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Cardinal Dolan conducting 'Vos estis' investigation into Brooklyn's Bishop DiMarzio

New York City, N.Y., Jan 18, 2020 / 09:05 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan is conducting an investigation into Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, following an allegation of sexual abuse.

The investigation is being conducted under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, the Church law issued by Pope Francis last year on dealing with accusations against bishops.

In a statement released Jan. 18, Joseph Zwilling, director of communications in the Archdiocese of New York, confirmed the investigation.

“As directed by Vos estis, Cardinal Dolan earlier notified the Holy See of the allegation that was raised concerning Bishop DiMarzio from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark. On January 7, 2020, the Cardinal received instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he is to begin an investigation.”

On Nov. 13, 2019, DiMarzio publicly announced that he was the subject of an allegation of sexually abusing a minor, dating back to his time as a priest in the 1970s in Jersey City.

According to the Associated Press, 56-year-old Mark Matzek says DiMarzio and another priest, who is now deceased, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Newark. DiMarzio was a priest there at the time.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Newark in November, notifying them that he was preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Matzek. The suit is reportedly seeking $20 million.

DiMarzio has strongly denied the allegations, calling sexual abuse a “despicable crime” and highlighting his own work to eradicate it from his own Diocese of Brooklyn. In November, the bishop said that he would vigorously defend himself.

“In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation,” DiMarzio said.

The allegation was made shortly after DiMarzio himself concluded his own investigation into another bishop on behalf of the Vatican.

On instructions of the Congregation for Bishops, in October and November last year, DiMarzio conducted an apostolic visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo, which faced months of scandal surrounding Bishop Richard Malone, who was accused of mishandling sex abuse claims against a priest in his diocese.

Although that visitation was not conducted under the rules of Vos estis, Malone’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in December last year.

DiMarzio is the second U.S. bishop to be investigated under the norms of Vos estis since its promulgation by Pope Francis in May 2019.

In September 2019, the Vatican ordered St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda to conduct an investigation using the new laws into Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner, who is alleged to have knowingly kept an abusive priest in ministry, and pressured an alleged abuse victim to withdraw an allegation against a priest. Hebda sent his report to Rome in early November.

A spokesman for Cardinal Dolan said that the cardinal will be using experts to assist him in his task, but did not give a timeline for the enquiry into DiMarzio.

“As is our practice, the cardinal will rely on outside professional forensic investigators to assist him in this matter,” he said.

“The archdiocese will have no further comment on the matter while the investigation is undertaken.”

Miami archbishop promotes refugee resettlement

Miami, Fla., Jan 18, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Miami has emphasized the importance of welcoming refugees, and decried the decision of Texas Governor Greg Abbott not to participate in the federal refugee resettlement program.

“Often mentored by church volunteers and given resettlement support, refugees and their family quickly integrate into American society, finding work and making a positive contribution to their adopted country,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski in a Jan. 16 letter to the editor of the Miami Herald.

“Resettlement agencies are preparing to submit proposals to the Office of Refugee Resettlement on Jan. 21 to continue this ministry of ‘welcoming the stranger.’ Catholic Charities look forward to local governments continuing welcoming refugees in those communities where we already serve.”

The archbishop noted that Catholic Charities in Florida sponsored unaccompanied Cuban minors in the 1960s, resettled refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1970s, and has participated in the US Refugee Program since it began in 1980.

He stressed the security of the vetting policies already conducted by the United States' government. He said refugees have to meet established criteria such as fleeing religious persecution or political violence.

“Refugees are thoroughly vetted by agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, and the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and State,” he said.

A September 2019 executive order by President Trump requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries.

Archbishop Wenski expressed disappointment in Abbott for discontinuing Texas' participation in the refugee resettlement program.

“Forty two governors have gone on record supporting refugee services - 19 are Republican. Only the governor of Texas decided to discontinue resettlement - apparently without much public support.”

“Florida, and refugees, would lose if we were to follow Texas’ example,” he added.

Last week, the 16 bishops in Texas described Abbott’s move as “deeply discouraging and disheartening.” They asked the governor to reconsider his decision, noting that refugees contribute a great deal to society.

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided. It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans,” the bishops said in a Jan. 10 statement.

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien. We use this occasion to commit ourselves even more ardently to work with all people of good will, including our federal, state and local governments, to help refugees integrate and become productive members of our communities.”

Catholic family looks to honor late daughter with a dance

South Bend, Ind., Jan 18, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Raffaella Stroik loved beauty.

A devout Catholic and a talented professional ballerina, Raffaella felt she experienced the beatific vision when she was performing for others. She hoped her art could be transformative in their lives.

But Raffaella’s short life ended in tragedy. On Nov. 14, 2018, her body was found in a lake some 140 miles from St. Louis, where she was a member of the city’s ballet. She was 23 years old.

Authorities ruled that there seemed to have been neither foul play nor self-harm.

"...the only thing that seems to have happened, could have happened, is some kind of an accident," Duncan Stroik, Raffaella’s father, told WNDU News in South Bend, Indiana in November. "We don't know what could have happened."

In order to honor and continue their daughter’s legacy, Duncan and his family have decided to create a traditional ballet in honor of Rafaella, loosely based on her life and incorporating the elements of beauty and art that their daughter loved about ballet.

“We were trying to figure out how to remember her and how to memorialize her,” Stroik told CNA. “And I'm an architect, so I think buildings, monuments, tombstones, all kinds of things. And my wife actually had a dream that we would remember her through dance.”

“The goal was to continue her work, which was as a ballerina, in a way that we could, which is to create a new ballet,” he said.

Creating a new ballet is no easy feat, particularly a traditional ballet, which includes more in the way of sets and costumes and artistry than the minimalistic style of most contemporary ballets.

For help, the family set up an online fundraiser in order to raise the necessary money to hire professionals who could write the music and the choreography and help design the sets and costumes of the ballet.

“There's a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” Stroik said. “There's a lot of artists that are part of this. And I've been calling myself the impresario, the producer in movie terms, who's organizing all of it, but then trying to hire the best people that would share our vision for this ballet.”

Stroik said they went with a traditional ballet because that was Raffaella’s favorite style, and they believed it would be the best way to create a more timeless ballet that could endure through the ages. Raffaella was inspired by the romantic, fairy-tale style and themes of traditional ballets and believed it could do more to portray beauty than the style of contemporary ballet.

“Raffaella's passion was to bring beauty to the world in many ways,” Stroik added. “Her prime strength was in dance and she really was trying in her own way to do things that were glorifying to God through traditional ballet and the beauty of the human body and what it can do.”

Stroik and his wife are writing the story of the ballet, which will loosely follow their daughter’s life - friends and family of Raffaella will be able to recognize the similarities, he said.

The story takes place in Italy, one of Raffaella’s favorite places to visit and the language that she studied. The story will take place in the 18th century so that it can incorporate some of the elements of traditional ballets - kings and queens, princes and princesses, peasants and village life.

The character of Rafaella will be a princess who grows up wanting to be an artist like her parents, meets interesting people in her life, and interacts with both a good prince and a deceptive prince who vie for her attention.

“(She’s) really searching for the true prince, and she sees him from time to time in her life. And then the other prince who comes along sweeps her off her feet and is very attractive, and she's totally compelled by him but he turns out to be a deceptive prince,” Stroik said.

Stroik noted that the theme of superficial beauty and its deceptive power is a common one in other traditional ballets.

The ballet's ending, of course, cannot be given away.

“My hope is it's the kind of story with the kind of good and evil love, joy, hatred, fighting, peacemaking that will speak to people for generations. That's my goal,” Stroik said.

The desire for a ballet that transcends generations is an idea that comes from his Catholic faith, Stroik added.

“We want to do something that's timeless, that's universal. And I think that relates to our Catholic faith. We're not doing something just for today...but we also want it to - if it's really good - hopefully, it will speak to future generations as well. So we'll see, but that's our goal,” he said. 

Rafaella’s Catholic faith was always central to her life and her art, Stroik said, and he noticed it in how she interacted with others as well as in her passion for her art.

“It caused her to try to always put other people first, which we saw a lot in her life. It caused her to forgive...and she tried, as best she could, to live the Beatitudes,” he said.

“She told us that when she danced and danced really well, she felt like she was experiencing the beatific vision. She really felt that it was a very religious, spiritual experience, especially performing,” he said. “She was experiencing a taste of heaven.”

The Stroiks have raised $115,000 of their $250,000 goal, and Duncan said he has been surprised and touched by the way this project has touched the hearts of people who knew Raffaella and those who did not.

“One of the things that's really surprised me in a good way is how many notes I've gotten from people - people that I know, but also people that I don't know - telling me they love the idea. They said, ‘What a beautiful tribute to your daughter.’ And, again, people that I don't even know will write me notes and say, ‘This is fantastic that you're doing this.’”

Stroik said he hopes the ballet will be ready to premiere in spring or summer of 2022. He said they are still exploring options as to where it will debut, but they are hoping to recruit dancers from Rafaella’s life - from her time at the St. Louis ballet, her college ballet at Indiana University, and her high school ballet - who are professional dancers and friends of Rafaella to perform in it.

“I'm hoping that some of them will return to be part of this production,” he said.

Stroik added that he hopes people who come to see the “Raffaella” ballet will walk away with a new appreciation for the beauty of the art form and with a sense of hope.

“We want to do this ballet in order to bring a whole new audience to ballet, for a broader audience,” he said. “And because ballet can be very beautiful, very powerful, and it can speak to all the issues that concern our lives and give us...in this case, it's a tragedy, but the way we've written the story is it's also full of hope, because Raffaella was a girl with a lot of hope and a lot of faith.”

 

Buffalo administrator: Catholic Charities donations will not go to abuse settlements

Buffalo, N.Y., Jan 17, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- The apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo said this week that despite the possibility the diocese could file for bankruptcy protection to settle over 200 lawsuits related to sexual abuse, donations made to Catholic Charities this year will be used to help the needy rather than to pay for lawsuits.

“All of the money that we are collecting is going toward immediate goals. We’re not talking about years down the line. We’re talking about right now. They are immediate and must be met, so we continue the campaign to meet those goals...The last thing we want to do is in any way to curtail the services because the needs are real,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany said Tuesday as reported by the Buffalo News.

Catholic Charities of Buffalo announced Jan. 14 the launch of its 2020 appeal, with a goal of $10 million – $1 million less than last year’s goal. Programs and services provided by Catholic Charities benefited more than 160,000 people in 2019, the group reported.

Last year, Catholic Charities of Buffalo raised $9.5 million, $1.5 million short of their goal.

Buffalo's Bishop Richard Malone resigned in December 2019 after more than a year of calls for his resignation, amid accusations that he mishandled abuse cases in the diocese.

The recent enactment of the Child Victims Act in New York expanded the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits and a one-year filing window for suits related to historical cases.

To date, the Buffalo diocese has been hit with more than 225 lawsuits, the Buffalo News reports. In the days following his appointment as apostolic administrator, Scharfenberger indicated that he would not rule out bankruptcy as an option to settle the lawsuits.

The Diocese of Buffalo shut down its credit cards last September, and although some have interpreted the move as a step towards bankruptcy, officials said the decision was unrelated to the scandals and lawsuits affecting the diocese.

Scharfenberger said Tuesday that even if the diocese does file for bankruptcy, contributions to the 2020 Catholic Charities appeal would not be affected because a Chapter 11 reorganization would take years to complete, the Buffalo News reported.

In addition, Catholic Charities is separately incorporated from the Buffalo Diocese, which means its assets would not be in play in the case of the diocese declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would trigger an intense analysis of the diocese’s assets to determine what could be used to pay settlements, The Buffalo News reports.

In the past, about one-third of the funds raised during Catholic Charities’ appeal goes to Fund for the Faith, which is controlled by the diocese and is used for ministries such as diocese communications, seminary training, and campus ministry, the Buffalo News reports.

For the second year, donors to Catholic Charities will have the option to give to the Appeal as in previous years, which benefits Catholic Charities and the Fund for the Faith; give to Catholic Charities only; or give to the Fund for the Faith only.

In December, Catholic Charities announced Deacon Steve Schumer as the organization’s new President and CEO, effective Jan. 6, 2020.

“My understanding of the law is donor designated funds are donor designated. So, I tell people, in all honesty, yes, contribute your resources, and we’ll put them to work in the way you intend,” Schumer told the Buffalo News.

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.

Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

On Oct. 3, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn had been asked to lead an apostolic visitation – and canonical inspection – of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops.

That review concluded at the end of October, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome.

Scharfenberger has said that he was not given a clear mandate by the Vatican when he was appointed as apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese in December, and that he has not yet seen DiMarzio’s report.

Scharfenberger has emphasized that his position as apostolic administrator is by definition temporary, and the decision of who will ultimately lead the diocese is entirely up to the Holy See.

Supreme Court will hear Little Sisters of the Poor case, again

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Poor will have their case heard before the Supreme Court yet again in their years-long fight against the federal contraceptive mandate.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hear oral arguments in the case of the sisters against the State of Pennsylvania, which challenged the order’s exemption from the contraceptive mandate.

“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a statement on Friday. 

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all,” she said. 

“We are hopeful that this trip to the Supreme Court will be their last,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, which represents the sisters in court.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. Their mission is to care for the poor and the elderly in more than 30 countries.

Their case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, stems from a lawsuit by the State of Pennsylvania against the exemption granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor to the contraceptive mandate.

The sisters originally sued the federal government over the mandate that employers provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs in health plans. The religious exemption that the Obama administration originally granted was so narrow that the sisters, and many other religious non-profits were not eligible.

When the administration issued an accommodation for the objecting non-profits, the sisters and other religious entities, including Catholic dioceses and charities, still challenged it in court.

Under the revised procedure, the objecting parties would report their objection to the government, which in turn would notify the insurer or third-party administrator to provide the contraceptive coverage anyway. The sisters said they would still be cooperating with the provision of morally objectionable drugs and procedures.

In 2016, the Supreme Court sent the case of the sisters and others back to the circuit courts, ordering the government and the objecting parties to come to an agreement respecting both the administration’s goal of contraceptive coverage and the sisters’ wishes to be exempt from participation in it.

Then in October of 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule protecting religious entities that objected to the mandate.

However, attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California challenged the rule in court, saying that the sisters and other objecting religious non-profits should not be exempt.

The Supreme Court held oral arguments in March of 2018 to determine if the sisters could intervene in the states’ lawsuits, which in April the Court said they could.

At the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania in July of 2019, and appealed to the Supreme Court in October. The Court on Friday agreed to hear their case.

The sisters also lost their case against California’s lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court in October.

Catholic parish will not host Episcopalian consecration

Richmond, Va., Jan 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia will no longer hold a bishops's consecration at a Catholic parish in Williamsburg, after an internet petition objecting to the event drew national attention. 

“It is with great sadness that I have received a letter from Bishop-Elect Susan Haynes stating that, due to the controversy of the proposed use of St. Bede Catholic Church for her consecration of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, she has decided to find another location for the ceremony to take place,” Bishop Barry Knestout of the Catholic Richmond diocese said in a Jan. 17 statement.

St. Bede Catholic Church is located within the Diocese of Richmond. 

A statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia said that the consecration will now take place at Williamsburg Community Chapel. The Williamsburg Community Chapel’s website states that it is home to an “interdenominational family of faith.” 

“The decision to change the location from St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg arose out of concern and respect for the ministries and leadership of both the Catholic parish and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond,” said the unsigned statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, released Friday. 

“Learning that its intended use of the building was causing dismay and distress, the Episcopal Diocese withdrew from its contract with St. Bede.”

The statement from the Episcopalian diocese cited 1 Corinthians 8, which warned against “pursuing behavior that might cause problems for others within their community.” 

Episcopal Bishop-Elect Haynes wrote a letter to Knestout and Msgr. Joseph Lehman, pastor of St. Bede, announcing the decision to change the location and thanking them for their prior willingness to host the event. 

“I am writing to withdraw from our contract to use the lovely, holy space of St. Bede for my upcoming consecration as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia,” said Haynes. “We have so appreciated and admired your grace and courage in extending this hospitality and abiding by your invitation even under fire from those within your own flocks.”

Knestout had defended the decision to grant permission to the Episcopal diocese to consecrate an Episcopalian bishop in the Catholic parish, citing various Vatican Council II documents on the importance of ecumenism and hospitality. Permission was first granted to host the event within the parish church in December 2018, well before Haynes was elected as bishop.

In the statement, Knestout said that his diocese “look(s) forward to continuing our ecumenical dialogue with the Episcopal community, and to working with Bishop-Elect Haynes in fortifying the long standing cordial relationship between our communities and our joint service to the poor.” 

Knestout said that he would be praying for Haynes and the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and encouraged the Catholics in his diocese to pray for them as well.

“Pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with humility, kindness, gentleness and joy, be expressed and strengthened in all our faith communities,” he said.

The Episcopal Dioceses of Southern Virginia, Southwestern Virginia do not have a cathedral, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which covers the northern part of the commonwealth, has only a “cathedral shrine.” Past episcopal ordinations for the Diocese of Southern Virginia have occurred either in Episcopal parishes or in other, non-Catholic, locations.

'No international right to abortion' says HHS Secretary

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- There is no international right to abortion, the U.S. health secretary told officials from more than 30 countries on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“I stated this fact at the United Nations this past September, and I'll repeat it here: there is no international human right to abortion. On the other hand, there is an international human right to life,” Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, stated in remarks first reported by the Washington Times.

Azar addressed representatives from more than 30 other countries at the Blair House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Other U.S. and international officials addressed the audience, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs Katalin Novák, and the Deputy Chief of Mission Minister-Counselor Fernando Pimentel of Brazil.

Novak noted Azar’s remarks on abortion, on Twitter, and also said that Azar was the guest of the Hungarian Embassy to the U.S. on Wednesday, where he thanked Hungary and Poland for their cooperation on life and family issues.

In September, Azar also said “there is no international right to an abortion” at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Azar read a joint statement of the U.S. and 18 other countries before a high-level meeting on universal health coverage, where he said that “ambiguous terms,” including “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” should be opposed in UN documents as they can be interpreted to undermine the family and push for abortion.

On Thursday, Azar encouraged the countries present to collaborate with the U.S. in fighting against abortion at upcoming international meetings including the World Health Organization’s board meeting in Geneva, the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York, the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Thank you for taking a courageous stand with us for the unborn. Thank you for standing up for the idea that every life has value. And thank you for making clear that national sovereignty is not a vague or old fashioned concept, but the most important duty for each of us as leaders in our respective governments,” Azar said.

The venue for Thursday’s gathering, the Blair House, has a history of diplomacy, Azar said, as it hosted discussions between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, at the outset of World War II, to produce the Atlantic Charter.

“The Atlantic Charter highlighted the need for greater cooperation and collaboration, and emphasized that each nation has a sovereign right to self-determination,” Azar said. “These same principles came to undergird the work of the institutions that play a role in our modern world, including the United Nations and affiliated agencies like the World Health Organization.”

“These organizations were founded to protect human rights, defend the vulnerable, and give voices to all nations,” he said. “So it is fitting that we are gathered here, in this historic diplomatic setting, to take the next steps in our work to make these organizations live up to their founding ideals.

Washington DC clears out homeless camp, breaking up community

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 08:01 am (CNA).- A homeless encampment in Washington, DC, was permanently dismantled on Thursday, in a move the city said was designed to better improve the safety of the city’s sidewalks.

One former resident told CNA that he believes the dismantling was necessary, and he blames the city for letting the encampment escalate to the point of being out of control.

The encampment, located beneath the K Street NE train bridge, is one of three located on the city’s K, L, and M streets in the northeast quadrant of the city. It was cleared out at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

That afternoon, just one tent--belonging to a woman who was placed in a psychiatric hold earlier that morning out of fear she was going to harm herself--remained, along with scattered litter. 

Most of the former K Street residents have migrated to one of the other encampments nearby. One of those residents, Mike Harris, spoke to CNA about why he chose to move to L Street and why he thought it was “necessary” for the city to clean out his former street.

Harris said that he had lived for about eight months on K Street, and during that time, the conditions in the area had gotten continuously worse. Harris, who uses a wheelchair, said that he had been unable to navigate the sidewalks due to the size, placement, and number of tents, as well as the presence of lawn chairs in front of the tents.

He said he empathized with the people who complained about being unable to push strollers or even walk on the sidewalks due to the presence of tents. 

Harris said that while he was not sure it was necessary to permanently shut down the encampment, he did think it needed to be addressed, as the situation had deteriorated in recent months. 

Harris laid blame at the city for how K Street had changed. He told CNA that when he first moved to K Street, the city had been enforcing various regulations and laws regarding the placement and size of tents. That changed over time.

“I was there for two days and my tent got a warning,” said Harris. “I wasn’t even that far over.” He said that his neighbors, whose tents were blocking pedestrians from using the sidewalk, never received similar warnings, even though their tents were in violation. 

“[Now] 26 to 40 people who lived under the K Street bridge got displaced because approximately five or six people didn’t want to abide by the rules,” said Harris. “Everybody had to suffer the consequences of the actions of a few.” 

Harris told CNA that he thinks the city of Washington wanted the encampment to become a “red flag situation” that would “justify the removal” of the tents. Hence, they stopped enforcing rules. 

Fr. Bill Carloni, the pastor at the nearby Holy Name of Jesus Parish, told CNA that he has been ministering to the homeless populations for about three years. His parish runs a food pantry and also distributes lunches to the homeless on a weekly basis. Carloni told CNA he was concerned about what the future would hold for the former K Street residents. 

“Unfortunately, I still don’t know what happens now,” Carloni told CNA. He said that over the last eight months, he had noticed a “significant increase” in the number of people living under the bridge. 

“I think that more people are getting priced out of DC,” said Carloni. “I mean, we see another element of it where more people are coming looking for emergency rental assistance because they can no longer afford the rents and they are on the verge of becoming homeless.” 

Carloni said there is no “typical” resident of the homeless encampments, and that they ranged in age, health, and reasons for homelessness. Many suffer from mental illness. He said that while there was a reputation for danger and crime in the encampment, Carloni said he’d “never felt threatened” or been mistreated. 

As a pastor, Fr. Carloni said that he worries about the people he ministers to on the streets, and when the encampments are cleaned out, he has to work hard to track everyone down to ensure they are doing okay. While Carloni was concerned that there would be conflict due to the melding of the various encampments, Harris said that there was none of that thus far. 

“I’ve found [the homeless population on K Street] to be amicable and kind of community oriented, like I know a lot of them, that they care for each other,” Carloni said. 

“They like to eat together as a community and they like to share.” 

Harris confirmed this. As he spoke to CNA, other residents of L Street were helping him to move his belongings into his tent. He said there were plans to construct a community table on the street, where the residents would gather for meals and fellowship. 

There are imminent plans to install a generator on the street corner to provide electricity to charge phones--something that Harris said is crucial in the job search that might lead to getting off the street. This generator was purchased with money that was crowdfunded.

Harris said that he had been homeless for about a year, and had lived in the city’s homeless shelters before making the move to K Street. He told CNA that he much preferred life on the streets to life in the shelters.

Life in the shelters, said Harris, was over-regulated and no safer than living in a tent. 

“[The shelters] are nothing to write home about,” he said. “There’s violence, there’s germs, there’s disease, physical altercations, and a lot of stuff that you have to deal with living in such close proximity.”

On the street, he said, there are no set times to check in or leave, and there is more privacy and divided up space amongst residents. In the DC shelters, people sleep on cots or bunk beds. 

“There are benefits of being out here. There’s some shortfalls, too,” he said, noting that he recently had a tent stolen from him when it was packed up. “And I’ve had a backpack stolen too, but I’ve had stuff stolen at shelters too.”

“Yeah, it’s bearable. It’s much more bearable than an institutionalized shelter-type situation,” said Harris. 

Harris will not be spending much more time on the streets. He received a housing voucher, and had there not been a “signature snafu,” he would already have moved into an apartment by now. He told CNA that he has a “great support team,” and that he regularly attends Bible study, church services, and a men’s group. 

It was these influences which helped him to keep his faith during his time being homeless, and he hopes to one day to help others in his situation, as “some of the people out here who are chronically homeless, they lose hope, drive, motivation, courage and faith.” 

“I’ve got a network of positive-minded individuals that’s helping me weather the storm, and I’m going to try to encourage other people who are currently homeless to do the same thing,” he said.

He urges his associates on the streets to “develop a network, a support group, a support team. Someone that can call and check in on, come by, see if you’re doing alright.”

“Just to let you know that someone cares [about you] means a lot.”

Report: Around the world, 260 million Christians face persecution 

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 02:45 am (CNA).- Christian persecution around the world is a growing problem, says a new report from an agency that documents abuses against Christians across the globe.

Worldwide, the report states, 260 million Christians are facing persecution. This marks a 6% increase from the previous year.

The annual report from Open Doors, released Jan. 15, ranked North Korea first on its list of 50 most dangerous countries in which to be Christian, the 18th straight year that the country has received that designation.

There are an estimated 300,000 Christians amidst the total population of 25.4 million in North Korea. Open Doors reports that if North Korean Christians are discovered, the government will deport them to labor camps as political criminals or even kill them on the spot. Meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it is done in complete secrecy.

Following North Korea on the World Watch List Top 10 are Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and India.

“Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution of Christians takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, rape, and even death as a result of their faith,” Open Doors said in a release accompanying the report.

China featured four spots higher on the list than last year, up from number 27 in 2019 to number 23 in 2020, due in large part to the Communist government’s efforts to preserve its rule.

Christians in China experienced, among other things, an increase in attacks on churches in the past year. Open Doors reports that 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List, compared with 1,847 attacks reported on churches worldwide in 2019. In 2020, the number is conservatively estimated to be at least 5,576 in China alone, the report states.

According to Open Doors, there are at least 97 million Christians in China. Policies enacted by the Communist Party in 2018 to “sinicize” the church - or adapt it to their way of thinking - have been enforced in more and more territories, resulting in the dramatic increase of persecution against Christians, the group reports.

People of faith also suffer from continual surveillance by the government. Open Doors cites a CNBC report that says there are nearly half a billion surveillance cameras in China, a number only expected to grow.

Additionally, Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from attending church, places of worship are monitored, and pastors are increasingly being asked to register with the Communist government, risking church closure and arrest if they refuse, the report continues. More than 5,500 churches in China have been closed down, and churches in at least 23 provinces have been harassed or shuttered.

There were at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, the report states. Many attacks on Christians in India are perpetrated by radical Hindus and often take the form of mob violence.

Muslim extremist groups were responsible for significant violence against Christians worldwide in the past year. For example, in Sri Lanka, 250 people died and more than 500 were injured in attacks on Catholic and Protestant churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, the report notes. In Pakistan, radical Islamist groups often are given free rein by the government, the report says.

In Iraq and Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians— as much as 87% of the Christian population in Iraq— have been forced to flee due to civil war and the presence of militant groups such as the Islamic State.

Outside of Asia, the report took note of the plight of Christians in the African nation of Burkina Faso, which has risen 33 spots in the past year. Dozens of Catholic priests have been killed in the past year, and Protestant pastors and their families have been killed or kidnapped by violent Islamist militants.

Notably, a spate of violence in churches in Burkina Faso last summer and continuing throughout the year led to Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya saying in December that the Western world has been ignoring the plight of Christians in West Africa and has even been selling militants the weapons that they are using to kill Christians.

In total, nearly half a million people were forced to flee their homes in Burkina Faso in the last five years, and more than 60 Christians were murdered by militants in the country in 2019.

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram also maintains a presence in such countries as northern Nigeria and Cameroon.

Churches critical in fighting human trafficking, members of Congress told

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Faith-based groups play a critical role in the global fight against human trafficking—one which merits a closer partnership with the U.S., one Catholic leader told members of Congress Wednesday.

“Churches are safe havens for individuals and oftentimes the first place that victims seek protection and support,” said Limnyuy Konglim, head of the International Catholic Migration Commission’s U.S. Liaison Office in Washington, DC., to commissioners of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Jan. 15. The hearing before the bipartisan body in the House of Representatives marked the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

She added that “it is critical that faith-based actors receive greater consideration as implementing partners, in addition to suppliers of information for reporting.”

Almost 25 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking, an industry which is estimated to be worth $150 billion.

The TVPA, enacted in 2000 and authored by commission co-chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), set up punishments for traffickers, victim assistance, and prevention programs, making changes to the criminal code such as classifying that a minor exploited by a commercial sex act was a victim and not a perpetrator.

It also established a tier ratings system for countries at the State Department, based upon their efforts and success in curbing trafficking.

“Though it is hard to believe it now, when I first introduced the TVPA, the legislation was met with a wall of skepticism and opposition—dismissed by many as a solution in search of a problem,” Smith said Wednesday. “Reports of vulnerable persons—especially women and children—being reduced to commodities for sale were often met with surprise, incredulity or indifference.”

On Tuesday the Justice Department hosted a Summit on Combating Human Trafficking, during which Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen credited the law with spurring an increase in trafficking charges and convictions, but noted that “we have so much left to do.”

“The TVPA responded to the fact that the ability of one person to control, exploit, abuse and profit from another person’s labor and commercial sex acts has not yet been fully eradicated.  And it needs to be,” he said.

Also testifying on Wednesday were two Trump administration officials: the State Department’s trafficking ambassador John Cotton Richmond, and Katherine Chon, director of the Office of Trafficking in Persons at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Konglim’s group, the ICMC, helps build a global network of national bishops’ conferences and Catholic institutions to serve migrants, refugees, and trafficking victims.

“The work of ICMC is inspired by the Holy Bible, as well as by the ongoing Teaching and
Tradition of the Catholic Church; and we are deeply inspired and guided by Pope Francis, who
has prioritized the Church response to human trafficking,” Konglim said Wednesday.

“As he [Pope Francis] has so eloquently said, ‘We are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country,’ and therefore, ‘we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.’”

She was formerly an advisor on humanitarian protection at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and advised the U.S. bishops’ conference on refugee policy and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts for the conference.

On Wednesday, she emphasized the need for the U.S. to work more closely with faith-based aid groups that are working with local actors on the ground around the world.

She noted that “considering the deep presence and trust of grassroot Catholic organizations within vulnerable communities, there has been a concerted effort to build their capacity,” and that “Organizations such as ICMC, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Caritas International to name a few—have provided both organizational and technical assistance to enhance the response of local actors.”

Smith noted the “long-standing” work of faith-based groups around the world “providing an enormous amount of support for people who have been horribly mistreated.”

He said he had witnessed faith play a critical role in the recovery process for trafficking survivors.

“I have actually been in trafficking shelters all over the world,” he said, “but I was struck … how women who had been so horribly mistreated and raped and assaulted, it was their faith and the nourishment that came from that, the sense of reconciliation, that was helping them to get their lives back together.”

Konglim vouched for the work of faith-based groups in fighting trafficking. “If they can serve, they will serve,” she said, noting the work done by Vatican conferences on trafficking prevention which gathered actors from all over the globe.

In February 2018, the Vatican hosted a conference on human trafficking with Church leaders and law enforcement officers from more than 30 countries.

Trafficking survivors need “holistic,” long-term assistance to get back on their feet, such as shelter and vocational training, she said, and faith-based groups “are looking at the holistic restoration of the person, and they do their best to serve them from beginning to end.”

These groups also have a global network to help better reunify trafficking survivors with their families on other continents.

Asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of the state of trafficking in the U.S., Konglim said that her group, through the USCCB, has observed, “there is definitely a challenge with labor trafficking, and how that’s being recognized.”

“Irregular migration does impact the occurrence of the trafficking, and that migrant populations are more vulnerable,” she said. “And so we are definitely concerned with there being increased border screening, to ensure that people that are coming in are not victims of trafficking, and if they are, they are receiving the appropriate services that they deserve.”