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Pope Francis accepts resignation of Chilean cardinal accused of cover-up

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2019 / 09:21 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Saturday accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, who has faced accusations that he was involved in covering up the crimes of several abusive priests.

Cardinal Ezzati’s resignation was originally submitted to Pope Francis in May 2018, along with the rest of the Chilean bishops. The pope March 23 named Bishop Celestino Aos Braco, OFM Cap., to oversee the Archdiocese of Santiago as apostolic administrator until the appointment of Ezzati’s successor.

Ezzati, 77, is the eighth Chilean bishop to have his resignation accepted since last May. The cardinal has come under scrutiny by Chilean authorities for the possible cover-up of the crimes of abusive priests Fernando Karadima, Rigoberto Tito Rivera Muñoz, and Oscar Munoz Toledo. He denies covering up any abuse.

In an interview with Informe Especial this month, Cardinal Ezzati denied knowing and giving money to Daniel Rojas Alvarez, who was about 40 when he was sexually assaulted by Fr. Rigoberto Tito Rivera Muñoz in a room of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral in 2015.

Rojas claims he told Cardinal Ezzati of the attack during a confession, and that the archbishop asked him to pray for the abuser, gave him 30,000 pesos ($45), and asked him not to share what had happened.

In the Informe Especial interview, Ezzati said: “I hear confessions in the cathedral, especially during the time of Holy Week, but I am not aware of having heard his confession, because I don’t know him and still less am I aware of giving him a hug and telling him that a priest would give him some money in my name, that’s not it, this is all very unfortunate, but that’s not the case.”

Asked if he ever had contact with Rojas, the cardinal said “no.”

Chilean police raided several archdiocesan offices last summer after Rivera Munoz was linked to a suspected network of 14 abuser-priests in the neighboring Diocese of Rancagua, approximately 40 miles south of Santiago.  

During one of the searches, authorities discovered a 2013 letter from a former bishop of Rancagua to Ezzati criticizing the cardinal for his response to victims of Fr. Fernando Karadima. Karadima was a serial abuser of minors whose relationship with Bishop Juan Barros triggered a scandal that has engulfed the Chilean Church for months.

Ezzati later invoked his legal right to silence after being summoned for questioning by a state prosecutor.

The intended questioning was likely to have been focused on what the cardinal knew about his former archdiocesan chancellor, Fr. Oscar Munoz Toledo, who was arrested in July 2018 following allegations he sexually abused seven minors.

Munoz has already admitted to sexually abusing one minor, but investigators believe the archdiocese may have been aware of as many as four of his victims. Ezzati was called as prosecutors consider his involvement in a potential cover-up of Munoz’s crimes.

According to Crux, Ezzati's replacement to manage the archdiocese of Santiago, Aos Braco, was charged in 2012 with investigating abuse allegations by former seminarians against five priests of the Diocese of Valparaiso, Chile.

As the diocesan promoter of justice, Aos Braco reportedly spent three months looking into the allegations before dismissing them on a lack of evidence. One of the accused priests has since died and the others have either been suspended from ministry or are being investigated for abuse, Crux reports.

Disability rights activists protest assisted suicide bills as dangerous, discriminatory

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2019 / 04:17 am (CNA).- As multiple states consider assisted suicide legislation, disability activists are speaking out, saying the bills are slippery slopes that put the lives of people with disabilities at risk.

Connecticut lawmakers are now considering HB 5898, “An Act Concerning Aid In Dying For Terminally Ill Patients,” which would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medication to people with less than six months to live. The patient would be permitted to self-administer the medication when they wish to end their life.

HB 5898 is modeled after Oregon’s assisted suicide law, which was the first in the nation. On Monday, members of the state General Assembly’s Public Health Committee heard testimony from those who are in favor of the bill, and from those who are opposed.

Cathy Ludlum, one of the leaders of the group Second Thoughts Connecticut and a woman who lives with a disability, provided written testimony that was emailed to all members of the public health committee.

In the testimony, which was forwarded to CNA by Second Thoughts Connecticut, Ludlum explained that the language of the bill puts people with disabilities at risk.

“But the harsh reality is that (persons with disabilities) will be the collateral damage in any formalized death-by-choice system,” said Ludlum. “Many of us with severe and obvious disabilities are already too frequently thought of by medical practitioners as having reached a final stage, where death might be expected in the near future.”

Ludlum said the definitions in the bill mean that she herself would be defined as someone who is terminally ill, even though she is not.

That section defines a “terminal illness” as “final stage of an incurable and irreversible medical condition that an attending physician anticipates, within reasonable medical judgment, will produce a patient's death within six months.”

“Nowhere does it say ‘with or without treatment,’” Ludlum pointed out.

“Most people assume this legislation is for people who have exhausted all their treatment options, but that is not what it says.” Ludlum explained that she eats with a feeding tube and requires respiratory support when she sleeps.

“Without these treatments, I would not last six months,” she said. “I probably would not last six days. What is to prevent someone like me from showing up at a doctor’s office and saying, ‘I have had enough. I will be stopping all my treatment’?”

A typical person in this situation would not be allowed to kill themselves, and would instead receive counseling. Ludlum is concerned that someone with a disability “would be more likely to get compassionate nods of approval.”

Ludlum is also concerned that the law would enable doctors to steer patients with disabilities into ending their own lives, or stopping treatment needlessly. She noted that due to the language of the bill, which states that the lethal medication “may” be self-administered, as opposed to that it “shall be” self-administered, there would be nothing to prevent someone else from ending the patient’s life.

Another group opposed to assisted suicide laws is the United Spinal Association, which is a nonprofit organization dedicating to “improving the quality of life of Americans with spinal cord injuries or disorders.”

United Spinal’s President and CEO James Weisman told CNA that his organization was opposed to these bills not for religious or political reasons, but because “people - family members, and in the medical profession - often don’t understand the latent capacity of quadriplegics to live full, meaningful lives with jobs and families in the community, after (they) break their neck.”

He believes that assisted suicide laws are rooted in discrimination, because people are afraid of what life would be like with a disability.

"Nobody wants to have a broken neck. Everybody says they'd rather be dead,” said Weisman.

“Every single one of our members who's a quadriplegic says they wanted to die when they found out they were going to be a quadriplegic. But the overwhelming majority go on to leave meaningful, full lives.”

Weisman told CNA that he would like to see expanded access to palliative care for those who are in pain, as well as increased education for people in the medical field about how it is possible to live a meaningful life with a disability.

“The medical profession and the uninformed public encourage those who break their necks or have other injuries to end (their lives),” said Weisman. “It’s such a slippery slope when we decide who can live and who can die.”

Elsewhere in the country, 16 other states are in the process of passing similar legislation, including Maryland and Nevada.

Members of Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved the “End-of-Life Option Act” on Friday. The bill had advanced through the state House of Delegates earlier in March.

In Nevada, the state Senate is considering SB 165, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients over the age of 18. The bill has passed through one working session of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

That bill, similar to Connecticut’s, defines “terminal condition” as “an incurable and irreversible condition that cannot be cured or modified by any known current medical therapy or treatment and which will, in the opinion of the attending physician, result in death within 6 months.”

Also like Connecticut, the bill does not specify if death will occur “with or without treatment.”

Catholics bring pro-life voices to the UN Commission for Women

New York City, N.Y., Mar 22, 2019 / 04:49 pm (CNA).- As participants in the UN Commission for Women’s annual gathering advocated for increased international access to abortion, side events hosted by the Vatican and other Catholic groups presented a pro-life perspective on women’s empowerment at the UN.

The ten-day international meeting in New York March 11-22 included debate as to whether this year’s final document will include “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” as a part of the commission’s “agreed conclusions,” as it did last year.

The topic of the commission’s 63rd session this year is “access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”

For some at the UN meeting, access to public services means access to abortion.

“It’s a crime to prevent a woman from having access to abortion,”  said French Minister of Gender Marlene Schiappa at an event at the UN headquarters March 13.

Obianuju Ekeocha, president of Culture of Life Africa, said that her “head almost exploded” when she heard this.

She added that in her view, the UN Commission for Women’s annual gathering is “the heart of the pro-abortion movement.”

“The meetings that I have gone to … the people I have listened to speak right here at the United Nations, [for them] there is no room for compromise,” Ekeocha said in a video statement.

“They want abortion to be legal. They want it to be legal in every country in every situation,” she added.

Ekeocha said she attended a UN event in which an abortionist-midwife demonstrated how she trains other abortionists in developing countries. The UN event was entitled “All united for the right to abortion.”

During the week of the commission meeting, a screening of Ekeocha’s documentary, “Strings Attached,” was streamed at the Nigerian Mission to United Nations on March 12. The documentary uncovers “ideological colonization” of contraceptives and abortion into African countries and gives voice to African women who are suffering its effects.

Pro-life advocate Lila Rose spoke on the topic “Motherhood is a gift” at UN side event co-hosted by the Holy See Mission to the UN and C-Fam, entitled “Protecting Femininity and Human Dignity in Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Policies Today.”

The Holy See Mission to the UN sponsored five side events addressing issues that affect women, from human trafficking to protections for women and girls with Down syndrome.

In conjunction with the Catholic Women’s Forum, the Holy See helped to organize an event on “Valuing Unpaid Work and Caregiving.”

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations said at the event that there has been a presumption in the United Nations that “a person’s work outside the home is far more valuable than a person’s work inside the home.”

Auza questioned whether “a prioritization of a person’s work in the labor markets over care work at home flows from woman’s deepest desires or whether it’s an emulation of a flawed, hyper-masculine, way of looking at the world, one in which work, and what work can provide, is treated as the most important value.”

“No women who desires to give of her time in this way should be stigmatized by society or penalized in comparison to other women or to men. Work schedules should be continuously adapted so that if a woman wishes to work she can do so without relinquishing her family life or enduring chronic stress,” he said. “Rather than having her readjust everything to the rules of the marketplace, the marketplace itself should be adjusted to what society recognizes is the enormous personal and social value of her work.”

“Humanity owes its very survival to the gift of caregiving, most notably in motherhood, and this indispensable contribution should be esteemed as such, by both women and by men,” Auza said.

 

Proposed changes to mercury regulations 'troubling,' bishops say

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- A proposal to ease regulations on mercury pollution levels in the air fails to show proper respect for human life and health, said the heads of two committees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Friday.

“The proposed change to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule is troubling since it is well-documented that pregnant mothers and their unborn children are the most sensitive to mercury pollution and its adverse health effects,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities.

Archbishop Naumann was joined by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, who heads the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development in voicing concern over the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed changes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, decade-old regulations that have led to an 85 percent decrease in mercury emissions at coal-based power plans.

The EPA believes it is no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants.

It says the rules are unnecessarily expensive and is suggesting a change in the way that the costs and benefits of the regulations are calculated, in response to a 2015 Supreme Court ruling in which the justices instructed the EPA to consider the costs of the regulations to determine whether they are justified.

President Donald Trump has called the Obama-era standards a “crushing attack on American industry,” saying they threaten miners, energy workers and companies.

Advocates of the regulations say they are necessary to protect the air quality from mercury contamination, which is known to cause brain damage and birth defects in children.

“The MATS rule reflects a proper respect for life of the human person and of God’s creation – a great example of the integral ecology called for in Laudato Si’,” said Bishop Dewane.

 

In Edmonton, growth puts pressure on Catholic school enrollment

Edmonton, Canada, Mar 22, 2019 / 01:16 pm (CNA).- Edmonton’s Catholic schools are at full capacity and may soon have to turn away students, although school district officials are hopeful that new funding from the Alberta government will be announced.

The Edmonton Catholic School District trustees approved a capital plan for 2020-2023 which reports that 22 new neighborhoods in the southwest of Edmonton are in early stages of development, CBC News says. Only four K-9 schools serve those neighborhoods.

A failure to provide more space will mean turning away 400 students by 2023, according to John Fiacco, assistant superintendent of educational planning.

Another high school is needed to relieve crowding at Archbishop O’Leary High School in northwest Edmonton, where enrollment is at 104 percent.

The district aims to build a new high school in the Castle Downs area of northwest Edmonton.

Though the school board received no money for new schools in the 2018 provincial budget, funding for a new school and a replacement school was provided later.

As of October 2017, the school district had 42,510 students enrolled in 96 schools, the district’s website says.

The school district trustees’ plan proposes a partnership for a new high school connected to an existing recreation complex, which is a model in action at Cardinal Collins High School Academic Centre in the northwest Edmonton area of Clareview.

This would provide flexible programming for students from recognized Native American groups called the First Nations, as well as Metis and Inuit students and for English language learners, the trustees’ plan said.