Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Supreme Court will hear Little Sisters of the Poor case, again

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Poor will have their case heard before the Supreme Court yet again in their years-long fight against the federal contraceptive mandate.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hear oral arguments in the case of the sisters against the State of Pennsylvania, which challenged the order’s exemption from the contraceptive mandate.

“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a statement on Friday. 

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all,” she said. 

“We are hopeful that this trip to the Supreme Court will be their last,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, which represents the sisters in court.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. Their mission is to care for the poor and the elderly in more than 30 countries.

Their case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, stems from a lawsuit by the State of Pennsylvania against the exemption granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor to the contraceptive mandate.

The sisters originally sued the federal government over the mandate that employers provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs in health plans. The religious exemption that the Obama administration originally granted was so narrow that the sisters, and many other religious non-profits were not eligible.

When the administration issued an accommodation for the objecting non-profits, the sisters and other religious entities, including Catholic dioceses and charities, still challenged it in court.

Under the revised procedure, the objecting parties would report their objection to the government, which in turn would notify the insurer or third-party administrator to provide the contraceptive coverage anyway. The sisters said they would still be cooperating with the provision of morally objectionable drugs and procedures.

In 2016, the Supreme Court sent the case of the sisters and others back to the circuit courts, ordering the government and the objecting parties to come to an agreement respecting both the administration’s goal of contraceptive coverage and the sisters’ wishes to be exempt from participation in it.

Then in October of 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule protecting religious entities that objected to the mandate.

However, attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California challenged the rule in court, saying that the sisters and other objecting religious non-profits should not be exempt.

The Supreme Court held oral arguments in March of 2018 to determine if the sisters could intervene in the states’ lawsuits, which in April the Court said they could.

At the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania in July of 2019, and appealed to the Supreme Court in October. The Court on Friday agreed to hear their case.

The sisters also lost their case against California’s lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court in October.

'No misunderstanding': Cardinal Sarah meets with pope emeritus

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Robert Sarah has met with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to discuss the controversy following around their recently-published book "From the Depths of Our Hearts,” and insisted that there is no ill feeling between the two. 

The book, presented as a co-authored work by the two, is subtitled “Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s contributions have been the subject of controversy since the book was announced on Sunday, and conflicting statements on the extent of the pope emeritus’s involvement in the project have been released over the last week.

Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, issued a series of statements via Twitter on Friday, saying that his meeting with the former pope went well.

“Because of the incessant, nauseating and deceptive controversies that have never stopped since the beginning of the week, concerning the book From the Depths of Our Hearts, I met Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI this evening,” said Sarah. 

The tweets were published in French and signed “-RS.”

“With Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we have seen how there is no misunderstanding between us,” said Sarah. “I came out very happy, full of peace and courage from this beautiful interview.”

Sarah encouraged people to read and reflect on the book, and thanked his editor and his publisher, “for the thoroughness, probity, seriousness, and professionalism which they have shown,” and added “excellent reading to all!”

The book contains a chapter credited to Benedict, a chapter credited to Sarah, and an introduction and conclusion, which have been attributed to the two men jointly.

On Jan. 14, Benedict’s private secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, said the former pontiff was not informed he would be presented as co-author of the book and had not seen its cover, adding that Benedict has asked for his name and photo to be removed from the cover.

Ganswein affirmed that Benedict had written the chapter attributed to him, and gave permission for it to appear in a book, but said that Benedict had not actually co-authored the introduction and conclusion attributed to him. Ganswein also communicated the request that Benedict’s name be removed as co-author of the book and he instead be listed as a contributor.

Despite the request from Ganswein, Ignatius Press--who will be publishing the English-languge edition in February--stated this week that it considers the book to have been co-authored by Benedict and Sarah.

The publisher told CNA that critics suggesting that the pope emeritus did not co-author the book, or authorize its publication, are wrong.

“Are these people really implying that Cardinal Sarah is involved in a conspiracy to distort the truth?” Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, asked Jan. 13.

“If Cardinal Sarah is telling [Ignatius Press] that the chapters from Pope Benedict are from Pope Benedict, we take his word for it,” Fessio said, adding that the publisher stands by its attribution of the book to both Sarah and Benedict.

The publisher’s statement followed a Jan 14. release from Sarah, who said that he had in October proposed a jointly authored book to Benedict, and that after the two corresponded over the matter, he sent on Nov. 19 “a complete manuscript to the pope emeritus containing, as we had mutually decided, the cover, a common introduction and conclusion, the chapter of Benedict XVI, and my own chapter.”

Chinese bishop and priests evicted over 'fire safety'

Beijing, China, Jan 17, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Chinese officials have evicted members of the clergy, including a bishop, from their homes and are closing Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Fujian. While the officials cited “fire safety standards” as the reason for the evictions, all the clergy and churches affected have refused to join the Communist-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

The CPCA, the state-run Catholic Church, entered into an agreement with the Vatican in 2018, regularizing the status of its bishops. While the terms of the agreement have not been released, it has widely been reported that it gives the Communist party effective veto power over future episcopal appointments. 

The deal was intended to regularize the status of the so-called underground Church in China, which had always been in communion with Rome, despite decades of persecution by the Communist government. While the Vatican has said that underground clergy are not obliged to join the CPCA, government authorities have escalated policies and enforcement actions aimed at bringing all religious practice under Communist control.

According to a Jan. 16 report by AsiaNews, Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, auxiliary bishop of Fujian has been evicted from the curia and clergy house and is now homeless. 

The priests who lived in the house were also evicted, reportedly due to “security reasons” and noncompliance with fire regulations.

Chinese government officials reportedly cut electricity and water supply to the chancery building in an effort to encourage the clergy to leave the building. The building, which is 10 years old, was built in compliance with all relevant permits. 

Bishop Guo and his priests have refused to join the state-run Church, and thus have not been approved by the Chinese government. 

Guo was the Vatican-recognized bishop of the underground Diocese of Mindong until the conclusion of the recent Vatican-China deal. Following that agreement, which gave communist officials 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 diocese.

AsiaNews also reported Thursday that “at least five” parishes in the Diocese of Fuijan have been closed due to “fire safety standards” despite prior compliance with permits and regulations. One of these parishes has 10,000 communicants, and another has roughly 3,000. 

The priest of these now-shuttered parishes, who have all refused to join the CPCA, are now homeless. 

On January 13, the Chinese government closed a retirement home administered by the Little Sisters of Mercy and Charity. The home, which housed 30 people, has been open for 20 years and had operated without major issues. Now, some of the residents do not have anywhere to live, and others have gone to live with relatives. 

In the city of Suanfeng, a parish that was closed for “fire safety” reasons was re-opened after a CPCA priest was appointed to the parish. There were no repairs made to the building to bring it up to any sort of code during the time it was closed, says AsiaNews.

A little less than half of the “underground” priests--20 out of 57--from the Diocese of Fujian have declined to join the CPCA, despite urging from Bishop Zhan. The priests are reluctant to sign on with the CPCA as they do not wish to be affiliated with an entity of the Chinese Communist Party.

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.”

Catholic parish will not host Episcopalian consecration

Richmond, Va., Jan 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia will no longer hold a bishops's consecration at a Catholic parish in Williamsburg, after an internet petition objecting to the event drew national attention. 

“It is with great sadness that I have received a letter from Bishop-Elect Susan Haynes stating that, due to the controversy of the proposed use of St. Bede Catholic Church for her consecration of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, she has decided to find another location for the ceremony to take place,” Bishop Barry Knestout of the Catholic Richmond diocese said in a Jan. 17 statement.

St. Bede Catholic Church is located within the Diocese of Richmond. 

A statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia said that the consecration will now take place at Williamsburg Community Chapel. The Williamsburg Community Chapel’s website states that it is home to an “interdenominational family of faith.” 

“The decision to change the location from St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg arose out of concern and respect for the ministries and leadership of both the Catholic parish and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond,” said the unsigned statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, released Friday. 

“Learning that its intended use of the building was causing dismay and distress, the Episcopal Diocese withdrew from its contract with St. Bede.”

The statement from the Episcopalian diocese cited 1 Corinthians 8, which warned against “pursuing behavior that might cause problems for others within their community.” 

Episcopal Bishop-Elect Haynes wrote a letter to Knestout and Msgr. Joseph Lehman, pastor of St. Bede, announcing the decision to change the location and thanking them for their prior willingness to host the event. 

“I am writing to withdraw from our contract to use the lovely, holy space of St. Bede for my upcoming consecration as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia,” said Haynes. “We have so appreciated and admired your grace and courage in extending this hospitality and abiding by your invitation even under fire from those within your own flocks.”

Knestout had defended the decision to grant permission to the Episcopal diocese to consecrate an Episcopalian bishop in the Catholic parish, citing various Vatican Council II documents on the importance of ecumenism and hospitality. Permission was first granted to host the event within the parish church in December 2018, well before Haynes was elected as bishop.

In the statement, Knestout said that his diocese “look(s) forward to continuing our ecumenical dialogue with the Episcopal community, and to working with Bishop-Elect Haynes in fortifying the long standing cordial relationship between our communities and our joint service to the poor.” 

Knestout said that he would be praying for Haynes and the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and encouraged the Catholics in his diocese to pray for them as well.

“Pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with humility, kindness, gentleness and joy, be expressed and strengthened in all our faith communities,” he said.

The Episcopal Dioceses of Southern Virginia, Southwestern Virginia do not have a cathedral, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which covers the northern part of the commonwealth, has only a “cathedral shrine.” Past episcopal ordinations for the Diocese of Southern Virginia have occurred either in Episcopal parishes or in other, non-Catholic, locations.

Gregorian University to ‘review’ bishop’s allegedly plagiarized dissertation

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2020 / 11:11 am (CNA).- The Pontifical Gregorian University said Friday it will review the doctoral dissertation of Scotland’s Bishop Stephen Robson, which is alleged to contain several acts of plagiarism.

The institution’s “academic authorities have decided to proceed to a careful review of the dissertation in question, in accordance with what is established in the University's Ethical Norms,” the university said in a Jan. 17 statement provided to CNA.

“The Pontifical Gregorian University considers plagiarism a very serious infringement of university ethics since the ‘attribution to itself of the intellectual property of the text or content of a work of others, in any part of it, is a lack of justice and truth,’” the statement added, quoting from the university’s plagiarism policy.

“A charge of plagiarism involving a doctoral dissertation necessarily implies special attention by the University,” the statement added.

The Gregorian’s announcement came days after Bishop Stephen Robson of Dunkeld told CNA that he never intentionally committed any act of plagiarism, but did not explain evidence that his 2003 dissertation contained verbatim, or nearly verbatim excerpts from published scholarship, without attribution.

“I can categorically state that there was absolutely never any intention to plagiarise any work,” Robson told CNA Jan. 14th.

Robson also told CNA that he would accept the judgment of his alma mater regarding his dissertation.

“I am happy for the Gregorian to nullify my text if they think fit,” the bishop said.

Robson completed his dissertation, “With the Spirit and Power of Elijah (Lk 1,17). The Prophetic-Reforming Spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux as Evidenced Particularly in his Letters,” at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University in 2003.

The text was awarded the university’s 2004 Premio Bellarmino, the annual prize given to the best dissertation completed at the university.

A 2019 article in the scholarly journal Analecta Cisterciensia first alleged that Robson’s dissertation contained plagiarism. The article was written by the journal’s editor, Fr. Alkuin Schachenmayr, a Cistercian priest living in an Austrian monastery.

Schachenmayr wrote that “there seem to be dozens of passages in Robson’s dissertation which are apparently identical or remarkably similar to texts published by other scholars, yet the author does not attribute these sources.”

The article cited several passages in Robson’s dissertation that were identical or nearly identical to already published scholarship. Those passages give no indication of their source material.

Among the scholars from whom Robson apparently copied are Bruno Scott James, Jean Leclercq, Friedrich Kempf, and Robert Bartlett, according to Schachenmayr.

Some of those scholars were mentioned as sources in his dissertation, even while particular verbatim passages from them were reproduced without citation. In other cases, identical or nearly identical passages from published scholars who were never referenced as sources at all were included in the dissertation, Schachenmayr showed.

Regarding the prize given to Robson by the university, Schachenmayr wrote: “One must ask whether the jury responsible for awards of excellence at the Gregorian succeeded in identifying one of the institution’s best dissertations of 2003.”  

The Gregorian University told CNA it learned of the plagiarism charge against Robson Jan. 16, after the publication of a CNA article on the subject. It did not give indication of how long its planned review will take.

In addition to a doctorate in theology, Robson also earned a licentiate in canon law from the university.

The Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St. Ignatius of Loyola, is a Jesuit university, and offers degrees in theology, canon law, philosophy, Church history, among other subjects.

Robson was named a bishop in 2012 and was installed as Bishop of Dunkeld in 2014.

Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.

'No international right to abortion' says HHS Secretary

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- There is no international right to abortion, the U.S. health secretary told officials from more than 30 countries on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“I stated this fact at the United Nations this past September, and I'll repeat it here: there is no international human right to abortion. On the other hand, there is an international human right to life,” Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, stated in remarks first reported by the Washington Times.

Azar addressed representatives from more than 30 other countries at the Blair House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Other U.S. and international officials addressed the audience, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs Katalin Novák, and the Deputy Chief of Mission Minister-Counselor Fernando Pimentel of Brazil.

Novak noted Azar’s remarks on abortion, on Twitter, and also said that Azar was the guest of the Hungarian Embassy to the U.S. on Wednesday, where he thanked Hungary and Poland for their cooperation on life and family issues.

In September, Azar also said “there is no international right to an abortion” at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Azar read a joint statement of the U.S. and 18 other countries before a high-level meeting on universal health coverage, where he said that “ambiguous terms,” including “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” should be opposed in UN documents as they can be interpreted to undermine the family and push for abortion.

On Thursday, Azar encouraged the countries present to collaborate with the U.S. in fighting against abortion at upcoming international meetings including the World Health Organization’s board meeting in Geneva, the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York, the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Thank you for taking a courageous stand with us for the unborn. Thank you for standing up for the idea that every life has value. And thank you for making clear that national sovereignty is not a vague or old fashioned concept, but the most important duty for each of us as leaders in our respective governments,” Azar said.

The venue for Thursday’s gathering, the Blair House, has a history of diplomacy, Azar said, as it hosted discussions between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, at the outset of World War II, to produce the Atlantic Charter.

“The Atlantic Charter highlighted the need for greater cooperation and collaboration, and emphasized that each nation has a sovereign right to self-determination,” Azar said. “These same principles came to undergird the work of the institutions that play a role in our modern world, including the United Nations and affiliated agencies like the World Health Organization.”

“These organizations were founded to protect human rights, defend the vulnerable, and give voices to all nations,” he said. “So it is fitting that we are gathered here, in this historic diplomatic setting, to take the next steps in our work to make these organizations live up to their founding ideals.

Washington DC clears out homeless camp, breaking up community

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 08:01 am (CNA).- A homeless encampment in Washington, DC, was permanently dismantled on Thursday, in a move the city said was designed to better improve the safety of the city’s sidewalks.

One former resident told CNA that he believes the dismantling was necessary, and he blames the city for letting the encampment escalate to the point of being out of control.

The encampment, located beneath the K Street NE train bridge, is one of three located on the city’s K, L, and M streets in the northeast quadrant of the city. It was cleared out at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

That afternoon, just one tent--belonging to a woman who was placed in a psychiatric hold earlier that morning out of fear she was going to harm herself--remained, along with scattered litter. 

Most of the former K Street residents have migrated to one of the other encampments nearby. One of those residents, Mike Harris, spoke to CNA about why he chose to move to L Street and why he thought it was “necessary” for the city to clean out his former street.

Harris said that he had lived for about eight months on K Street, and during that time, the conditions in the area had gotten continuously worse. Harris, who uses a wheelchair, said that he had been unable to navigate the sidewalks due to the size, placement, and number of tents, as well as the presence of lawn chairs in front of the tents.

He said he empathized with the people who complained about being unable to push strollers or even walk on the sidewalks due to the presence of tents. 

Harris said that while he was not sure it was necessary to permanently shut down the encampment, he did think it needed to be addressed, as the situation had deteriorated in recent months. 

Harris laid blame at the city for how K Street had changed. He told CNA that when he first moved to K Street, the city had been enforcing various regulations and laws regarding the placement and size of tents. That changed over time.

“I was there for two days and my tent got a warning,” said Harris. “I wasn’t even that far over.” He said that his neighbors, whose tents were blocking pedestrians from using the sidewalk, never received similar warnings, even though their tents were in violation. 

“[Now] 26 to 40 people who lived under the K Street bridge got displaced because approximately five or six people didn’t want to abide by the rules,” said Harris. “Everybody had to suffer the consequences of the actions of a few.” 

Harris told CNA that he thinks the city of Washington wanted the encampment to become a “red flag situation” that would “justify the removal” of the tents. Hence, they stopped enforcing rules. 

Fr. Bill Carloni, the pastor at the nearby Holy Name of Jesus Parish, told CNA that he has been ministering to the homeless populations for about three years. His parish runs a food pantry and also distributes lunches to the homeless on a weekly basis. Carloni told CNA he was concerned about what the future would hold for the former K Street residents. 

“Unfortunately, I still don’t know what happens now,” Carloni told CNA. He said that over the last eight months, he had noticed a “significant increase” in the number of people living under the bridge. 

“I think that more people are getting priced out of DC,” said Carloni. “I mean, we see another element of it where more people are coming looking for emergency rental assistance because they can no longer afford the rents and they are on the verge of becoming homeless.” 

Carloni said there is no “typical” resident of the homeless encampments, and that they ranged in age, health, and reasons for homelessness. Many suffer from mental illness. He said that while there was a reputation for danger and crime in the encampment, Carloni said he’d “never felt threatened” or been mistreated. 

As a pastor, Fr. Carloni said that he worries about the people he ministers to on the streets, and when the encampments are cleaned out, he has to work hard to track everyone down to ensure they are doing okay. While Carloni was concerned that there would be conflict due to the melding of the various encampments, Harris said that there was none of that thus far. 

“I’ve found [the homeless population on K Street] to be amicable and kind of community oriented, like I know a lot of them, that they care for each other,” Carloni said. 

“They like to eat together as a community and they like to share.” 

Harris confirmed this. As he spoke to CNA, other residents of L Street were helping him to move his belongings into his tent. He said there were plans to construct a community table on the street, where the residents would gather for meals and fellowship. 

There are imminent plans to install a generator on the street corner to provide electricity to charge phones--something that Harris said is crucial in the job search that might lead to getting off the street. This generator was purchased with money that was crowdfunded.

Harris said that he had been homeless for about a year, and had lived in the city’s homeless shelters before making the move to K Street. He told CNA that he much preferred life on the streets to life in the shelters.

Life in the shelters, said Harris, was over-regulated and no safer than living in a tent. 

“[The shelters] are nothing to write home about,” he said. “There’s violence, there’s germs, there’s disease, physical altercations, and a lot of stuff that you have to deal with living in such close proximity.”

On the street, he said, there are no set times to check in or leave, and there is more privacy and divided up space amongst residents. In the DC shelters, people sleep on cots or bunk beds. 

“There are benefits of being out here. There’s some shortfalls, too,” he said, noting that he recently had a tent stolen from him when it was packed up. “And I’ve had a backpack stolen too, but I’ve had stuff stolen at shelters too.”

“Yeah, it’s bearable. It’s much more bearable than an institutionalized shelter-type situation,” said Harris. 

Harris will not be spending much more time on the streets. He received a housing voucher, and had there not been a “signature snafu,” he would already have moved into an apartment by now. He told CNA that he has a “great support team,” and that he regularly attends Bible study, church services, and a men’s group. 

It was these influences which helped him to keep his faith during his time being homeless, and he hopes to one day to help others in his situation, as “some of the people out here who are chronically homeless, they lose hope, drive, motivation, courage and faith.” 

“I’ve got a network of positive-minded individuals that’s helping me weather the storm, and I’m going to try to encourage other people who are currently homeless to do the same thing,” he said.

He urges his associates on the streets to “develop a network, a support group, a support team. Someone that can call and check in on, come by, see if you’re doing alright.”

“Just to let you know that someone cares [about you] means a lot.”

Vatican picks Hong Kong bishop, delays announcement

Hong Kong, China, Jan 17, 2020 / 07:06 am (CNA).- The Holy See has delayed announcing its pick for the next bishop of Hong Kong, CNA has learned, amid concerns that local clergy and lay Catholics will see Rev. Peter Choy Wai-man as too sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government.

The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without permanent leadership since January 2019, when Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died unexpectedly. Since Yeung died, the diocese has been led temporarily by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Yeung’s predecessor, who retired from the post in 2017.

Senior Church officials in Rome, Hong Kong, and mainland China have independently confirmed to CNA that a decision to appoint Fr. Choy as Hong Kong’s next bishop has received final approval in Rome. Choy is presently one of four vicars general in the Hong Kong diocese. CNA requested comment from Choy on his appointment, but no answer was received by time of posting.

Choy’s appointment has not been announced because his elevation could be perceived as a rebuke of the ongoing political protests on the island province, several Vatican and Hong Kong diocesan officials have told CNA.

Sources in Hong Kong and Rome have told CNA that Cardinal Tong himself has advised against announcing Choy’s appointment.

“The situation [in China and Hong Kong] is very delicate and no one wants to make things more difficult. It will be announced [when it can be] and that’s all there is,” a senior curial source in Rome told CNA about the appointment.

CNA requested comment from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See Secretary of State, on the decision to appoint Fr. Choy, and the decision to delay public announcement, but no response was received by time of posting.

For much of 2019, Hong Kong has seen wide-scale protests against the Chinese and local governments. The demonstrations began after Communist-backed authorities attempted to impose a new law on the province, allowing for extradition to the mainland. That proposed law has since been abandoned, but the protests continue.

Choy is known to be close to Cardinal Tong, and is said to have a good working relationship with Chinese government authorities, both on the island and on the mainland. He was reported to have attended a meeting with the cardinal and Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, during the height of the protests.

Fr. Choy was born in Hong Kong in 1959, and ordained a priest in 1986. Since Oct. 2017, he has served as one of four vicars general of the Diocese of Hong Kong, appointed with responsibility for the bishop’s office, the ongoing formation for both clergy and laity, and leading ecumenical and interreligious dialogue for the diocese. Choy also serves as the dean of Hong Kong’s seminary.

Choy was widely rumored to have been a leading candidate to head the diocese at the time of Bishop Yeung’s death. Several priests on the island told CNA that it seemed Yeung was preparing Choy for leadership before he died.  

“Fr. Peter was considered the inside candidate from the beginning,” a senior Hong Kong priest who was close to Bishop Yeung told CNA, who requested anonymity, citing concerns about ecclesiastical and government authorities. 

“He was a great friend of Bishop Michael [Yeung], and there’s no doubt he would have wanted him as his successor.”

“For some reason, his name was held up because of some vague accusations. They could never prove if they are true, or if this is just the way diocesan priests eat up other diocesan priests here.”

Concerns both on the island and in Rome about how Choy’s appointment could be received relate to his perceived closeness to the government, and his distance from the pro-democracy movement, which has sizeable lay Catholic involvement. 

Among Hong Kong Catholics, there have also been rumors about Choy’s private suitability for leadership.

“There’s a concern about a lack of gravitas,” a priest close to the Hong Kong chancery told CNA, saying that many would worry Choy would be unable to stand up for the Church locally.

Another senior local cleric offered a more unsparing assessment of Choy’s reputation in Hong Kong, describing him as a “pro-Beijing hawk,” and a “sworn enemy of [Cardinal] Zen.”

“His elevation is just further proof of how the Holy See is selling the faithful down the Yangtze, or in this case Pearl River,” the senior cleric told CNA.

Both predicted that the appointment would trigger an outspoken denunciation from Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Tong’s predecessor as Bishop of Hong Kong, and an outspoken critic of the 2018 Vatican-China deal.

“When the announcement is finally made, [Cardinal Zen] will go crazy,” one told CNA. “One of the things he’s been fighting against is an appointment that could be seen as an appeasement [of the government], and that’s how this will be translated.”

Sharp divisions among the local clergy and faithful are heavily influenced by the political situation, especially following the attempted crackdown by the mainland government, and after the 2018 Vatican-China deal, which reportedly gave Communist authorities the right to propose and approve new episcopal appointments.

The other front-running candidate for the vacant Diocese of Hong Kong had been the current auxiliary bishop of the diocese, Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who is publicly associated with the protestors on the island, and has appeared at protests and demonstrations.

CNA was told by senior clerics in the diocese that before his death, Yeung had intended to ask that Choy be appointed as a second auxiliary bishop, to balance Ha’s more antagonistic posture to the mainland government.

“Bishop Yeung wanted to have two auxiliaries,” one Hong Kong chancery official explained to CNA. “They would have been like a yin-yang: one very tall and forceful [Ha], the other rather meek and withdrawn [Choy], but they were both very close friends of the bishop [Yeung].”

The same source explained that similar concerns, and factionalism among diocesan clergy, led Yeung to appoint four vicars general to serve at the same time – an unusual move.

“Yeung had these four vicars general instead of one, they each brought something different to the table and it was to appease all the different factions among the clergy. The clergy here are very divided on many different things: age, friendships from seminary, and on politics,” the priest said.

There are more than 300 priests in Hong Kong, most of them members of religious orders. They serve a diocese of more than 600,000 Catholics.

A senior source close to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome told CNA that Bishop Ha was the Vatican’s first choice to succeed Yeung, and that Pope Francis had formally approved his appointment, only to have to reverse the decision before it was announced.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is responsible for recommending episcopal appointments in China, together with the Secretariat of State. 

“Months ago, Bishop Ha was already nominated – his name had gone into audience [with Pope Francis] and come out with approval. It wasn’t yet published when he was in the front lines of a major demonstration and [Cardinal Fernando] Filoni [then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples] had to reverse the decision,” the Vatican official told CNA.

“What happened was that this would have flown in the face of the whole political attempt to stabilize the place of the Church in China. There was no option but to reverse the decision.”

While, for now, the announcement of Choy's appointment is considered to be delayed, the Vatican could still reverse course if political circumstances don't change, as it has once already for the same position.

“Yeung was always a pragmatist, he was a halfway point between [his predecessors] Zen and Tong: Tong, we used to say, thought nothing was wrong with the mainland, Zen thought nothing was right with the mainland,” a senior priest on the island told CNA.

“[Fr.] Peter will, I should probably still say ‘would,’ be more in the Tong line and Ha with Zen, but in the current climate you are bound to get one or the other.”

Report: Around the world, 260 million Christians face persecution 

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 02:45 am (CNA).- Christian persecution around the world is a growing problem, says a new report from an agency that documents abuses against Christians across the globe.

Worldwide, the report states, 260 million Christians are facing persecution. This marks a 6% increase from the previous year.

The annual report from Open Doors, released Jan. 15, ranked North Korea first on its list of 50 most dangerous countries in which to be Christian, the 18th straight year that the country has received that designation.

There are an estimated 300,000 Christians amidst the total population of 25.4 million in North Korea. Open Doors reports that if North Korean Christians are discovered, the government will deport them to labor camps as political criminals or even kill them on the spot. Meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it is done in complete secrecy.

Following North Korea on the World Watch List Top 10 are Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and India.

“Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution of Christians takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, rape, and even death as a result of their faith,” Open Doors said in a release accompanying the report.

China featured four spots higher on the list than last year, up from number 27 in 2019 to number 23 in 2020, due in large part to the Communist government’s efforts to preserve its rule.

Christians in China experienced, among other things, an increase in attacks on churches in the past year. Open Doors reports that 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List, compared with 1,847 attacks reported on churches worldwide in 2019. In 2020, the number is conservatively estimated to be at least 5,576 in China alone, the report states.

According to Open Doors, there are at least 97 million Christians in China. Policies enacted by the Communist Party in 2018 to “sinicize” the church - or adapt it to their way of thinking - have been enforced in more and more territories, resulting in the dramatic increase of persecution against Christians, the group reports.

People of faith also suffer from continual surveillance by the government. Open Doors cites a CNBC report that says there are nearly half a billion surveillance cameras in China, a number only expected to grow.

Additionally, Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from attending church, places of worship are monitored, and pastors are increasingly being asked to register with the Communist government, risking church closure and arrest if they refuse, the report continues. More than 5,500 churches in China have been closed down, and churches in at least 23 provinces have been harassed or shuttered.

There were at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, the report states. Many attacks on Christians in India are perpetrated by radical Hindus and often take the form of mob violence.

Muslim extremist groups were responsible for significant violence against Christians worldwide in the past year. For example, in Sri Lanka, 250 people died and more than 500 were injured in attacks on Catholic and Protestant churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, the report notes. In Pakistan, radical Islamist groups often are given free rein by the government, the report says.

In Iraq and Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians— as much as 87% of the Christian population in Iraq— have been forced to flee due to civil war and the presence of militant groups such as the Islamic State.

Outside of Asia, the report took note of the plight of Christians in the African nation of Burkina Faso, which has risen 33 spots in the past year. Dozens of Catholic priests have been killed in the past year, and Protestant pastors and their families have been killed or kidnapped by violent Islamist militants.

Notably, a spate of violence in churches in Burkina Faso last summer and continuing throughout the year led to Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya saying in December that the Western world has been ignoring the plight of Christians in West Africa and has even been selling militants the weapons that they are using to kill Christians.

In total, nearly half a million people were forced to flee their homes in Burkina Faso in the last five years, and more than 60 Christians were murdered by militants in the country in 2019.

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram also maintains a presence in such countries as northern Nigeria and Cameroon.

Protesters interrupt installation Mass of new Chilean archbishop

Santiago, Chile, Jan 16, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- During the Jan. 11 installation Mass of Celestino Aós as the new archbishop of Santiago, Chile, a small number of protesters opened backpacks near the front of the church and dumped tear gas canisters on the floor.

An Instagram post by portadasoñada, which describes itself as “an independent and self-managed media outlet” included a video of the incident, which it said was intended to "denounce in the face the highest Catholic authority in the country for his silence and complicity with the government."

The United Nations has warned of evidence of numerous human rights violations committed by police and military personnel in Chile since October. These include excessive and unnecessary use of force, sometimes resulting in injury or death, as well as torture, rape, and arbitrary detention.

Demonstrations against the government began in mid-October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

Several churches across Chile have been attacked, looted and even burned amid anti-government protests in the country.

The La Tercera newspaper in Chile reported that the rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Ignacio Sánchez, was present at the installation Mass of Archbishop Aós.

“I saw a person spill out some jars on the ground that looked like they were tear gas canisters,” Sánchez said, adding, “it is lamentable that people don't know that the freedom we have inside the church requires respect, requires basic, decent and ethical behavior.”

On Jan. 12, Kairos News published a letter from the coordinating committee of the Peace through Justice lay group in Valparaiso to their counterpart in Santiago which referenced the canister incident and citied the prophet Jeremiah, making a “fraternal appeal” to the bishops to speak up on “the grave violations of human rights occurring in our country.”

The bishops have, on several occasions, called on the security forces to respect human rights. In an Oct. 24, 2019 statement, shortly after the initial violence broke out, they stated, “United in the sorrow of the relatives of those who have lost their lives and of so many who have been injured, we call on all the people who are demonstrating and the competent agencies and authorities to ensure respect for fundamental rights and proper treatment of those detained.”

In a Nov. 8 statement, Aós – who was then serving as apostolic administrator of Santiago – said, “Let us not try to justify any violence, violence is always bad, it leads to more violence.” He also called for a new “Social Pact” and for structural, personal and constitutional changes to help remedy the crisis.

In his Jan. 11 homily, Archbishop Aós said that “we're going through days of agitation, division and attacks,” and warned that “division, injustice, lies, and violence are contrary to our Christian condition, our baptismal commitment.”

 “No Christian can remain an onlooker. Much less a censor or a condemner; we all must ask ourselves, what is the will of God for me? Or the more familiar phrase, what would Christ do in my place?” he said.