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Canadian bishops address protection of minors and vulnerable adults at meeting

The 2023 Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is being held Sept. 25-28, 2023, outside of Toronto, Ontario. / Credit: CCCB/CECC

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2023 / 13:05 pm (CNA).

On the second day of the 2023 Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), a bishops’ committee provided recommendations on diocesan policies that are focused on protecting minors and vulnerable adults to all the bishops in attendance. 

The Standing Committee for Responsible Ministry and the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons has studied the issue of “vulnerable persons” over the past year, looking at how to define vulnerability, how to reduce risks, and what behaviors should be encouraged on the part of those in ministry, according to the CCCB. 

During a Tuesday news conference, Richard Fréchette, who serves on the committee, said “many dioceses already have a code of conduct for priests” but that much of the previous work had been solely focused on protecting minors. He said the committee presented a code of conduct template that incorporated protections on all vulnerable persons, noting the “importance of having that as part of the code of conduct.”

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of the Archdiocese of Gatineau, who also serves on the committee, said the protections for vulnerable persons are meant to prevent people from “using positions of authority to impose themselves and demand various kinds of [sexual] favors … of people who are under their care.” 

The archbishop said the committee was motivated, in part, by the “Me Too” movement, which he said showed this problem in the sports world, the artistic world, the media world, “and unfortunately the Church world, also.” 

Durocher added that all of the Canadian bishops engaged in a study session that looked into three case studies and provided recommendations on how to address these issues if they arise. 

Fréchette noted that the committee discussed a variety of issues related to conduct, such as harassment, violence, sexual conduct, information technology, and financial issues. 

The bishops began their annual four-day meeting on Monday, and it comes to a close on Thursday. They have gathered in King City, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. 

On the first day, the bishops prepared for the Synod on Synodality, which begins in Rome in about a week. Four Canadian bishops and four Canadian non-bishop participants will take part in the global synod. They also discussed humanitarian efforts in Honduras. 

The bishops also plan to address the growing practice of euthanasia in Canada and the recent expansion of eligibility to include those suffering from mental health conditions. They plan to discuss the importance of promoting palliative care rather than euthanasia.

California governor signs bills that would penalize schools that refuse to teach LGBT content

null / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that would reduce funding to schools that restrict LGBT content from their classrooms.

The bill would centralize state authority over school curricula by fining schools that restrict books that cover homosexuality and gender ideology. Some school boards have done so out of concerns that the content is too sexually explicit for young children.

This is just one of 10 bills focused on homosexuality and transgenderism that Newsom signed this week.

The new law, which took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, grants the state superintendent the authority to reduce a school’s funding if it does not provide “sufficient textbooks or instructional materials” in line with the state’s standards for diversity and inclusion, which includes books available in the school’s library.

Under this law, the state superintendent will also have the authority to purchase textbooks for students within a school district and recoup the costs from the school if it refuses to provide textbooks in line with the state’s diversity and inclusion standards.

The bill was signed amid a feud between the state and the Temecula Valley Unified School District, which rejected a controversial state-approved social studies textbook over its inclusion of pro-homosexual and pro-transgender themes. Newsom criticized the school district when he signed the bill.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools,” Newsom said in a statement. “With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them.”

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond also spoke positively of the new law and indicated his intent to use his new authority.

“This law will serve as a model for the nation that California recognizes and understands the moment we are in — and while some want to roll back the clock on progress, we are doubling down on forward motion,” Thurmond said. “Rather than limiting access to education and flat out banning books like other states, we are embracing and expanding opportunities for knowledge and education, because that’s the California way.”

Other LGBT bills signed by Newsom

Newsom signed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which expresses legislative intent to require teachers and other certificated employees of schools to receive training on meeting the needs of “LGBTQ+ pupils.” It also expresses an intent to specify a timeline for cultural competency training.

The governor also signed legislation to require that K-12 public schools provide all-gender restrooms by 2026. Another bill requires that business license applicants affirm that single-user toilets will be labeled as all-gender restrooms.

Another K-12-focused bill instructs the superintendent of public instruction to convene an “advisory task force to identify the statewide needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and plus (LGBTQ+) pupils and to make recommendations to assist in implementing supportive policies and initiatives to address LGBTQ+ pupil education, education, and well-being.”

Newsom signed another education-focused bill focused on higher education. It will require that public institutions of higher education update records to reflect a person’s self-proclaimed gender identity and name. It requires that campus systems be capable of affirming the person’s preferred name and gender.

Another bill signed by Newsom requires that courts keep information confidential when a person younger than 18 files a petition for a change of gender or sex identifier and limits access to the records.

Discipline of sister who led community co-founded by Rupnik raises questions

Father Marko Rupnik. / Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa

Rome Newsroom, Sep 27, 2023 / 11:28 am (CNA).

A religious sister who co-founded a community with the ex-Jesuit and accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik three decades ago was quietly removed in June from the governance of the community, banned from contacting current or former sisters for three years, and ordered to make monthly pilgrimages to pray for Rupnik’s victims.

Sister Ivanka Hosta, the superior general of the Loyola Community since 1994, is staying in a monastery in Braga, in northern Portugal, following the conclusion of an investigation into her leadership of the religious community by the Diocese of Rome, according to the Portuguese religious news outlet Sete Margens.

Hosta founded the community of women religious together with Rupnik in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in the early 1990s, though the two dramatically split ways in 1993.

According to a June 21 decree sent by Rome auxiliary bishop Daniele Libanori, SJ, to Hosta, and obtained by Sete Margens, Hosta was prohibited from holding any position or function of government or from carrying out any spiritual direction in the community.

Libanori issued a “formal reprimand” against Hosta for “exercising a style of government detrimental to the dignity and rights of each of the religious who make up the community,” Sete Margens reported Sept. 24.

The former religious superior was also ordered not to have any contact with current or past members of the Loyola Community for three years and, as an “external penance,” to make a monthly pilgrimage for one year to a Marian shrine to pray “for the victims of Father Marko Ivan Rupnik’s behavior and for all the religious of the Loyola Community,” whom she is accused of harming.

In a cropped excerpt of the decree, shared by Sete Margens, Libanori says that in his investigation of the Loyola Community, he discovered “anomalies” in the government of the institute.

A source inside the community confirmed to CNA the existence of the decree. The source also questioned whether the decree is being fully implemented given the possibility that Hosta could have appealed the measures to the Vatican.

The unusual disciplinary measures leveled against Hosta raise questions about the conclusions of the investigation of the Loyola Community by the Diocese of Rome, including why Hosta would be ordered to do penance for Rupnik’s victims, and stand in stark contrast to a recent statement from the Diocese of Rome exonerating Rupnik’s art center.

Libanori first uncovered allegations of Rupnik’s sexual and spiritual abuse of religious sisters in 2019, when he was sent to investigate the Loyola Community in Slovenia amid complaints about Hosta.

The Rome auxiliary bishop said in a letter he sent to Italian priests in December 2022, obtained by the Associated Press, that the claims about Rupnik were true.

Rupnik, formerly a friend and collaborator of Hosta, acted as the Loyola Community’s chaplain until he broke from the religious community in September 1993.

Several sisters left the community with Rupnik, following him to Rome, where he subsequently opened his art and theology school, the Aletti Center.

While Libanori’s investigation of the Loyola Community appears to have found serious problems meriting strict disciplinary measures against its now-former religious superior, a recent canonical investigation by the Diocese of Rome into Rupnik’s Aletti Center found it to have “a healthy community life … that is free of particular serious issues.”

Rupnik, who was removed from the Jesuits in June after having been accused of spiritual, psychological, and sexual abuse spanning more than three decades, lived at and served as the director of the Aletti Center from 1995 to 2020.

The priest artist has been accused of engaging in sex acts with consecrated women at the center.

In an open letter published Sept. 19, former members of the Loyola Community said they were “left speechless” by the diocese’s concluding report on its canonical investigation of the Aletti Center.

“All [victims] have received and continue to receive is silence,” the letter says. “The victims of Ivanka Hosta’s abuse of power (who for 30 years covered up Rupnik’s nefarious deeds, and spiritually enslaved those who opposed his designs of revenge) especially have been waiting for a definitive, clear, maternal answer for more than a year.”

Cameroon archbishop: ‘No room for distraction’ for delegates to Synod on Synodality

Archbishop Andrew Fuanya Nkea of the Archdiocese of Bamenda in Cameroon. / Credit: ACI Africa

ACI Africa, Sep 27, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Delegates to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, also referred to as the Synod on Synodality, are not to allow “room for distractions” during the meeting scheduled to begin on Oct. 4, an archbishop in Cameroon has told ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa.

In a Sept. 23 interview, Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of the Archdiocese of Bamenda in Cameroon said deliberations during the synod, which will conclude with a second assembly in 2024, will focus on the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document for the synod.

“We are not going to allow ourselves to be distracted by the social media antics; there will be no room for distraction,” said Nkea, who is also president of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon.

“The aim of the synod is to reflect on the Church we have and how we want it to be and not to change the doctrine of the Church,” he added. 

Nkea, who was appointed a member of the ordinary council of the synod by Pope Francis, highlighted some of the issues to be discussed. “We are going to reflect on the problem of LGBT+ in families and polygamy in marriage but it’s not about changing the teachings of the Church,” he said. “There is already an Instrumentum Laboris we are working on.”

“We have dedicated three years of effort to prepare for this event through questionnaires and a mini-African synod that was held in Ethiopia,” the archbishop continued.

“We are going to allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us,” he said.

Reflecting on how synodality was lived in Cameroon, he said: “Synodality has, so to speak, caught fire not only in Cameroon but [also] in Africa. The synod is not a new thing to the Church in Cameroon because we have conveyed to our faithful from the very beginning what every diocese must do to respond to Pope Francis’ call to listen to one another, progress together, share ideas, and remember that, as Christians, we must not leave anyone behind.” 

He went on to explain that in Cameroon, the structural approach “begins with decisions made at the grassroot community levels.”

“The spirit of collegiality is our way of functioning,” Nkea said. “We always start with the population and the community, then proceed to missions, parishes, and the diocese.” 

He noted that “when a bishop contemplates a decision on a particular issue, the consultation process begins with the involvement of the faithful, starting with families … Together with his [bishop’s] advisers, they make the final decision based on the input received.” 

In a break with past custom that allowed laypeople to participate in the Synod of Bishops without the right to vote, the Vatican indicated April 26 that lay delegates to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly will participate as voting members.

Also speaking to ACI Africa on Sept. 23, Bishop Georges Nkuo of Cameroon’s Kumbo Diocese said: “The Holy Father invites us to engage in dialogue to discern the kind of Church we have and the kind of Church we aspire to build in a truly evangelical spirit.” 

“We aim for a Church that is closely connected to the people, one that is recognized at the periphery. While other topics may surface during the synod, the primary focus is on our collective journey and discernment,” said Nkuo, who is not among the delegates to the synod. 

He continued: “We are a mature Church. The Holy Father does not endorse ideologies; he embraces individuals. Every human being is precious in the eyes of God. The Holy Father does not engage with organizations or NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that have specific agendas. We come to the Church not to change its teachings but to deepen our understanding together.” 

Emmanuel Ayuni in Yaounde, Cameroon, contributed to this story.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

Europe needs hope, Pope Francis says

Pope Francis smiles during his general audience in St. Peter's Square Sept. 27, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 27, 2023 / 06:52 am (CNA).

To deal properly with the crises it faces, Europe must first have hope, Pope Francis said Wednesday at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“Hope needs to be restored to our European societies,” the pope said Sept. 27, “especially to the new generations.”

“Our societies, many times sickened by individualism, by consumerism, and by empty escapism, need to open themselves, their souls, and spirits need to be oxygenized, and then they will be able to read the crisis as an opportunity and deal with it positively,” he continued.

During his Wednesday audience with the public, Pope Francis spoke about his Sept. 22–23 visit to Marseille, France, to participate in the “Rencontres Méditerranéennes,” or Mediterranean Encounter, a meeting of bishops, mayors, and young people to confront issues facing the Mediterranean region, including immigration.

The pope spoke at the meeting on its second-to-last day, Sept. 23.

Pope Francis reaches to bless a young child during his general audience in St. Peter's Square Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis reaches to bless a young child during his general audience in St. Peter's Square Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“What came out of the Marseille event? What came out is an outlook on the Mediterranean that I would call simply human, not ideological, not strategic, not politically correct nor instrumental; no, human, that is, capable of referring everything to the primary value of the human person and his or her inviolable dignity,” he said.

He also noticed, he added, that there was a hopeful and fraternal outlook, even, surprisingly, from those who “have lived through inhuman situations.”

“This hope, this fraternity must not ‘evaporate’; no, rather, it needs to be organized, concretized through long, medium, and short-term actions so that people, in complete dignity, can choose to emigrate or not to emigrate,” he urged.

“In fact, how can we welcome others if we ourselves do not first have a horizon open to the future?” Francis said. “How can young people, who are poor in hope, closed in on their private lives, worried about managing their own precariousness, open themselves to meeting others and to sharing?”

Pope Francis said he saw a lot of passion and enthusiasm during his visit to Marseille, a port city in southern France, including at the Mass he celebrated on Sept. 23.

He encouraged the continent of Europe to also cultivate this passion and enthusiasm so that the Mediterranean region can be “a mosaic of civilization and hope” rather than “a tomb” or a “place of conflict.”

“The Mediterranean Sea,” the pope said, “is the complete opposite of the clash between civilizations, war, human trafficking.”

Pope Francis addresses a crowd of people in St. Peter's Square during his weekly general audience on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis addresses a crowd of people in St. Peter's Square during his weekly general audience on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Francis said the Mediterranean Sea is a channel of communication between Africa, Asia, and Europe, and though “the sea is always an abyss to overcome in some way, and it can even become dangerous,” still, “its waters safeguard treasures of life; its waves and its winds carry vessels of all types.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ even departed from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, he noted.

At the end of his audience, Pope Francis recalled that on Sept. 27, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, a French Catholic priest who co-founded the Congregation of the Mission, or the Vincentians.

“Today’s liturgical memorial of St. Vincent de Paul reminds us of the centrality of love of neighbor,” the pope said. “I urge everyone to cultivate the attitude of caring for others and openness to those who need you.”

Pro-lifers say ‘therapeutic’ abortion on minor in Peru exploited to push legal abortion

null / Credit: Yupa Watchanakit/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 26, 2023 / 18:50 pm (CNA).

After getting approval from the medical board of the National Maternal Perinatal Institute of Lima (INMP), a “therapeutic” abortion was performed on a girl under 11 years of age who became pregnant as a result of alleged abuse committed by her stepfather in the Áncash region of northern Peru.

The case, which is very similar to another that occurred in August, has created a great deal of controversy. Carlos Polo, director of the Latin American Office of the Population Research Institute, believes that abortion organizations are using situations like these to push for legalized abortion in Peru.

“It is no coincidence that several cases with the same characteristics come up in a short period of time and they all end up in the same place [the INMP] and in the same way,” Polo told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. “This leads us to think that these cases of ‘express abortion’ are not isolated events. They are the tactic of a plan to expand the ‘therapeutic’ abortion protocol to cases of rape, abortion for minors, congenital fetal deformities, and mental health.” 

Although abortion remains a crime, Article 119 of the Penal Code states that “it is not punishable” when “it is the only means to save the life of the pregnant woman or to avoid serious and permanent harm to her health.” Likewise, in 2014 the executive branch approved the guide for doing therapeutic abortions, which allows the procedure up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“Currently this protocol is governed by the objective need for medical care in an obstetric emergency in which there is no other means to save life or avoid serious and permanent harm to the mother. But for abortion organizations, the objective is for abortion to be legal due to a woman’s simple desire to continue the pregnancy or terminate it,” Polo maintained.

The girl, who was 22 weeks pregnant, had health problems so she was transferred to Lima to receive health care. According to medical reports, she is in a stable condition after the abortion, which took place during the early hours of Sept. 20.

As for the alleged person responsible for the systematic sexual abuse, Roy Cruz Lozano has been held for the last nine months in preventive detention in the city of Huaraz while the prosecution’s investigation continues.

In August, a similar case created a controversy when the National Maternal Perinatal Institute also approved the “therapeutic” abortion of a minor (nicknamed “Mila” to keep her name confidential), who was 18 weeks pregnant after being raped, despite the fact that the first medical board to review her case determined that an abortion was not necessary. 

The argument given by a second medical board for overruling the initial decision was: “To avoid serious or permanent harm to her physical and mental health.”

Since the case of the girl from Áncash became known, the media, activists, nongovernmental organizations, and the United Nations itself have pressured the Peruvian government to have the abortion done.

According to Polo, “none of these cases meet any grounds currently established in the therapeutic abortion protocol but rather are grounds that they want to introduce.”

“If the INMP doctors were so sure that they were doing the right and legal thing, they would have no reason to be hiding information about the medical condition of these girls,” the director for the Population Research Institute pointed out.

On Aug. 14, the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference expressed its strong rejection of the decision to approve Mila’s “therapeutic” abortion and called for the lives of both the mother and the child to be protected.

“Let us remember that in a pregnancy due to rape there are three people: the rapist, the victim, and an innocent person. In this case, an innocent  person has been sentenced to death, the victim has been exposed to greater harm, and the criminal has been set free. An evil, in this case, a direct abortion, cannot be justified to supposedly obtain the well-being of another person,” the Peruvian bishops said at that time.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Explosion kills 68 Armenian refugees as thousands flee Nagorno-Karabakh

Refugees wait next to a line of vehicles near the border town of Kornidzor, Armenia, arriving from Nagorno-Karabakh, on Sept. 26, 2023. / Credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

As thousands of ethnic Armenians flee the Nagorno-Karabakh region following a violent takeover by Azerbaijan, a fuel depot exploded Monday night killing at least 68 refugees and injuring hundreds.

Officials representing the people of Nagorno-Karabakh confirmed the casualties in a Facebook statement, adding that the fate of 105 Nagorno-Karabakh refugees is still unknown.

The explosion occurred just off a highway leading away from Stepanakert, where tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians have taken to the road to flee to Armenia proper. 

Local news source the Nagorno Karabakh Observer reported the explosion blew up a 50-ton underground fuel tank. 

Following a short but intense military offensive by Azerbaijan on Sept. 19, ethnic Armenians, who until last week claimed self-sovereignty under the auspices of the Republic of Artsakh, are in a panic to escape Azeri rule. 

The Azeri assault, which they labeled “antiterror measures,” came after a nine-month blockade that cut off all outside food, medicine, and supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Though the Azeri president Ilham Aliyev has said he wishes to integrate the ethnic Armenians, human rights experts have warned he intends to ethnically cleanse the region. Some advocates, such as Eric Hacopian, who has been on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, accused the Azeris of pursuing “genocide” against the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Since last week a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians fleeing their ancestral homeland in Nagorno-Karabakh has begun.

Hacopian said that he expects “95% to 99%” of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to flee the region.

The Armenian government reported on Tuesday that already 28,120 “forcibly displaced persons” from Nagorno-Karabakh have crossed into Armenia.

Footage published by the Nagorno Karabakh Observer on Tuesday showed what appears to be a miles-long line of cars attempting to escape the region for Armenia.

“The normal travel time of two hours [is] now taking 20 or more,” the Nagorno Karabakh Observer reported Tuesday, adding that “kids [are] the hardest hit, with little food after months of blockade.”

According to the Nagorno Karabakh Observer, “cars are literally halted, as vehicles [are] checked one-by-one by Azeri officials.”

White House responds 

Adrienne Watson, a White House National Security Council spokesperson, responded to the explosion in a Tuesday statement. 

“We are saddened by the news that at least 68 people have been killed and hundreds injured in an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh and express deep sympathy to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh and to all of those suffering,” Watson said. “We urge continued humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh for all those in need.” 

Watson pointed out that Samantha Power, chief administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is currently on the ground in Armenia and announced the U.S. would be sending “additional humanitarian assistance,” including hygiene kits, blankets, and clothing, “to address the needs of those affected or displaced by violence in Nagorno-Karabakh.” 

“Since 2020, we have supported the provision of food, water, emergency medical care, and evacuations, and family reunifications for conflict-affected communities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the region,” Watson went on. “The United States will continue to support those affected by the ongoing crisis as 28,000 people have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh.”

What is going on? 

Both former Soviet territories, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. With the backing of Turkey, Azerbaijan asserted its military dominance over Armenia in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended in November 2020.

Though Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the region is almost entirely made up of ethnic Armenian Christians.

After the Azeri assault last week, the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh agreed on Sept. 20 to a cease-fire that resulted in the dismantling of their military and self-governance.

Some experts believe that Armenia itself is in danger of invasion by Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey in the near future. 

Hacopian said he believes an invasion of Armenia is “quite likely.” 

Church warns that southern Mexico is ‘torn by violence’

Bishop Rodrigo Aguilar Martínez of Chiapas, Mexico, with a message of peace. / Credit: Parish Community of San Juan Bautista

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 26, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Rodrigo Aguilar Martínez, the bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas, warned in a Sept. 23 letter posted on Facebook that the country’s south is “torn by violence” due to the confrontations between criminal gangs.

Sept. 23 videos that went viral on social media show a convoy of pickup trucks — presumably from the criminal organization known as the Sinaloa Cartel — driving through the streets of towns in Chiapas as hundreds of residents stood lining the street.

According to the local press, residents of the southern region of Mexico are forced to support or even join the ranks of organized crime, while clashes between drug trafficking cartels are affecting more than 200,000 inhabitants in the region.

As a result, Aguilar stated that “criminal gangs have taken over our territory and we find ourselves in a state of siege, under social psychosis with road blockades set up by drug gangs, which use civil society as a human barrier” putting the lives of citizens and their families at risk.

In the letter, the bishop charged that organized crime commits “kidnappings, and disappearances, makes threats, harasses people, takes natural resources, persecutes people and dispossesses their assets, the fruit of our work.”

The prelate pointed out that this situation has created food shortages, such as of basic grains and other goods, as well as a lack of medical care and medicines.

Aguilar charged that there is “social, political, and psychological pressure and control from different gangs such that the people take sides with one or another crime gang.”

The bishop blamed the authorities at all levels for “ignoring the complaints of civil society” and demanded that they “urgently” address the “cases of violence and insecurity that are destroying the lives of our people.”

Furthermore, he demanded that the authorities “immediately issue and execute the arrest warrants for the leaders of these crime gangs” and “restore social order without doing harm to civil society.”

At a Sept. 25 a press conference, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, stated that the incidents of violence in Chiapas are “a matter very limited to one region” and that the videos that were posted are a strategy of his political opponents to make it seem that “drug trafficking dominates throughout Chiapas and throughout Mexico.”

The Diocese of Tapachula, located in the far south of Chiapas near the border with Guatemala, promised to help the residents of the region “as soon as the roads are open to reach them.” For now, Bishop Jaime Calderón Calderón expressed his closeness and encouragement “in these moments of suffering and scarcity” and lamented that “it’s always the children who suffer the most.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Lone Michigan Democrat holds up ‘extreme’ pro-abortion bill

Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Michigan, speaks at a meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2020. / Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2023 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

A Democratic state representative in Michigan, Karen Whitsett, has said she will not support a slate of pro-abortion bills being pushed by governor and fellow Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, citing her constituents’ wishes and her own support for the state’s 24-hour abortion waiting period. 

Whitsett, who explained to CNA she was a survivor of rape who had an abortion, said she supports the idea of a waiting period for abortions to ensure that women are not being forced to abort their children. 

“I don’t see anything wrong with being asked if you are being coerced into a termination,” she said, explaining why she plans to vote against that provision. 

Since her announcement that she would not support the abortion bills, a coalition of pro-abortion groups have launched a campaign criticizing Whitsett, led by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, a group that characterized Whitsett’s stance a “betrayal.”

Currently in Michigan, abortion is available up until birth, with a waiting period. In November 2022, Michiganders voted to explicitly make abortion a “right” in their state constitution.

A package of 11 bills collectively dubbed the “Reproductive Health Act,” House Bills 4949-59, would put into state law the constitutional language enshrining abortion access and repeal several regulations lawmakers say are in conflict with that access, the Detroit News reported. 

Among the regulations being repealed is the state’s abortion waiting period, a prohibition on partial-birth abortions, a requirement that women seeking an abortion be screened to determine whether they have been coerced to do so, and state requirements to dispose of fetal remains safely and humanely.

Another provision in the bills would repeal Michigan building code regulations that require clinics providing more than 120 surgical abortions a year to be licensed as freestanding surgical outpatient facilities, with mandates related to hallway widths, ceiling heights, and HVAC standards, the Detroit News said. 

The bill package would also require Medicaid to cover abortions for Medicaid recipients. Michigan law currently prohibits the use of Medicaid funding for elective abortions — only covering those related to rape, incest, or the life of the mother — and mandate that private health plans require a rider with an added premium for abortion coverage. 

Whitsett told CNA that although she considers herself pro-choice, she has heard from many of her constituents in Detroit that they do not support the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions, and that she intends to continue “voting the way of the people who elected me.” 

Whitsett said the negotiations related to the abortion bills have “gone 100 miles an hour” and reiterated that although she is a supporter of abortion, “What we’re currently voting on, I have a problem with.” The divided nature of the Michigan House means all 56 Democrats are required to vote in lockstep to approve controversial legislation, unless any Republicans cross the aisle.

The Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), which advocates for policy in the state, called Whitsett’s refusal to advance the bills a “[sign] of hope that movement on the RHA is slowing down.” 

“The bills that emerged from committee are likely the most extreme policies passed in the recent history of the Legislature due to their blatant prioritization of the abortion industry over women’s health and safety,” said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for the MCC, in a recent statement.

“The Reproductive Health Act would advance an unregulated abortion environment in Michigan, prioritizing the financial, political, and business interests of the abortion industry over the health and safety of women in this state.” 

Whitsett said that as of Monday afternoon, her Democratic colleagues in the House have not contacted her seeking her views on the bills.

“To be attacked because I’m not a rubber stamp for the Democratic Party makes zero sense to me,” she told CNA. 

At least 17 other states already allow the use of Medicaid funds to pay for elective abortions, despite a federal policy known as the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of federal tax dollars to pay for elective abortions. Hyde does not restrict states’ ability to use state tax dollars to pay for abortion, meaning states that want to pay for abortions through their Medicaid program can do so out of their own coffers and not be reimbursed by the federal government.

An analysis by the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency found that the proposed Medicaid provision would increase Michigan’s Medicaid costs by $2 million to $6 million, as “a greater percentage of abortions in this state would be paid for with state funds, rather than nonstate resources.”

India’s Christian rights network not hopeful after meeting with minorities commission

John Dayal (middle) and activists in July 2022 in New Delhi to mark the anniversary of Jesuit Father Stansamy, who died in police custody on trumped up terrorism charges. / Credit: Anto Akkara

Kochi, India, Sep 26, 2023 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Christian leaders in India said that a Sept. 21 meeting with the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) did little to reassure them that the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is serious about addressing the ongoing persecution of Christians in the country.

“While the positive is that there is some conversation, I do not set hopes very high,” said John Dayal, an outspoken Catholic activist and spokesperson for the United Christian Forum (UCF), a human rights organization that runs a toll-free service to record atrocities against Christians and extend support to the victims.

Iqbal Singh Lalpura, chairman of the NCM, met last week with Dayal and a delegation that included UCF president Michael Williams, coordinator A C Michael, Tehmina Arora of Alliance Defending Freedom, and Siju Thomas, a lawyer.

The commission, which acts as the watchdog of minority rights in the country, “has asked us to submit more details of the issues we have raised in the letter to the prime minister,” the UCF said in a press release following the meeting.

The UCF press statement also noted that commission chairman Lalpura, a former leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), assured the delegation that the commission will work to address cases of persecution of Christians and proposed that a “joint team to tour some of the areas where such communal issues are regularly occurring.”

Dayal told CNA Sunday that it is not clear that the government is serious about pursuing cases of violence against Christians.

“The chair wants the Christians to do the work and then police will investigate. He did not explain how communal violence data will be collected if government agencies do not,” said Dayal of the meeting that was organized in response to a UCF letter to Prime Minister Modi shortly after Easter.

Dayal further lamented that “the commission has no Christian member. Christians are now [under] the charge of the Buddhist member, a lady from Ladakh” in the northern Himalayas bordering China.

Under the provisions of the NCM Act of 1992, each of the six religious minorities of India (Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians) are to be represented in the autonomous commission for three years.

The NCM chairman, Dayal noted, “also confessed that Prime Minister [Modi] himself had removed the 15-point program” for the welfare of religious minorities saying, “all development is for everyone without bias. So why special reservations?”

Data on anti-Christian violence

As India geared up to host the G20 meeting in New Delhi, with heads of top 20 countries including U.S. President Joe Biden joining the summit, the UCF brought out data documenting the increase in incidents of anti-Christian violence under the Modi regime.

“In the first 212 days of this year, 2023, 525 incidents of violence against Christians have been reported from 23 states of India in just eight months … All these incidents of violence are by mob violence led by vigilante groups of a particular faith who are allegedly receiving support from people in power,” the UCF press release pointed out.

“Attacks against Christians do not stop with mob violence only: 520 Christians have been arrested — accused of false forced conversions without evidence,” UCF elaborated. The organization noted that atrocities against Christians numbered over 100 when Modi took office in 2014 and shot up to 505 in 2022.