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German officials did not violate homeschoolers' rights, European court says

Strasbourg, France, Jan 11, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two homeschooling German parents who said their parental rights were violated by the enforcement of compulsory school attendance laws did not prevail in the European Court of Human Rights, which unanimously rejected their claims Thursday.

“It is a very disheartening day for our family and the many families affected by this in Germany,” Dirk Wunderlich, who with his wife Petra are the parents of four children, said Jan. 10.

“After years of legal struggles, this is extremely frustrating for us and our children,” he continued. “It is upsetting that the European Court of Human Rights has not recognized the injustices we have suffered at the hands of the German authorities.”

The parents are devout Christians and thought even private schools would expose their children to “unwanted influences,” BBC News reports.

When the oldest Wunderlich child reached school age in 2005, they refused to register in a school. When they faced several regulatory fines and criminal proceedings for failure to comply with compulsory school attendance, “they accepted the decisions and paid the fines, but did not change their behavior,” the court decision said.

The family lived abroad between 2008 to 2011, and upon their return to permanent residence in Germany also did not register the children.

In August 2013, a group of at least 20 police officers and social workers raided the Wunderlich home and took away their four children. ADF International, the legal group representing the parents, claimed that the action left the family traumatized.

The children were placed in a children’s home for three weeks. Though they were eventually returned to their parents, their legal status was not clear. The children were enrolled in a school from 2013 to 2014.

In its Jan. 10 decision, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights said that compulsory school attendance to “prevent social isolation” and to ensure their integration in society are relevant justifications to intervene against parental authority.

German officials were reasonable to assume that parents had “endangered their children by not sending them to school,” the court said. The parents “persistently resisted and prevented the children’s situation from being examined in detail” by German authorities.

“Based on the information available at the time, the domestic authorities had reasonably assumed that the children were isolated, had had no contact with anyone outside of the family, and that a risk to their physical integrity had existed,” the court said.

The court acknowledged that the parents later submitted learning assessments showing that the children had “sufficient knowledge, social skills and a loving relationship with their parents,” but this information was not available to officials when they decided to withdraw parental custody in a temporary and partial manner.

ADF International director of international advocacy Robert Clark said the Wunderlichs “simply wanted to educate their children consistent with their convictions and decided their home environment would be the best place for this,” he said. “Children deserve this loving care from their parents.”

Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany since 1918, though in recent years the policy has raised questions and concerns with human rights groups who say it is an infringement on the right to family life.

After appeals to German courts failed, the European Court of Human Rights agreed to review the Wunderlichs’ case. The family claimed German officials’ actions breached the right to family life and parental authority, including the right to determine the children’s place of residence. This right is protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We are extremely disappointed with this ruling, which disregards the rights of parents all over Europe to raise their children without disproportionate interference from the government,” said Clarke.

The Wunderlichs’ legal counsel is advising them about their options, including a possible appeal to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

Several German families who wish to homeschool, many of them Christian, have sought refuge in the United States to ensure their ability to educate their children at home. Others have moved to countries like France or Austria, which have less strict laws.

In 2014, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that restrictions on homeschooling were justified on the grounds that the government has a compelling interest in preventing the formation of religious or ideological parallel societies. The court also argued that requiring children to attend school provides them the benefit of interacting with other children who might think differently.

In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there is no right to homeschool.

Oxford supports emeritus professor accused of 'transphobia'

Oxford, England, Jan 9, 2019 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- Oxford University is standing by an emeritus law professor after more than 400 people have signed a petition calling for his removal from the university. Petition organizers say the professor holds discriminatory views about homosexuality and transgenderism.

“John Finnis, Professor at Oxford’s Law Faculty, has a long record of extremely discriminatory views against many groups of disadvantaged people. He is known for being particularly homophobic and transphobic,” the petition reads.

Finnis, 78, is in fact an emeritus law professor at Oxford; he retired from full-time teaching work in 2010, but co-teaches seminars for postgraduate students. He also holds a chair at the University of Notre Dame’s law school.

The professor is known in philosophical circles as a proponent of the “new natural law” theory, which holds that by recognizing certain basic human goods, moral norms can be identified through practical reasoning.

In response to the petition calling for Finnis’ removal, an Oxford spokesperson said that the university and its law school “promote an inclusive culture which respects the rights and dignity of all staff and students. We are clear we do not tolerate any form of harassment of individuals on any grounds, including sexual orientation. Equally, the University’s harassment policy also protects academic freedom of speech and is clear that vigorous academic debate does not amount to harassment when conducted respectfully and without violating the dignity of others.”

Alex Benn, an Oxford law student and petition organizer, told The Oxford Student that “John Finnis has built a career on demonisation. His so-called ‘arguments’ about disadvantaged people are hateful, not to mention widely discredited. His position at Oxford ignores his decades-long promotion of discrimination and, in particular, his active role in worsening the lives of LGBTQ+ people. Meanwhile the Law Faculty—in its silence—is content to give him its stamp of approval.”

But Finnis told The Oxford Student that “the petition travesties my position, and my testimony in American constitutional litigation. Anyone who consults the Law Faculty website and follows the links in the petition can see the petition’s many errors. I stand by all these writings. There is not a ‘phobic’ sentence in them.”

Referencing a 1994 essay on homosexuality especially criticized in the petition, Finnis said it “promotes a classical and strictly philosophical moral critique of all non-marital sex acts and has been republished many times, most recently by Oxford University Press in the third volume of my Collected Essays.”

Finnis made headlines in 2017, during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote a dissertation under the professor’s supervision. In February 2017, Robert P. George, McCormich Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, praised Finnis as an “internationally acclaimed philosopher of law and a theorist of natural law and natural rights.”

The professor is a Fellow of the British Academy, and was a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See, the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, and the Pontifical Academy Pro Vita.


Human rights court to hear case of Belgian euthanasia for depression

Brussels, Belgium, Jan 9, 2019 / 03:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The European Court of Human Rights has announced that it will take up a case considering whether Belgium wrongly allowed a woman to be euthanized on the grounds of “untreatable depression.”

Tom Mortier says that his mother, Godelieva De Troyer, suffered from depression for a majority of her life. Her doctor of over 20 years had refused her request for end-of-life treatment in 2011.

She then donated more than $2,800 to Life End Information Forum, an organization co-founded by oncologist Wim Distelmans. Shortly after, Distelmans agreed to carry out a lethal injection of De Troyer, doing so in April 2012.

Mortier is arguing that this donation created a conflict-of-interest.

The European Court of Human Rights will address whether Belgium violated human rights conventions by failing to protect the life of De Troyer and failing to carry out an effective investigation into her death.

Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International, which is representing Mortier, said international law continues to affirm a right to life rather than a right to die.

“We welcome the decision of the court to hear this precedent-setting case, the sad facts of which expose the lie that euthanasia is good for society,” he said in a Jan. 8 statement.

Mortier said in an ADF statement that his mother suffered from “a severe mental problem” and dealt with “depression throughout her life,” which had recently been worsened by a break-up with a boyfriend and feelings of distance from her family members.

“She was treated for years by psychiatrists, and eventually the contact between us was broken. A year later, she received a lethal injection. Neither the oncologist, who administered the injection, nor the hospital had informed me or any of my siblings that our mother was even considering euthanasia.”

The family was only notified of the procedure a day after De Troyer’s death, he said.

The psychiatrist who approved De Troyer’s euthanasia request, Dr. Lieve Thienpont, is already under investigation in another wrongful death allegation – that of Tine Nys, who was euthanized in 2010, two months after being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome by Thienpont.

Thienpoint is believed by some experts to be involved in one-third of the nation’s psychiatric-based euthanasia cases.

Under Belgian law, euthanasia is permissible when there is a “medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident.”

A Belgian report on euthanasia in 2016 -17 suggests that an estimated six people are euthanized daily in the country, where the practice has been legal since 2002.

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, said these numbers reveal the devastating impact of euthanasia.

“The slippery slope is on full public display in Belgium, and we see the tragic consequences in this case,” he said. “Belgium has set itself on a trajectory that, at best, implicitly tells its most vulnerable that their lives are not worth living.”

As Belgium bans kosher and halal food prep, religious freedom fears grow

Brussels, Belgium, Jan 8, 2019 / 03:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Jews and Muslims in Belgium could face difficulty finding food prepared according to their religious rules, as new animal slaughter regulations banning kosher or halal slaughter began to take effect Jan. 1.

Joos Roets, a lawyer who represents a group of Islamic institutions, argued that the ban was intended to stigmatize some religious groups rather than its stated purpose, to protect animals from suffering. The government could have taken other steps to protect animals “without violating the Belgian freedom of religion,” Roets told the New York Times.

Both Muslim and Jewish rules regarding animal slaughter require that the animals be in perfect health at the time of slaughter. They are to be killed with a single cut to the neck.

European Union rules and rules in European countries require that animals be made insensible to pain before slaughter. This means techniques like knocking animals out with gas, delivering an electric shock to small animals like poultry, or using a “captive bolt” device that fires a metal rod to the brain of larger animals, the New York Times reports.

Religious authorities say some of these measures, like stunning an animal, violate their slaughter requirements. Some advocates of kosher and halal slaughter say animals lose consciousness in seconds under their methods and may even suffer less.

Ann De Greef, director of the Belgium-based Global Action in the Interest of Animals, argued that stunning does not conflict with the religious rules.

De Greef was also disdainful towards the religious practices of the law’s critics.

“They want to keep living in the Middle Ages and continue to slaughter without stunning — as the technique didn’t yet exist back then — without having to answer to the law,” she said. “Well, I’m sorry, in Belgium the law is above religion and that will stay like that.”

The law at present applies to Flanders and a similar law will take effect in Wallonia later in 2019.

Ben Weyts, a right-wing Flemish nationalist who oversees animal welfare as a minister in the Flanders government, proposed the ban. Right-wing leaders in several countries, many of whom oppose growing Muslim populations, have opposed religious slaughter practices, the New York Times reports.

Most countries and the EU have religious exemptions to the requirement to stun animals. The Belgian rules do not.

There are over 30,000 Jews and about 500,000 Muslims in Belgium, out of 11 million people. Those who adhere to the slaughter rules will have to order meat from other countries. This will mean paying more and possibly facing food shortages.

Antwerp has one of the largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Europe, with many Hasidic communities and “an abundance of kosher restaurants,” the European Jewish Congress said.

Yaakov David Schmahl, a rabbi of Antwerp, reflected on fears the Belgium rules conceal anti-religious bigotry under animal protection concerns.

It is impossible to know people’s true intentions unless they state it clearly, “but most anti-Semites don’t do that,” he told the New York Times.

He also voiced concern about a new Belgian law regulating homeschooling, a common practice for his Jewish community, as another example of a European trend he said makes it more difficult for observant Jews to live according to their practices.

Saatci Bayram, a leading Belgian Muslim, said when the government sought advice about the ban Muslims were critical but the government did not take their advice.

“This ban is presented as a revelation by animal welfare activists, but the debate on animal welfare in Islam has been going on for 1,500 years,” Bayram said. “Our way of ritual slaughtering is painless.”

Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, said the law “sets a bad example for other countries.”

“This puts a shadow on our community and Jewish laws, as it is essentially saying that we cannot be trusted with the welfare of animals – that we need government supervision,” he told the Israeli international news station i24. “This is a terrible precedent to set on an international level.”

In September 2013 the Polish bishops’ conference spoke out against a national law banning kosher and halal slaughter, citing longstanding Polish recognition of religious freedom and “the right to maintain one’s own traditions and customs.” Jews and Muslims have the right “to preserve their customs, including the ritual slaughter of animals,” the bishops said.

The bishops’ conference backed the view “that Jewish religious communities and believers of Islam are entitled to preserve and implement their fundamental rights to freedom of religion and worship.”

Poland’s high court overturned the law in 2014.

Ecumenical Patriarch recognizes independence of Orthodox Church of Ukraine

Istanbul, Turkey, Jan 7, 2019 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople on Saturday signed a tomos of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, formally recognizing the Church's independence.

The tomos was signed Jan. 5 at St. George's Cathedral in Istanbul, after Bartholomew I concelebrated a Divine Liturgy with Epiphanius I, Metropolitan of Kyiv and primate of the newly-created Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Among those present at the signing were Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and several other Ukrainian government officials.

The tomos, or decree, has been delivered to Kyiv, where Epiphanius put it on public display following a Divine Liturgy celebrated Jan. 7 at St. Sophia's Cathedral.

Bartholomew's formal conferral of autocephaly is the culmination of a process that began amid the collapse of the Soviet Union, and gained momentum after Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and Russian backing of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The Ecumenical Patriarch's intention to create a single, autocephalous Church in Ukraine is motivated by a desire to unify the country’s 30 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, who were until recently split among three Churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), which is linked to the Russian Orthodox Church, and two Churches which had claimed autocephaly, but were not recognized by other Orthodox Churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has been a fiercely contested subject between the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, with the Russian Orthodox Church seeing the move as an infringement of its jurisdiction and authority.

Bartholomew had announced Sept. 7 he was sending two envoys to meets with civil and ecclesial leaders in Kyiv to prepare for Ukrainian autocephaly. In response, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow said later that month he would remove Bartholomew's names from the diptychs, and would not concelebrate with him.

The Ecumenical Patriarch declared Oct. 11 he would grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. At the same time, he restored to communion Metropolitan Filaret, head of the UOC-KP, and also revoked the right, granted in 1686, of the Russian Patriarch to consecrate the Metropolitan of Kyiv.

In response, the Russian Orthodox Church broke communion with Bartholomew Oct. 15, calling his recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine “lawless and canonically void.” Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chair of external Church relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, said that “the church that acknowledged the schismatics has excluded itself from the canonical field of Orthodoxy.”

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine was established Dec. 15 at a “unification council” held by representatives of the UOC-KP and the UAOC. In addition, two bishops of the UOC-MP, Alexander Drabinko and Simeon Shostatsky, participated in the unification council. Soon afterward, they were declared schismatic by the UOC-MP, and their sees vacant. Both have joined the OCU.

Several UOC-MP parishes have also reportedly joined the OCU.

It was at the unification council that Epiphanius, 39, was elected primate of the OCU. He had previously been Metropolitan of Pereyaslavsky and Bila Tserkva in the UOC-KP.

Along with ecclesial leaders, Poroshenko has been a strong backer of Ukrainian autocephaly. At the conclusion of the unification council he said, “We are now creating an independent Ukraine. And this event is as important as the referendum on our independence adopted more than 27 years ago.”

He linked an independent Church to Ukrainian patriotism, and said: “Autocephaly is part of our state pro-European and pro-Ukrainian strategy, which we have been consistently implementing for almost five years. All this is the basis of our own way of development, development of the state of Ukraine and development of our Ukrainian nation.”

Fr. Alexander Laschuk, a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, canon lawyer, and professor at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, discussed with CNA both the inter-Orthodox and the ecumenical implications of Ukrainian Orthodox autocephaly.

For the Orthodox Church in Ukraine “it's a sign of maturity that the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is first among equals, sees they can be a self-governing Church … that's a sort of vote-of-confidence for the Church in Ukraine.”

Within Eastern Orthodoxy, Laschuk said, the decision also will play into debates about how autocephaly is granted, given that “the power of the Ecumenical Patriarch is not the power of the Holy Father, so how decision are made is much more complicated at times.”

While Constantinople is the traditional and historical center of Eastern Orthodoxy, Moscow has long exercised considerable influence and power, both because of its size and because of its closeness to Russian civil authorities.

The debate over the granting of autocephaly plays into the relations of Constantinople and Moscow, and their relative importance and power. Both the Russian and Ecumenical Patriarchs have written to the heads of the other Eastern Orthodox Churches, asking them not to recognize, and to recognize, respectively, the OCU's autocephaly.

The decision for autocephaly, Laschuk said, will also have a tremendous impact on ecumenism.

For example, because of the presence of Eastern Orthodox bishops with whom it is not in communion, the Moscow Patriarchate chose not to participate in the 2007 meeting at Ravenna of the commission for dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

“It will also affect ecumenical dialogue in the sense of 'who is our bargaining partner', for Catholics,” Laschuk said. Previously, the Holy See dialogued only with the UOC-MP as “canonical Orthodoxy” in the country, but “clearly that's changed” with the recognition of the OCU by Constantinople.

The priest added that he thinks the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, “is excited to have a partner with which he can actually dialogue; we won't have the union of the Churches tomorrow, but if you can't even talk to each other, it's hard to get much done …  I think His Beatitude is very happy he has someone with whom he can talk, and be in the same room with, which was not the case previously.”

He commented that “entire regions of Ukraine” are becoming increasingly Seventh-Day Adventist or Pentecostal, and that “collaborative activity by the more traditional Churches is a very welcome thing, as opposed to sort of, warring factions.”

Major Archbishop Shevchuk had written to Epiphanius Dec. 20 to congratulate him on his election as primate of the OCU, commenting, “We have all witnessed how the Lord, through the power and deeds of the Holy Spirit, in cooperation with your good will, heals the wounds of church divisions and enmity, giving opportunity to reconcile with our brother in Christ.”

“At this significant moment, I extend my hand on behalf of our Church to you and all the Orthodox brethren, offering you to begin our path to unity, to the truth. Because the future of the Church, our people and the Ukrainian independent European state depends on how we today will cherish unity and overcome what separates us.”

Major Archbishop Shevchuk added that “we are grateful to the Lord who has blessed the participants of this, without exaggeration, an important event that will enter the history of independent Ukraine as a great God's gift on the way to the complete unity of the Churches of Volodymyr's Baptism.”

He noted that “the Churches of Volodymyr's baptism … live in one liturgical heritage, from the depths of beauty and God-inspired wisdom we draw spiritual strength. Even today, we are not in full eucharistic communion, but are called to jointly overcome the obstacles that stand on the path to unity. This historic mission and the foundation of the future patriarchy of the united Kyivan Church were laid by even the glorious church men Peter Mohyla and Josyf Veliamyn Rutsky.”

The words of the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church allude to the 988 baptism of Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev, which resulted in the Christianization of Kievan Rus', a state whose heritage Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus all claim.

The Christianization of Kievan Rus' forms the roots of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).

Trial begins for French cardinal accused of abuse cover-up  

Lyon, France, Jan 7, 2019 / 10:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, begins trial Monday on charges of failing to report allegations that a priest in his diocese abused minor boy scouts from 1986-1991.

Barbarin and five other archdiocesan officials are all on trial in a case involving Fr. Bernard Preynat, who has been accused of abusing dozens of minors in the 1980s and early ‘90s.

If convicted, Barbarin could face three years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, Reuters reports.

In 2017, the cardinal told Le Monde that he did not conceal allegations against Preynat, but said that his response to the allegations had been “inadequate.” He said he opened an investigation against Preynat after becoming aware of the allegations against him.

Allegations against Preynat became public in 2015. Prosecutors dropped the case the following year after an initial investigation, but a victims group with more than 80 members saying they were abused by Preynat led to a reopening of the case, the Guardian reports.

Preynat was banned from leading boy scout groups in the early 1990s, but remained in ministry until being removed by Cardinal Barbarin in 2015.

The priest has acknowledged abusing minors, according to the Guardian, and will face trial later this year.

Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was also ordered to testify in the case. In October, the Vatican invoked diplomatic immunity in refusing to deliver a French court summons to Ladaria, saying that as a minister of Vatican City State, he is protected under international law.

The court summons had involved a letter Ladaria sent to Barbarin, advising him to take disciplinary action against Preynat, “while avoiding public scandal.”

The plaintiffs' lawyers wanted Ladaria to testify as to whether the direction to prevent scandal was intended as an injunction to avoid going to court, in which case they accuse the CDF prefect of being complicit in failing to report the allegedly abusive priest to authorities.

Barbarin’s trial comes as revelations of clerical sex abuse and cover up continue to send shock waves through the Catholic Church. The United States, Ireland, Australia, Chile, Argentina and Germany are among the countries that have seen recent abuse scandals uncovered.

Next month, Pope Francis will meet with the heads of national bishops’ conferences from around the world to discuss the prevention of sexual abuse of minors.


Doctors, bishops express concerns as legal abortions begin in Ireland

Dublin, Ireland, Jan 3, 2019 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- January 1, 2019 marked the beginning of legalized abortion in Ireland, drawing dismay from Irish pro-life groups, who campaigned extensively against the reform.

Once a majority-Catholic and pro-life contingent, voters in Ireland last May voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to their constitution, which had banned abortion. The repeal was officially enacted by President Michael D. Higgins in September, which cleared the way for abortions to begin in the country in 2019.

Ireland’s health minister Simon Harris called Jan. 1, when legal abortion was officially put into practice, a “momentous day”, while other Irish leaders and doctors have expressed concerns that the process of legalization and its enactment were rushed.

In a year-end reflection, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick lamented the introduction of abortion to the country, and said he hoped it would not become the “default response that characterizes people in Ireland when crisis pregnancies arise.”

He said he believes that while a majority of voters supported the repeal, he believes that most Irish people still would not celebrate abortions, but rather see them as a solution to crisis pregnancies.

He urged the Irish people to instead consider the “possibilities of life and the love” that even crisis pregnancies can bring, and urged them to continue to promote a culture of life in which mothers and children are supported.

“I appeal to all public representatives, regardless of how they might have understood their sense of civic duty in supporting the abortion legislation, to keep their focus wide. They represent not only those in favour of abortion but also the many who find its introduction deeply distressing,” he said.

“And above all, I urge those in crisis pregnancies to choose life. To choose a glorious possibility.”

While about 66 percent of voters approved the repeal, only a small percentage (between 4 and 6 percent) of the country’s 2,500 general practitioners (GPs) have said they would be willing to perform abortions.

An online survey by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) found that of the GPs that declined to perform abortions, about 40 percent did so because they believe the launch of legalized abortions was rushed, citing concerns about “referral pathways” and the availability of secondary services related to abortions, such as ultrasounds.  

Abortions will be performed by GPs will take place through nine weeks of pregnancy, while hospitals are allowed to perform abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. After 12 weeks, abortions may be performed only in “exceptional circumstances.” Most abortions will be provided free of charge to women, with the state covering costs.

Freedom of conscience protections for pro-life medical professionals have been an ongoing concern after the repeal was passed. At least 640 general practitioners in Ireland signed a petition in November objecting to the obligation of referring patients to other doctors for abortions. Some 500 pro-life nurses and midwives signed a petition in December, calling on Harris to consult Nurses & Midwives 4 Life and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization, and to support freedom of conscience amendments for the new law.

Under the new law, doctors who object to providing abortions are required to refer patients to other doctors who will perform them, and minors are able to obtain abortions without needing parental permission.  

Other proposed protections and limits on abortion - such as for reasons of sex or racial discrimination - were struck down by the Dáil (Irish Parliament), and the bishops of Ireland in December said they were “dismayed” that it seemed like the voices of those who still opposed abortion were being ignored.

In his reflection, Leahy strongly urged officials to respect medical professionals who have conscience objections to performing abortions.

“It is outrageous to think that it would even be contemplated that doctors could be forced to perform or contribute to an abortion against their will,” he said.

“Forcing them not to choose life would be a most inglorious watermark for this country. It goes against the deeper demands of our common humanity to force anyone to do so. It has long been established that above any state law, there exists an unwritten divine law, what is sometimes called natural law, that recognises we are endowed with rights such as the basic human right to life. Peace in our conscience can surely only be achieved by obeying it.”

Abbey robbed in Austria

Vienna, Austria, Dec 27, 2018 / 07:58 pm (CNA).- Two men robbed the monastery church of the Immaculate Mary in Vienna Thursday, according to Austrian police, injuring five religious in doing so.

The perpetrators entered the complex early in the afternoon of Dec. 27, attacking the brothers. According to Die Presse, an emergency call to the police was made only after several hours.

The religious brothers were freed around 4:15, and the armed perpetrators are on the run. One of the religious was gravely injured.

Questions from agnostic friend lead Spanish man to the priesthood

San Sebastian, Spain, Dec 27, 2018 / 06:33 pm (ACI Prensa).- Fr. Juan Pablo Aroztegi became the youngest priest in the diocese of San Sebastian, Spain, when he was ordained earlier this year by Bishop José Ignacio Munilla at Good Shepherd Cathedral.

According to reports in various local media, Aroztegi, age 35, began to discern his vocation after an agnostic friend asked him why he was a Christian.

Until then, he had not questioned why he was following Jesus Christ, nor what he wanted to do with his life. He was working as an industrial engineer at a software company in Pamplona at that time, but after a profound reflection, he decided to join the seminary.

He described the decision to enter the seminary as one of the “greatest moments of freedom” in his life. When he told the agnostic friend who had questioned him that he was becoming a seminarian, the friend replied that he has been expecting it.

“Your friends know you and can intuit your decisions. It's ironic that an agnostic friend made me question my Christian life and my vocation,” Aroztegi said.

While the majority of his friends are non-believers, the new priest said that they have respect for his faith and his decision. Some of them attended his ordination Mass last Sunday.

“The conversations I had with some of them to tell them of my decision was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I felt free and I was open about who I am. We spoke about important issues we had never dealt with before,” he recalled.

His family was also surprised when he announced his decision to pursue the priesthood, although he had always lived his faith “in a very natural way.”

Fr. Aroztegi said that he always went to Mass with his family on Sundays, but had never imagined that he would become a priest, instead assuming that he would marry and have a family.

“[Priesthood] didn’t even cross my mind,” he told Diaro Vasco. “Certainly the best things that have happened to me in life have been unexpected.”

“In that sense I am in expectation of everything that awaits me in priestly life. I sincerely hope for an intense and exciting life, with good moments, and others with the cross and suffering as in any other path in life.”

Looking to the future, Aroztegi said he would like to follow the example of some priests who have been important in his life.

“I admire the priests who aren't looking for success or applause, but help whoever needs it without anyone knowing about it. I am drawn to the priest who is humble in every sense, the one who sees himself as just another Christian, a disciple of Jesus who is on his way just like anybody else. The priest who is a man of God, prays for his people and seeks nothing more than the things of God. And above all I am drawn to the priest who creates unity, who knows how to be with others,” he said.

He also explained that one of the challenges of a priest is “to form Christian communities where one can live the greatness of life in Christ,” and so he encourages “going to the essential, to what's important in life, to love and be loved,” and said that if Christianity is lived with authenticity, it is “truly attractive.”

Aroztegi told Diaro Vasco news that in the days leading up to his July 2 ordination, he was “calm and excited” because “what at the beginning was like a flame of fire within me, small but which I could not doubt, during those years was getting stronger.”

“I arrived at [the ordination] peaceful because I felt very free. And at the same time, the emotion is great. I am excited about everything it means, and because I will be able to give myself totally to that which I feel called.”


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

This article was originally published on CNA July 18, 2018.


The deep roots of Portugal's Marian devotion

Lisbon, Portugal, Dec 27, 2018 / 10:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima in 1917, Portugal had already acclaimed Mary as their reigning Queen for hundreds of years. After the coronation of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as “Queen of Portugal” by King João IV in 1646, no Portuguese monarch ever wore a crown again.

The history of exceptional Marian devotion near Fatima dates back even further.

Fourteen miles from the Fatima Shrine is the Batalha Monastery, where several dozen Dominican friars were commissioned in 1388 to pray a perpetual rosary in thanksgiving for the Virgin Mary’s protection of Portugal.

The gothic monastery in Batalha was built in dedication to Our Lady of Victory in gratitude for an answered prayer. In 1385 King Joao I made a vow to the Virgin Mary that he would build a great monastery if she would deliver him victory in a battle against the Spanish.

The Dominican community remained in the monastery until 1834, when all religious orders were driven out of Portugal. Today it continues to function as both the local parish and a tourist attraction.

In nearby Alcobaca, a Cistercian monastery has stood in honor of Mary for over 800 years. The king of Portugal endowed the monastery to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 1153, shortly before the Cistercian founder’s death. The gothic church was completed in 1223.

Benedict XVI has described Saint Bernard of Clairvaux as “a Doctor of Mariology” because “he understood her essential role in the Church, presenting her as the perfect model of the monastic life and of every other form of the Christian life.”

An altarpiece in the Alcobaca Monastery, added in 1705, depicts the death of Saint Bernard under the protection of Mary. The walls in the monastery’s King’s Hall are decorated with 16th century blue and white rococo tile scenes depicting the history of the Cistercian order. An ornate oval baroque reliquary chapel containing 71 terracotta reliquary busts from floor to ceiling can be found in the sacristy. Napoleon's troops plundered the monastery in 1811, shortly before the Cistercians, like Batalha’s Dominicans, were forced to leave Portugal.

Fewer than 10 miles from Alcobaca is the beachside town of Nazaré, named for a statue of the Virgin Mary brought from Nazareth by a monk in the 8th century, according to the local tradition.

Before Nazaré became a world-famous surfing destination with 80-foot waves, it was a popular medieval pilgrimage site. In 1182, a Portuguese knight was hunting a deer near the coast. When his horse nearly ran over one of Nazaré’s steep cliffs, he called out “Our Lady, Help Me!” and his horse stopped just at the cliff’s precipice next to the small grotto with the Nazareth statue.

In thanksgiving for his life, the knight had a small chapel built around the statue, which went on to receive so many visitors that a larger church dedicated to Our Lady of Nazaré was built near the cliffs by the King of Portugal in 1377 to house the statue and its pilgrims.

Despite the centuries-long tradition of Marian devotion in Portugal, when Our Lady of Fatima appeared in 1917, Catholics were not thriving in the country.

When the monarchy was abolished in 1910, the revolutionaries attempted to root out Catholicism and its Marian queen along with it, seizing all of the Church’s property and assets. A popular illustration of the 1910 revolution includes an image of armed men marching out priests at gunpoint.

Anticlericalism peaked in the years leading up to the Fatima apparitions, causing the pope to speak out about the persecution of the Church under the First Portuguese Republic.

In 1911, Saint Pius X issued an encyclical, Iamdudum, decrying the secularization occuring in Portugal.

“We have seen, arising out of an obstinate determination to secularize every civil organization and to leave no trace of religion in the acts of common life, the deletion of the feast days of the Church from the number of public festivals, the abolition of religious oaths, the hasty establishment of the law of divorce and religious instruction banished from the public schools,” wrote the pope.

St. Pius X’s successor, Benedict XV, would go on to write a letter to his secretary of state for all the world’s bishops on May 5, 1917 asking for prayers to the Virgin Mary for peace amid the ongoing devastation of World War I throughout Europe. In this letter, the pope made permanent an additional title for Mary in the Litany of Loreto: “Regina pacis,” or “Queen of peace.”

When Mary appeared in Portugal as Our Lady of the Rosary nine days later, she instructed, “Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” The Portuguese tradition of the perpetual rosary, dating back more than 500 years, would continue.


This article was originally published on CNA July 12, 2018.