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European court rules Vatican cannot be sued in local courts over clerical abuse

Cupola of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City / CNA

Strasbourg, France, Oct 12, 2021 / 07:15 am (CNA).

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that the Vatican cannot be sued in local courts for the actions of clerical abusers because it has sovereign immunity.

The international court that interprets the European Convention on Human Rights issued the ruling on Oct. 12. It is the first time that the court has considered a case touching on the Holy See’s immunity.

A Chamber of seven judges decided by six votes to one that courts in Belgium did not violate Article 6 § 1 of the convention, on the right of access to a court, when they declined jurisdiction in respect of the Vatican.

The case, known as J.C. and Others v. Belgium, was brought by 24 Belgian, French, and Dutch nationals against the Vatican, as well as Catholic leaders and associations in Belgium.

The applicants, who said they were sexually abused by Catholic priests as children, sought to bring a civil action against the Vatican, arguing that it had addressed clerical abuse in a “structurally deficient manner.”

An Oct. 12 ECHR press release said: “The Court found that the dismissal of the proceedings by the Belgian courts in declining jurisdiction to hear the tort case brought by the applicants against the Holy See had not departed from the generally recognized principles of international law in matters of state immunity, and the restriction on the right of access to a court could not therefore be regarded as disproportionate to the legitimate aims pursued.”

The Chamber’s ruling is not final and can be referred within three months to the court’s Grand Chamber, where a panel of five judges would decide whether to hear the case and offer a final judgment.

If the Grand Chamber rejected the referral request then the Chamber’s ruling would become final.

The applicants filed a class action in the Court of First Instance in Ghent, northwest Belgium, in July 2011.

They asked that the defendants be held jointly and severally liable for their suffering caused by priests and members of religious orders, seeking compensation of 10,000 euros (around $11,500) each.

The court declined jurisdiction in respect of the Holy See in October 2013.

The Ghent Court of Appeal upheld the judgment in February 2016. In August of that year, a lawyer at the Court of Cassation said that an appeal to the supreme court of the Belgian judicial system was unlikely to succeed.

Twenty of the claimants obtained compensation via an arbitration center for sexual abuse claims within the Church. Four did not apply.

The group lodged an application with the ECHR on Feb. 2, 2017, arguing that by acknowledging the Holy See’s state immunity from jurisdiction the local courts had prevented them from asserting their civil claims.

The ECHR judges acknowledged that the Holy See was “recognized internationally as having the common attributes of a foreign sovereign,” noting that it has diplomatic relations with some 185 states worldwide.

The Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Belgium date back to 1832.

The judges noted that the applicants had argued for an exception to the immunity rule applying to proceedings connected to “an action for pecuniary compensation in the event of the death or physical injury of a person, or in the event of damage to or loss of tangible property.”

The Court of Appeal had dismissed the exception on several grounds, the ECHR press release said. The court said that Belgian bishops’ misconduct could not be attributed to the Holy See as the pope was not “the principal in relation to the bishops” and the Vatican’s alleged misconduct was committed in Rome rather than Belgium.

“It was not for the [ECHR] to substitute its own assessment for that of the national courts, since their assessment on this point had not been arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable,” the press release said.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Darian Pavli of Albania questioned why the Belgian courts had “accepted wholesale” the contention that “there was no principal/agent relationship between the Holy See and the bishops.”

“Domestic courts have an obligation to adequately set out the factual and legal reasons for their decision. In my view, the Belgian courts failed to do so in relation to the claim of vicarious liability, and I would therefore have found a violation of Article 6 of the Convention in this case,” Pavli wrote.

The Holy See has responded successfully to similar cases in U.S. courts.

A federal judge in Portland, Oregon, dismissed a sex abuse lawsuit against the Holy See in 2012 on the grounds that the Vatican was not an employer of an accused ex-priest and could not be held financially liable for the abuse.

Jeffrey Lena, counsel for the Holy See, described the ruling in the case known as Doe v. Holy See as “particularly important.”

‘They are killing Naples’: Catholic archbishop appeals for an end to mafia violence

Archbishop Domenico Battaglia of Naples, Italy. / Vincenzo Amoruso via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome Newsroom, Oct 12, 2021 / 06:17 am (CNA).

The archbishop of the Italian city of Naples responded on Tuesday to a spate of deadly violence with an appeal for members of organized crime groups to “be converted.”

“They are killing Naples! The trail of blood that is crossing the city these days, causing death to young lives and terror and anguish to entire neighborhoods, streets, families, cannot leave us indifferent,” Archbishop Domenico Battaglia said in an Oct. 12 statement on the archdiocesan website.

His appeal followed the Oct. 9 murder of a 19-year-old man. Police are investigating the man’s connections to the Camorra, a Naples-based criminal organization. A 23-year-old man was also killed last week.

Over the weekend, armed robbers entered a pizzeria in a Naples suburb, pointing guns at families eating dinner, including young children.

In his message, Battaglia addressed members of the Camorra and others connected with crime.

“I say: go back to being human! Be converted!” he said. “Your bishop will not hold back in welcoming and accompanying the steps of conversion and the human rebirth of those who will listen to their conscience and the word of the Gospel, laying down their weapons, and undertaking paths of collaboration with justice.”

The 58-year-old Battaglia became archbishop of Naples in December 2020. Prior to the appointment, he was a parish priest in another southern Italian archdiocese, Catanzaro-Squillace, where he was called “Don Mimmo” and known as a “street priest” who cared for the marginalized.

Battaglia said this week that he and a group of young adults from the archdiocese would visit the Ponticelli district of Naples, one of the areas most affected by the Camorra’s recent escalation of violence.

“They are killing Naples!” he reiterated. “The Camorra and the underworld are killing it, with the violence and cruelty of those who have forgotten that they are human.”

He added that people’s indifference and a failure to take a stand against the violence were also destroying the city.

“Under the cross of our city, we must today more than ever, together and without distinction of faith, politics, social and institutional role, stand up, avoid lying on our backs waiting for something to change by itself and sitting, hardened and resigned to seeing Naples die,” he said.

Addressing the mothers of Naples, especially those living in difficult neighborhoods and family situations, he said: “Be an instrument of conversion for your children, help your families to repent, be once again the womb that generates life and not accomplices of death paths.”

Battaglia will hold a meeting on Oct. 13 with members of civil society, the private sector, and the Catholic Church to work on an educational initiative for Naples.

“The kids and young people of Naples cannot be passive recipients of change but must become its protagonists,” he said.

“To all institutions, to civil society, to men and women of goodwill, to my Neapolitan Church, I ask today more than ever to walk together, overcoming individualism and mistrust, working together to restore Naples to its vocation as a city of peace, welcome, solidarity.”

Papal envoy crowns Florida's Our Lady of La Leche

Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid crowns the image of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida. / St. Augustine Catholic/Fran Ruchalski.

St. Augustine, Fla., Oct 11, 2021 / 16:09 pm (CNA).

The image of Our Lady of La Leche was canonically crowned Sunday, during Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Florida. 

“The Church that walks in St. Augustine is aware that a mother accompanies us in our mission: Our Lady of La Leche and Happy Delivery, whom we crown as queen and lady of all creation,” said Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, Spain, through a translator, at the Oct. 10 Mass. The cardinal served as an envoy for Pope Francis.

“I have been told, and I have noticed, these few days that I have been with you, the affection and devotion that you have for the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mother. I thank God because you are a people who have known how to fulfill what we have just heard in the Gospel and will have accepted with all its consequences the gift that Christ from the Cross, made through St. John to all men and women: ‘Behold, your mother.’ To accept such a great gift makes the people greater.”

Following the homily, the cardinal placed crowns, crafted of gold from Italy and Spain, on Mary and the child Jesus, depicted in the image of Our Lady of La Leche.  

“Today, this Diocese of St. Augustine also says the same words as the woman in the crowd, who listened to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breast at which you nursed”,” the cardinal said. 

“May she intercede for us today and make us feel her words in the depth of our hearts: “Do whatever he tells you,” as she said.”

Our Lady of La Leche is the fourth image in the United States to be canonically crowned. The first was Our Lady of Prompt Succor in New Orleans, in 1895. St. Pius X crowned Our Lady of Mount Carmel of New York in Manhattan in 1904, and Benedict XVI crowned Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 2013. 

The practice of canonical coronations dates to the 17th century. It is a formal crowning of an image of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or St. Joseph, in the name of the Holy Father. A crowning honors an image’s universal importance for the Catholic Church. 

The image of Our Lady of La Leche has roots in Bethlehem, but Spanish settlers from Madrid brought the image to what is now Florida in 1577. 

Since then, a National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche was constructed— the first Marian shrine in U.S. history, according to Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine. The shrine has become a popular pilgrimage site, especially for women hoping to become pregnant or praying for a safe delivery. 

Her full title is Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto, which is Spanish for “Our Lady of Milk and Happy Delivery.” 

The image of Our Lady of La Leche is unique in that it features the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. The National Shrine commissioned a new image of Our Lady of La Leche in honor of the coronation. The image was sculpted in northern Italy.

“It is kind of a Nativity of the Lord, because it is the child, recently born, in the hands of Mary,” said Bishop Estévez. “The image is Mary embracing the child— Emmanuel— and nursing him in his vulnerability...Her eyes are gazing on him, almost an invitation to us to always have our gaze on Jesus.”

Bishop Estévez said the image can be especially powerful within the pro-life movement. 

“To look at this devotion, and to nurture this devotion, is to affirm the dignity of the human person, the protection of human life, the welcoming of the child, the dignity of the woman,” he said. “It wraps up such good news, such good values that our culture is in desperate need of.”

Who is Carlo Acutis? 10 things you should know about him

Blessed Carlo Acutis / Diocese of Assisi

Denver Newsroom, Oct 11, 2021 / 14:10 pm (CNA).

Carlo Acutis, a Catholic Italian teenager who died in 2006, was beatified Oct. 10, 2020 in Assisi.

Acutis, a gamer and computer programmer who loved soccer and the Eucharist, gained interest around the world.

So who was Carlo Acutis? Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Carlo Acutis was born May 3, 1991, in London, where his parents were working. Just a few months later, his parents, Andrea Acutis and Antonia Salzano, moved to Milan.

  2. As a teenager, Carlo was diagnosed with leukemia. He offered his sufferings for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church, saying “"I offer all the suffering I will have to suffer for the Lord, for the Pope, and the Church.”

  3. He died on Oct. 12, 2006, and was buried in Assisi, at his request, because of his love for St. Francis of Assisi. His cause for canonization began in 2013. He was designated “Venerable” in 2018, and was designated “Blessed” October 10, 2020. 

  4. From a young age, Carlo seemed to have a special love for God, even though his parents weren’t especially devout. His mom said that before Carlo, she went to Mass only for her First Communion, her confirmation, and her wedding. But as a young child, Carlo loved to pray the rosary. After he made his First Communion, he went to Mass as often as he could, and he made Holy Hours before or after Mass. He went to confession weekly. He asked his parents to take him on pilgrimages — to the places of the saints, and to the sites of Eucharistic miracles.

  5. His witness of faith led to a deep conversion in his mom, because, according to the priest promoting his cause for sainthood, he “managed to drag his relatives, his parents to Mass every day. It was not the other way around; it was not his parents bringing the little boy to Mass, but it was he who managed to get himself to Mass and to convince others to receive Communion daily.”

  6. He was known for defending kids at school who got picked on, especially disabled kids. When a friend's parents were getting a divorce, Carlo made a special effort to include his friend in the Acutis family life.

  7. He was also a programmer, and built a website cataloguing and promoting Eucharistic miracles. On the site, he told people that "the more often we receive the Eucharist, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of heaven."

  8. Carlo loved playing video games. His console of choice was a Playstation, or possibly a PS2, which was released in 2000, when Carlo was nine. We know he only allowed himself to play games for an hour a week, as a penance and a spiritual discipline, but he wanted to play much more.

  9. Initially, there were reports that the body of Carlo Acutis was found to be incorrupt. A spokeswoman for Acutis’ beatification told CNA that the entire body was present when it was exhumed, but “not incorrupt.” He, however, lied in repose in a glass tomb where he was venerated by pilgrims until Oct. 17, 2020. He was displayed in jeans and a pair of Nikes, the casual clothes he preferred in life.

  10. His heart, which can now be considered a relic, is displayed in a reliquary in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. His mother said that his family had wanted to donate his organs when he died, but were unable to do so because of the leukemia.

Originally published Oct. 20, 2020.

US bishops welcome increased refugee admissions cap

U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters / Hiram Rios/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2021 / 13:23 pm (CNA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Monday their positive reaction to the news that the refugee cap will increase to 125,000 for the coming fiscal year.

“The last few years have had a devastating impact on refugee resettlement, all while we witness the greatest forced migration crises in decades,” said an Oct. 11 statement from Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and chairman of the USCCB’s migration committee. 

“We commend the Administration for seeking to reassert American leadership in this area, and we look forward to continued action in support of this goal. We also urge Congress to provide the resources necessary to not only rebuild the Refugee Admissions Program but sustain it for the next four decades and beyond,” added Bishop Dorsonville. 

On Oct. 8, the Biden administration issued a Presidential Determination for Fiscal Year 2022, raising the refugee cap to 125,000. This figure is the highest level since 1993. Bishop Dorsonville had previously advocated for this figure. The new cap means that up to 125,000 refugees can be admitted to the United States through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, although that figure may not be met.

“Whether fleeing war, natural disaster, or persecution, the positive contributions of refugees to our society have been well documented,” said Bishop Dorsonville. “First and foremost, however, we recognize them as vulnerable members of the same human family to which we ourselves belong.”

The bishop stated that Catholics in particular are called in a “special way” to “this ministry of welcome and encounter, through which we express the fullness of the Church’s universality.”

“The bishops of the United States pledge our continued commitment to this work, and we praise the many Catholic organizations, communities, and persons dedicated to what Pope Francis has referred to as ‘a new “frontier” for mission, a privileged opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ and the Gospel message at home, and to bear concrete witness to the Christian faith in a spirit of charity,’” he said. 

Previously, President Joe Biden had set the refugee cap at 62,500 for Fiscal Year 2021. In April of 2021, advocates for refugees complained that despite promises to increase the number of refugees, the process had been “effectively halted.” 

According to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that assists refugees, only 2,050 refugees had been admitted to the United States by late April 2021. 

In February 2021, Biden pledged to raise the refugee cap to 62,500 - nearly four times the current cap of 15,000. He did not, however, make a Presidential Determination for this figure until early May, much to the frustration of resettlement organizations. A total of 11,411 refugees were admitted to the United States in FY2021.

Denver cathedral vandalized with anti-Catholic slogans 

Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. / Photo courtesy of Fr. Samuel Morehead.

Denver, Colo., Oct 11, 2021 / 12:18 pm (CNA).

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver was spray-painted with anti-Catholic slogans on Sunday, the latest in a series of vandalism incidents against Catholic buildings in Colorado. 

Photos shared by local news reporters show slogans such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL” written in bright red spray paint on the outside of the cathedral building, sidewalks, and on the base of a statue of St. John Paul II, who visited and stayed at the cathedral in 1993. 

Father Samuel Morehead, the cathedral rector, said he was alerted about the vandalism by parishioners as they arrived to prepare for Sunday Mass. 

Father Morehead told CNA that an eyewitness saw a person spray-painting the church around 7:45 am, in daylight, Oct. 10. Early indications are of a lone woman who carried out the attack, though police have not shared any information about persons of interest.

Father Morehead said police street cameras caught images of the person in the act, though he does not know if the footage is clear enough to make an identification. 

The graffiti has since been cleaned off with the help of parishioners and other volunteers. The paint has been power-washed off the main doors, Father Morehead said, and a specialist is currently working to remove the paint from the cathedral’s stonework. 

Father Morehead said the assailant seems to have some “deep personal wounds and grievances” against God and the Church, but “it remains to be seen” what the true motive for the crime was. 

A spokesperson for Denver Police confirmed to CBS4 that the department is investigating the incident. 

Archdiocese of Denver spokesman Mark Haas said since February 2020, at least 25 parishes or ministry locations in northern Colorado are known to have been the target of vandalism, property destruction, or theft.

“It continues to be troubling to see the increased reports of vandalism at Catholic churches, both across the county and in our archdiocese, and it is certainly unfortunate when our parishes are targeted simply because of our beliefs,” Haas said in a statement to CNA. 

“We continue to pray for the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues, and religious symbols.”

The cathedral sustained serious damage in mid-2020 amid racially charged protests in downtown Denver. The church building and rectory were spray painted with the slogans "Pedofiles" [sic], "God is dead," "There is no God," along with anti-police, anarchist, and anti-religion phrases and symbols. 

Gates surrounding the cathedral were damaged in those protests, tear gas that was fired to disperse the protests leaked into the rectory, and the outer doors to the cathedral sustained permanent damage. Three bags of rocks were collected from the parking lot, but the cathedral's most valuable windows were unharmed. Other windows on the cathedral's campus were shattered.  

In June of this year, Holy Ghost Catholic Church, also located in downtown Denver, was tagged with red graffiti in a possible reference to the ongoing controversy over former Catholic-run schools for Indigenous in Canada, though the exact motive remains unclear. 

In late August, the predominantly African-American parish of Curé d'Ars, located in north Denver, was broken into and robbed. All the church's vessels used for Mass were stolen from the vestry, which the thieves accessed by kicking in a wooden door. The thieves also cut all the copper piping off of the building's furnaces downstairs and from a stairwell on the building's exterior, flooding the church basement with water.

The church’s tabernacle, containing the Eucharist, was stolen from the sanctuary. Some of the stolen items have since been recovered, but the Eucharist remains missing. 

Last month, Sacred Heart of Mary Parish in nearby Boulder, Colorado, which is in the Denver archdiocese, was tagged with numerous spray-painted slogans including “Jesus [Loves] Abortion,” “Bans off our bodies,” “No Wire Hangers Ever,” and a symbol combining an “A” signifying “anarchy” and the traditional symbol for “female.” 

The parish had a display of 4,000 small white crosses in its front lawn, each one representing a baby aborted each day in the United States. The vandals trampled and desecrated at least half of the crosses. 

St. Louis Parish in nearby Louisville, Colorado was vandalized with similar pro-abortion graffiti recently. 

There have been at least 95 reported incidents of vandalism of Catholic churches across the United States since May 2020, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty.

Incidents include arson, the destruction of statues, and the defacement of church buildings and gravestones with swastikas and anti-Catholic language.

How does U.S. abortion law compare to those in European countries?

The sixth national Walk for Life in Zagreb, Croatia, May 29, 2021. / Tomislav Bagarić

Rome Newsroom, Oct 11, 2021 / 11:24 am (CNA).

Abortion laws around the world are likely to be cited when the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in December about the constitutionality of a Mississippi state law banning most abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.

That is because the drafters of the 2018 Mississippi law expressly compared U.S. regulations with those of other countries.

In their first legislative finding justifying the law, they wrote:  “The United States is one of only seven nations in the world that permits nontherapeutic or elective abortion-on-demand after the 20th week of gestation.” 

“In fact, fully 75% of all nations do not permit abortion after 12 weeks’ gestation, except (in most instances) to save the life and to preserve the physical health of the mother.”

The Mississippi law effectively challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that swept away many federal and state abortion restrictions. That Supreme Court decision was accompanied by another, less well-known ruling, Doe. v. Bolton, permitting abortion on demand after “viability” for reasons related to the mother’s “health," which encompasses the mother's mental health.

Oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, are due to begin at the Supreme Court on Dec. 1.

In a Supreme Court brief, Mississippi officials urged the court to recognize that the U.S. law is out of step with those of other Western nations. 

“The United States finds itself in the company of China and North Korea as some of the only countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation,” they wrote.

“That is not progress. The time has come to recognize as much.”

Lawyers for the abortion providers challenging the Mississippi law also cited foreign laws in their brief, but in support of their contention that the U.S. is not an outlier. 

They wrote in a footnote that “in countries with legal traditions and democratic values most comparable to the United States, such as Great Britain and Canada, abortion is legal until at least viability.” 

“And many countries that have limits earlier in pregnancy continue to permit abortion for broad social and health reasons after that point, functionally allowing abortion later in pregnancy and making their laws entirely different from the [Mississippi] Ban.”

So, how does U.S. law match up to those of other countries?

A direct comparison is complicated by the fact that abortion restrictions and legal exceptions vary widely from country to country. In addition, many countries that had strict restrictions, such as Ireland, have liberalized their laws in recent years.

However, the Washington Post’s fact-checkers concluded in 2017 that “the data back up the claim” that the U.S. is one of only seven countries that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. (PolitiFact also determined that the statement was true.)

The other six countries are North Korea, China, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

The Washington Post drew on a 2014 report by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, which studied the abortion laws of 198 countries, independent states, and semi-autonomous regions with more than a million people. (The United Nations officially recognizes 193 sovereign states.)

“Of these 198 countries, independent states, and regions worldwide, 59 allow abortion without restriction as to reason, otherwise known as elective abortion or abortion on demand,” the Charlotte Lozier Institute report found.

“The remaining 139 countries require some reason to obtain an abortion ranging from most restrictive (to save the life of the mother or completely prohibited) to least restrictive (socioeconomic grounds) with various reasons in between (e.g., physical health, mental health).”

The institute’s study concluded that “Upholding laws restricting abortion on demand after 20 weeks would situate the United States closer to the international mainstream, instead of leaving it as an outlying country with ultra-permissive abortion policies.”

A study released by the Charlotte Lozier Institute in July found that 47 out of 50 European countries, independent states, and regions analyzed either do not allow elective abortion or limit elective abortion to 15 weeks or earlier.

“No European nation allows elective abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, as is effectively permitted in several U.S. states, and America is one of only a small handful of nations, along with China and North Korea, to permit any sort of late-term elective abortion,” concluded the report’s author, Angelina B. Nguyen.

The closest analog to the U.S. law in Europe is arguably the Netherlands, a country of 17 million people known for pioneering controversial practices such as child euthanasia

The country’s Termination of Pregnancy Act permits abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy, “the point at which the fetus becomes viable outside the mother’s womb.” 

Abortions after 24 weeks are permitted in certain circumstances, such as when the unborn child has an untreatable “disorder” or is deemed likely to suffer after its birth.

The latest Charlotte Lozier Institute study said that the Netherlands was one of just three European countries to permit elective abortion after 15 weeks, alongside Sweden (up to 18 weeks) and Iceland (22 weeks.)

In Germany, abortion for any reason is permitted in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. But the law requires counseling at a state-approved center and a three-day waiting period before the procedure can take place. 

The European Union’s most populous country, with 83 million people, Germany permits late-term abortions in cases of rape or if the physical or psychological health of the mother is considered at risk of serious harm.

Family News Service
Family News Service

Next door in France, a country of 63 million people, abortion on demand is allowed up to 12 weeks.

Abortions in the second and third trimesters are permitted only if two physicians certify that it is necessary to save the life of the mother, to prevent grave and permanent harm to her health, or the child has a severe and incurable illness.

In  Italy, abortion is legal for any reason within the first 90 days (almost 13 weeks) of pregnancy, and afterward for certain reasons with the referral of a physician.

The practice was legalized in 1978, despite opposition from Pope Paul VI, who encouraged doctors to exercise conscientious objection.

The RU486 abortion drug was legalized in Italy in 2009, and in 2010 standards were set which require women to be hospitalized for three days during its administration. It cannot be prescribed beyond the seventh week of pregnancy.

The United Kingdom, a country of 67 million people with cultural ties to the U.S., permits abortion for socio-economic reasons up to 24 weeks, but up to birth if “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

The U.K.’s Abortion Act 1967 initially permitted abortion up to 28 weeks. The law paved the way for other countries to legalize the practice in the ensuing years, including Canada in 1969 and the U.S. in 1973.

Ireland, a country of almost five million people neighboring the U.K., was until recently one of the few European nations recognizing the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. 

But the pro-life Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, introduced in 1983, was scrapped after a referendum in 2018. 

The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 permits abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and later in cases of fatal fetal abnormality or where the woman’s life or health are deemed to be at risk.

The only remaining sizeable European country with pro-life laws is Poland. The nation of 38 million people, strongly influenced by the Catholic Church, permits abortion only in cases of rape or incest, or risk to the mother’s life. 

The country’s top court ruled in October 2020 that abortion on the grounds of fetal abnormality was unconstitutional, prompting nationwide protests. Demonstrators disrupted Masses while holding signs supporting abortion, left graffiti on Church property, vandalized statues of Polish pope St. John Paul II, and chanted slogans at clergy.  

Several small European states also have pro-life laws, including Malta, Liechtenstein, Andorra, and of course Vatican City.

Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, and San Marino, a microstate within Italy, both recently voted to legalize abortion. 

This report was updated on Oct. 13, 2021, with a reference to the Charlotte Lozier Institute’s July 2021 study.

Meet the volunteer friar firefighters started by St. Maximilian Kolbe

The volunteer friar firefighters started by St. Maximilian Kolbe / EWTN News In Depth

Niepokalanow, Oct 11, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

A group of firefighters from Poland looks just like any other firefighting brigade, with heavy uniforms, hard helmets, and a red truck ready to go at a moment’s notice. But these men are something else, too: friars dedicated to God.

“Being a firefighter, for us, is one of the aspects of religious life and the priesthood,” Father Jacek Szczepanik, who recently joined the unit, explained to EWTN News In Depth in an episode that aired on Oct. 1. He and another friar shared the history and daily life of their volunteer brigade founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1931.

Each day, five friar firefighters are on call in the Niepokalanow brigade. Another assists them by staying on constant vigil. Brother Janusz Kulak, who has 35 years of experience in firefighting, heads the unit.

“We have a lot of work because there are always different accidents each year,” he said. “These range from the cat in the tree to the flooded basement and disaster relief. You can say that any accident that requires help is work for the religious firefighters unit.”

They stay particularly busy during the summer and fall, when the weather is hot and dry. 

When it began in 1931, the brigade responded to the local community’s need: fighting fires that threatened wooden construction and houses. According to Fr. Jacek, it was a challenging task. He remembered a miraculous event where one brother fought a stable fire. 

“At one point, hot tar fell on him, both on his helmet and habit,” he said. “Theoretically, he should have been dead, but it turned out that he was just a little injured where he had no clothes or habit.”

For Fr. Jacek, the brigade was a vocation and a childhood dream realized.

“My favorite reading, as for many boys in elementary school, was a book called ‘How Wojtek Became a Firefighter,’” he remembered.

“Each of us performs many other services, each of us is fully prepared to embrace various professions, and the firefighter is one of the ways — a very spectacular way,” he concluded, “because it’s the only one in the world that allows me to be a monk, priest, and brother at the same time.”

New JPII Institute president: My stance on Humanae vitae was misinterpreted

Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, president of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in Rome. / Arnaldo Casali.

Rome, Italy, Oct 11, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, the new president of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in Rome, officially took office on Sept. 22.

The 61-year-old French theologian’s appointment was made public on March 19 by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the institute’s grand chancellor, at the launch of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year.

Bordeyne, who specializes in moral theology, ecumenism, and the theological hermeneutics of Vatican II, succeeded Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, who led the institute since 2016.

Bordeyne had served as rector of the Institut Catholique de Paris (ICP) since 2011.

He is taking up his new post at a tumultuous time in the institute’s history.

Pope John Paul II founded the Pontifical Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family in 1982 with the apostolic constitution Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum.

Explaining why he was taking the initiative, he wrote that it was now “necessary to found a primary institute of studies whose special concern it will be to promote the basic theological and pastoral study of marriage and the family for the good of the whole Church.”

The new institute was based at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

In 2017, Pope Francis refounded the institute with the apostolic letter Summa familiae cura, issued motu proprio (“on his own impulse”).

He decreed that the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family would now be known as the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

He explained that he was “broadening [the institute’s] field of interest, both in relation to the new dimensions of the pastoral task and of the ecclesial mission, and with reference to developments in the human sciences and in anthropological culture in a field so fundamental for the culture of life.”

He added that it was “essential that the original inspiration that gave life to the former institute […] continue to bear fruit in the broader field of activity of the new theological institute, effectively contributing to making it correspond fully to the current demands of the pastoral mission of the Church.”

In 2019, Francis approved the institute’s new statutes, which were criticized in a letter signed by more than 150 students and alumni. Amid the departure of senior staff, the group said it was concerned about “the loss of the formational approach, and therefore, of the identity” of the institute.

When Paglia unveiled Bordeyne as the new president, he said that the French monsignor’s mission would be to make the institute “even more universal.”

Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said that the institute’s refounding was meant to create a synthesis between the visions of John Paul II and Pope Francis.

“I agreed to leave the ICP a year before the end of my mandate with a spirit of service, to respond to the call of Archbishop Paglia,” Bordeyne told CNA via email, expressing his enthusiasm about the discovery of a “diverse teaching staff, old and new, who agrees with me in recognizing the formidable potential of this teaching and research institution.”

He continued: “I am looking forward to meeting with students from some 30 countries, as well as the vice-presidents of the seven international sections who will participate in our next council in Rome, Oct. 21.”

“I want to be able to develop with them the institute’s resources in terms of research and doctoral education.”

When the seasoned theologian’s appointment was announced, it was criticized in some quarters.

Thibaud Collin, a professor of philosophy at the Collège Stanislas de Paris, argued that Bordeyne’s nomination signaled a decisive abandonment of St. John Paul II’s legacy.

“In short,” he wrote, “the appointment as manager of a figure like Philippe Bordeyne confirms that the John Paul II Institute, in full hemorrhage of students, should for the sake of intellectual honesty change its name. It could be called, for example, the ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Institute.”

Critics pointed to Bordeyne’s writings. For example, in a reflection published by the French Catholic newspaper La Croix in 2015, he said that, although the encyclical Humanae vitae (on which the Institute’s curriculum is based), only recommends natural methods of fertility control, “it must be recognized, that the distance between the practice of the faithful and the magisterial teaching has widened.”

Questioned about this controversy, Bordeyne told CNA that his thought was misunderstood.

“Do not judge a theologian by taking a sentence out of context. You have to read him,” he said. “Contrary to those who ignored the 50th anniversary [in 2018] of the encyclical Humanae vitae, I devoted two articles to it.”

In 2017, the theologian also dedicated a book -- Divorcés remariés: ce qui change avec François -- to the sensitive question of the place of remarried divorcees within the Church. He was writing following the highly publicized family synods, in which he participated as an expert in 2015, and the subsequent apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.

Bordeyne said that his goal was to “show that Pope Francis’ pastoral approach is based on a moral tradition that is perfectly attested in the Catholic tradition, which is not uniform.”

“John Paul II already had the same courage and theological insight when he provoked the Church to open up a question that had seemed forbidden until then, by affirming in [the 1981 apostolic exhortation] Familiaris consortio that pastors are obliged to make distinctions between the moral situations of divorcees or remarried persons.”

John Paul II’s pontificate, according to Bordeyne, was particularly striking “for the breadth and coherence of his teaching.”

“Starting with Christ, the Redeemer of man -- which is the name of his first encyclical -- the holy pope has shed the light of the Gospel and of living tradition on all human realities,” he said.

Bordeyne praised the Polish pope for grasping the significance for evangelization of the passage to the third millennium by “canonizing a great number of lay people, on all continents, to support the proclamation of the Christian faith in all cultures.”

“I also remember his audacity in the way he approached conjugal love very directly, even in its corporal dimension,” he reflected.

“The institute that bears his name must study marriage and the family with this same breadth of vision, because the family is at the interface of all the human realities that Christ came to welcome, elevate and save.”

The theologian has long grappled with how to bring the Church into dialogue with the reality of families today.

In 2014, he published the book Répondre à l’inquiétude de la famille humaine (“Responding to the Concern of the Human Family”) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Presenting the document in the light of contemporary issues, he said that “in the face of economic and cultural changes, the Church must accompany people more in their successive apprenticeships, especially in family life.”

In his view, the present crisis of marriage and family life has less to do with a loss of belief in the sacredness of marriage and more to do with diminished support from society.

“In any case, trust in God’s grace must help us to look with courage at all these situations and to discern how the Word of God comes to illuminate them with a new light,” he said.

“Theologians must allow themselves to be surprised by the Holy Spirit, who precedes them in the hearts of men and in cultural transformations.”

Nancy Pelosi leaves Mass in Rome due to security concerns

Paul and Nancy Pelosi during their meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Oct. 9, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 10, 2021 / 09:19 am (CNA).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband left Mass at a church in Rome Saturday evening due to a “security incident,” the church’s rector said.

“You probably heard or saw the commotion. Unfortunately, I guess, there was a security incident and sadly Speaker Pelosi and her husband had to leave,” Fr. Steven Petroff, rector of St. Patrick’s Church in Rome, said in a video posted on social media.

“She was going to do our second reading today, but of course her safety is most important,” he said.

Veteran Rome journalist Joan Lewis told CNA Sunday that she had spoken to Petroff, who told her that the security concerns stemmed from restive demonstrations going on in the streets of Rome Saturday that were moving into the area where St. Patrick’s is located around the time of the 6 p.m. Mass.

“What Fr. Steve learned after Mass was that a large number of the anti-Green Card protestors were moving in the direction of Via Veneto and they appeared to be violent,” Lewis said in an instant message exchange with CNA. Lewis emphasized that Pelosi wasn’t the target of heckling, as some news reports suggested. You can watch Petroff addressing the incident during his homily in the Twitter post below.

A spokesman for Pelosi told CNA on Sunday that “it was Italian security officials who made the decision to pull the Speaker out of the church.”

Pelosi, a leading Catholic politician who has clashed with her local ordinary, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, over her support of abortion, traveled to Rome to give the keynote address at the opening session of the G20 Parliamentary Speakers’ Summit on Friday. On Saturday, she and her husband, businessman Paul Pelosi, met with Pope Francis and other top Vatican officials.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that Italian security officials, not Pelosi's U.S. security detail, made the decision to remove her from the church.