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French bishops’ conference to hear testimonies from children of priests

Vatican City, May 20, 2019 / 11:19 am (CNA).- French bishops will meet with the children of priests in June to hear their testimonies of hidden suffering.

Monsignor Olivier Ribadeu Dumas, secretary of the French bishops’ conference, confirmed that three members of the French association Children of Silence will share their stories June 13 at the Bishops Conference of France headquarters in Paris, Le Monde reported.

The president of Children of Silence, Anne-Marie Jarzac, called the June meeting a welcome step. Jarzac met previously with Msgr. Dumas and Father Emmanuel Coquet in February in preparation for the June testimony.

“It was a very moving moment,” Jarzac told Le Monde. “For the first time, we felt that the Church opened its doors to us, that there was no more denial, but a listening and an awareness of what we have lived.”

Jarzac is the daughter of a priest and a nun. She leads the French association for children of priests with more than 50 members.

In February 2019, the Vatican confirmed the existence of an internal document from the Congregation of Clergy outlining criteria on the protection of children of priests. “Notes concerning the practice of the Congregation for the Clergy with regard to clerics with children” is a template document used to aid individual bishops dealing with these cases.

In many cases involving priestly paternity, priests either request dispensation or are dismissed from the clerical state because of the parental responsibility and obligation owed to the child.

“Each case is examined on its merits and its own particular circumstances,” Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, told L'Osservatore Romano in an interview Feb. 27. Stella also noted that exceptions to the loss of the clerical state are rare.

“The child’s well-being and care of the child must be at the centre of attention for the Church, so that the child does not lack, not only the necessities of life, but especially the educative role and the affection of a father,” Cardinal Stella said.

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy also responded to claims that the existence of children of priests somehow undermines the value of priestly celibacy in the Church.

“The fact that some priests have experienced relationships and have brought children into the world does not affect the theme of priestly celibacy, which represents a precious gift for the Latin church, the ever-present value of which has been expressed by the recent Popes, from St. Paul VI to Pope Francis,” he said.

A pilgrim people: The Warriors to Lourdes share their stories

Lourdes, France, May 20, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- CNA had a chance to get to know some of the more than 200 pilgrims who traveled to Lourdes as part of the Knights of Columbus’ Warriors to Lourdes program during the International Military Pilgrimage, May 16-19. Here are their stories:


A century of tradition

The Knights of Columbus has a long history of supporting the troops and conducting military pilgrimages, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told CNA, with the Warriors to Lourdes program just the latest way they are continuing this tradition.

The Knights “were very much involved in France during the first World War,” Anderson said. “We had the largest military pilgrimage to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, in 1919.”

Anderson told CNA that the Knights of Columbus also sponsored military pilgrimages to Lourdes during WWI and that when they learned governmental spending cuts meant that the United States would not be sending a delegation to the International Military Pilgrimage in 2013, they joined up with the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA, to create Warriors to Lourdes.

While he may have an important role leading the Knights, at Lourdes, Anderson stressed that he is just a pilgrim like everyone else.

“I think I come to Lourdes like any Catholic,” said Anderson. “It's a special place for Our Lady, it's a special place to be with people who are taking significant steps on their spiritual journey in life, and deepening their relationship with the Lord through Mary.”

Anderson said he has been to other Marian apparition sites, but there is something “very special” about Lourdes, due to all the people seeking some form of healing.

This weekend, Anderson said he is praying especially for his fellow pilgrims, that they find the spiritual or physical healing they may be seeking, but most of all that everyone on the trip can deepen their relationship with God.

“That includes me, that includes my family--we all have to grow in our spiritual life and we all have to grow closer to the Lord. That process is never done,” he said.


A journey home

Many of the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims are Catholic, but they are very different in the practice of their faith. Some attend daily Mass, and others have a more complicated relationship with the Church.

For Sgt. 1st Class Mary Katzenberg, who is a public affairs chief assigned to Ft. Bragg, the pilgrimage gave her the chance for her to attend her first Mass in about 20 years.

“I reconnected with God about a year ago after a 20-year stint of thinking I could do things on my own or do things my way,” she said.

After receiving an email about Warriors to Lourdes from her unit’s chaplain, Katzenberg said she felt called to apply, “to see if it was something God wanted me to do.”  

She told CNA that she was completely unfamiliar with the story of Lourdes prior to being accepted for the pilgrimage.

Katzenberg had the chance to visit the Lourdes baths, a visit that occurred just prior to the opening Mass for American pilgrims at the Rosary Basilica.

Visiting the baths was “a very emotional experience,” said Katzenberg. “I prayed for God to cleanse my soul, and it almost felt like it was kind of like a second baptism. It moved me.”

The experience has inspired Katzenberg to return to the Catholic faith.

“Well, beginning with this Mass [Friday], I really feel that God led me here to pull me back into the Church, that He knows what I need more than I know what I need,” she said.

“I just feel that that's what He's calling me to do--start attending Mass again and serving within the Church."


The next generation

A life of military service is often a family affair, with many people following in their parents’ footsteps and entering the armed forces. One family is hoping the graces from Lourdes will assist with their daughter’s future career in the Air Force.

The Bellm family of Gunnery Sgt. Justin, his wife Kate, and their daughters Courtney, Trinity, and Allison, came to Lourdes from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Sgt. Bellm serves as the Platoon Commander at Wounded Warrior, Battalion East, and has been in the military for 16 years.

His daughter, Courtney, will be entering the Air Force in just over two months, on July 23. While she could not find the exact words to describe her pilgrimage experience ahead of her military career, she told CNA “there’s just something about being here, surrounded by militaries from all over the world, and just seeing how we come together.”

The military, Courtney said, is like a “second family.”

This is the family’s first trip to Lourdes, and Sgt. Bellm said he applied because he “thought it would be a good opportunity to reconnect with the family, and a little bit of spiritual enlightenment.” It is also his last year with Wounded Warrior, so he jumped at the opportunity to travel to France.

Kate said that she was praying for family unity throughout the weekend, and that she found the experience to be “enlightening.”

“I didn't really know what to expect, so I just took whatever. I just went in with an open mind, really, and encouraged the girls to go in with an open mind."


Fellow travelers

While Lourdes is a site most commonly visited by Catholics, the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage is open to people of all religions.

The spiritual needs of non-Catholic pilgrims are tended to by military chaplains. One of those chaplains is Maj. Brian Minietta, an Army Chaplain at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.

Minietta told CNA that his faith background is in the United Methodist community, and his chaplaincy is supported by the Evangelical Church Alliance. This is his third time joining the Warriors to Lourdes.

"The first time I came as just a pilgrim,” said Minietta. One of his friends, a Protestant chaplain, had attended a previous trip and encouraged him to apply. After he was accepted, Minietta was chosen to lead one of the faith and fellowship groups on his pilgrimage, which he said was an “amazing group.”

Warriors to Lourdes then invited him back on the pilgrimage the following year, but as a trip leader and chaplain.

Even though the Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization, and Lourdes is home to numerous Catholic churches and chapels, Minietta said he did not feel out of place at all as a Protestant. He credited his experience in the Army for how he was able to work alongside the other chaplains.

"In the Army,” he said, “we work in a pluralistic environment, and so we kind of have this thing where we say we perform and provide. And so, I perform the things that I can perform as a Protestant chaplain, but it's also my job to provide, so I brought people from my unit on this pilgrimage,” said Minietta. He views the pilgrimage as “an opportunity for me to provide for them.”

During the pilgrimage, eligible Catholic pilgrims were offered the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Non-Catholics were given the opportunity to pray for healing alongside the non-Catholic chaplains. Minietta told CNA that he was glad he was still able to assist those in need of spiritual help.

“I got to pray for people--even though I can’t offer the sacrament, I still got to lay hands on people and pray for them,” he said. “And so, it’s easy for me to overcome our differences.”

Minietta found the experience of going into the baths to be reminiscent of his baptism.

“There's that significance of we need water to survive, water cleanses us. I went into that experience open to however the Lord was gonna work through the usage of water.”

Minietta found another way to provide for the pilgrims: during Saturday night’s Marian procession, he was one of the people who carried the statue of the Blessed Mother.


Support and healing

A pilgrimage this large needs a solid support staff. There are many nurses, doctors, and other professionals who are part of the delegation who keep everyone safe.

Commander Lance LeClere, M.D., is serving as the medical director for Warriors to Lourdes.

LeClere, a Navy doctor who is stationed in Annapolis, Maryland, was invited by a past pilgrim to attend this year’s pilgrimage. The call came at “an opportune time” as Leclere and his wife, a Navy nurse, had been seeking an opportunity to go on a medical mission.

“We've always looked for ways to support active duty service members, especially those that have been injured,” said LeClere. “This combined sort of the religious retreat and pilgrimage with the opportunity to serve the wounded, ill, and injured, and so it was a perfect opportunity to combine all of the things that we enjoy supporting."

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, which boasts its own on-campus grotto modeled after the one in Lourdes, LeClere said it was “very moving” to see the inspiration for the place he spent much time praying as a student.

"It was just very special to be at the original grotto--it was very emotional,” he said.

True to his vocation as a doctor, LeClere told CNA that his intentions for the weekend were for his friends back in Maryland who were experiencing illnesses or other conditions. And true to his vocation in military service, he is praying for their mental well-being as well.

“I've also been thinking a lot about the spiritual and emotional healing of the service members that are on the trip, and folks that I know from back home that are in need of that as well,” he said.


For all their people

The armed forces is often compared to a tribe. For one couple, there is also a literal tribe back home praying for their pilgrimage.

Ben Black Bear III and his wife Jennifer Black Bear made the journey to Lourdes from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Both are members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Ben and Jennifer were invited to apply after meeting Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at a listening session with the USCCB and 13 other tribes. Ben is an Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2006-2007, and also lived at Ft. Hood before returning to Rosebud.

The Black Bears both work for their church, and both were familiar with the story of Lourdes prior to the pilgrimage. Given the sheer distance between South Dakota and France, Ben described the pilgrimage as his “one-in-a-million chance” to visit the Grotto.

“It’s a really big honor for us, and also our parents, and also our future generation,” he said. They said they will be bringing back Lourdes water to their reservation.

Ben described the trip as “overwhelming,” but he has maintained his focus on prayer and the spiritual graces that come with a pilgrimage. He also knows that he and his wife are serving as  role models for their community.

“This is also a good eye-opener for our reservation, knowing us, (and) coming here,” said Ben. Back in Rosebud, there are people who are following their pilgrimage with keen interest.

“A lot of people researched it and they’re really familiar with what’s going on with it,” he said.

Jennifer told CNA that her prayer intentions for the weekend would primarily concern the well-being of others, and that she will be praying for “the health of all of our people on the reservation, our families, the health of our people.”


Miracles received

Some people come to Lourdes hoping for a miracle from its waters. The Fisk family has already experienced theirs.

Julian Fisk, the 14-month old son of Army Captain Adam Fisk and Morgan Fisk, did not have the easiest entrance into the world when he was born in January of last year.

“He came out not breathing for six minutes,” his father told CNA. “He was immediately evac’d to a NICU in a different hospital.”

After Julian arrived in the neonatal intensive care unit, doctors took quick action to attempt to prevent any brain damage due to his lack of oxygen at birth. While some of their efforts were successful, Julian had suffered a subgaleal hematoma, which Adam described as “a very large pocket of fluid that had been built up in his head” that could potentially cause major health issues. Doctors predicted it would take up to a month for the hematoma to heal.

Adam’s father-in-law, Deacon Mark Mitchell, flew in from Georgia to Texas to be with Morgan, Adam, and Julian while Julian was hospitalized. Mitchell had been to Lourdes, and brought some of the healing water with him to the NICU.

“He sprinkled some on Julian’s head, and along his body, and he prayed over him,” Adam explained.

“The next day, the hematoma was gone, and it baffled the doctors. Obviously, it was a miracle to us.”

Julian has now been entirely cleared by his doctors and is “completely where he needs to be at for his age,” said Adam. A few months after his miraculous healing, Adam was encouraged to apply for Warriors to Lourdes by Deacon Mitchell, who is also on this year’s pilgrimage. Adam jumped at the opportunity.

Julian was able to join his parents on the pilgrimage to Lourdes, and is one of the youngest people in the program. Adam said it was “amazing” to be in Lourdes, and to see the Grotto and the spring.

The Fisks have not yet had a chance to enter the baths, but they eagerly await the opportunity--having first-hand knowledge of how healing the water can be. Morgan has a progressive form of Lupus, and Adam said that they are praying for some sort of spiritual or physical feeling for her as well.

“We’re excited to go to that as a family,” said Adam.

California confession bill amended, but still would require priests to violate seal

Sacramento, Calif., May 20, 2019 / 10:16 am (CNA).- California’s state senate will vote on a bill that would require priests to violate the seal of confession in certain limited circumstances. An amended text of the bill passed the Senate appropriations’ committee May 16.

The bill, as amended, would require priests to report to law enforcement knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained from hearing the sacramental confessions of other priests or co-workers.

The bill originally would have required California priests to violate the seal of confession anytime they gained knowledge or suspicion of child abuse from hearing the confession of any penitent.

In a May 20 statement, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bill remains “an unacceptable violation of our religious freedoms that will do nothing to protect children.”
As amended, he said, “SB 360 still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

According to Angelus News, more than 1,300 people contacted California state senators before the May 16 hearing on the bill, encouraging senators not to require priests violate the confessional seal. Gomez expressed gratitude for those calls.

Clergy in California are already required to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse in most circumstances, though penitential conversations like sacramental confession are exempted, as are other kinds of privileged conversations, including those covered by attorney-client privilege.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

In response to questions from CNA about those investigations, Hill’s office provided two resources to CNA. One was a news article from PBS, reporting that several states have undertaken investigations into clerical sexual abuse, but not explicitly mentioning abuse of the sacrament or seal of confession.

The other was a 2017 report from Australia’s Royal Commission, appointed to investigate child sexual abuse in that country.

The Royal Commission report suggests that there should be no exemption from abuse reporting for religious confession. While the commission's executive summary states that "the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed... to inadequate institutional responses to abuse," it does not provide data detailing the frequency of that contribution.

Hill’s office did not respond to follow-up questions about that report, or about whether the senator considers attorney-client privilege, which is not challenged by the bill, to represent a potential problem of equal proportions.

Gomez, for his part, called Catholics and lawmakers to try other approaches to fighting the child abuse in California.

“Even as amended, SB 360 remains an unacceptable violation of our religious freedoms that will do nothing to protect children. As a Catholic community, let us continue to work with lawmakers for a bill that truly advances our shared goals of fighting the scourge of child sexual abuse in our society,” he wrote.

The bill could be subject to a Senate vote as early as May 21.


As Australian Catholic school abandons tests and grades, critics are concerned

Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- A Catholic school in west Sydney has done away with grades, class levels, and tests to promote a more personalized school experience - but educational experts are skeptical.

St. Luke’s Catholic College in Marsden Park is now offering a curriculum personalized to each student, as well as life coaches and staff to build a broader range of skills.

The high school students study essential curriculum, like math, science, and english, three days a week. During the rest of the week, they can pursue their own interests, like music, graphic design, and sports.

“The current model of schooling was designed in the 1800s for a world that was built for manufacturing,” Principal Greg Miller told ABC News.

Because the world has changed, he said, the students benefit from different lessons with life coaches to focus on a student’s strengths and passions. This system is called inquiry-based learning.

“Studying for a test where content changes dramatically, in today's world, will not help the students to respond to real-world challenges and problems as they arise,” said Miller, according to ABC News.

“Their ability and capability to ask and pose questions to collaboratively work with each other is what's needed.”

According to The Conversation, a review panel of the government released a report last year that reinforced the idea of personalized curriculum and levels based on progress.

However, some experts have expressed concern that inquiry-based learning is an extremely experimental model where students could miss out on key parts of the core curriculum.

Jennifer Buckingham, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, said there was not enough evidence to back the new model.

“It is an experiment that isn't based on the evidence that we have about what is effective instruction and what are effective models of schooling,” she said, according to ABC News.

“There have been a few schools around Australia adopting this style of teaching, this style of schooling, and at the moment the evidence is suggesting it's not been as successful in things like literacy and numeracy. And therefore for the children at that school there is a great risk that this experiment will fail.”

Pope: Christ's love helps us love those 'on the other side'

Vatican City, May 19, 2019 / 05:56 am (CNA).- The boundless love with which Jesus Christ loves each and every person is the same love Catholics are compelled to show their “enemies,” Pope Francis said Sunday.

Speaking during his address before the recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer May 19, the pope asked people to answer a question in their hearts: “Am I capable of loving my enemies?”

“We all have people – I do not know if they are enemies – but that do not agree with us, who are ‘on the other side,’” he said.

“Or does anyone have people who hurt them,” he added, urging people to ask themselves: “Am I capable of loving those people? That man, that woman who hurt me, who offended me? Am I able to forgive him?”

It is the love of Jesus for us that makes the act of loving and forgiving others possible, he said, reflecting on the moment at the Last Supper, when, after washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus gives them a “new” commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

“Jesus loved us first,” Pope Francis said. “He loved us despite our frailties, our limitations and our human weaknesses. It was He who made us become worthy of his love that knows no limits and never ends.”

“The love that is manifested in the cross of Christ and that He calls us to live is the only force that transforms our heart of stone into a heart of flesh,” he stated. “The only force capable of transforming our heart is the love of Jesus, if we also love with this love.”

“And this love makes us capable of loving our enemies and forgiving those who have offended us.”

Francis noted that the commandment to love one another, when Jesus gave it, was not novel, but that what made it “new” was the part which says, “as I have loved you.”

Speaking shortly before his Crucifixion and death, Jesus showed his disciples the origin and example of the kind of love people are called to give.

“The novelty is all in the love of Jesus Christ, the one with which he gave his life for us. It is a question of the love of God, universal, without conditions and without limits, which finds its apex on the cross.”

“In that moment of extreme lowering, in that moment of abandonment to the Father, the Son of God has shown and given to the world the fullness of love,” he said.

May the Virgin Mary, the pope prayed, “help us, with her maternal intercession, to welcome from her Son Jesus the gift of his commandment, and from the Holy Spirit the strength to practice it in everyday life.”