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Bishop Flores on Texas elementary school shooting: ‘Don’t tell me that guns aren’t the problem’

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville delivers the St. Thomas Day Lecture at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paul, Calif., Jan. 28, 2019. Photo courtesy of TAC. / null

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 07:55 am (CNA).

Bishop Daniel Flores said on Wednesday that he was sick of hearing people say that “guns aren’t the problem” after a gunman killed at least 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.

“We sacralize death’s instruments and then are surprised that death uses them,” the bishop of Brownsville, Texas, wrote on Twitter on May 25, the day after the shooting.

“Don’t tell me that guns aren’t the problem, people are. I’m sick of hearing it. The darkness first takes our children who then kill our children, using the guns that are easier to obtain than aspirin,” Flores said.

It was one of many responses from Catholic bishops around the U.S. after an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, about 80 miles west of San Antonio. Among the victims were 10-year-old students in the fourth grade.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston was one of the bishops who took to social media to share his reaction to “the unthinkable loss of so many innocent young lives.”

“Our nation has too often become a place of unspeakable crimes of gun violence that have taken far too many lives, though none more heartbreaking than innocent children. We must take action to stop this senseless carnage,” O’Malley said.

“We pray for the grieving families and the Uvalde community, whose lives are forever changed. In this moment we embrace them with prayers for peace and healing as we commend to the Lord those lost, consoled by the promise of eternal life,” the cardinal wrote on Twitter.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago published a long thread on Twitter, highlighting how parents at the Uvalde elementary school faced “a delay in identifying the victims — such was the extent of the damage done to these children’s bodies by the killer’s weapons.”

Cupich shared statistics on the uptick in gun violence in the U.S. in 2020 and noted that the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting is scheduled to take place in Texas this week.

He wrote: “As I reflect on this latest American massacre, I keep returning to the questions: Who are we as a nation if we do not act to protect our children? What do we love more: our instruments of death or our future?”

“The Second Amendment did not come down from Sinai. The right to bear arms will never be more important than human life. Our children have rights too. And our elected officials have a moral duty to protect them,” Cupich said.

Other U.S. bishops focused their social media responses on praying for the victims and their families.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence wrote: “I join my fervent prayers to those of many others for the victims of the horrible shooting at the school in Uvalde, Texas. May God grant eternal peace to those who died and as much consolation as possible in this dark hour to their families and loved ones.”

Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles said: “May Our Lady of Guadalupe take the victims of this violence in her tender arms, and bring comfort to those who mourn, and healing those who are hurt. And may God grant peace to every heart that is troubled tonight. We ask this in Jesus’ name.”

Pope Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on May 25: “My heart is broken for the massacre at the elementary school in Texas.”

“It is time to say enough to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons. Let us all work hard so that such tragedies can never happen again,” the pope said.

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Pope Francis calls for a Christian economy based on community

Pope Francis meets members of the Global Solidarity Fund in a room adjacent to the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, May 25, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 25, 2022 / 06:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday called for the creation of a “new kind” of economy based on Christian values and community, not communism or the Enlightenment.

Speaking to members of the Global Solidarity Fund at the Vatican on May 25, the pope urged the creation of an economy in support of the people.

“Look also for a new kind of economy,” he said. “The economy must be converted, it must be converted now. We have to convert from the liberal economy to the economy shared by people, the community economy.”

In off-the-cuff comments, Francis said: “We cannot live with a pattern of economics that comes from liberals and the Enlightenment. Nor can we live with a pattern of economics that comes from communism. We need ... a Christian economy, let’s say. Look for the new expressions of the economy of this time.”

In this area, the pope praised the progress of young economists, especially women, naming the Italian-American economist Mariana Mazzucato.

The Global Solidarity Fund is a network helping to connect development groups, philanthropists, and investors with marginalized people around the world, including migrants.

Pope Francis said he liked it when people went to the peripheries to help others, “simply because Jesus went to the peripheries: He went there to show them the Gospel.”

“The peripheries, be they of the body, be they of the soul; because there are people who are somewhat well off but their souls are broken, torn: go with them too; [there are] so many people who need closeness,” he said.

In brief written remarks, which the pope handed out at the meeting, he focused on the concept of “solidarity.”

“It is one of the core values of the Church’s social doctrine,” he said. “But to become concrete it must be accompanied with closeness and compassion toward the other, the marginalized person, toward the face of the poor, the migrant.”

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Cardinal Zen: ‘Martyrdom is normal in our Church’

Cardinal Zen offers Mass on May 24, 2022 after appearing in court in Hong Kong. / Screenshot from livestream of Mass

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 05:44 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen offered Mass after his court appearance in Hong Kong on Tuesday and prayed for Catholics in mainland China who are facing persecution.

In his homily on May 24 after pleading not guilty to charges of failing to register a pro-democracy association, Zen chose not to speak about his legal case, but to highlight how Catholics in some parts of China cannot attend Mass right now.

The 90-year-old retired Catholic bishop of Hong Kong prayed in Chinese for his “brothers and sisters who cannot attend the Mass in any form tonight — for they have no freedom now,” Reuters reported.

The authorities in Shanghai and Beijing have issued the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions in the world this spring, stopping people from leaving their apartment compounds for any reason, including religious worship.

Additionally, Catholics under the age of 18 are not legally allowed to attend any public Mass in mainland China and local authorities have cracked down on China’s underground Catholic community in recent years.

On the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, Zen said that the Holy See “made an unwise decision” to enter into a provisional agreement with the Chinese Communist Party government when it did.

“There is an urge to unify those above the ground and those underground but it seems that time is not ripe yet,” Zen said, according to AFP.

“The Vatican may have acted out of good faith, but they have made an unwise decision.”

The day after Zen’s arrest by Hong Kong authorities on May 11, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he hoped that the cardinal’s arrest would not complicate the Holy See’s dialogue with China.

The Vatican has shied away from public criticism of the crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong since it first entered into the provisional agreement with China in 2018.

Zen offered Mass in a Hong Kong Catholic church with about 300 people in the congregation. The cardinal also live-streamed the Mass on his Facebook page, which received thousands of views in less than 24 hours.

His trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 19.

“Martyrdom is normal in our Church,” Zen said. “We may not have to do that, but we may have to bear some pain and steel ourselves for our loyalty to our faith.”

The Vatican finance trial is shedding light on the Secretariat of State

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on May 20, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 25, 2022 / 05:20 am (CNA).

With 10 defendants, the Vatican finance trial might be better handled as three different trials. Yet there is a common thread: the role of the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most powerful dicastery.

The trial’s three latest hearings took place last week. On May 18-19, Cardinal Angelo Becciu answered questions from the Vatican’s promoter of justice (prosecutor), civil parties, and other lawyers.

During the lengthy interrogation, in which moments of tension were not lacking, Becciu underlined at one point that he “strongly doubts that the [Vatican’s] auditor general could have known the accounts of the [Secretariat of State’s] office.”

It is worth remembering that the trial’s origins lie in a report by the auditor general, who is responsible for financial audits of Vatican entities.

Becciu argued that the auditor could not have known the situation in detail because “the Secretariat of State was completely autonomous from a financial point of view.”

“To violate its autonomy, a specific mandate from the pope was needed,” Becciu said, “but that never happened. Indeed, in 2016, there was a rescript delivered to us by Cardinal Parolin which reaffirmed this autonomy.”

The year 2016 was a critical one. There were growing tensions between the Secretariat of State and the Secretariat for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. A major flashpoint was the economy secretariat’s decision to enter into an auditing contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers, which allowed the company also to audit the Secretariat of State’s accounts.

The Secretariat of State is a governing body that enjoyed special financial autonomy and, above all, confidentiality in its financial statements. Therefore, tensions were very high until the Holy See renegotiated the terms of the auditing contract.

Later in 2016, Pope Francis issued the motu proprioI beni temporali” (“The temporal goods”). It sought to better separate supervisory and administrative functions within the Vatican, removing some of the Secretariat for the Economy’s responsibilities and returning them to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA).

“The Secretariat of State was a dicastery, but a sui generis [unique] dicastery,” Becciu explained. “The norms originated from it; therefore, it could not undergo the norms.”

Pope Francis effectively put an end to this peculiarity of the Secretariat of State in 2020, when he decided to transfer responsibility for the administration of funds and investments from the Secretariat of State to APSA. This move arguably weakened the governing body.

But the governing body also had a specific role in helping the Roman Curia. During previous interrogations, Becciu emphasized that the annual Peter’s Pence collection brought in around 50 million euros (about $54 million). But the Holy See’s deficit was higher. It was therefore necessary, he suggested, to make investments to give the Holy See greater liquidity.

The investments were overseen by the Secretariat of State’s administrative office, which had established a complex financial architecture over the years, using various current accounts, including some located abroad, and always seeking out investments of a particular type.

This was also the case for the investment in a luxury London property, at the center of the trial, which Becciu said was overseen by the administrative office. “If there were critical issues and [his deputy Monsignor Alberto] Perlasca did not tell me, he was guilty of a grave fault,” Becciu said.

Peter’s Pence was not the only source of funds used to fill holes in the Vatican budget. The Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly known as the “Vatican bank,” makes an annual donation to the Holy See. For several years, the IOR’s check had been for 50 million euros, mainly intended to “cover the expenses of Vatican Radio and the nunciatures.”

But in 2012, when the IOR’s assets were 86.6 million euros (around $93 million), the contributions began to decline in line with a drop in profits, finally settling at around 30 million euros ($32 million).

The Secretariat of State, as the central body of the Holy See, was called on not only to manage itself economically and make investments, but also to help the Holy See survive financially. Yet, as later events showed, it was not equipped for this demanding task.

Tirabassi, an official who worked for more than 30 years in the Secretariat of State, shed further light on the dicastery’s workings when he was interrogated on May 20.

He also emphasized that the Secretariat of State had a budget separate from those of other dicasteries. But only in recent times was that budget discussed with the Secretariat for the Economy. The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, which operated from 1967 to 2016, mainly had a budgetary control function.

Tirabassi explained that when he arrived at the Secretariat of State, there was an Obolo Fund — Peter’s Pence is known in Italian as the “Obolo di San Pietro” — with an office in the dicastery dedicated to collecting donations.

The donations were managed by opening dedicated accounts in various banks and correspondent institutions (such as the IOR, APSA, Credito Artigiano, and Poste Italiana.) Within the IOR alone, “there were about 70 to 80 accounts outstanding.”

In the mid-1990s, this arrangement gave way to a more streamlined management of Vatican finances.

In light of the increasingly complicated requirements for financial transparency, managing all the accounts became too demanding. Thus, it was decided to make the resources converge in a single fund called the “Obolo Fund.” The Vatican’s promoter of justice described it as a “current account plan.”

“The Holy See was in difficulty,” recalled Tirabassi. “Moreover, the debt cost the Secretariat of State a lot. New accounting management was then suggested, dematerializing the existing accounts and enhancing the liquidity obtained from active assets.”

A new investment policy arose, increasingly focused on real estate assets, particularly acquiring buildings to house nunciatures, which are one of the highest costs.

The term “Obolo,” therefore, does not refer exclusively to Peter’s Pence, which the Secretariat of State has not managed for some time. In this instance, it refers to the fund managed by the Secretariat of State, which retained the name “Obolo” though it concerns the dicastery’s resources.

Becciu has repeatedly asserted that the Secretariat of State only used “its assets” for investments in the London property, rejecting suggestions that the annual sums raised by the Peter’s Pence collection were used.

Yet, even if the Peter’s Pence collections had been used, it would not have been illegal. The Obolo di San Pietro, an ancient institution, has been seen as a means of supporting the Holy See since at least the 19th century. Its primary purpose, therefore, is to support the institution, while also helping the poor.

Could it be possible that, in the incident that triggered the finance trial, the auditor general misunderstood the Vatican’s structures and their raison d’être? If that were the case, the whole process would have to be rethought.

Misunderstandings have been constant in these years of economic reform. A purely financial view tends to overlook the distinctive history and structures of the Holy See, which contain a series of checks and balances settled over time.

The Holy See has always tried to adhere to global standards without betraying its specificities. The risk now is that the Holy See is simply borrowing international norms without creating its own jurisprudence. If that is the case, then whatever the outcome of the trial, the Holy See will be institutionally weakened.

Pope Francis: ‘Ours is the age of fake news, collective superstitions, and pseudo-scientific truths’

Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 25, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 25, 2022 / 04:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that Catholics today are living in an “age of fake news, collective superstitions, and pseudo-scientific truths.”

Reflecting on the Book of Ecclesiastes at his general audience on May 25, the pope suggested that the 21st century was marked not only by scientific knowledge but also what he called a “cultured witchcraft.”

“It is no coincidence that ours is the age of fake news, collective superstitions, and pseudo-scientific truths,” he said.

Speaking off the cuff, he went on: “It’s curious: in this culture of knowledge, of knowing everything, even of the precision of knowledge, a lot of witchcraft has spread, but cultured witchcraft.”

“It is witchcraft with a certain culture but that leads you to a life of superstition: on the one hand, to go forward with intelligence in knowing things down to the roots; on the other hand, the soul that needs something else and takes the path of superstitions, and ends up in witchcraft.”

The pope used the Italian word “stregoneria,” which can be translated as “witchcraft,” “sorcery,” or “black magic.”

Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 25, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 25, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The pope’s live-streamed catechesis was the 11th in a cycle on old age that he began in February. He entered St. Peter’s Square in a white jeep, stopping to invite children in brightly colored clothes to join him for part of his journey among the pilgrims.

The jeep drove up to a raised platform in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the 85-year-old was helped to exit the vehicle and walk up to the white chair where he gave his address. The pope, who has made public appearances in a wheelchair since May 5 due to knee pain, used a cane.

In his reflection, Pope Francis focused on the famous refrain in Ecclesiastes — also known as the Book of Qoheleth — that “everything is vanity.”

“It is surprising to find in Holy Scripture these expressions that question the meaning of existence,” he said. “In reality, Qoheleth’s continuous vacillation between sense and non-sense is the ironic representation of an awareness of life that is detached from the passion for justice, of which God’s judgment is the guarantor.”

“And the book’s conclusion points the way out of the trial: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man’ (12:13). This is the advice to resolve this problem.”

Pope Francis said that old age brought the challenge of “disenchantment,” which had to be resisted because of its “demoralizing effects.”

“If the elderly, who have seen it all by that time, keep intact their passion for justice, then there is hope for love, and also for faith,” he said.

“And for the contemporary world, the passage through this crisis, a healthy crisis, has become crucial. Why? Because a culture that presumes to measure everything and manipulate everything also ends up producing a collective demoralization of meaning, a demoralization of love, a demoralization of goodness.”

The pope said that collective demoralization sapped humanity’s will to act.

“In this form — cloaked in the trappings of science, but also very insensitive and very amoral — the modern quest for truth has been tempted to take leave of its passion for justice altogether. It no longer believes in its destiny, its promise, its redemption,” he commented.

“For our modern culture, which would like, in practice, to consign everything to the exact knowledge of things, the appearance of this new cynical reason — that combines knowledge and irresponsibility — is a harsh repercussion.”

“Indeed, the knowledge that exempts us from morality seems at first to be a source of freedom, of energy, but soon turns into a paralysis of the soul.”

Pope Francis said that the Book of Ecclesiastes captured this dynamic, in which “an omnipotence of knowledge” leads to “an impotence of the will.”

He noted that the early Church described this condition as “acedia,” which he said was not simply laziness or depression, but “the surrender to knowledge of the world devoid of any passion for justice and consequent action.”

He said: “The emptiness of meaning and lack of strength opened up by this knowledge, which rejects any ethical responsibility and any affection for the real good, is not harmless.”

“It not only takes away the strength for the desire for the good: by counterreaction, it opens the door to the aggressiveness of the forces of evil.”

“These are the forces of reason gone mad, made cynical by an excess of ideology.”

The pope noted that “weariness” was a hallmark of contemporary society.

“We were supposed to have produced widespread well-being and we tolerate a market that is scientifically selective with regard to health,” he said.

“We were supposed to have put an insuperable threshold for peace, and we see more and more ruthless wars against defenseless people.”

“Science advances, of course, and that is good. But the wisdom of life is something else entirely, and it seems to be stalled.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis urged the elderly to help combat demoralization.

“They will be the ones to sow the hunger and thirst for justice in the young,” he said.

“Take courage, all of us older people! Take courage and go forward! We have a very great mission in the world.”

“But, please, we must not seek refuge in this somewhat non-concrete, unreal, rootless idealism — let us speak clearly — in the witchcraft of life.”

A summary of the pope’s catechesis was then read out in seven languages.

Addressing English-speaking Catholics, he said: “I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from Nigeria, Lebanon, and the United States of America.”

“In the joy of the Risen Christ, I invoke upon you and your families the loving mercy of God our Father. May the Lord bless you!”

In his closing remarks, Pope Francis lamented a school shooting in Texas.

A gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, southwest Texas, on May 24, killing at least 19 children and two adults.

The pope said: “My heart is broken for the massacre at the elementary school in Texas. I am praying for the children and the adults killed and their families.”

“It is time to say enough to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons. Let us all work hard so that such tragedies can never happen again.”

His words were greeted with applause by pilgrims.