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Pope Francis attends Vatican funeral of his personal physician

Vatican City, Jan 26, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis on Tuesday afternoon attended the Vatican funeral of his personal doctor, Fabrizio Soccorsi, who died earlier this month.

Soccorsi, 78, had been receiving treatment for cancer at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital. He died from complications related to the coronavirus Jan. 9.

Pope Francis had named Soccorsi, an expert in hepatology, the digestive system, and immunology, his personal physician in August 2015.

The funeral Mass for the doctor took place in the Mary Queen of the Family Chapel, located inside the Governorate building at the Vatican. The Mass was said by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of State.

Soccorsi trained in medicine and surgery at Rome’s La Sapienza University. In addition to being the papal doctor, he did consulting for the health and hygiene office of the Vatican City State and was part of the council of medical experts at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

As Francis’ personal physician, Soccorsi traveled with the pope on his international trips. During the papal visit to Fatima, Portugal in May 2017, Pope Francis laid two bunches of white roses before the statue of the Virgin Mary for Soccorsi’s daughter, who was critically ill, and died the following month.

Pro-abortion, pro-LGBT groups applaud confirmation of new Secretary of State

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- Pro-abortion and pro-LGBT groups applauded the Senate’s confirmation of Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken on Tuesday.


Blinken, nominated to be the next Secretary of State by President Joe Biden, was confirmed to the position by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, by a vote of 67-22. He served as deputy secretary of state under President Obama, from 2015-2017.


In response to Blinken’s confirmation, the groups Planned Parenthood Global and the Human Rights Campaign stated their approval on Tuesday.


On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood Global stated its expectation that Blinken’s State Department would be “supporting SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] across foreign policy.”


The term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” has been used by the United Nations’ human rights office to refer to a variety of issue areas that include abortion, contraception, and gender ideology.


“We are ready to work together to advance global health & human rights,” Planned Parenthood Global stated of Blinken.


Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated that the organization would work with Blinken “in the days, weeks, and years ahead to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world!”


The Human Rights Campaign also gave its approval of Blinken’s confirmation on Tuesday.


“Antony Blinken will ensure the rights of all LGBTQ people, from every background, are once again a top priority in America’s foreign policy — and that when LGBTQ people abroad are under threat, they can count on the State Department as an ally,” the group stated.


During his confirmation hearings last week before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken said he would allow U.S. embassies to fly rainbow “Pride” flags and would appoint a Special Envoy for LGBTI issues at the agency.


Planned Parenthood Global said on Tuesday that it anticipates “strong leadership” under Blinken at the State Department, “including undoing the harm of the #GlobalGagRule.” The “Global Gag Rule” is a term used by pro-abortion groups to refer to the Mexico City Policy, which bars foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions from receiving U.S. family planning funding.


Incoming presidents normally repeal or reinstate the policy among their first actions in office. President Biden will reportedly repeal the Mexico City Policy on Thursday in an executive action.


Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor on COVID-19, told board members of the World Health Organization (WHO) last week that the administration would be reversing the policy in the “coming days,” and reiterated the administration’s commitment to upholding “reproductive health” abroad.


The Trump administration expanded upon the Mexico City Policy, which normally just applies to family planning funding. The administration extended the policy to include more than $8 billion in global health assistance, requiring partner groups not to promote abortion as a condition of receiving the assistance.


The International Planned Parenthood Federation was one of the groups outspoken against the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy in 2017, claiming it could lose $100 million in annual funding for non-abortion services.


During his confirmation hearings last week, Blinken also affirmed his “judgement” that that China is committing “genocide” against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province—in agreement with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who made the genocide designation on Jan. 19.


Cardinal expresses concern about preteens using social media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 26, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- An Italian cardinal expressed concern this week about the use of social media by children, encouraging the Church to do its part to give young people hope for the future amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, spoke about kids and social media use on Jan. 24, after the death of a 10-year-old girl in Sicily, which some have tied to use of the video platform TikTok. 

“You have to pay close attention to kids. At the very least, they can approach certain [social media] programs when they are older -- 14-15 years old -- but at 8-10 years old it is harmful,” Bassetti told journalists after Sunday Mass at the cathedral of the archdiocese of Perugia.

The cardinal was responding to a question about the accidental death of a 10-year-old child in Palermo last week. The child’s father told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that, according to their other daughter, the girl had been playing a TikTok “game” before her death. The “game,” reportedly called the “blackout challenge,” involves restricting oxygen to the brain to induce a high.

“Certainly there is also a responsibility of the media,” Bassetti said, declining to comment on the specific situation of the family in Palermo, which he said he did not know.

He added that with young children, “the sense of imitation is very strong, and if you create a hero figure, or even the sense of competition, we can have tragic results, as has happened.”

The coronavirus pandemic has created “a sad moment and a difficult moment, especially for kids and young people,” he said, “and therefore, we need to be close to them also as a Church. We must do more.”

The girl died in a hospital after being found with her cell phone in the bathroom on Jan. 20 by her five-year-old sister. The child’s phone was taken by police.

After the accident, the Italian Data Protection Authority blocked access to TikTok users whose ages cannot be proven, at least through February 15. TikTok’s terms and conditions state that users must be at least 13 years old.

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the death, which has been widely reported as being caused by the video-making platform.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is cooperating with authorities in the investigation into possible “incitement to suicide.”

The company responded on Jan. 22 that it had not identified any content on its platform which could have induced the child to participate in something such as the “blackout challenge.”

Bassetti also commented on the need for hope during the coronavirus emergency -- and the role young people can have in communicating hope to the elderly and disabled.

“If hope is not brought by young people and we are unable to communicate hope to young people, who should transmit it?” he said.

In his homily at Mass, the cardinal addressed young people specifically, especially “adolescents, who live in an age of transition, of delicate and fundamental personal growth for their life, but who are forced to live it indoors, without being able to establish normal social relationships.”

“There is too much silence about these boys and girls who are inadvertently taking on the heaviest social burden of this pandemic: these young people are giving up their youth, their carefreeness, their energy,” Bassetti said.

He encouraged young people to make sense of their sacrifices, even if mandatory, by making them “a gesture of love for the weakest, the most fragile, the old.”

“You are making a great effort,” he stated, “but have faith in God as the disciples did. Follow Jesus and you will do great things in your life.”

Polish Catholic patient at center of UK court battle dies

CNA Staff, Jan 26, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A Polish Catholic patient at the center of a U.K. court battle died on Tuesday despite last-minute efforts by bishops and government officials to bring him to Poland for treatment. 

The Polish Press Agency reported that family members had confirmed that the middle-aged man, identified only as RS, died on Jan. 26, after a hospital withdrew assisted nutrition and hydration for a final time following a series of legal challenges.

RS, a Polish citizen with strong pro-life views who lived for years in the U.K., was hospitalized on Nov. 6, 2020, following a cardiac arrest during which his brain was deprived of oxygen for at least 45 minutes.

The University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust applied at the end of November to the Court of Protection in London for permission to cease life-support treatment, arguing that RS, who fell into a coma, had little prospect of progressing beyond a minimally conscious state.

A judge ruled on Dec. 15 that life-support treatment “could be lawfully discontinued,” noting that the man’s wife and children supported the step. 

The move was opposed by other family members, including his mother, who lives in Poland. 

The family members raised their objects unsuccessfully at a Court of Appeal hearing on Dec. 23 and applied twice without success to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. 

Christian Concern, a U.K. nonprofit organization that offered support to the family members through its Christian Legal Centre, said in a Jan. 26 statement that RS had been deprived of fluids and nutrition since Jan. 13.

“Following a courageous legal and diplomatic battle fought by members of his family and the Polish government to have RS repatriated to Poland, RS lost his life just as Poland was seeking to enforce a judgment of its courts to have him airlifted to a Polish hospital for further treatment and care,” it said.

“Last night (Jan. 25), the family’s lawyers urgently wrote to the hospital’s lawyers, insisting that nutrition and fluids be reinstated in view of the diplomatic status granted by Poland and the decision of a Polish court. The hospital refused to re-commence life-sustaining treatment in the morning, and reported RS’s death later during the day.”

The organization quoted the patient’s mother as saying: “I am devastated that the British authorities have decided to dehydrate my son to death.” 

“What the British authorities have done to my son is euthanasia by the back door. Depriving him of nutrition and hydration is functionally the same as giving him an injection to end his life, except that the entire process is longer, degrading and inhumane treatment.”

Christian Concern said that family members had recorded videos of RS during a hospital visit and asked Fr. Patrick Pullicino, a neurologist and Catholic priest, to interpret them. He concluded that the videos indicated “a clear emotional response to the presence of family members” and recommended further tests.

But at a hearing on Dec. 30, the hospital said that the patient’s condition had not changed and the judge rejected suggestions that RS should be moved to Poland. 

Government officials had sought to intervene amid a mounting outcry about the case in Poland. Proposals included giving RS a diplomatic passport, removing him from the jurisdiction of U.K. courts. 

There were also legal moves in Warsaw aimed at paving the way for RS to be brought to the country.  

The case also raised alarm among Catholic bioethicists and bishops. 

The Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford issued a press release and briefing paper on Jan. 12 raising concerns about the moral reasoning of the judges in the case.

David Albert Jones, the center’s director, said that the judgment set “a very worrying precedent.”

“The grave danger of this judgment is that committed Catholics and those who hold a similar view about the human significance of food and drink may be starved and dehydrated to death against their will,” he wrote.

Two days later, Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth, the patient’s local bishop, also described the ruling as “very worrying.”

“My prayers are with the patient, his wife and family, and for all those involved in his care. The decision of the court to allow for the withdrawal of hydration and nutrition is very worrying. That it is deemed to be in the best interests of the patient more so,” he said in a Jan. 14 statement

“Providing food and water to very sick patients -- even if by artificial means -- is a basic level of care. This is care that we must strive to give whenever possible.”

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, wrote to his English counterpart Cardinal Vincent Nichols on Jan. 19, asking him “to undertake steps towards saving the life of our compatriot.”

In his letter, Gądecki said that public opinion in Poland had been “shaken” by the case.

“In fact, he was sentenced to death by starvation,” the archbishop said.

English Catholic bishops raised the Polish Church leader’s concerns with Britain’s Health Secretary the following day.

“The Catholic Church continues to oppose the definition of assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment which has now become the basis of medical and legal decisions to withdraw assisted nutrition and hydration from patients,” wrote the bishops in their Jan. 20 letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“Providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care. This care must be given whenever possible unless it is medically indicated as being overly burdensome or failing to attain its purpose.” 

The letter was signed by Bishop John Sherrington, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster with responsibility for life issues at the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, and Bishop O’Toole.

The bishops told Hancock: “The recent court cases concerning patient Mr. RS in the care of the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has shown the level of controversy around this definition as judges have been called to make decisions in the ‘best interests’ of the patient.” 

“We note that Mr. RS had not refused food and fluids nor had he expressed any view about not wanting food and fluids in these circumstances and that there was no evidence that he viewed assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment.” 

The bishops noted that Gądecki had appealed to Nichols to intervene in the case.

“On his behalf, we write to express our opposition to this definition of medical treatment and to convey the offer of the Polish authorities to assist in the transfer of Mr. RS to Poland for his future care,” Sherrington and O’Toole wrote.

“We accept the legal process concerning Mr. RS has been completed. However, we pray for agreement within the family about the treatment and care to be provided and express the desire of the archbishop that Mr. RS be transferred and cared for in Poland.”

Writing on his Twitter account on Tuesday, Archbishop Gądecki lamented the death of RS.

“I express my deep sorrow over the death of a Polish man in Plymouth. I pray for heaven for him and for comfort for his family. Let us boldly say ‘NO’ to the barbaric civilization of death,” he said.

Why birth rates fell more sharply during COVID

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Recently-published data suggest that the birth rate in the U.S. declined considerably from 2019 to 2020, refuting hopes of a “baby boom” during the COVID-19 pandemic.


According to NBCLX, real-time data from several states showed marked declines in their birthrates in 2020. In Dec., 2020, Florida’s birthrates declined 8% from the previous year, Ohio’s by 7%, and Arizona’s by 5%. Several major hospital systems also reported similar drops in birthrates from Dec., 2019 to Dec., 2020.


The real-time 2020 data from states follows a steady decline in the overall U.S. birth rate that reached its lowest recorded level in 2019. According to CDC data published in May, 2020, only 58.2 births were registered for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15-44 in 2019. The birth rate has fallen steadily for more than a decade, following a peak before the 2008 economic crisis.


While many had wondered if widespread changes to Americans’ lifestyles—such as stay-at-home orders and cancellations of social events—could spur an increase in the birth rate, researchers told CNA that they instead had expected a continued decline during 2020. 


Jonathan V. Last, a journalist and author of the 2013 book on America's demographic challenges What To Expect When No One’s Expecting, told CNA that he was “not surprised in the least” to hear the updated state figures. 


In the future, Last said that demographers will be curious to discover whether or not the number of births will “rebound” to the pre-pandemic years, or if the number will continue to decline. 


“We won’t know the answer to this question for many years,” said Last. “Probably at least a decade. But when a shock of this magnitude happens, the ripples take a long time to work their way out.” 


Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was similarly unsurprised by the state numbers.


Back in Feb., 2020, Stone predicted that not only would there be no spike in births due to the coronavirus, but also that the virus--and ensuing state measures to prevent its spread, such as mandatory lockdowns--would result in a decline. At the time, he said that many people were skeptical of this assessment but he now believes that has “been vindicated.” 


“Lockdowns communicate worry and a negative outlook on society, which motivates pessimism about fertility,” Stone told CNA on Tuesday. 


Stone said that he does “not see any reason to be optimistic” about birth rates in the United States, but he added that they may stabilize after the pandemic is over. 


“If early data on January births shows a decline above 10-15% for that month, that would be a negative surprise,” he said. “Alternatively, if births remain far below trend after October 2021, that would also be very worrying.”


Despite this, Stone does not think that people should worry about the pandemic when it comes to deciding whether or not to bring a child into the world.

“It’s always a good idea to have a kid,” he said.  



Cardinal calls for 3-day ‘Nineveh fast’ for return to peace and stability in Iraq

CNA Staff, Jan 26, 2021 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Chaldean Catholics in Iraq are undertaking a three-day “Nineveh fast” this week to pray for peace and security in their country ahead of Pope Francis’ scheduled visit in March.

Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, issued a statement calling on Catholics to fast and pray on Jan. 25-28.

“Let us repent of our sins, pray for salvation from the COVID-19 pandemic, contemplate the meaning of our existence, assume our responsibilities towards our brothers and sisters and our communities, and express solidarity … with people who have lost their jobs and livelihood, and extend a helping hand to them,” Sako wrote in a statement published online by the Chaldean Patriarchate of Babylon.

“Let us pray also for the return of peace, security, and stability to our country and the region after all the wars and conflicts that have exhausted it.” 

The Fast of Nineveh is a practice observed in some Eastern Catholic rites in the days leading up to Lent. The three-day fast recalls the three days that Jonah spent inside of the whale and the repentance of the Ninevites.

In this case, the Chaldean Patriarch has asked Catholics to fast each day until noon, or evening if they are able, and to pray special prayers daily with Mass. 

“Let us pray also for the success of the visit of Pope Francis. Let us listen to his words, as the people of Nineveh heard the words of Jonah, so that we can have a better life,” Sako said.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the pope. It is one of the main Christian communities in Iraq, alongside Syriac, Armenian, Assyrian, and Arab Christians.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Iraq on March 5-8. He is expected to visit Baghdad and the Christian communities in the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq. 

The papal visit has been highly anticipated by Catholics in Iraq. After Pope Francis expressed uncertainty in an Italian interview about whether the trip to Iraq would take place as planned, Cardinal Sako published a special prayer, asking Catholics to recite it at each Sunday Mass leading up to the pope’s visit.

On the day after the Vatican released a statement indicating that plans for the papal trip to Iraq were moving forward, two suicide bombers detonated explosive vests in a crowded market in central Baghdad near Tayaran Square on Jan. 21.

The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, which killed at least 32 people and injured more than 100. 

Sako said that the attack caused great concern and sadness in Iraq, noting that “those who were killed were poor people, very poor.”

“Unfortunately these attacks have a political purpose. They represent a message to the government and also to the new American president,” the cardinal said in an interview with Vatican News on Jan. 26.

The suicide bombing in Baghdad took place the day after the U.S. presidential inauguration. There were more U.S. military personnel in Washington for the occasion than current U.S. troop levels in Iraq, where there were 2,500 U.S. service members as of Jan. 15, according to the Department of Defence.

In a telegram expressing the pope’s condolences after the attack, the Vatican Secretary of State wrote that Pope Francis trusted “that all will continue to overcome violence with fraternity, solidarity, and peace.”

Cardinal Sako said that he anticipated that a papal visit to Iraq would bring “comfort and hope.”

“The pope will come to say: ‘enough, enough wars, enough violence, seek peace and fraternity and the protection of human dignity,’” he said.

“It is a very important event for us Christians, but everyone in Iraq is waiting for this visit, including Muslims, other religious groups, and government leaders,” he add.

The cardinal explained that Catholics in Iraq were undertaking the Nineveh fast not only for Iraq, noting that there have been relatively few coronavirus cases recorded in Iraq compared to other parts of the world.

“Therefore, we must pray and ask for God’s help to be saved and to end this pandemic for the whole world,” he said.

Members of Congress come out in support of Hyde Amendment

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Nearly 200 members of Congress have signed a letter supporting bans on taxpayer funding of abortions.

On Tuesday, 197 House Republicans sent a letter to House and Senate leaders of both parties, in support of the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life “riders” that are attached to federal budget bills and which prohibit funding of abortions.


“We write to express our unified opposition to Congressional Democrats’ efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment and other current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions,” the letter stated, which was led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chair of the Republican Study Committee.


The provisions in question “generally prevent the federal government from using taxpayer dollars to support abortion procedures,” the members wrote. “Repealing these pro-life provisions would destroy nearly half a century of bipartisan consensus.”


The Hyde Amendment, enacted into law each year since 1976 as part of budget legislation, prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid. Members of both parties—including former Senator Joe Biden—have voted for appropriations bills that included Hyde provisions.


Democrats in recent years have stated their intent to repeal the policy. The 2016 Democratic Party platform called for its repeal, and in 2019 some Democratic members made a last-minute unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Hyde Amendment in an appropriations bill.


During the 2020 presidential campaign, President Joe Biden reversed his long-standing support for the Hyde Amendment, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in August that she intended not to include the policy in FY 2022 appropriations bills.


In the senate, meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has vocally supported the Hyde Amendment. Pro-life groups have turned their focus to the moderate senator as a possible vote to oppose pro-abortion policies in the next two years.


Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) supported the Hyde Amendment, in a response to Mark Irons of EWTN News Nightly. Hyde “should not just be a Republican issue. It’s an American issue,” McCarthy stated.



With Democrats holding power in Washington, @markironsmedia asks House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, @GOPLeader, about the future of the Hyde Amendment. It prevents taxpayer money from funding abortions. McCarthy says both parties have supported it for decades.

— EWTN News Nightly (@EWTNNewsNightly) January 21, 2021  


In their letter on Tuesday, the Republican members stated that Hyde is estimated to have resulted in more than two million fewer abortions since 1976, “and continues to protect the conscience rights of a vast majority of Americans opposed to publicly funded abortions.”

In the years after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, members in Congress fought over whether and to what extent legal abortions should be publicly funded. In 1977, the federal government shut down three times over debates on abortion funding.


The Hyde Amendment had just been enacted in 1976, named after former Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), and has been passed into law each year as a rider to appropriations bills.


Over the years, provisions similar to Hyde have been included in other congressional funding bills. Such provisions have prohibited funding of abortions at the Defense Department, in health plans for federal employees, in federal prisons, and in the District of Columbia.


Existing pro-life provisions could be at stake in the new Congress, and pro-life groups are expecting that the next COVID relief bill might not have language expressly prohibiting funding of abortions, abortion providers, and abortion coverage.

Vatican exonerates retired bishop of multiple abuse claims but issues canonical rebuke

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 26, 2021 / 08:15 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s doctrinal congregation has exonerated retired Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne over numerous accusations of the sexual abuse of minors, but issued a canonical rebuke. 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said that the bishop had acted irresponsibly as a priest and upheld restrictions placed on him in 2018. 

In January 2018, the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, began an investigation into claims of abuse by Hart, its retired bishop. Hart, who is now 89 years old, led the diocese from 1978 until his 70th birthday in 2001. 

The diocese said that its investigative team “were convinced that we had sufficient evidence to conclude with moral certainty that the six accusations against Bishop Hart are credible” and passed the case to Rome for a final decision in the canonical process.

The diocese announced on Jan. 25 that the CDF had concluded that Hart was “exonerated of seven accusations, and five other accusations could not be proven with moral certitude.” 

In a statement, Cheyenne diocese said: “Therefore, based on the assessment of the bishop delegate, Bishop Hart’s guilt was not proven with moral certitude, which is held to be equivalent to ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ the legal standard of proof required to impose a criminal conviction. These findings do not equate to innocence; rather, a high burden of proof has not been met.” 

Hart was accused of sexually abusing children in the mid-1970s, and he received many accusations against him in 1989, 1992, 2002, and 2004. In 2008, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where he was ordained a priest before his consecration as an auxiliary bishop in 1976, paid a settlement to 47 victims of clerical sexual abuse, some of whom alleged that they were abused by Hart. 

Hart was additionally accused of solicitation in confession.

According to the diocese, the accusations against Hart involved 11 males and one female. The CDF found that two of the accusers did not meet the standard for abuse of a minor as the alleged victims were 16 and 17 at a time when the Code of Canon Law considered anyone under the age of 16 to be a minor. It is now 18. 

The diocese said: “As a matter of record, it should be noted that the decree made no mention of assessing one credible allegation of a male under 16 years of age, which the Diocese of Cheyenne reported to the CDF. This individual’s name was not listed in the allegations adjudicated in the penal process.” 

Despite clearing Hart of the charges, the CDF issued a canonical rebuke to the retired bishop. 

The Vatican congregation rebuked Hart “for his flagrant lack of prudence as a priest and bishop for being alone with minors in his private residence and on various trips, which could have been potential occasions endangering the ‘obligation to observe continence’ and that would ‘give rise to scandal among the faithful.’”

Hart was further rebuked “for his disregard of the urgent requests that he refrain from public engagements that would cause scandal among the faithful due to the numerous accusations against him and the civil and canonical investigations and processes being conducted in his regard.”

The CDF did not lift the restrictions imposed on Hart in 2018 and reminded him that he should not have “any contact with minors, youth, seminarians and vulnerable adults” or preside over any public celebration of the liturgy. 

In 2020, prosecutors declined to press charges against Hart, due to insufficient evidence of the claims of abuse. At that time, Bishop Steven Biegler, the current bishop of Cheyenne, issued a statement saying that, despite the lack of criminal charges, he believed the allegations to be credible and supported the alleged survivors of abuse. 

Biegler reiterated his support for abuse survivors in the Jan. 25 release from the diocese. 

“Today, I want the survivors to know that I support and believe you,” said Biegler. “I understand that this announcement will not bring closure to the survivors, their family members, Bishop Hart and all those affected.”

Biegler added that he “will continue to work and pray for their healing and for all involved in these painful and distressing matters.” 

“In the Diocese of Cheyenne, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the most vulnerable and to accompany those who have been harmed on a journey of healing.”

‘Despite change, the Church remains’: Emotional farewell Mass for Archbishop Kondrusiewicz

CNA Staff, Jan 26, 2021 / 06:10 am (CNA).- Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said at a farewell Mass on Sunday that the Church would remain a source of strength for Catholics in Belarus despite a change in leadership. 

The departing archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev also promised that he would remain an active bishop at the Jan. 24 Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary in the capital, Minsk.

Pope Francis accepted Kondrusiewicz’s resignation on Jan. 3, his 75th birthday, shortly after the archbishop was permitted to return to Belarus after a four-month enforced exile.

“Changing a bishop after he reaches the age of 75 is a normal thing,” Kondrusiewicz said, according to, the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus. “I leave as a ruling bishop, but as a bishop I remain.”

“It is important that, despite the change of bishops, the Church remains, operates and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

On the same day that he accepted the archbishop’s resignation, the pope named Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec as apostolic administrator of Minsk-Mohilev archdiocese. 

Wielikosielec, a 75-year-old member of the Dominican order, is the auxiliary bishop of Pinsk diocese. He is expected to lead the archdiocese until the pope appoints a permanent successor to Kondrusiewicz. 

Local media reports said that both Kondrusiewicz and the congregation were visibly moved during the Mass, which formally marked the end of Kondrusiewicz’s tenure in Minsk-Mohilev, which began in 2007.

The archbishop thanked those present for their support after he was denied re-entry to Belarus on Aug. 31 after a trip to Poland.

He had spoken out after a disputed presidential election on Aug. 3 led to nationwide protests. The incumbent, Alexander Lukashenko, claimed victory with 80% of the vote. But demonstrators took to the streets calling for the resignation of the strongman who has ruled the country since 1994.

The protests have continued into 2021, with police arresting around 100 demonstrators on Jan. 23, according to the Associated Press.

Before his trip to Poland, Kondrusiewicz, president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference, prayed outside of a prison where detained protesters were reportedly tortured and demanded an investigation into reports that riot police blocked the doors of a Catholic church in Minsk while clearing away protesters from a nearby square. 

The authorities claimed that he was turned away at the border because his passport was “invalid,” inviting him to appeal against the decision. 

The Vatican tried to overcome the impasse by sending Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, to Belarus in September to discuss the situation with Belarusian officials. But the talks did not result in an immediate breakthrough.

After months of further Vatican diplomatic activity, Kondrusiewicz was permitted to return to his homeland on Dec. 24.

At the Mass in Minsk, the archbishop apologized to anyone he might have offended, saying that he had tried only to serve the Church and work for the salvation of souls. 

He said that he would continue to take part in meetings of the Belarusian bishops’ conference, as well as celebrate Masses and participate in pastoral activities. 

He introduced Wielikosielec to the congregation, asking Catholics in the archdiocese to welcome him warmly.

The apostolic administrator reflected in his homily on the day’s first reading, in which the inhabitants of Nineveh converted after listening to the prophet Jonah.

“Quo vadis? Where are you going, Belarus? If we want to save our country, we must follow Jesus’ call to believe in the Gospel and be converted,” he said, according to 

Are changes coming to the Vatican Dicastery for Communications?

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2021 / 07:56 pm (CNA).- Increasing rumors from multiple Vatican sources say the Vatican communications department might experience a shakeup shortly, and that Pope Francis might try a new redesign of the dicastery that handles Vatican media.

On Jan. 16, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery of Communications, held a private audience with Pope Francis. Although nothing transpired publicly from the meeting, the Italian newspaper La Verità and the political web portal Dagospia - a sort of Italian Drudge Report - reported that the pope was “unhappy” with the poor coverage the Vatican Dicastery for Communications gave to Pope Francis' latest slate of interviews.

On Jan. 18, La Verità also published a leaked memo from a Vatican News official surprisingly instructing coworkers not to share on social media the pope's interview with the Italian private television station Canale 5.

The unusual memo was signed by Alessandro de Carolis, a veteran journalist at Vatican Radio. De Carolis is not an editor nor a director in the Vatican media; thus the speculation that the decision to gag the interview could not have come from him, but from higher authorities at the dicastery.

According to La Verità, the Pope was unhappy with his interview on Canale 5 not being more widely promoted by the Vatican social media platforms. The Vatican has 4.3 million followers on Facebook, more than half a million on Instagram and some 800,000 on Twitter.

The interview with Canale 5 was reportedly organized directly by Pope Francis, without the intervention of any official from the Dicastery of Communications. And it was the last of three consecutive “pop” interviews by Pope Francis. The pope granted an interview to the famous Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport on Jan. 2; penned a reflection for the Italian edition of Vanity Fair on Jan. 6; and finally sat down with the Canale 5 journalist Fabio Marchese Ragona on Jan. 10.

The piece in Vanity Fair was coordinated by the Dicastery for Communications. The issue of the magazine containing the pope's text also presented an op-ed by Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the dicastery.

But the other two were not coordinated by the dicastery. Fr. Marco Pozza, an Italian priest and journalist, arranged the interview with La Gazzetta Dello Sport. In a phone call to the Gazzetta office the day after the publication, Pope Francis thanked him for setting it up.

Fr. Pozza is a rising star in Italian media, and his name is the one that pops up frequently as the possible new head of the dicastery.

Pozza, 41, is the chaplain of the Padua Correctional Facility. The prisoners he ministers to are the ones that wrote the meditations for the Easter 2020 Way of the Cross at the Colosseum.

Pozza has been involved in three television series with Pope Francis, on the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed. The series were aired by TV 2000, the television station of the Italian Bishops Conference, and all of them were turned into books. In addition, he has prepared a series of interviews with Pope Francis about “Vices and Virtues” that will be aired on a commercial TV station.

Early in his priesthood, Fr. Pozza became well-known for going to bars to have discussions with young people over drinks, which won him the nickname of “Fr. Spritz,” after a popular Italian aperitif cocktail. He later appeared on a popular Italian TV show, becoming a media personality.

The priest landed on Pope Francis’ radar in 2016, the Sunday of the Jubilee of Prisoners during the Special Holy Year of Mercy, when the pontiff received him and the inmates for a private meeting at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Observers think that replacing Ruffini, if it happens, will not be easy. Ruffini took the helm of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications in July 2018, becoming the first layperson to head a crucial Vatican dicastery. He took the job in a challenging moment, following the so-called Lettergate scandal – in which a letter of Benedict XVI was doctored and blurred before being sent to media, so as to change the implications of its contents. The scandal led to the resignation of Mons. Dario Edoardo Viganò, the former prefect.

Ruffini was able to normalize the Vatican communication dicastery situation and carry forward communication reform. As the prefect, he also managed communications for the 2018 Synod on Young People and the 2019 Special Synod for the Pan-Amazonian region.

Ruffini also handled a significant transition following the December 2018 resignations of Greg Burke and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, director and deputy director of the Holy See Press Office. For some six months, Alessandro Gisotti became the interim director. He was later appointed deputy editorial director of the Dicastery for Communications, and Matteo Bruni was appointed at the helm of the Holy See Press Office in July 2019.

The Jan. 16 audience with Ruffini, which happened right after the Pope's interview with Canale 5, fueled the speculations regarding Ruffini’s future. Ruffini is viewed as a good administrator, but Pope Francis seems to be looking more for a spokesperson. Pozza, who now enjoys the papal trust and confidence, might be the one.