CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 01:00 pm ().- Twins who were conjoined at the head are likely to return home within months from the Vatican’s pediatric hospital where their bodies were successfully separated by doctors, and they have a high chance of living normal lives, the hospital’s chief neurosurgeon told CNA.
The Bambino Gesù Hospital announced the successful separation surgery July 7, saying it was the first operation of its kind in Italy and probably the world.
Separate due gemelle siamesi unite per la testa. È il primo intervento di questo tipo in Italia e, probabilmente, l'unico al mondo per una delle più rare e complesse forme di fusione a livello cranico e cerebrale. Oggi stanno bene e possono crescere come le bimbe della loro età pic.twitter.com/1S3YwHkuq8
— Bambino Gesù (@bambinogesu) July 7, 2020
The final stage of surgery, which took place on June 5, lasted 18 hours and involved more than 30 medical staff. The two-year-old sisters are expected to make a full recovery.
"We have been able to accomplish an extraordinary result despite such a complex malformation, being able to separate with an optimal clinical result. From a neurological standpoint, the two little girls are doing very well and have excellent prognosis for normal lives in the future," Dr. Carlo Efisio Marras, director of neurosurgery of the Bambino Gesù hospital told CNA July 8.
“This accomplishment is the fruit of more than a yearlong work of investigation and preparation involving several specialties and professions within the hospital. There were many difficult phases since several surgical procedures were needed, each one with its own challenges,” Marras told CNA
“But the most difficult one involved the venous system, that is, the network of vases that brings blood from the heart to the brain to bring oxygen to it. If we would have not succeeded in deal with this system shared by both babies, the result would had been catastrophic."
"But the two little twins are well: we believe they can be released in a few months. They will have to go through a rehabilitation phase to learn the motions they were not able to perform previously. I wholeheartedly wish them a happy future. They are now in the condition to return to a normal life.”
“I have to thank my hospital, which is known for bringing together research, development and solidarity, for this extraordinary experience,” Marras added.
The hospital said the twins, Ervina and Prefina, were born on June 29, 2018 in a village about 60 miles outside Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. They were joined together with “one of the rarest and most complex forms of cranial and cerebral fusion,” known as total posterior craniopagus.
Mariella Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù, met the twins in July 2018, during a visit to Bangui, where the sisters had been transferred after their birth. Enoc was helping to oversee the expansion of pediatric services in the country, which is one of the world’s poorest, in response to an appeal from Pope Francis. She decided to bring the girls to Rome for surgery.
“When you encounter lives that can be saved, it must be done. We cannot and must not look away,” she said at a press conference Tuesday.
The twins arrived in Italy with their mother, Ermine, on September 10, 2018. Initial tests confirmed the sisters were healthy, but had different blood pressures, indicating that one of the girls’ hearts had to work harder to maintain the healthy functioning of their organs, including their brains.
The hospital said the twins were joined via the back of the head, including the nape, sharing both skin and cranial bones. But the greatest challenge for doctors was that they were joined at a deeper level, sharing membranes inside the skull as well as the venous system, through which blood used by the brain is transported back to the heart.
The hospital emphasized that the sisters had distinct personalities, describing Prefina as “playful and lively,” and Ervina as “more serious and observant.”
A multidisciplinary team, including neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, and plastic surgeons, prepared for more than a year for the operation to separate the twins. The hospital’s ethics committee contributed to a plan ensuring that the girls would have the same quality of life.
The separation took place in three stages. In the first, in May 2019, neurosurgeons started to separate and rebuild the membranes and venous systems.
The second, a month later, focused on the confluence of sinuses in the brain. The hospital said it was a critical phase of the treatment as “the operating space is a few millimeters.”
The two operations prepared the girls for the third and final phase of complete separation on June 5.
“It was an exciting moment, a fantastic, unrepeatable experience. It was a very ambitious goal and we did everything we could to achieve it, with passion, optimism and joy. By sharing each step, studying every single detail together,” Marras said.
Bambino Gesù, colloquially known as the “Pope’s hospital,” is among the most important pediatric hospitals in the world. Founded in 1869 by the Duchess Arabella Salviati, the hospital was donated to Pius XI in 1924, with the aim of giving it a more stable future. While the hospital is located in Rome, rather than Vatican City, it is situated in an extraterritorial area administered by the Holy See.
The hospital said Tuesday: “A month after the final separation, the twins are doing well. … On June 29 they celebrated their second birthdays, looking into each other’s eyes, moving their little hands to the rhythm of music, in the arms of their mother.”
“They have undergone very difficult operations; the wounds will take some time to heal; the risk of infection is still present. The neurorehabilitation program continues and for a few months they will have to wear a protective helmet.”
“But post-operative checks indicate that the brain is intact. The recreated system works, the blood flow has adapted to the new path.”
Speaking at the press conference, the girl’s mother, Ermine, said: “If we had stayed in Africa I don’t know what fate they would have had. Now that they are separate and well, I would like them to be baptized by Pope Francis who has always taken care of the children of Bangui. My little ones can now grow up, study and become doctors to save other children.”
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2020 / 06:05 am ().- Pope Francis offered Mass Wednesday asking the Virgin Mary to help Christians recognize the face of Christ in each migrant and refugee.
“As we undertake to seek the face of the Lord, we may recognize Him in the face of the poor, the sick, the abandoned, and the foreigners whom God places on our way. And this encounter becomes for us a time of grace and salvation, as it bestows on us the same mission entrusted to the Apostles,” Pope Francis said in the Casa Santa Marta chapel July 8.
“May the Virgin Mary, Solacium migrantium, ‘Solace or Comfort of Migrants,’help us discover the face of Her Son in all our brothers and sisters who are forced to flee from their homeland because of the many injustices that still afflict our world today,” the pope said in his homily.
Invoking the new Marian title added to the Litany of Loreto in June, Pope Francis prayed for the migrants who are in detention camps in Libya and elsewhere who are often subject to abuseand violence.
He recommended words of Christ that can be used as a part of one’s daily examination of conscience: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The pope said: “The encounter with the other is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us. It is He who knocks on our door, hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, seeking an encounter with us and requesting our assistance.”
Pope Francis offered Mass at his residence to mark the seventh anniversary of his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only the staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Department for Promoting Integral Human Development were in attendance.
“Today’s responsorial Psalm urges us always to seek the Lord’s face: ‘Rely on the mighty Lord, constantly seek His face,’” he said. “This quest is a fundamental attitude in the life of all the faithful, who have come to realize that the ultimate goal of their existence is the encounter with God.”
During his homily, the pope told the story of his encounter with an Ethiopian migrant during his visit to Lampedusa in 2013, recalling that he later found out that his translator at the time had “distilled” the migrant’s story because of the intensity of the suffering recounted.
“This happens today with Libya,” he said. “They give us a ‘distilled’ version. The war is bad, we know it, but you cannot imagine the hell they live through there in those detention camps. And these people only came with hope to cross the sea.”
Pope Francis has frequently spoken out about the plight of migrants detained in Libya this year. On June 14 the pope called on the international community to “take their plight to heart” and to identify pathways and means to provide them with the protection that they need for a dignified condition, adding that the health situation with the coronavirus pandemic has aggravated the migrants’ already precarious conditions.
Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, is located 160 nautical miles from the Libyan capital of Tripoli. It is a primary destination for migrants from Africa seeking entry to Europe.
Pope Francis visited the Mediterranean island on July 8, 2013. The trip, his first pastoral visit outside Rome, signaled that concern for migrants would be at the center of his pontificate.
The pope quoted part of his Lampedusa homily in the livestreamed Mass. He said: “The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.”
“In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.”
The pope then responded with a reflection on how theApostles’ lives were transformed by their encounter with Christ.
“The personal encounter with the Lord, a time of grace and salvation, immediately entails a mission: ‘As you go, Jesus tells them, make this proclamation: The kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” he said. “Encounter and mission cannot be separated.”
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2020 / 05:35 am ().- Pope Francis appointed Fr. Stephen D. Parkes as the next bishop of Savannah, Georgia, Wednesday.
The Holy See press office announced July 8 that Parkes, a priest of the Diocese of Orlando, would succeed Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, who was appointed archbishop of Atlanta in March.
Parkes, 55, currently serves as pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Longwood, Florida. His older brother, Gregory Parkes, is bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida.
A day of great joy as my brother, Fr. Stephen Parkes, is appointed Bishop of Savannah by Pope Francis! Blessed to be brothers. Blessed to be brother Bishops! #courageouslyliving @DioStPete pic.twitter.com/yYxTDSVGVi
— Bishop Parkes (@BishopParkes) July 8, 2020
The bishop-elect was born on June 2, 1965, in Mineola, New York. He attended Massapequa High School in New York and gained a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He worked in business and banking before pursuing a vocation to the priesthood.
In a 2015 Legatus Magazine interview, he said: “After college I started working for a bank. I always felt that I was seeking something more. I knew that I wasn’t fulfilled working for the bank, and I felt God was calling me to a life of service to the Church.”
“It wasn’t a quick, easy decision. I attended a weekend discernment retreat, but it took me two years before I picked up an application for seminary.”
He studied philosophy and theology at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Orlando on May 23, 1998.
His first appointment was as parochial vicar to Annunciation Catholic Church in Longwood. In 2005, he was named parochial administrator at Most Precious Blood Church in Oviedo, Florida.
From 2004 to 2011, he served as spiritual director for Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Parkes was appointed pastor at Annunciation Catholic Church in 2011. A speaker of both English and Spanish, he has served as spiritual director of the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida since 2009, and as Dean of the North Central Deanery from 2010.
The Diocese of Savannah covers 37,038 square miles in the state of Georgia, with a total population of 2,934,000 of which 75,603 are Catholic, according to a July 8 press release from the USCCB.
The diocese announced July 8 that his episcopal ordination and installation will take place at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, the feast of St Padre Pio.
In a message to members of the diocese Wednesday, Diocesan Administrator Fr. Daniel F. Firmin wrote: “We are deeply grateful to our Holy Father for this gift to our diocese.”
“How fortunate we are to welcome a seasoned and gifted pastor! In his 22 years of priestly ministry, he has served in parishes, directed souls, and was the campus minister at the University of Central Florida for nearly a decade. His pastoral zeal and concern are immediately evident when meeting him.”
Vatican City, Jul 7, 2020 / 07:40 am ().- A Vatican cardinal has said that the world is facing a “tsunami” of humanitarian crises caused by the coronavirus emergency, conflict, and decreased security around the globe.
Echoing Pope Francis, Cardinal Peter Turkson called July 7 for a global ceasefire during the pandemic so that assistance can safely be provided to those in need, especially in countries with ongoing conflict such as Yemen and Venezuela.
Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, also noted a critical need for disarmament, proposing that money used to finance arms be redirected toward supporting healthcare systems instead.
The global health emergency, economic recession, and ongoing climate crisis mean “diminishing access to water, diminishing access to food, increasing social unrest, violence, breakdown of law and order, and unfortunately, the normalization of insecurity, distrust, and uncertainty,” the cardinal said.
“The confluence of all of these crises has engendered a veritable tsunami of humanitarian crises,” he continued, “which has spread and spared no human life [or] institution from its disruptive consequences especially its impact on harmony and peace.”
Turkson spoke during a press conference about the Vatican’s COVID-19 Commission, which he leads. In particular, the cardinal addressed the focus of the commission’s second working group, which is security.
On the subject of a global ceasefire, he said that he supported appeals made by Pope Francis and by the UN Secretary General António Guterres. There are countries already suffering from conflict now with additional grave needs due to the coronavirus crisis, he said, but “intervention itself is rendered difficult by the violence.”
Turkson said that strategies the commission is using to appeal for a ceasefire include the advocacy of local peace and justice commissions, along with calls for reconciliation and global solidarity, and creating a “redefinition of peace,” following the exampleofSt. Pope John XXIII in the 1963 encyclical Pacem in terris, framing peace in terms such as “food security,” “solidarity,” and an “inclusive public health system.”
Other steps he said the commission was taking include working with on-the-ground groups such as Caritas Internationalis and Sant’Egidio to help find peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
Sister Alessandra Smerilli, a member of the COVID-19 commission and an economics professor, noted in her presentation Pope Francis’ request “to prepare the future and not only be prepared for the future.”
The global economic recession is expected to displace billions of jobs, she said, noting that “the pandemic knows no borders. Then, we need solutions without borders.”
She said that the economic taskforce of the commission hadbeen meeting weekly to think about and discuss different economic issues connected to the pandemic.
The religious sister added that she was not a fan of the word “recovery” in reference to the economy, but preferred to say “regenerate the economy,” because of its focus on doing something new.
Alessio Pecorario, another commission member, called the security taskforce, which he coordinates, the “network of the network.”
Pecorario said that members were working to bring together different experts and Catholic non-violence groups to bring together concrete proposals on the issue of peace and security.
Vatican City, Jul 6, 2020 / 06:45 am ().- Pope Francis will celebrate Mass Wednesday marking the seventh anniversary of his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The Mass will take place at 11 a.m. local time July 8 in the chapel of the pope’s residence, the Casa Santa Marta, and will be livestreamed.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance will be restricted to staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Department for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Pope Francis visited the Mediterranean island on July 8, 2013, shortly after his election. The trip, his first pastoral visit outside Rome, signaled that concern for migrants would be at the center of his pontificate.
Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, is located approximately 70 miles away from Tunisia. It is a primary destination for migrants from Africa seeking entry to Europe.
Reports say that during the coronavirus outbreakmigrant boats have continued to land on the island, which has received tens of thousands of migrants in recent years.
The pope chose to visit the island after reading harrowing reports of migrants dying while attempting the crossing from North Africa to Italy.
Upon arrival, he threw a wreath into the sea in memory of those who had drowned.
Celebrating Mass close to a “boat cemetery” containing the remains of shipwrecked migrant boats, he said: “When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago, and realized that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart.”
“So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated!”
On October 3, 2013, more than 360 migrants died when the vessel carrying them from Libya sank off Lampedusa.
The pope marked the sixth anniversary of his visit last year with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, he called for an end to rhetoric that dehumanized migrants.
“They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues!” he said. “‘This is not just about migrants,’ in the twofold sense that migrants are first of all human persons, and that they are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society.”
Vatican City, Jul 5, 2020 / 06:20 am ().- Pope Francis applauded the United Nations Security Council Sunday for its recent resolution calling for an immediate global ceasefire amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The call for a global and immediate ceasefire, which would allow the peace and security necessary to provide the urgently needed humanitarian assistance, is commendable,” Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer July 5.
“I hope that this decision will be implemented effectively and promptly for the good of many people who are suffering. May this Security Council resolution become a courageous first step towards a peaceful future,” he said.
The ceasefire resolution applies to conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, South Sudan, and Congo, according to the Associated Press. It demands “a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days” to ensure that medical and humanitarian aid will reach those in need as the coronavirus continues to spread.
The 15 countries that make up the Security Council passed the resolution July 1 after months of disagreement between China and the United States over whether the text would include references to either the World Health Organization or “transparency.”
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres first called for a global ceasefire on March 23 with Pope Francis echoing this appeal the following week.
The UN Secretary General said that a global ceasefire would “help create corridors for life-saving aid” and “bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” He pointed out that refugee camps and people with existing health conditions are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses.”
On March 29, Pope Francis said: “Conflicts are not resolved through war.” He added that conflicts must be overcome through “dialogue and a constructive search for peace.”
The pope said in his Angelus address July 5 that Jesus offers “the weary and oppressed” much more than “psychological solace or a lavish handout.”
“The joy that Jesus gives us. It is unique. It is the joy that he himself has,” he said.
“The world exalts those who are rich and powerful, no matter by what means, and at times tramples upon the human being and his or her dignity. And we see this every day, the poor who are trampled underfoot,” Pope Francis said. “And it is a message for the Church, called to live works of mercy and to evangelise the poor, to be meek and humble. This is how the Lord wants His Church, that is, us, to be.”
Pope Francis said that Jesus placed himself among “those who labor and are burdened” because he was “meek and humble of heart.”
“May Mary, the humblest and highest of creatures, implore from God wisdom of the heart for us … that we may discern its signs in our lives and be sharers in those mysteries which, hidden from the proud, are revealed to the humble,” the pope said.
Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 08:35 am ().- Pope Francis has made a donation to the World Food Programme as the organization works to feed 270 million people this year amid rising hunger caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Coronavirus infection levels have been rising in Latin America and Africa at a moment when food stocks in some parts of the world are already low, leaving more people vulnerable to food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme website.
The Vatican announced July 3 that Pope Francis would donate 25,000 euros ($28,000) as “an expression of his closeness to those affected by the pandemic and to those who are engaged in essential services for the poor and weakest and most vulnerable people in our society.”
With this “symbolic” gesture, the pope desires to express “paternal encouragement towards the organization's humanitarian work and toward other countries willing to adhere to forms of support for integral development and public health in this time of crisis, and to combat social instability, food insecurity, rising unemployment, and the collapse of the economic systems of the most vulnerable nations.”
The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has issued a call for $4.9 billion in funding to bring food assistance where governments are asking for more support.
“The impact of COVID-19 on people is demanding us to step up and scale up our efforts to ensure more food-insecure people receive assistance,” Margot van der Velden, director of emergencies for WFP, said July 2.
Van der Velden said that she was particularly worried about Latin America, which has seen a threefold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance as the outbreak spreads across the region.
South Africa, which has documented more than 159,000 COVID-19 cases, has also experienced a 90% rise in the number of food-insecure people, according to WFP.
“The front line in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world,” WFP head David Beasley said June 29.
“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos,” he said.
Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 05:30 am ().- The president of the European bishops’ commission has promised persecuted Christians in Nigeria that he will advocate for increased support from the European Union.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who leads the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), wrote a letter to the Nigerian bishops stating that the commission will advocate for EU assistance and cooperation with the Nigerian authorities to combat violence and persecution.
The cardinal expressed solidarity with Nigerian Christian communities, who, he wrote, are “living a situation of continuous attacks by terrorists, insurgents and militias, that in some cases reaches levels of genuine criminal persecution,” according to a European commission statement July 2.
An estimated 6,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed since 2015, mostly by Boko Haram and militant Fulani herders, the European commission reported.
More than 600 Christians have been killed so far in 2020, according to a International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) report on May 15. Christians have been beheaded and set on fire, farms set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.
A Boko Haram attack on a village in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno left at least 81 people dead June 9. The attack was the latest inan ongoing Islamist group against the country’s Christian population. Earlier in June a Christian pastor and his pregnant wife were killed on their farm in the northeastern region of the country.
In January, militants kidnapped four Catholic seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, killingone of them, Michael Nnadi. On March 1, Nigerian priest Fr. David Echioda was kidnapped by gunmen after offering Sunday Mass, but was released days afterward.
The European bishops’ conferences commission has been vocal in calling on EU member states to “increase their efforts in order to stop the violence in Nigeria, bring criminals to justice, support the victims and promote dialogue and peace,” according to the COMECE statement.
In May 2020, the bishops “urged the international community to use diplomatic, political and financial instruments to assist Nigerian authorities to stop the violence, bringing the criminals to justice, supporting the victims and fully including Christians (47% of the national population) in all state structures and levels of administrations -- including the police and armed forces.”
Leaders within the United States have also called for further support of Nigeria’s Christians. On June 25, former Rep. Frank Wolf said that the U.S. should send a special envoy to Nigeria to coordinate the protection of the Christian population and prevent further destabilization of the area.
In February, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that Nigeria was one of the countries of highest concern when it came to violations of religious freedom.
Brownback said he was concerned that the situation in Nigeria wouldspread to nearby countries if nothing was done to crack down on religious persecution.
“There's a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we're afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that's really popped up on my radar screens -- in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.”
Cardinal Hollerich said that he was particularly concerned for the people who are forced from their homes by the increased violence in Nigeria. He said it was important that Europe welcomes and protects them.
“My thoughts and my heart are with the many young people who are forced to leave the country because of violence and lack of socio-economic prospects,” Hollerich said.
Vatican City, Jul 3, 2020 / 04:30 am ().- The Vatican’s financial watchdog authority reported Friday that it received 64 suspicious activity reports in 2019, 15 of which it forwarded to the Promoter of Justice for possible prosecution.
In its annual report, released July 3, the Financial Intelligence Authority (Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria, or AIF) hailed “the rising trend in the ratio between reports to the Promoter of Justice” and cases of suspicious financial activity.
The report comes ahead of a scheduled inspection by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, which has put pressure on the Vatican to prosecute breaches of financial regulations.
Unlike in previous years, the report was not presented at a Vatican press conference.
The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee Vatican financial transactions. It is charged with ensuring that internal banking policies comply with international financial standards.
The number of suspicious activity reports (SARs) is seen as an important indicator of the AIF’s performance. In 2017, there were 150, while in 2018 there were 56.
The AIF forwarded 11 reports to the Promoter of Justice in 2018, four fewer than in 2019.
In the introduction to the new report, AIF director Giuseppe Schlitzer wrote: “Overall, the tendency towards higher quality SARs is strengthening, thanks to the guidelines on more specific anomaly indicators which was provided and a more conscious implementation of a risk-based approach.”
In the introduction Schlitzer said that in 2019 the AIF had “intensified its action in every branch of activity, while consolidating forms of collaboration with other states and jurisdictions.”
“At the system-wide level, also thanks to the Vatican authorities’ strong commitment to fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism, there was further progress towards a better functioning and international recognition of the jurisdiction,” he wrote.
He noted that the AIF had carried out two onsite inspections at the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly known as “the Vatican Bank.”
The first, in June, “aimed at assessing the technical compliance with the legal and regulatory framework for payment services.” The second, in August, “consisted in a general compliance assessment in the fields of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.”
The annual report said that the AIF exchanged 66 requests for information with foreign financial intelligence units concerning 373 subjects.
It also said: “Domestic cooperation with the competent authorities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State is intense and led to 24 requests for information and concerned 423 subjects.”
“A marked increase in exchanges with the authorities of the Holy See and Vatican City State was observed as compared with the previous year, which confirms the trend of greater domestic cooperation and exchange of information, as well as greater involvement of Holy See and Vatican City State authorities in countering money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.”
Moneyval was due to carry out a scheduled inspection of the Vatican in spring 2020. But the inspection was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a July 3 statement on the AIF's annual report, the watchdog’s president Carmelo Barbagallo said that the Moneyval evaluation team would begin its inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City State Sept.29.
“The inspection, which will last about two weeks, was actually scheduled to begin in April but was postponed because of the pandemic. AIF has been tasked with heading the Vatican’s delegation,” he said.
He continued: “Several years have gone by since Moneyval’s first inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City State, which took place in 2012. During this time span, Moneyval has remotely monitored the many advances made by the jurisdiction in the fight to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism. As such, the upcoming inspection is especially important. Its outcome may determine how the jurisdiction is perceived by the financial community.”
“The Moneyval inspection will be broad-based. It will cover both the legislative framework and its effective implementation. It is crucial to arrive well prepared, to highlight the progress achieved in recent years in the system of controls, and to underscore what has been done in recent months to assure further progress.”
Last year was a turbulent period for the financial watchdog.
On Oct. 1, Vatican gendarmes raided the AIF’s offices in connection with a controversial London property deal. This led to the suspension of five employees and officials, including Tommaso Di Ruzza, the AIF’s director. They were also blocked from entering the Vatican.
The Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, suspended the AIF Nov. 13.
René Brüelhart, a Swiss lawyer who had served as president of the AIF since 2012, resigned Nov. 18.
Marc Odendall, a Swiss-German banker and member of the AIF board, resigned the same day, citing the Egmont Group’s decision and Brüelhart’s departure.
“We cannot access information and we cannot share information. There is no point in staying on the board of an empty shell,” he told the Associated Press.
During an in-flight press conference Nov. 26, Pope Francis confirmed that Di Ruzza remained suspended because of suspected “bad administration.”
“It was AIF that did not control, it seems, the crimes of others. And therefore [it failed] in its duty of controls. I hope that they prove it is not so. Because there is, still, the presumption of innocence,” Pope Francis said.
Barbagallo, an auditor and Italian banking consultant, was named Brüelhart’s successor Nov. 27.
Barbagallo announced in January that the Egmont Group had lifted its suspension of the AIF.
Addressing the incident in his statement on the AIF's annual report, Barbagallo said: “The suspension was lifted after only two months, once adequate reassurance was provided to Egmont. Crucial to this aim was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by AIF and the Promoter of Justice.”
“With this memorandum, we were able to assure our foreign counterparts that, should the need arise to seize confidential documents and information, the seizure would be carried out in accordance with the confidentiality standards established by the Egmont Group concerning financial intelligence.”
The Vatican announced the appointment of Schlitzer as director of the AIF April 15. He succeeded Di Ruzza, who completed his five-year term of office January 20, according to the Vatican.
In his July 3 statement Barbagallo said that the AIF hoped to issue “a new statute and the first internal regulation.”
“First and foremost, pursuant to the new statute, the name of the Authority would change to the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (SFIA), a name that highlights the Authority’s dual nature as intelligence unit and supervisory (and regulatory) authority,” he wrote.
CNA Staff, Jul 2, 2020 / 05:05 pm ().- The Schoenstatt Movement has rejected a researcher’s claims that its founder engaged in sexual abuse, saying that any past allegations against him would have already been considered in the Vatican’s review of his proposed beatification.
“We firmly reject the accusation that Joseph Kentenich was guilty of sexual abuse of members of the Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary,” Juan Pablo Catoggio, International President of the Schoenstatt Work, said in a July 2 statement.
“His behavior toward other persons – especially women – was always marked by a pronounced reverence and esteem, as well as by the principle of physical integrity, which he also impressed upon his communities.”
“That there were accusations from the ranks of the Sisters of Mary is not new to us. Fr. Kentenich himself gave a detailed account of his actions to his superior after an accusation became known. In this context, however, there was no mention of sexual abuse, neither literally nor in content,” Catoggio said, citing the return of Kentenich to a leadership role in Schoenstatt as evidence the Vatican rejected the charges against him.
Catoggio repeated his previous statement that before beatification can begin, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must issue a “nihil obstat” based on its files. Any “well-founded suspicion of moral misconduct” would have prevented this, but the CDF granted the “nihil obstat.”
He objected that theologian and Church historian Alexandra von Teuffenbach’s account is “viewed entirely from the perspective of the visitors” who investigated the community.
von Teuffenbach, former professor of theology and Church history at the Pontifical Lateran University and the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, reviewed Vatican-commissioned assessments of the Schoenstatt movement, which reportedly portray Kentenich as manipulative and coercive.
Her research was the subject of a story in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagepost, and she discussed her work in a letter to Vatican expert Sandro Magister, who published the letter on July 2 at his website Settimo Cielo.
Von Teuffenbach told Magister that what caught her attention in her research was “the serious abuse of power by the founder at the expense of the nuns, clearly verified and highlighted by the Roman visitor, just as the local one had done before him.”
Von Teuffenbach is the editor of the Second Vatican Council diaries of the Jesuit theologian Sebastiaan Tromp, who was Rome’s apostolic visitor to the Schoenstatt community from 1951 to 1953.
Kentenich was born in 1885 and ordained a priest in 1910. In 1914, he founded the new ecclesial movement in a chapel in Schoenstatt, Germany. Kentenich went to the U.S. in 1951, and was permitted to return to Germany in October 1965. He died three years later. A beatification process for the priest began in 1975.
The movement, which now includes priests, consecrated women, and lay people, is active in 42 countries, and focused on spiritual formation and Marian spirituality.
Schoenstatt, in the German Diocese of Trier, is still the headquarters of the movement.
Tromp’s visitation followed up on a 1949 visit ordered by the Bishop of Trier and conducted by his auxiliary, Bishop Bernhard Stein.
Stein generally approved the work’s “clear vision” and “high level of spiritual care,” but cited some flaws: “there seem to be only a few confident personalities with true independent thinking and inner freedom, among the male leaders and among the Marian nuns.”
The auxiliary bishop said he found “internal dissatisfaction,” as well as “insecurity and lack of autonomy” among these nuns, von Teuffenbach said. Based on this report, the Bishop of Trier wrote to Kentenich, who von Teuffenbach said “contested, distorted, and manipulated the bishop’s provisions, which this latter did not by any means appreciate.”
“What Tromp gathers from the testimonies, from the letters, from the many conversations he had, including with the founder himself, is indicative of a situation of complete subjugation of the nuns, concealed in a certain way by a sort of family structure applied to the work,” von Teuffenbach continued. She said the movement’s leading “mother” had “no power whatsoever,” and even less power was among the religious women.
As von Teuffenbach reads the documents, Kentenich appears as a “father-master,” the “founder with absolute power, often equated with God, so much so that in many expressions and prayers it is not clear whether these are addressed to God the Father or to the founder himself.”
One aspect of the abuse of power, according to the researcher, was the obligation imposed upon the nuns to confess to the community founder, at least in some circumstances. According to von Teuffenbach, the nuns were required on a monthly basis to kneel before Kentenich and “give themselves totally to him.” The dialogue that took place was often “alone and behind closed doors.”
The dialogue depicted the nun as “the father’s,” as “nothing,” and the “father” as “everything.” Body parts like the eyes, ears, and mouth are described as belonging to the “father.” Some nuns said this discussion extended to the breast and the sexual organs as well.
Catoggio, the Schoenstatt movement’s president, said claims that the sisters were forced to confess to the founder can be refuted by other testimonies. Kentenich was “almost continuously on journeys abroad” at this time, raising the question of “how the compulsion to confess should take effect during such a prolonged absence.”
“Such vague statements, coupled with the researched allegation of sexual abuse, do not testify to a critical examination of the files,” he continued. “Blanket assertions with evaluative adjectives merely play on the keyboard of the current abuse debate without knowing and communicating ’the whole story’.”
Kentenich responded “in detail” to the visitor and his superiors regarding alleged abuse of power to explain his thinking, his principles and his behavior, said Catoggio.
“It is astonishing that the author – based on the reports of Fr. Tromp – makes his view of the community and its members completely her own,” said Catoggio.
He criticized von Teuffenbach’s portrayal of the nuns as ranging “from extreme dependence, incapacity to judge and decide to childish dependence and slavish subservience to an all-dominating founder.”
von Teuffenbach said the climate described by the visitor was “highly sexualized.”
“Ballets of nuns around the founding father, nighttime meetings, ambiguous expressions are certainly not what is expected in a religious house,” she said.
In her view, supporters of Schoenstatt, like Pallotine superior general Woicjech Turowski, initially denied these facts and believed they could be justified. She said “they claimed that the founder was only helping the nuns to free themselves from sexual tensions with a ’psychotherapeutic pastoral remedy’.
The researcher cited a Chile-based German nun’s 1948 letter, transcribed by Tromp.
“The subject of the letter is an incident of sexual abuse,” said von Teuffenbach. “The nun reports that after what had happened to her during one of these rites she was no longer able to see the founder as the ‘father,’ but only as a ‘male,’ recounting that she had rebelled and had suffered for a year before being able to talk about it with her confessor.”
The nun wrote a letter to the mother general in Germany, who sent a copy to Kentenich and accused the nun of being possessed by the devil.
“Later when the apostolic visitor asked the mother general, who by that time had been dismissed, if she had received other letters of that kind, the mother general said there had been from six to eight letters, less serious according to her, which she had thrown away,” sad von Teuffenbach.
“In the decree of the Holy Office nothing is written about the abuse, but the disputed facts are communicated in writing to the mothers superior, so that they may accept more easily the dismissal of the founder.”
Catoggio, however, disputed her characterization of these actions as an effort not to expose the sisters.
“This interpretation seems to be laborious. It is probably meant to nevertheless somehow justify the thesis of sexual abuse,” he said. The CDF was “not exactly reserved when accusations of abuse were made.”
“On the contrary, it was repeatedly stated: The separation of Fr. Kentenich from his work is not a punitive measure, but an administrative order, i.e. a prudent measure taken through administrative channels.”
The charge of sexual abuse was not brought in the Roman Curia proceedings to separate Kentenich from Schoenstatt, Catoggio insisted.
When sent from Germany, Kentenich stayed at a Pallottine house in Milwaukee, Wis. In this time, von Teuffenbach said, the records show that he “in no way complied with the Vatican provisions” which barred any further contact with the nuns.
The researcher described the nuns who defended Kentenich as those who “preferred the founder’s charm to the directives of the Church.”
“Those nuns never stopped writing, denigrating and slandering not only the visitors but also the sisters who had cooperated with them and the priests who had testified against Fr. Kentenich,” she said, comparing these defenders to “the many women who are unable to get away from the husband who mistreats them and often excuse and defend him.”
“This is the dark part of the story, but there is also an edifying part. And it is the Roman curia that operated under Pius XII and that - certainly in this case - succeeded in giving its best.”
“The proceedings tell of an assiduous and meticulous search for the truth,” she said, adding that the Church acted “in the most correct way possible for those women, without however demeaning them by publicizing the facts.”
von Teuffenbach said she wrote Magister “to bring an end to the veneration of this ’father’ and demolish the many proposed reconstructions of alternative truths, as if this were merely a matter of psychological weaknesses in the face of a man at once so charismatic, skillful, and terrible.”
Magister described the Schoenstatt movement as “still one of the most renowned and widespread on a worldwide scale.”
A former Schoenstatt superior general, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, was Archbishop of Chile from 1998 to 2010 and elevated to the cardinalate in 2001. Pope Francis made him an adviser in 2013, as part of the Council of Cardinals. He left that role in 2018.
Bishop Francisco Javier Pistilli Scorzara of Encarnacion, a Schoenstatt Father, commented July 2 that the accusation would require “a lot of objectivity.”
“In some way, our founder is put to the test. We trust he will pass the test, but he has to be seen to do so, with impartiality,” he said. “I am convinced that this is not a matter of becoming defensive, but about taking courage in the light. It can be painful, it will surely be. Questions will come up, perhaps even from ourselves. It’s time to understand and seek answers without fear and without the need to paint a picture of a perfect founder.”
“If the Church confirms his holiness, it won’t be ‘for being the one who always had the answers and never took risks beyond the conventional’,” said the bishop.
Pistilli said that the Church doesn’t thoroughly understand the abuse of power, and it was a question in the process to canonize Padre Pio.
“He passed the test,” said the bishop.
“Downplaying things is not is not always the best option. Much less in times like these,” said Pistilli. “Nor is it good to speak without knowledge. How much do we really know? Can we go deeper into what all this means? Without seeing just what we want to see, but with objectivity. I like to think we can.”
“God is light and those who follow him have to be seen in his light,” said the bishop.
CNA Staff, Jul 2, 2020 / 11:01 am ().- Ahead of possible Israeli action to annex Palestinian territories, Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin met with the ambassadors of the United States and Israel June 30.
The Holy See press office said July 1 that the meetings with Callista Gringrich, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and Oren David, her Israeli counterpart, took place “in order to express the concern of the Holy See regarding possible unilateral actions that may further jeopardize the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the delicate situation in the Middle East.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See told CNA July 2: “Ambassador Gingrich had a productive meeting with Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin on Tuesday. They discussed a range of issues, including our common goal of peace in the Middle East.”
In its statement on Wednesday the Holy See reiterated that Israel and the State of Palestine “have the right to exist and to live in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”
“It thus appeals to the parties to do everything possible to reopen the process of direct negotiation, on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, and aided by measures that can reestablish reciprocal confidence,” said the Holy See Press Office.
Citing Pope Francis' June 8, 2014, prayer for peace in the Holy Land, the press office said all actions should be taken so that the parties may have “the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.”
July 1 was a possible start date for annexation, but no action was taken. There was no agreement with the United States to move forward,
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he thought annexation “will happen in the coming weeks or months, but I am not versed in the details,” Reuters reported.
A Netanyahu aide said talks with Washington were continuing. The prime minister had consulted Israeli defense officials July 1 and more discussions would be held in coming days.
Early in June Netanyahu said he intended to annex all West Bank settlements July 1, the earliest date allowed under a deal agreed by the country’s new ruling coalition. According to the Times of Israel, this would mean that the government would extend Israeli sovereignty to around 3% of West Bank territory, comprising 132 settlements that are home to an estimated 450,000 Israelis.
Netanyahu was sworn in for his fourth term as the head of Israel’s government in the Knesset on May 17. In his campaign, Netanyahu promised annexation of the West Bank.
The power-sharing deal between the Israeli leaders included the possibility of annexation this summer with the approval of the Israeli parliament and the Trump administration, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
Palestinian leaders, the United Nations, and European and Arab countries oppose unilateral action from Israel and consider Israeli settlements on land captured in 1967 to be illegal, Reuters reports. Israelis who back annexation cite biblical, historical and political roots in the West Bank territory.
President Donald Trump's proposal for peace calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, but gives Israel sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank. The Palestinians reject this.
On May 20, the Holy See reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and respect for the borders internationally recognized before 1967.
The Holy See expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to directly negotiate an agreement with the help of the international community that will lead to peace – “so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews and Christians and Muslims,” the Holy See said then.
In response to talk that Israel would extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian state would no longer be bound by the peace and security agreements with the Israeli and American governments, including the Oslo peace process.
The PLO’s chief negotiator appealed to the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States in a mid-May phone call.
Saeb Erekat, the PLO leader who negotiated the Oslo Accords, called Archbishop Paul Gallagher to say that “the possibility of Israel applying its sovereignty unilaterally” in the Palestinian territories would be “further jeopardizing” to the peace process.
In early May, Catholic bishops, Orthodox patriarchs, and Protestant leaders in the Holy Land published a letter raising concerns that Israel’s unilateral annexation plans “would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.”
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest-ranking clergyman in the Church of England, issued a joint statement opposing annexation.
Courtney Mares contributed to this report.