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Don't muzzle peaceful pro-life outreach, UK bishop says

London, England, Feb 17, 2018 / 03:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposals to bar pro-life demonstrations and outreach with a legal ‘buffer zone’ outside abortion clinics drew objections from a leading U.K. bishop who stressed the legitimacy of their cause.

“There are members of the public, often associated with churches, who gather peacefully to pray outside abortion clinics and witness to the good of human life in a dignified way,” Bishop John Sherrington said Feb. 16. “They do so because of their fundamental belief in the protection of unborn life and the good of the mother.”

Bishop Sherrington, an auxiliary bishop of the Westminster archdiocese, is responsible for the Day for Life, when the local Catholic Church dedicates a day to raising awareness about the value of human life at every stage from conception to natural death. In England and Wales, the 2018 observance falls on Sunday, June 17.

The bishop’s remarks were submitted to a British government review of abortion clinic protests as parliament and several localities consider “buffer zones.” Possible proposals could bar the display of images deemed distressing and the use of loudspeakers, but also bar congregating in large groups and approaching women going into clinics.

In 2017, Labour Party M.P. Rupa Huq organized a cross-party letter supporting buffer zones that drew support from 113 M.P.s, including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Sky News reports.

Bishop Sherrington was critical of the proposal.

“A blanket introduction of ‘buffer zones’ carries with it the danger of both denying freedom of expression and fostering intolerance towards legitimate opinions which promote the common good,” he said.

“The offering of leaflets is part of helping to inform women who might not have had impartial information before,” he said. “There are also those who offer practical alternatives and assistance if a woman wants to make a different choice.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced the Home Office review in November 2017. It sought views about “alleged harassment and intimidating behavior near abortion clinics in England and Wales.”

“While everyone has a right to peaceful protest, this review is about ensuring the police, healthcare providers and local authorities have the right powers to protect women making these tough decisions,” Rudd said in a Nov. 26 announcement. “The decision to have an abortion is already an incredibly personal one, without women being further pressured by aggressive protesters.”

The review would consider comparisons to how demonstrations are treated in Australia, France and the U.S. It would assess several factors: the scale, frequency and nature of the protests; laws against harassment and intimidation; and the public’s right to lawful, peaceful protest.

Bishop Sherrington backed protest, rightly understood.

“In a democratic society the freedom to protest and express one’s opinion is always to be considered in relation to the common good,” he said. “It should not be necessary to limit the freedom of individuals or groups to express opinions except when they could cause grave harm to others or a threat to public order.”

Current legislation already provides the means to deal with harmful or threatening behavior, he said.

The comment period for the review ends Feb. 19.

In December, John Hansen-Brevetti, clinical operations manager at the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing, told a House of Commons' Home Affairs committee that up to 40 protesters at a time have gathered outside the clinic, Sky News reports. He charged that they have physically grabbed or blocked women or have been “using other means of intimidation.”

However, Antonia Tully, director of campaigns at the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said that the protests are “peaceful, prayerful people, standing near abortion facilities, offering women the help that they are simply not getting anywhere else.”

Ahead of a January meeting of Ealing Council, Tully said that “peaceful, prayerful pro-life vigils must continue to offer help to desperate women.”

 

Pope Francis says Paul VI will be canonized this year

Vatican City, Feb 17, 2018 / 08:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his annual Lenten meeting with the priests of Rome last week, Pope Francis confirmed that Blessed Pope Paul VI will be made a saint sometime this year.

"Paul VI will be a saint this year," the Pope said Feb. 15, at the end of a long question and answer session with priests of Rome. The text of the private meeting was published by the Vatican Feb. 17.

During the meeting, Francis gave lengthy answers to four questions from priests. Afterward, texts containing meditations by Pope Paul VI, a gift from the Pope, were handed out to each of the priests. “I saw it and I loved it,” Francis said about the book.

“There are two [recent] Bishops of Rome already saints,” he continued, referring to St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, who were canonized together in April 2014.

Besides Blessed Pope Paul VI, he noted that John Paul I's cause for beatification is also ongoing. "And Benedict and I," he added, are "on the waiting list: pray for us!"

According to Vatican Insider, Feb. 6 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the second miracle needed for the canonization of Bl. Pope Paul VI by a unanimous vote.

The next step is for Pope Francis to also give his approval, with an official decree from the Vatican. Then the date for the canonization can be set. The canonization could take place in October of this year, during the Synod of Bishops on the youth, Vatican Insider reported.

The miracle attributed to the cause of Paul VI is the healing of an unborn child in the fifth month of pregnancy. The case was brought forward in 2014 for study.

The mother, originally from the province of Verona, Italy, had an illness that risked her own life and the life of her unborn child, and was advised to have an abortion.

A few days after the beatification of Paul VI on Oct. 19, 2014, she went to pray to him at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace in the town of Brescia. The baby girl was later born in good health, and remains in good health today.

The healing was first ruled as medically inexplicable by the medical council of the congregation last year, while the congregation's consulting theologians agreed that the healing occurred through the late pope's intercession.
 

Women religious in Nigeria hold National Day of Prayer and Fasting

Abuja, Nigeria, Feb 17, 2018 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Women religious in Nigeria held a National Day of Prayer and Fasting for the respect of human life on Ash Wednesday, in light of the ongoing violence within the country.

The Feb. 14 day of prayer and fasting was facilitated by the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious and the African Faith & Justice Network's women empowerment project, with the theme “Nigeria Catholic nuns uphold the sacredness of life through prayer.”

The event included women from multiple religious congregations throughout the country, according to CANAA.

The sisters gathered reflected on the increasing “communal clashings” within Nigeria, including the alarming conflicts between farmers and herdsmen. They also pointed to the various killings, kidnappings, and particular violence against women that has been ongoing within the country.

The sisters additionally noted personal experiences of violations against human dignity, including multiple kidnappings within their own religious communities. One community recalled having their major superiors and councilors kidnapped and held for ransom in a dungeon for weeks, while another group of sisters expressed a similar occurrence.

Other instances of kidnapped or killed religious have surfaced over the past few years in Nigeria, causing further concern over the ongoing violence produced mainly by ethnic or religious conflicts, as well as the insurgency of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

As violations against human dignity continue to plague Nigeria, the sisters encouraged the government and officials to enact measures of security for the defenseless and to create a safe environment for the people of Nigeria that would safeguard the lives of all people.

Prompted by the AFJN to use their influence for the good of human life, the sisters have taken up the mission to defend life within the country by bringing these issues to the public square – particularly through their most recent day of prayer and fasting.

While overwhelmed by the gravity of the challenge, the sisters said that after prayer, they have risen to the call to give public witness to the sacredness of life. AFJN also asked for prayers for the sisters’ challenge ahead in promoting human dignity in Nigeria.

“May the sisters’ boldness and courage to act on behalf of justice in the public forum bring change of hearts, move the government and elected officials to act for the common good, and bring consolation to many who have lost their loved ones to violence in Nigeria.”

Pope reappoints O’Malley to head further work of safeguarding commission

Vatican City, Feb 17, 2018 / 05:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has reconfirmed Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, also reconfirming seven members and appointing nine new.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), is an advisory body to the Pope on the issue of safeguarding minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse. Its first 3-year mandate concluded in December 2017 and was awaiting the Pope’s confirmation of new and old members.

The new members are Benyam Dawit Mezmur from Ethiopia; Sr. Arina Gonsalves, RJM from India; Neville Owen from Australia; Sinalelea Fe’ao from Tonga; Myriam Wijlens from the Netherlands; Ernesto Caffo from Italy; Sr. Jane Bertelsen, FMDM from the U.K.; Teresa Kettelkamp from the U.S.; and Nelson Giovanelli Rosendo Dos Santos from Brazil.

The returning commission members are Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco from the Philippines; Bishop Luis Manuel Alí Herrera from Colombia; Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ from Germany; Hannah Suchocka from Poland; Sr. Kayula Lesa, RSC from Zambia; Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, CPS from South Africa; and Mons. Robert Oliver from the U.S.

In a statement released Feb. 17, O’Malley said that Pope Francis “has given much prayerful consideration in nominating these members. The newly appointed members will add to the commission’s global perspective in the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

In his reconfirmation of previous members, the Pope has also “ensured continuity in the work of our Commission, which is to assist local churches throughout the world in their efforts to safeguard all children, young people, and vulnerable adults from harm,” O’Malley said.

According to a press release, the 16 members are made up of eight women and eight men spanning multiple disciples of international expertise in the field of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from the crime of sexual abuse.

“Representatives from several new countries will now offer their insights and experience to the Commission, reflecting the global reach of the Church and the challenge of creating safeguarding structures in diverse cultural contexts,” the release stated.

The members of the commission include both victims of clerical sexual abuse and parents of victims. The commission has stated that it will continue to uphold its practice of defending each person’s right to choose whether or not to disclose their experiences of abuse publicly.

“The members appointed today have chosen to not do so publicly, but solely within the Commission. The PCPM firmly believes that their privacy in this matter is to be respected,” they stated.

It was announced that the commission’s new term, as decided at their last plenary meeting in September 2017, would begin with listening to and learning from people who have experienced abuse, their family members and others who support them.

They also affirmed that the “victim/survivor first” approach will continue “to be central” to their policies and educational programs.

“The PCPM wishes to hear the voices of victims/survivors directly, in order that the advice offered to the Holy Father be truly imbued with their insights and experiences,” the release stated.

The first plenary meeting of the new Commission will be held in April and will begin with a private meeting with people who have experienced abuse. They will discuss proposals of ways to continue to foster an on-going dialogue with victims and survivors around the world.

They announced that discussions have also already been underway to create an “International Survivor Advisory Panel” (ISAP), building off the experience of the Survivor Advisory Panel of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales.

The working group to research and develop a proposal for the ISAP has been led by Baroness Hollins, a founding member of the commission, who will lead a presentation at the April plenary session.

Goals for the panel include studying prevention from a survivor’s perspective and being proactive in raising awareness for the need for healing and care for everyone who has suffered abuse.

According to their statement, over the last four years the commission has worked with almost 200 dioceses and religious communities around the world “to raise awareness and educate people on the need for safeguarding in our homes, parishes, schools, hospitals, and other institutions.”

“The members would like to thank all those who have embraced this call and to thank the Holy See for supporting and encouraging these efforts,” it concluded.

Bolivia: Bishops call for 'thorough investigation' of explosions in Oruro

La Paz, Bolivia, Feb 17, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The General Secretariat of the Bolivian Bishops' Conference called on civil authorities to conduct a “thorough investigation” of recent explosions in the city of Oruro that have left 12 dead and at least 60 injured.

“We lift up our prayers for the victims and express our solidarity with relatives of those who have died in the two explosions in Oruro during the carnival festivities. We call on the authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and to take measures to prevent these lamentable incidents,” the bishop said in their  Feb. 14 statement.

The first explosion occurred Saturday Feb. 10 during a procession honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. Eight people died and 40 were injured.

According to police reports, the cause was an exploding gasoline container.  Bolivian official Carlos Romero informed local media that there was no evidence that dynamite or some other explosive was the cause.

Another explosion took place Feb. 13, one block from the previous one.

This time the police ruled out a gasoline leak and reported that the explosion was caused by six pounds of dynamite and ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil), a highly volatile explosive.

The explosion left four dead.

The Archbishop of Sucre Jesús Juárez said it is the task of the civil authorities to discover the reasons  and the truth behind the incidents. “May truth ever triumph over the darkness of lies,” the prelate said, according to the Bolivian bishops’ communications office.

Bolivia's Secretary of Defense, Javier Zavaleta, told Red Bolivisión reporters that three people have been arrested on “suspicion” in the last incident.

Zavaleta said that “the possibility that the two events may be coordinated” has not been ruled out, and although the police maintain that the first explosion was accidental, the secretary noted that there still remain “loose ends” in the investigation.

He pointed out that dissemination on social media of “edited audios, not spontaneous, with special effects in the background,” along with testimonies of supposed witnesses, creates suspicion of an organized “operation.”
The Secretary of Defense also called for calm, noting that a contingent of Bolivian police are deployed in the affected city.

Meanwhile, experts from the Institute for Forensic Investigations from Cochabamba and La Paz and from the Institute for Technical Scientific Investigations of the Police Academy, along with prosecutors, are working on gathering evidence to determine the facts.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

Commentary: The Vatican gap between theory and practice

Rome, Italy, Feb 16, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Yesterday Pope Francis issued a new letter motu proprio entitled Imparare a congedarsi, or “Learning to take your leave.”

Pope Francis made only some minor adjustments to canon law concerning the retirement of bishops, specifically those serving as papal representatives in diplomatic posts and in Curial offices.

Legally speaking, not much changed. Imparare is a tidying up exercise. All bishops are now asked to submit their resignations at the age of 75, which become effective when they are formally accepted by the pope. Previously, those in certain positions saw their positions lapse de iure upon their reaching a certain age.

While the document is ostensibly about retirement, and going gracefully, in fact it clears the way for Vatican officials to carry on in their posts past the age of 75.

In itself, there is nothing novel about bishops in important or sensitive roles carrying on past the age of retirement. It is common practice that diocesan bishops in major sees have their resignations accepted nunc pro tunc, or “now for later,” effectively keeping them in post indefinitely. Similarly, few Curial cardinals are expected to depart from service promptly on their 75th birthdays. Harmonizing the law, so that it effectively applies to everyone in the same way, is not exactly revolutionary.

What is odd about the motu proprio is that, for a document supposedly about retiring with grace, it spends rather more time talking about those who are staying on. Indeed, under Pope Francis, this exception is becoming the norm.

Despite the Pope’s stated preference for single five-year terms in the Curia, an ever-growing number of key Vatican officials are carrying on well past their terms. Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, who heads the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, has served 11 years in that office, and turns 80 next month. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, is 77, and Cardinal Ravasi at the Pontifical Council for Culture turned 77 last year - though both are still in their first five-year terms.

The progressive Archbishop Piero Marini has been head of the International Eucharistic Congresses for 10 years and turned 76 a few weeks ago. Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, the erratic Dean of the Roman Rota, is nearly 77. Those who are expected to retire with grace at the end of their terms, like Cardinal Müller, are so exceptional as to be newsworthy.

Given that this is the opposite of what the Pope has called for, the situation is something of a mystery. Imparare a congedarsi is clear that carrying on past an age limit is supposed to be “exceptional.” The Pope wrote that anyone being kept on is not being done a “favor” or being thanked for services rendered. Instead, such individuals are being asked to see important projects to their finish, or bridge a difficult period of transition. In theory, this makes excellent sense, and is the reason many officials of different ranks have previously been kept on past 75.

Yet it’s hard to see this rationale at work in all cases. Msgr. Pinto, for example, has been the subject of considerable criticism for his public outbursts against the four so-called “dubia cardinals” (technically his superiors), and his recent attempts to abolish the right of appellants before the court of the Roman Rota to chose their own lawyer (he wanted to assign lawyers personally from his own list of preferred advocates) ended in a humiliating climb-down after it was pointed out he was violating basic legal freedoms and endangering the Holy See’s concordat with the Italian Republic. Pinto has even had a “pro-dean” installed under him, essentially a successor in waiting, yet he remains in office now in his sixth year.

As with several of the Franciscan reforms of the Curia, the distance between theory and practice is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, or explain. Despite the clear and praiseworthy possibilities offered in yesterday’s motu proprio, there seems little “exceptional” about some of those being kept in office long past retirement age.

Ed Condon is a canon lawyer working for tribunals in a number of dioceses. On Twitter he is @canonlawyered. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Catholic News Agency.

Mary Ann Glendon resigns from Vatican Bank oversight board

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2018 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Prominent American professor Mary Ann Glendon has resigned from the Board of Superintendence which oversees the Institute of Religious Works, the so-called Vatican Bank.

“Professor Glendon has expressed a desire to devote more time to other Catholic causes, and the IOR wishes her all of the best for the future, both personally and professionally,” the institute said Feb. 16.

The statement thanked the 79-year-old Glendon for her contributions, especially in the process of defining its legal framework.

The Massachusetts-born Glendon served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2008-2009. She is a professor at Harvard Law School with an expertise in international human rights, comparative law, and constitutional law.

Under Pope Francis, Glendon was a member of a papal commission set up to ensure transparency at the Vatican Bank and make recommendations for its future from June 2013 to May 2014. She then served as a member of the IOR’s Board of Superintendence beginning July 9, 2014.

The Institute for Religious Works was founded in 1942 under Ven. Pius XII but has origins dating back to 1887. It aims to hold and administer finances designated for “religious works or charity,” its website says. It accepts deposits from legal entities or persons of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State. The main function of the bank is to manage bank accounts for religious orders and Catholic associations.

According to 2016 figures, the bank has about $7 billion in assets from almost 15,000 customers. It has about 100 employees and turned a profit of about $44 million.

The Board of Superintendence governs the bank under a six-member Commission of Cardinals. The commission is supervised by Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló.

Since his election as Bishop of Rome in 2013, Pope Francis has sought to reform the Vatican’s bank and other financial aspects of the Holy See. The process has not been easy. There have been various debates about jurisdiction, oversight, and auditing; establishment of new laws and guidelines; and changes in key personnel and leadership.

St. John Paul II named Glendon to the newly created Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in 1994. She led a 22-member delegation of the Holy See to the Fourth U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995, and served on the Holy See’s Central Committee for the Great Jubilee 2000.

In 2004 she was named head of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, where she served through 2014.

She chairs the Holy See’s Select Committee on Legal Matters in the United States and is a past president of the International Association of Legal Science.

Palestine asks Vatican to defend Jerusalem’s status quo

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Palestinian Foreign Affairs minister, Ryadh al Maliki, met officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State Feb. 16, asking the Holy See to amplify its voice defending the status quo in Jerusalem.
 
“It is important to understand that the situation of Jerusalem also deals with Christians,” the minister told CNA after the meeting, during a short briefing with journalists in the State of Palestine’s recently opened embassy to the Holy See.

“We would like the Holy See lead a conference of Christians in the Middle East, in order to make their voice stronger.”
 
Minister al Maliki met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and then with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican “minister for foreign affairs.
 
Al Maliki reported that the meetings “shed light on the implication of President Trump’s decision to ‘award’ Jerusalem as capital of Israel, with the decision to transfer the US Embassy to Israel to the city.”
 
Trump’s decision, al Maliki said, “had the effect of connecting the city with only the Jewish world, setting aside the city’s connections with Christian and Muslims.”
 
This “also jeopardizes the negotiations,” concerning peace between Israel and Palestine, “because the issue of the status of Jerusalem was put off the table,” he said.
 
Al Maliki maintained that Palestine “wants to keep the conflict a a political level,” while Trump’s decision brings the issue to “a religious level.” He said  the status of the city is relevant to all religions which “recognize themselves in the city of Jerusalem.”
 
According to al Maliki, the Holy See expressed concern during the talks, and both parties agreed that the status quo of Jerusalem should be respected, and that the future of Jerusalem “must be negotiated and not imposed.”
 
The Holy See has made several recent statements regarding Jerusalem: Pope Francis made his latest appeal to respect the status quo in Jerusalem at the end of his Dec. 6, 2017 general audience.
 
On Dec. 10, the Holy See Press Office issued a communiqué reiterating that the Holy See maintained its position on the peculiar character of the Holy City, and stressed the importance of maintaining a compromise on the city’s status.

“Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace,” and “guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two states within internationally recognized borders,” the statement said.
 
Minister Al Maliki stressed that the State of Palestine “recognized the Holy See’s efforts,” but asked the Holy See to further raise its voice.
 
Al Maliki said he asked the Holy See to take the lead of a conference of Christians in order to shed light on the fact that Christian denominations have an interest in Jerusalem.
 
“It is also important,” al Maliki said “to give a signal to the Christians in the Holy Land, who feel abandoned and under pressure.”
 
He said that, after President Trump’s decision, the Israeli government has started to increase pressure on Palestinian Christians, “making their life harder,” by “imposing taxes, freezing the bank accounts and confiscating properties.”
 
According to al Maliki, this pressure aims at “changing the sacred character of the city, and to turn the city into a Jewish one.”
 
In particular, al Maliki is referring to a recent decision of Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor, to begin assessing municipal taxes on some church properties.  

In a joint statement, the Churches of Jerusalem stressed that this decision “goes agaist the historic position throughouth the centuries of the Churches and the Holy City of Jerusalem,” and that the measure “undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardises the Church’s ability to conduct its ministry in this land on behalf of its communities and the world-wide church.”
 
According to al Maliki, neither Cardinal Parolin or Archbishop Gallagher objected to the idea of a conference under the Holy See’s lead. However, no decision has yet been made.

Science – not sabotage – behind Filipino 'Rash Wednesday' mystery

Manila, Philippines, Feb 16, 2018 / 01:41 pm (CNA).- After some Filipino Catholics developed mysterious rashes on Ash Wednesday, the Diocese of Caloocan investigated to determine the cause of the skin irritant.

While sabotage was initially suspected as a possibility, the reason behind the rashes turned out to be less sinister and more scientific – the ashes had been overcooked, which increased their level of acidity, resulting in rashes and blisters when mixed with water and applied to the skin.

“They call it overcooked charcoal turned into caustic ashes that produce high acidity when mixed with water,” said Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan, according to Manila Bulletin.

During Ash Wednesday Mass at the San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan, Philippines, some worshipers noticed a burning sensation when the ashes where applied to their foreheads. Later, they developed a blistering rash where the ashes were touching their skin.

Not all the parishioners suffered an adverse reaction, however, which led Bishop David to suspect that a toxic component may have been introduced to only some of the containers, UCA News reported.

After reports of parishioners being burned, the ashes were pulled from use, and Bishop David promised to investigate the cause of the problem.

“Rest assured that we will not leave a single stone unturned in order to find out what caused this unfortunate incident,” he said.

However, a review of security footage found that no one had tampered with the ashes.

Instead, chemical tests determined that the ashes had an unusually “high level of acidity,” the Manila Bulletin reported.

He said the palms are usually burned in clay pots, but because of this year’s high quantity, more palms were gradually added to the mixture, and some were burned for too long.

When mixed with water, the caustic ashes became acidic, with the highest acidity levels separating to the top. As a result, the first people in line to receive ashes on their foreheads were exposed to the most acidic portion.

“Not all were affected because the liquid part that turned acidic surfaced and became [the] cause for blisters. The rest who got just moist ashes suffered only minor rashes that disappeared as soon as the substance was washed off,” said Bishop David.

With the cause of the rashes discovered, the prelate said the most important goal was to treat those who had been harmed.

“What matters for us is that we are able to apply the proper medication – silver sulfadiazine on people who have been affected.”

 

Catholic Studies founder Don Briel remembered for his fidelity to Christ

Bismarck, N.D., Feb 16, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Dr. Don Briel, who held a chair in liberal arts at the University of Mary and who had founded the first Catholic Studies program, at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, died Thursday night.

The University of Mary has confirmed to CNA the news of Briel's Feb. 15 death.

Briel was 71, and had been diagnosed with two untreatable acute leukemias Jan. 19. He had been in hospice care at his home.

In recent weeks he has been the subject of tributes for his contribution to the renewal of Catholic higher education in the US, most notably through this founding, in 1993, of the Catholic Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn. That program was the inspiration for similar programs at both Catholic and public universities across the country.

Briel remained at the University of St. Thomas for 20 years, and in 2014 he was given the Blessed John Henry Newman Chair of Liberal Arts at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

At the University of Mary, he helped develop a Catholic Studies program, developed its Gregorian Scholars Honors Program, and taught at its Rome campus.

Briel's doctoral work focused on Bl. John Henry Newman, “whose vision of university education had a profound impact on my vision of what was necessary in our own time, [through] his insistence that the purpose of university was to form the mind and habit of students, which enables them to see things in relation and make judgments about reality,” as he told The Catholic Spirit in the weeks preceding his death.

In a Jan. 24 homage to Briel at First Things, George Weigel included his founding the Catholic Studies program among the three seminal moments for Catholic higher education in the US since World War II.

Weigel described Briel's work as, in part, an effort “to repair the damage that was done to institutions of Catholic higher learning in the aftermath of Land O’ Lakes.”

At the Land O'Lake conference in 1967, Catholic universities also began to distance themselves from the hierarchy of the Church, insisting on their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of any kind, lay or clerical.”

“But there was, and is, far more to Don Briel’s vision, and achievement, than damage-repair,” Weigel wrote. “Nourished intellectually by John Henry Newman and Christopher Dawson, Briel has aimed at nothing less than creating, in twenty-first-century circumstances, the 'idea of a university' that animated his two English intellectual and spiritual heroes.”

Weigel characterized conversion “to the truth of Christ and the love of Christ as manifest in the Catholic Church,” and thereby the conversion of culture, as what “Don Briel’s life-project [is] all about.”

John and Madelyn Dinkel, who studied under Briel in Rome, wrote to him after his illness that “Your course taught us that following Christ through truth, beauty, and goodness is something always to strive for. You taught us that being a saint will not be easy, but that it truly is the only way worth living. Dr. Briel, your course did teach us this, but most importantly, your character, your virtue, and your Holy Christian example, taught us this during our time abroad.”

Briel is the subject of a recently published festschrift, Renewal of Catholic Higher Education: Essays on Catholic Studies in Honor of Don J. Briel. Edited by Matthew Gerlach, the book includes reflections from Catholic Studies professors, alumni, and scholars.

In the weeks preceding his death, Briel exhibited a profound peace and a sense of gratitude.

In an interview with Maria Weiring of The Catholic Spirit conducted Feb. 8, he said that when told he had a month to live, “I felt great peace about this. I had always prayed that I would have some advance knowledge of dying, and my ideal time frame was actually one month. It’s time enough to focus on the reality of death; it’s not too short, and it’s not too long.”

“The thing is, that if I hadn’t had this incidental appointment with this surgeon, I wouldn’t have known, and therefore I wouldn’t have had this knowledge, which I had always prayed for. So there seems to be providence in it, on every aspect of the diagnosis and my experience of it.”

He characterized his time as spent primarily in prayer and in greeting friends: “I do read, but it’s more [a] time of this combination of prayer – an intensification of prayer – and seeing so many former students and colleagues.”

“I have to say that I look forward to death, not with a sense a great success, but a sense of the privilege, again, of having been invited into the work that has had these remarkable results … This is not my work, it’s not our work, it’s God’s work, and to have been given this possibility to assist in realizing this great educational vision has been the great privilege of my life.”