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Legalizing divorce would devastate families, warn Philippines bishops

Manila, Philippines, Mar 16, 2018 / 01:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Philippines considers legalizing divorce, the nation’s bishops are speaking out against the measure, warning that it would be detrimental to couples and families, especially children.

“In a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriages and families are bound to break up more easily,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“Divorce, while it may indeed provide quick legal remedies for some seemingly ‘failed marriages,’ might end up destroying even those marriages that could have been saved by dialogues or the intervention of family, friends, pastors and counselors,” Archbishop Valles continued.

Valles’ words came in a pastoral statement on behalf of the country’s bishops, released on March 13.

A strongly Catholic country, the Philippines is one of the only nations where the practice of divorce is not legal, along with Vatican City. The new divorce bill, which was authored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, would change the country’s laws against divorce and make the practice legal throughout the nation.

Currently, annulments are allowed within the Philippines, although the process of obtaining one can be time consuming and costly. The country also allows for legal separation, which does not allow an individual to remarry.

The divorce bill was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. It is unclear how it will fare in the Senate.

While the divorce bill is pending, Archbishop Valles urged lawmakers to consider the “social costs” which accompany the “easy recourse to the dissolution of marriage,” especially when couples face difficulties in their marriage.

Valles pointed to “progressive countries,” such as the United States, where he said 4 out of 10 marriages are ending in divorce. The archbishop urged against taking this same path, noting that every marriage will go through its own set of trials and challenges.  

“Even couples in seemingly successful marriages would often look back and recall the countless challenges that had almost brought their relationship to a breaking point if they had not learned to transcend personal hurts through understanding and forgiveness, or sometimes through the intervention of a dialogue facilitator such as a marriage counselor,” the archbishop said.

He also emphasized the “emotional and psychological toll” that divorce imposes on children, warning that should the bill pass, “More children will grow up disoriented and deprived of the care of both parents.”

The archbishop’s words were echoed by a group of 24 other lay organizations and movements throughout the Philippines, who released a Feb. 21 statement against the divorce bill.

Signatories included the Couples for Christ Global Mission Foundation, Prayer Warriors of the Holy Souls, Alliance for the Family Foundation, and Educhild Foundation.

“Couples who overcome trials in marriage together grow in virtue and happiness,” the statement read.

“That is why decent peoples of the world accompany couples and families toward reconciliation and healing.”


Baby box safe haven bill clears key hurdle in Peruvian congress

Lima, Peru, Mar 16, 2018 / 10:46 am (ACI Prensa).- A save haven bill that would allow mothers to leave their children at certain drop off locations to be taken into state custody without punishment is moving forward in the Peruvian legislature.

The “Saving Cradles and Confidential Birth” bill passed out of the Committee on Women March 14 with a favorable vote of 4-2, clearing the way for its final passage by the full assembly of the unicameral Peruvian congress.

The Saving Cradles Association, which is backing the legislation, told ACI Prensa, the Spanish-language sister agency of CNA, that this bill seeks to help “Peruvian women who for some very personal reason cannot or do not want to raise the children they are expecting, as well to help their own unborn children, and to protect babies abandoned on the street which puts their lives in danger.”

The bill provides for adequate and safe locations installed in private and public health care centers where women can leave their newborns. It establishes a legal procedure that allows for anonymity for the parents and places the state in charge of the adoption process.

Members of congress supporting the bill said that the legislation seeks to “give an alternative to women who cannot or do not want to raise their newborns, as well as to ensure the boy or girl's right to life and to live in a family.”

The Saving Cradles Association congratulated “members of congress Betty Ananculi, Juan Carlos Gonzales, Tamar Arimborgo and Cecilia Chacón who are working in a concrete and effective manner for the women and children of Peru.”

The organization said it is “hopeful that this goal will soon be achieved with a favorable vote in the full assembly of the Congress of the Republic.”


Update: Guilty verdict for Guam archbishop, appeal to follow

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2018 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced the conclusion of a year-long trial against an archbishop in Guam, stating that he has been found guilty of some charges stemming from allegations of sexual abuse of minors and has been removed from office.

A source close to the case has confirmed that the archbishop has already appealed the decision.

According to a March 16 statement from the Apostolic Tribunal of the CDF, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 72, was found guilty of “certain” accusations and penalized with removal from the office and prohibition from residing within the Archdiocese of Guam.

The CDF did not state the charges for which the archbishop was found guilty. Sources close to the case told CNA that the archbishop was found guilty of a minority of the allegations leveled against him.

If the archbishop has been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, the penalty leveled against him is unusual - often a cleric found guilty of such crimes would be "laicized," or removed from the clerical state, sources say.

Sources also noted that the archbishop has seemingly maintained his ecclesiastical faculties, and though restricted from residence in Guam, is apparently able to exercise ministry as a priest.

A source close to the case told CNA that the penalty is "a complete contradiction" to the sentence.

The source said that if the archbishop is guilty of sexual abuse against minors, "justice would demand the strongest possible penalty," adding "this punishment maintains the status quo."  

One expert suggested to the CNA that the five-judge panel may have been divided on the archbishop's guilt, which could explain the disparity between a guilty verdict and an unusually light sanction.

One source questioned whether pressure to quickly resolve the matter might have influenced the sentence.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura, is the case's only judge to be publicly identified.

"It is difficult to explain how such a serious-minded and competent canonist would put his name to something like this," a source close to the case said of Burke, noting questions raised about the sentence and delays in the case's adjudication. 

Apuron was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority by Pope Francis in 2016, in the wake of the allegations, and was effectively replaced by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, formerly of Detroit.

The canonical trial against Apuron began in October 2016, with Cardinal Burke appointed by Pope Francis as the trial’s presiding judge. Byrnes told reporters that the Vatican reached a decision on the case in October 2017, though no information regarding its outcome had yet been released.

Sources question why the CDF delayed finalizing sentences apparently completed in mid-2017. The archbishop is reported to have been notified of the court's decision only recently, and it was not made publicly known until today.

One source close to the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam questioned whether Archbishop Byrnes pushed the Vatican to release the sentence in order to resolve public concern about the matter in Guam.

However, the source questioned whether Byrnes has been appropriately advised on the matter. "Most of the people who were opposed to [Apuron] in terms of governance" have become advisers to Byrnes, the source said.

"The curial advice Byrnes is receiving is institutionally and personally opposed to Apuron."

In the early hours of March 17 on Guam, Apuron released a statement through his attorney.

"I have been informed of the conclusion of the first instance canonical trial against me. While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict. God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process," the statement read.

"Today, my prayers are with the Church in Guam, which has been suffering greatly. I pray that Santa Marian Kamalen may intercede for the healing of our island," Apuron continued.

Until appeals are resolved, “the imposed penalties are suspended until the final resolution” of the trial, according to the CDF.  

A source told CNA that the credibility of the witnesses will be a major factor of the appeal. Questions have been raised regarding connections between the witnesses, attorneys, and real estate developers on Guam.

The prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, will determine whether or not to accept the appeal, and then be responsible for appointing judges to consider it.

The most recent allegation against Apuron was made Jan. 10 by the archbishop’s nephew, Mark Apuron. He filed a lawsuit Jan. 10 claiming that his uncle raped him in a Church bathroom in 1989 or 1990. This was the fifth lawsuit to accuse the archbishop of sexual abuse of minors during his time as a pastor and bishop.

The archbishop denied the allegations in a statement Jan. 18, writing, “God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one,” according to Guam Pacific Daily News.

In addition to this claim, Apuron also faced four other accusations from former altar boys, who charged the archbishop with abuse in the 1970s when he served as a parish priest in Agat.

The first allegations against the archbishop were made public in May 2016. Mark’s attorney, David Lujan, said that his client was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family about the alleged abuse until recently.

Archbishop Byrnes, who is empowered by the Vatican to oversee the Archdiocese of Agana but has not yet formally succeeded Apuron, has since implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that Byrnes said will “help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese.”

Byrnes adopted in February 2017 the US bishops’ conference’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

The Archdiocese of Agaña is currently a defendant in 96 sexual abuse lawsuits, involving Apuron, 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor, and a Boy Scout leader. Most of the lawsuits were filed after 2016, when Guam’s territorial legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.

CNA staff contributed to this report.

Pro-life leaders deliver letter to Irish prime minister: Choose Life

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2018 / 02:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of 17 American pro-life leaders delivered a letter to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday urging him against repealing the country’s 8th Amendment.

Ireland’s 8th Amendment recognizes the right to life of both a mother and an unborn child. This means that abortion is illegal in the country with extremely limited exceptions. Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 to possibly repeal this amendment and bring legal abortion to the country up until the 12th week of pregnancy. Past attempts at repeal have failed.

One of Varadkar’s first acts on his first day as prime minister was to start the process for the repeal vote.

Varadkar is in Washington, D.C. and visited the White House as part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. Abortion was not discussed during the visit.

Pro-life leaders from groups around the country joined together to sign and deliver a letter defending the 8th Amendment and calling on Ireland to lead the way in respecting women and their babies.

Co-signers of the letter included Lila Rose of Live Action, Jeanne Mancini of the March for Life, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List.

The letter calls Ireland one of the safest places in the world for pregnant women, noting that it has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates - without relying on abortion. Additionally, the letter says that over 100,000 lives have been saved as a result of the 8th Amendment.

The repeal of the amendment, the pro-life leaders assert, would be a disaster for Ireland. While Varadkar has said that he supports abortion in limited circumstances, the letter--citing the United States’ example of the Roe v. Wade decision--warned that this could lead to widespread abortion throughout the country.

“Since then, millions of women have been negatively affected by abortion, some have even died, and we are missing over 55 million children in America today simply because of a law that was initially said to permit abortion only in certain cases.”

Further, the Roe v. Wade decision has impeded even “common sense” pro-life laws, including a 20-week ban, the pro-life leaders said.

It referred to Ireland as a “beacon of hope for the entire world” and as a leader in “demonstrating life-affirming laws and medical treatment.” These policies should be praised, not repealed, they said.

“You (Varadkar) have the power to continue Ireland’s excellence in life-affirming laws and healthcare.”

“Ireland has been a beacon of hope for America, that one day we too could have life-affirming laws that promote excellent healthcare for women and their children,” the co-signers said.

Haspel CIA nomination raises questions about ‘enhanced interrogation’ and torture

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where US intelligence targets were reportedly subject to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

As Haspel prepares to face Senate questions about her work with the agency, a national debate over whether “enhanced interrogation” techniques amount to torture has reignited.

It is not clear whether Haspel directly participated in the "enhanced interrogation" of intelligence targets. But at the Cat’s Eye, the code-name for the CIA compound Haspel took over in 2002, al-Qaida suspects were subjected to new interrogation techniques implemented shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. These methods of “enhanced interrogation” included sleep deprivation, humiliation, painful stress positions, and simulated drowning, known as “waterboarding” in an effort to obtain information about terrorist organizations.

Haspel is also suspected of pushing to destroy videotape evidence of "enhanced interrogations" conducted by CIA operatives.

In the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Pope St. John Paul II taught that torture is “intrinsically evil.”  What does that say about the morality of waterboarding or other methods of “enhanced interrogation?”

“When an interrogator in some other way imposes physical or psychological pain, at least significant pain, until the one being interrogated ‘breaks’ and talks, then I think this is clearly torture and morally evil,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a moral theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

“I think that this would clearly encompass some things that the US did in the early or mid 2000s, most especially waterboarding, but very likely some of our other ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques also,” Miller said.

Miller clarified that even if these interrogation techniques were not defined precisely as “torture,” the Church would still object to them due to its firm defence of the dignity of each human person created in the image of God.

The theologian referenced Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world: “Whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself...all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed.”
He noted that “attempts to coerce the will itself,” are condemned in the passage, one that Saint John Paul II repeatedly quoted.

“If one is inflicting physical or psychological distress in order to – and to a degree that one thinks will likely succeed in – getting someone to answer questions that he/she would not otherwise agree to answer, then one is engaging in an attempt to coerce the will – whether or not the distress being inflicted rises to the level of torture. And this is intrinsically evil – contrary to both justice and charity,” said Miller.

An intrinsic evil is an evil that is wrong in the chosen act itself, independent of one’s intentions or the surrounding circumstances, Miller explained.

“Returning to Gaudium et Spes,” continued Miller, the “general principle underlying its condemnation of various evil acts is ‘reverence for man,’ grounded in the need to see every human person as one’s brother or sister, with whom one has been offered a communion that is a participation in the Trinitarian communion.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference has condemned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques for years, particularly after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released part of its 2014 report on CIA’s use of interrogation in the years following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“The acts of torture described in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong,” stated Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who was chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee at the time.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on October 2017, Bishop Cantú affirmed American bishops’ support for “legislation to make torture, which some euphemistically refer to as ‘enhanced interrogation,’ illegal.”

President Barack Obama prohibited the CIA and military from using waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques when he took office in 2009. During a debate during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said that he supported reinstituting the use of waterboarding “and more.”

“Current U.S. law is clear in banning enhanced interrogation techniques. Any nominee for Director of the CIA must pledge without reservation to uphold this prohibition, which has helped us to regain our position of leadership in the struggle for universal human rights—the struggle upon which this country was founded, and which remains its highest aspiration," said Senator John McCain in a statement released shortly after Trump announced Haspel as his pick for CIA Director on March 13.

“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process,” continued McCain.

“The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” said McCain, who was himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War.

“In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, our government squandered precious moral authority in a futile effort to produce intelligence by means of torture. We are still dealing with the consequences of that desperately misguided decision,” McCain added.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against any type of torture in a 2007 address, “I reiterate that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.”

John Paul II presented an even more vivid condemnation in a speech in 1982, “With regard to torture, the Christian is confronted from his childhood with the reading of the passion of Christ. The memory of Jesus stripped naked, hit, mocked while suffering his agony, should always make him refuse to see similar treatment applied to one of his brothers in humanity.”

If confirmed, Haspel will be the first female director in CIA history. At 61, she has had an extensive career within the spy agency, which she has worked for since 1985.