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Catholic bishops appeal for ‘peaceful solution’ to crisis in Belarus

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 04:35 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Belarus appealed Wednesday for a “peaceful solution” to the crisis that has gripped their country since a disputed presidential election in August.

In a Nov. 25 message, issued in Belarusian and Russian, the bishops said that, after months of protests and crackdowns, the crisis was deepening. 

“Violence does not stop, blood continues to be shed, society is divided. This does not foretell us a happy future, for, as Christ said, a house divided against itself cannot stand,” the bishops said.

They noted that Belarus -- a country of 9.5 million people bordering Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine -- previously enjoyed a reputation for harmony between its different religious and ethnic groups. 

“The Catholic Church, guided by the Gospel and the social doctrine built on it, opposes and condemns violence, lawlessness, injustice and untruth,” they said. 

“The Church calls for a peaceful solution to the problems that arise, through dialogue in the spirit of love for God and neighbor, with observance of God’s and human laws.”

The bishops echoed Pope Francis’ comments after reciting the Angelus on Sept. 13. 

Without mentioning any nations by name, the pope said: “While I urge the demonstrators to present their demands peacefully, without giving in to the temptation of aggression and violence, I appeal to all those who have public and governmental responsibilities to listen to the voice of their fellow citizens and to meet their just aspirations, ensuring full respect for human rights and civil liberties.”

“Finally, I invite the ecclesial communities living in such contexts, under the guidance of their Pastors, to work in favor of dialogue, always in favor of dialogue, and in favor of reconciliation.”

Protests erupted in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Aug. 9 after the government’s electoral officials announced a landslide victory for Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference, was prevented from returning to the country on Aug. 31. The archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev had spoken out in defense of protesters and said he feared the country was heading towards civil war. 

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, visited Belarus in September in an attempt to resolve the impasse. But Kondrusiewicz remains barred from his homeland. 

Earlier this month, Lukashenko received the Holy See’s new ambassador to the country, Archbishop Ante Jozić. 

The state-owned new agency BelTA reported that Lukashenko told the nuncio that Belarus and the Vatican enjoyed “special relations.”

But on Nov. 19, the Prosecutor General of Minsk issued an official warning to Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, an auxiliary bishop of Minsk-Mohilev, over comments he made on Facebook. Kasabutsky had criticized the authorities for destroying a memorial to a young man reportedly killed by security forces.

In their message on Thursday, the bishops emphasized that their mission was to build the Kingdom of God and that the Church “cannot be used by anyone for political purposes.”

They urged Belarusians to show solidarity with each other to build “a united, not divided, Belarus.”

They said: “We call on Catholics and all people of good will to continue to offer their prayers for a speedy and peaceful solution to the crisis, for blessed are the peacemakers and those who seek justice, as Christ says. May good defeat evil.”

Pandemic conditions have increased Christian persecution

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Christian persecution in some places, according to a new report from the group Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN).

“The devastating and unprecedented impact of COVID-19 all over the world,” said the new ACN report, “had a direct bearing on trends concerning unjust detention.” Aid to the Church in Need International is a pontifical aid foundation with sectors in 23 countries.

A new report, released Nov. 25, focuses on the plight of Christian prisoners around the world. Titled “Set Your Captors Free,” the report details the kidnapping and detention of Christians by state and non-state actors.

“Around the world, militants, both those in sympathy with Daesh, and those with a very different outlook, including extremists from other faith traditions, target religious minorities with alarming regularity,” ACN’s report said.

Additionally, “there exists the disturbing trend of state actors unjustly detaining members of faith minorities,” the report said.  

An average of 309 Christians are “unjustly imprisoned” each month in the 50 worst-offending countries, and more than 1,000 are abducted, the report says, citing the group Open Doors. In prison they face sham trials, arbitrary detention, torture, and prison overcrowding.

When the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly through the world in the first months of 2020, state arrests of Christians fell as countries focused on combatting the pandemic, and some prisoners were released, the report said.

However, persecution of Christians increased in severity in some cases, both as the pandemic spread and as some countries reopened after lockdowns.

The spread of the virus meant that some courts shut down partially or completely, thus delaying trials for Christians languishing in prison on faith-based charges.

As churches stopped in-person religious services during lockdowns, and conducted them online, some governments have used the opportunity to increase their surveillance of Christians. For instance, footage reportedly showed police in China’s Fujian province raiding an underground church service in May, and dragging attendees out of the gathering.

States and militant groups have used local lockdowns and the global occupation with the virus, to conduct even more attacks against Christians, ACN found. In Nigeria, Fulani militants stepped up attacks Christians in their homes during lockdown.

China, for its part, increased its crackdown on underground Christian groups during the pandemic while the rest of the world was occupied with COVID, the report said.  

Once communities began to reopen after lockdowns, some governments restored their surveillance of Christian communities. In Iran, intelligence agents arrested a dozen Christians across three cities in July.

Almost one-third of arrests of Christians without charge, and for faith-based reasons, occurred in China in one 12-month period. From Nov., 2018 through Oct., 2019, Beijing imprisoned or detained without charge more than 1,100 Christians “for faith-based reasons.”

Christians face widespread kidnapping by jihadist militants in Nigeria, with more than 220 Christian captives per year. There has also been a “surge” in kidnappings of priests and religious, ACN reported.

In countries such as Pakistan and Egypt, Christian women are kidnapped and subject to forced conversions and forced marriages. In one Pakistani province, there were 1,000 cases of forced marriages of Christian and Hindu women in 2018 alone.

North Korea is known to be one of the worst persecutors of Christians, with more than 50,000 Christians imprisoned in harsh labor camps.

Eritrea, referred to by some as the “North Korea of Africa,” more than 1,000 Christians are reportedly detained and within only several months in 2019, around 300 unregistered Christians were arrested.

The report also highlights individual Christian cases, such as those of Asia Bibi who faced the death penalty in Pakistan for false blasphemy charges, and Eritrea’s Patriarch Antonios, under house arrest since 2007.

Kentucky dioceses keep Masses open despite governor's request

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Kentucky’s four Catholic dioceses will not suspend public Masses despite the governor’s request that religious services be held online only until December 13. 

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) requested that houses of worship stop having in-person services in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Kentucky has been experiencing a spike in the number of cases and deaths. Beshear raised concerns that church services and related events, such as pot-lucks, could be contributing to the spread. 

Despite the request, public Masses will not be stopping in Kentucky. 

“At this time, we will not be suspending public liturgies but encourage all to act in a responsible way that respects the seriousness of this pandemic and the health and safety of all,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville in a statement on November 19. 

The Sunday obligation for Catholics to attend Mass, however, is still suspended in the state. Catholics do not have to attend Mass on Sunday if they think it is imprudent or unsafe to do so.

Kurtz said that his brother bishops in the commonwealth of Kentucky--the Dioceses of Owensboro, Covington, and Lexington--would not be suspending public Masses at this time either. 

"I join with the other three Catholic bishops of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in acknowledging the difficult circumstances Gov. Beshear is seeking to navigate, and I appreciate his concern for the common good," Kurtz said in the statement provided to WRDB News.

"The increase in cases of COVID-19 is indeed alarming and presents significant challenges,” said Kurtz, who “reiterated the importance” of following the guidelines that had been previously set by the dioceses following the resumption of public Mass.

“Our commitment to providing the opportunity to participate in the Church’s liturgies remotely will continue, as will the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass,” said Kurtz. 

While Mass will continue to be in-person, other institutions have shut down for the time being. 

Schools in the archdiocese, both private and public, have shifted to remote learning until after the Christmas holiday. Gathering sizes for other events have been capped, and there will not be indoor dining or bars in Kentucky until mid-December. 

Other Christian groups have issued similar statements to Kurtz, saying that they will keep their congregations as safe as possible but continue to hold services in-person.

Ransomware attack cripples St. Louis archdiocesan websites

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).-  

A ransomware attack crippled the websites of the Archdiocese of St. Louis last week, but data has not been compromised by the attack, the archdiocese told CNA. Several archdiocesan affiliated sites have been taken offline in response to the attack.

“On November 16th, our website hosting company experienced a coordinated ransomware campaign. To ensure integrity of our data, the limited number of impacted sites–including ours–have been taken offline,” the Archdiocese of St. Louis informed Catholics last week.

“Upon further investigation and out of an abundance of caution, our hosting company took down their entire system to ensure that we were not compromised. Our hosting security team are working diligently to eliminate the threat and restore our website to full capacity.”

Seven archdiocesan urls are impacted, among them archstl.org, stlreview.org, and pages for archdiocesan cemeteries and fundraising. A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA Tuesday “we do not have information regarding an expected timeline for the restoration of our website.”

“We have been told that none of the Archdiocese of St. Louis' information has been compromised, and the hosting company has taken down our sites to protect us,” the spokesperson added.

Ransomware is a kind of hacking measure by which websites are taken over unless a ransom is made. In some cases, hackers threaten to release confidential data gained from the attack unless the ransom is paid.

Maria Lemakis, archdiocesan multimedia manager, told CNA that because the attack happened with the company that hosts websites, a decision about whether to pay the ransom is not up to the archdiocese.

“Whether or not the ransom will be paid is at the discretion of the hosting vendor,” Lemakis explained.

 “It is our understanding that the vendor is working with federal authorities on the issue,” she added.

Priest jailed for theft blames Catholic doctrine, also facing sex abuse charges

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- A South Dakota priest has been sentenced to almost eight years in federal prison, after he was convicted of 65 felonies related to stealing donations from Catholic parishes. Ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution, the priest said he stole in part because he disagrees with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

The priest is also facing federal criminal charges related to child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.  

Fr. Marcin Garbacz, 42, was convicted in March of wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud — crimes he committed while serving as a chaplain and Catholic school teacher in the Diocese of Rapid City, between 2012 and 2018. Garbacz was ordained a priest in 2004.

Prosecutors said the priest stole more than $250,000 from parishes, spending some money on artwork, a piano, a Cadillac, liturgical items, and a $10,000 diamond ring.

In 2019, the priest was arrested at Seattle’s airport, shortly before boarding a flight to his native Poland, for which he had purchased a one-way ticket. He had more than $10,000 in cash in his possession, along with several chalices, diamonds, icons, pens, an expensive watch, along with cufflinks and other jewelery items.

He had withdrawn more than $50,000 from his bank account before the flight, according to court records.

According to prosecutors, the priest snuck into Rapid City parishes in the middle of the night to steal cash donations after Sunday Masses. He replaced the tamper-proof bags in which the cash was stored with new ones he’d purchased online, and told people that his mother sent him money each month. When he bought expensive chalices and other liturgical items, he told people they were gifts, and had false inscriptions engraved upon them as proof.

Before he was arrested, Garbacz had been suspended from ministry, apparently after he was caught stealing roughly $620 from a parish in 2018, and was convicted of misdemeanor petty theft. He was sent by the diocese for six months to a residential treatment program, but left early and then worked as a FedEx driver in Washington. He reportedly attempted to flee after becoming aware of the federal investigation against him.

At his sentencing Monday, Garbacz apologized to parishioners, and said he was angry with the Diocese of Rapid City and the Catholic Church. According to the Rapid City Journal, the priest said he was upset that Catholic doctrine considers homosexuality to be “intrinsically disordered.”

Garbacz, the Rapid City Journal reported, identifies as gay, and claims he was treated as a “second-class citizen” because of his dissent on the Church’s moral teachings.

After Garbacz was sentenced, the Diocese of Rapid City told CNA that “The diocese trusts in the judicial system and appreciates its dedication in making sure that justice is served in this case.”

Garbacz is also facing charges related to child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.

He has been indicted on sex federal charges, and is alleged to have engaged in sexual conduct with someone a boy under the age of 18 while in 2011 traveling in a foreign country. An FBI agent also discovered, while searching a thumb drive during the financial crimes investigation, that the priest was in possession of child pornography. At least one pornographic video involving a minor appears to have been produced by Garbacz, according to the Rapid City Journal.

It is not yet clear what canonical charges the priest is facing, or if he is expected to be laicized.

 

 

Twitter criticized as ‘Burn the clergy’ hashtag trends in Spain

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- On the same day that Pope Francis approved the beatification of 127 Catholics killed in Spain in hatred of the faith in the 20th century, a hashtag calling for Catholic priests to be burned was trending on Twitter in Spain.

Twitter permitted the hashtag #FuegoAlClero, meaning “Burn the Clergy,” to trend online in Spain Nov. 24, despite its message of hatred against Catholic priests. Twitter’s current user policy states that the promotion of violence on the basis of religious affiliation is not allowed on its platform.

Prominent tweets that used the hashtag included images of flames on priests’ heads and others that labeled priests as “pedophiles” and “thieves,” ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister agency, reported Nov. 24.

As of Nov. 25, these images of priests in flames with the hashtag #FuegoAlClero had not been removed from Twitter.

Users commented on the site that they were surprised that Twitter had not eliminated the messages in accordance with its hateful conduct policy. 

Spanish journalist Txomin Pérez Rodríguez wrote: “I thought that @TwitterEspana had put in place strict measures against posts that incite hatred. Then I see that #FuegoAlClero is TT [a Trending Topic] today and it is not clear to me that they have done something. Or do they only act against what interests them?”

 

Creía que @TwitterEspana había implantado estrictas medidas contra las publicaciones que incitan al odio.
Luego veo que #FuegoAlClero es hoy TT y no me queda nada claro que hayan hecho algo. ¿O sólo actúan contra lo que les interesa?@NathaliePicquot ... ¿por qué lo permitís?

— Txomin Pérez Rodríguez (@Txominperez) November 24, 2020  

Other Twitter users began using the hashtag #YoApoyoAlClero, which means “I support the clergy,” in response to the hateful posts.

 

Porque siempre están donde hace falta ayuda #YoApoyoAlClero pic.twitter.com/YxKh0TY0GJ

— Reyes Fdez-Villaverde (@ReyesFdez) November 24, 2020  

Some posts recalled that churches were burned and priests were executed during Spain’s Red Terror during the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939. 

On Nov. 24, Pope Francis advanced the sainthood causes of Fr. Juan Elias Medina and 126 companions, who were killed during the Spanish Civil War. Declared martyrs, they will now be beatified. 

Fr. Juan Elias Medina was 33 when he was imprisoned and executed in 1936. Medina, a priest of the Diocese of Córdoba, shouted “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” and forgave his executioners before he was killed.

Seventy-eight other priests from the Diocese of Córdoba were also recognized as martyrs this week, along with five seminarians, three Franciscan friars, and 40 lay Catholics who were killed for their faith in Spain in the 1930s.

Hate crimes against Christians and Catholic churches are once again on the rise in Europe. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe published data last week documenting more than 500 hate crimes against Christians in Europe in 2019.

Incidents in Spain included attacks against Catholic priests, arson attacks on Catholic churches, the destruction of images of the Virgin Mary, and the theft of consecrated Eucharistic hosts from tabernacles.

One priest was the target of an attempted physical assault while he was offering Mass April 2019. Another was punched in the face as perpetrators threatened to burn down his church in Sept. 2019.

A shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary was defecated in. The church’s walls and a statue of Jesus Christ were smeared with excrement.

A convent was the target of arson a few days after it was vandalized with paint in Sept. 2019. A statue of Jesus was set on fire in November and a church’s altar was set alight twice in two weeks among other arson attacks.

The participants in the Catholic bishops’ conference in Spain also received numerous threats of an arson attack in 2019, according to the OSCE.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited Pope Francis at the Vatican last month.

In improvised remarks that were captured on video, the pope reflected on the vocation of politicians and highlighted the dangers of ideological thinking.

“It is very sad when ideologies take over the interpretation of a nation, a country, and disfigure the homeland,” he said.

Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, has previously clashed with the Church in Spain over religious instruction in schools and euthanasia, among other issues. 

Spain’s bishops have criticized the government over its efforts to remodel the education system in Spain. They argued that the Celaá Law, named after Education Minister Isabel Celaá, would undermine parental rights.

Analysis: Will Gregory’s ‘dialogue’ with Biden undermine USCCB?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced in an interview yesterday that he will not deny Holy Communion to Joe Biden, and committed himself to working with the president-elect’s administration. But the soon-to-be cardinal’s pledge could put him in tension with the work of the U.S. bishops’ conference, as it tries to speak to the White House with a unified voice.

Last week, USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles announced the formation of a special committee, tasked with coordinating the U.S. bishops’ response to, and work with, the incoming Biden administration. 

Recognizing the unique “challenges” presented by a Catholic president pledged to several policies in opposition to Church teaching, the conference under Gomez set out to ensure a collegial and consensus approach to national issues for the Church. 

But yesterday Gregory suggested he planned to dialogue directly with Biden on issues, without reference to the USCCB, raising the question: who will speak for the U.S. bishops at the White House, and with whom will President Biden choose to deal?

In his interview Tuesday, Gregory said he hopes to “discover areas where [he and Biden] can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the Church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree,” the very work the committee set up by Archbishop Gomez intends to do.

Gregory is not a member of the U.S. bishops' committee, but the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington is nonetheless a player: As the hometown cardinal, he may well receive a more ready audience from the president than, for example, the Archbishop of Los Angeles; especially so if he has publicly pledged to strike a balance in conversations between the Church’s support for areas of agreement with Biden, like comprehensive immigration reform, and points of opposition, like the immorality of killing unborn children.

“I hope that I don’t highlight one over the other,” Gregory said Tuesday. His stated aim of not “highlighting” one over the other itself appears to be at odds with the U.S. bishops’ official position that ending legal abortion is the “preeminent” social concern of Catholics, underlining the likely tension between Gregory’s personal contact with the incoming president and the conference’s efforts to represent to position of the bishops and Church at a national level.

As Gomez noted last week, a Catholic president committed to opposing Church teaching on a range of issues on the national stage presents a “difficult and complex situation.” It was for this reason that the conference formed its committee, to ensure coherence and collegiality in the bishops’ response. And it is for this reason that many may not warm to the idea of a soon-to-be Cardinal Gregory dialoguing on their behalf with a soon-to-be President Biden.

Gregory, who will be made a cardinal on Saturday, will be Biden’s diocesan bishop once the President-elect moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As Washington’s archbishop, he is the local “pastor” who is responsible for sitting a Catholic like Biden down, in private, and addressing the president-elect’s various positions against Church teaching.

But, of course, as president, Biden will be more than just a local Catholic, and his actions and example are a national concern for the Catholic bishops. Gregory’s public statement could be seen by some as circumvention of efforts to work together in dealing with Biden and his administration.

While Gregory has every proper right to “dialogue” with an individual Catholic in his diocese about his individual status, it is less clear that the Archbishop of Washington is ex officio empowered to bargain with the head of state on behalf of the Church across the country. 

This tension is nothing new. The USCCB has in the past run into similar tensions with Washington’s archbishops over the White House. Those tensions have caused confusion. But since Biden is a Catholic, and the issues pertain not only to policy, but to pastoral decision-making, the issue could become more complex in a Biden administration.

While Gregory is Biden’s local bishop and has personal concern for Biden’s personal situation, it is the bishops’ conference that is charged with articulating the corporate voice of the hierarchy on Biden’s stances abortion, the Equality Act, and the HHS mandate as policy.

“These policies pose a serious threat to the common good, whenever any politician supports them,” conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez told the U.S. bishops on Nov. 17. “We have long opposed these policies strongly, and we will continue to do so.”

“But when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

Gregory, however, struck a markedly different tone yesterday, saying that there was no confusion among “informed Catholics” about the Church’s teaching on life issues.

“It’s not a matter of confusion,” Gregory said. “On my part, it’s a matter of the responsibility that I have as the archbishop to be engaged and to be in dialogue with him, even in those areas where we obviously have some differences.”

Many of his brother bishops would likely point out to Gregory that the confusion among “informed Catholics” like Biden is not about what the Church teaches, but whether it matters when they publicly and consistently dissent from it – and how the bishops should respond when a Catholic uses the machinery of government to threaten Catholic institutions and values, and the broader common good.

At the height of the Cold War, Henry Kissinger pointedly asked “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” to highlight the confusion that results from the absence of a common voice.

In theory, if the White House wants to “speak to the Catholic Church” it could – arguably should – call Gomez, who is the bishops’ elected president. But if Biden doesn’t like what he hears, Gregory’s is another number he might call.

Arkansas senate passes abortion ban in new challenge to Roe

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Arkansas lawmakers have introduced a bill to ban nearly all abortions in the state in what lawmakers and pro-life advocates hope will serve as a new challenge to Roe v. Wade.

On Nov. 18, State Sen. Jason Rapert (R) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R) introduced Senate Bill 6, to create the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill criminalizes abortions except when done to save the life of the mother, but does not carry charges or convictions for mothers of unlawfully aborted children.

Doctors who perform an unlawful abortion would commit a felony punishable by a fine of up to $100,000, or up to ten years in prison.

According to KUAR, the bill will be considered during the legislature’s January session.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas-based Family Council, praised the bill in a statement this week.

“Many people have been saying for almost 50 years that abortion should be illegal. The time has come for us to make it so,” Cox stated.

“This is an opportunity for Arkansans to be the real leader in the effort to end abortion in America,” he said.

The proposed bill also allows for the use of emergency contraceptives if a pregnancy has not yet been determined.

A federal appeals court upheld other Arkansas state abortion restrictions in August. The Eighth Circuit court allowed a 2017 state law to go into effect, which banned sex-selective abortions and the “dilation and evacuation” abortion method used in the second trimester.

Senate Bill 6 is not expected to survive in court—a similar measure in Alabama was struck down by a federal district court in Oct., 2019.

Nevertheless, Arkansas is also seeking to force a reconsideration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. The state has already passed a law outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, a “trigger ban” that has also been adopted by several other states. 

“It is time for the United States Supreme Court to redress and correct the grave injustice and the crime against humanity which is being perpetuated by their decisions in Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” states one of the findings in the bill.

“New scientific advances have demonstrated since 1973 that life begins at the moment of conception and the child in a woman's womb is a human being.”

Arkansas and other states have passed various abortion restrictions in recent years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, five states in 2019 passed “heartbeat” bills, or bans on abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected. Other states, such as Missouri, have enacted abortion bans at different stages in pregnancy.

Swiss Catholic diocese reportedly rejects Pope Francis’ candidates for new bishop

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- A Swiss Catholic diocese that elects its own bishop from a shortlist drawn up by the Holy See has rejected all three candidates proposed by Pope Francis, according to local media. 

The Swiss daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported that the cathedral chapter of the Diocese of Chur failed Monday to choose a new bishop from the pope’s list. 

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, said it was unable to confirm reports that the cathedral chapter deemed the three candidates unsuitable. But it said that sources in the diocese accused other Swiss dioceses of attempting to interfere in the election of a new bishop.

Pope Pius XII established the present rules for the selection of bishops in Chur diocese in the 1948 decree “Etsi salva,” which accorded the cathedral chapter the privilege of electing a bishop from among three priests proposed by the Holy See. 

The 22 members of the cathedral chapter were due to elect a successor to Bishop Vitus Huonder, who retired in May 2019, on Nov. 23. The list of candidates was supposed to remain secret, but local media reported that the three people proposed for the vacant see were Msgr. Joseph Bonnemain, 72, a former episcopal vicar of the diocese, Abbot Vigeli Monn von Disentis, 55, and Abbot Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, 61, the former Cistercian abbot of Hauterive and current General Abbot of the Cistercian order.

Observers noted that Bonnemain, a member of Opus Dei, was the only candidate with a direct connection to the ancient diocese, which today covers seven of the 26 cantons of Switzerland, including the canton of Zürich. But at 72, Bonnemain could only serve for three years before reaching the age at which bishops must tender their resignations to the pope.

CNA Deutsch reported that Bonnemain was seen as a supporter of greater independence from Rome for the local church and as an advocate of the church tax system, which is controversial within the diocese. 

According to CNA Deutsch, a source in the diocese familiar with the process said that the cathedral chapter saw the list of three candidates as an “attempt at interference” by the neighboring dioceses of Basel and St. Gallen, as well as the abbot of Einsiedeln, in the canton of Schwyz.

CNA Deutsch quoted an insider as saying that the three names indicated that “the voice of the diocese of Chur, which has previously deviated from the social mainstream, is being silenced” -- a reference to the diocese’s reputation as a bastion of conservative Catholicism. 

A spokesman for Chur diocese declined to comment. 

French bishops press government to review 30-person Mass limit

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- After a strong reaction by French Catholics to the government’s decision Tuesday night to limit Mass attendance to 30 people per church during Advent, bishops are in negotiations with the government to determine a more “realistic gauge” for a gradual resumption of public Masses.

The French bishops’ conference issued a statement Nov. 24, saying that the bishops were “both disappointed and surprised” at President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement that public worship would be limited to 30 people per church.

“This announcement is not at all in line with the discussions that have taken place in recent weeks with the ministers concerned,” it said.

“Indeed, this unrealistic and inapplicable measure is completely disrespectful of the reality of the religious practice of Catholics.”

The French bishops had originally proposed a protocol of reopening public liturgies at a third of each church’s capacity, with increased social distancing. 

Following Macron’s announcement, some bishops took to social media to express their incredulity.

Bishop François Touvet of Châlons wrote on Twitter: “30 people in my cathedral is ridiculous and absurd. It is 96 m long and 25 m wide (40m transept) by 30 m high. Total = 2500 m²: with 4 m² per person, we can fit 600 people! You have to learn to count!”

 

30 personnes dans ma cathédrale, c’est ridicule et absurde. Elle fait 96 m de long et 25 m de large (transept 40m) sur 30 m de hauteur. Total = 2500 m² : avec 4 m² par personne, on peut mettre 600 personnes ! Il faut apprendre à compter ! pic.twitter.com/ZjTr86PvED

— MgrTouvet (@MgrTouvet) November 24, 2020  

Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference, spoke on the telephone with President Macron later that evening.

Following the phone call, the French bishops announced Nov. 25 that a more “realistic gauge” for the resumption of public Masses would be determined by the government the following day.

France has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than two million recorded cases and over 50,000 deaths as of Nov. 25, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The reassessed restrictions on public Masses are expected be introduced in two stages, with the undetermined restrictions “remaining strict” from Nov. 28. They will then be evaluated on Dec. 15, according to the bishops’ statement.

French bishops added that they would remain in “dialogue with the office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of the Interior.”

France has been under a strict lockdown since the end of October, in which all public religious gatherings, including public Masses, were originally suspended until Dec. 1.

French bishops announced Nov. 2 that they were filing an urgent appeal with the Council of State to continue public Masses, arguing that the government’s coronavirus lockdown decree was “out of proportion” and “violates the freedom of worship which is one of the fundamental freedoms in our country.”

The bishops’ appeal was rejected by the Council of State on Nov. 7. But, in response, the judge specified that churches would remain open and that Catholics would be able visit a church near their homes regardless of distance if they carried out the necessary paperwork. Priests would also be allowed to visit people in their homes and chaplains permitted to visit hospitals.

Catholics took to the streets in major cities across the country to protest against the public Mass ban, praying together outside their churches. 

The French bishops said on Tuesday that Macron’s decision to reauthorize public worship with a limitation of 30 people seemed to “ignore this sense of responsibility which they [Catholics] have already demonstrated since the start of the epidemic.”

“Catholics are aware of the health issues and are capable of showing full responsibility in the application of the rules of protection,” they said.

“The Advent season which opens before us is a fundamental time of preparation for Christmas. The Sunday gathering is an essential step for the faithful during this period.”