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Digital rosary discovered to be hackable, Vatican says it has fixed bugs

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2019 / 07:40 pm (CNA).- Shortly after the new “smart rosary” bracelet was released last week, the Vatican discovered an easy route for hackers to retrieve a user’s personal information. The issue has since been fixed.

Launched on Oct. 15, the device is called an eRosary and allows users to track their prayers, find spiritual resources, and connect with an online prayer community.

A few days after its release, Fidus Information Security, a cyber security consulting service, discovered the device’s weak safety measures, which could have allowed hackers to gain access to a user’s personal information such as their phone number, date of birth, gender, and height.

“One of our researchers decided to check out the code, and in just 10 minutes found some glaring issues,” Andrew Mabbitt, founder of Fidus, told The Register tech site.

According to Fidus, the most glaring concern was a glitch that would allow a hacker to access a user's password - a four-digit PIN - without connecting to the user’s email. The application uses API calls to talk to its backend system. Upon request for a user’s email address, the system would send over a readable text of the user’s PIN through the API.

Father Frédéric Fornos, international director for the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, told The Register that Vatican coders were placed on the problem immediately after he heard about the issue on Oct. 17. Since then, the issue has been corrected.

According to The Register, Fidus also found that, because there are unlimited password guesses, hackers would be able to retrieve the pin number by “brute forcing” - a means to retrieve hidden information through excessive trial and error. However, a Vatican spokesperson said this issue has also been resolved.

The eRosary was launched under the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and developed by the Taiwan-based tech company GadgTek Inc.

The Bluetooth device in the bracelet connects to Click to Pray, a phone app on iOS or Android that reminds people to pray. It also includes reflections, campaigns, and an electronic bulletin board, where users may request or find prayer intentions.

The eRosary activates when the user makes a sign of the cross. It tracks the user's progress and, in connection with the user’s phone, provides visual aids and audio reflections on the mysteries of the rosary.

The device is available on Amazon.it for 99 euros, roughly $109.

According to an Oct. 15 press release from Click to Pray, the eRosary is an opportunity to connect young people together in prayer.

“Aimed at the peripheral frontiers of the digital world where the young people dwell, the Click To Pray eRosary serves as a technology-based pedagogy to teach the young how to pray the Rosary, how to pray it for peace, how to contemplate the Gospel,” the press release said.

 

How parishes can help address the epidemic of domestic abuse

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons need additional training to address, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

Fr. Chuck said that many priests and deacons have little preparation to assist victims of domestic violence, and that more seminary training would be helpful for both preparing priests and raising awareness on the issue.  

He said that “When I Call for Help,” a pastoral letter on domestic violence from the USCCB, is a helpful resource for clergy looking for more understanding.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

Some 27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics have responded to this dire need in various ways, from organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims to working to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

In recent years, the group has marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month by asking people to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and has called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Sometimes, Fr. Chuck said, priests are not well trained and do not know how to handle situations in which parishioners come to tell them about abuse. They may offer inadequate advice and solutions.

Fr. Chuck participated in a symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University of America in 2016. Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

Still, sometimes priests do not attend these events, Fr. Chuck acknowledged, and raising awareness about the importance of the problem is key.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, but at the same time, “we’re making progress.”


An earlier version of this article originally ran on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.

Abortion legalized in N Ireland, after deadlock in devolved legislature

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Oct 21, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Northern Ireland's devolved legislature failed Monday to block a change to the region's law imposed by the British parliament. As a result, both abortion and same-sex marriage will now be legal in the region.

Same-sex marriages are expected to begin taking place in Northern Ireland by February 2020, while the new abortion law is set to take effect by April 2020.

Previously, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life was at risk or if there was risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The British parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 in July, with amendments legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage.

That act took effect Oct. 22 because the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties, was not able to do business by Oct. 21.

Pro-life members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, largely comprised of members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), recalled the assembly Monday for the first time since January 2017 in order to block the relaxed abortion restrictions. The DUP favors union with the UK and is known to be a right-of-center political party on many issues.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, told The Guardian that she hoped the recall would allow assembly members to debate the issue at the local level, and would allow those opposed to the changes officially to voice their opposition.

However, in order for the assembly to make any binding changes, the election of a speaker of the assembly with cross-party support was required. This proved impossible when the nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party walked out of the Oct. 21 meeting, the BBC reported. The assembly also would have needed to form an executive (similar to an administration), which could also not be done without cross-party presence and support.

Members of the assembly from Sinn Fein, a left-of-center nationalist party, as well as the Green Party and People Before Profit did not participate in the Oct. 21 session.

Incumbent speaker Robin Newton, a member of the DUP, also went against party leader Foster and refused to suspend normal assembly rules to allow for the introduction of the Defence of the Unborn Child Bill 2019, a DUP initiative that, had it passed by midnight, could have blocked the new abortion law.

Foster called it a "shameful day" for Northern Ireland, according to the BBC.

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, celebrated the "decriminalisation of women that will take effect from midnight,” the BBC reported.

Abortion has been legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks since 1967, and it was legalized in the Republic of Ireland in 2018. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the rest of the UK since 2014.

Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

In September, religious leaders of Northern Ireland called on Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to reconvene the local legislative assembly in order to block the new liberalizing abortion laws.

“Our Northern Ireland political parties have it in their own hands to do something about this,” the religious leaders said in a Sept. 30 joint statement.

“There is no evidence that these [legal] changes reflect the will of the people affected by them, as they were not consulted. They go far beyond the ‘hard cases’ some have been talking about,” the statement added.

Signatories of the statement included leaders of the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches.

The Northern Ireland Catholic bishops’ conference previously condemned the move by the British Parliament as an “unprecedented” use of authority in the region.

Earlier this month, the High Court in Belfast had ruled that the region's ban on the abortion of unborn children with fatal abnormalities violated the UK's human rights commitments.

In September, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Belfast to protest the impending change to abortion restrictions in the region.

Louisiana court skeptical, but lets challenge to abortion regulations continue

Baton Rouge, La., Oct 21, 2019 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s pro-life legislation will be allowed to continue, but the state is confident that it will prevail after the lower court re-examines whether the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the regulations.

The 5th Circuit’s Court of Appeals declined to dismiss the case altogether, but also stated that those suing the state did not have standing for many of their claims, and that the case never should have been allowed to go forward.

The case was heard by Chief Judge Priscilla Owen, along with Judges Don Willett and Andrew Oldham.

The state was being sued by an abortion clinic and two doctors, who were seeking an injunction blocking “virtually all of Louisiana’s legal framework for regulating abortion.” They argued that even if some of the regulations and provisions were constitutional, the entirety of them as a whole were not.

The panel of judges on the court said that a good number of the things the plaintiffs were challenging do not meet the legal standard to actually bring a case to court.

“Plaintiffs challenge a bevy of legal provisions that appear incapable of injuring them,” said the opinion. The plaintiffs stated they were attempting to get an injunction under what they have termed the “cumulative effects” theory.

“The plaintiffs’ theory, as we understand it, is that Louisiana’s various laws and regulations regarding abortion cumulate to an undue burden,” said the opnion. “But before any federal court can analyze the ‘cumulative effects’ of Louisiana’s laws, we must know which laws plaintiffs have standing to challenge. Again, jurisdiction first.”

Among the provisions challenged in the case are regulations concerning the privacy of medical records, a law that forbids abortion facilities from having a name that would make someone think the state is operating the facility, laws that require the suspected sexual abuse of a child be reported to authorities, and a law that requires abortion facilities to have clean bathrooms. The opinion stated that it is simply not possible for the plaintiffs to claim that they have been somehow harmed by these laws.

The opinion also contained a list of 10 provisions that were challenged in court by the plaintiffs without alleging how or if the regulations actually applied to them. These included regulations regarding proper flooring and wall finishes for new or relocated abortion facilities, regulations regarding laundry facilities at clinics with “in-house laundry,” and provisions requiring that only “qualified medical staff” and “qualified nursing staff” be employed at abortion facilities.

The judges said that the plaintiffs did not properly explain how these regulations actually applied to them, as their clinic was not relocating, nor were the plaintiffs seeking to hire unqualified medical staff at the clinic.

Louisiana’s attorney general was hopeful about the future of the case.

“This lawsuit was always an overreach—it was filed by abortion clinics and doctors with poor safety records to evade regulation, even on common sense safety measures that benefit and protect women,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed very basic rules that apply when State laws are challenged in federal courts.”

Democratic US presidential candidates seek to limit charter schools

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 02:28 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has released a K-12 education plan that, among other proposals, pledges to quadruple federal funding for schools that serve low-income students, but also would place some limits on charter schools.

The New York Times notes that Vermont Senator and fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders issued a similar proposal to limit charter schools in May.

Charter schools receive public funds but are privately operated. Warren’s plan would end “high-stakes testing”— tests that are used to make important decisions affecting the school — as well as ending federal funding for opening new charter schools and banning for-profit charters.

The New York Times notes that charter schools expanded in popularity and support under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, but there is evidence that public opinion is turning away from charter schools as a means of facilitating school choice.

The Times reports that Warren and her Democratic rivals are vying for endorsements from teachers’ unions, which generally oppose the expansion of the charter sector.

Sister Dale McDonald, P.B.V.M., director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told CNA in March that the NCEA has supported “fair and full choice” or “parental choice” for more than two decades.

The NCEA’s membership includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S.

While the group mainly advocates for Catholic education and schemes such as tax credits to help low-income families send students there, the NCEA has also supported charter schools as a means of providing additional school choice to parents.

In guidelines on school choice published in May 2018, the NCEA stated of charter schools that they “typically provide for a clear, focused mission, a smaller student population that facilitates creation of community, more innovative teaching practices, greater parental and local community involvement, clear educational and fiscal standards and accountability measures and fewer state and local school board bureaucratic regulations.”

A major school choice case regarding tax credits for students who choose religious schools, a scheme that the NCEA supports, is currently pending in the Supreme Court. The court in July agreed to hear a case addressing the question of whether states  can deny tax credit programs to parents and children who choose religious private schools.