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Federal executions put on hold while court case moves forward

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction halting federal executions in the U.S., saying that a challenge to the proposed execution method should be given time to receive a court ruling.

The Trump administration had announced over the summer that it was planning to resume federal executions, after a 16-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty for federal prisoners.

Attorney General William Barr ordered executions to be scheduled for five inmates on death row. Four of those inmates challenged the lethal injection protocol that was scheduled to be used. The fifth inmate had his execution halted separately in October.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the District of Columbia said Nov. 20 that the four death row inmates must have a chance to argue their case in court.

The challenge involves the use of a three-drug cocktail, which sedates, paralyzes, and stops the heart of the person upon whom it is used.

The drugs have been controversial. In several botched executions, prisoners took as long as two hours to die, and appeared to be in excruciating pain, leading to questions about whether the paralyzing drug simply gave the appearance of a peaceful death rather than actually ensuring one. Critics have argued that the execution method constitutes a form of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the constitution.

After a series of rulings against the three-drug protocol, which was used commonly in state executions, the Obama administration in 2003 placed the federal use of the death penalty on hiatus, while the Justice Department revised execution protocols.

In resuming federal executions, Attorney General Barr announced that the adoption of a single drug protocol. However, Judge Chutkan pointed to a stipulation in the Federal Death Penalty Act requiring federal executions to be conducted “in the manner prescribed by the state of conviction.” Two of the men sentenced to die had been convicted in states using the three-drug protocol.

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible,” citing the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, the unchanging dignity of the person, and the importance of leaving open the possibility of conversion.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 62 federal inmates on death row.

Vatican officials: Swiss bank suspected of money laundering led to Pell conflict

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Holy See’s relationship with a disreputable Swiss bank triggered an internal dispute between the Secretariat of State and Vatican financial authorities. At the center of the conflict was a multimillion-dollar line of credit used to fund a controversial investment in London property speculation.

Sources inside the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economy confirmed to CNA that a substantial part of the $200 million used to finance the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a luxury development at 60 Sloane Avenue came through credit extended by BSI, a Swiss bank with a long track record of violating money-laundering and fraud safeguards in its dealings with sovereign wealth funds. 

In 2018, BSI was the subject of a damning report by FINMA, the Swiss financial regulator, which concluded that the bank was in “serious breaches of the statutory due diligence requirements in relation to money laundering and serious violations of the principles of adequate risk management and appropriate organization.”

The bank was absorbed by the EFG Group last year. The merger was approved by FINMA on the condition that it was “fully integrated and dissolved” within a year and that no BSI employee be given a senior management role in EFG. Had the merger not been approved by FINMA, BSI would have had its banking license revoked and the business shuttered.

On Nov. 4, CNA reported that in 2015 Cardinal Angelo Becciu attempted to disguise $200 million loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

The attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand.”

“Becciu summoned the cardinal - summoned him,” one senior official told CNA. “Pell was supposed to be the ultimate authority in monitoring and authorizing all Vatican financial business, answerable only to Pope Francis, but Becciu shouted at him like he was an inferior.”

Becciu reportedly told Pell the cardinal was “interfering in sovereign business” by looking into the Secretariat’s dealings with BSI. 

“Cardinal Pell was given to understand that as far as [Becciu] was concerned, the prefect was basically an administrative clerk and a rubber stamp, no more.”

Cardinal Becciu declined to answer questions from CNA on the topic, and Pell is incarcerated and unavailable for questions.

Pell raised the attempt to disguise the loans at the Council for the Economy, an agency led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and charged with final oversight of Vatican financial transactions. 

One senior curial source told CNA that the issue was “noted, but no action was taken” by the council, despite the highly irregular nature or the arrangement.

One senior official at APSA, which acts as the Holy See’s reserve bank and manages the Vatican’s sovereign asset portfolio, defended the Vatican’s relationship to BSI and similar financial institutions.

“You have to understand, a lot of good can be done in those grey areas,” he told CNA. “Not everything the Church does or supports can be printed in a financial statement like a normal company. Sometimes the Church must be able to help without being seen to be helping.”

Among other charges, BSI was found guilty of allowing sovereign wealth funds to use the bank for “pass through transactions,” in which funds are transferred into a bank and passed through multiple accounts in a single day before being transferred back out again. Such activity is considered by regulators to be a clear warning sign of money-laundering. BSI was found to have systematically failed to document or investigate such transactions.

The FINMA report also highlighted instances in which BSI employees complained about the lack of transparency in handling transactions by sovereign wealth fund clients. Forbes magazine quoted one employee’s internal complaint, saying "My team is implementing these transactions without really knowing what we are doing and why and I am uncomfortable with this. […] there should be a stronger governance process around all this." No action was taken in response to this and similar complaints.

The connection to BSI comes to light as the Vatican’s own financial watchdog is struggling to assert its credibility. On Nov. 18, the president of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), René Brüelhart, resigned his post.

Although the Vatican press office characterized the departure as the end of “a five year term,” Brüelhart had not appointed for a fixed period, and he made it clear he had resigned.  

Shortly thereafter, Marc Odendall, a member of the AIF board, resigned as well, saying that the Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, had suspended the AIF.

Odendall told the Associated Press that the AIF had been effectively rendered “an empty shell” and that there was “no point” in remaining involved in its work.

The agency’s director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, was recently reinstated after a suspension which followed a raid on his office by Vatican gendarmes. That raid also targeted offices at the Secretariat of State and is believed to be part of an internal investigation into the London property deal funded by the BSI loans.

In addition to Di Ruzza, several officials at the Secretariat of State were also suspended and barred from entering the Vatican following the raids. Among them were Msgr. Mauro Carlino and Dr. Caterina Sansone, both of who have served as directors of a London holding company used by the Secretariat of State to control the London property.

Archbishop Gomez: The Church belongs to Christ

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 21, 2019 / 11:39 am (CNA).- Following his election as president of the US bishops' conference, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles has noted that what is of importance is not his own vision for the Church, but that of Christ.

“In interviews this week, I am getting asked a lot about my 'vision' for the Church. It is a good, sincere question. But I’m not sure it is the right question,” he wrote in a Nov. 19 column at Angelus News.

“The Church does not belong to any archbishop, even the president of the bishops’ conference. The Church does not belong to any of us. She belongs to Jesus, the Church is his Body and Bride.”

Archbishop Gomez said that the Church's mission and identity given her by Christ is “to tell the world about his life and what he has done for us, and to help them know that Jesus is the way that leads to the truth about their lives, to the love and happiness that they long for.”

The baptized “are called to be people who evangelize, disciples who are missionaries … this is the true nature of the Church. And our mission is urgent.”

The archbishop noted that our culture is confused “about the meaning of human life and freedom,” and that “there are many competing narratives now about how to find happiness and what is essential in life.”

The Church, he said, has a duty “to reach out to those who are no longer practicing any religion and also to those who come to church regularly but may not be sure what it means to be Catholic, or what the Church teaches and why.”

Archbishop Gomez called for the Church “to find new ways to propose Jesus Christ as the answer to the questions that every person holds in their hearts and minds. We need to call every man and woman to experience the full beauty of the gospel, the joy and newness of life that we have in Jesus Christ. We need to call them to find their home in the Church, in the saving mysteries of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.”

“So, my 'vision' is that we work together — priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated men and women, lay people in every walk of life — all of us seeking to do God’s will, spreading the good news of Jesus and his salvation and calling everyone to holiness.”

This is possible only by God's grace and “in union with Christ’s vicar on Earth,” he recalled.

Pope Francis “is leading us and calling all of us in the Church to rediscover this idea: that God has created us, and in baptism has given us a part to play in his plan of salvation — to be missionary disciples.”

Archbishop Gomez said he is honored and humbled by the support and confidence indicated by his Nov. 12 election as USCCB president.

He said the election “is a reflection of the growing diversity of the Church in this country, and I also think it is a reflection of what we are doing here in Los Angeles.”

“Certainly, the bishops recognize the presence and importance of Latinos in the Church and in our nation,” he added.

The universality of the Church is seen “in the amazing diversity of the local Church here in Los Angeles,” the archbishop stated. “But more and more, the face of the Church is changing in dioceses across the country.”

He said this is beautiful, reflecting that “Christ intends his Church to be a home for all people, God’s family on earth, with children of God from every race and culture, every nationality and language all following him and living as brothers and sisters.”

“This is the only reason the Church exists: for this great mission of calling the family of God into being, building God’s kingdom on Earth.”

Archbishop Gomez solicited prayers as he takes on the responsibility of USCCB president, and entrusted his time in the role “to the maternal care of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

“May she intercede for us and inspire every Catholic to follow Jesus with deep love and a true desire to share his message of salvation with the people of our time,” Archbishop Gomez concluded.

Democratic candidates: Protecting abortion is ‘what we do and what we stand for’

Atlanta, Ga., Nov 21, 2019 / 10:37 am (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidates struggled to respond when asked if pro-life politicians have a place in the party during a debate on Wednesday night. The candidates, however, did pledge their support for abortion and exhorted voters to do the same.

“I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), said at Wednesday night’s debate hosted by NBC News in Atlanta.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) challenged men to support abortion as a pro-woman issue. “Well let me just tell you that if there’s ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidates faced off in the fifth debate in advance of the 2020 elections, in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday night. They were questioned by moderators from MSNBC and NBC News on health care, immigration, voting laws, climate change, and other issues.

Towards the end of the debate, moderator and MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow brought up the topic of abortion.

Maddow asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) if, in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court and the states have the authority to outlaw abortion, she would “intervene as president” to preserve abortion access in states where it “disappears.”

“Well, of course,” Klobuchar replied, calling for a codification of Roe into law at the federal level. Several candidates, including Warren and fellow frontrunner Joe Biden, have called for federal legislation on abortion rights in their campaign platform to prevent states from limiting the practice it in the event of a furture Supreme Court decision.

Maddow then asked if there is “room” in the Democratic Party for pro-life candidates, citing the re-election of Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards this past weekend; Edwards is outspoken in support of the pro-life cause and signed a “heartbeat” bill into law that banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six to eight weeks in a pregnancy.

“Is there room in the Democratic Party for someone like him?” Maddow asked Warren. “Someone who can win in a deep red state, but who does not support abortion rights?”

Warren said that “abortion rights are human rights” but did not specifically address the matter of pro-life candidates in the party. She did say that the party is “fundamentally” about preserving abortion access.

“Protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” Warren said.

Maddow followed up by asking “Is there room for [Edwards] in the Democratic Party with those politics?”

Warren answered, “I have made clear what I think the Democratic Party stands for.” She added that “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party. I’m not here to try to build fences.”

“I want to be an America where everybody has a chance,” Warren said of abortion access.

In addition to calling for legislative codefication of Roe, Warren also called for federal laws to overturn state regulations of abortion such as “geographical, physical, and procedural restrictions and requirements” and “restrictions on medication abortion.” 

She has also supported taxpayer funding of elective abortions, coverage of abortion and contraceptives in health plans and in Medicare-for-All, services to educate and inform women about abortion access, and protections against workplace discrimination of abortion.

During the debate, the president of the organization Democrats for Life of America, Kristen Day, tweeted that in “talking to dems on the ground” in Atlanta, she was “surprised about how many people do not know that their candidate supports late-term abortion.”

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List tweeted that “79% of Americans OPPOSE late-term abortion” and that the “candidates’ abortion extremism is a major political vulnerability in November 2020.”

While late-term abortions were not a specific topic of discussion at Wednesday’s debate, candidates did not elaborate on any proposed limits to abortion access.

Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) said that the matter of state abortion laws “is a voting issue” and “a voter suppression issue,” claiming that Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 race against current governor Brian Kemp because of “voter suppression, particularly of African-American communities.”

“The ‘heartbeat’ bill here, opposed by over 70% of Georgians, is the result of voter suppression,” Booker said of Georgia’s “heartbeat” law that outlawed abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Gov. Kemp signed the bill into law in May, but the law was temporarily prevented from going into effect by a federal judge.

Booker implied that Gov. Kemp used the law as a weapon against the African-American community in Georgia. “When you have undemocratic means, when you suppress peoples’ votes to get elected, those are the very people you’re going to come after when you’re in office,” Booker said of the “heartbeat” bill.

Day tweeted in response that “If Stacey Abrams had taken a moderate position on abortion, she would have won,” referring to the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.

“The only Democratic Governor in the south is a pro-life Democrat. Abortion extremism & an abortion litmus test suppresses votes,” Day tweeted, referring to John Bel Edwards in Louisiana.

Edwards won his race with a high turnout of the African-American vote.

In an interview with local NPR affiliate WRKF, Edwards’ campaign consultant Greg Rigamer said that the African-American turnout in the election was higher in number than in the previous gubernatorial race, although representing a smaller share of the overall vote. Edwards, he said, “got literally-- unequivocally-- over 98% of the African American votes.”

Chinese bishop in hiding after refusal to register with Communist authorities

Fujian, China, Nov 21, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- A Catholic bishop in China is reportedly on the run from state authorities after refusing to register with the state-sponsored Church. Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin is believed to be in hiding in the diocese of Mindong after leaving the residence of the local state-sponsored bishop.

Bishop Guo is considered a leader in the Chinese underground Catholic Church, which refuses to submit to the state-sponsored Church which is in turn under the authority of the Chinese Communist Party. Priests in China are required to register with the government in order to be able to minister openly. In the process of doing so, they are expected to acknowledge the government’s policy of “sinicization.”

According to Asia News, on November 9, Guo was placed under the supervision of two state security officials and visited daily in an attempt to force him to sign an act of registration with the state.

On November 12, officials attempted to compel Guo to attend a meeting of “independent” clergy of the diocese with a view to bringing them in line with the state-sanctioned Church. Asia News reports that the majority of the diocese’s priests have refused to sign the act of registration with the Communist-backed Church. When Guo refused, he was taken to the Mindong diocesan chancery in Ningde to meet with Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, who was expected to “convince” him to sign the formal submission to the state-Church.

Guo was the Vatican-recognized bishop of the Diocese of Mindong until the conclusion of the recent Vatican-China deal, agreed in 2018. Following that agreement, which gave communist officials say over the appointment of bishops and the right to enforce “sinicization” on local Catholic practice, the Holy See recognized the communist-approved Bishop Zhan, who had previously been considered an excommunicated schismatic, as the diocesan bishop, and compelled Guo to accept the position of auxiliary bishop in his own diocese.

In June, the Vatican issued “pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China.” While recognizing the need to continue efforts to normalize relations between the Catholic community and government authorities, the document “respects the choice” of priests who refuse to register with the state.

“For some time, requests have been received by the Holy See from Bishops in mainland China for a concrete indication of the approach to be adopted in relation to the obligation of presenting an application for civil registration,” the document says, noting that “many pastors remain deeply disturbed [at] the modality of such registration.”

The Holy See also noted that the act of registration “requires, almost invariably, the signing of a document in which, notwithstanding the commitment assumed by the Chinese authorities to respect also Catholic doctrine, one must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China.”

If, the Vatican said, “the text of the declaration required for the registration does not appear respectful of the Catholic faith,” priests should specify - in writing if possible, or else in front of witnesses – that the declaration is made only to the extent it is “faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”

“At the same time, the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions.”

Guo has previously been arrested for refusing to participate in public events with Zhan. In February, Guo told the New York Times that “we must obey Rome's decision,” and that “our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”

But he also indicated that while “the Chinese government doesn’t say explicitly that we need to disconnect” from Rome, “in some circumstances it has such an implication.”

Asia News reports that on November 13, Guo “escaped” from the chancery and returned to his home town of Luojiang where it is belived state authorities are attempting to locate him.

The Diocese of Mingdong is home to 90,000 Catholics, 80,000 of whom are affiliated with the “underground Church,” as are 57 of the diocese’s 69 priests.

Pope calls Catholics in Thailand to follow in footsteps of early missionaries

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 21, 2019 / 05:30 am (CNA).- Thailand’s first Christian missionaries set out feeling the absence of the Thai people from their lives and wanted to share everything they knew about God’s love, Pope Francis told the country’s Catholics during Mass on Thursday.

The missionaries ended up learning more fully the plan of God, and found the Thai people to be their unknown family, he reflected.

“By hearing the Lord’s word and responding to its demands, they came to realize that they were part of a family much larger than any based on blood lines, cultures, regions or ethnic groups,” the pope said Nov. 21.

“Impelled by the power of the Spirit, their bags filled with the hope brought by the good news of the Gospel, they set out in search of family members they did not yet know. They set out to seek their faces.”

The pope’s homily during Mass at the National Stadium in Bangkok reflected on Jesus’ question in the Gospel of Matthew, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” and also Jesus’ answer: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.”

“The Gospel is an invitation and a freely bestowed right for all those who want to hear it,” the pope said.

The pope’s visit falls as Catholics in the country celebrate the 350th anniversary of the creation of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam, the country now known as Thailand. The country’s small Catholic community makes up less than 0.5% of the population, which is predominantly Buddhist.

Pope Francis reflected on the spiritual state of Thailand’s first missionaries.

“Their hearts had to be opened to a new way of thinking capable of overcoming the ‘adjectives’ that create division; this enabled them to discover the many Thai ‘mothers and brethren’ who were still absent from their Sunday table,” he said. “Not only to share with them everything that they themselves could offer, but also to receive what they needed to grow in their own faith and understanding of the Scriptures.”

The meeting of Christian missionaries and the Thai people enriched both, he said.

“Without that encounter, Christianity would have lacked your face. It would have lacked the songs and dances that portray the Thai smile, so typical of your lands,” Pope Francis continued. “The missionaries came to understand more fully the Father’s loving plan, which is not limited to a select few or a specific culture, but is greater than all our human calculations and predictions.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Catholics wait for <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PopeFrancis</a> in the national stadium of <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Thailand</a>. <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ApostolicJourney</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) <a href="">November 21, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

He rejected misleading views of the missionary as “a mercenary of the faith” or “a producer of proselytes.” Rather, the missionary is “a humble mendicant who feels the absence of brothers, sisters and mothers with whom to share the irrevocable gift of reconciliation that Jesus grants to all.”

Missionary practice is like the gospel parable of the wedding feast whose host sent servants to the streets to invite “as many as you can find.” Such an invitation is “a source of joy, gratitude and immense happiness,” the pope said.

He added that the anniversary of the apostolic vicariate is not “a celebration of nostalgia” but “a fire of hope to enable us, here and now, to respond with similar determination, strength and confidence.” It is “a festive and grateful commemoration that helps us to go forth joyfully to share the new life born of the Gospel with all the members of our family whom we do not yet know.”

This missionary life is for every Christian with a living faith, he said.

“All of us become missionary disciples when we choose to be a living part of the Lord’s family,” he continued. “We do this by sharing with others as he did. He ate with sinners, assuring them that they too had a place at the Father’s table and the table of this world; he touched those considered to be unclean and, by letting himself be touched by them, he helped them to realize the closeness of God and to understand that they were blessed.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Waiting for <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PopeFrancis</a> in the national stadium of <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Thailand</a>! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) <a href="">November 21, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

The Pope’s homily especially voiced support for the marginalized, like children and women who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, “humiliated in their essential human dignity.” He mentioned young people enslaved by drug addiction and a lack of meaning, and remembered migrants who lack their homes and families and can feel orphaned or abandoned, “without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”

The Pope’s homily also remembered “exploited fishermen and bypassed beggars.”

“All of them are part of our family. They are our mothers, our brothers and sisters,” he said. “Let us not deprive our communities of seeing their faces, their wounds, their smiles and their lives. Let us not prevent them from experiencing the merciful balm of God’s love that heals their wounds and pains.”

“A missionary disciple knows that evangelization is not about gaining more members or about appearing powerful. Rather, it is about opening doors in order to experience and share the merciful and healing embrace of God the Father, which makes of us one family,” he said.

The pope praised the apostolic initiatives of Thailand and encouraged the communities to act as missionaries: “let us continue to go forward in the footsteps of the first missionaries, in order to encounter, discover and recognize with joy the faces of all those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, whom the Lord wants to give us and who are absent from our Sunday table.”

Christian missionaries first arrived in what is now Thailand in the mid-16th century. Some priests there who served Portuguese soldiers and merchants there baptized several hundred Christians. Missionaries and the native Christian community suffered several harsh persecutions before and after the apostolic vicariate was established, especially in the 1700s.

Pro-life stem cell research finds success—and seeks more support

Iowa City, Nov 21, 2019 / 03:03 am (CNA).- A Catholic medical research institute has claimed some successes in providing alternatives to research that harvest cells from human embryos--but it says such research needs more resources to compete.

“There aren’t very many research organizations that we have seen that have taken a pro-life stand that we have, namely we won’t either support embryonic stem cell research or participate in it,” Jay Kamath, president of the Iowa-based John Paul II Medical Research Institute, told CNA Nov. 7.

The research institute, now based in the Iowa City suburb of Coralville, was founded in 2006. It has a research staff of about 12.

In recent years, the institute has pioneered a new technique to create adult stem cells, and its products have helped explore treatments for at least one rare disease. The organization hopes to build on these successes and demonstrate the effectiveness of ethical stem cell research.

Stem cell research today relies on cells taken from either human embryos or mature tissue. Stem cells harvested from embryos have a high degree of potential because they are capable of developing into any other tissue type in the body. However, they require the destruction of a human life at an early embryonic stage, making them ethically controversial. In addition, these cells can show instability and have a propensity for developing tumors. Critics note that despite significant federal funding, embryonic stem cells have failed to deliver cures for any diseases thus far.

Research on adult stem cells is more limited because these cells have less capacity to develop into various types of tissue. However, this research does not destroy a human life, because it is taken from developed tissue rather than a human embryo.

In recent years, the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells has brought hope to researchers looking for additional options. These cells have the ability to become any type of cell but are created from adult stem cells, avoiding the ethical concerns posed by embryonic stem cell use.

Still, funding for embryonic stem cell research continues, Kamath said, contrary to what some people believe.

“The reality is that embryonic stem cell research is still being well-funded and still continues,” he said. “It is something that the large number of medical research organizations either participate in directly or support participation in. The National Institutes for Health and the like are funding this kind of research.”

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute hopes to be a leading figure in offering alternatives to embryonic research. Since the institute’s founding in 2016, it has seen a number of significant accomplishments.

“We’ve been able to differentiate these stem cells into every type of tissue that’s available in the human body,” Kamath said. “We have a huge repository of stem cells.”

While induced pluripotent stem cells are often created through the use of viruses or a type of tumor-creating gene called oncogenes, Kamath said, the John Paul II Institute has developed new, different methods.

Dr. Alan Moy, M.D., co-founder of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, has co-authored papers on the virus- and oncogene-free process for creating stem cells in two different papers: one in Regenerative Medicine dated Nov. 28, 2018 and one in Future Science OA, dated May 12, 2017.

Research at the John Paul II Institute has also helped two sisters who suffer from Niemann-Pick disease type C, a rare disorder that affects the body’s ability to transport cholesterol and other fatty substances within the cells. The disorder can cause dementia-like problems at an early age, and can kill if left untreated.

Researchers harvested stem cells through a biopsy of the patients and used these cells to test a drug called cyclodextrin, in participation with a National Institutes of Health lab.

“We were one of the first to collaborate and show that this drug is effective in a laboratory setting through our clinical research,” Kamath said. Researchers were able to advance the drug to a small-scale clinical trial. That trial has grown and is “helping these children fight off this disease.”

The institute’s researchers presently are developing two separate adult stem cell lines, from placenta and cord blood. The cell lines are in a process called “immortalization” – a technical term for the state in which cells grow indefinitely in artificial cell culture conditions.

Human embryonic kidney cell line, numbered HEK-293, is widely used in medical research for gene therapy, vaccine production, pharmaceutical applications for drug discovery, protein development, and medical manufacturing.

Kamath hopes the institute’s two cell lines can advance some research “to displace or replace the human embryonic kidney cell line in drug development or vaccine development.”

He said the research institute aims to use adult stem cells to build a “platform” to research various types of diseases: cancer; neurological diseases, like Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple sclerosis; chronic diseases such as pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes; and rare diseases that number in the thousands but affect few people in number.

The institute encourages people with rare diseases to sign up for its patient registry so that it can potentially help the latter if any relevant research moves towards clinical use.

Looking to the future, Kamath said securing continued funding and raising awareness about the ethical research at the institute is an ongoing obstacle.

In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, asking people do dump ice water buckets on their heads and challenge others to do the same, while encouraging donations to the ALS Association, which funds efforts to cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Catholic commentators, including several bishops, noted that the ALS Association at the time was willing to use embryonic stem cells, and they referred potential donors to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute instead.

Still, the institute says, more support is needed.

Moy, the medical research institute’s founder, warned that there is little evidence that the pharmaceutical industry is interested in creating new ethical cell lines.

“This is going to create a moral and financial challenge for Catholic health care workers, Catholic medical researchers, Catholic hospitals, and a moral and health care challenge for Catholic patients and pro-life individuals who will someday need these advanced medicines that need to be free of cells that are created from abortion,” Moy said in an Oct. 19 YouTube video published by the institute.

“It’s our goal to someday validate that these cell lines can achieve and exceed the performance of aborted fetal cells currently used in biomanufacturing,” Moy said.

Kamath warned that if alternatives are not developed, Catholic hospitals could face compromising choices in what treatments they offer. If they offer such treatments, Catholic patients might be unwilling to undergo them. If they do not offer such treatments, he told CNA, Catholic hospitals could be perceived as failing to offer standard care.

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute’s Campaign for Cures seeks to raise $300,000 by the close of 2019. It is currently about one-third of the way to the goal.

The institute’s website is

Merciful care should affirm the dignity of the sick, pope tells Catholic hospital in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 21, 2019 / 02:30 am (CNA).- The dignity of the human person can be recognized and affirmed through loving medical care to the sick and injured, Pope Francis told the staff of St. Louis Catholic Hospital in Bangkok Thursday.

“The healing process should rightly be seen as a powerful anointing capable of restoring human dignity in every situation, a gaze that grants dignity and provides support,” the pope said Nov. 21.

The work of hospital employees, he said, “is about welcoming and embracing human life as it arrives at the hospital’s emergency room, needing to be treated with the merciful care born of love and respect for the dignity of each human person.”

Pope Francis addressed around 700 doctors, nurses, and service personnel from the Catholic hospital and other health centers run by the Church in Thailand.

He is in Bangkok for three days as part of a six-day journey which will also take him to Japan. The pope’s appointments in Bangkok include Mass, interreligious meetings, and visits to the prime minister and king of Thailand.

At the hospital, the pope thanked the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres and other religious sisters for their joyful dedication to Catholic healthcare.

“You enable us to contemplate the maternal face of God who bends down to anoint and raise up his children,” he said.

Francis stated that Catholic hospital workers “carry out one of the greatest works of mercy, for your commitment to health care goes far beyond the simple and praiseworthy practice of medicine.”

“This is not only a matter of procedures and programs; rather, it has to do with our readiness to embrace whatever each new day sets before us,” he said.

After the encounter with medical personnel, the pope met privately with around 40 sick and disabled in the hall of the hospital, “as a way of accompanying them, however briefly, in their pain,” he explained.

Illness, he said, can lead people to ask serious questions about life, death, and suffering, but “by uniting ourselves to Jesus in his passion, we discover the power of his closeness to our frailty and our wounds.”

St. Louis Hospital, founded 120 years ago, has 412 beds. Its motto is “where love is, there God is.”

Francis said he was glad to hear the hospital’s philosophy is based on charity, because “it is precisely in the exercise of charity that we Christians are called not only to demonstrate that we are missionary disciples, but also to take stock of our own fidelity, and that of our institutions, to the demands of that discipleship.”

The director of the hospital, Dr. Tanin Intragumtornchai, told Pope Francis Nov. 21 that the Catholic hospitals of Thailand “are not the hospitals for business.”

“We have never entered into the commercial competition but [are] trying our best wholeheartedly to spread the Good News of Christ, especially through love and compassion,” he said.

“As your holiness once said … love is the best medicine and healing not only for the body but also for the spirit; and we realize well that this is our mission.”

Catholics make up around .5% of the population in Thailand, which is mostly Buddhist. Catholic missionaries from Portugal first brought Catholicism to the area nearly 500 years ago.

After Thailand, Pope Francis will head to Japan Nov. 23-26, where he will visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the sites of the 1946 atomic bombings.

In a meeting with Thailand's Supreme Buddhist Patriarch, Pope Francis encourages peace

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 20, 2019 / 09:42 pm (CNA).- Catholics and Buddhists share should work together to advance the cause of mercy in the world, Pope Francis said Thursday during a historic meeting with the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand.

“Thanks to scholarly exchanges, which lead to greater mutual understanding, as well as the exercise of contemplation, mercy and discernment – common to both our traditions – we can grow and live together as good ‘neighbors,’” the pope said Nov. 21.

When Catholics and Buddhists “have the opportunity to appreciate and esteem one another in spite of our differences, we offer a word of hope to the world, which can encourage and support those who increasingly suffer the harmful effects of conflict.”

Pope Francis met with His Holiness Somdej Phra Maga Muneewong at the Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Temple in Bangkok, during a six-day Asian trip to Thailand and Japan.

The Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand is the head of Buddhist monasticism in the country. He is chosen from among senior Buddhist monks and appointed by the country’s king. Somdej Phra Maga Muneewong, the 20th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, was appointed to the role in 2017.

The position has both spiritual and political significance in Thailand, and Muneewong's appointment was not without some controversy, especially among monastic factions with Thai Buddhism. Before Muneewong was chosen for the role by the king, another Thai monk had the endorsement of senior monastic leaders in the country, but he was accused by the military of tax evasion before being officially selected. His supporters said that charge was trumped up, and opposed the selection of Muneewong.

The pope noted that Catholics and Buddhists can “contribute to the formation of a culture of compassion, fraternity and encounter, both here and in other parts of the world. I am sure that this journey will continue to bear fruit in abundance.”

Pope Francis' visit to Thailand is intended to encourage the small Catholic community living in the Buddhist-majority country. The pope also has several interreligious meetings while in the country.

“On this path of mutual trust and fraternity, I wish to reiterate my personal commitment, and that of the whole Church, to furthering an open and respectful dialogue in the service of the peace and well-being of this people,” the pope said.

Francis noted that his visit follows in the footsteps of St. Pope John Paul II, who met the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at the same temple in 1984.

St. Pope Paul VI was also visited by the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at the Vatican almost 50 years ago, Francis said.

“Such small steps help testify that the culture of encounter is possible,” he stated, “not only within our communities but also in our world, so prone to creating and spreading conflict and exclusion.”

After giving prepared speeches, Pope Francis and the Supreme Patriarch had a brief informal conversation, in which they spoke about the value of fraternity between the two religions for promoting peace.

“If we are brothers, we can help world peace,” the poor, and the suffering, Pope Francis said, “because to help the poor is always a path of blessing.”

They also spoke about education and the role of missionaries in the country. Before leaving, the two exchanged blessings.





Strive for unity amid diversity, Pope Francis tells authorities in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 20, 2019 / 07:56 pm (CNA).- In his first official speech in Thailand Thursday, Pope Francis encouraged the Thai authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps to strive after unity, even while preserving the diversity which gives their country “soul.”

“As a multi-ethnic and diverse nation, Thailand has long known the importance of building harmony and peaceful coexistence between its numerous ethnic groups, while showing respect and appreciation for different cultures, religious groups, thoughts and ideas,” he said Nov. 21.

“Our age,” he noted, “is marked by a globalization that is all too often viewed in narrowly economic terms, tending to erase the distinguishing features that shape the beauty and soul of our peoples.”

“Yet the experience of a unity that respects and makes room for diversity serves as an inspiration and incentive for all those concerned about the kind of world we wish to leave to our children.”

Pope Francis spoke Nov. 21 in the Inner Santi Maitri hall of the Government House on his second day in Bangkok, Thailand, part of a six-day trip which will also include Japan.

The pope’s visit to Thailand is in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669.

The small Catholic community in Thailand, less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population, has been celebrating the anniversary throughout 2019.

In his address, Pope Francis said Thailand’s “small but vibrant Catholic community” is committed to maintaining and promoting “the distinctive characteristics of the Thai people, as evoked in your national anthem: peaceful and loving, but not cowardly.”

He also noted the commitment of Thai Catholics to listen to the cry of their brothers and sisters who are suffering from “poverty, violence, and injustice.”

According to the US Department of Justice 2018 human rights report, child sex trafficking, and other kinds of human trafficking, continue to be significant problems in Thailand.

The country is also a huge destination of sex tourism.

“This land bears the name ‘freedom,’” the pope said. “We know that freedom is possible only if we are capable of feeling co-responsible for one another and of eliminating every form of inequality.”

“I think, too, of all those women and children of our time, especially those who are wounded, violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse,” he said, noting his gratitude to the Thai government, private individuals, and organizations which are working “to uproot this evil.”

Francis also invited the Thai government to think about the crisis of immigration and to “devise effective means for protecting the dignity and rights of migrants and refugees, who face dangers, uncertainty and exploitation in their quest for freedom and a decent life for their families.”

“Today, more than ever, our societies need ‘artisans of hospitality,’” he said, “men and women committed to the integral development of all peoples within a human family committed to dwelling in justice, solidarity and fraternal harmony.”

Pope Francis also met Nov. 21 with the prime minister of Thailand. He will later meet with the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at a temple and with King Maha Vajiralongkorn at the Amphorn Royal Palace.

He will also visit the St. Louis Catholic hospital, where he will afterward privately greet sick and disabled people.

In the evening, 50,000 people are expected to attend the pope’s Mass at the Thailand National Stadium.

Saturday, Nov. 23 Francis will fly to Tokyo, Japan, to begin a three-day visit to that country.