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Catholic bioethicist laments HHS removal of restrictions on fetal tissue research

Sign outside National Institute of Health, Department for Health and human Services, Washington DC. Via Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 21:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic bioethicist has repeated his objection to the Biden administration’s decision that the National Institutes of Health no longer needs an ethics board’s approval before awarding funding to researchers who will use fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions.

“The current administration offers the pretense of acting ethically when they stress that the requirement for obtaining consent still stands, meaningless as it is, even as they adroitly eliminate any substantive ethical review by outside entities,” Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced May 5 the elimination of the requirement for approval by an ethics advisory board for research proposing use of human fetal tissue from abortion.

The announcement is an official notice to researchers who are looking for grants in the area of human fetal tissue projects.

“Even when the mother of an aborted child signs the dotted line granting permission to utilize fetal cells and organs, that consent is necessarily void,” Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA. “The mother has disqualified herself from being able to give valid informed consent because she has already renounced her child's best interests by arranging to end her baby's life through abortion.”

The announcement highlights an April 16 reversal of the Trump administration’s requirement that an ethics advisory board must review and approve all research grant applications and contract proposals that include the use of fetal tissue used from abortion in order to get funding from the NIH. 

“Effective immediately, HHS no longer requires review and approval by an ethics advisory board for research proposing use of human fetal tissue,” the announcement said. “Accordingly, HHS will no longer convene the NIH Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board.”

Fr Pacholczyk told CNA: “This pro-abortion administration is operating in a very troubling moral vacuum, eager to bypass even the most basic ethical standards that should govern taxpayer-funded biomedical research. The foxes are seeking complete control of the henhouse.”

The priest, a former member of the fetal tissue advisory board, recently told the National Catholic Register that “The decision to reinstate NIH support for research involving fetal tissue from abortions reveals a kind of moral vacuum in the world of scientific research.”

Fr. Pacholczyk lauded the ethics board’s previous work in his interview with the Register: “The board acted with moral clarity and ethical resolve as it carried out its mandate.” 

“Very regrettably, the current administration is jettisoning serious ethical review to safeguard abortion and to assure the continued exploitation of vulnerable unborn Americans. Outside ethical review is essential,” he said.

The board had voted to withhold federal funding from 13 fetal tissue research proposals, and permitted funding for one.

In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that researchers have a duty to refuse to use biological material of illicit origin, a duty which “springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life.”

German Catholic bishops’ leader: We are not ‘schismatics’

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg. / Bistum Limburg.

CNA Staff, May 6, 2021 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

The chairman of the German Catholic bishops’ conference has insisted that the country’s Catholics are not “schismatics” seeking to “detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome.”

Bishop Georg Bätzing told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, that the Church in Germany remains close to Rome, despite tensions over same-sex blessings, Communion for Protestants, and the country’s “Synodal Way.”

He said: “It is absolutely clear that there are matters that we can only discuss at the level of the Universal Church. We will contribute from Germany with our reflections.”

“However, I would like to reject the accusation repeatedly used of us being schismatics or of wanting to detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome. Our bond with Rome and the Holy Father is very tight.”

In the interview published May 6, the 60-year-old bishop of Limburg explained that the German hierarchy launched the “Synodal Way” in response to the clerical abuse crisis.

The multi-year process brings together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes -- raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

Bätzing pointed out that, in terms of church law, the “Synodal Way” is not technically a synod but rather “a sui generis format.”

He said: “The central question is: how can we talk about God today and come to a deeper faith? Faith can grow and deepen if we free ourselves from fears and mental closures, if we ask the questions and look for ways in which the Church today can be present for people.”

He suggested that Pope Francis encouraged German Catholics to address this question in his 2019 letter to the local Church.

In the letter, the pope warned German Catholics not to succumb to a particular “temptation.”

He said: “At the basis of this temptation, there is the belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist is to reorganize things, change them and ‘put them back together’ to bring order and make ecclesial life easier by adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group.”

In the interview, Bätzing explained that there is a “synodal forum” for each of the four major discussion topics.

“The work of the forums is still in progress, so I cannot predict today what suggestions and results they will lead to,” he said, adding that the forums are the setting for theological debates that will lead to resolutions to be voted on by the full Synodal Assembly, consisting of the bishops and members of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

The bishop was speaking ahead of a day of protest on May 10 against the Vatican’s recent “no” to blessings for same-sex couples.

The event, organized by Catholic pastoral workers, is known as “Segnungsgottesdiensten für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers.” Organizers hope that same-sex couples across Germany will take part in the event.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The CDF answered, “Negative,” outlining its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

Bätzing said last week that the day of protest was not a “helpful sign.”

The bishop told ACI Stampa that the issue of blessing same-sex couples was one of many topics to be addressed by the Synodal Way’s forum on sexual morality.

He said: “Homosexual couples, and couples who cannot and do not want to marry in the church, but who nevertheless desire the blessing of the Church, are part of our society and the Church.”

“In Germany and in other parts of the Universal Church there has long been a discussion about how to further develop the Magisterium with sound arguments -- on the basis of the fundamental truths of faith and morals, the progress of theological reflection, and in a spirit of openness to the latest results of the human sciences and the life situations of people today.”

He continued: “There are no easy answers to such questions. For this reason, the Synodal Way is striving, particularly with respect to the topic of effective relationships, to discuss in a broad context that also considers the need, possibility, and limits of developing the Church’s magisterium. The perspectives presented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will find space in these debates.”

Asked whether he believed that the time was ripe for women deacons or priests, Bätzing said that the “Synodal Way” would address women’s role in the Church.

He expressed satisfaction at the growing number of women in leadership positions within German dioceses.

He said: “It is important to me to honestly mention the Church’s arguments as to why only men can enter sacramental ministry. I also realize that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that arguments have been developed in theology in favor of opening the sacramental ministry to women as well. This is why I often mention the female diaconate, because I see possibilities there.”

“Regarding the priestly ministry, popes from John Paul II onwards have said in unison that this question has already been answered.”

The bishop also commented on the debate in Germany over whether Protestants should be invited to receive Holy Communion in Catholic churches.

The CDF wrote to Bätzing in September 2020 criticizing an appeal by German theologians for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants.

The Limburg bishop said that the current debate was not about a general invitation to Protestants to receive Communion, but rather about the Church’s approach to individual non-Catholic Christians who wish to receive the Eucharist.

He said: “I personally respect such a decision and do not deny Communion when someone presents themselves who believes what we Catholics believe and desires to receive the Lord.”

“It is not a question of generically extending the invitation to Communion to all non-Catholic Christians.”

He noted that canon law permits non-Catholics to receive Communion on certain occasions, as long as they fulfill a number of conditions.

“We must undoubtedly continue the theological dialogue on the importance of the Eucharist and Holy Communion. And fortunately, there are already clear convergences in recent years,” he said.

Asked what kind of decisions the Synodal Way would be able to make, the bishop said that all participants were responsible for its conclusions.

He commented: “The binding implementation will, depending on the topic, be up to the Holy See and/or the local bishop. I repeat again: the Church in Germany is an integral part of the universal Church. This is beyond dispute and is evident in a great many areas. And so it will continue to be.”

“That is why we will proceed on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity by evaluating, within the framework of the Synodal Way, which steps we as a local Church can freely regulate and decide. And we will make a distinction between these steps and what is possible only in unity with the Universal Church.”

He expressed confidence that the Synodal Way would not result in failure but “lead to decisions that will help ensure that faith can once again be an option for people, and the Good News of the Gospel acquire meaning and strength in people’s lives.”

He added: “We must not stop looking for credible ways to proclaim the Gospel today. I remain confident.”

Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told CNA that in his latest comments Bätzing was “proposing the impossible.”

“He holds an erroneous view of what ‘doctrinal development’ means, arguing that the Church must be brought ‘up to date’ with progressive social norms,” he said.

“The Church cannot bless sin, and it cannot change eternal truths which Christ delivered once for all. What Bishop Bätzing is hoping to ‘develop’ amounts to nothing less than a different ecclesiology. It is not a Catholic ecclesiology, and it is not a new ecclesiology he proposes, but one which resembles Liberal Protestantism.”

He continued: “That he stands in such open defiance of Pope Francis, and the Faith Itself, should be evidence enough that Bätzing’s ‘Synodal Way’ is really not a ‘way forward’ but a way out of communion with Rome.”

Asked in the interview if the Synodal Way could serve as a model for Catholics in other countries, Bätzing referred to Pope Francis’ “historic” 2015 speech, in which he said that God expects the Church of the third millennium to take the “path of synodality.”

Bätzing said: “Well before the Church in Germany, Australia took this path, followed by other bishops’ conferences, I'm thinking of Ireland, the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) and even us. The Italian bishops’ conference is considering how to follow a similar path.”

“You see, this is not a ‘German’ phenomenon but an interesting and valuable development of the local Churches -- each with its own particular traits -- within the community of the Universal Church.”

“Whether the Synodal Way is only a phase or whether it can become a permanent form for the life of the Church, this will be indicated to us by the Spirit of God, to whom we have entrusted ourselves by taking this path.”

‘Security consultant’ says Cardinal Becciu asked her to compile ‘files’ on Vatican personnel

St. Peter's Dome. / dade72 via Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy, May 6, 2021 / 05:05 am (CNA).

Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled security consultant under investigation by the Vatican for embezzlement, has claimed that Cardinal Angelo Becciu asked her to create dossiers of incriminating information on Vatican personnel.

In an interview aired on the Italian investigative news program “Report” May 3, Marogna alleged that she was asked to create “dossieraggio,” an Italian neologism meaning a file or dossier of confidential information on a person, especially for the purpose of blackmail.

Marogna claimed that the request came from Cardinal Becciu, then the number two at the Secretariat of State.

Asked if these files were to be compiled also on people inside the Vatican, Marogna responded: “Also, yes. Then there was a discussion of the immoral conduct of some prelates.”

A lawyer for Cardinal Becciu, reached by CNA on Thursday, said there was “no official response” to Marogna’s claims at this time.

In the program, Marogna was asked if she was part of “in short, a parallel secret service,” which she affirmed, adding that it worked “in interaction with other parallel international secret services.”

“Sounds like a spy film…” the journalist said, to which Marogna responded with a smile, “Yeah, the discussion is this, exactly.”

Marogna has been under investigation by the Vatican since reports emerged last year that she received hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in connection with Becciu, and that she had spent the money on luxury goods and vacations.

Marogna acknowledged receiving the money but insisted that the funds went to her Vatican security consultancy work and salary.

Media have claimed that the payments were made under the direction of Becciu, the former sostituto of the Secretariat of State and a fellow Sardinian. Becciu, who was stripped of the rights and privileges of a cardinal by Pope Francis in September 2020, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Marogna was arrested in Milan last year on an international warrant issued by the Vatican through Interpol. She was released from jail after 17 days and an extradition request by the Vatican was dropped in January.

The Vatican also announced in January that a trial would begin soon against Marogna for alleged embezzlement, but no notifications about the state of the trial have been given since then.

In March, it was reported that Marogna also faces charges in Slovenia on suspicion that she used her Slovenia-registered companies to launder money illegally obtained from the Vatican.

In the May 3 program, details of Marogna’s connection with members of Italy’s secret service were also reported. Marogna claimed to have at one time worked in “cooperation” with Luciano Carta, then the director of Italy’s foreign intelligence service, the AISE. The program claimed that Becciu directed her to create relationships with the heads of Italy’s secret services.

The program also touched on Marogna’s long-standing involvement with an Italian masonic political organization known as the Roosevelt Movement. Marogna confirmed the connection, defending it as “for professional formation, obviously, yes.”

On April 2, 2016, Marogna was appointed as a member of the particular secretariat for relations with groups, associations, and relevant subjects of civil society within the Roosevelt Movement.

Marogna is close to the founder and president of the Roosevelt Movement, Gioele Magaldi, who is a mason of the Grand Orient of Italy and a “worshipful master,” a senior officer of a masonic lodge.

Magaldi wrote several articles online last year in defense of Marogna when she was jailed in Milan.

Stolen 14th-century reliquary found in police raid of art collector’s home in Sicily

The San Galgano reliquary, stolen in 1989. / Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

Rome, Italy, May 5, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

On the night of July 10, 1989, four men crawled through a window of the Montarioso Catholic Seminary museum, bypassed an armored door through a hole in a wall, and came away with a medieval gilded crucifix, six silver chalices, and a 14th-century reliquary of St. Galgano.

The sacred objects had been forged by goldsmiths in Siena and Rome and held for hundreds of years in the Abbey of San Galgano, famed for a sword in a stone said to have been thrust there by the knight-turned-saint Galgano Guidotti.

/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.
/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

The 11 stolen items remained missing for more than three decades, until recently, when a raid by the Sicilian unit of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, which specializes in recovering stolen art, found them among 40 illegally obtained items in the home of a collector near Catania, Sicily.

Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, hailed the rediscovery of the more than 600-year-old reliquary as “a nearly unprecedented find.”

The Vatican Museums will spend the next six months restoring the items in its Metals and Ceramics Restoration Laboratory due to significant damage to the reliquary that occurred after the theft.

“It is a nearly unprecedented find for the importance that these reliquaries and objects have, not only from a historical-artistic point of view but also a devotional point of view,” Jatta said at a press conference on April 26 to announce the discovery.

“We are still waiting to receive this reliquary, which we will treat not only professionally, from the point of view of conservation, restoration, and maintenance, but also with the devotion that this kind of work deserves,” she said.

St. Galgano Guidotti was a 12th-century knight from Tuscany who had visions of St. Michael the Archangel and became a hermit in Montesiepi, outside of Siena, near where the ruins of the Abbey of San Galgano now stand. He was canonized in 1185 by Pope Lucius III.

The reliquary with accompanying objects, including a copper cross and six silver chalices. / Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.
The reliquary with accompanying objects, including a copper cross and six silver chalices. / Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

Ten of the 11 items stolen from the Archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino in 1989, which also included two pixes (small containers used to carry the Eucharist), were recovered in Sicily by the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC).

The police force, spread throughout Italy, uses a database of 1.5 million stolen artifacts to identify art that was obtained illegally, according to The Art Newspaper. The police recovered more than 900,000 stolen items in 2019, with a combined value of more than $124 million.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s Minister of Culture, praised the Carabinieri TPC at the press conference for their “excellence recognized all over the world.”

/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.
/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

After they are restored by the Vatican Museums, the reliquary and other sacred objects will be returned to the Tuscan archdiocese.

The perpetrators of the theft, three Sicilians and one Tuscan man, were arrested by local police shortly after the items went missing, but the Carabinieri TPC has yet to confirm who commissioned the theft.

A silver chalice dating back to the 17th century that belonged to the Siena’s Certosa di Maggiano monastery remains missing.

Court to hear challenge to UK’s Down syndrome abortion law in July

The Royal Courts of Justice, which houses the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. / Willy Barton / Shutterstock

London, England, May 4, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The High Court in London will hear a landmark case in July challenging the U.K. government over a law allowing abortion up to birth for Down syndrome.

The application, which was filed by Heidi Crowter, a woman with Down syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, a mother whose 23-month-old son has the genetic condition, was granted on Oct. 17. The hearing date is now set for July 6-7.

The campaign group Don’t Screen Us Out said that Crowter and her team have crowdfunded more than $111,000 for the case against the U.K. government over the disability clause of the Abortion Act 1967.

Section 1(1)(d) of the Act permits abortion 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.”

There were 3,183 abortions on the basis of disability recorded in England and Wales in 2019, 656 of them following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Crowter, 25, from Coventry in the West Midlands, said: “The law says that babies shouldn’t be aborted up to birth, but if a baby is found to have Down’s syndrome, it can be aborted up until birth. This is the current law in the UK and I think it’s not fair.”

“People like me are considered to be ‘seriously handicapped,’ but I think using that phrase for a clause in abortion law is so out of date.”

She continued: “The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently said that the United Kingdom should change its abortion law to make sure that people like me aren’t singled out because of our disabilities, but the government hasn’t changed the law.”

“So last year, me and other members of the Down’s syndrome community set out to get rid of the clause in the law, and now our case will soon be heard in the High Court.”

“I hope we win. People shouldn’t be treated differently because of their disabilities, it’s downright discrimination.”

Lea-Wilson, 32, from Brentford, West London, said that she was pursuing the joint legal action with Crowter for a simple reason.

“As a mother, I will do all that I can to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of my son, Aidan,” she explained.

“Throughout the last year since joining the case, it has become ever increasingly clear to me that Section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act, which differentiates the time limit for abortion, sets the tone for discrimination against people with Down’s syndrome which starts before they are born and continues throughout their life with devastating consequences.”

Aidan was not diagnosed with Down syndrome until the 34th week of his gestation. He was born two weeks later. Lea-Wilson has said that she was offered the option to abort her son three times after he was diagnosed.

She said: “I am thrilled to hear that the case will be heard in court on the 6th and 7th July, and I hope that this will be the time that we all stand up for equality.”

The High Court date comes weeks after the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favor of a bill that would restrict abortions on the basis of non-fatal disability.

The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill passed 48 to 12 at its second reading on March 15.

Introduced by Paul Givan, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, the bill would remove “severe fetal impairment” as an exception to the country’s abortion laws.

Under the abortion law imposed by the British government, which went into effect in March 2020, an unborn child who has been diagnosed with a condition such as Down syndrome or cleft palate can be aborted past the 24-week legal limit.

Commenting on the High Court challenge, Don’t Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray said: “By stating that disability is grounds for termination, section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act promotes inequality.”

“The provision in the Abortion Act harks back to a time when we thought it was better for people with disabilities not to be part of our society. We’re a far more progressive society now, we realize that diversity is healthy, and all of our laws should reflect that.”

Church fire in Northern France reportedly contained

Firefighters respond to the fire at Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul church, in Lille, France / Sapeurs-Pompiers du Nord SDIS 59

Washington D.C., May 4, 2021 / 15:53 pm (CNA).

A fire broke out on Monday evening at Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul Catholic church, in Lille, France, and has reportedly been contained.

According to local news reports, the fire originated in the sacristy of the 19th century church and reached the roof. The church is located in the city’s Wazemme district.

According to BFM TV, fire fighters were alerted to the fire around 8 p.m. local time on May 3. The local fire department reported that more than 60 firefighters mobilized in response.

A local official said that the sacristy was locked and that the fire could be accidental. The fire department said that the incident is being investigated.

Michel Lalande, prefect of the Hauts-de-France region, commended the firefighters for their response which he said prevented the fire from spreading to the entire church. The country’s minister of the interior expressed support for Catholics and Lille in a tweet.

France is losing religious buildings at the rate of one every two weeks, Edouard de Lamaze, the president of the Observatoire du patrimoine religieux (Observatory of Religious Heritage) in Paris, has said. He told CNA that buildings are frequently subject to demolition, transformation, destruction by fire, or collapse; two-thirds of fires in religious buildings are due to arson, he said.

On April 15, a fire destroyed the 16th-century Church of Saint-Pierre in Romilly-la-Puthenaye, Normandy; the fire was deemed accidental, and occurred two years after a fire severely damaged Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Investigators said there was no evidence that fire was intentional.

According to the country’s central criminal intelligence unit, there were 877 recorded attacks on Catholic sites in 2018. Lamaze it represented a fivefold increase in 10 years.

EU to showcase the European history of Rome’s Catholic churches

The interior of the Church of St. Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi) in Rome, Italy / Livioandronico2013 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome Newsroom, May 4, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The European Union is organizing weekly walks in May and June to visit 26 of Rome’s churches with historic ties to European nations.

From the Church of St. Louis of the French, with its Caravaggio paintings, to St. Bridget in Campo de’Fiori, which served as a refuge for Swedish Catholics during the Reformation, the city of Rome is filled with “national churches” built to serve pilgrims from a particular country.

The Delegation of the European Union to the Holy See is launching the Iter Europaeum initiative to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the EU and the Holy See.

Each Sunday will include liturgies, concerts, and guided tours to three or four churches, each selected by a different European embassy to the Holy See.

The church walk will kick off on May 9 with a Mass offered by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of Rome, at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

Following Mass, the invited participants in the Iter Europaeum will visit the Basilica of Four Crowned Martyrs, a church that dates back to the fourth or fifth century, with Egils Levits, the president of Latvia.

The walk will continue to the Basilica of St. Clement, selected by the embassy of the Czech Republic to the Holy See because it contains the remains of St. Cyril, who served as a missionary in Great Moravia in the ninth century.

The day concludes at Hungary’s national church in Rome, the Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round on the Caelian Hill, which is dedicated to both St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and St. Stephen I, the first king of Hungary.

The Sunday church walks will continue through June 27 and additional information posted in each of the selected churches will remain on display for several months.

On May 16, the embassies of Portugal, Romania, and France will lead visits to the churches of St. Antonio of the Portuguese, San Salvatore alle Coppelle, and St. Louis of the French respectively.

Greece, Spain, and Malta will be featured the following week at the Church of St. Theodore on the Palatine Hill, St. Peter in Montorio, and the Church of St. Mary of the Priory.

On May 30, the itinerary will include Croatia’s national church in Rome, St. Jerome of the Croatians, the Church of St. Isodore selected by Iceland’s embassy, and the Lutheran Evangelical Church, chosen by the German embassy to the Holy See.

The program for June 6 begins at the Church of St. Stanislaus of the Poles, followed by the Church of the Gesù, selected by Lithuania, and the Basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva, chosen by Finland.

On June 13, there will be visits to St. Paul alla Regola, the Church of St. Julian of the Flemings, St. Bridget, and Our Lady of the Soul with Bulgaria, Belgium, Sweden, and Austria respectively.

The first visit of June 20 will be led by the Italian embassy at St. Mary of the Angels atop the Capitoline Hill. Luxembourg’s embassy to the Holy See will then bring the group to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, followed by a visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major sponsored by Slovenia.

The final Sunday, June 27, will include a visit to the church of the Teutonic Cemetery, next to St. Peter’s Basilica, with the embassies of the European Union, Denmark, and Estonia, as well as the Church of St. Michael and St. Magnus with the Netherlands, and the Pontifical Slovak College of St. Cyril and Methodius with Slovakia.

Ambassador Alexandra Valkenburg-Roelofs, the EU’s ambassador to the Holy See, told Vatican News May 4 that people can also participate in the church visits “virtually” as all of the information will be made available online, at the website, starting on May 9.

“We were looking for a way to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations, and we have found one,” she said.

Why France is losing one religious building every two weeks

The nave of Saint-Ouen Abbey in Rouen, Normandy, France. / Jorge Láscar via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

Rome Newsroom, May 4, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

One religious building is disappearing in France every two weeks.

That is the conclusion of Edouard de Lamaze, president of the Observatoire du patrimoine religieux (Observatory of Religious Heritage) in Paris.

He is raising the alarm in the French media about the gradual disappearance of religious edifices in a country known as the “eldest daughter of the Church” because the Frankish King Clovis I embraced Catholicism in 496.

Lamaze’s appeal for increased awareness came after a fire destroyed the 16th-century Church of Saint-Pierre in Romilly-la-Puthenaye, Normandy, northern France. The fire, deemed accidental, took place on April 15, exactly two years after the blaze that devastated Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The unforgettable image of the burning cathedral, which circled the planet in 2019, pointed to a deeper issue within French society: serious shortcomings in the preservation system of religious monuments, coupled with increasing hostility toward religion.

Lamaze told CNA in an interview that in addition to one religious building disappearing every two weeks -- by demolition, transformation, destruction by fire, or collapse -- two-thirds of fires in religious buildings are due to arson.

While these statistics include buildings belonging to all religious groups, most of them concern Catholic monuments, which still represent a large majority in France, where there are roughly 45,000 Catholic places of worship.

“Although Catholic monuments are still ahead, one mosque is erected every 15 days in France, while one Christian building is destroyed at the same pace,” Lamaze said. “It creates a tipping point on the territory that should be taken into account.”

Lamaze believes that on average more than two Christian monuments are targeted every day. Two-thirds of these incidents concern theft, while the remaining third involve desecration.

According to the most recent figures from France’s central criminal intelligence unit, 877 attacks on Catholic places of worship were recorded across the country in 2018 alone.

“These figures have increased fivefold in only 10 years,” Lamaze said, noting that 129 churches were vandalized in 2008.

“At the beginning of the 1970s, writer and journalist Michel de Saint Pierre published a book entitled églises en ruine, Eglise en péril [“Churches in ruin, endangered Church”], in which he already sounded the alarm. But the situation has heightened tenfold, or even hundredfold, since then.”

Currently, 5,000 Catholic buildings are potentially in danger of disappearing.

Apart from the growing hostility to which they are subject, these religious sites are also suffering from deep negligence on the part of public authorities.

This state of affairs is partly explained by the fact that, by virtue of the 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State, municipalities became the owners of France’s religious buildings. In many cases, they have been unable to meet the costs of maintaining the sites.

“These buildings have not been maintained for over a century, and they have never been subject to restoration work or protection measures against theft or fire,” Lamaze said.

He explained that only 15,000 Catholic sites are officially protected as historical monuments, while the other 30,000 buildings are practically left to decay.

Lamaze argues that another significant and emblematic example of the mismanagement of this heritage is Saint-Ouen Abbey, a jewel of Gothic architecture belonging to the city of Rouen in Normandy.

“This abbey church is endowed with a ‘forêt’ [the church’s distinctive style of roofing] that is even bigger than that of Notre-Dame. It is a pure marvel and yet there is no alarm system of any kind.”

“It is another candidate for destruction. It is enough to make you cry!”

He continued: “Fires are also sharply increasing because buildings are more and more dilapidated, and this negligence also attracts a lot of thefts of paintings, statues, or gold chalices...”

Although French cathedrals benefit from a special status and are owned by the state, they have not been spared in the wave of fires that have hit Catholic sites in recent years. The blaze at Notre-Dame de Paris in 2019 was preceded by a fire at the Cathedral Saint-Alain of Lavaur in Tarn, southern France, and followed by fires at the cathedrals of Rennes and Nantes in 2020.

“The current minister of culture is seeking to establish a protection charter, but the situation is extremely serious and, alas, I don’t see any real awareness growing, nor any sense of responsibility in the face of this crucial challenge for our national heritage,” Lamaze said.

“In fact, beyond the religious aspect, it is our country’s culture that is at stake here, as these jewels of art and architecture are an integral part of the spirit and greatness of France. And if we keep going like this, one day our heritage will be completely destroyed. We will lose everything.”

Cardinal Ruini sees ‘risk of schism’ in Germany after Vatican ‘no’ to same-sex blessings

Cardinal Camillo Ruini answers questions at the Vatican press office on June 17, 2014. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, May 4, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini has said that he is praying there will be no schism in Germany, as priests and bishops in the country announce their disagreement with a document from the Vatican saying the Church cannot bless same-sex unions.

In a May 4 interview with the newspaper Il Foglio, Ruini said: “I hope with all my heart that there will not be any schism, and I pray for this.”

The 90-year-old cardinal referenced Pope Francis’ 2019 letter in which he asked German Catholics to keep a “connection with the universal Church.”

“These words of the pope offer a standard and a valuable direction,” Ruini said. “I do not deny, therefore, that there is a risk of schism, but I trust that, with God’s help, it can be overcome.”

Ruini’s comments come after a number of priests and bishops in the German-speaking world have expressed support for blessings for same-sex partnerships, despite a recent document from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which said the Church cannot bless such unions.

In Germany, Catholic pastoral workers have planned a nationwide event on May 10 in defiance of the Vatican ruling. Organizers hope that same-sex couples across Germany will take part in the initiative, known as “Segnungsgottesdiensten für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers.”

The CDF published a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15, with the approval of Pope Francis, replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The CDF answered, “Negative,” outlining its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

Ruini, who was Rome’s vicar general from 1991 to 2008, and president of the Italian bishops’ conference for 16 years, said that “people certainly can be blessed, but because they are converted, not because they are confirmed in their sin.”

“God himself blesses the sinful man so that he allows himself to be changed by Him, but He cannot bless sin,” he added.

“I would like to emphasize the strength of this position: it is not just a question of something that the Church has decided not to do, but of something that the Church cannot do. Consequently, no one in the Church has this power,” Ruini said.

Ruini has a reputation for speaking out on social and political issues related to the Catholic Church, and, especially during his years in leadership positions, made frequent media appearances.

He joins other Catholic cardinals and bishops who have recently expressed concern about the situation of the Church in Germany.

In an interview with Colm Flynn that aired on EWTN last month, Australian Cardinal George Pell said he thought that “there is a percentage of the German Church that seems to be resolutely heading in the wrong direction.”

English Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has said that he is worried the German Church’s “Synodal Way” could lead to a “de facto schism.”

Ruini emphasized May 4 that “the Church today is against every unjust discrimination of homosexual persons and wishes that they would be welcomed in the Christian community with respect and consideration.”

The object of dispute, he continued, “lies in the moral evaluation of homosexual relationships and the unions that involve them.”

“According to the constant teaching of Sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testament, and ecclesial tradition, homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” he said, “because they are not suitable for transmitting life and are not based on a true affective and sexual complementarity. Therefore, in no case can they be approved.”

Blessed Carlo Acutis’ 30th birthday celebrated by parishes across world

Venerable Carlo Acutis. /

Rome, Italy, May 3, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic parishes across Italy and as far away as the Philippines celebrated what would have been the 30th birthday of Blessed Carlo Acutis on Monday.

Acutis, who was born on May 3, 1991, became the first millennial to be beatified by Catholic Church in October 2020. The live stream of his beatification Mass in Assisi went viral, with hundreds of thousands of people watching online.

The Diocese of Assisi celebrated the date with a live-stream prayer and reflection at the tomb of Blessed Carlo Acutis with Fr. Carlos Ferriera, rector of the Sanctuary of the Spoliation, where the Blessed is buried, followed by a rosary and Mass offered by Bishop Domenico Sorrentino.

“Today for those who love Blessed Carlo there is the memory of his earthly birthday, but as you know, for the blessed and saints, the true birthday that the Church celebrates is that of death, so his feast will be in October,” Sorrentino said at the Mass.

“But it is also nice to be able to participate in the Eucharist on this day with him, as he would have celebrated his birthday on earth, surely with the Lord, definitely Eucharist, therefore it is nice to be together with him and to experience the Eucharist.”

Young people offered birthday wishes in a collaborative video message posted on Facebook by the Friends of Carlo Acutis Association.

“Ciao, Carlo, I wish you a very happy birthday. I am grateful from my heart for how you helped me to find the salvation of my life and my faith,” a girl said at the start of the video.

The National Thanksgiving Mass for Blessed Carlo Acutis’ 30th Birthday at the Chapel of St. Joseph in Bulacan province, the Philippines. / Screenshot
The National Thanksgiving Mass for Blessed Carlo Acutis’ 30th Birthday at the Chapel of St. Joseph in Bulacan province, the Philippines. / Screenshot

A procession took place in the Philippines with a statue of Carlo Acutis as part of the “National Thanksgiving Mass for Blessed Carlo Acutis’ 30th Birthday” at the Chapel of St. Joseph in Bulacan province, with more than 36,000 viewers tuning in to the live stream.

Parishes in Naples, Salerno, Ferentino, Foggia, Salerno, and other parts of Italy are dedicating the day to prayer with relics of Carlo Acutis, as well as Masses, Eucharistic adoration, extra hours of confession, and the rosary.

The archdiocese of Pisa marked the Blessed’s birthday with three days of prayer leading up to May 3 at the Madonna dell’Acqua parish in Cascina, which also hosted a Mass for children and families on Monday night.

The southern Italian diocese of Cassano all’Jonio hosted a “Eucharistic Week with Blessed Carlo Acutis” at the parish of Fr. Michele Munno, who has written several devotionals dedicated to Acutis.

As part of its Eucharistic Week, San Vincenzo Ferrer parish temporarily hosted a wooden statue of Acutis that was recently blessed by Pope Francis.

A church in Roncà, outside of Verona, is dedicating a month of prayer for young people, families, and the community through Carlo’s intercession with special evening Masses May 4-27.

A new Catholic youth center named after Carlo Acutis opened in Reggio Calabria at the Holy Family parish in Palmi.

The oratory, which includes a soccer field, was inaugurated with a ribbon-cutting and blessing by Bishop Francesco Milito, who quoted St. John Bosco in his speech.

“In an oratory, three things can never be lacking: the sports field, the theater, and the church,” he said.

Antonia Salzano, the mother of Carlo Acutis, donated a relic of a lock of her son’s hair to the Catholic youth center.

“Carlo entrusted himself to the Eucharist, which he called ‘my highway to heaven,’ and by eating Christ he fed on the source of love. Carlo went to Mass, adoration, and prayed the holy rosary every day. Carlo was beatified thanks to the Eucharist, which each of us has at hand,” she said in a video message sent to the oratory.

“Carlo was quite bad at football, but he loved being with friends,” she added.

Blessed Carlo Acutis was a young Catholic from Italy with a passionate devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and an aptitude for computer programming.

From the ages of 12 to 14, he designed a website cataloging Eucharistic miracles that have occurred around the world, which he launched in 2005. He died of leukemia a year later at the age of 15, offering his suffering for the pope and the Church.

To mark his 30th birthday, priests and religious around Italy recorded a video message reflecting on what the witness of Carlo has meant to their parishes.

Pope Francis alluded to Carlo Acutis in a message to altar servers gathered at a weekend event in Fatima, Portugal, which took its theme from one of the young Blessed’s favorite quotes: “All are born as originals, but many die as photocopies.”

“You have to find out who you are and develop your personal way of being holy, regardless of what others say and think. To make yourself holy is to become more fully yourself, the one God wanted to dream and create, not a photocopy. Your life must be a prophetic stimulus that inspires others, that leaves a mark on this world, that unique mark that only you can leave,” Pope Francis said, according to Vatican News.