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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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  1. Lawyer Laura Sgro, left, sits with Gloria Branciani, center, and Marjiam Kovač, during a press conference in Rome on Feb. 21, 2024. Branciani and Kovač allege that they were subjected to spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse by famous mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik. / Credit: Matthew Santucci/CNA

    Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 17:43 pm (CNA).

    Two alleged abuse victims of mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, detailing the tactics the former Jesuit allegedly used to manipulate them.

    Italian Gloria Branciani and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač, former sisters of the now-dissolved Loyola Community in Slovenia, shared their stories at a crowded press conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists.

    They were joined by their high-profile lawyer, Laura Sgrò, who has represented clients in the VatiLeaks scandal as well as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

    Branciani, 59, reflected on how her introduction into the community was propelled by a desire to grow her spiritual life but wound up being subjected to spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse, which amounted to “the total loss of my identity.” 

    Detailing the dynamics of Rupnik’s alleged manipulation, Branciani recounted how this multifaceted abuse reflected a deeper and more intimate “abuse of conscience” and was a total violation of the deep intimacy of her spiritual life.

    She alleged that Rupnik used her interest in art and culture “to put pressure on my personality,” which allowed him to affect a change in her “ideas, the way of thinking, the way of behaving, the way of dressing.”

    “So with an imposition of his spiritual, theological, and artistic vision, he had an ever greater power over me, an exclusive power,” Branciani said.

    In one example, she claimed that while in his art studio, which was also the place where their spiritual direction sessions were held, Rupnik, while painting, was “staring at parts of my body” and afterward performed a sexually suggestive gesture on Branciani, which Rupnik allegedly likened to an act of biblical divine revelation that expressed “the wisdom of the father.”

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

    Rupnik has been at the center of a nearly six-year-long scandal centered on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters spanning across three decades. After initially deciding in October 2022 not to pursue sanctions against Rupnik because the statute of limitation had expired, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) reopened the case after Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations in October 2023. That decision came on the heels of public outcry over the news that Rupnik had been incardinated in a diocese in Slovenia where he could continue his priestly ministry.

    On Wednesday, Vatican News reported that the DDF’s investigation was underway and that “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

    Rupnik has not commented publicly about the allegations but his collaborator at the Aletti Center — an art and theology school founded by Rupnik in Rome — has said the allegations are unproven.

    Marjiam Kovač spoke for only 10 minutes, describing how the ideals of religious life, along with the sisters’ “training and obedience and trust in the people who guided us,” were “exploited for abuses of various kinds, of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical, and often even sexual.”

    According to Kovač, 20 sisters were abused out of a community of 40 women.

    For Kovač, the press conference was an opportunity to break the “silence” that victims have faced, which she characterized as “a rubber wall, which bounces off every attempt to cure the unhealthy situation.”

    “We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” she said.

    Following their remarks, Sgrò, their lawyer, said she hoped the example of the two women would encourage other victims to speak out to civil as well as Church authorities.

    “And they must not limit themselves from going to ask the bishop or the Mother Superior for help. They must go and report to the state courts, to the state authorities. Go to the police … go to a lawyer, go to the prosecutor’s office, because he who has done that to Gloria must go to prison,” Sgrò said. 

    Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, a Boston-based organization that has tracked clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for the past 20 years, moderated the press conference.

    She praised the women’s courage for speaking out publicly against Rupnik, whom she characterized as “a powerful cleric who’s been protected at the highest levels of the Jesuits and the Vatican.”

    At one point, Doyle held up a poster with the images of Rupnik alongside Marcial Maciel and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, declaring that like them, Rupnik is “charismatic … famous, a friend of popes and others in high places … like them, he is a serial predator.”

  2. Pope Francis addresses pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square during his Sunday Angelus on Feb. 18, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

    Vatican City, Feb 18, 2024 / 10:30 am (CNA).

    On the first Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis focused his Angelus address on the temptation of Jesus in the desert to highlight that it is an invitation for us to enter the proverbial desert to come “in contact with the truth.”

    Observing that during the 40 days in the desert Christ was in the company of both “wild beasts and angels,” the pope reflected that when we enter this symbolic “inner wildness,” we too “encounter wild beasts and angels.”

    These wild beats assume a deeply symbolic meaning in our “spiritual life,” and so “we can think of them as the disordered passions that divide our heart, trying to take possession of it. They entice us, they seem seductive, but if we are not careful, we risk being torn apart by them,” the pope said to the nearly 15,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square on Sunday.

    Expanding upon this idea of “disordered passions,” the pope suggested that we can conceive of them also as “the various vices,” such as “the lust for wealth” or “the vanity of pleasure.”

    “They must be tamed and fought, otherwise they will devour our freedom,” the pope emphasized. 

    In order to confront these vices that afflict each and every one of us, the pope stressed that we need “to go into the wilderness to become aware of their presence and to face them — and Lent is the time to do it.”

    Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus on Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
    Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus on Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

    The setting of the desert has featured prominently in the pope’s catechetical series throughout the year and is the main theme of this 2024 Lenten message, taken from the Book of Exodus: “Through the Desert God Leads Us to Freedom.”

    While it is imperative to undertake this journey of self-examination, the pope underscored that we are not alone: We are aided by the angels, who “are God’s messengers, who help us, who do us good.”

    “Indeed, their characteristic, according to the Gospel, is service, the exact opposite of possession, typical of the passions we spoke about earlier,” the pope continued.

    Juxtaposing the spirit of possession with the virtue of service, the pope stressed that the angels “recall the good thoughts and sentiments suggested by the Holy Spirit,” adding that “while temptations tear us apart, the good divine inspirations unify us in harmony, they quench the heart, infuse the taste of Christ, ‘the flavor of heaven.’”

    “Thus, order and peace return to the soul, beyond the circumstances of life, whether favorable or unfavorable. Here, too, however, in order to grasp the thoughts and feelings inspired by God, one must be silent and enter into prayer,” the pope continued.

    The pope asked the faithful to examine what are these personal “wild beasts” in our own lives, so that we can “recognize them, give them a name, understand their tactics.” In this way we can “permit the voice of God to speak to my heart and to preserve it in goodness.”

    On Sunday evening the pope and the members of the Roman Curia will start their private Lenten retreat, which will conclude on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 23.

    All regularly scheduled papal audiences are suspended for the week.

  3. Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

    Rome Newsroom, Feb 17, 2024 / 10:01 am (CNA).

    The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has launched synodal study groups to analyze key issues ahead of October’s Synod on Synodality assembly.

    Pope Francis has issued a chirograph asking the dicasteries of the Roman Curia to collaborate with the General Secretariat of the Synod to establish the study groups for “in-depth analysis” of some of the themes that emerged in the first Synod on Synodality assembly.

    The pope did not specify in the chirograph published on Feb. 17 how many groups will be formed, what topics will be studied, or who will participate in the study groups.

    The synthesis report published at the end of the first synod assembly lists 75 different “matters for consideration,” including women’s access to diaconal ministry, priestly celibacy, and “Eucharistic hospitality” for interfaith couples. 

    These “matters of consideration,” which could not find a consensus in the first synod assembly, are defined as “points on which we have recognized that it is necessary to continue theological, pastoral, and canonical deepening.”

    In addition, the synthesis report also calls for the establishment of a “special intercontinental commission of theologians and canonists” to examine the definition and conceptual understanding of the “idea and practice of synodality” and its canonical implications, as well as the establishment of a joint commission of Eastern and Latin theologians, historians, and canonists.

    According to Vatican News, the study groups will require a substantial amount of time and will not “directly constitute the material up for discussion in the next session of the synod, which will focus on synodality itself.”

    The General Secretariat of the Synod, led by Cardinal Mario Grech, will coordinate the work of the study groups among the dicasteries, which will “involve experts from all continents” following a synodal process, the Vatican’s state media outlet said.

    The Vatican also announced on Saturday the dates for the second Synod on Synodality assembly and the appointment of six new consulters to the General Secretariat of the Synod.

    The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops’ second session will take place from Oct. 2 to Oct. 27. The participants in the assembly will arrive in Rome on Sept. 29 to participate in a two-day spiritual retreat ahead of the start of the assembly.

    Among the new synod consulters, Pope Francis chose three female professors.

    Dr. Tricia Bruce, a sociology professor at Maryville College in Tennessee and president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and Dr. Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer, a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, are both appointees.

    Sister Dr. Birgit Weiler, a German missionary in Peru and theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, was also appointed. Weiler is a member of the Congregation of the Medical Missionary Sisters and has lived for more than 35 years in Peru, where she works with the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM) and the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM).

    The other appointees are Monsignor Alphonse Borras, a Belgian canon lawyer and specialist in the theology of the diaconate; Father Gilles Routhier, a professor of religious studies at Laval University in Quebec; and Father Ormond Rush, a theology professor at Australian Catholic University. Rush addressed the first synod assembly in October with a speech that focused on Vatican II’s discussion of tradition as the authority for the Synod on Synodality.

  4. Cardinal Joseph Zen is bishop emeritus of Hong Kong. / Credit: The World Over with Raymond Arroyo

    Rome Newsroom, Feb 16, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

    Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has released another critique of the Synod on Synodality, arguing that the ongoing discussion and discernment process offers “two opposing visions” of the nature, organization, and role of the Church. 

    “On the one hand, the Church is presented as founded by Jesus on the apostles and their successors, with a hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the 92-year-old cardinal observes in a nearly 3,600-word commentary posted on Feb. 15 titled “How will the Synod continue and end?”

    “On the other hand, there is talk of an undefined synodality, a ‘democracy of the baptized,’” he continues, interjecting “Which baptized people? Do they at least go to church regularly? Do they draw faith from the Bible and strength from the sacraments?”

    “This other vision, if legitimized,” he warns, “can change everything, the doctrine of faith and the discipline of moral life.”

    Going into a deeper examination of these visions of ecclesiology, the cardinal writes that “in order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

    Zen acknowledges that synods have been a “historic reality” of the Church. Yet while earlier synods took place within the framework of the apostolic tradition and were guided by the “hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the current synod is characterized by an “undefined synodality” and a “democracy of the baptized,” he argues.

    “They tell us that synodality is a fundamental constitutive element of the life of the Church, but at the same time they emphasize that synodality is what the Lord expects of us today. Participation and communion are obviously permanent characteristics of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But doesn’t saying that synodality is ‘the thing that the Lord expects of us today’ mean that it is something new?” he writes.

    “In order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

    One of the cardinal’s main concerns is how the Synod on Synodality is being conducted at the universal level, beginning with the initial assembly at the Vatican in October 2023 and culminating later this year with a final assembly in October.

    Referring to the Synod on Synodality’s call to “walk together,” he asks: “What is the goal of this journey? Is there a guide that ensures the right direction?” 

    In his essay the cardinal also takes issue with the synod’s incorporation of the “conversation in the Spirit,” a dialogic process he says was initiated by the Jesuits in Canada. “Imposing this method on the synod proceedings is a manipulation aiming at avoiding discussions,” he argues. “It is all psychology and sociology, no faith and no theology.”

    The cardinal has already expressed his concern over the trajectory of the Synod on Synodality in a letter addressed to bishops that was sent out just days before the start of the first session of the synod in October.

  5. Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz meets with Pope Francis on Feb. 2, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

    Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

    The Embassy of Israel to the Holy See issued a sharp rebuke of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s recent remarks on the civilian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war.

    In Feb. 13 comments made to the press — which were posted in full on La Repubblica’s website — Parolin said that Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack has not been “proportionate,” with the prelate arguing that “we cannot continue like this” and “we must find other ways to solve the problem of Gaza, the problem of Palestine.”

    The Vatican’s secretary of state also observed that since the outbreak of the war, the Holy See has issued “a clear and unreserved condemnation of what happened on Oct. 7” as well as “a clear and unreserved condemnation of every type of antisemitism.” 

    Parolin went on to say that “at the same time” the Holy See has requested “that Israel’s right to defense, that was invoked to justify this operation, be proportionate … and certainly with 30,000 deaths it is not.” 

    In response to the cardinal’s remarks, the Embassy of Israel to the Holy See issued a press release posted on X in which it stated that “judging the legitimacy of a war without taking into account ALL relevant circumstances and data inevitably leads to erroneous conclusions.” 

    “Gaza has been transformed by Hamas into the largest terrorist base ever seen,” the embassy argued. “There is almost no civilian infrastructure that has not been used by Hamas for its criminal plans, including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and many others.”

    “Gaza civilians also actively participated in the Oct. 7 unprovoked invasion of Israeli territory, killing, raping, and taking civilians hostage,” the statement continued. “All these acts are defined as war crimes.” 

    The embassy argued that “in stark contrast” to the Hamas assault, “IDF operations are conducted in full compliance with international law.”

    The embassy’s press release also addressed the issue of civilian deaths, indicating that in the case of the IDF, “for every Hamas militant killed, three civilians lost their lives,” which contrasts favorably with “past wars and operations of NATO forces or Western forces in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan … the proportion was nine or 10 civilians for every terrorist.” 

    “Any objective observer,” the embassy said, “cannot help but come to the conclusion that the responsibility for the death and destruction in Gaza lies with Hamas and Hamas alone.” 

    However, a Feb. 15 Vatican Media editorial affirmed Parolin’s “realistic view” of the ongoing tragedy in the Gaza Strip. “The Holy See is always on the side of the victims,” the editorial stated, pointing to the high number of “innocent civilians, one-third of whom are children,” killed by bombings in Gaza.

    “Israel’s right to bring the perpetrators of the October massacre to justice cannot justify this carnage,” the editorial emphasized.

    The Associated Press has reported that the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry is the only official source for Gaza casualties and does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

    Parolin made his remarks before a bilateral meeting with officials from the Italian state, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, to mark the 95th anniversary of the signing of the Lateran Pact. 

    The Lateran Pact, signed in 1929 — and renegotiated in 1985 — was a formal accord between the Holy See and the then-Kingdom of Italy that recognized the territorial sovereignty of the present-day Vatican City State, the extraterritorial sovereignty of the papal basilicas, the full independence of the pope, and a slew of other privileges for the Church in Italy.