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‘Hate speech’ label does damage to civil dialogue, Philadelphia Statement warns

CNA Staff, Aug 12, 2020 / 03:26 am (CNA).- Efforts to protect people from harm and error now marginalize and even demonize others for unpopular opinions, warns a new statement urging a revival of civil engagement and conscientious respect for the convictions of others.

“We want—and to be true to ourselves we need—to be a nation in which we and our fellow citizens of many different faiths, philosophies, and persuasions can speak their minds and honor their deepest convictions without fear of punishment and retaliation,” said the newly released Philadelphia Statement.

The statement was released Aug. 11. Its signers include academics, religious leaders and other commentators, including Archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia Charles Chaput and Princeton Law School professor Robert George.

“Our liberty and our happiness depend upon the maintenance of a public culture in which freedom and civility coexist—where people can disagree robustly, even fiercely, yet treat each other as human beings—and, indeed, as fellow citizens—not mortal enemies,” the statement continued.

It cited former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.”

“Truly open discourse—the debates, exchange of ideas, and arguments on which the health and flourishing of a democratic republic crucially depend—is increasingly rare,” the statement continued. “Ideologues demonize opponents to block debates on important issues and to silence people with whom they disagree.”

The Philadelphia Statement takes inspiration from Philadelphia's pivotal role in American independence and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

It was drafted after meetings with “a diverse working group of prominent thinkers, scholars, and practitioners,” the statement's website says. It says it is the start of “an ongoing movement to restore free speech and civil discourse in American law and culture.”

The statement criticized the spread of “blacklisting;” corporations' use of “hate-speech” policies that block content deemed “wrong” or “harmful;” and speech regulations that protect students from “challenges to campus orthodoxy.”

“Common decency and free speech are being dismantled through the stigmatizing practice of blacklisting ideological opponents, which has taken on the conspicuous form of 'hate' labeling,” the statement continued. “Responsible organizations are castigated as 'hate groups.' Honest people of good faith are branded 'hate agents.' Even mainstream ideas are marginalized as 'hate speech.' This threatens our ability to listen, discuss, debate, and grow.”

The statement lamented phenomena like “social media mobs,” “cancel culture” and “campus speech policing,” all of which have drawn increasing concern from free speech advocates in recent years.

In June 2020, the Catholic former president of Florida State University's student senate said he was removed from office for questioning controversial policy positions of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation on abortion and sexuality in a private text message thread with fellow Catholic students that was later sent to student leadership.

In 2017, the payment processor Vanco dropped service for the Ruth Institute, claiming it promoted “hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse.” The institute, which rejected the charge, said it aims to combat family breakdown. The institute supports Christian teaching about marriage, family and human sexuality.

In 2012, a Catholic student group left the Vanderbilt University campus over a controversial school non-discrimination policy which barred the group from requiring its leaders to be Catholic.

At the same time, the Philadelphia Statement comes after years of debate about how to respond to political misinformation, false or misleading medical information, alleged foreign interference in elections, online harassment, political extremism, and pornography.

Free speech, in the view of the Philadelphia Statement, does not include “defamation, obscenity, intimidation and threats, and incitement to violence.”

However, it stressed, making “hate speech” an exception to free speech is “foreign to our free speech ideals.” The concept is “impossible to define” and is “often used by those wielding political, economic, or cultural power to silence dissenting voices.”

“That is why we must favor openness, to allow ideas and beliefs the chance to be assessed on their own merits; and we must be willing to trust that bad ideas will be corrected not through censorship but through better arguments,” the statement said.

To seek unity instead of division and to secure a free, pluralistic society where people may live according to their consciences, the statement said, “we must renounce ideological blacklisting and recommit ourselves to steadfastly defending freedom of speech and passionately promoting robust civil discourse.”

The statement's signers include Alan Sears, former president of Alliance Defending Freedom; Dr. Daniel Mark, past chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Dr. Mary Eberstadt of the Faith and Reason Institute; Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom; Howard Slugh, founder and general counsel of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty; Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Dr. Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute.

One signer is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former Muslim who is now an atheist, a staunch critic of Islam, and a research fellow at the Hudson Institution. Another signer is Dr. Charles Murray, whose controversial 1994 book “The Bell Curve” discussed social stratification and apparent racial differences in intelligence. Kevin D. Williamson, a writer for the conservative National Review, also signed. In 2018 Williamson was briefly hired by the prestigious cultural commentary journal The Atlantic, then fired for polemical comments he made in 2014 that appeared to suggest hanging as a criminal punishment for abortion.


Bishops of Wichita, Denver call Catholics to turn to Mary in 'time of crisis'

CNA Staff, Aug 11, 2020 / 05:29 pm (CNA).- Two bishops have called for rosary crusades in their respective dioceses in the month of August, asking Catholics to pray daily rosaries for the end of the pandemic, for justice and peace, for an end to the desecration of churches, and for multiple other intentions.

“In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said in an August 7 statement. “And so...I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.”

Aquila invited all Catholics in his diocese to pray a daily rosary, beginning on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on Sept. 15. He asked that they pray for 15 distinct intentions, including for an end to the coronavirus pandemic and all those who have died of the virus, and end to abortion and euthanasia and attacks against life, as well as for peace, justice and an end to discrimination on the basis of race.

“We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her ‘yes’ to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power,” Aquila noted.

Aquila said the inspiration for his rosary crusade came from Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita, who in July announced that he was starting a rosary crusade for the month of August in his diocese for similar intentions.

In his message to the Catholics of his diocese, Kemme said that while the pandemic, racial injustice, civil unrest and other upheavals America is experiencing this year may seem like these are “unprecedented times,” the Church and her members have experienced similar - and worse - sufferings throughout the ages.

“It has been said that we live in unprecedented times. But do we really?” Kemme wrote. “After all, any amateur student of history and especially Church history can attest that Holy Mother Church has already experienced everything we are living through and even far worse, things like plagues and pandemics, persecutions of Christians, violent attacks against persons for reason of color or other discriminatory traits, the shameless desecration of churches and statues and acts that cause scandal, even by those who are called to serve as leaders of the faith.”

While the current situations may bring about feelings of “uncertainty, fear and dismay,” he said, “...the Church has been here before. The only difference between then and now is us. We are the ones whom God has chosen and destined to live at this time in history, bringing our faith to bear, as did our predecessors, so that with God’s grace and by God’s grace alone, we too will triumph and overcome all adversity and grow stronger in faith, hope and love in the process.”

Kemme said he invited all Catholics in his diocese to strengthen or rediscover their faith during these times, primarily through the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion.

In addition to a renewed commitment to the sacramental life, Kemme also invited his diocese to a month-long rosary crusade, because “the Rosary has been recommended to the faithful for centuries as a prayer of contemplation, a weapon against evil and a source of divine strength and consolation.”

Numerous popes have written about the significance of the rosary as a spiritual weapon in difficult times.

In 2002, St. John Paul II declared a “Year of the Rosary”, and wrote of his love for and the merits of this devotion in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

“The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty,” John Paul II wrote. “To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago...I frankly admitted: ‘The Rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer! Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth...our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind. Our personal concerns and those of our neighbour, especially those who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life.’”

The rosary is a “compendium of the Gospel,” John Paul II noted, as it calls those praying it to contemplate different events and mysteries throughout the life of Christ.

“The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is ‘fully formed’ in us,” he wrote.

Leo XIII was pope from 1878 until his death in 1903 and became known as the “Rosary Pope.” He wrote a total of 11 encyclicals on the rosary and instituted the tradition of October as the month of the rosary, during which Catholics are encouraged to pray the rosary daily.

“It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary, and to seek for peace in her maternal goodness; showing that the Catholic Church has always, and with justice, put all her hope and trust in the Mother of God,” Leo XIII wrote in Supremi Apostolatus officio, his 1883 encyclical on devotion of the rosary.

“And truly the Immaculate Virgin, chosen to be the Mother of God and thereby associated with Him in the work of man's salvation, has a favour and power with her Son greater than any human or angelic creature has ever obtained, or ever can gain. And, as it is her greatest pleasure to grant her help and comfort to those who seek her, it cannot be doubted that she would deign, and even be anxious, to receive the aspirations of the universal Church,” Leo XIII added. 

Numerous other saints and popes have recommended Catholics turn to Mary in times of need, Aquila noted, including St. Padre Pio, who once said: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

Kemme noted that while Catholics may feel helpless in the face of numerous current crises,  “we can and must always pray. Prayer is not a passive response to life’s challenges, or something we do in the absence of something more productive or beneficial; no prayer in all its many forms is an active engagement, calling upon the powers of heaven to come to our assistance.”

“I am praying and hoping that thousands from all over the diocese will choose to participate so that together and through the powerful intercession of Mary, we will emerge from this present darkness with renewed faith and confidence in God.”

Earthquake hits North Carolina during Mass reading about earthquake

CNA Staff, Aug 11, 2020 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- As North Carolina experienced a moderate earthquake Sunday, local pastors encourage Catholics to relinquish control to God.

A 5.1-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter near Sparta, about 100 miles north of Charlotte, struck at 8:07 am Aug. 9. There were no injuries but there have been reports of damages throughout Sparta, including cracks in the road and shelves displaced in grocery stores, the Associated Press reported.

The lesson at Mass was from 1 Kings 19, wherein Elijah said, “After the wind there was an earthquake - but the LORD was not in the earthquake.”

St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte experienced the earthquakes within minutes of reading “the Lord was not in the earthquake.” Father Richard Sutter, the pastor of St. Gabriel, said it is a good reminder to trust in God.

“When there’s fear from an earthquake, when there’s fear from a storm, when there’s fear from a pandemic and uncertainty ... you have to let the Lord speak to us the truth,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

“Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus Christ and not the waves (or even earthquakes) we cannot control,” he said.

Father Melchesideck Yumo, who said the 7:30 Mass at St. Mark Church in Huntersville,  offered a similar reflection. He said it important to offer control to God during these turbulent times and follow the example of Saint Peter.

“There are a lot of storms on this journey, like the present pandemic and all of the strange happenings around the world. What do we do amidst these storms?” he asked.

“We can follow the example of Peter, and pray, ‘Lord, save me.’ We pray to God because He is in control of everything in heaven and on earth. Jesus walked on the water today in the Gospel to show that everything is under His feet. Our faith should help to dispel every fear. For Jesus says, ‘Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.’”

Father Cory Catron, pastor of two parishes in North Carolina, including the St. Frances of Rome Mission in Sparta, said the ceiling creaked for three seconds but there was no damage done to the building.

He said, rather, the earthquake was good material for the homily and jokingly added that he was worried that fire would follow the earthquake.

According to the Charlotte Observer, Catron also urged parishioners to focus on God even during the noises and concerns of the world. He said it is important to nurture an environment of silence.

“God is found in the stillness and God is found in the silence,” he said. “We have to cultivate that silence, which is a very difficult thing to do.”

“It’s a good message that it doesn’t matter how how strange and messed up and scary everything can be, that God is still present to us.”

The earthquake was the most powerful to occur in the region since 1916.

Biden picks Kamala Harris as VP candidate

CNA Staff, Aug 11, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president, has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be his running mate.  

Harris is the first Black woman, and the first person of Indian descent, to be selected as a running mate for a major party’s ticket. Harris’ mother was born in India, and her father was born in Jamaica. Harris is a staunch supporter of legal protection for abortion and has pushed Biden on that issue in recent months.

The choice was announced just shortly after 4:15 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, August 11. 

“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked Kamala Harris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate,” tweeted Biden on Tuesday.

Biden said that while serving as California’s attorney general, Harris worked with his late son, Beau. 

“I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I'm proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign,” he said. 

Before being selected to run with Biden, Harris made headlines for her numerous attacks on the former vice president during the primary debates. Harris was especially critical of Biden’s long-time support for the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds for abortions. 

Biden supported the Hyde Amendment, both with his votes and publicly in writing and speeches, for over four decades. He reversed his position in June 2019, just one day after reaffirming his support for the policy. Harris was quick to point this out during the debate. 

“Only since you’ve been running for president this time, [have you] said that you in some way would take that back or you didn’t agree with that decision you made over many, many years and this directly impacted so many women in our country,” said Harris. 

Harris noted Biden’s previous reservations about unlimited legal protection to abortion, reservations which he abandoned during the Democratic primary process. Harris asked him during the primary “Do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?”

As California attorney general, she drew criticism from the state Catholic conference by sponsoring a bill compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise “free or low-cost” abortion services to their clients. That law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018. 

The senator has also previously raised concerns about Biden’s character.

In April 2019, Harris stated that she believed women who have accused Biden of sexual misconduct during his time in the Senate and as vice president. 

“I believe them and I respect them being able to tell their story and having the courage to do it,” she said at an event in Nevada. Biden himself denied ever acting “inappropriately” with women.

While in the Senate, Harris has served as a member of the Judiciary Committee, responsible for vetting candidates for federal judgeships. In 2018, Harris raised questions about the suitability of a candidate based on his membership of the Knights of Columbus.

In December 2018, Harris joined Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in scrutinizing the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.

The senators asked if belonging to the Catholic charitable organization could prevent judges from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.”

In her questions to Buescher, Harris described the Knights as “an all-male society” and asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.

Prior to her election to the Senate in 2016, Harris served as the California attorney general from 2011-2016, and was the San Francisco attorney general from 2004-2011. 

While she has cast herself as a “progressive” prosecutor, her tenure as AG has been a source of controversy during her political career on the national level. 

Harris had a mixed record on the death penalty in California, and faced criticism for her polices which saw Californians imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses. 

Harris came out in support for the legalization of marijuana in 2018. But during a debate in July, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) noted Harris had put “over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations” as attorney general, but laughed while confirming her own use of the drug in an interview

Gabbard also pointed out that Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row,” referring to inmate Kevin Cooper. Cooper was convicted of a quadruple homicide and sentenced to death in 1983, despite considerable evidence of his innocence. Cooper requested additional DNA testing, which Harris blocked as attorney general. 

In 2018, after she was elected to the Senate, she admitted she “felt awful” about her decision. Cooper is still on death row. 

While Harris declined to pursue the death penalty on several occasions, in 2014 she explicitly defended the practice after a California district court found it unconstitutional. 

"I am appealing the court's decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants,” said Harris, calling the decision a “flawed ruling.” 

Harris has also pushed for laws that would criminalize the parents of truant children, who are disproportionately poor. 

During her inaugural address in 2011, Harris stated that she was “putting parents on notice” that truancy would be dealt with as a crime by parents.  

“If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law,” she said. 

Eight years later, during an interview on a podcast, Harris admitted that several parents were jailed thanks to the statewide anti-truancy law she sponsored, though she said she “regretted” it.

Since entering the Senate, Harris’ thinking has shifted, and she now says she supports ending mandatory minimum sentences along with championing other progressive criminal justice reforms.

In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint

Denver, Colo., Aug 11, 2020 / 02:40 pm (CNA).- Star-gazing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Catholics think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian martyr who was cooked to death by the Romans on an outdoor grill.

But every August, Catholics have the chance to see a meteor shower named in his honor.

The Perseids meteor shower, also called the “tears of St. Lawrence,” is a meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which drops dust and debris in Earth’s orbit on its 133-year trip around the Sun. (The comet poses no immediate threat to Earth, at least not for several thousand years.)

As Earth orbits the Sun, it hits pieces of left-behind debris from the comet, causing them to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

This creates a prolific meteor shower that can best be seen in the Northern Hemisphere from late July to early August, usually peaking around Aug. 10, the feast of St. Lawrence.  

During its peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.

The name “Perseids” comes from the constellation Perseus, named for a character in Greek mythology, and the radiant of the shower or the point from which it appears to originate.

The name “tears of St. Lawrence” came from the association with his feast day and from the legends that built up around the Saint after his death.

Saint Lawrence was martyred on Aug. 10, 258 during the persecution of the emperor Valerian along with many other members of the Roman clergy. He was the last of the seven deacons of Rome to die.

After the pope, Sixtus II, was martyred on Aug. 6, Lawrence became the principal authority of the Roman Church, having been the Church's treasurer.

When he was summoned before the executioners, Lawrence was ordered to bring all the wealth of the Church with him. He showed up with a handful of crippled, poor, and sick men, and when questioned, replied that "These are the true wealth of the Church."

He was immediately sent to his death, being cooked alive on a gridiron. Legend has it that one of his last words was a joke about his method of execution, as he quipped to his killers: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

Catholics began calling the meteors the “tears of St. Lawrence,” even though the celestial phenomenon pre-dates the saint.

Some Italian lore also holds that the fiery bits of debris seen during a meteor shower are representative of the coals that killed St. Lawrence.

Anyone in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to view the “tears of St. Lawrence” best on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12 this year. The meteors will shower from various points in the sky rather than from one particular direction.

For the best viewing, it is recommended to go to a rural area away from light pollution.

Excommunicated priest rejects Pope Francis, misconduct allegations

Denver Newsroom, Aug 11, 2020 / 01:47 pm (CNA).-  

A Sacramento priest excommunicated last week says he stands by his claim that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI is the true pope. In addition to charges of schism, the priest is suspected of misconduct and improper relationships with at least two adult women; he confessed his love to one of them in a video message circulating online.

“I continue to regard Benedict as retaining the Office of Peter, as mysterious as that might be. Therefore, I do not regard Bergoglio as the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church,” Fr. Jeremy Leatherby wrote this week in an open letter to the Sacramento diocese.

Leatherby added that although he was already prohibited from public ministry, he had been celebrating Masses in recent months in private homes, offered “in union with Pope Benedict, not with Pope Francis. Many who have joined me hold, like I do, that Benedict remains the one true Pope.”

On Aug. 7, Sacramento’s Bishop Jaime Soto announced that “by his words and actions” Leatherby was “in a state of schism with the Roman Catholic Church.”

Soto declared that the priest had incurred a latae sententiae excommunication. “This means that by his own volition he has separated himself from communion with the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis, and other members of the Catholic Church,” the bishop said. He called on Leatherby to “repent of the harm he has inflicted on the Church.”

A formal declaration of a priest's excommunication is a rare phenomenon.

In a private Aug. 3 letter to Leatherby obtained by CNA, Soto urged the priest to change his ways before the excommunication was announced.

“I have received a number of testimonies reporting that you have offered Mass publicly in violation of my withdrawal of your faculties…In the exercise of these illicit rites…you have preached against the Holy Father and omitted the inclusion of his name and mine from the Eucharistic prayer.”

Soto added that he had heard recordings of the priest’s sermons, and both spoken telephonically and corresponded with the priest about those matters.

“Do not heed the voices or sentiments that have driven you to do this. These are not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. You are wounding the Church you have previously promised to serve. Your actions have placed you and others in grave moral danger. Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, in whose name I speak with fraternal solicitude.”

After the excommunication was announced, Leatherby, 41, said that he accepts the bishop’s judgment.

“Bishop Soto’s sentence of excommunication against me is consistent with my relationship with Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis), with whom I cannot morally, spiritually or intellectually, in good conscience, align myself,” he wrote.

“I deservedly incur excommunication if Bergoglio is indeed the valid Successor of Peter, and I am guilty of causing great division within the Mystical Body of Christ. However, I could not in good conscience do otherwise….When all is revealed, if I am mistaken, I will humbly repent of my sin and error, for I love the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”

Leatherby has been without an assignment in the diocese since March 2016. At that time, he was removed from ministry at a Sacramento parish, amid allegations that he had engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman at the parish. He was prohibited from public ministry and his sacramental faculties were withdrawn.

The priest this week said that “I violated boundaries in ways with that woman.”

But Leatherby’s supporters claim the allegations were trumped up, as retaliation against his family, because the priest’s father, a deacon in the diocese, reported to Church authorities that some priests in the diocese were involved in a homosexual affair.

The Diocese of Sacramento told CNA that claim is “not true.”

“The original matter regarding Fr. Leatherby was triggered by an allegation of a ministerial boundary violation with an adult woman. We have no comment on rumors, theories, or complex, alternate explanations of this matter,” a diocesan spokesman told CNA Aug. 11.

The diocese has declined requests from CNA to explain why the canonical case against Leatherby has taken years to adjudicate, or to specify the canonical crimes of which the priest is accused.

In August 2018, Sacramento’s vicar general sent a memo to diocesan priests, to address ”speculation” and “the length of time it has taken to resolve this case.”

According to the memo, Bishop Soto formally initiated a formal canonical process — presumably a canonical trial or an administrative penal process — against Leatherby, shortly after he was removed from parish ministry.

That canonical process stalled, the memo said, because “it took longer than we would have liked to assemble a panel of canonical experts independent of the diocese to address this case.”

But the process began moving forward in January 2018, according to the memo. The case “is still continuing, and is in the hands of other ecclesiastical authorities,” Soto said this week.

While the diocese has not commented in detail on the allegations against Leatherby, parishioners say the charges have divided the Sacramento parish community, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that Leatherby led as pastor until he was removed in 2016.

Leatherby had garnered a large following at the parish, especially attracting devoutly Catholic families as he worked to renew the parish school. But some parishioners say the priest’s leadership was marked with problems from the beginning.

Becky Jennings was a volunteer and parent at Presentation’s school during Leatherby’s tenure there. She said her family, like a lot of families, was attracted to the school because of the priest’s orthodoxy, dynamism, and pastoral attention to parish and school.

The Jennings trusted Fr. Leatherby, at first. They thought he was a faithful priest, and they were impressed by his courage and his kindness.

“In retrospect, there were a lot of things that should have been red flags. There were cult-like elements with Fr. Leatherby and his family,” Jennings told CNA.

She said that because Leatherby was pastorally available and engaged in parish and family lives, a “huge cult of personality formed around him.”

“We would have followed him off the end of the earth and trusted him.”

The priest “used to promote himself as an expert in women’s spirituality and women’s spiritual direction,” Jennings said, and the women he directed were fiercely loyal to him.

In her judgment, Leatherby “formed a ‘harem’ of spiritual directees around him, and used the idea that someone has to be loyal to their spiritual director to abuse and manipulate them,” Jennings said.

The diocese has not identified the woman who alleged misconduct in 2016. But parishioners, talking to one another on social media, have said she was a part of the parish community, a daily communicant, and a former employee of the parish.

When allegations regarding Leatherby emerged in 2016, Jennings said, many people had a hard time believing them, including her family.

It was “devastating,” she said. “We felt like he was the heart and soul of the community.”

But eventually Jennings started hearing stories from parishioners about inappropriate behavior from Leatherby, and those gave her pause. She said she began to believe that “Fr. Leatherby had us all taken in.”

Jennings added that even in his parish leadership, the priest had tried to sow suspicion of outsiders. In early 2016, she said, “there seemed to be growing paranoia that the diocese was out to get our school.” Leatherby, she said, was especially paranoid about losing control of decisions at the school.

Division in the parish is now stark, Jennings said, with some describing Leatherby as “narcissistic” and controlling, while others maintain the priest was persecuted by the Sacramento diocese. 

She said she doesn’t believe that Leatherby was removed as an act of retribution. “I think that was invented out of whole cloth,” Jennings told CNA, “or exaggerated.”

She emphasized that in her view, Leatherby’s family members, many of whom have been connected to the parish, are a “pr machine,” trying to promote the idea that the priest is the victim of persecution, “like a mafia,” Jennings added. Leatherby's defenders, Jennings said, have smeared the reputation of the priest's alleged victim within the parish community.

Jennings and her family eventually moved away from the parish, she told CNA.

Soto’s letter this week said the excommunication of Leatherby was not related to the 2016 canonical case. That case is not the only instance of suspected misconduct.

Earlier this year, a video circulated online in which Leatherby, who appeared to be driving a car at night, recorded a video message for an unidentified woman, who, according to Leatherby, is not the subject of the 2016 allegation.

“Hey, Baby Doll,” Leatherby says, as he begins the video.

“I love that without mascara that you are still strikingly beautiful. I love that. I love it, like, a lot. A lot a lot. I loved it earlier when I saw you, and you didn’t have it on, and I loved it all night long. ‘Til the present time, and you still don’t have it on, and you’re still gorgeous.”

After discussing an event he had attended that evening, Leatherby says in the video, “I love you, I love you, I love you, you’re my girl. I imagine I’ll still say a ‘good night’ before I really, really, really go to bed, but I love you, even now, before then. Ok, goodnight, I love you.”

Leatherby said this week that he accidentally sent that message to an unintended recipient, and acknowledged the video “appears to some as a confirmation that I must be guilty of every sensational detail that has been alleged about me,” the priest said.

The priest said his behavior in the video was inappropriate, but denied it is evidence of a sexual relationship with the woman.

According to Leatherby’s open letter, the video was intended for “a woman who is a friend and who has assisted me significantly to, literally, survive and persevere these last few years and to fight for my priesthood,” and was recorded “after too much to drink.”

“I spoke in inappropriate ways, unbecoming of my priestly state, even if on leave. Thus, it can be taken totally out of context. I do not have a sexual relationship with that woman,” he said, claiming that those circulating the video “are spreading one side of a story that you don’t know the truth about.”

His letter said that a “handful of detractors who are out to destroy me,” and are using the video irresponsibly. He also claimed that if he were inclined towards sexual immorality, “those pathologies would have been detected at the Saint John Vianney Treatment Center in Downingtown, PA, which I was required to attend for five months after being placed on leave. They dissected every aspect of my life and person.”

In 2018, Leatherby wrote to his former parishioners, whom he reportedly had been instructed by the diocese not to contact.

“At this time I feel called to exercise my spiritual fatherhood to a number of individuals like yourselves, for whom I have been a Pastor, spiritual father, or priest friend/acquaintance at one time or another. I believe that the times that our Lord, through our Blessed Mother, has been preparing the Church and the world for over the course of many years are hastening upon us.  She has said that it would be a time of great confusion and darkness, which we have all experienced in ways,” the priest wrote.

“My sense is that the times are going to get progressively darker.  There will be a cacophany (sic) of voices pulling us in one way or another.  We will be seeking to hear the voice of Christ in the midst of the clamor.  Stay close to sources that will offer authentic Catholic teaching,” he added.

This week, Leatherby said he plans to petition for laicization, because he is no longer “in union with the church over which Bergoglio reigns.” The priest said that he will “live out my priestly promises independently.”

If the priest is laicized, the canonical cases against him would likely conclude without formal resolution. The Sacramento diocese told CNA it will support Leatherby’s petition for laicization.

Through his canon lawyer, Leatherby declined CNA’s interview requests.


Back to Mass: South Dakota diocese lifts Sunday dispensation

CNA Staff, Aug 11, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Some Catholics in South Dakota will once again be obligated to go to Sunday Mass, after the Diocese of Sioux Falls it will lift the dispensation on Sunday Mass attendance this week. 

From this weekend, Catholics in the diocese who are not in high-risk categories for contracting coronavirus will once more be bound by the Sunday obligation, making Sioux Falls the first diocese to lift the general dispensation brought in across U.S. dioceses in the wake of the pandemic.

“After receiving clarity through prayer, consultation with clergy and others, and in light of this data, effective on August 17, 2020, I am changing the dispensation to apply only to those at increased risk for severe illness and those responsible for their care,” said a statement from Bishop Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls published on August 10. 

“It is important for all in the diocese to know that this modification is made out of pastoral concern for the souls entrusted to my spiritual care,” he added. 

DeGrood defined “those at increased risk for severe illness” as people who are over the age of 65, or anyone with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a compromised immune system due to an organ transplant, obesity, “serious heart conditions,” sickle cell disease, or type two diabetes mellitus. 

The decision by the Sioux Falls bishop, whose territory includes the the eastern half of the state, is believed to be the first of its kind. Even in dioceses where public Masses have resumed, there is still no obligation in place for everyone to attend Mass if they do not think it is safe to do so.

DeGrood said in the statement that he made the decision to reinstate the obligation in light of the relatively low impact the novel coronavirus has had on the state of South Dakota, especially as the predictions of overrun hospitals and deaths in the thousands failed to materialize. 

“As I have been praying these last months, I have been monitoring COVID-19 infection rates and am grateful the projected severe harm to a large number of people in East River South Dakota has not occurred,” said DeGrood. 

“The local data presently available is helpful. For example, as of August 10, of the 44 counties in our diocese, seven have no active cases, 22 have one to 10 active cases, and 15 have 11 or more active cases. Thanks be to God, the hospitals within our state have not suffered an overwhelming surge as was initially feared,” he added. 

As of August 10, there were 63 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, a number that DeGrood said represented “3% of the total hospital bed capacity, 3% of intensive care unit bed capacity, and 5% of ventilator capacity for the state.”

In the statement, DeGrood said that a Catholic who is hesitant to return to Mass, despite not being at an increased risk of COVID-19 or caring for someone who is severely ill--must discern whether or not their fear is “morally justifiable” or “inordinate.” 

“It is essential that these serious questions are discerned in prayer and that the decisions are made in good faith, based upon objective data,” said DeGrood. He listed the examples of “morally justified” fear that would merit skipping Mass to be “regular contact with a person with increased risk,” “recent, prolonged contact with a symptomatic person,” or someone who has “a significant emotional response from fear of contracting COVID-19.”  

DeGrood also reminded his flock in the statement about the importance of social distancing and “good hygienic practices” to further stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Public Masses resumed in the Diocese of Sioux Falls on May 15, approximately two months after they were suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

A total of 146 South Dakotans have died from COVID-19. There are approximately 1,100 active cases of coronavirus statewide.

Franciscans of Assisi report 18 coronavirus cases

Rome Newsroom, Aug 11, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- While Assisi was largely sheltered from a major coronavirus outbreak during Italy’s lockdown, ten Franciscan friars and eight novices at the  landmark pilgrimage destination tested positive this week for COVID-19.

On Aug. 10, Fr. Enzo Fortunato, spokesman for the community at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, said that all 18 men are in isolation and in good health. 

The first to test positive were Franciscan novices who arrived in Italy last week from France and other European countries to begin the novitiate year of their vocation. Fr. Fortunato stated that these newly arrived novices have had no contact with visiting pilgrims to Assisi.

“While wishing them a speedy recovery, the friars of the community continue their commitment by praying and welcoming pilgrims and tourists,” Fr. Fortunato wrote on the Assisi basilica’s website Monday.

The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which contains the tomb of St. Francis, reopened May 18 with additional safety measures, including a mask requirement. 

The small town of Assisi has suffered economically from the loss of tourism. The city council reported that the number of tour busses arriving in the hilltown between March 7 and June 7 decreased by 2,751 compared to the previous year. 

Several events are planned to take place in Assisi this fall, including the beatification of Carlo Acutis on October 10 and “The Economy of Francesco” international summit, which has been postponed to November 21.

Umbria, the region in which Assisi is located, had one of the lowest number of coronavirus cases in Italy with a  total of 1,510 cases in 2020 compared with more than 10,000 in Tuscany and over 96,000 in Lombardy.

Throughout Italy this summer there have been concerns that European tourists could spread the coronavirus. Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza also expressed concern over European contagion this week, after Italians tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from vacations in Croatia and Greece. 

France reported 1,695 new daily cases on Aug. 5 leading many of its cities to implement a mask requirement for streets surrounding tourist destinations. Spain also saw a spike in new coronavirus cases and now has the highest number of total cases in Western Europe. 

Italy reported 552 new daily coronavirus cases on Aug. 7 and 463 new cases on Aug. 9, according to its health ministry.

Deceased Massachusetts bishop accused of sexual abuse had roots in New York archdiocese

CNA Staff, Aug 11, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop-designate Mitchell Rozanski, who will take over the Archdiocese of St. Louis this month, oversaw an investigation into the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of Springfield, Mass, a bishop credibly accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in the 1960s. Rozanski has faced criticism for some aspects of his handling of the case, which the bishop said had been mishandled for years.

In 2018 an alleged victim, known under the pseudonym John Doe, told the Springfield diocesan review board that Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, who retired in 1977 and died in 1982, had abused him when he was an altar boy in the 1960s. Two priests also abused him, he said.

However, Bishop Weldon was not listed on the Springfield diocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of abuse. Although at least three witnesses and a letter to Doe from the review board supported Doe’s claim that he told the review board about Weldon, the review board only acknowledged Doe’s claim that the two priests had abused him. When the matter became controversial in 2019, then-Bishop Mitchell Rozanski commissioned an independent investigation.

On June 24, the diocese released a 373-page report finding that Doe’s claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon was “unequivocally credible.” It found an investigator employed by the diocese had produced two reports on Doe’s accusations, only one of which was clear in naming Weldon. The investigator is no longer employed by the diocese.

Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”

The Springfield diocese now lists Weldon on its list of credibly accused diocesan priests and deacons. While the list says the clergy “had one or more credible allegations of sexual abuse of a child made against them while they were living,” Weldon was not accused while he was alive.

The New York archdiocese does not include Weldon on its list of credibly accused priests, though he left the archdiocese in 1950. CNA has been unable to confirm whether the Archdiocese of New York or St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he previously served as a priest, have been formally notified about the case.

CNA sought comment from the Diocese of Springfield, the Archdiocese of New York, and New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but did not receive a response by deadline.

There are no consistent church norms regarding notification of a credible allegation of abuse when a priest or bishop is from another diocese.

Article 7 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People says that dioceses are to be “open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved.”

“This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by sexual abuse of a minor,” said the charter.

Weldon was ordained Bishop of Springfield in 1950, after coming to prominence in the Archdiocese of New York. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1929 and was a U.S. Navy chaplain during World War II. He then served as master of ceremonies under the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman, who appointed him executive director of Catholic Charities of New York in 1947, his New York Times obituary reports.

He served as a trustee of the University of Massachusetts and was president of Elms College, a Catholic women’s liberal arts college in Chicopee, from 1958 to 1977.

Weldon’s alleged collaborators in abusing Doe were the priests Edward Authier, who died in 1970, and Clarence Forand, who died in May 2005 at the age of 87. Both served at St. Anne’s Parish in Chicopee.

In 1993 a diocesan review board ruled credible a 1992 allegation that Forand sexually abused a minor for nearly 10 years. Forand denied the accusation, which did not become public until 2004.

Authier’s name was not made public until the controversy over Doe’s accusation. The Springfield diocese’s website of priests credibly accused of abuse now lists the names of Weldon and Forand, but not Authier.

Weldon is not the first Springfield bishop to be accused of sexually abusing a minor.

In February 2004, Bishop Thomas Dupre resigned and left the state to check into a medical facility soon after being confronted by allegations he had sexually abused two teen boys in the 1970s.

In September 2004, he became the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. to be indicted on criminal charges for sexual abuse. While prosecutors argued the then-statutes of limitations did not apply to the case because Dupre allegedly took steps to conceal the abuse as recently as 2003, then-District Attorney William Bennett said the case would not go to trial due to the statute of limitations on some charges and because the grand jury decided not to indict on other charges, The Republican newspaper reported.

Dupre also came under criticism for his response to convicted sex abuser and laicized priest Richard L. Lavigne, a suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of a Springfield altar boy named Daniel Croteau. The Vatican laicized the priest in 2004.

Dupre served the Springfield diocese as vicar general, chancellor and auxiliary bishop. When he was named an auxiliary bishop in 1990 and when he was named Bishop of Springfield in 1995, he allegedly called his victims to ensure they would not report abuse.

Some commentators believe both Weldon and Dupre controlled what information was kept in the diocesan archives, the Springfield newspaper The Republican reports.

Sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church peaked in the period from 1970 to 1974, according to the U.S. bishops’ reports on child protection. Thousands of victims have come forward and Catholic dioceses and religious orders have paid billions of dollars in lawsuits and other settlements.

Doe claimed that Weldon abused boys in collaboration with priests. A similar allegation has arisen in a recent lawsuit against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which characterized him as a leader of a “sex ring” with abusive priests while he was Bishop of Metuchen, N.J.

While McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and laicized after a credible allegation against him was made public in 2018, the allegation concerning a “sex ring” has not yet been substantiated. It comes from controversial lawyer Jeff Anderson, whom critics consider to be a self-promoter who has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation.

Like Weldon, McCarrick was among the hundreds of priests serving in the Archdiocese of New York. McCarrick was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 1977.

Federal court rules Arkansas abortion restrictions can take effect

CNA Staff, Aug 10, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A federal court of appeals has removed an injunction blocking four Arkansas abortion regulations from going into effect.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Friday to reinstate the 2017 Arkansas laws. They can take effect August 28, although they may still face legal challenge.

The laws include a ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, and two regulations on the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, as well as legislation prohibiting a second-trimester abortion method known as “dilation and evacuation,” by which an unborn baby is dismembered.

A district judge had blocked the rules following a legal challenge from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a local abortion doctor.

The appeals court said the district judge should re-examine the case in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this summer in June Medical Services v. Russo.

While that decision struck down a law regulating abortion clinics in Louisiana, the appeals court said Chief Justice John Robert’s concurrence in the case may be relevant to the Arkansas legislation in question. Roberts said states have “wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge applauded the ruling.

“Arkansas has taken a strong stance to protect the unborn from inhumane treatment,” she said in an August 7 statement.

“As Arkansas’s chief legal officer, I have always advocated for the lives of unborn children and will continue to defend our State’s legal right to protect the unborn. No defenseless baby should ever face the unimaginable and horrifying fate of death by dismemberment.”