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Supreme Court rejects appeal in Tennessee death row case

Washington D.C., Oct 12, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A previously delayed execution in Tennessee will likely go ahead after the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a convicted murderer currently on death row. The decision was made Oct. 11.

The appeal argued that Tennessee’s lethal injection program was inhumane and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Writing in opposition to the decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the failure to take the case amounted to “complicity in state-sponsored brutality.”

The appeal by Edmund Zagorski followed an unsuccessful application for executive clemency which he presented to Gov. Bill Haslam in September. In that application, he requested that his sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole, expressing regret for his crimes and sorrow to the victim’s families. That application was denied.

Edmund Zagorski, 63, was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder of two men who had met him to buy drugs.

The Catholic bishops of Tennessee had previously spoken out against Zagoski’s planned execution.

“We recognize that the pain, suffering, and loss of life caused by Mr. Zagorski more than thirty years ago has negatively impacted many people, and we agree that the state has a right to expect punishment for those crimes,” Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville and Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville wrote in an Oct. 10 statement, released before the Supreme Court’s decision.

“However,” the bishops underscored, “we remain firmly opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases.”

The bishops cited the teaching of the Church and the statements of several popes, particularly Pope Francis’ August change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which now teaches that "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

“The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is simply not necessary when society has other means to protect itself and provide a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life,” the two Tennessee bishops wrote.

Zagorski’s clemency application included sworn statements from six of the jurors from his trial in 1984, who said that had the option been available to them, they would have given Zagorski life in prison without parole.

Today, all 30 states that impose the death penalty give jurors the option of life without parole; in Tennessee life without parole can now be imposed at the request of just one juror. Zagorski’s attorneys argue that he would have been given that sentence rather than death if it had been an option in 1984.

At that time, the only sentencing options available to the jury were life in prison with the possibility of parole, or death, according to the Nashville Scene.

The wife of one of Zagorski’s victims has stated that she did not oppose clemency being granted. In addition, his application included a statement from a prison correctional officer detailing Zagorski’s apparent improvement of character while in prison. The counselor described a notable occasion when Zagorski helped to break up a fight between other inmates.

Governor Haslam said in a statement denying the clemency petition that Zagorski’s good behavior in prison did not excuse the murder of the two victims.

Zagorski was originally scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection Oct. 11. Just three hours before the execution was scheduled to take place, Governor Haslam issued a ten-day delay for the state to consider his request to die by electric chair rather than lethal injection.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit had granted a stay of his execution the day before, Oct. 10, after the Zagorski’s lawyers argued that he had been given ineffective legal counsel during his trial.

Later in the evening of Oct. 11, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision and declined to hear Zagorski’s case, which would have considered the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection protocol.

Justices Sotomayor and Breyer disagreed with the court’s opinion, citing evidence that the drugs used in lethal injections caused severe pain and led to “inhumane” executions.

“Capital prisoners are not entitled to pleasant deaths under the Eighth Amendment, but they are entitled to humane deaths,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “The longer we stand silent amid growing evidence of inhumanity in execution methods like Tennessee’s, the longer we extend our own complicity in state-sponsored brutality.”

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Zagorski’s execution is likely to go ahead at the end of the ten-day delay imposed by Gov. Haslam, during which the state will consider the inmate’s request to be put to death by electrocution. Once that decision is made, the state Supreme Court will then issue a new execution date for Zagorski.

Tennessee last carried out a three-drug lethal injection execution in August, the state’s first since 2009, after Governor Haslam denied a clemency request from Billy Ray Irick. The drug used in that execution, midazolam, has widely been reported to cause extreme pain during execution.

In July, ahead of Irick’s execution, Bishop Spalding and Bishop Stika were joined by Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis and wrote a joint letter to Gov. Haslam asking him to put an end to the death penalty in the state.

Orthodox Patriarch commits to independent Ukrainian Church, snubs Moscow

Istanbul, Turkey, Oct 11, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, leader of the global Orthodox Church, has issued a statement confirming plans for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and restored ties with the previously schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate.

The announcement, released Oct. 11, also removed the traditional right of the Russian Patriarch to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, a move which will likely be perceived as a deliberate slight to Moscow.

Fr. Alexander Laschuk, a Byzantine Catholic priest, canon lawyer, and professor at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, told CNA that the announcement was an “incredibly bold move” by Bartholomew, one likely to have real consequences for the global Orthodox Church.

The announcement was released by the office of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, following a regular session of the synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, held Oct. 9-11.

The meeting included bishops of the ecumenical patriarchate itself and its other territories, such as Greek Orthodox bishops in the United States, but was not inclusive of the wider orthodox community as each self-governing Church is independent.

“The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length the ecclesiastical matter of Ukraine,” the statement said, introducing a number of resolutions on the future of the Orthodox Church in that country.

The first of these was to “renew the decision already made that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine.”

The statement also said that Metropolitan Filaret Denisenko, leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, had been restored to full communion along with its members.

Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are currently divided into three separate groups.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate effectively declared itself independent from Moscow in 1992, and is considered by the Russian Church to be a schismatic group. Until now, the other Orthodox Churches have recognized Ukraine as under Moscow’s jurisdiction and honored the excommunication.

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, re-founded in 1990, is similarly seen as a breakaway group.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is under the authority of the Russian Church and has been the officially recognized Orthodox Church in the country.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s plan to create a single, self-governing Church in the Ukraine, led by its own patriarch, is motivated by a desire to unify the country’s 30 million Orthodox Christians. The Russian Church sees the move as an infringement of its jurisdiction and authority.

Fr. Laschuk explained that while Metropolitan Filaret had originally been appointed by the Patriarch of Moscow, he was excommunicated by the Russian Church in 1997.

“When Ukraine gained political independence from Russia, they wanted ecclesial independence also. The Ukrainian Church declared themselves independent. It was a political anathema related to authority, not a theological question.”

By restoring communion with Filaret, Bartholomew has essentially reasserted his position at the center of the global Orthodox Church, pointedly nullifying the previous Russian anathema.

“The fact of restoring Metropolitan Filaret to the communion of the Church, as he had been deposed and anathematized by the Moscow Patriarchate, is critical,” Lashcuk told CNA.

“It emphasizes the Ecumenical Patriarch’s role as arbitrator, it restores millions of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine to the communion of the larger Orthodox community, and it will certainly be seen as a huge insult to Moscow.”

Independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been a fiercely contested subject between the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, with the Russian Church insisting on its traditional - and politically enforced - authority in the country.

In recent months, tensions have escalated between the two leaders.

In September, the Patriarch of Constantinople sent two personal envoys to the Ukraine, where they met with both government and church leaders in preparation for the creation of an independent Ukrainian Patriarchate. Both Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and Bishop Hilarion of Edmonton were present during the recent synod meeting.

Following the arrival of the two bishop-envoies in Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow announced last month that he would no longer mention Bartholomew in official prayers, or celebrate liturgies together with him.

Thursday’s announcement contained further direct measures against Moscow’s traditional influence in Ukrainian ecclesiastical affairs. In addition to confirming the formation of an independent Ukrainian Church and returning Filaret to the Orthodox fold, Bartholomew revoked a canonical letter, first issued in 1686, granting the Russian Patriarch the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv.

“Basically, Bartholomew has firmly stated that Ukraine is in Constantinople’s canonical territory, and has removed the Metropolis of Kyiv from the Patriarchate of Moscow’s authority,” Lashcuk said.

He told CNA that the decision by Constantinople to assert itself would likely provoke real fallout, but that it appeared to be a principled decision.

“I think the Ecumenical Patriarch has decided to do what he thinks is right, regardless of the politics involved, including a large Church that is completely codependent on its authoritarian state.”

UK Supreme Court rules in favor of Christian bakery

London, England, Oct 10, 2018 / 11:45 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has reached a unanimous verdict in favor of the right of a Christian-owned bakery not to create a cake in support of gay marriage. The decision, given Oct. 10, brings an end to a case which began in 2014.

The court found that Ashers bakery did not discriminate against Gareth Lee when it refused an order for a cake with an image of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and the inscription “Support Gay Marriage.”

Writing for the court, Lady Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court, determined that support for gay marriage was a political stance and as such was the subject of the bakery’s objection.

The court found that since support for gay marriage was not limited to gay people, or necessarily determined by one’s sexual orientation, declining to bake a cake with that message could not be seen as an act of discrimination based on the sexual orientation of the person ordering it or those associated with him.

“The objection was to being required to promote the message on the cake. The less favorable treatment was afforded to the message not to the man,” the court said. “In a nutshell, the objection was to the message and not to any particular person or persons.”

Mr. Lee, who is gay, ordered the cake in May 2014. Amy McArthur, who runs the bakery with her husband Daniel, initially took the order, saying she raised no objection at the time because she wished to consider how to explain her objection and to spare Mr. Lee any embarrassment.

Mrs. McArthur telephoned Mr. Lee a few days later and explained that his order could not be fulfilled because they were a Christian business and could not print the slogan requested. She apologized to Mr. Lee and he was given a full refund.

During the hearing of the case, the MacArthurs made it clear that they had served Mr. Lee in the past and would happily do so again in the future.

Ashers bakery is named after a biblical reference from chapter 49 of the book of Genesis, “Bread from Asher shall be rich and he shall yield royal dainties.”

Mr. Lee was supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which believed that Ashers had discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation – a protected class under UK law – and Mr. Lee’s political beliefs. According to the Supreme Court’s decision, the message to be put on the cake constituted compelled speech for the bakery.

“What matters is that by being required to produce the cake they were being required to express a message with which they deeply disagreed,” wrote Lady Hale. The court’s decision compared the order, in the context of the bakers’ Christian beliefs, to asking a Christian publisher to print atheist pamphlets.

Mr. Lee said that the Supreme Court’s verdict had "implications for all of the gay community" and made him feel like a second-class citizen.

Speaking outside the court in Westminster, Mr. MacArthur said that “I know a lot of people will be glad to hear this ruling today, because this ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone."

Many court-watchers had highlighted similarities in the case to that of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Human Rights Commission, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. In a postscript to the decision’s argumentation, Lady Hale underscored the differences between the two cases, noting that in Masterpiece the dispute centered on the event the cake was intended for, a gay wedding, and not an actual message written on it.

Speaking for the Coalition for Marriage, a U.K.-based alliance of both secular and religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage by the state, Dr. Sharon James said that “This is a great day for commonsense and free speech.”

“The Supreme Court concluded that there was no discrimination on grounds of religious belief or political opinion, no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and this case was about the message, not the messenger,” she said in a statement.

John O’Doherty, director of the Rainbow Alliance, said that while some people might be “sympathetic” to the position in which Ashers found itself, “this does not change the facts of the case. We believe this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”

O’Doherty said his organization, would “take time to study this judgment by the Supreme Court to understand fully its implications for the rights of LGBT people to access goods, facilities and services without discrimination."

The decision was welcomed by Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, a member of the UK’s governing coalition and the largest party in Northern Ireland. She told reporters that the ruling was “seminal and historic”.

She paid tribute to the MacArthurs saying “I commend Amy and Daniel McArthur for their grace and perseverance. This now provides clarity for people of all faiths and none."

Lack of safeguards in Irish abortion bill 'an affront to conscience'

Dublin, Ireland, Oct 8, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Irish bishops on Friday lamented that the draft bill to legalize abortion in the Republic would require pro-life healthcare professionals to provide abortion referrals, calling the provision “an affront to conscience.”

“The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 poses a very real practical and moral dilemma for healthcare professionals who believe in the fundamental human right to life and in their own responsibility to serve life,” read an Oct. 5 statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference.

They noted that the bill envisages that in the first twelve weeks, abortion will generally be chemically induced.

“This presumes that pharmacists, whether in hospitals or in private practice, will routinely stock and dispense drugs whose specific purpose is to end human life. No provision is made for pharmacists to opt out on the grounds of conscientious objection.”

The bishops added that while the bill allows doctors and nurses to opt out of providing abortion, it nevertheless “requires that … they refer the patient to a colleague who will perform the procedure. This requirement may have the appearance of respecting freedom of conscience but, in reality, it requires a healthcare professional to cooperate in what he or she sincerely believes is doing harm to one patient and taking the life of another.”

“We ask the Government, and wider society, to respect the right of all healthcare professionals and pharmacists to exercise conscientious objection not only by refusing to participate actively in abortion but also by declining to refer their patients to others for abortion,” the bishops said.

They said, “Healthcare professionals, pharmacists and ancillary healthcare workers, should not face legal, professional or financial penalties or any form of discrimination for their commitment to respect life.”

A significant number of general practitioners in the Republic of Ireland are appealing not to be forced to refer patients to other doctors for abortions.

The bishops noted that in New Zealand, healthcare professionals “opt in” to the provision of abortion, rather than opting out; nor are those who object to the procedure obliged to provide referrals for it.

“We believe that the Government, by following this approach, could demonstrate respect for the freedom of conscience of healthcare professionals. We ask politicians, whatever their position on the termination of pregnancy, to work towards this.”

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris criticized the opt-in stance, which is supported by the National Association of General Practitioners. In June, the group of 2,000 practitioners unanimously voted in favor of the “opt-in” method.

The Irish bishops said that freedom of conscience is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that “to strip a person of the right to freedom of conscience is to undermine his or her fundamental dignity as a person.”

“At this challenging time, we encourage all Catholics to pray for healthcare professionals and to pray for politicians that they, and we too, may have the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do what is right.”

Ireland faces a potential shortage of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a March survey of Irish healthcare professionals found that that roughly seven out of 10 general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar clarified to the Dáil in June that individual medical professionals will be able to opt out of performing abortions, but entire hospitals will not be able to do so. Many publicly-funded hospitals have historic ties to the Catholic Church and operate under Catholic ethics.

40,000 young people in Warsaw pray together for synod

Warsaw, Poland, Oct 8, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- About 40,000 young people gathered Saturday at the National Stadium in Warsaw to pray for the synod of bishops taking place in Rome this month.

The 12-hour gathering on Oct. 6 included prayer, conferences, and testimonies, as well as concerts and artistic shows, according to a release from the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

The Oct. 3-28 synod is focused on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment, and bishops from Poland have been participating in the synod in Rome since it began last week. Some of the topics of discussion the Polish bishops have participated in include intergenerational relationships, social media, sport, and pastoral care.

Organizers said Youth at the Stadium was the largest meeting of young people being held during the synod.

“We want to connect spiritually with the synod and pray for it,” said Fr. Rafał Jarosiewicz, the event’s organizer.

“[The service] was dedicated to those who have lost God somewhere on the paths of their lives, as well as those who know Him but need to be strengthened and want to move ahead.”

Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw thanked the young people following Mass at the gathering for the bond with the synod and Pope Francis.

“This is a synod about you and for you! You are the hope of the Church. You are the hope of the world,” Cardinal Nycz said.

In addition to the prayer rallies, a designated group of young people keep watch and pray for the synod’s intentions at the Jasna Góra shrine in Częstochowa. The shrine is home to the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also called the “Black Madonna,” is greatly revered by Poles and is a pilgrimage site for Catholics from across Europe.

The Polish Bishop’s Conference said over 122,000 young people from Poland have prayed for the Synod Assembly during a “prayer relay” and other youth events.

Help us live a faith that truly heals, young Scottish Catholics tell synod

Edinburgh, Scotland, Oct 5, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic faith lived and taught with integrity is needed to help heal and renew the lives of young adults today, a group of young Catholics in Scotland have said in a letter about the Synod of Bishops on Young People.

“Young Catholics are inspired by the heroic virtue espoused by the Church, in opposition to the cynicism and pessimism of postmodern culture. A faith that merely legitimizes the habits we would otherwise have anyway is simply not worth it,” they said.

The September letter is addressed to Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, one of the bishops attending the synod in Rome. It was signed by more than 100 Catholics aged 18-35 who live in Scotland.

For these young Catholics, priests who proclaim orthodox Catholic teaching in its fullness with “joy and courage” are not “out of touch.”

Instead, they have “brought the light of Christ into our lives, and really offered us His Mercy – the remedy for a broken world, which does not pretend human brokenness is irremediable, but truly heals and gives the grace we need to live new lives of virtue.”

“To those priests, we are unendingly grateful,” they said. “Sadly, far too few young people have encountered this fullness of the faith lived out visibly and confidently.”

More than 300 participants have gathered in Rome, including clerics and religious, as well as 49 auditors, among them 36 young people from around the world. The Synod of Bishops is meeting Oct. 3-28 to discuss young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.

The synod’s working document outlined a number of themes for discussion including vocational discernment and the transmission of the faith. It asked how the Church can better engage with young people on issues such as sexuality and gender, social justice themes including racism, migration, and economic exclusion, and the place of young people as leaders in their communities.

In their letter, the young Scots objected to suggestions that difficult aspects of Church teaching on faith and morals “need to be downplayed, or even put aside, in order to be relevant to people’s lives and sensitive to their difficulties.”

“Some even imply that priests who hold to orthodox teaching are out of touch with the lives of lay people, and of young people especially,” said the letter. “However, it is in fact this line of thought that is utterly in contradiction to our lived experience.”

In their experience, these young Catholics said, what has made them become or remain Catholic amid increasing cultural pressure are the “uniquely Catholic” aspects of the faith, compared to what is found in social clubs, NGOs or political parties.

“What matters is precisely the Church’s claim to truth; Her liturgy and Sacraments; Her transcendent doctrine, communicated in teaching but also through beauty and goodness; Her understanding of the human person, laid out so powerfully for the modern world by St John Paul II; and Her moral teaching, that while so very challenging, also offers the only path to true joy and human flourishing as we see in the lives of the saints,” the letter continued. “These are the things that convince us that here is something worth the sacrifice, something good for us and for every human being.”

Citing the God-given blessings of encounters, pastors, and religious formation that others have not had, they said, “we desperately want to share this great gift with so many lapsed and non-Catholics among our family, friends, and colleagues, who have not rejected Catholicism but a poorly-understood shadow of it.”

“If the synod is to bear fruit, it is with this task that it must help us,” they added, advocating that Catholic communities be “permeated with a Catholic worldview” and unashamed when such a view is “very different” from the prevailing culture. They advocated the extension of the sacramental life beyond Mass to help solidify Catholics’ “foundation for existence.”

“We must draw on our rich heritage to ensure the liturgy is celebrated with beauty and splendor so as to reveal and draw us into the profound mysteries taking place,” their letter said. They emphasized the need for various examples of joyful Christian vocations in parishes and dioceses to help them discern God’s will “not in isolation but in an ecclesial context.”

“Young Catholics find priests who live their vocation to celibacy faithfully and joyfully to be highly credible witnesses to the joys and challenges of life in Christ,” they said.

The challenges facing Catholic marriage today was also a topic of the letter.

“To a large extent, Catholic married life has come to be treated as little different from secular relationships,” they said. Economic and social structures presume contraceptive use and make it difficult for couples to live faithfully.

“So many of our generation are living with the consequences of broken families, and this has engendered a cynicism about marriage,” continued the letter. “However, these young people have never been shown an alternative and therefore the Church has a great opportunity and obligation to clearly, confidently, and joyfully proclaim the truth about marriage.”

They stressed the need for parishes to be “consciously supportive” of the married vocation, saying young Catholics have a right to hear the truth about marriage. The family fosters vocaions and is a foundation for an “authentic renewal” of Catholicism, they said.

Ireland adopts policy aimed at Catholic school admissions

Dublin, Ireland, Oct 5, 2018 / 10:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law in the Republic of Ireland will prohibit primary schools from taking religion into account in admissions, a practice known as the “baptism barrier.”

Previously, when a religious school was full, the admission process to determine which students would move off the waiting list could take religion into account.

The decision to ban Catholic schools from prioritizing Catholic students on wait lists is being criticized as discriminatory, since it would not apply to other religious schools. The Catholic Church runs more than 90 percent of schools in Ireland, which also receive government funds.

Although Catholic schools will no longer be able to use religion as a deciding factor in admissions, schools of minority religious groups, such as the Church of Ireland, can still use religion as a deciding factor to protect their ethos.

Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Skills, signed reforms Oct. 3 that amend a section of the Equal Status Act 2000.

The new rules will apply to oversubscribed schools, which are mainly found in urban areas. Schools with extra space will be obliged to accept all applicants, regardless of religion, according to the Irish Times.

Bruton justified the changes by saying he wanted make it easier for parents to access their local schools and schools that meet their needs. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said they had not received specific guidelines on how to change their admission policies, the Irish Times reported.

Catholic organizations within Ireland have expressed worry that Catholic children and their parents could end up discriminated against under the new proposal, which they also fear could threaten the ethos of schools’ Catholic education.

The Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools, Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, and Association of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland have all spoken out against the changes.

Ireland’s Constitution protects the right to religious education and also has protections against religious discrimination. It acknowledges the right of parents to “provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.”

Ahead of Brexit, Irish fear border tensions and split parishes

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Oct 5, 2018 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders fear a revival of border tensions in Ireland following Brexit. As the United Kingdom prepares for its withdrawal from the European Union, Catholics in parishes and dioceses split by the border are concerned that any return to a “hard border” could mean real effects on their day-to-day lives.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of All-Ireland, has spoken of his own concerns and said he remembers the days of a hard border. Speaking to the Irish Catholic newspaper Sept. 27, he discussed how the reality of the physical divide shaped the community.

Martin grew up near two of Derry’s major border checkpoints. These were “heavily fortified” and themselves became “symbols of division and therefore attracted violence, attacks, and indeed death and destruction,” he recounted.

The border was one of the concerns he discussed during his September trip to Poland for the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, held Sept. 13-16 in Poznan. The council includes bishops from 39 European bishops’ conferences.

“I therefore expressed the nervousness of the communities that live on the border that any return to border structures and barriers could attract violence and could become sparks or tinderboxes for strife once more,” said Martin.

The Archdiocese of Armagh, which traces its origins back to the ministry of St. Patrick in the fifth century, is divided by the border, with 40 percent of its Catholics in the Republic of Ireland and 60 percent in Northern Ireland.

Martin said other European bishops were intrigued by a diocese and its parishes divided by a political border, which is “quite unusual” in Europe.

Several of the bishops there voiced concerns about Brexit, set to take effect March 29, 2019, the final terms of which are still unclear.

The 310-mile border between the Republic of Ireland and British province of Northern Ireland will be the only land border between the UK and the EU. With both countries currently under the EU’s shared legal framework, the once fiercely contested border has been effectively invisible for decades.

In June 2016, UK citizens voted to leave the European Union by 52 to 48 percent. More locally, 56 percent of Northern Ireland’s voters wanted to remain. While the terms of the UK’s departure remain under negotiation, concerns have been raised that a British exit from the EU’s free-trade area and customs union could require a return to some formal barrier between the two jurisdictions along the Irish border.

Archbishop Martin said he had discussed with Europe’s bishops how the European movement was crucial to the peace process in Ireland, telling the Irish Catholic newspaper that “the solidarity of other European countries formed a very important backdrop and canvas upon which the Irish peace process was written.”

He praised the work of Northern Ireland politician John Hume, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on peace in Ireland.

In Martin’s words, Hume “effectively used the European platform to bring us beyond the kind of squabbles and narrow understanding of nationalism which could itself engender strife and division.”

“Hume was very much somebody who spoke about our common belonging to Europe as something that lifted us beyond the interior strifes and struggles that could happen between near neighbors. In other words, he was about bridges rather than borders,” the archbishop said.

The border dates back to a partition agreement in 1921, leaving Northern Ireland predominantly with pro-union Protestants. The Republic of Ireland gained full independence in 1948. The following decades saw Irish Republican Army bombing campaigns along the border. This was followed by violence between republican and unionist paramilitaries within Northern Ireland itself, further complicated by British military intervention, from the late 1960s through the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998.

The period of violence, collectively known as “the Troubles,” killed 3,500 people, mostly non-combatants, Bloomberg News says.

The tensions, largely divided along Catholic-Protestant lines, resulted in many physical barriers. In the Northern Irish capital of Belfast, tall barricades still separate some Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.

But following recent decades of stability, many young people have no memory of a physical border.

Some families have members on both sides of the border. Workers, businessmen, university students, shoppers and other visitors could face increased difficulties traveling to businesses or schools. Medical patients could be cut off from the closest hospitals.

Farmers and fishermen also face their own difficulties.

In the County Armagh border village of Jonesborough, one village church is in Northern Ireland, and its graveyard is in the Republic of Ireland.

Jonesborough area resident and farmer Damian McGenity told Public Radio International of his own fears.

“My wife works in the south, we get fuel and food in the south, I buy farm supplies in the south,” he said. “Socially, if you go out to a restaurant, or see a football game, you would typically go to Dundalk in the south. All of that would be disrupted.”

During the Troubles, the customs post at the nearby village Killeen was the site of many bombings and shootings.

“Nobody wants to go back to any kind violence or trouble,” McGenity said. “Absolutely not. But when you create the situation or the possibility of it, you take the lid off the Pandora’s Box. It’s madness, when there is complete peace here.”

EU leaders have been negotiating in Salzburg and an EU leaders’ summit is set for Brussels later this month. Oct. 17-18, Reuters reports. EU officials and diplomats hope for an agreement on a final withdrawal treaty offer, with further declarations on a future UK-EU trading relationship.

The situation is further complicated by the presence of the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in Northern Ireland, in the governing coalition of British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mrs. May has agreed with Republic of Ireland leaders on the need for a “backstop” to ensure the border remains completely open to trade, people and services if no agreement is reached in time for formal UK withdrawal. At the same time, she has agreed to meet DUP concerns about maintaining its regulatory unity with the rest of the UK and preventing the creation of a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the kingdom, which the DUP fears could further loosen political unity between the province and the rest of the country.

The EU is backing a “common regulatory area” between Ireland and the UK in Northern Ireland to protect its regulatory standards and its shared single-market between EU members. The UK Parliament remains divided between those seeking a “Brexit of least resistance” which would minimize economic and regulatory disruption, and those favoring a so-called “hard” or “clean” Brexit which, it is argued, could boost the UK’s freedom to broker free-trade agreements with other countries.

In Scotland, flying the Vatican flag 'provocatively' could be criminal

Edinburgh, Scotland, Oct 4, 2018 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Police Scotland maintains that “if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered,” the display of the Vatican flag could be a criminal act.

Scotland has experienced significant sectarian division since the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century, which led to the formation of the Church of Scotland, an ecclesial community in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition which is the country's largest religious community.

Sectarianism and crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism have been on the rise in Scotland in recent years. Football hooliganism in the country can be linked to sectarian football clubs.

“It would be very concerning if the Vatican flag was in any circumstance deemed offensive,” a Church spokesman said, according to the Scottish Catholic Observer.

The Herald obtained the Police Scotland document which shows symbols and flags, the “provocative” use of which could be a crime.

“Whilst the display of the following flags is not an offence, in itself, if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, constitute a common law Breach of the Peace or an offence under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2000,” the police document stated.

Among the flags deemed potentially criminal are those of the Vatican, Israel, Ireland, Palestine, Catalonia, and the Basque Country.

“If they are altered to contain a reference to a proscribed organisation they may constitute an offence under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000.”

“Irrespective of the above, the possession of these flags within a football ground may constitute a breach of ground regulations.”

Police Scotland Chief Superindendent John McKenzie said that “often flags themselves are not the issue but the criminal conduct that accompanies them is. This could include, but is not limited to, threatening gestures or words, or flags being amended to show support for a proscribed terrorist group or amendments which constitute a hate crime.”

And a spokesman for the Scottish government said, “It is not an offence to fly the flag of the Vatican or any other country.”

A Church spokesman noted that the Vatican flag “has been flown proudly in Scotland on the occasion of two Papal visits without upset or incident and its use should not be restricted in any way.”

Sectarianism has been a problem in Scotland in recent years.

Glasgow has rerouted Protestant marches associated with the Orange Order.

An April poll of Catholics in Scotland found that 20 percent reported personally experiencing abuse of prejudice toward their faith; and a government report on religiously-motivated crime in 2016 and 2017 found a concentration of incidents in Glasgow.

Cardinal Nichols to face questions about British abuse case

London, England, Oct 4, 2018 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Amid a British investigation into sexual abuse, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster is expected to face questions regarding the way his archdiocese handled allegations of misconduct made against his predecessor, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor.

Nichols is scheduled to testify in November before the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse, a panel established by the British government in 2014, charged with reviewing sexual abuse and institutional response in the country’s Catholic dioceses, the Anglican Church, and other British institutions. 

In his most recent letter, released to media on Sept. 27, former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano alleged that Pope Francis was responsible for halting “the investigation of sex abuse allegations against Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor.”

Sources close to the case have told CNA the investigation was marked by procedural irregularities long before it reached Rome, and before the election of Pope Francis.

“It was deference, plain and simple,” one Church official in Britain told CNA, alleging that the matter was not handled according to established Church procedures because it involved a senior Church figure.

A source familiar with the case told CNA that the government inquiry might also solicit files from British dioceses in order to get clarity on that charge.

“If IICSA wanted to go into the matter properly and see who did what when,” a source familiar with the case told CNA, “they could do worse than ask for the files from all the dioceses involved. I suspect they would find a pretty clear picture of who was asking Westminster to act, and how little was done in response.”

Those files would most likely be solicited from the Diocese of Westminster and the Diocese of Portsmouth, which are reportedly most connected to the case.

Murphy-O’Connor was Archbishop of Westminster, the diocese that ecompasses most of London and its metropolitan area, from 2000-2009. He died in September 2017, at the age of 85.

The cardinal was accused of child sexual abuse in December 2008, while he was still Westminster’s archbishop. Sources with immediate knowledge of the allegations told CNA that it was alleged that, decades earlier, the cardinal had sexually abused a girl when she was between 13 and 14 years old.

Sources familiar with the case told CNA that the alleged victim first presented her allegation against Murphy-O’Connor to Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton. Before he became a bishop, Doyle was a priest in the Diocese of Portsmouth, where the alleged victim lived, and he offered pastoral support to her as a parish priest. Doyle had continued to provide pastoral support to the woman after he was named bishop, sources told CNA.

Because the complaint concerned the Archbishop of Westminster and a resident of the Diocese of Portsmouth, Doyle’s diocese immediately forwarded the allegations to those dioceses.

Murphy-O’Connor’s alleged victim had previously reported being sexually abused by another English priest, Fr. Michael Hill. Those accusations were found to be substantiated. Hill was eventually imprisoned after pleading guilty to several counts of child sexual abuse.

Murphy-O’Connor was bishop of Hill’s diocese, Arundel and Brighton when allegations against the priest were made, and the cardinal has been heavily criticized for his handling of the Hill case. The priest was removed from ministry and sent for psychiatric treatment in the early 1980s, but Murphy-O’Connor subsequently reinstated him to ministry, making him in 1985 the chaplain to Gatwick Airport, where he went on to abuse again.

A source with knowledge of the event told CNA that in April 2009, after his resignation as Archbishop of Westminster was accepted but before the arrival of his successor Vincent Nichols, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was interviewed by Kent Police. Also present at this meeting, the source told CNA, was Westminster auxiliary Bishop John Arnold.

The police interview was reportedly conducted “under caution,” a term which means that there are grounds to suspect the subject of a crime, and his testimony could be used in court. A subject is informed of his rights before such an interview is conducted.

Spokesmen for Kent Police declined to comment further on the matter.

Despite the police investigation, the Westminster diocese reportedly did not progress with an internal Church investigation of the matter.

According to British Church procedures concerning sexual abuse allegations, an allegation against a diocesan bishop is to be referred to a different diocese which must determine if the accused bishop should be temporarily removed from public ministry. Vatican authorities are also to be informed, along with the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) and the chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission.

According to the policy, those initial steps are to be completed within one working day.

Canon law requires that a diocesan investigation of a sexual abuse allegation must determine if there is a “semblance of truth” to the claim. This process, canon lawyers say, is not a trial, and rules out only those cases judged to be “manifestly false or frivolous.”

All other cases must be sent to Rome for further consideration at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which determines how the canonical process should proceed.

According to sources with direct knowledge of the case, the Archdiocese of Westminster did not hand the allegation over to another diocese for a preliminary investigation or inform the Vatican.

Sources close to the case have told CNA that they did not find the claim made against Murphy-O’Connor to be immediately compelling- one source called the allegation “fantastical,” adding that it was “hard to believe, even incredible.” At issue, the source said, is not whether the allegation would be proven true, but whether the Church would make good on its promise to treat every allegation according to the processes it claims are normative.

“Had it been anyone but the cardinal, they would have been removed from ministry immediately and the matter given the full business. It is a straightforward case of one rule for the cardinal, and one rule for everybody else,” a Church official told CNA.

A source familiar with the timeline of events told CNA that in November 2009, Murphy-O’Connor and Bishop Arnold met with the accuser. Bishop Doyle, who was himself concerned that the accusations be taken seriously and handled according to the proper procedure, reportedly attended that meeting as well. But sources say the meeting did not lead to any formal process of investigation.

A Church official familiar with the case told CNA that the safeguarding office at the Diocese of Portsmouth repeatedly asked the the Diocese of Westminster to apply the national safeguarding procedures to the Murphy-O’Connor allegation. Instead, Westminster continued to handle the matter internally.

“Proper process only means something if you follow it every time,” a senior figure involved in safeguarding policy for the Church in England and Wales told CNA.

“If it is ignored when it touches the people at the top, everything after that becomes mere arbitrary application.”

All sources CNA spoke with stressed that they did not believe the allegations against Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to be true. They said their concern was the apparent decision to forego recently established Church procedures for an allegation serious enough to merit police investigation and involving the most senior churchman in the country.

Shortly after his retirement, Murphy-O’Connor was appointed a “visitor,” or investigator, for an apostolic visitation to Ireland, charged in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI with investigating the sexual abuse crisis in that country. At the time of his appointment, the Vatican had reportedly not been informed of the allegation against the cardinal.

Before the apostolic visitation to Ireland got underway in 2011, a decision was made jointly by the bishops of Portsmouth and Northampton to contact Rome directly, in hopes that Westminster would be compelled to act. The bishops were reportedly concerned that the accuser might take her allegations to the media, something which could severely damage the credibility of the Ireland investigation.

CNA has learned that Charles Scicluna, then a Monsignor and Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was contacted directly and informed about the case, which had not previously been brought to Rome’s attention, despite more than a year passing since the allegation was initially reported.

A file about the case was hand-delivered to Scicluna – at his request – in Rome. According to sources familiar with its contents, the file contained canonical vota (legal opinions) from both Bishop Doyle and Bishop Crispian Hollis, then the Bishop of Portsmouth.

Both bishops underscored the sensitivity of the matter, and noted that while the accusations themselves seemed “extraordinary,” the accuser was herself an otherwise credible person. The bishops also asked the CDF to ensure that a proper investigation was carried out and that the national safeguarding policies were applied.

The CDF did open a file on the matter, and in 2011 Archbishop Nichols hired a retired police officer to examine the allegations and report back to the archdiocese.

While it is unknown how that report concluded, a source familiar with the investigation told CNA that the investigator did not meet with or speak to the alleged victim and characterized the process as “severely deficient.”

By the end of 2012, the CDF had seen significant changes in personnel. Cardinal Levada was succeeded as prefect by Archbishop Gerhardt Müller, and Scicluna was replaced as Promoter of Justice by Msgr. Robert Oliver.

According to sources close to the CDF, Oliver noted that proper procedure had not been followed in the case. He contacted both the Archdiocese of Westminster and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, saying that the Vatican’s file on the accusation had not been closed.

The case could not be formally “resolved” until proper canonical procedures had been observed, including a credible preliminary investigation that could determine whether the allegations could be dismissed, sources told CNA.

One British Church official who was contacted by the CDF’s Promoter of Justice recalled that Msgr. Oliver was “surprised” the matter had not been dealt with properly, and wanted to see it resolved quickly.

While no further action was taken in Westminster, two separate sources in the UK told CNA that they had been left with the impression that Oliver went on to close the case. Both expressed surprise at recent reports, including Archbishop Vigano’s latest statement, that the file was still open as late as 2013, when Pope Francis is alleged to have intervened by ordering Cardinal Müller to drop the CDF’s enquiries into the matter.

On Oct. 3, Cardinal Müller said that ongoing attempts to close the case had been halted by Pope Francis, according to at least one report. It is unclear what stage the process had reached by that point, or if a preliminary investigation had been concluded.

The CDF is not authorized to proceed with any case against a bishop or cardinal without papal authorization. A source close to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor told CNA that it was possible Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor had himself asked the pope to intervene, likely at the time when the pope’s approval for a CDF investigation was sought.

“[Cardinal] Cormac was, I’m sure, thoroughly fed up with the whole affair. As far as he was concerned the allegations were clearly false and the whole thing had dragged on in one form or another for years. He knew he was innocent, he was certainly friendly with the Holy Father and would probably have seen nothing wrong with asking him to draw a line under it,” the source said.

A source familiar with Westminster’s handling of the case noted that it was the failure to follow the established protocols which resulted in the current publicity surrounding the case.

“The great irony is, of course, that if Cardinal Cormac had just handed the whole thing off to another diocese like he was supposed to in 2008, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“The accusation was frankly incredible, the police found nothing to move forward with. If another diocese had been given the chance to do an investigation and meet with the woman this could all have been credibly resolved quite quickly,” the source added.

“All I can say is if the case was still a going concern in 2013 and that is how it ended [with the pope’s intervention] it’s a vindication of how it was handled from the go – the law is for the little people.”

Last month, the bishops of England and Wales released a statement ahead of their ad limina visit to Rome in which they expressed “shame and sorrow” in the face of recent sex abuse scandals to hit the Church.

The statement promised an independent review of national and diocesan safeguarding procedures, but noted that national policies had been in place since 2001 and highlighted that they specifically included “the steps to be taken if allegations of abusive behavior were to be made against a bishop.”