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Pope Francis: Canon law revision project is concluding

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2020 / 11:36 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said on Friday that canon law can be like medicine, because justice is healing for the entire Church. The pope also said that a long-running process of revising canon law’s penal norms has come to an end, suggesting that major revisions to the Code of Canon Law could soon be issued.

“Making known and applying the laws of the Church is not a hindrance to the presumed pastoral ‘efficacy’ of those who want to solve problems without the law, but a guarantee of the search for solutions that are not arbitrary, but truly just and, therefore, truly pastoral,” Pope Francis said Feb. 21.

“By avoiding arbitrary solutions, the law becomes a valid bulwark in defense of the least and the poor, the protective shield of those who risk falling victim to the powerful in turn,” the pope added.

Pope Francis met with the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts at the end of their plenary assembly. The pontifical council is not itself a lawmaker, but assists the pope, who is the Church's supreme legislator, in drafting, and interpreting canon law.

For more than a decade, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has been at work on a set of major revisions to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, which covers penal law in the Church.

The revision was commissioned by Benedict XVI.

“The work of revision of Book VI of the Latin Code, that has occupied you for several years and with this Plenary arrives at [its] conclusion,” Pope Francis said. 

“I urge you to continue tenaciously in this task,” the pope added.

The pope said that the pontifical council’s revision is moving “in the right direction” with its update to the canonical legislation to “make it more organic and in accordance with the new situations and problems of the current socio-cultural context” and “together offer suitable tools to facilitate its application.”

The Church’s law is a pastoral tool, and as such must be considered and accepted, Francis said.

“Contrary to that provided for by the state legislator, the canonical penalty always has a pastoral meaning and pursues not only a function of respect for the order, but also the reparation and above all the good of the guilty party,” the pope said. “The reparative aim is designed to restore, as far as possible, the conditions preceding the violation that disturbed the communion.”

“Every crime affects the whole Church, whose communion has been violated by those who deliberately attacked it with their own behavior,” Pope Francis stressed.

“The aim of the recovery of the individual underlines that the canonical penalty is not a merely coercive tool, but has a distinctly medicinal character. Ultimately, it represents a positive means for the realization of the Kingdom, for rebuilding justice in the community of the faithful, called to personal and common sanctification,” he said.

Pope Benedict XV established the pontifical council following his promulgation of the first Code of Canon Law in 1917. The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has since played a role in interpreting the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and revising the code of canon law. A new code for the Latin Catholic Church was promulgated in 1983, and a code of canons for Eastern Catholic Churches was promulgated in 1990.

In his address to the pontifical council, Pope Francis quoted Benedict XVI’s “Letter to Seminarians” and said it can be an invitation to all Catholics to learn to “understand and -- I dare say - to love canon law in its intrinsic necessity and in the forms of its practical application.”

“Dictatorships are born and grow without rights. In the Church this cannot happen,” Pope Francis said.

 

More than 207,000 sign petition to shutter porn website after trafficking violations

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 21, 2020 / 11:26 am (CNA).- Underage pornography and trafficking videos have been found on the online pornography platform PornHub.

By Feb. 21, a petition on change.org calling on the site to be shut down and its executive held accountable for aiding trafficking had more than 207,000 signatures.

The petition points to several instances of child rape pornography found on PornHub in the past year.

Laila Mickelwait, Exodus Cry's Director of Abolition and the author of the petition, said there may be more instances of this illegal material on this site as well.

“We already have evidence, and it is just the tip of the iceberg,” the petition states. “It’s time to shut down super-predator site Pornhub and hold the executives behind it accountable.”

The petition will be sent to the US Department of Justice, the FBI, US President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and several US Congressmen.

Mickelwait’s organization was established to abolish commercial sex abuse, sexual exploitation, and global sex trafficking. Exodus Cry is based on two principles: altering mindsets and changing laws.

Dr. Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research & Education, said the petition is proposing a fair and moderate position. She said the actions which occurred on PornHub's watch are already illegal.

“Laila and her organization are taking a very reasonable stance. They're only talking about children and they're only talking about children that are being advertised for sale. Any prostitution of a child according to U.S. federal law is trafficking,” she told CNA.

“This is pictures of the trafficking of kids, in other words, pictures of the prostitution of children. To prosecute PornHub for profiting from photographs of the sexual assault of children for money...I'm delighted that her organization is taking this on.”

While Mickelwait did not originally plan to make a petition, she told CNA the initiative came about after she received feedback from people who were angry at the news regarding PornHub’s negligence regarding illegal material on its site.

“Everybody's in agreement that children should not be trafficked and raped. Women should not be trafficked and raped for profit, for the sexual pleasure of billions of people who visit that website. There's just no arguing with that,” she said.

During last year, 58 videos of sexual abuse and rape of a 15-year-old girl appeared on PornHub. The girl had been missing for a year when her mother found her on the adult website, leading to the arrest of her captor, Christopher Johnson, a 30-year-old Florida man.

Mickelwait said the 15-year-old girl had been approved by the supposed “verification system” of Pornhub, despite the girl being underage. She said that to upload a video, all that is needed is a valid email address.

“They had verified that 15 year-old-girl who was raped and assaulted on 58 videos on their platform … that was part of kind of what's been called an explosive revelation of what's happening on this website,” she said.

Michael James Pratt, head of GirlsDoPorn, was sued for over $12.7 million by 22 women who had been led to believe they were applying for “modeling jobs.” As it was actually a pornography shoot, the women who agreed to participate were told they would only appear on physical DVDs published in other countries and not online. The women were aged between 17 and 22.

Pratt is now facing charges in the US for trafficking and producing child pornography. He is reportedly on the run in New Zealand.

According to BBC, Rose Kalemba was abducted, beaten, and raped at age 14. Later a video of her sexual abuse appeared on PornHub. She found out about the videos through her classmates, who sent her links and bullied her for it.

After she discovered the videos, she would email PornHub over the next few months pleading for the content to be taken down and emphasizing her status as a minor, BBC reported. The website only obliged once she posed as her own lawyer.

Mickelwait said that because of the massive amount of content on Pornhub, she believes there are more instances of the sexual exploitation and child pornography than has been reported.

“If you go on my Twitter and you just scroll through, you could see case after case, after case, after case of instances where real rape, real trafficking is being uploaded to PornHub and PornHub is profiting off of that exploitation. It's a huge problem,” she said.

“If we know that there's 10, 12, 15, 20[cases], [then] there's probably hundreds, thousands [of cases of sexual exploitation]... We have no idea how huge this could be based on the amount of content they have on their site.”

Mickelwait said the company that owns PornHub has a monopoly on the pornographic industry, having consolidated nternet porn.

“When people do things that are not okay, they need to be held accountable for that. But it also sets a precedent and example for anybody else who would try to do something like this and allow it, promote it, profit off of it. The public in the world is not going to put up with that,” she said.

“If it can happen to the world's largest, richest, most powerful internet porn company, it could happen to anyone. I think that that's why this is particularly important.”

She said that viewers of pornography are also harmed: “Experimental exposure to porn leads men and women to have a diminished view of women's competence, morality, and humanity,” she said.

“Studies have been done that show that and demonstrate that when you watch hardcore violent pornography, it creates what's called permission-giving beliefs about rape. It makes people believe what's called the rape myths: that women want rape, that they deserve rape.”

Farley told CNA that all violent pornography is a problem, which may lead to extreme and violent fetishes or cases of prostitution. She said that all people harmed by sexual assaults in pornography should be compensated.

“My concern as somebody who's been studying the sex trade for 20 years is that pornography is filmed documentation of sexual assault, humiliation, degradation, threats, and things like that. So any photograph of sexual assault is a problem,” she said.

“I would go much further. I would say that any pornography that harms anyone, whether they're six, 16 or 60 years old, whether they're male, female, trans, anyone who's prostitution is filmed, who's abuse is film, if they can show harm, they should sue PornHub for just everything it's worth,” she added.

Syria’s Hidden Victims - Samer Hanna

Damascus, Syria, Feb 21, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Syrian civil war has led to one of the largest refugee crises of modern times, and presented unique problems for Syria’s ancient Christian communities. Marginalized for centuries, persecuted by ISIS, afraid to attract any attention from the West, Syrian Christians remain, by most accounts, the war’s most invisible victims.

Samer Hanna, a Christian living in the eastern city of Qamishli, was born and raised in Raqqa—made famous in later years for being the capital of ISIS’s would-be caliphate—and in 2013 fled from escalating violence to a small village called Tel Fayda, before finally settling down in Qamishli. At 37 years old, Samer works 70-hour weeks as broadcasting director for Suroyo FM, a radio station that celebrates the linguistic and ethnical diversity of Syria by broadcasting political, social and artistic programs in Syriac, Armenian and Arabic. 

In partnership with the Philos Project, CNA sat down with Samer Hanna:
 


Tell us what your life was like in Raqqa before ISIS and how you ended up in Qamishli.

My life was like any normal person’s life. I had finished my studies, got permanent employment and bought a house. We never felt a distinction between denominations, religions, or ethnicities before 2011. It wasn’t mentioned in front of us growing up. The region was a diverse one because people came from all over Syria to work after the split of the Euphrates Dam in 1973. Sunnis from Hama and Aleppo, Assyrians, Syriacs and Kurds from al-Jazira and Ain al-Arab, and Alawites from Latakia and Tartous. 
 
On March 3, 2013 I fled from Raqqa to Tel Fayda in the countryside of Tell Tamer. I stayed there for 9 months before I moved to Qamishli. I had never been there before and never imagined I would flee there.
 
What changed when the war started?


I supported the Syrian government, probably because of what we heard about war from our relatives in Iraq and the lack of any real change in the Arab Spring. 
 
When the Free Syrian Army entered Raqqa in March 2013, everything changed. People fled in their pajamas away from constant bombing, mass shelling, and air strikes. The government forces were under siege. I remember looking at the city from a bus window as I left, telling myself, “I won’t be long, I’ll be back.” At that time, I had no idea that it would take over six years for me to return. 
 
Many of my Muslim friends and neighbors stayed in Raqqa when ISIS took over. They told us not to come back because they’d kill us. They confiscated my house. One neighbor sent a picture of my house to me. I still get emotional thinking about it.
 
How did your life change when Islamists took over Raqqa in late 2012?

On December 31, 2012, I got a call from a Muslim man named Abu Khouthayfa who threatened to blackmail me, because I was Christian. My dad had to pay the bribe by selling his car. This event really scared my family. We had to leave Raqqa and many of my Muslim friends and neighbors who stayed back would tell us, “Don’t you dare come back! They want to kill you!”
 
Have you lost any family members or friends?

I have not lost any family members, but my mom fled to Germany with my brothers. My dad refused to leave and settled in Qamishli instead, so I stayed with him. My dad had hoped to return, saying that Raqqa would be liberated soon. His words and my own hope of returning made it difficult to move forward with life in Qamishli.
 
Two of my friends were killed. One was murdered by al-Nusra, an Islamist jihadist group, after a physical altercation that broke out regarding his consumption of alcohol, which is forbidden under Islamic law. The other friend died in one of the clashes of the war. My cousin’s husband was killed by a Syrian airstrike while working in his shop. They were trying to hit a weapons depot but unfortunately his shop was close to that area. 
 
Did anything change with the Turkish invasion?

Of course! The first thing that changed was the lack of security in Qamishli. I feared losing everything again, and the fear increased every time Turkish forces seized new territories on our side of the border. The mass exodus that a full Turkish invasion could inflict would change the whole demography of the area.
 
You say that Raqqa is a special case. How so?

Raqqa is truly a special case and has unusual magic. For decades the Roman Catholic church was the only functioning church in Raqqa so all of us Christians would gather in that church regardless of ethnicity or denomination. We shared holidays, prayers and youth groups there. 
 
Unlike in the rest of Syria, church bells never rang in Raqqa. It wasn’t allowed because, according to my priest, Muslims were not used to hearing them. So, the bells never rang in Raqqa, and they probably never will.
 
Even before ISIS, we were subjected to harassment from bigoted Muslims in Raqqa. In 2006, the Syriac Orthodox community leased an Armenian church downtown that had been closed for 30 years. During the mass, Muslim kids would sometimes open the doors of the church and throw stones at us. 
 
Do you want to stay in Qamishli, go back to Raqqa, or leave? 

After the massive destruction in Raqqa I thought it would be impossible to return and rebuild. I realized then that I needed to settle down in Qamishli, mentally and emotionally.
 
In Qamishli, there is no coexistence regardless of what people on the outside say. It’s a façade, a ticking bomb that can explode at any moment. The neighborhoods are divided by denomination or ethnicity, unlike the way it used to be in Raqqa, and there have been clashes between these groups several times. Racism between people from the same religion is not uncommon.
 
Even still, I would not consider fleeing abroad unless the Turks reach Qamishli and there’s no other place in Syria to take refuge. I hope this doesn’t happen because I have settled here, and I’ve made friends here.
 
What is your hope for yourself?

I don’t know what to say. That question is difficult because I’m so lost. I don’t know my path and I constantly fear what might happen tomorrow. I don’t have the ambition to build more because I always have the feeling that I could lose everything at any moment. I used to have a lot of dreams for the future, but my fears stop me now. I am being treated for PTSD. My return to Raqqa, after it was liberated in 2017, caused massive mental health issues for me, and I couldn’t sleep for 3-4 months. I have been treated by a psychologist for the last two years.

Unfortunately, another disadvantage here in Qamishli is the lack of doctors because so many have emigrated. The psychologist that I use is the only one left in his field. 
 
What have the challenges you’ve faced taught you about being a Christian? 

They’ve taught me that I am subject to murder and genocide solely because I’m Christian. They wrote “Nazarene” on all our Christian homes in Raqqa and took our property. Driving on the streets, I fear that a radical person will stop, see my name, and know that I’m Christian, which would put me in danger. 
 
What message would you want Christians in the West to know?

I want the whole world to say, “Enough war, killing, and destruction!” The Syrian people have no hopes, dreams, or future. Our hope is to go grocery shopping without being killed in a car bomb. These are our miserable dreams now because we’re in a state of war. Even though there’s no ongoing war here, our souls are being killed slowly. 
 
An entire generation has been destroyed, kids born into the sound of bullets and bombs. Their first memories are of blood, crime, killings, and hatred of others. I wish all these people could unify their voices and stop all the wars in the world, not only in Syria. 
 

Update: In early February, authorities in Raqqa started rebuilding the Armenian Catholic Martyrs’ Church and the Melkite Catholic Church, the churches that Samer grew up in. The city is not controlled by the Syrian government, and the Armenian Catholic Eparchy in Qamishli have said that no Masses will be held in the church after the rebuilding if the city is not then under control of the Syrian government. There are seven Christians in Raqqa that Samer knows of. One is Armenian, one Melkite Catholic, and five are Syriac Orthodox. The majority of the Christians who fled during the Islamist invasion went to the Qamishli and Hassake, in northeast Syria. Samer has interviewed many of them; he said 90% of them said they won’t go back to Raqqa even if the churches are rebuilt because their houses have been destroyed.

Pope Francis prays for victims of German shooting

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed Friday for the victims of a shooting in Germany that killed nine people at two hookah bars.

The victims of the attack on the night of Feb. 19 were predominantly immigrants in Germany from Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. German authorities said that the suspected gunman posted an online video calling for a genocide of ethnic minorities in Germany before carrying out the attack and then killing himself and his 72-year-old mother.

“Having learned of the terrible act of violence in Hanau, which caused the death of innocent people, the Holy Father Francis was deeply affected,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote in a telegram Feb. 21.

“In prayer, Pope Francis entrusts the dead to the mercy of God and implores Christ, Lord of life, so that mourners will find consolation and trust, and will be accompanied by the blessing and peace of God,” Parolin said.

The Vatican Secretary of State sent the telegram on the pope’s behalf to Bishop Michael Gerber of Fulda, who leads the diocese where the shooting took place.

Bishops throughout Germany spoke out in the wake of the attack. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German bishops’ conference denounced racism and radical nationalism, saying that these cannot be justified from a Christian perspective.

“The news that a man has killed and injured numerous people in Hanau leaves me stunned. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their relatives. We hope that the injured will recover soon. In this situation, we also think of the people who have to deal with this terrible act in their neighborhood,” Marx said.

The German cardinal said that such violence is due to right-wing extremism and violent statements on the internet, which must be opposed.

“As Christians, we believe that all people - regardless of religion, nation, culture or language - are children of God. That is why we stand with everyone together against violence and terror,” Cardinal Marx said.

New Zealand abortion bill 'totally unacceptable', bishops say

Wellington, New Zealand, Feb 20, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The unborn child will lose all rights under a bill to change New Zealand’s abortion laws, and women pressured into abortion will not receive the help they need, the country’s Catholic bishops have warned.

“In the womb, the child already has its own unique genetic identity and whakapapa. Our abortion laws must reflect this reality,” said Cynthia Piper, a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

“It is a major failing of the proposed new law that there will no longer be any statutory requirement to consider the rights of the unborn child. That is totally unacceptable to the bishops and many New Zealanders.”

The New Zealand Parliament’s Abortion Legislation Select Committee has recommended changing abortion law to remove any legal restrictions for an abortion up to 20 weeks into pregnancy, and thus “effectively introducing abortion on demand,” the bishops’ conference said Feb. 19. The bill has already passed a first reading.

Under the proposal, pregnancies more than 20 weeks into pregnancy would require a health practitioner to believe with reason that the abortion is “appropriate” given the women’s physical and mental health and well-being. Piper objected that such criteria are not defined and are too subjective and broad.

Changes for abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy will “significantly widen” the ability to choose abortion of an unborn child on the basis of disability, objected Piper. The proposed bill removes all references to fetal abnormalities, while current law cites them as a reason for abortion only up to 20 weeks.

The Catholic bishops fear changes to abortion law will harm many women, Piper reported. She cited her own experience working with women who have had abortions and experienced long-lasting negative effects, particularly when they felt pressured to have an abortion.

“The coercive reality of societal, familial and economic pressures that arise when a woman suddenly finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy is well documented,” she said. “The select committee itself acknowledges that they heard from several submitters, particularly young women, who believed they might not have chosen abortion if they had received more support. But what is being proposed will not help women in this situation make different decisions.”

The select committee received more than 25,700 written submissions on the proposal to change abortion law. About 90% of submissions opposed the change, the bishops said.

In September 2019 the Catholic bishops’ conference made an 11-page submission to the committee, jointly authored by their bioethics-focused agency The Nathaniel Centre.

Their submission cited a 1977 report from the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilization and Abortion which said “the unborn child, as one of the weakest, the most vulnerable, and most defenseless forms of humanity, should receive protection.”

It is possible the bill would face a tight vote, the Australian Associated Press reports. Though the bill passed parliament on its first reading by a vote of 93 to 24, many MPs who voted in favor are expected to vote against it, but wanted to see it go to committee.

Labour, National, and Green MPs will have a conscience vote on the bill, but all eight Green MPs back it. The nine MPs from the New Zealand First party could abstain if the matter isn’t sent to a referendum. Marijuana and euthanasia proposals will be up for consideration in the country’s Sept. 19 election.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern predicted the bill would gain majority support.

Several thousand women who back abortion rights took part in public demonstrations to end criminal laws against abortion. Abortion advocates like Terry Bellamak, national president of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, praised some changes to the bill, including stronger laws against protestors outside of abortion clinics.

Her Feb. 18 comments faulted a change that gives an option to abortion providers not to be listed on the director-general’s list, saying this will make it harder for women seeking abortions.

“It means the government anticipates some providers may not want it generally known that they provide abortion care,” said Bellamak, suggesting this was due to fears of “harassment” outside clinics.

Bellamak objected to provisions for conscientious objection, including new provisions protecting those who object to some treatments for sexual assault victims. Some health providers object that some drugs billed as emergency contraception have properties that can cause abortions if an unborn child has been conceived.

She also objected to the lack of requirements that health providers provide notice that they object to what the pro-abortion group considers “reproductive health care.”

National MP Agnes Loheni, a member of the select committee on the abortion bill, wrote a minority report critical of the proposal. She warned that if enacted the bill will “severely breach and irreparably damage the ‘sanctity of life’ principle which has been the cornerstone of New Zealand’s common law.”

“Our current abortion law seeks to balance the rights and autonomy of the expectant mother against the interests of unborn human life,” she said, charging that the proposal “removes the human rights of the unborn child completely.”

She rejected claims that the current law criminalizes women, noting that no woman has been charged with having an unlawful abortion in New Zealand. The law aims to “protect women from unlawful abortions” and in fact criminalizes only those who perform abortions against the law.

She called for a royal commission to investigate whether changes are needed.

Loheni also faulted the minimal restrictions after 20 weeks into pregnancy, noting that this would allow abortion “until the moment of birth.”

“I know people get really uncomfortable with that, but at the end of the day, that is what the law will allow, there is no upper limit on that test,” she said, according to RNZ News. Loheni criticized requirements for a woman seeking an abortion to consult with a physician, saying they were too minimal.