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Pope Francis appoints new head of Vatican’s interreligious dialogue

Vatican City, May 25, 2019 / 08:28 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Spanish Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot Saturday as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Guixot succeeds Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, who led the Vatican dicastery for over ten years until his death in July 2018.

As a priest in the Comboni Missionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Guixot served as a missionary in Egypt and Sudan. He has degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies, in addition to a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the University of Granada.

Guixot, 66, served as the dean of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome until Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in 2012.

In 2016 Pope Francis consecrated Guixot as a bishop, assigning him the titular see of Luperciana. Originally from Seville, Guixot, speaks Arabic, English, French, and Italian, in addition to Spanish.

Interreligious dialogue has been a focus of Pope Francis’ pastoral visits in 2019. His trips to the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Bulgaria all included interreligious meetings.

In Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis signed a joint-statement on human fraternity with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, which he called “a new page in the history of dialogue between Christianity and Islam.”

Pope Francis: 'Abortion is never the answer'

Vatican City, May 25, 2019 / 06:25 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Saturday that abortion is never the answer to difficult prenatal diagnoses, calling selective abortion of the disabled the “expression of an inhuman eugenics mentality.”

“Fear and hostility towards disability often lead to the choice of abortion, configuring it as a practice of ‘prevention,’” Pope Francis said May 25.

“But the Church's teaching on this point is clear: human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes must be strongly discouraged because it is the expression of an inhuman eugenics mentality, which removes the possibility for families to accept, embrace and love their weakest children,” he said.

The pope addressed a Vatican conference on perinatal hospice highlighting medical care and ministries that support families who have received a prenatal diagnosis indicating that their baby will likely die before or just after birth.

“Yes to Life: Caring for the precious gift of life in its frailness,” a conference organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life May 23-25 brought together medical professionals, bioethicists, ministry providers, and families from 70 countries to discuss how best to provide medical, psychological, and emotional support for parents expecting a child with a life-limiting illness.

“Sometimes people ask me, what does perinatal hospice look like? And I answer, ‘It looks like love,’” author and mother Amy Kuebelbeck shared at the conference.

Kuelbeck was 25 weeks pregnant when she received the diagnosis that her unborn son had an incurable heart defect. She carried her pregnancy to term and had a little more than 2 hours with her son, Gabriel, before he died after birth.

“It was one of the most profound experiences of my life,” Kuelbeck said. She wrote a memoir of her experience of grief, loss, and love called “Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of Cherishing a Baby's Brief Life.”

“I know that some people assume that continuing a pregnancy with a baby who will die is all for nothing.  But it isn’t all for nothing.  Parents can wait with their baby, protect their baby, and love their baby for as long as that baby is able to live.  They can give that baby a peaceful life – and a peaceful goodbye. That’s not nothing. That is a gift,” Kuelbeck wrote in “Waiting with Gabriel.”

Dr. Byron Calhoun, a medical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who first coined the term “perinatal hospice” spoke at the conference. His research has found that allowing parents of newborns with a terminal prenatal diagnosis the chance to be parents can result in less distress for the mother than pregnancy termination.

Many families facing these diagnoses have to decide if they will seek extraordinary or disproportionate medical care for their child after birth.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted.”

Ministries like Alexandra’s House, a perinatal hospice in Kansas City, provide counsel and grief support to parents as they face these difficult medical decisions. They also connect families with a network of other parents who have had a terminal prenatal diagnosis. “Most of the families stay in contact indefinitely,” said MaryCarroll Sullivan, nurse and bioethics advisor for the ministry.

There are now more than 300 hospitals, hospices, and ministries providing perinatal palliative care around the world.

Sister Giustina Olha Holubets, a geneticist at the University of Lviv, helped to found “Imprint of Life” a perinatal palliative care center in Ukraine that offers grief accompaniment, individualized birth plans, the sacrament of baptism, and burial, as well as respectful photos, footprints, and memory books to help families cherish their brief moments with their child.

The motto of Imprint of Life is “I cannot give more days to your life, but I can give more life to your days.”

Pope Francis met with Sister Giustina and other perinatal hospice providers in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on the last day of the conference.

The pope thanked them for creating “networks of love” to which couples can turn to receive accompaniment with the undeniable practical, human, and spiritual difficulties they face.

“Your testimony of love is a gift to the world,” he said.

“Taking care of these children helps parents to mourn and to think of this not only as a loss, but as a step in a journey together. That child will stay in their life forever, and they will have been able to love him,” Pope Francis said.

“Those few hours in which a mother can lull her child can leave a mark on the heart of that woman that she will never forget,” he said.

How this mom of disabled children is helping others to 'accept the gift'

Berlin, NJ, May 25, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Kelly Mantoan doesn’t have a lot of free time. Between mothering 5 children, homeschooling some of them, getting her two youngest sons on the school bus on time, and juggling a writing career and a successful blog, she has a full schedule.

Her days even look a little different from those of the typical mother to a large family, because the Mantoan family’s two youngest children, Fulton, 10, and Teddy, 8, were both born with a rare degenerative genetic disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA.

Both boys use motorized wheelchairs full time for mobility, and require round-the-clock care to ensure their health needs are met. Kelly and her husband,Tony know something about the strain that can accompany such comprehensive care.

That’s where the idea of a day-long conference designed especially for caregiving, special needs parents called “Accepting the Gift” was born.

“There's really nothing else out there like it for Catholics – there are Protestant ministries to support parents of special needs children, but we looked and couldn’t find anything that ministered to Catholic parents, whose needs can be really unique,” Mantoan explained.

“From a theological standpoint, the Catholic faith is so instrumental in how I deal with my struggles as a special needs parents, we have such a rich theology of suffering.” Mantoan said, explaining that her Catholic faith has uniquely equipped her to accept her sons’ diagnoses.

“As a Catholic, I've been able to see that there is nothing wrong with my child, and God can bring joy in this, and this is who he is.’

Mantoan wanted to bring that kind of spiritual and emotional support to other parents of children with special needs, too.

“Last summer I started looking around and couldn't find anything like what I was envisioning. We asked our pastor in August of 2018 if he would be supportive - he has a brother with Down’s syndrome who is very involved in our parish life, so we thought he would - and we got permission, set the date, and went ahead and started asking other special needs parents, you know, ‘What kind of talks and things would you want?’”

“We just started throwing things together willy nilly, and I quickly realized realized I needed to fundraise, it was very haphazard, a couple at our church stepped up and did all food and meals and logistics.”

“I'd run a conference before, I've run a major homeschool conference, so I'm like, 'Wow I'm totally qualified to plan something like this,'” Mantoan told CNA.

She called the conference’s inaugural installment  a “trial by fire learning experience,”

“It didn't totally squash my spirit,” she clarified. “It was hard for me at first to figure out how to get the word out reliably to everybody. I have an online presence, our keynote has an online presence, I just figured, well, if we get the word out...”

What Mantoan didn’t count on, however, was that she would find few diocesan offices had staff members responsible for ministry or formation with disabled Catholics.

Still, despite those initial difficulties, the first conference was an encouraging start, she said.

Several dozen parents came to Mater Ecclesiae Church in Berlin, NJ, for the April 27 conference, and a larger remote audience streamed online.

The conference featured a series of talks and expert panels by author Mary Lenaburg, David Rizzo, creator of the Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit, and National Catholic Bioethics Center ethicist DiAnn Ecret, onhand to provide insight into complex ethical scenarios including adverse prenatal diagnoses and known genetic susceptibility.

Rev. Matthew Schneider, the priest behind the Twitter handle @AutisticPriest, was also in attendance. Since announcing his autism diagnosis this spring, he has started a YouTube channel where he speaks openly about his life and ministry through the lens of autism.

Mantoan called Schneider, who live-tweeted the event, “a real ray of hope to parents of autistic kids who are wondering what the future may hold. He advocates for those with autism, but also speaks from the perspective of a priest and offers a unique insight on how to make parishes more open to disabled people.”

Keynote speaker Mary Lenaburg reminded attendees “my daughter - your children - are heralds for a new world … our children show us the face of God every single day.”

Looking toward next year’s event, Mantoan said, “I have to work at getting the word out more in advance so it's not such a surprise – logistics, not being well-known or established...it’s a work in progress, and there is no major network for Catholic special needs parents to connect – so we’re asking ourselves, how can we connect and share resources?”

“Many special needs parents are full time caregivers. They can’t leave. They can’t fly somewhere for multiple days of travel for an event. They are on 24/7. That’s who we most want to reach, and that’s why we streamed the content,” she said.

“This is for the frazzled stay-at-home caregiver who feels like they really can't get out, for whom it’s so hard to get that face to face support.”

“I know what it's like when you have a lot of little kids, a lot of special needs kids, you might feel isolated, might be the only special needs family in your parish,” she explained.  

When asked whether other factors affect Catholic special needs parents uniquely, Mantoan pointed out that family planning can be a big difficulty and source of stress.

“In so many families, you have a special needs child - especially with a grave medical condition, and that’s it, you’re done. You get sterilized, you stop having kids.”

Mantoan continued, “If you're a faithful Catholic and you have kids with genetic diseases or you are disabled with a genetic disease that makes childbirth dangerous, if you have a large family with disabilities, do you keep being open to life? How do you manage special needs parenting and continue living your life?”

“For us, for a long time, the whole family planning aspect was a huge struggle...When we got their diagnoses, it was like, oh, I have a 1 in 4 chance of having a child who also carries this disease.”

“It was difficult for a long time,” Mantoan admitted.

“Probably I can say within the last 3 years we've finally reached a point of peace. Basically up until that point, we were doing what the Church taught because we knew it was right, but we weren't happy about it.”

“We're still very, very prudent and very, very cautious with NFP, and I'm really excited we didn't go ahead and do something drastic like get sterilized. Thankfully we hadn't taken any permanent steps during all that difficulty.”

“I think that's the thing, you get to a point where you say ‘thank goodness we were faithful;’ it strengthened us as a couple. And my feelings now are totally different. My heart is in a different place in terms of what I can accept. We were really angry, and now we're really happy we were faithful. Because there is peace now, and our marriage is stronger.”

Online access to “Accepting the Gift” is still available at the Catholic Parents of Special Needs Children (CPSNC) website, and planning for next year’s event is underway.

“If you're in the middle of nowhere and your parish is telling you, ‘We don't know how to give your kids sacraments;’ if you don’t have support, if you feel isolated, we want to alleviate some of that for you, to help you understand what your rights are as Catholic parents, to help you navigate that,” Mantoan said.

“The message is that there is joy here; joy in accepting your kids and who they are, and joy even in the midst of suffering and hardship.”

 

Do sports, make friends, Pope says

Vatican City, May 24, 2019 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- In an address at a gathering of 6,000 young Italian soccer fans Friday, Pope Francis encouraged the sports enthusiasts to play sports in order to build friendships and teamwork, as an alternative to surface-level friendships made through technology.

“Sport is a great opportunity to learn to give the best of yourself, with sacrifice and commitment, but above all, not alone,” the Pope said May 24. “Listen carefully: sport, not alone.”

The event, entitled “The Football We Love,” was sponsored by local sports newspaper “La Gazzetta dello Sport” in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, University and Research, the Italian Football Federation, and the Serie A League.

“We live in a time when, thanks to the massive presence of new technologies, it is easy to isolate oneself, to create virtual bonds with many people, but at a distance,” the Holy Father told the children.

“The great thing about playing with a ball is being able to do it together with others, passing it in the middle of a field, learning to build the action of a game, joining together as a team...The ball becomes a means of inviting real people to share friendship,” he said.

“Dear friends: football is a team game: you can’t enjoy it alone!” he added.

European football, called soccer in the United States, is the most popular sport in Italy. The nation’s professional team has won the FIFA World Cup four times.

After addressing the children, Pope Francis also spoke to their parents. He encouraged them to help make sports a growing and learning opportunity for their children, who should be encouraged to do their best rather than to always win, he said.

He told parents to encourage their children “in difficult times, especially after a defeat ... And to help them understand that being on the bench is not a humiliation, but an opportunity to grow and an opportunity for another person.”

To the coaches and professional athletes present, Pope Francis reminded them to serve as good role models for the young athletes that look up to them.

“Everything you say and do, and the way in which you say and do it, is a lesson for your athletes, and as such will leave an indelible mark on their life, for better or for worse”, the Pope told coaches.

To the professional athletes, he said: “Do not forget where you started from: in that field in the outskirts of town, in that oratory, in that small club...I hope you will always feel gratitude for your history made up of sacrifices, victories and defeats. And may you also be aware of your educational responsibility, shown through consistency in life and solidarity with the weakest, encouraging the youngest to become great inside and maybe even champions in life.”

Pope Francis is a well-known football fan himself. His favorite team is San Lorenzo de Almagro, one of the most important teams in Argentina, and the Pope still keeps his associate membership card for the team.

He also played soccer as a child, but he has said in interviews that he was only a “patadura” - someone not very good at kicking the ball.

When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he celebrated Mass for the 100th anniversary of the San Lorenzo de Almagro sports club in 2008.

Five men charged amid Michigan clergy sex abuse investigation

Lansing, Mich., May 24, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- Five men who served in Michigan as Catholic priests have been charged with 21 counts of sex abuse, the state attorney general announced Friday.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said at May 24 press conference, reported by the New York Times. “We anticipate many more charges and arrests.”

She added: “Although we have charged these men with very serious crimes, I want to remind everyone that they are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.”

The five men are accused of abusing five individuals: four of them male, and one of them female, M-Live in Michigan reported. Four of the alleged victims were minors.

Those charged are: Timothy Crowley, 69, and Vincent DeLorenzo, 80, of the Diocese of Lansing; Patrick Casey, 55, of the Archdiocese of Detroit; Jacob Vellian, 84, of the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Kottayam, who served in the Diocese of Kalamazoo for one year in the 1970s; and Neil Kalina, 63, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, who served in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

One of the men was arrested in Michigan, while three others were arrested in Arizona, California, and Florida. The fifth, Vellian, could be extradited from his home country of India.

Casey was removed from ministry in 2015, and faces an ongoing canonical process. Kalina left active ministry in 1993. DeLorenzo was removed from ministry after the Lansing diocese receiving a complaint against him in 2002, and the diocese is seeking to have him dismissed from the clerical state. Crowley was removed from ministry after an allegation was made against him in 1993, and he has been dismissed from the clerical state.

Vellian is retired and resides at Bethsleehe Seminary, according to the MSP Society at the website of his archeparchy.

The charges were made during the ongoing statewide investigation into clergy abuse in the Catholic Church.

Michigan launched an investigation into Catholic clergy in September 2018, following the release of a Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania which detailed decades of abuse allegations against 300 Catholic priests in that state. It also followed the suspension of the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was accused of multiple counts of sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with seminarians. McCarrick was suspended from public ministry in July 2018, and was dismissed from the clerical state in January 2019.

After the announcement of the investigation in the fall of 2018, the dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit said at the time that they “looked forward” to cooperating with state officials and actively participating in the investigation. The archdiocese also emphasized its confidence in its safe environment practices already in place, but added that the investigation would be the next step toward healing.

So far, the Michigan investigation team has reviewed hundreds of tips, as well as hundreds of thousands of abuse-related documents that were seized in police raids of all seven Catholic dioceses in the state, M-Live reported. Most of the tips have come through a hotline established specifically for abuse.

Nessel said at the press conference that she believed only 5-10 percent of the documents had been reviewed thus far.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg...This is about taking on large-scale institutions that turn a blind eye to victims and making certain we hold all of them accountable – that includes unapologetically pursuing any and all individuals who abuse their power by victimizing our residents,” she said.

Ned McGrath, the public affairs director for the archdiocese, said at the news conference that the Archdiocese of Detroit continues to promise its full cooperation with authorities in the investigation.

In March of this year, Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the abuse investigation, which is expected to last two years.

In April of this year, Michigan State Rep. Beau LaFave told CNA that he was concerned that Nessel appeared to demonstrate an anti-Catholic bias over multiple previous statements made either in public or on social media.

Similar clergy sex abuse investigations have been launched in multiple states throughout the country, including in Georgia, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Nebraska.

Last year Michigan extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years after the incident in criminal cases and 10 in civil cases. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim's 28th birthday, whichever comes later. First-degree criminal sexual abuse, such as rape of a minor, has no statute of limitations in the state.

Newark church asks school to cover LGBT mural

Newark, N.J., May 24, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Newark has instructed a charter school to cover a pro-LGBT mural painted on church property.

Fr. Paul Prevosto, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Hackensack, instructed administrators at Bergen Arts and Science Charter School to paint over the mural on a cafeteria pillar, after parishioners complained that church property was being used for the display.

Bergen Arts and Science leases the school building from Holy Trinity. Both the church and the school share use of common spaces including the cafeteria, which the church uses the space for events and parties.

Several charter schools in different dioceses rent space from empty school buildings owner by parishes.

The mural was painted by a 16 year-old student “to support the LGBT community.” The painting featured a rainbow heart and interlocking abstract male figures, which were covered following the instruction.

Fr. Prevosto said that parishioners had come to him with concerns about the “sexual” depiction and that he had instructed the school to “take care of it.”

The lease agreement between the school and church states that “due to the Catholic nature of the Landlord, [the] Tenant promises to conduct no affairs or establish any organizations that would be contrary to its Catholic moral values, ethics and faith.”

According to reports in the Bergen Record, Fr. Prevosto was simply applying the terms of the lease in the light of concerns expressed by the church community and that anything "that would be contrary to our Catholic sensitivity should not be displayed or seen."

The non-profit organization which manages the school, iLearn Schools Inc., stressed the importance of mutual respect in resolving the situation.

“As a public school, we are inclusive, supportive, and respectful of the artistic expression of our students, and likewise are respectful of the directives of the church as a private entity and owners of the property,” iLearn said in a statement to local media.

LGBT activist organization Garden State Equality released a statement Friday demanding that the mural be restored and calling the church instruction “militant opposition to LGBTQ people.”

A statement released by the Archdiocese of Newark on May 23 said that the facts of the matter had been “grossly misrepresented” in local media reports, calling the situation “unfortunate.”

“The Archdiocese of Newark embraces and welcomes all within our faithful community,” the statement said.

“The Holy Trinity Church simply raised two concerns. First, that the school refrain from consistently painting on the building surfaces. Secondly, that the school remove some content in a new painting, which included some symbols of sexuality that were inappropriate for the building, as the building is utilized by parishioners of the Church, as well as the School.”

“Holy Trinity simply has asked the tenants to be cognizant of this when displaying information and materials. The mural violated that understanding in its permanent nature – directly painted on the surface – and in some of the content.”

Senators highlight pro-life protections ahead of 2020 spending bills

Washington D.C., May 24, 2019 / 01:35 pm (CNA).- A quarter of the Senate signed a letter on Wednesday seeking to keep pro-life and religious freedom protections intact during the drafting of upcoming appropriations bills.

The bills will be for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020, which begins this fall.

The letter, sent to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Wednesday, requested that the appropriations committee decline to advance any bills with language that would weaken or remove pro-life or pro-religious liberty measures out in place by the Trump administration.

Sentor Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is a member of the committee and a signatory of the letter, told CNA that he was committed to preventing a single dollar of public money being used to support abortion.

“Taxpayer dollars should not be used to end an innocent, unborn life,” Rubio told CNA.

“As a member of the committee, I am committed to retaining long-standing pro-life and religious freedom protections in all funding bills.”

In addition to Rubio, the letter was signed by 24 other Republican senators and cites specifically the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, which blocks funding to organizations that promote abortions; and the updated Title X rule, which prohibits Title X money from going to clinics that perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, is set to lose about millions of dollars in federal funding due to this new Title X rule.

“The unborn are the most vulnerable members of our society, yet they are under attack. In 2015 alone, 638,169 unborn children lost their lives to abortion,” reads the letter.

“We must continue to prevent federal funding from supporting the unjust practice of elective abortion.”

Recent polling indicates that most Americans are opposed to the use of taxpayer funding for abortions.

At the March for Life in 2019, President Trump promised to veto any legislation that weakens current law on abortion.

The senators who signed the letter “remain committed to ensuring that no such legislation ever makes it to the President’s desk” and will review the appropriations bill to ensure this is so.

Rubio told CNA that is was vital to oppose “divisive pro-abortion policies” and to “protect the dignity of life.”

Pope Francis urges Catholics to help children by supporting adoption

Vatican City, May 24, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Adoption is often a difficult and bureaucratic process, but there are many children who need homes and the Church should step up to help them, Pope Francis said Friday.

Speaking May 24 to employees and patients of an Italian hospital for abandoned children, he said, “so many times there are people who want to adopt children, but there is such enormous bureaucracy,” such as high fees or, at worst, corruption.

“[There are] many, many families who do not have children and would certainly have the desire to have one with adoption,” he continued. “Go forward, to create a culture of adoption, because there are so many abandoned children, alone, victims of war and so on.”

Pope Francis spoke about adoption in unprepared remarks during a Vatican meeting with 70 employees and children from the 600-year-old Hospital of the Innocents in Florence.

In both his casual remarks and a prepared speech, the pope referenced a past practice of some mothers when they abandoned a child at a hospital. They would leave with their newborns “medals broken in half, with which they hoped, by presenting the other half, to be able to recognize their children in better times.”

Today there continue to be many children who are alone, he added, whether victims of unaccompanied migration, of war, of hunger: “Children with half a medal.”

“And who has the other half? Mother Church,” he underlined. “We have the other half.”

“We need to reflect and make people understand that we are responsible for this other half and help make today another ‘home of the innocents,’ more global, with the attitude of adoption.”

Francis also said there must be a goal, at various levels of responsibility, of ensuring “no mother finds herself in a position of having to abandon her child.”

“But we must also ensure that in the face of any event, even tragic, that may detach a child from her parents, there are structures and paths of welcome in which childhood is always protected and cared for, in the only way worthy: giving children the best we can offer them,” he said.

The pope said children are among the most fragile members of society, such as those who are rejected, or who face “desperate journeys to escape hunger or war.”

Speaking about abortion, he said there are “children who do not see the light because their mothers suffer economic, social, cultural conditioning that pushes them to give up that wonderful gift that is the birth of a child.”

“How much we need a culture that recognizes the value of life, especially the weak, threatened, abused,” he said, adding that the Church should be concerned with creating a culture of care and beauty, not exclusion.

“A culture,” he argued, “that recognizes in every face, even the smallest, the face of Jesus: ‘Whoever welcomes one child like this in my name, welcomes me.’”

California advances bill to violate sacramental seal

Sacramento, Calif., May 24, 2019 / 09:38 am (CNA).- State senators in California have voted to approve a law that would require priests to violate the seal of confession. Senate Bill 360 passed Thursday by an overwhelming margin, with legislators voting 30-2 in favor of the measure.

The bill would require priests to report any knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained while hearing the confession of another priest or colleague.

In a statement released Friday, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said he was “deeply disappointed” by the result and insisted that strong child protection measures did not require the violation of the sanctity of the sacrament of confession.

A previous draft of the law would have compelled the violation of the sacramental seal any time a priest came to suspect abuse from any penitent. In a statement released Monday, Gomez acknowledged the changes but said that “no government, for whatever reason, should violate the privacy and confidentiality of that sacred conversation.”

“SB 360 still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

The sacramental seal is covered by civil law in many jurisdictions around the world. The “clergy-penitent privilege” is widely regarded as a fundamental exercise of religious liberty.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

Despite the volume of investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis no data exists establishing or indicating the use of sacramental confession either to facilitate or perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors.

Critics of the proposed legislation have noted that sacramental confession between accomplices is invalid unless in imminent danger of death, as is the absolution of a penitent who intends to reoffend.

Similar legislation is currently under consideration in Western Australia, following the recommendations of a Royal Commission report into clerical sexual abuse.

While the commission's executive summary states that "the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed... to inadequate institutional responses to abuse," it does not provide data detailing the frequency of that contribution.

South Australia and the Northern Territory have already passed similar laws mandating that clergy report suspected abuse in violation of the seal of confession.

Despite the interventions of Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, Western Australia’s Child Protection Minister, Simone McGurk, said the matter was non-negotiable.

"I've received calls from the Archbishop of Perth, as has the [Prime Minister], but we think the time for discussion about this has passed,” McGurk said.

“I understand that is the Catholic Church's position, however as a Government we have an obligation to put in place laws and to implement those laws to make sure that children in our community are safe and that is what we are doing."

Canon law describes the seal of the confessional to be “inviolable”, and priests are “absolutely forbidden” to disclose the sins of a penitent “in any way, for any reason.” Violation of the seal by a priest is a grave crime against the faith and is punished by an automatic excommunication which can be augmented with other penalties, including dismissal from the clerical state.  

Former airline pilot appointed to lead diocese of Saginaw, MI

Vatican City, May 24, 2019 / 04:53 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Friday named Bishop Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City, South Dakota, the next bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan.

In Saginaw, Gruss succeeds Bishop Joseph Robert Cistone, who died Oct. 16, 2018 at the age of 69, after a battle with lung cancer. Bishop Walter A. Hurley, bishop emeritus of Grand Rapids, has overseen the administration of the diocese since Cistone’s death.

Gruss, 63, was bishop of Rapid City since 2011, where he led 25,000 Catholics across an area of around 43,000 square miles. In March 2019, the bishop announced the diocese would be celebrating a “Year of the Eucharist” beginning June 23.

A native of Arkansas, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa in 1994, after a career as a commercial airline pilot and aviation instructor.

During his seminary formation, Gruss was a student at the Pontifical North American College in Rome (PNAC), studying sacred theology. He also received a master’s degree in spiritual theology.

He was the vice rector and director of human formation at the PNAC from 2007 to 2010, before returning to serve as pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa.

In 2017, as the bishop of Rapid City, Gruss opened the cause for canonization of Nicholas Black Elk, a Lakota medicine man turned Catholic catechist who died in 1950.

If Black Elk is canonized, he will be the first official saint from the Diocese of Rapid City, according to his biography on the diocese website.

“From a very young age, there was an openness to the Spirit of God in his life,” Gruss said about Black Elk at the Mass for the opening of his cause. “God used a personal invitation from a Jesuit priest to lead this child of God, Black Elk, down a new path to becoming this great disciple in the Catholic faith for the Lakota people.”

Gruss’ installation Mass is set for July 26 in Saginaw.

The Diocese of Saginaw spans 11 counties and 6,955 square miles in mid-Michigan, and has around 100,000 Catholics.