, five-year restoration project that is necessary for its survival, according to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York. Cardinal Dolan made the announcement on the steps of the cathedral March 17, hours before reviewing the 251st St. Patrick's Day Parade up Fifth Avenue. He said the 133-year-old landmark is a "supernatural home" for Catholics, all believers and people with no explicit religion "who come here for a hint of the divine and assurance of help." The ambitious project is not a cosmetic facelift, Cardinal Dolan said, but a sorely needed response to crumbling bricks, splitting windows, aged heating, a leaky roof and a grit-encrusted facade. Cardinal Dolan said $45 million was raised for the first part of the three-phase project, which will begin before the end of March. The initial work will repair, restore and clean the soot-darkened exterior and clean the stained-glass windows "inside and out," he said. The cardinal acknowledged the daunting task of raising $175 million in a tight economy. "The dare of the campaign could chill us" if not for the pride and passion evident in the New York community, he said.
French church leaders condemn attack outside Jewish school
TOULOUSE, France (CNS) --- French church leaders condemned a March 19 attack outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, the latest in a series of attacks by a gunman on a motorbike. "Our region was overcome once more by horror this morning," said Archbishop Robert Le Gall of Toulouse. "To the families affected by this outrage, we express our sentiments of deep compassion and our prayer." The archbishop issued the statement after a gunman on a motorcycle killed a rabbi, his two sons and a schoolgirl at Ozar Hatorah school, a junior high and high school. Msgr. Antoine Herouard, secretary-general of the bishops' conference, led a special vespers service for the victims at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral. Msgr. Bernard Podvin, spokesman for the French bishops' conference, called it an "odiously perpetrated killing" and said all Catholics would feel "strong indignation" at the "blind violence against defenseless people." Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the shooting in Toulouse was "a horrible and shameful act," which gives rise to "profound outrage and shock."
Vatican announces investigations into document leaks
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- Pope Benedict XVI has established a commission to investigate a series of leaks of letters exchanged among Vatican officials and between the officials and the pope himself. Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, said March 16 that the papal commission would try "to shed light on the whole affair," while a Vatican tribunal would look into taking legal action against those who gave the documents to reporters, and the Vatican Secretariat of State would carry out an administrative review of every Vatican office. While some of the leaked letters are gossipy, others include allegations of serious financial misconduct. The leaks being investigated by the Vatican began in January with the publication of letters written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano when he was secretary-general of the Governor's Office of Vatican City State. The archbishop, who now is nuncio to the United States, warned of corruption, abuse of power, a lack of transparency in awarding contracts and opposition to financial reforms. Later leaks included a letter from a Vatican official questioning the current reform of the Vatican's finance laws and letters from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan arguing over control of a Catholic hospital. An interview with Archbishop Becciu about the investigation into the leaks --- a case popularly referred to as "VatiLeaks" in the media --- was published March 16 by L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. The archbishop called those leaking documents "cowardly" and "disloyal," and he said the pope was pained by the whole affair.