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Nicaraguan dictator Ortega verbally attacks pope, calls Church ‘the perfect dictatorship’

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega / Photo credit: Flickr Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan) | Government Website Open Information Announcement (CC BY 2.0)

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 13:54 pm (CNA).

The dictator of Nicaragua, former guerilla fighter President Daniel Ortega, verbally attacked Pope Francis and said that the Catholic Church is “the perfect dictatorship” during a public event Sept. 28 in Managua, the country’s capital.

In his speech marking the 43rd anniversary of the founding of the National Police, Ortega questioned: “Who elects the priests, the bishops, the pope, the cardinals, how many votes, who votes for them? If they’re going to be democratic, they must begin by electing the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, with the vote of the population, with the votes of Catholics.”

“Let the population elect them and not all of them imposed [on the people], it’s a dictatorship, the perfect dictatorship. It’s a tyranny, the perfect tyranny,” he continued.

After calling the pope a “holy tyrant,” the Nicaraguan dictator asked: “With what authority do you speak to me about democracy? How many votes did the bishop have from the population to be appointed bishop?”

This is not the first time that Ortega has publicly attacked the Catholic Church. In September 2021, he insulted the Catholic bishops, calling them “terrorists,” “demons in cassocks,” and men in “satanic cassocks.”

On that occasion, as well as in yesterday’s event, the dictator accused the bishops of being behind the 2018 protests and promoting a coup d’état against him.

Ortega’s remarks come almost two weeks after Pope Francis said that there is dialogue with the Nicaraguan government, although “right now there are problems.”

Persecution of the Church in Nicaragua

Ortega’s remarks came a day after Santa Lucía-Boaco parish in the Diocese of Granada reported that “the Nicaraguan government denied our pastor, Father Guillermo Blandón, re-entry into our country.”

The newspaper La Prensa reported Sept. 11 that the Nicaraguan Immigration and Foreigners Office prevented Father Juan de Dios García, vicar of the Santo Cristo de las Colinas parish, from returning to the country after having traveled to the United States.

On Aug. 19, the police abducted in the middle of the night the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, from the chancery where he had been forcibly confined by riot police for over two weeks and took him to Managua, where he remains under house arrest.

According to local media, the prosecution has supposedly indicted him but the charges are unknown.

On Sept. 15, the European Parliament approved by a vote of 538 to 16 a resolution demanding the immediate release of the bishop.

The night Bishop Álvarez was seized, the other priests, seminarians, and a layman who were confined in the chancery with him were also taken away and are being held in the El Chipote prison, known for torturing opponents of the regime.

Those imprisoned there are Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Diaz, Sadiel Eugarrios, and Raúl González; seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas, all from the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Another priest who is being held in El Chipote is Father Oscar Benavidez of the Diocese of Siuna.

These prisoners have also reportedly been indicted but for what crimes is unknown.

In other attacks, the Ortega dictatorship expelled in March the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

The former auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, has been living in exile in the United States after it became known that Ortega’s government had very probably ordered his assassination.

In addition, the Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, were expelled in July and were welcomed in neighboring Costa Rica by the bishop of Tilarán-Liberia. The Religious of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were expelled this month and returned to Mexico, where the congregation was founded.

In fewer than four years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the target of 190 attacks and desecrations according to the investigative report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018-2022)” by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

‘Everything is connected’: Cardinal Czerny explains future of Vatican office for integral human development

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, takes possession of his titular church of San Michele Arcangelo in Rome, Jan. 19, 2020. / Pablo Esparza/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 29, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican’s office for integral human development is rethinking its work in light of the implementation of Pope Francis’ curial reform, its prefect and secretary said Thursday.

Following the publication of the constitution Praedicate evangelium, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has “reorganized” competencies within the office, and “there has been some turnover,” Sister Alessandra Smerilli, the dicastery’s secretary, said at a press conference Sept. 29.

Prefect Cardinal Michael Czerny said the dicastery’s mission is “to help the Church to promote integral human development,” that “development, that growth, that flourishing of each person in the different dimensions of their existence.”

“A few of us,” he added, “cannot be happily or integrally developed if others of us are underdeveloped or mal-developed or simply totally left out.”

The process in the dicastery, the cardinal said, is to think about the issues people are suffering from, “the key injustices that need to be addressed if people are going to be able to flourish,” to reflect on the response and to see its connection to other issues, and to create an effective proposal for action by the local Church.

“The concerns can come in many forms,” he said, naming human rights, health, injustice, the legal system, the prison system, armaments, violence, economy and labor, the environment, and humanitarian emergencies.

“And so on and so on, et cetera, et cetera. We don’t have a closed list. We don’t have a preferred list. We would like to listen and through that to establish the priorities that we need to address,” Czerny said.

Integral

What does the word “integral” mean in the context of the dicastery? Czerny told CNA during a press conference the word, applied to “human development,” means authentic and evangelical, and is the opposite of fake, narrow, and exploitative.

“The word integral is ... a hard word for saying what Pope Francis often says much more clearly and simply,” he said, that “everything and everyone is connected. That’s at least one of the important meanings of ‘integral.’”

The cardinal said human beings have the tendency to fixate on things that are important to them while forgetting the needs of others.

“I can become, yes, I would say, obsessed with my personal fulfillment, without realizing that I cannot really be fulfilled, and certainly not from a faith point of view, if it is at the cost of others,” the cardinal said. “If others are deprived in order for me to prosper, then there is something intrinsically and morally wrong with my prosperity. And that is contained, or implicit, in the idea of ‘integral.’”

Restitution

Following its reorganization, the dicastery describes its workflow as a three-part process: listening-dialogue, research-reflection, and communication-restitution.

The idea behind using the word “restitution,” Czerny told CNA in a brief one-on-one interview, “is an element of justice.”

Restitution “is to restore something that was given,” though not something that was taken away, he emphasized.

There are, he said, “so many situations in which the poor have given their concerns, have shared their concerns with people, and the people have said, oh, that’s too bad, and then they’ve gone away.”

“We feel that … if we ask them what are their anxieties, what are their fears, what are their challenges, that we owe them an answer.”

Evangelization

The role of the dicastery, Czerny said during the press conference, “is not advocacy itself,” nor does the office directly evangelize — an important focus of the new constitution.

“We are ready to help accompany, we are ready to help repair, we are ready to help reflect,” he said.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development plays a supporting role to the local Churches, “the primary agents of evangelization,” Czerny told CNA after the presser.

“We think that promoting integral human development is a very effective and often wordless way of evangelizing, and we hope to help the Church to do that.”

The cardinal said he sees a complementarity with the work of the Dicastery for Evangelization, which merged the former Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

On the topic of practical help for local Churches in need, the dicastery’s secretary, Sister Smerilli, said that if nuncios — the pope’s ambassadors — get in touch, the dicastery can act as a go-between to connect them to aid.

The dicastery exists to support the bishops’ conferences and other local Catholic organizations, the office’s leaders said.

Relationships with multilateral bodies such as the United Nations fall under the purview of the secretariat of state. 

“But Praedicate evangelium asks us to collaborate with the secretariat of state,” Smerilli explained, “and what we can bring is the experience on the ground, the voice of the local churches, to be able to make these voices also matter” to those who work in the diplomatic or political spheres.

What does Giorgia Meloni’s victory mean for Catholics in Italy?

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) holds a “Thank You Italy” sign during a press conference at the party electoral headquarters on Sept. 25, 2022 in Rome. / Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Rome, Italy, Sep 29, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The victory of Giorgia Meloni and her “Fratelli d’Italia” (Brothers of Italy) party in Italy’s recent election made global headlines.

Meloni won with a platform that supports traditional families, national identity, and the country’s Christian roots. In a speech earlier this year, she said “no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology.”

As the leader of a party that originates from a postwar movement born from the ashes of fascism, Meloni can neither be called a post-fascist nor simply a far-right leader.

Her international position is Atlanticist, and she has supported Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, congratulating him on his election.

On European issues, Meloni is critical of how Europe runs the risk of imposing policies on nation-states, but she is not against the principle of a European Union.

In short, the reality of Meloni’s politics is much more nuanced than it may seem at first glance. This explains why Catholic hierarchies in Italy have shown a degree of openness toward the politician following her electoral victory.

Italian political background

Italy’s history plays an essential role in understanding this reality. After fascism, the Italian state was reconstituted with a powerful Catholic party, the Christian Democrats, which for decades was the undisputed leader in the elections. 

Catholics had been among the first opponents of fascism. 

The Italian Constitution was inspired by a group of Catholics who, in 1943, already toward the end of the war, had gathered in the monastery of Camaldoli in Tuscany to define the principles for a post-fascist state.

In the early 1990s, a widespread corruption scandal in Italian politics called Tangentopoli wiped out traditional parties, including the Christian Democrats.

New parties arose, and members of the Christian Democrats joined these or were part of varying political formations.

The current Italian Democratic Party, considered center-left, is made up of former members of the Christian Democrats as well as members of the old left parties.

The secretary, Enrico Letta, had a background with the Christian Democrats. Similarly, parties considered to be center-right in Italy, such as Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, include among their ranks heirs of the Christian Democrats but also former socialists and former members of the Italian Liberal Party, traditionally secular and in some respects even anti-clerical.

The Italian Church had initially supported the so-called center party, which was the first direct heir of the Christian Democrats. Soon, however, the policy of the Italian bishops became not to support political formations but rather the values ​​and themes promoted within the various parties — no longer, therefore, a Catholic party, but Catholics in politics.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Cardinal Camillo Ruini was the Italian Bishops’ Conference president. In the face of tremendous parliamentary battles, Ruini coined the expression “nonnegotiable values.”

By nonnegotiable values, ​​he first meant the importance ​​of life at a time when political actions promoted euthanasia, in-vitro-fertilization, and even abortion as a matter of personal conscience.

After the bishops’ conference presidency of Ruini and that of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the question of nonnegotiable values ​​has become more nuanced.

With Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, who became president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference in 2014, the Church in Italy has aimed more at a concrete look at the issues of poverty and the economy, arguably losing sight, somewhat, of the values platform.

It was a strategic choice dictated by the fact that Catholics in politics were increasingly marginalized and that the social doctrine of the Church took less and less space in the formation of the new ruling class. There were attempts to create new platforms of Catholic culture in the early 2010s. These were sidelined by an economic-institutional emergency that had led to economist Mario Monti leading the government.

To all this, it must be added that the culture in Italy has been strongly forged by leftist thinking. It should be remembered that Italy had the largest Communist Party beyond the Iron Curtain after the war.

The Communist Party strongly developed an anti-fascist resistance narrative. Yet, the communist partisans were also authors of heinous murders and systematic elimination of priests — for instance, the recently beatified seminarian Rolando Rivi.

The Catholic platform in Italy

The historical context explains how Catholic thought in Italy was forged, especially in the years following the Second Vatican Council. Then, Catholicism in Italy fluctuated between the need for identity and the narrative of a rupture, which wanted a Church more committed to social issues and less to the centers of power.

A case in point: The latest bill against homophobia, which could have introduced gender classes in schools, was strongly supported by the Italian Democratic Party, led by the former Christian Democrat Letta.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Catholic vote in Italy has rewarded Giorgia Meloni. Lacking a political party of reference, the Catholic center looked to the party that most corresponded to specific values.

Meloni’s voters are likely people who attended Family Day events held in Italy in 2007 and 2016 to oppose two bills on the civil unions.

The organizer of the most recent Family Day, Massimo Gandolfini, said in 2019: “We recognize that Brothers of Italy and Giorgia Meloni are pursuing a policy to the advantage of the family, for the defense of life from conception to natural death, and the educational freedom of parents.”

On the other hand, Meloni has been met with skepticism and concerns over leading a party with a fascist legacy.

Much attention was paid to her meeting with Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship. But there were other talks with Vatican figures. Rumors also speak of contact with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state.

Added to this is a meeting with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. In an interview with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire on Sept. 28, Zuppi made it clear that he knew Meloni well. He also described the Church in Italy as committed to collaborating with all parties.

To fully understand the context, it is worth remembering that Zuppi is an exponent of Sant’Egidio, a movement closer to the demands of the center-left than the center-right.

The Italian bishops’ position

In general, the Italian bishops do not endorse any particular political candidate, keep a low profile, and only issue statements regarding the bishops’ conference president or possibly the secretary of state.

Meloni also kept a low profile. Compared with others, her campaign did not exploit religious faith. While setting what is generally considered a conservative tone, Meloni’s rhetoric was political, not religious.

The president of the “Fratelli” is described by those who know her as someone “who considers herself part of the Church, very respectful of Pope Francis even when perhaps she does not understand or share certain [aspects] of his statements or acts.”

She was also present at the Communion and Liberation Meeting in Rimini, which takes place every August, and spoke about Catholic social teaching.

Brothers of Italy and the Italian Church

Cardinal Ruini, whose voice still carries weight, said in an interview with Corriere Della Sera on Sept. 28, “intellectuals are on the left, but the real country is on the right.” He acknowledged the reality of Meloni’s role and her party’s election.

In doing so, Ruini pointed out that the Catholic world in Italy has been closer to the so-called center-left rather than the center-right. In Italy, as elsewhere, there is a perception of a deep rift between those who stand up for nonnegotiable values and those who instead support a more pragmatic approach to dealing with contemporary challenges. But this is a perception, and reality is more nuanced.

Perhaps now is the time for a nuanced reconciliation of opposites for the Italian Catholic world. Giorgia Meloni is not a Catholic politician. The values ​​she espouses, however, also won over the Catholic electorate. This is a reality to be ignored at peril.

Pope Francis says that he tried to help Ukraine, Russia prisoner swap

Pope Francis meeting with Jesuits in Kazakhstan, Sept. 15, 2022 / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 09:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has said that he was involved in a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking to Jesuits during his trip to Kazakhstan earlier this month, the pope said a Ukrainian military chief and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s religious adviser came to him with a request for help.

“This time they brought me a list of more than 300 prisoners. They asked me to do something to make an exchange,” Pope Francis said, according to a transcript published by the Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica on Sept. 29.

“I immediately called the Russian ambassador to see if something could be done, if an exchange of prisoners could be speeded up.”

The pope did not specify when these conversations about a prisoner swap occurred. He spoke about the exchange in a private conversation with 19 Jesuits in Nur Sultan on Sept. 15 — six days before Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine and Russia had conducted a prisoner swap involving nearly 300 people.

Zelenskyy said that the exchange had been under preparation for a long time. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres specifically thanked Turkey and Saudi Arabia for their roles in facilitating the prisoner swap, which involved the return of 215 Ukrainians and 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians. It was the largest prisoner exchange since the war began.

In his meeting with the Jesuits, Pope Francis also recalled how he attempted to call Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

He said: “I recall that the day after the start of the war I went to the Russian Embassy. It was an unusual gesture; the pope never goes to an embassy. He receives the ambassadors personally only when they present their credentials, and then at the end of their mission on a farewell visit. I told the ambassador that I would like to speak with President Putin, provided he left me a small window for dialogue.”

The pope underlined, “from the first day of the war until yesterday, I spoke constantly about this conflict, referring to the suffering of Ukraine.” He later added that in his public statements, he has called “the invasion of Ukraine an unacceptable, repugnant, senseless, barbaric, sacrilegious aggression.”

Pope Francis also said that he believes “international factors … contributed to provoking the war.”

“I have already mentioned that a head of state, in December last year, came to tell me that he was very concerned because NATO had gone barking at the gates of Russia without understanding that the Russians are imperial and fear border insecurity. He expressed fear that this would provoke a war, and this broke out two months later,” the pope said.

Among the Jesuits who met with Pope Francis in Kazakhstan were priests who served as missionaries in Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. 

Father Bogusław Steczek, the superior of the Russian Region of the Society of Jesus, told the pope of the Jesuits’ pastoral work in Moscow, Kirov, St. Petersburg, Tomsk, and Siberia. 

“We are working on geographical, cultural, and religious frontiers,” Steczek said. “Now, in order to go forward with courage, we ask your apostolic blessing.”

Catholics in Poland and around the world pray Divine Mercy Chaplet to end war

Catholics in Poland pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Sept. 28, 2022 / Monika Bilska

Warsaw, Poland, Sep 29, 2022 / 06:42 am (CNA).

On Wednesday, Catholics recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet in the streets of 173 cities in Poland and 44 localities worldwide, according to organizers of the prayer event. 

At 3 p.m. local time, street intersections and public squares in towns and villages throughout Poland turned into places of prayer for peace and for those affected by war. 

With rosaries in hand, the faithful asked God for mercy for all humanity. 

“We believe that 10 minutes of supplication to God can change our families, cities, and the whole world,” the organizers said.

Participants in the prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska
Participants in the prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska

The event was held under the auspices of the Polish community Spark of Divine Mercy Team.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy was recited on six continents for families, priests, and those holding any power in the world.

The faithful prayed for peace, especially in Ukraine. They prayed for refugees fleeing war, that they may return to their countries — and that people may be found to help them rebuild their war-damaged homes. 

On official count, 173 towns and cities in Poland joined in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. 

People prayed in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw and the largest Polish cities: Gdańsk, Poznań, Katowice, and Lublin. Organizers said that prayer events were also held on the streets of Papua New Guinea, Croatia, Argentina, Mexico, the United States, and the Ivory Coast.

A young man praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska
A young man praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska

The chaplet event, including the prayer on the streets of several cities, was held for the first time on Sept. 28, 2008, in Łódź. 

Since then, the initiative has continued to take place every year on the anniversary of the beatification of Blessed Father Michael Sopoćko, confessor of St. Faustina Kowalska (1905–1938). 

The consecration and entrustment of the world to the Divine Mercy represented the fulfillment of a mission for the poor, young Polish nun. 

She experienced visions of Jesus in which he asked her to make his message of infinite love and mercy known to the world.

To learn more about the Divine Mercy devotion, visit the website for the Divine Mercy shrine in Poland or the National Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Supporters of statue of St. Michael the Archangel in small French town vow to fight removal order

St. Michael the Archangel / Credit: Pixabay

CNA Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 01:30 am (CNA).

After a French court confirmed the removal of a statue of St. Michael from a seaside town, supporters have vowed to continue their fight to keep it standing.

On Friday, Sep. 16, the Court of Appeal in Nantes ruled in favor of removing a statue of St. Michael in the town of Les Sables-d’Olonne in the Vendée.

The court decision was made against the wishes of more than 90% of participants in a consultation held by the town’s mayor, Yannick Moreau, last March. 

On Sept. 29, the feast day of the archangel, one supporter posted an image of the statue on social media, writing “A thought for the statue of Saint-Michel in Les Sables D’Olonne in Vendée which, according to the court of Nantes, must be removed in the name of ‘secularism’ while the people of Sablais in a popular referendum have voted to maintain.”

According to a report in Le Figaro, the municipality will now take the legal fight to the Conseil d'État. The Council of State is the supreme court for administrative justice in France.

The statue was installed in 2018 opposite the church of St. Michael. It was initially at a school of the same name from 1935 until 2017.

In 2021, a complaint was filed by the “Libre Pensée de Vendée,” a group that advocates secularism and “free thought” and initially opposed the statue’s installation.

The concept of secularism — laïcité — has been a fixture of French law since 1905. At that time, the Third Republic officially established state secularism, causing a subsequent wave of anti-Catholicism, which included the end of government funding for religious schools, mandatory civil marriage, and the removal of chaplains from the army.

The group cited a 1905 law on the separation of church and state. Article 28 prohibits the display of religious images in public spaces, except for places of worship, cemeteries, monuments, or museums. 

On Dec. 16, 2021, a hearing at the Court Appeal in Nantes decided that the statue must be unbolted within six months. 

According to the ruling, although the statue is in the forecourt of a church, “the square on which the statue was installed is not a building used for worship,” and the statue must therefore be removed in accordance with 1905 laws.

Demonstrations have been held to protest the removal of the statue, according to local media reports.

Denial of clemency to death row inmate disappoints Oklahoma archbishop

null / California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

One day after a parole board denied clemency to death row inmate Benjamin Cole, the archbishop of Oklahoma City registered his disappointment in the decision.

“The denial of clemency by the Pardon and Parole Board is disappointing, as there is hardly any justice to be seen in taking the life of a man who is hardly able to speak and lacks the basic understanding of why the state is seeking his execution,” Archbishop Paul Coakley said Sept. 28.

“While it is too late to provide Benjamin Cole with any care or treatment that might have prevented his crime almost 20 years ago, we still have an obligation to recognize the dignity bestowed upon him by God and the effects of his debilitating mental illness.”

Cole, the archbishop said, “should be allowed to live out what remains of his life in the hope that he receives the mental health care he should have received decades ago. Pray for the victims of violence and their families, that God brings them comfort and peace. Pray for the soul of the condemned and those who will be involved with his execution.”

The Pardon and Parole Board voted 4–1 to deny clemency to Cole, 57, on Sept. 27.

In 2002 Cole killed his 9-month-old daughter, Brianna.

His attorneys maintained that Cole is “severely mentally ill and that he has a growing lesion on his brain,” the AP reported. The lawyers told the board that he has refused medical care and has little or no communication with others.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor welcomed the panel’s decision, saying, “Although his attorneys claim Cole is mentally ill to the point of catatonia, the fact is that Cole fully cooperated with a mental evaluation in July of this year. The evaluator, who was not hired by Cole or the state, found Cole to be competent to be executed and that ‘Mr. Cole does not currently evidence any substantial, overt signs of mental illness, intellectual impairment, and/or neurocognitive impairment.’”

Cole had been incarcerated previously for the abuse of another of his infant children, and prosecutors, according to the AP, “noted that [Brianna] had numerous injuries consistent with a history of abuse.”

Relatives of Brianna’s mother asked that the board deny clemency.

A county judge is due to decide whether a trial will be held to determine whether Cole is competent to be executed. 

The parole board having denied clemency, the Oklahoma governor is unable to commute Cole’s sentence. Cole is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Oct. 20.

While the Church teaches that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice in the West.

Regarding the execution of criminals, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught that by its “legal and judicious exercise” civil authorities “punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

And Pope Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s paragraph regarding capital punishment.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech on Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.

Dominican Father Thomas Petri, a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”

“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Petri said.

Supreme Court Justice Alito: faith ‘should affect the way you treat people’ as a judge

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito / Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — author of the deciding opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade — stressed the importance of his Catholic faith to serving on the highest court in the country Tuesday in a lecture to law students at the Catholic University of America (CUA).

“A person’s faith shapes what kind of person [he or she] is,” Alito said, adding “it also should affect the way you treat [people] when you’re serving as a judge.”

Alito’s inaugural lecture was given at the opening of CUA’s new Project on Constitutional Originalism and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT), a program started for students at the university’s Columbus School of Law.

CIT explores the relationship of Catholicism to American Constitutionalism, focusing on doctors of the church such as Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and secular thinkers such as Aristotle and Cicero.

Professor J. Joel Alicea, who co-directs the program, said in the lecture’s opening statement that the school believes the Catholic intellectual tradition “can help us better think through the challenges of our day.”

Alicea, who clerked for Justice Alito in 2016, introduced the justice as the honorary chair of the project’s advisory board to the reception of thundering applause.

The justice then gave remarks outlining how CUA’s project will consider how the Catholic faith relates to law but did not address the overturning of Roe or other controversial opinions from the summer.

When asked by a student how his personal faith affected his professional life, Alito pointed to how formative Catholicism is in shaping how a person treats other human beings.

“Among other things, [faith] shapes how a person regards other people and treats other people,” Alito responded.

“Judges affect people — indirectly, but sometimes very powerfully, through their decisions,” he continued. “It’s important to keep in mind that these decisions are not just abstract discussions. They have a real impact in the world and you have to keep that in mind.”

Alito authored the historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

“Roe was … egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided,” Alito wrote in the decision’s opinion.

The decision denounced the claim that there is a “constitutional right to abortion” and returned the question of it to the states.

“Abortion presents a profound moral question,” the opinion concluded.

The son of Italian immigrants, Alito was born to a Catholic family in Trenton, New Jersey. He was a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School. After serving in positions for the Justice Department and as the U.S. attorney general for the district of New Jersey, he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush — a position he’s held since 2006.

Following this summer’s landmark decision overturning Roe, Alito and the other justices have faced virulent criticism both nationally and abroad, increased violence, and even death threats.

Alito dismissed some of these attacks in a speech at a Notre Dame conference in July.

“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” Alito said.

Afghan refugees reunited with baby thanks to pro-life pregnancy center

null / Vulnerable People Project

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

On Tuesday night Benafsha and her husband, Mustafa, anxiously waited at Dulles International Airport for their son, 22-month-old Jasoor, to arrive from Afghanistan.

Benafsha tugged at her long brown hair nervously, and Mustafa held his wife close to him as they watched for their son to walk through the airport security exit and into their arms.

The last time they saw Jasoor was over a year ago — they had been separated from him for more than half his life.

An unexpected, tragic parting

On Aug. 26, 2021, the family was supposed to begin a new life together. 

Benafsha had served as a translator for coalition forces in Afghanistan, and when the U.S. withdrew its last troops from the country after more than 20 years, she was among the lucky ones granted Special Immigrant Visas to evacuate to the United States. 

While the family was waiting to board a flight to the U.S. at Kabul’s airport, a suicide bomber detonated explosives, killing more than 170 people. Jasoor was in the arms of his grandmother, and in the chaos that ensued, as soldiers exchanged gunfire with militants of the Islamic State – Korasan Province, the pair were separated from the baby’s parents. 

Benafsha and Mustafa, distraught but powerless in the face of a military operation reacting to a wartime situation, were forced to leave Kabul without Jasoor. The hope that they would soon be reunited and that by leaving they would best ensure their son’s safety sustained them as they departed without him.

A crisis pregnancy center says 'yes'

By December, however, that hope appeared to be fading. It had been almost four months since they had seen their son, and things were not going well. Jasoor and his grandmother were barely surviving on their own in Kabul — as the dead of winter approached, they were running out of coal and had little food. 

Things were no better for Benafsha and Mustafa, who were about to be evicted from the temporary housing they had found with a relative in Texas. Adding to the stressful situation, Benafsha was pregnant and in need of medical care.

Desperate for help, she contacted the Pflugerville Pregnancy Resource Center outside of Austin. Little did she know that this pro-life crisis pregnancy center would not only help her with her immediate needs, but it would be the means to seeing her son again.

Brittany Green, executive director of the pregnancy center, told CNA that when Benafsha came to them, they saw there were two critical issues facing the couple: medical care and housing. 

The clinic helped her get health insurance and made an appointment with the center’s medical director for OB-GYN care. 

Next came finding a place for the couple to live. While the pro-life pregnancy center offers counseling and health care to women in crisis pregnancies, there’s a lot more to the services they offer. 

“Our perception here is we come from a place of ‘yes.’ If it is something that we can do, we’re going to do it. If it’s something we can’t do, we’re going to find the people who can help us do it,” Green said. 

“The people that we serve often hear ‘no.’ And we don’t want them to come to us and hear another ‘no.’ So we will do everything in our power to make sure that their future and success is set up,” she explained.

With the help of Loveline Outreach Ministry and a local church, the Pflugerville pro-life clinic found Benafsha and Mustafa a hotel room for a month, and they helped Mustafa find a job. Then, through Texas Alliance for Life, she learned about Jason Jones’ work evacuating refugees in Afghanistan through the nonprofit he founded, the Vulnerable People Project (VPP). 

Green got in touch with Jones, who happened to be in Texas at the time, and arranged to have coffee with Jones, Benafsha, and Mustafa.  

Jones asked for Jasoor and his grandmother’s address, and within 24 hours a care package of coal and food was delivered to them in Kabul. He also helped make funds available for Benafsha and Mustafa to secure more permanent housing in Texas. VPP works with organizations in Afghanistan to provide much-needed services including food, health care, and education to those still in the country. 

‘Only God could make this happen’

In addition to providing aid in Afghanistan, the VPP has helped thousands of Afghan citizens obtain visas to leave their country and find a safe haven elsewhere. Jones set the wheels in motion to get Jasoor a visa to the U.S. 

Marilis Pineiro, the nonprofit’s legislative and diplomatic relations liaison, successfully lobbied the State Department to approve Jasoor’s visa after months of paperwork and negotiations. 

Since Jasoor is considered an infant, it was particularly difficult to get him a visa to travel without his parents, Pineiro told CNA. The State Department finally allowed his 24-year-old aunt a visa to accompany him.

Vulnerable People Project
Vulnerable People Project

While Pineiro has helped shepherd hundreds of Afghanis to safety, she said that reuniting Jasoor with his parents was an especially emotional experience for her.

“I’m still in shock because it was such a seemingly impossible task,” Pineiro told CNA. “I ask myself ‘How?’ and the answer is that only God could make that happen.”

Jones told CNA that getting the family back together again showed the important role pro-life pregnancy centers play in serving mothers and their families.

“I’m so grateful for the thousands of pregnancy centers across America that help women meet their needs. If not for this pro-life clinic reaching out to us, we never would have met Benafsha and Mustafa and been able to help them reunite with Jasoor,” he said.

When a curly-haired Jasoor, now a toddler, finally entered the international arrivals waiting area at Dulles Airport, his mother and father hugged him and kissed him as they thought they might never get a chance to see him again.

The last time they saw each was at another airport, and the circumstances could not have been more different. 

“This is the happiest day of my life,” Benafsha said, holding baby Helen in her arms, and Jasoor by his hand, as they set off to their new home in Virginia, a dream come true after so much sorrow and uncertainty. 

The family of four is together for the first time. Vulnerable People Project
The family of four is together for the first time. Vulnerable People Project

Vulnerable People Project
Vulnerable People Project

Salvadoran Education Ministry dismisses official who endorsed kids’ TV show with gender ideology

null / itakdalee/Shutterstock

San Salvador, El Salvador, Sep 28, 2022 / 14:38 pm (CNA).

El Salvador’s Ministry of Education has dismissed the official responsible for allowing a children’s program with gender ideology to be broadcast on national public television, following an uproar from parents.

The Ministry of Education (MINED) dismissed Sept. 26 the director of the National Teacher Training Institute (INFOD), Carlos Rodríguez Rivas, in wake of the controversy caused by a segment of the educational program “Let’s Learn at Home,” which introduced minors to the topics of homosexual, lesbian, and bisexual sexual orientation.

“The MINED has decided to carry out an in-depth restructuring of INFOD to promote changes that allow an education adhering to our reality and with the vision of this government ... We also inform you that the current director of INFOD has been removed from his position,” a Sept. 27 statement from the government explained.

“We are clear that we must always be vigilant for children, protect their mental health and promote family values that are the basis of Salvadoran society,” the MINED continued.

The ministry “also takes on the commitment to review all programs that come from abroad, so as to not allow materials that violate our principles or are contrary to the vision of the country we want to build.”

Hours before the announcement, El Salvador’s public television Channel 10 decided to terminate the agreement with INFOD “due to non-compliance with educational standards,” including the inclusion of “unauthorized sexual content.”

The Parents’ Alliance, a civil society movement in defense of the family in El Salvador, welcomed the removal of the director of INFOD.

“This was thanks to the complaints from all the committed families and parents in El Salvador. This precedent makes it clear to us that the Parental PIN must be a reality, we must protect our children from ideologies contrary to human dignity,” the parents group said on its social media.

The concept of a Parental PIN is that parents of schoolchildren must be informed in advance by the school of any workshop, talk, subject, or activity dealing with topics of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, feminism, or diversity, and can then give or withhold their consent.

Sara Larín, founder of the VIDA SV Foundation in El Salvador, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, on Sept. 27 that the dismissal of the director of INFOD “is good news for all good Salvadorans who have denounced the perverse Social Studies material, not only in the Channel 10 program, but in the textbooks given to children.”

Larín charged that the content in children’s textbooks still “talks about terms such as sexual orientation, sexual identity, sexual pleasure, eroticism, and masturbation from a gender ideology perspective.”

According to the pro-life leader, teaching this type of material “puts students at risk of sexual and emotional abuse when a public school teacher dares to address these issues with minors without the consent of their parents.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.