Browsing News Entries

Pope Francis urges reconciliation in message to Church in China

Vatican City, Sep 26, 2018 / 06:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent a message Wednesday to encourage Chinese Catholics to work toward reconciliation and communion with one another following a deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops.

Francis said the message, published Sept. 26, is a few of his reflections on the just-signed agreement as well as “spiritual pastoral” input for the new phase about to be embarked upon.

Because for the Church, he wrote, the provisional agreement between the Holy See and China is as much about the “spiritual calling” of the Church in that country as it is about promoting respect for human values in and outside of China.

Now Chinese Catholics can begin the process of restoring full communion, healing the wounds of the past, and proclaiming the Gospel, he said.

The pope’s message to Chinese Catholics came just a few days after the signing in Beijing of a provisional agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on how to appoint Catholic bishops.

The Sept. 22 announcement of the deal did not give details, but in a press conference on a flight to Rome Tuesday night, Francis said it provides for a dialogue about eventual bishop candidates, though they will ultimately be appointed by him.

At the same time, the Holy See announced the pope’s decision to recognize seven illicitly ordained Chinese bishops, who had been appointed by the government without papal mandate.

This means for the first time all the bishops of China are in communion with Rome, after years of division between the “underground” Catholic Church in China and the government-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

In his letter, Francis emphasized that though the Church in the country had to go clandestine out of concern for preserving the Catholic community from the control of the State, this “is not a normal part of the life of the Church.”

He said he decided, “before the Lord and with serenity of judgment, in continuity with the direction set by my immediate predecessors,” to grant reconciliation to the seven illicit Chinese bishops and to lift canonical sanctions against them, readmitting them to full communion with the Church.

The deal follows years of discussion, he said, and on his own part, a thorough examination of individual situations and of listening to different points of view: “I have devoted much time to reflection and prayer, seeking the true good of the Church in China.”

“Regrettably, as we know, the recent history of the Catholic Church in China has been marked by deep and painful tensions, hurts and divisions, centered especially on the figure of the bishop as the guardian of the authenticity of the faith and as guarantor of ecclesial communion,” he said.

So, to support the continuation of the Gospel in China, and to re-establish “full and visible unity” in the Church, the pope wrote that it was “essential” to first deal with the issue of the appointment of bishops.

Recognizing that the deal had provoked different reactions and concern for the future of the Catholic communities in China, he said he is aware of the “flurry of thoughts and opinions” which may have caused “a certain confusion.”

He noted that some Chinese Catholics may be feeling abandoned by the Holy See, questioning “the value of their sufferings endured out of fidelity to the Successor of Peter,” while others may have hopeful expectation for the outcomes of the agreement.

Pope Francis acknowledged that the provisional agreement has its limits but expressed hope in the fact that for the first time, “the stable elements of cooperation” are set up so that the State authorities and Church authorities can provide good shepherds for the Catholic community.

The agreement is just an instrument, not a solution to all of the existing problems, he said, and “it will prove ineffective and unproductive, unless it is accompanied by a deep commitment to renewing personal attitudes and ecclesial forms of conduct.”

No Christian can be excluded from the task of offering gestures of reconciliation and communion and of working to build a society which respects the dignity of every person, he said.

Speaking to the universal Church, he said it is now the time to taste “the genuine fruits of the Gospel sown in the ancient ‘Middle Kingdom’ and to raise to the Lord Jesus Christ a hymn of faith and thanksgiving, enriched by authentically Chinese notes.”

He asked the leaders of the People’s Republic of China to continue to dialogue with trust, courage, and foresightedness, so that China and the Apostolic See “will be able to act more positively for the orderly and harmonious growth of the Catholic community in China.”

Francis concluded his message by invoking the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, praying that she would “present to the Lord of history the trials and tribulations, the petitions and the hopes” of all who pray to her; and that she would be a refuge for all who “weep amid their trials.”

“Mary, Help of Christians, for China we implore days of blessing and of peace."

Alleged abuse victim searches for justice in the Diocese of Crookston

Crookston, Minn., Sep 26, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- In 1971, when Ron Vasek was 16 years old, a priest invited him to take a trip. The priest, Fr. Roger Grundhaus, was a family friend, and Ron’s parents supported the idea.

Fr. Grundhaus, a priest of the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, was going to a canon law convention in Columbus, Ohio. He said he wanted Vasek to come along to help with the drive.

Vasek had looked forward to the trip. “I’d never been off the farm, basically,” he told CNA.

Vasek said that on the first day of the trip, Grundhaus bought him a beer, and continued to buy him alcohol during the trip.

On the second day of the trip, Vasek recalled, Grundhaus attended meetings in the morning, and then spent time drinking with friends. Vasek and Grundhaus went to dinner together in the hotel’s restaurant, where the priest continued to drink as they ate their meal.  

After dinner, Vasek said, the priest sexually assaulted him in their hotel room.

Vasek told CNA he fought the priest off, and then “I just kinda stared at him and then he moved back away and never said anything, didn’t do a thing. And then a little later we went to bed and it was kind of uncomfortable, but I just didn’t know what to think of it.”

“I was 16 years old, off the farm, I didn’t have a clue what was going on,” he said.

“We left there, and we drove home like nothing happened, and he never, ever, ever, said anything to me about it, for a long time, and I kinda just buried it in the back of my head. I just didn’t know what to do.”

“I never said anything to my parents,” Vasek told CNA. “Ever.”

The next year Grundhaus invited him to attend another convention, and his parents, who knew nothing about the abuse, “thought it was a great idea.”  

A blizzard stopped them along the way. There were no hotel rooms in the small town where they were stopped, but an armory had been opened as a makeshift shelter to accommodate stranded travelers. They spent the night in the armory along with families and other motorists stopped by the snow.

“So that was-- I guess God was watching out for me.”

Grundhaus took him on one more trip, again with encouragement from his parents. The priest tried to get him to drink scotch, he said, but he refused and felt uncomfortable being with Grundhaus, although he said he was not assaulted on that trip.

A few years later, when Vasek's brother died, Grundhaus grew closer to his family. “He became really an instrumental part of the family, because he counseled mom and dad. He was there all the time.”

Vasek told CNA that he never raised the issue of his assault with his family, although he saw Grundhaus frequently as he became an adult, as they often worked together on retreat teams and other ministry initiatives.

He told CNA the abuse took a heavy toll on his life. He said that he drank often, and struggled in other areas of his life.
“I didn’t know how much that abuse affected me until I can look back on it now with a clear mind.”

Vasek said that even while the abuse had a serious impact on him, he tried not to think about it often. In fact, he told CNA, “I just kind of quit thinking about it until one day, probably ten years ago.”

Vasek was in a parish sacristy during a retreat in 2008 when Grundhaus approached him, he told CNA.

He said that Grundhaus “said he wanted to apologize for what he did in Columbus, Ohio. And he said he went to confession for it. But he said, ‘if you need any help with anything, if you made bad business decisions or if you’re struggling with anything,’ he said, ‘I have money, I can help pay for therapy or I can help you out.’”

“You know, he kind of shocked me,” Vasek said.

Vasek didn't understand why, after decades, “all of the sudden he’s apologizing. I just said ‘Ok, I accept your apology,’ and kind of just left it at that.”

A few days later, Vasek went to the priest’s office, asking him to swear there had been no other victims. He said Grundhaus told him he hadn’t abused anyone else.

“And then he tells me, ‘if this ever comes up, I’ll always deny it.’”

Vasek had no idea how to respond to what Grundhaus told him. “I really struggled with that, but I didn’t say anything because of the family stuff.”

In 2010, Vasek decided to say something. At the time, he had applied to become a deacon in the Diocese of Crookston, where he still lived. His son had just become a priest in the diocese.

He said he first told a priest in the neighboring Diocese of Fargo. That diocese sent the allegation to Bishop Michael Hoeppner, Crookston’s bishop. Hoeppner then asked Vasek for an appointment. 

(Vasek said this meeting took place in 2010, while the Diocese of Crookston claims it took place in 2011.)

“When I went into the bishop’s office, there was nobody there, it was just him and I.”

“So the bishop, he just kind of, he just chews on me for five minutes,” Vasek told CNA, adding that the bishop told him that Grundhaus was a great priest, and that a “claim” about the matter could be very expensive. After a while, Vasek recalled, the bishop asked him if he intended to make a formal complaint.

“By this time,” Vasek said, “I didn’t know what the hell to think. I just put my hands up and I said ‘I just want to know if I can get through the diaconate program, knowing this information.”

Vasek said that Hoeppner told him he believed the story, before adding that he shouldn’t say anything about the matter.

Vasek told CNA he agreed to keep silent. “That was the first time I had revealed my abuse in 40 years, so I was still kind of numb.”

He began the diaconal program in the diocese soon after the meeting. His allegation did not come up again until October 2015.

On Oct. 21, 2015, Vasek said he was summoned to meet with Bishop Hoeppner at the bishop’s home. There, he told CNA, Hoeppner told him to sign a letter recanting his allegation against Grundhaus.

He said the bishop explained that the Fargo diocese had inquired about Vasek’s 2010 allegation against Grundhaus, and intended to forbid the priest from exercising ministry within its territory.

“We want to have Grundhaus be able to do ministry,” Vasek said Hoeppner told him, “so we need to have you sign a letter recanting your allegation.”

The letter had already been printed on diocesan stationary.

Vasek said that Hoeppner asked him, “If news of the scandal of Grundhaus gets out, how could I ordain you? Who would want you? Where would I put you? And besides, it would be very difficult on your son.”

“When he said that, I knew exactly what he meant,” Vasek told CNA. “I was sickened. Absolutely sickened.”

Vasek signed the letter.

It read: “I, Ron Vasek, regarding a trip I was on when I was 16 years old, and on which a priest of the Diocese of Crookston was also participating, clearly and freely state that I have no desire to nor do I make any accusation of sexual impropriety by the priest toward me.”

In August of that year, months before that meeting, the diocese had been ordered by a court to release the names of all priests alleged to have abused children prior to 1985. A priest of the diocese told CNA that he believes Hoeppner asked Vasek to retract his claim in order to avoid naming Grundhaus on that list.

Vasek told CNA he was stunned.

He couldn’t believe what he had experienced. He had struggled for decades to grapple with the abuse he experienced. When he told his bishop about it, he was ordered to keep silent. And now he was being asked to deny it had ever happened.

It felt, he said, “like being abused all over again.”

He thought of words he says Hoeppner said to him in 2010: “This is a cross you’re just going to have to carry.”

For two years, Vasek did not mention the letter to his wife or family.

In February 2017 Vasek’s pastor, Fr. Xavier Ilango, recommended him for ordination as a deacon. Vasek was measured for vestments. The Diocese of Crookston mailed invitations for its upcoming diaconal ordination; Vasek’s name was listed among those who would be ordained on June 10, 2017.

But in March 2017, Vasek told CNA, he was abruptly told that his ordination might be delayed by at least a year. With almost everything prepared, he was told his pastor had raised previously unmentioned concerns, and that he might not be ordained with his class.  

CNA has obtained a copy of a letter reportedly from Vasek’s pastor, which said that Vasek had strained relationships with some parishioners and needed to learn to take direction better. The letter, unsigned and undated, suggested that Vasek’s ordination could be delayed a year.

CNA attempted to contact Ilango, but was told by the Diocese of Crookston that he is on sabbatical. His parish bulletin reports that he traveled to India on July 1.

On April 6, 2017, Vasek and his wife met with Hoeppner, who told them he would give more thought to the possibility of Vasek’s ordination. He seemed non-committal.

Vasek told CNA he believed his ordination was being threatened as a reminder to keep silent about the abuse he had endured, and the letter he had signed.  

Vasek decided he had had enough. He decided that he could not trust Hoeppner, and could not promise to be obedient to him, which would be required at the time of his ordination. He told his story to two priests of the diocese, Fr. Robert Schreiner and Msgr. David Baumgartner.  

Schreiner told CNA that he remembers Vasek saying to him, “I’ve been abused for 41 years, and now I’m still being abused.”

Schreiner and Vasek had been friends for decades. He described Vasek as a man of “integrity and honesty.” Although he was director of the diocesan diaconal program, and had previously been Hoeppner’s chancellor, he resolved to help.

Baumgartner, a canon lawyer who had previously been Hoeppner’s vicar general- the chief advisor to the bishop- also decided that he would do whatever he could to help Vasek.

Both priests told CNA they believed that Hoeppner had forced Vasek to sign the 2015 letter, and both believed that the bishop was unjustly punishing and threatening Vasek in 2017.

“I believed him," Schreiner told Minnesota Public Radio in 2017.

"As the account unfolded with each horrifying revelation and event and name, my heart would sink lower and my mind would flinch, not wanting to believe it. But at no point during his testament that night, nor since, did my intuition click with the thought that 'that doesn't ring true' or 'that just doesn't sound right.'"

In fact, CNA spoke with several priests and former diocesan employees in the Diocese of Crookston; none questioned the integrity of Vasek’s story.

“This was bad on so many levels,” Schreiner told CNA.

Baumgartner told CNA that Vasek wanted to address Hoeppner’s conduct with Church authorities. Vasek hoped he could still be ordained a deacon.

But Baumgartner, Schreiner, and Vasek were uncertain how to make a complaint against their own bishop. After prayer, they decided to try the apostolic nunciature- the Vatican embassy in Washington, DC.

Baumgartner called the apostolic nunciature in March 2017, asking for direction about how to proceed. He said that initially, the nuncio’s office seemed “eager to get to the know the story,” and promised to provide him soon with further instructions.

He said that after weeks passed with no response, he called the nunciature again in early April, and was surprised when a staffer told him that he should not make any accusation unless he had “solid proof.”

“The attitude of the nunciature changed,” Baumgartner said. “They went from being eager to help to saying that we can’t do anything unless we had proof.”

After that conversation, Baumgartner decided the Vatican was unlikely to respond quickly.

“Ron’s ordination was pending. I presumed that the fact that this was a man called to orders mattered, and that the Holy See would respond appropriately, given the timeline that we found ourselves in. That expectation was completely unfounded on my part.”

“We don’t have proof,” Baumgartner added. “We have a story. But we wanted the Church to investigate that story.”

Baumgartner sent a letter to the nunciature explaining the allegation against Hoeppner on April 11, 2017. He asked for advice about how to proceed. Then he waited for a response.

In the meantime, Vasek sent a letter directly to Hoeppner, on April 29, 2017.

“It is my deepest desire to serve in the Diocese of Crookston as a deacon,” Vasek wrote.

“In October of 2015, you asked me to sign a letter to renounce my accusation of sexual abuse against Msgr. Roger Grundhaus....Before I signed it I declared to you that the letter was a lie, and you determined that I should sign it.”

“I renounce that letter as a lie,” Vasek added.

“In another conversation, you asked if I intended to file a law suit regarding my sexual abuse. I would like you to know that I retain the right to seek justice in this matter by legal and canonical means.”

Vasek doubted that he would ever be ordained a deacon in Crookston after that letter was sent. But he wanted the truth to come out.  

On May 13, 2017, Baumgartner sent packets to several Vatican offices, including the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formally alleging misconduct on the part of Hoeppner. He reports that he received a response to those complaints in late June of that year, when the nunciature wrote to him, saying that his complaint to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had been forwarded to the Congregation for Clergy. The letter offered no other information.

“Msgr. Baumgartner sent letters to four offices of the Vatican,” Vasek told CNA.

“The only thing that happened was that the nuncio told Bishop Hoeppner to investigate Grundhaus,” Vasek said, adding that there was no acknowledgement of the complaint about Hoeppner.

Vasek was looking for justice. By the time the Vatican responded to say his complaint had been transferred from one office to another, Vasek had already begun a different process.

On May 9, Vasek sued Bishop Hoeppner and the Diocese of Crookston. On the same day, Grundhaus was suspended from ministry.

If he’d felt that Church authorities would work toward justice, Vasek would not have sued, several sources told CNA.

“Our preference was to have the Church respond,” Baumgartner said. But when the nunciature did not seem willing to respond quickly, they decided to proceed with a lawsuit.

The lawsuit is a controversial matter for many sources CNA spoke with. Vasek’s lawyer is Jeffrey Anderson, a Minnesota attorney who has led litigation against dioceses in several states, and advocated for changes to statutes of limitation for clergy sexual abuse victims. Critics have called Anderson an opportunist, and argued that his tactics have aimed to bankrupt the Church even when dioceses are willing to help victims of sexual abuse, all while he has collected attorney’s fees for his work.

Anderson has also been accused of paying kickbacks to victims’ advocacy groups that refer potential clients to him, although he denies that allegation.

Vasek was unsure about Anderson. So were his friends. The priests had worked in the curia while Anderson sued their own diocese. But they said that no other qualified lawyer would take their case.

CNA attempted to contact two law firms Vasek says he approached. One said it would not comment on clients or potential clients, and the other did not respond to requests for comment.

Schreiner said Vasek reluctantly went to Anderson, and was clear from the beginning that he did not want his lawsuit to harm the Church. He said Vasek insisted he wanted justice, and for the truth to come out.

Some aspects of the lawsuit have been settled. The letter Vasek signed was returned to him, after being recovered from the diocese by Crookston police.

Vasek also reached a financial settlement with the diocese, the amount of which is undisclosed. He told CNA the settlement was modest, and that he would save it for his retirement.

Other parts of the lawsuit continue, some of which pertain to Grundhaus himself, and the abuse Vasek alleges took place in 1971. Some have to do with the diocesan response to abuse.

The goal of the lawsuit, Vasek emphasized, “is to get to the truth.”

“The money means crap to me,” he said. “I want the truth to come out.”

“To expose these guys for covering up an abuse that happened. The bishop has admitted breaking the rules that Pope Francis laid down,” Vasek said.

“And just to clean up the diocese, period.”

“The homosexual subculture of the priesthood is well and vibrant in this diocese and has been for years,” Vasek said. “That culture has been in our diocese for a long time.”

Vasek and his supporters told CNA they hoped that Church authorities would intervene to help with the situation, even after the lawsuit was underway.

On March 28, 2018, a year after Ron Vasek’s ordination was delayed, his son Fr. Craig Vasek sent a letter to the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

CNA obtained a copy of that letter.

Fr. Vasek, who declined to be interviewed for this story, wrote that Hoeppner was “prepared to do avoid addressing this matter.”

“All we want is the truth,” Fr. Vasek wrote, adding that “if you give me the chance, you can be the judge of our situation.”

“To be fair, we are pursuing the regular course of action, but the systems in place are not going to help,” he wrote.

“I am writing to you because you are good, trustworthy, and just. And we are in grave need, now.”

The priest asked O’Malley for a brief meeting, offering to fly to Boston, or arrange a phone call or video conference.

On May 2, 2018, the Archdiocese of Boston sent Fr. Vasek a reply to his letter.

“We are sorry to know of the difficulties currently presented to you, your family, and the Diocese of Crookston. Although the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, of which Cardinal O’Malley serves as President, does not have oversights or jurisdiction for any allegations or cases concerning sexual abuse by clergy, we are aware that these are very difficult matters.”

“Thank you for understanding that with regard to any matters concerning clergy personnel in the Diocese of Crookston or any civil or canonical complaints concerning the diocese, we must necessarily respect the jurisdiction and oversight of the Diocesan Bishop and those diocesan officials appointed to assist with such matters. We hope that this information may be helpful for you.”

The letter, which concluded with a promise of prayers, was signed by Fr. Robert Kickham, secretary to Cardinal O’Malley.

On Aug. 20, after reports surfaced about a 2015 letter sent to him by Fr. Boniface Ramsey, a priest concerned with the behavior of now-disgraced Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, O’Malley issued a public apology for failing to personally review Ramsey’s letter, and pledged to modify the procedures of his office.

A source in the Archdiocese of Boston told CNA that the cardinal’s office contacted Fr. Vasek shortly after that apology was issued, inviting the priest to meet with O’Malley.

CNA requested to interview Hoeppner, but the Diocese of Crookston declined that request. Instead, CNA was referred to four statements released by the diocese.

The first statement, issued May 9, 2017, said that “Bishop Hoeppner categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek not to pursue his allegations regarding Msgr. Grundhaus.”

“Mr. Vasek’s allegations of abuse regarding Msgr. Grundhaus were reported to law enforcement in 2011.” Multiple sources told CNA that it was the Fargo diocese, and not the Diocese of Crookston, that reported the allegations to law enforcement in that year.

The next statement, a May 14, 2017 letter addressed to Catholics in the Diocese of Crookston, reiterated Hoeppner’s denial, adding that “there are two sides to every story and there is another, a very different side to the story reported last week.”

CNA supplied specific questions to the Diocese of Crookston, asking for the other side of the story, but the diocese declined to answer those questions.

The third statement, issued September 20, 2017, after the first aspects of the lawsuit were settled, said that the settlement reached “avoids costly attorney fees and a drawn out legal process. The settlement agreement does not constitute any admission of unlawful conduct or wrong doing by Bishop Hoeppner. No diocesan funds were used to pay the settlement. The Diocese is now seeking dismissal of the remaining claims related to this matter.”

The fourth statement, issued September 27, 2017, in Hoeppner’s name, said that the bishop “did not pressure Mr. Vasek to remain quiet when we met in 2011 or when we met again in 2015. Mr. Vasek had indicated to me that he wanted the alleged incident to remain confidential. I attempted to abide by his wishes.”
“I was willing to ordain Mr. Vasek as a permanent deacon. He attended the final deacon formation weekend in late April, along with the other deacon candidates. Mr. Vasek chose not to be ordained for diaconal ministry. I respect his decision.”

“Looking back and knowing what I do now, I believe I would have handled my conversations with Mr. Vasek differently. However, please know that I did not pressure Mr. Vasek into making any decision with which he was not comfortable,” Hoeppner’s statement added.

“I continue to pray for all those involved in this matter. No one should ever be subject to inappropriate sexual conduct. I ask all Catholics and people of good will to pray for healing for all those who have suffered abuse.” 

CNA was unable to reach Grundhaus.

Hoeppner, 69, was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI in 1975, after studies at the Pontifical North American College. After earning a licentiate in canon law, and serving as a teacher, educational administrator, and director of vocations, he became the Diocese of Winona’s judicial vicar in 1988, and the vicar general of that diocese in 1997.

He was appointed Bishop of Crookston Sept. 28, 2007.

On Aug. 22, after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing sexual abuse in six dioceses of that state, Hoeppner wrote in a pastoral letter that “All victims are owed sincere apologies for what those entrusted with leadership in the Church have done and have failed to do.”

“It is important that we promise to continue, with renewed effort, our commitment to build in the Church, as Pope Francis puts it, ‘a culture of care that says `never again’ to any form of abuse.’”

“Changes are necessary so that sins and failures of the past are not repeated,” he added.

CNA contacted the press office of the Holy See for comment on the status of any canonical investigation against Hoeppner, but received no response before press time.

Vasek told CNA that, through everything he has experienced, his faith has not been shaken.

“I know that these men are not what Christ envisioned for his Church. Judas betrayed the Lord. People will betray the Lord all the time. I know what the Church teaches.”

“I encourage people to keep going to Church,” Vasek added.

“I tell everybody, don’t leave the Church because of these rotten men. That’s just what the devil wants. The devil wants to destroy from within. I say keep going to Church. Keep up with the sacraments. Keep praying. Because Christ’s Church is good. Some of the men in it aren’t.”

“I know who Christ is. He hasn’t done anything to me, other than give me hope.”


For the persecuted, there is hope in Mary's care, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 26, 2018 / 02:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite the pain and suffering they have experienced, Catholics in the Baltic states can take hope in the steadfast care of the Virgin Mary, as depicted at the Gate of Dawn in Lithuania, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

“The years pass, the regimes pass, but above the Gate of Dawn of Vilnius, Mary, Mother of Mercy, continues to watch over her people, as a sign of sure hope and consolation,” he said Sept. 26.

The pope’s general audience catechesis was devoted to a reflection on his Sept. 22-25 visit to the three Baltic countries: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

He noted the many years of persecution the people of the three countries have faced in the last 100 years, especially during the Nazi and Soviet occupations, when priests were imprisoned and deported, and the Jewish people massacred. Visiting the various places where these injustices took place, he saw “the cruelty of humanity,” he said.

Francis gave a summary of the different aspects of his trip, including the different meetings with authorities, youth, elderly, priests, seminarians, and religious.

During the three Masses, he said, Catholics were able to renew their “yes” to Christ’s hope, through the intercession of Mary, who is a Mother to all but especially to the suffering.

He also pointed out the ways in which the countries have changed since the last papal visit to the area, which was made by Pope St. John Paul II 25 years ago – immediately following the states’ independence from the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of the Russian troops.

“My visit took place in a very changed context compared to the one that met St. John Paul II,” he said, “therefore my mission was to proclaim to those peoples the joy of the Gospel and the revolution of mercy, of tenderness, because freedom is not enough to give meaning and fullness to life without love, the love that comes from God.”

“The Gospel, which in the time of trial gives strength and soul to the struggle for liberation, in the time of freedom is light for the daily journey of people, families, societies,” he explained, “and it is salt that gives flavor to ordinary life and preserves it from corruption of mediocrity and selfishness.”

At the end of the audience, the pope announced the publication later in the day Sept. 26, of a message “of fraternal encouragement to Chinese Catholics and to the whole universal Church.”

He referenced a provisional agreement between China and the Holy See, on the appointment of bishops, which was signed Sept. 22, and said he hopes it is “the fruit of a long and thoughtful journey of dialogue.”

The agreement’s intention, he explained, is to “foster a more positive collaboration between the Holy See and the Chinese authorities for the good of the Catholic community in China and for the harmony of the whole society.”

He said he hopes his message to Chinese Catholics and the universal Church will help “to heal the wounds of the past, to restore and maintain the full communion of all Chinese Catholics and to take up the proclamation of the Gospel with renewed commitment.”

Catholics have an important task and call to accompany Chinese Catholics with prayer and friendship, he said.

“They know they are not alone. The whole Church prays with them and for them. We ask Our Lady, mother of Hope and Help of Christians, to bless and keep all Catholics in China, while for the entire Chinese people we invoke from God the gift of prosperity and peace,” he concluded.

Sts. Cosmas and Damian

Saints Cosmas and Damian were twins born to Christian parents in Arabia, in the third century. They lived in the region around the border between modern day Turkey and Syria. They were physicians who were renowned for their skill as well as their refusal to charge for their services. Their charity and Christian witness won many converts to the faith and earned them a place of prominence in the Christian communites of Asia Minor. Therefore, when the Diocletian persecutions began in the latter half of the third century they were of some of the first to be sought out for execution.In 287, they were captured and ordered to deny their faith in Christ. They refused and underwent a series of tortures, including Crucifixion, from which, miraculously, they remained unscathed. The torturers, weary of what they realized was the impossible task of forcing apostasy from their mouths, finally beheaded them both.They are invoked in the Canon of the Mass and the Litany of Saints.

Don’t cut vital services to immigrants with new DHS rule, bishops plead

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Immigrants and their families will suffer great harm if long-standing policies are changed by the Department of Homeland Security to further limit access to public benefits, the U.S. bishops have said.
The rule would consider whether applicants for legal permanent resident status are likely to become a burden to public services.
For the U.S. bishops, the rule is “likely to prevent families from accessing important medical and social services vital to public health and welfare.”
“This further compounds strict eligibility guidelines already in place preventing many immigrants from receiving federal aid,” the bishops added.
The bishops’ Sept. 23 statement came from Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, the respective chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and the Committee on Domestic and Social Development.
The initial analysis by the bishops’ conference suggests the rule will be “very harmful to families” and cause fear among immigrant families who are “already struggling to fulfill the American Dream,” they said.
On Sept. 22 the Department of Homeland Security announced a proposed rule it said would “clearly define long-standing law” to ensure that those who seek to enter and remain in the U.S. “can support themselves financially and will not be reliant on public benefits.”
“The Department takes seriously its responsibility to be transparent in its rulemaking and is welcoming public comment on the proposed rule,” said Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

“This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”
The changes will not affect immigrants who already have green cards, but they could force millions of other immigrants to choose between accepting public assistance and seeking a green card to live and work legally in the U.S., the New York Times reports. It could also force older immigrants to stop participating in low-cost prescription drug programs lest they be considered ineligible for resident status.
Some immigrants who do not understand the new rule may avoid seeking legal status for fear of losing benefits, Charles Wheeler, a legal expert at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, told the New York Times.
The Department of Homeland Security cited a historic standard that considers whether an alien seeking admission to the U.S. would become a “public charge.” Such a person is defined by whether he or she will receive certain public benefits above a defined threshold or for longer than a defined period of time. This was the most common reason for refusing admission at ports of entry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the announcement said.
The U.S. bishops, however, said the notice “undercuts decades of administrative policies and guidelines on how immigrants are treated by the United States government.”
While federal law has always required people seeking green cards to prove they will not be a burden, the government has never previously considered food assistance and some other public benefits to be such a burden, the New York Times reported.
Potential permanent immigrants to the U.S. will be affected by the law, as will students, workers and others with temporary visas who seek to stay permanently. Some immigrants could be asked to post cash bonds of at least $10,000 to secure their green cards under the new rule.
The Trump administration said the rule could affect 382,000 people per year.
The Department of Homeland Security stressed that the determination of whether someone would be a public charge is “prospective” based on the totality of a person’s circumstances. These legal factors include age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education and skills.
The public benefits to be considered include federal, state, local or tribal cash assistance; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Supplemental Security Income; Medicaid, with limited exceptions for emergency benefits and some education-related disability services; Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy; food stamps; government-funded institutionalization for long-term care; public housing; and Section 8 housing choice vouchers and rental assistance.

Asylees, refugees, and other recognized vulnerable individuals are not impacted by the rule. In considering eligibility for admission, the Department of Homeland Security will not consider public benefits received by immigrants serving in active duty or reserve U.S. armed forces, or by their spouse or children.
Other categories excluded from consideration include disaster relief, emergency medical assistance, benefits received by an immigrant’s U.S. citizen children, and Medicaid benefits for children or potential adopted children of U.S. citizens. Families earning under 15 percent of the federal poverty line will also be exempt.
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, there will be a public comment period of 60 days.


China criticized for repression of Muslim ethnic group

Urumqi, China, Sep 25, 2018 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sept. 21 joined voices from Pakistan and around the world in denouncing Chinese repression against a Muslim minority, as China continues to put pressure on almost all religions within its borders.

Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority that mainly inhabit the vast Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The advocacy group Uyghur Human Rights Project estimates that approximately ten percent of the Uyghur population, or some 1 million individuals, are being extrajudicially detained in a system of internment camps.

While also mentioning his concern for Christians in China amid a recent intensifying of governmental repression, Pompeo decried the treatment of the Uyghurs by Chinese authorities.

“Their religious beliefs are decimated,” Pompeo said.

An Aug. 13 report from the United Nations detailed the violent crackdowns on members of the minority in Xinjiang, which China claims is not based upon religion but rather in response to terrorism threats in general. According to the BBC, violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

“In the name of combating 'religious extremism' and maintaining 'social stability'...China had turned the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region into something that resembled a massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy, a 'no rights zone',” the report states.

“[M]embers of the Xinjiang Uyghur minority, along with others who were identified as Muslim, were being treated as enemies of the State based on nothing more than their ethno-religious identity.”

Authorities in Pakistan, China’s closest ally in the Muslim world, also warned against escalating persecution of the Uyghurs.

Noorul Haq Qadri, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony, advised Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing that Beijing’s crackdowns on Uyghur activity would only fuel extremism rather than mitigate it.

The Chinese ambassador reportedly promised that his government would allow a Pakistani delegation of religious scholars to visit Xinjiang, according to Pakistani media.

The Chinese government, led by President Xi Jinping, has made numerous moves recently to curb religious freedom in the country, including the demolishing of Christian churches and sending Muslims to so-called “reeducation camps” for offenses as minor as wearing beards, veils and other distinctive markers of Islam. In September, the government made it illegal for any religious prayers, catechesis, or preaching to be published online.

The US Commission on International Religion wrote in its 2018 report that last year China “advanced its so-called 'sinicization' of religion, a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with 'Chinese characteristics.'”

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been affected.

The Holy See signed a deal with Beijing Sept. 22 to give the Chinese government some power over episcopal appointments in exchange for bringing the underground Church above ground, ending the split with the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

Cardinal Marx apologizes for sex abuse by clerics in Germany

Fulda, Germany, Sep 25, 2018 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, chairman of the German bishops' conference, personally apologized Tuesday for “failure and pain” following an extensive report that German clergy had abused thousands of children between 1946 and 2014.

“For too long in the church we have looked away, denied, covered up and didn’t want it to be true,” said Cardinal Marx at a news conference in Fulda, as reported by Reuters. “For all the failure, pain and suffering, I must apologize as the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference as well as personally.”

“Those who are guilty must be punished,” he added.

The report detailing the abuse in Germany was leaked to the German press Sept. 12.

The report, commissioned by the German bishops in 2014 and officially released Sept. 25, found allegations against 1,670 German clerics, or “4.4 percent of all clerics from 1946 to 2014 whose personnel records and other documents were reviewed in the dioceses.” Nearly 63 percent of the 3,677 alleged victims were male.

According to the German bishops' conference, the aim of the study, in which all 27 dioceses of Germany took part, was “to obtain more clarity and transparency about this dark side in our church, not only for the sake of those affected, but also in order to be able to see the misdemeanours for ourselves and do everything possible to ensure that they do not repeat themselves.”

'Made for Happiness' Eucharistic assembly draws 14k in Michigan

Lansing, Mich., Sep 25, 2018 / 04:49 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Lansing hosted a gathering of thousands Saturday, hoping to spark a fire for evangelization among Catholics in central Michigan. Nearly 25 percent of regular Mass-goers in the diocese attended the event.

Diocesan officials estimated that 14,000 people turned out Sept. 22 for “Made for Happiness,” a Eucharistic assembly held at the Breslin Center, on the campus of Michigan State University.

The diocese said its goal was to reinvigorate the joy of proclaiming the Christian message.

“We hope that it fires people up to go out and do that discipleship, to do that evangelization, to live out their faith in the daily life – in their work environment, in their social environment,” said Michael Diebold, Lansing’s diocesan spokesman.

“[We hope] that they can go out in their everyday life and spread that notion of being made for happiness, and bring people to the Church,” he told CNA.

Speakers included nationally-known Father Mike Schmitz, chaplain of the Newman Center at University of Minnesota-Duluth; Jennifer Fulwiler, Catholic author, speaker, and radio host; and Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing.

The assembly was preceded by a Eucharistic procession from St. Mary’s Cathedral to the Breslin Center, a few blocks from the state’s capitol building. More than 4,000 Catholics marched 3.5 miles, and some carried banners representing their parish or Catholic organization.

Diebold said the procession was a practical example of evangelization.  

The procession was “this outward sign of all these thousands walking up what is essentially main street Lansing, Michigan. We wanted to be a public witness,” he said.

The bishop “thought it would be a great idea to provide a good witness to both the city of Lansing, capital of Michigan, and the surrounding area.”

Bishop Boyea asked diocesan parishes to cancel all Saturday evening Masses, to encourage parishioners to attend the Mass at the assembly. At the end of the Mass, the bishop called for a year of prayer directed at the proclamation of the Gospel.  

This is the third assembly the diocese has hosted to focus on the new evangelization in the last six years. The first two only involved church officials or volunteers. This year’s gathering, Diebold said, was directed at encouraging all Catholics.

“Each of the speakers…were encouraging those that were in attendance to try and be more than just folks in the pews, to be more than just Church-going Catholics, but to become disciples, to become missionary disciples,” he said.

“The theme of the assembly was made for happiness, and that’s what we are hoping people will take away from there. That they can share with others who may not have heard of it or maybe have forgotten about it – the happiness that we can get from Jesus Christ by being a member of the Church.”


Pope Francis: On sexual abuse, Church and society have a ‘new conscience’

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said Tuesday that renewed procedures and priorities in handling sex abuse cases have yielded results in the Church, and have developed alongside a greater moral awareness of the dangers of child abuse. Francis spoke during a press conference Sept. 25 on the return flight from a four-day papal visit to the Baltic region.

Citing the Pennsylvania grand jury report released July 14, Francis said the difference between the number of historical and recent abuse cases is clear, and indicates true progress in the way the Church addresses the problem of clerical sexual abuse.

“We see that in the first 70 years there were so many priests that fell into this corruption, then in more recent times it has diminished, because the Church noticed that it needed to fight it in another way,” the pope said. “Watch the [number of cases] and watch when the Church became conscious of this.”

Francis stressed that while meaningful progress should be recognized, there is no such thing as a tolerable level of abuse: “Even if it was just one priest who abused a boy or a girl, this is atrocious, because that man was chosen by God.”

While the pope noted that sexual abuse was not confined to the Church alone, it was in the Church that it was “the most scandalous, because [the Church] should bring children to God and not destroy them.”

Francis also said that in the past, a mentality had existed in the Church and the wider culture which contributed to a pattern of abuse and cover-ups. The pope said that previous approaches to handling sexual abuse allegations were often informed by consciences more concerned with scandal and taboo than with protecting victims. 

“In the old times these things were covered up, they even covered them up at home, when the uncle was molesting the niece, when the dad was molesting his sons, they covered it up because it was a very big disgrace… it was the way of thinking in previous times.”

The pope explained that there was now a greater moral awareness of the seriousness of child sexual abuse, but that to understand the mistakes of the past it was necessary to consider the historical and cultural context.

“It is a principle that helps me to interpret history a lot,” he said. “A historic event is interpreted with the hermeneutic of the time period in which it took place, not with a hermeneutic of today.”

Offering the example of the history of different “indigenous people,” the pope noted that to modern eyes there were “so many injustices, so much brutality, but it cannot be interpreted through the hermeneutic of today [now] that we have another conscience.”

Francis also compared the Church’s shifting attitude towards covering up sexual abuse with changed perceptions of the death penalty, noting that the Church went from having its own civil executioner to eventually progress beyond recognizing a need for capital punishment at all. 

The pope also stressed that the renewed seriousness with which the Church was prosecuting cases of abuse had yielded results, and he underscored his personal commitment to zero-tolerance, saying that he had never - and would never - extend pardons to convicted abusers.

“I have received so, so many completed convictions from [the Congregation for] the Doctrine of the Faith and I have said [go] forward, forward, never have I signed a request for grace after a conviction. On this I do not negotiate, there is no negotiation.”

Francis has been criticized for his 2014 "pardon" of Fr. Mauro Inzoli, an Italian who had been accused of sexually abusing multiple children in the course of a decade. Inzoli was removed from ministry by Benedict XVI in 2012, and restored by Francis in 2014. Following a 2016 civil conviction for eight counts of sexual abuse of minors, Izoli was then dismissed from the clerical state by Francis in 2017.

Francis blamed his initial reversal on being new to his office, and not understanding the case fully. Some clerics close to the pope say that Francis was persuaded to restore Inzoli to ministry after pontifical advisers made a personal plea to the pope.

The pope has recently indicated that he has taken an active role in the handling of some high-profile cases. During a previous in-flight press conference he said that he will personally judge some cases, having first received legal advice from officials at the CDF.

Speaking about a meeting with young people he had held earlier that day in Tallin, Estonia, Francis spoke of the damage which had been done to the faith of young people.

“They [young people] are scandalized by incoherence, they are scandalized by corruption, and into this [scandal] of corruption enters that which you were under-lining: sexual abuse.”

Instead, the pope said young people were “asking to be heard,” saying the did not want “fixed formulas” of engagement or versions of “accompaniment where they are ordered what to do.”

Next month the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will convene in Rome to address the topic of young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.

Full text of Pope Francis' in-flight press conference from Estonia

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2018 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- The following is an unofficial transcript of the in-flight press conference on the papal plane returning from Tallinn, Estonia to Rome on Sept. 25, 2018.

Greg Burke: Good evening, Holy Father, and thanks especially. Three countries in four days isn’t so easy. It’s tiring. But, perhaps it’s better than four countries in three days. It seemed a bit like four countries in four days because the first day there was this surprise from China. So, we did a little of this also, we came close to China. Let’s try to remain on the theme and speak about the trip and certainly, we’ll begin with the local journalists from each nation and we’ll try during the press conference to speak about the trip to the Baltics. I don’t know if you want to say something first, or…

Pope Francis: First of all, I’d like to thank you for the work that you’ve done because also for you three countries in four days isn’t easy, especially moving from one place to another is tiring. I thank you so much for the service you offer to the people, the people on this trip because communication is important. What happened there, they are many important things that happened on this trip and I await your questions.

Greg Burke: First is Saulena Ziugzdaite from Lithuania.

Saulena Ziugzdaite ( Holy Father, thank you for this moment and for all of this trip. When you spoke in Vilnius about the Lithuanian soul, you said that we must be a bridge between East and West. But, it’s not easy to be a bridge. You’re always crossed by others. Some say our tragedy is that we are a bridge. Perhaps, one says, it’s decidedly better to go to the part of the West, with its values. But for you, what did you mean, what does it mean to be a bridge?

Pope Francis: Evidently, you are part today politically of the West, of the European Union. You have done much to enter into the European Union, after independence, you immediately did all of your homework, which isn’t easy, and you were able to enter into the European Union, that is, a belonging to the West. But, you also have relations with NATO. You belong to NATO, which speaks of the West. If you look to the East, there is your history- a tough history.

Also, a part of the tragic history came from the West, no? From the Germans, from the Poles, but especially from Nazism, no? It was that which came from the West. From the East, from the Russian Empire. Making bridges means- demands- strength. Strength not only of belonging - that gives you strength - but of one’s own identity. I am aware that the situation of the three Baltic countries is always in danger, always. The fear of invasion, because history itself reminds you of that. You are right when you say it’s not easy, but this is a game that is played every day, step after step, with culture, with dialogue. But, it’s not easy and I believe that the obligation of all of us is to help you in this… not to help you but to be close to you with our hearts.

Greg Burke: The next question comes from Gints Amolins from the radio of Latvia.
Gints Amolins (Latvijas Radio): Good day, Holiness! In the Baltic countries, you spoke often of the importance of roots and identity. From Latvia and also Lithuania and Estonia, there were so many people who left for more prosperous nations, so many already are putting their roots elsewhere and then there is also (inaudible) general demographic problems, of birthrate. So in this situation, what can and must our nations, the leaders of our nations and also everyone personally do? How must we evaluate this problem? Thanks.

Pope Francis: I, in my homeland I didn’t know people from Estonia and from Latvia,, but yes it is very strong, but relatively strong the Lithuanian migration. In Argentina, there are so many of them. And they bring their culture and history there. And they are proud in the double effort of inserting themselves in the new nation and also conserving their identity, in their festivals. There are traditional costumes, traditional songs, and they can always return to their homeland to visit.

I think that the fight for maintaining identity is very strong, and you have that, you have a very strong identity, an identity that was made in suffering, in defense, in work, and in culture. What can be done to defend identity? The recourse to the roots. This is important. It’s an ancient thing, but it is a thing that must be transmitted. Identity is inserted in the belonging to a people. And the belonging to a people must be transmitted. Roots must be transmitted to the new generations and this with education and with dialogue, especially between the old and the young. And, you can transmit this and you must do it because your identity is a treasure. So, every identity is a treasure, but conceived as a belonging to a people. This is what comes to me. I don’t know if you wanted to pose that question.

Greg Burke: And, now Evelyn Kaldoja from Estonia

Evelyn Kaldoja (Postimees): I would like to ask in English so I have to wait for the question. At today’s homily, you mentioned that there is some who shout and hurl threats about using weapons and deploying troops and so on and so on. And, considering where we were, on that very square, there were some NATO soldiers who were deployed to Estonia just to offer assurance and many people there thought probably on the situation on the Eastern border of Europe. How concerned are you about the tensions there and also the Catholics who live there across the border from Europe?

Pope Francis: Violence from weapons and, today, the world costs of weapons are scandalous. I was told that with what is spent on weapons in a month, you could feed the hungry of the world for a year. I don’t know if it’s true. It’s terrible. The industry, the commerce of weapons, also contraband sales of weapons is one of the greatest corruptions. And in the face of this, there is the logic of defense. David was able to defeat with a sling and 5 rocks. But today there are no Davids. And I think that to organize a nation, it must have a reasonable and non-aggressive army of defense. Reasonable and non-aggressive. In this way defense is licit. It’s also an honor to defend the homeland. The problem comes when it becomes aggressive, not reasonable and border wars are waged. On borders wars we have so many examples, not only in Europe. Towards the East, but also in other continents. They fight for power, to colonize a nation. This is my perspective and the answer to your question. The weapons industry is scandalous today before a hungry world. Second, it is licit, reasonable to have an army to defend borders. And this is honorable as it is licit to have the keys to the doors of your home… the defense from attack.

Greg Burke: Thanks, Holy Father. Stefanie Stahlhofen from the Austrian Radio station CIC

Stefanie Stahlhofen (CIC): Holy Father, at the ecumenical encounter in Tallinn, you said that the young people before the sexual scandals don’t see a net condemnation by the Catholic Church. In Germany, precisely today a new investigation came out on the sex abuses and about how the Church treated so many cases.

Pope Francis: About this, I’ll speak after [I speak about] the trip. I will respond, but first questions about the trip. This is the rule. But, it will be the first question after the trip.

(Editor’s note: Discussion ensues about whether or not there are further questions about the trip. Pope Francis insists that the trip receive more attention.)

Pope Francis: People expect information about this trip. After, other questions.

Greg Burke: A Lithuanian is arriving to ask about the trip. Pugagiauskas from Lithuanian television.

Vykintas Pugagiauskas (Lithuanian Radio Television): I would like to speak in English... In all Baltic countries, you professed openness. Openness towards migrants, openness toward the others, but for example, in Lithuania already there was a discussion about a girl that greeted you at the plane and she did not look exactly Lithuanian. She was partly Italian, a bit more black skinned. So, my question is, do the peoples in the Baltic countries only hear what they want to hear from you rather than what you are trying to tell them? Do they hear your message about the openness?

Pope Francis: The message on openness to migrants is rather advanced in your nation. There are no strongly populist views, no... in Estonia and Lithuania are open people that they have the desire to integrate migrants, but not massively because they cannot. To integrate them with prudence of the government. We have spoken with two of the three heads of state on this and they made this argument, not me. And, in the presidents' speeches you will see that the word welcome, openness is frequent... This shows a desire for universality in the measure that they can take... the measure that they are integrated, this is very important, and the measure that is not a threat against their own identity. There are three things that I understood about the migration of the people, and this has touched me a lot: prudent and well-thought openness. I do not know if you were thinking of another thing.

Pugagiauskas: My question is about the reception of your message.

Pope Francis: I think so. In this gift that I say, because today the problem of migrants in all the world, and not only the external migration, but also internal in the continents is a grave problem. It is not easy to study it. In every place, it has different connotations.

Greg Burke: Holy Father, the questions about the trip are finished...

Pope Francis: I would like to tell you some things on some points of the trip that I have experienced with a special strength. The fact of your history, the history of the Baltic countries. It is a story of invasion, of dictatorships, of crimes, of deportations. When I visited the Museum in Vilnius -- “museum” is a word that makes you think of the Louvre, that museum was a prison, it was the prison where political or religious detainees were taken. I saw the cells, the size of this seat, where they could only stay standing, cells of torture. I saw places of torture where with the cold that they have in Lithuania they took naked prisoners and hit them with water and left them there for hours, for hours... to break their endurance. And then I was in the hall, a great room of the executions and they took the prisoners there by force and [killed them] simply with a blow to the nape of the neck, then they brought out [the bodies] with a mechanical stair toward a truck that threw them in the forest, in a spot... they killed around 40 a day. At the end there were around 15 thousand of them they killed there. This makes up a part of the history of Lithuania and also of the other countries, but that which I saw was in Lithuania.   

Then I went to the place of the large ghetto, where they killed thousands of Jews, then in the same afternoon I went to the monument to the Memory of the convicted, killed, tortured, deported. That day, I tell you the truth, I was destroyed. It made me think of the cruelty. But I tell you, with information that we have today, cruelty isn’t over. The same cruelty is found today in many detention centers. Today, it is found in many prisons. Even overpopulation of a prison is a form of torture, to not live with dignity. A prison today that has a system which does not give the detained the hope of leaving is already a torture. Then we saw on the television the cruelties of the ISIS terrorists, that burned alive that pilot from Jordan, slit the throats of those Coptic Christians on the beaches of Libya, and many others. Today, cruelty is not finished. In all the world it is happening. And this message I would like to give to you, as journalists. This is a scandal, a grave scandal of our culture, of our society.

Another thing that I saw in these three countries is the hate of religion, whatever it is. The hate. I saw a Jesuit bishop in Lithuania or Latvia, I do not remember well, that was deported to Siberia for ten years, then arrived to the concentration camp, by then he was old... so many men and women defending their identity were tortured, deported to Siberia, they did not return, they were killed. The faith of these three countries is great. It is a faith that is born from martyrdom and this is a thing that maybe you have seen, speaking with the people, as you journalists do to have news of the country.

Then, this experience of faith, so important, made a unique phenomenon in these countries: an ecumenical life as there is not in other countries generally. It is a true ecumenism, ecumenism between Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, even Orthodox. In the cathedral yesterday in the ecumenical service in Latvia, in Riga, we saw it. So great, brothers, very very near, only one Church, close... the ecumenism has its own roots.

Then there is another phenomenon in these countries and it is important to study it: maybe you can make many good things in your jobs studying this: the phenomenon of the transmission of the culture, of identity, and of faith. Usually, the faith was transmitted by the grandparents, why? Because the dads were working, the dads and moms had to work and they had to be radicalized in the party, in the case of the Soviets, or under the line of the Nazism and even atheist educated. But the grandparents knew to transmit the faith and the culture in a time that in Lithuania it was forbidden to use the Lithuanian language and it was removed from the schools, when they went to a religious service, either protestant or Catholic, they took there the prayer books to see if they were in the Lithuanian language or in Russian language or German. So many, a generation, in that period learned the mother tongue from their grandparents, the grandparents that taught them to write or to read the mother tongue. This makes us think: it would be beautiful some articles, some television services on the transmission of the culture, of the language, of the art, of the faith, in moments of dictatorship, of persecution. They could not think themselves as other because all the means of communication in that time were few, the radio, it was grabbed hold of by the state.

When a government becomes or wants to become dictatorial, the first thing that it does is take control of the means of communication. I want to underline this.

And now today I had the meeting with youth. Young people are scandalized, I introduce in this way the first question that was outside the theme of the trip. The young people are scandalized by the hypocrisy of adults. They are scandalized of… They are scandalized by incoherence, they are scandalized by corruption, and into this [scandal] of corruption enters that which you were under-lining: sexual abuse. It is true that it is an accusation against the Church, and we all know, we are all aware of the statistics, I will not say them. But even if it was just one priest who abused a boy or a girl, this is atrocious, because that man was chosen by God to bring… I know that young people are scandalized by such great corruption. They know that it is everywhere, but in the Church it is the most scandalous because it should bring children to God and not destroy them. Young people search to make a way for themselves with experience. The meeting of young people today was very clear: they are asking to be heard. They are asking to be heard. They do not want fixed formulas. They do not want accompaniment, where they are ordered what to do.

The second part of this question that was first after the [questions about the] trip was that the Church does not do the things as it should in this [area], in punishing this corruption.

I take the Pennsylvania report, for example, and we see that the first 70 years there were so many priests that fell into this corruption, then in more recent times it has diminished, because the Church noticed that it needed to fight it in another way. In the old times these things were covered up, they even covered them up at home, when the uncle was molesting the niece, when the dad was molesting his sons, they covered it up because it was a very big disgrace… it was the way of thinking in previous times or of the past time. It is a principle that helps me to interpret history a lot.

A historic event is interpreted with the hermeneutic of the time period in which it took place, not as a hermeneutic of today passed on. For example, the example of indigenous people, that there were so many injustices, so much brutality, but it cannot be interpreted with the hermeneutic of today [now] that we have another conscience. A last example, the death penalty. The Vatican, when it was a State, a pontifical State, had the death penalty. In the end the state decapitations were 1870 more or less, a guy, but then the moral conscience grew, it is true that always there were loopholes and there were hidden death sentences. You are old, you are an inconvenience, I do not give you the medicine, it went so… it is a condemnation to social death. And about today… I believe with this I have responded.

The Church… I take the example of Pennsylvania, watch the correlations and watch when the Church became conscious of this. It dedicated all and recently, I have received so, so many completed convictions from the Doctrine of the Faith and I have said forward, forward, never have I signed a request for grace after a conviction. On this I do not negotiate, there is no negotiation.

Another question? On the trip, it’s over. Pelayo I think wanted to say another thing?

Greg Burke: Antonio Pelayo of Vida Nueva.

Antonio Pelayo (Vida Nueva): Holy Father, three days ago agreement was signed between the Holy See and the government of the Chinese Republic. Can you give us some additional information about its contents, because some Chinese Catholics, in particular Cardinal Zen, are accusing you of having sold the Church to the government of Beijing after so many years of suffering. How do you respond to these accusations?

Pope Francis: This is a process of years, a dialogue between the Vatican commission and the Chinese commission to put the appointment of bishops in order. The Vatican team worked a lot. I would like to say some names: Monsignor Celli (Ed. note: Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli), who with patience went into dialogue. Years. Years! Then, Fr. Rota Graziosi, a humble Curia official of 72 years of age who wants to be a priest, to go in a parish, but he stayed in the Curia to help in this process. And then, the Secretary of State, who is a very devoted man, Cardinal Parolin, but he has a special devotion to the lens, he studies all of the documents down to the period, comma, notes, and this gives me a great assurance. Also, this team with these qualities went ahead. You know that when you make a peace agreement or a negotiation, both sides lose something. This is the law. Both sides. And you move ahead.

This went ahead two steps and back one, two ahead and back one. Then, months passed without speaking to each other and then the time of God, which appears to be [the time of the] Chinese. Slowly. This is wisdom, the wisdom of the Chinese. And the bishops who were in difficulty were studied case by case and in the case of the bishops, in the end dossiers came on to my desk about each one. And, I was responsible for signing the case of the bishops. Then, the case of the agreement returned, the drafts on my desk. They were spoken about. I gave my ideas. The other discussed and went ahead. I think of the resistance, the catholics who have suffered. It’s true. And, they will suffer. Always, in an agreement, there is suffering. They have a great faith. And they write. They make messages arrive that what the Holy See, what Peter says is that which Jesus says. The martyrial faith of these people today goes ahead. They are the greats!

I signed the agreement. At least, the plenipotentiary letters for signing that agreement that I had signed. I am responsible. The others that I appointed in all have worked for more than 10 years. It’s not an improvisation. It’s a path, a true path.

Then, a simple anecdote and a historical datum, two things to finish. When there was that famous communique of an ex-Apostolic Nuncio, the episcopates of the world wrote me, saying clearly that they felt close, that they were praying for me. The Chinese faithful wrote and the signature of this writ was from a bishop, let’s say it this way, of the traditional Catholic Church and from a bishop of the Patriotic Church, together and faithful, both of them. For me, it was a sign from God.

An anecdote as well: we forget that in Latin America - thanks to God that this is over - we forget that for 350 years it was the king of Portugal and of Spain to appoint the bishops and the Pope only gave jurisdiction. We forget the case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Maria Teresa was tired of signing the appointments of bishops and gave jurisdiction to the Vatican Other times, and thanks to God that they aren’t repeated. But, this isn’t that they appoint. No, this is a dialogue about eventual candidates but Rome appoints, the Pope appoints. And, let us pray for the suffering of some who don’t understand and who have at their backs so many years of being clandestine.

Thank you very much. They tell us that dinner is ready and the flight isn’t any longer. Thanks so much, thanks so much for your work and pray for me.

Greg Burke: Thanks to you, Holy Father. Have a good dinner and a good rest.