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Here's the latest update on the attack on the Our Lady of Fatima statue in D.C.

Surveillance footage shows a man hammering at the Our Lady of Fatima statue located outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5, 2021. / Screenshot taken from Metropolitan Police Department video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 14, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A marble statute of Our Lady of Fatima outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., suffered "irreparable damage" at the hands of a still unidentified assailant and will be replaced, a basilica spokesperson has told CNA.

Police now know the identity of a "suspect" sought in connection with the Dec. 5 attack, the spokesperson said, referring further questions about the investigation to the Metropolitan Police Department.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department confirmed that a "person of interest" has been identified but said police are not releasing any further information at this time. No arrests have been reported.

In another development, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, has announced that a public rosary in "response to the recent vandalism of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima" will take place at the basilica on Sunday, Jan. 16 in observance of Religious Freedom Day.

“I encourage all Catholics to participate in this event, as we pray that all religious communities would be free to worship without fear and to continue to bless this great country," Dolan said in a statement released Friday.

The rosary will be held at 1:30 p.m. EST, and will be live streamed.

“Religious art instructs and inspires. It reminds us that we live most fully when we direct our lives toward our Creator and our neighbors,” Dolan said. “On the other hand, the defacement of such public symbols of the sacred degrades our life together and harms the common good.”

Police have shared surveillance footage that shows a man wearing a mask approaching the Marian statue located outside the basilica. The man steps up to the statue, withdraws a mallet or hammer-like tool, and appears to strike at the statue's hands. He climbs back down only to step up again and repeatedly whack at the statute's face, sending pieces of marble flying. 

The basilica spokesperson told CNA the cost of the Carrara marble statue's replacement is “to be determined.” No decision has been made yet about when or how the existing statue will be removed and disposed of, the spokesperson said.

The statue is valued at $250,000, according to a police report obtained by CNA. The case is not being treated as a hate crime, police have said.

English prosecutors consider guidelines advising against charges for those who assist in 'mercy killings'

Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey in London. / antb/Shutterstock.

London, England, Jan 14, 2022 / 14:07 pm (CNA).

The Crown Prosecution Service, which brings criminal charges in England and Wales, is considering a proposal to examine “mercy killings” that would advise against charging those who assist in the deaths of gravely ill people who wish for assisted suicide or euthanasia if there is evidence that the person wanted to die. 

The CPS is seeking the public's input as new guidelines are considered.

Max Hill, Director of Public Prosecutions, told the PA News Agency that in the case of “mercy killings,” “prosecution may be required, but there are circumstances where actually, even where you have the evidence, you may be able to move away from prosecution – for example, where there is evidence of a settled intention on the part of the victim that their life should come to an end, and that what happens is at the time of their choosing.”

"At one end of that spectrum, these are cases of murder – when you take somebody else’s life, it may not be at the victim’s time of choosing and they may not have reached a point, even if they’re sick, of deciding that they want their life to end… But at the other end of the spectrum, nobody wants to see a devoted husband or wife charged and going to court," Hill asserted in another interview.

The Sunday Post reported that under the draft guidance, cases where the suspect was motivated only by compassion, where they tried to take their own life at the same time, and where they fully cooperated with the police would be less likely to result in prosecution.

If there is no evidence that the person wanted to die, Hill added, the case would be treated as a murder. In addition, if the victim were under 18 or did not have the mental capacity to decide to end their own life, those would be factors in favor of prosecution. 

A consultation period on the proposed guidelines launched Jan. 14 and is due to conclude April 8.

“[The new guidelines] means that in some cases charges will be brought, but in others we will be able to avoid placing a loving husband or a loving wife in court to face criminal charges,” Hill said, in reference to a high-profile case from 2019. 

In that case, a U.K. court acquitted an 80-year-old woman accused of killing her husband Dennis, 81, with a lethal dose of prescription medicine. Mavis Eccleston told jurors that her husband wanted to end his life after receiving a terminal diagnosis of bowel cancer. He had stopped treatment except for pain management medication, and he had reportedly talked about going to Switzerland to take advantage of legal assisted suicide in the country.

The couple decided to end their lives together with a lethal dose of medication, and reportedly wrote a note to their family explaining their decision. 

The couple was found in their apartment by family members on Feb. 19, 2018, after they had taken the drugs. The couple was rushed to the hospital and given an antidote to the medication. Mavis survived; Dennis did not.

The woman’s family later called for the legalization of assisted suicide "so that dying people aren't forced to suffer, make plans in secret or ask loved ones to risk prosecution by helping them," the BBC reported.

And in 2017 an English chemist, Bipin Desai, was cleared after administering lethal drugs to his 85-year-old father, who had reportedly wanted to die. A judge at the time ruled that the chemist's actions "were acts of pure compassion and mercy."

The Catholic Church teaches that assisted suicide and euthanasia are a violation of the dignity of all human life, and therefore morally impermissible.

The Catholic Church supports, rather than assisted suicide or euthanasia, palliative care, which means seeking to accompany a patient towards the end of their lives with methods such as pain management. While firmly opposing euthanasia, Catholics do not believe life must always be prolonged with burdensome medical treatment.

Assisted suicide is illegal in England and Wales, and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961.

Parliament has consistently rejected efforts to change the law.

In 2015 the British parliament rejected a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis, by a vote of 330 to 118. 

A bill to legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales was not taken to a vote last year, after seven hours of debate and notable opposition in the House of Lords in October.

A joyful, faithful 'warrior': Catholic philosopher, author Alice von Hildebrand dies at 98

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand / Dr. Alice von Hildebrand

Denver Newsroom, Jan 14, 2022 / 13:17 pm (CNA).

Catholic philosopher and longtime professor Alice von Hildebrand died Jan. 14 at the age of 98.

“With sadness suffused by joy, I write to share that our beloved friend and sister Alice von Hildebrand went home to the Lord at 12:25am this morning. She died peacefully at home after a brief illness,” wrote Hildebrand Project Founder and President John Henry Crosby in a Jan. 14 death announcement. 

“Those who knew Lily often heard her say that the wick of her candle was growing ever shorter. In fact, she yearned for death — to see the face of Our Lord, to be reunited at last with her husband Dietrich, her parents, her dearest friend Madeleine Stebbins — with the peace that only true innocence and profound faith can grant.” 

Von Hildebrand was born Alice Jourdain in Belgium in 1923. She fled Europe during World War II, arriving in New York City in 1940. Soon after, she met renowned personalist philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. She recalled being immediately impressed by Dietrich’s dedication to truth and wisdom. 

"The moment he opened his mouth, I knew that it was what I was looking for: the perfume of the supernatural, the radiant beauty of truth, the unity of all values: truth, beauty, and goodness," von Hildebrand wrote in her 2014 autobiography, “Memoirs of a Happy Failure.” 

She was a philosophy student of Dietrich’s for several years before the pair were married in 1959. 

Von Hildebrand spent the majority of her career teaching philosophy at Hunter College in New York City, beginning in 1947. Though she described the secular college as radically anti-Catholic, von Hildebrand was well-liked among her students and even inspired several of them to conversion. 

“In secular universities, the word 'objective truth' triggers panic,” she wrote in her autobiography. "God said, 'I know you do not belong there,' as my colleagues repeated time and again. 'But, I have work for you to do, and you cannot do it on your own. I will help you.'"

In 1984, von Hildebrand retired from Hunter College after 37 years and she was awarded the college’s Presidential Award for excellence in teaching. 

Von Hildebrand published several books during her lifetime including “The Privilege of Being a Woman” and “The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand.” She also wrote countless articles and essays and helped launch the Hildebrand Project to promote her late husband’s work.  

She was a frequent contributor to Catholic News Agency and made more than eighty appearances on CNA's parent company the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).  

“We are grateful for the many contributions she made to Catholic thought and for the many programs she made for EWTN over the years,” said EWTN Chaplain Father Joseph Wolfe. “May she enjoy her eternal reward and the joy of being reunited with her dear husband Dietrich, whom she so admired.” 

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency and ACI Prensa, called von Hildebrand an “exemplary, happy warrior” for the Church.

“She not only made more than 80 appearances on EWTN, but left probably her most important body of essays in the set of articles she wrote exclusively for CNA,” Bermudez said. You can read her work for CNA here.

In a 2014 interview with CNA, von Hildebrand reflected that her life looked radically different than the one she expected. 

"God has chosen the pattern of my life - totally different from what I had imagined. I feel like the female Habakkuk brought into the lion's den," she said. 

"When I look back on my life, the words that come to my mind from my heart are: misericodias domini in aeternum cantabo," citing Latin words from the Psalms which translate to "I will sing the mercies of the Lord forever."

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced. 

10 things to know about Pope emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. / © Mazur / wwwthepapalvisit.org.uk.

Denver Newsroom, Jan 14, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI served as pope from 2005 to 2013. He was born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, at Marktl in the German state of Bavaria. He turns 95 soon.

There is lots to know about this man who became a priest, archbishop, a cardinal, and even a former pope.

He is fond of cats, pianos, and Mozart.

When he was a cardinal living in Rome, he would prepare plates of food for stray cats. If friendly cats near his Vatican offices were hurt, he would bandage their wounds.

As of 2005, the year he became pope, Benedict had a black-and-white short-haired cat named Chico living at his home in Bavaria.

When he moved to live in the Vatican apartments, he still had to follow the rules: no cats or dogs allowed.

His other interests include the piano, which he played for years. The composer Mozart is a favorite.

“His music still touches me very deeply, because it is so luminous and yet at the same time so deep,” he told interviewer Peter Seewald in the 1996 book “Salt of the Earth.” “His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”

His brother Georg, who also became a priest, made a career of music: he became choirmaster at St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Bavarian city of Regensburg.

A Ratzinger family photo with (L to R) Maria, Georg, Maria (mother), Joseph and Joseph Ratzinger Sr., circa 1951. Photo courtesy of Ignatius Press.
A Ratzinger family photo with (L to R) Maria, Georg, Maria (mother), Joseph and Joseph Ratzinger Sr., circa 1951. Photo courtesy of Ignatius Press.

As a youth, he was conscripted into the German military. Nazis ridiculed his desire to be a priest.

The future Benedict XVI grew up in the small village of Traunstein in southern Germany at a time when the Nazis came to dominate the country.

Ratzinger’s family was anti-Nazi. His father, a policeman, subscribed to an anti-Nazi newspaper whose editor, Fritz Gerlich, was murdered by the Nazis. A 14-year-old cousin of Ratzinger’s who had Down syndrome was taken away by the Nazis and soon died. He was presumably murdered in their inhuman campaign against those they considered defective.

Young Joseph Ratzinger bristled against mandatory Hitler Youth activities and managed to dodge some, as he later recounted in his memoir “Milestones.” His older sister refused to become a teacher rather than be forced to teach a Nazi-friendly curriculum.

During the Second World War, Ratzinger was conscripted into military service. He and his brother Georg both wanted to be seminarians. When an SS recruiter gathered Ratzinger and other soldiers to a recruitment meeting, his desire to be a priest won him mockery and insults — but also escape from service in the hardline Nazi military group.

In the last months of the war, he deserted, an action punishable by death.

During his April 2008 visit to St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York, Benedict called Nazi Germany “a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers.”

“Its influence grew — infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion — before it was fully recognized for the monster that it was,” he said. “It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good.”

Though Nazism was defeated, he warned his listeners that there is still a “power to destroy.” But Jesus Christ saves us from this: “The One who shows us the way beyond death is the One who shows us how to overcome destruction and fear: thus it is Jesus who is the true teacher of life.”

Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. .
Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. .

After living under the evils of Nazism, Benedict sees the need for truth in authentic freedom.

He warned Americans against darkness of the heart, “a callousness of heart takes hold which first ignores, then ridicules, the God-given dignity of every human being.” There is also a “particularly sinister” darkness of the mind, he said, which manipulates truth, distorts our perception of reality, and tarnishes our imagination and aspirations.

“But what purpose has a ‘freedom’ which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong?” he asked. “How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life?”

“Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.”

Benedict XVI at the General Audience in St. Peter's Square, Sept. 11, 2005. .  L'Osservatore Romano.
Benedict XVI at the General Audience in St. Peter's Square, Sept. 11, 2005. . L'Osservatore Romano.

He took the name Benedict in honor of a pope and a saint.

In a Wednesday general audience soon after his election in April 2005, he explained that he chose the name Benedict as a link to Pope Benedict XV who “guided the Church through the turbulent times of the First World War.” He said the name also evoked the sixth-century monastic leader St. Benedict of Nursia and his place in forming the “irrefutable Christian roots of European culture and civilization.”

As pope, Benedict often spoke of the need to evangelize. “There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance,” he said in his 2010 apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini.

Benedict XVI made major moves against clergy who abused children.

Hundreds of priests who had committed sex abuse were laicized under Pope Benedict. This was a continuation of his previous work at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which acquired increased authority over clergy sex abuse cases in 2002.

Two months into his papacy, Benedict disciplined Father Marcial Maciel, the charismatic and influential founder of the Legionaries of Christ who had long been accused of sexually abusing seminarians and was later revealed to have led a deeply scandalous double life.

At times, controversy has arisen over the claim that Benedict XVI, as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982, mishandled or covered up for a sexual abuser. These claims surrounding serial sex abuser Father Peter Hullermann have been firmly rejected by the Vatican and Benedict’s close aide Archbishop Georg Gänswein.

The vicar general at the time has taken full responsibility for a decision to assign the priest from outside the diocese to a parish without any pastoral restrictions, where Hullermann was able to abuse again.

Munich archdiocese will release an eagerly awaited report on Jan. 20 on its handling of abuse claims from 1945 to 2019. According to German media, Benedict sent 82 pages of observations to investigators compiling the report.

A helicopter carries Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he officially retires in Vatican City on February 28, 2013. .  Getty Images News/Getty Images.
A helicopter carries Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he officially retires in Vatican City on February 28, 2013. . Getty Images News/Getty Images.

He was the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.

On Feb. 11, 2013, the 85-year-old Benedict shocked the world with a Latin-language announcement of his retirement. He cited his advanced age and lack of strength as reasons he was unsuitable to exercise his office.

On Feb. 28, the day his resignation took effect, Benedict traveled from Vatican City to Castel Gandolfo by helicopter.

“I’m simply a pilgrim who is starting the last stage of his pilgrimage on Earth,” he said in his final words as pontiff. “Let’s go ahead together with the Lord for the good of the Church and of the world.”

The unusual situation of a former pope meant that Benedict effectively “co-authored” an encyclical with his successor.

Pope Francis incorporated Benedict’s unfinished text in his 2013 encyclical Lumen Fidei, declaring it a “work of four hands.”

Benedict XVI’s encyclicals are Deus Caritas Est (2005), Spe Salvi (2007), and Caritas in Veritate (2009) about the Christian virtues of love and hope.

Pope Francis greets Pope emeritus Benedict XVI at the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery on Nov. 28, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis greets Pope emeritus Benedict XVI at the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery on Nov. 28, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.

Pope Francis has called Benedict the ultimate grandfather.

Benedict is the “grandfather of all grandfathers,” as far as Pope Francis is concerned.

“I have said many times that it gives me great pleasure that he lives here in the Vatican, because it is like having a wise grandfather at home. Thank you!”

Those were the words of the current pope to his predecessor on Sept. 28, 2014, at a meeting between Pope Francis and elderly people from around the world — including Benedict.

Benedict XVI receives honorary doctorate from the Pontifical University of John Paul II and the Academy of Music in Krakow. Pool photo.
Benedict XVI receives honorary doctorate from the Pontifical University of John Paul II and the Academy of Music in Krakow. Pool photo.

Benedict is a deep thinker who stresses both faith and reason in Christian life and in Western culture.

In his homily ahead of the 2005 conclave that elected him to the papacy, Ratzinger spoke of a “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

He stressed that Jesus Christ is “the measure of true humanism” and a mature faith and friendship with God serves as a criterion to distinguish “the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”

His books include “Introduction to Christianity,” a compilation of his university lectures, and “Jesus of Nazareth,” an effort to explain Jesus Christ to the modern world. Before his election as pope, he gave two popular interviews with the German journalist Peter Seewald, published under the titles “The Ratzinger Report” and “Salt of the Earth.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on April 7, 2012. .  Vatican Media.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on April 7, 2012. . Vatican Media.

His pontificate sought to inspire renewal.

Benedict’s papacy was marked by efforts at cultural, intellectual, and spiritual renewal, including liturgical reform. He also helped strengthen the Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council’s reform efforts. Benedict himself had been at the 1960s ecumenical council, where he served as an expert for Cardinal Joseph Frings, the Archbishop of Cologne.

Benedict rejected interpretations of the council that stressed “discontinuity and rupture.” Rather, he said, the momentous council should be seen in the spirit of “continuity” and “reform.”

His efforts to establish a sound interpretation of Vatican II lasted through the end of his papacy. On Feb. 14, 2013, he said that the council was at first wrongly interpreted “through the eyes of the media” which depicted it as a “political struggle” between different currents within the Church.

This “council of the media” created “many calamities” and “so much misery,” with the result that seminaries and convents closed and the liturgy was “trivialized.”

Pope John Paul II greets Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during his inauguration October 22, 1978. .  Vatican Media
Pope John Paul II greets Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during his inauguration October 22, 1978. . Vatican Media

He was a close collaborator of St. John Paul II.

The then Cardinal Ratzinger served St. John Paul II as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position he held for more than 20 years.

“I was at his side and came to revere him all the more,” Benedict would recount. “My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me.”

Benedict was involved in the preparation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the clarification of Catholic doctrine. At times, his work countered influential heterodox Catholics in the United States and Western Europe, actions which would later provoke negative reaction to his election to the papacy.

As pope, Benedict XVI presided at the May 1, 2011, beatification of John Paul II.

“John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous, and apostolic faith,” Benedict XVI said at the time. “By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel.”

“In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is ‘Redemptor hominis,’ the Redeemer of man.”

South Korean shrine celebrates designation as international pilgrimage site

The Haemi Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine near Seosan, South Korea. / Public Domain.

Haemi, South Korea, Jan 14, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A shrine honoring South Korea’s Catholic martyrs has celebrated its designation as an international pilgrimage site.

During the celebration in December, Bishop Augustinus Jong-soo Kim, an auxiliary bishop of Daejeon, formally presented a decree from the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization to the shrine’s rector, Father Han Gwang-seok.

The Vatican dicastery recognized the Haemi Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine as an international pilgrimage destination on March 1, 2021, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Father Thomas Choe Yang-eop, a local missionary priest declared venerable in 2016.

The shrine near Seosan, a city in South Chungcheong Province, central South Korea, marks the spot where more than 1,000 Catholics were killed during a persecution unleashed under the Joseon Dynasty between 1866 and 1882.

The names of only 132 of the martyrs were recorded. A 50-foot-high memorial tower was erected in honor of the unnamed dead.

ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, reported that the shrine is the second Korean site to receive Vatican recognition after the Seoul Catholic Pilgrimage Route, which was declared the first Asian international pilgrimage site in 2018.

There are three kinds of shrines within the Catholic Church: diocesan shrines, approved by the local bishop; national shrines recognized by the bishops’ conference; and international shrines endorsed by the Vatican.

International shrines include historic locations such as Jerusalem and Rome, sites of approved Marian apparitions, such as Lourdes and Fatima, and places associated with saints, such as Assisi and Lisieux.

The website of the Haemi Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine points out that the shrine is distinctive “because there were no famous saints or special miracles, and there are not many people who left their names or deeds in the records.”

Pope Francis visited Haemi Castle on Aug. 17, 2014, to celebrate the closing Mass of the sixth Asian youth day.

In his homily, he said: “The martyrs of Korea – and innumerable others throughout Asia – handed over their bodies to their persecutors; to us they have handed on a perennial witness that the light of Christ’s truth dispels all darkness, and the love of Christ is gloriously triumphant.”

“With the certainty of his victory over death, and our participation in it, we can face the challenge of Christian discipleship today, in our own circumstances and time.”

Vatican astronomer: ‘Trust the science’ does not convince those who most need to be convinced

Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., pictured on March 3, 2012. / Peter Zelasko/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Jan 14, 2022 / 11:30 am (CNA).

A Vatican astronomer has said that the mantra “trust the science” is failing to “convince those who most need to be convinced” about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines.

Writing in the Jan. 15 edition of La Civiltà Cattolica, Brother Guy Consolmagno said that the phrase was not only off-putting for “large sectors” of the population but also expressed a misleading idea about the nature of science.

“In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific evidence in favor of vaccination is overwhelming. Those who are aware of this and see this universal prophylaxis as the only way to end the pandemic often use the mantra ‘trust the science,” he wrote in a 5,000-word essay, entitled “COVID, faith, and the fallibility of science” and published in Italian.

“At first glance, the expression does not lack a certain charm, also because it refers to that trust in science as a path to truth that our society has learned to accept since the Enlightenment.”

“But the evidence of the facts around us suggests that instead this slogan is not so motivating. Large sectors of the population … have continued to reject vaccination.”

La Civiltà Cattolica, founded in 1850 and published twice a month, is produced by the Jesuits in Rome and approved before publication by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

A summary of the article in English on La Civiltà Cattolica’s website said: “The no vax and conspiracy theory proponents uphold a misconception of what science is all about, as well as what it can deliver. When science fails to live up to its supposed infallibility, it only fuels further skepticism.”

“In addition to reconsidering how we argue in favor of science, as in the case of promoting vaccines, it is worth taking a closer look at how we try to use science or faith as bulwarks against our fundamental human fear of uncertainty.”

The article does not explicitly address the recent failure of widespread vaccination programs in halting the rapid transmission of the current omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Nor does Consolmagno speak directly to concerns about the censorship of dissenting scientific views about the safety of the vaccines and treatment protocols for COVID-19, or to the skepticism some unvaccinated Catholics harbor about the scientific rigor underlying the pro-vaccination statements of Pope Francis and other ecclesiastical authorities.

Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory since 2015, said that as a scientist and member of the Catholic Church, he was aware of the distrust of both scientific and ecclesiastical authority.

“Treating scientists as members of a sort of priesthood of truth is a questionable tactic, especially in a society where true priests are viewed with suspicion,” he wrote.

“And while I am entirely pro-vaccination, a motto like ‘trust the science’ leaves me very puzzled. It embodies a popular conception of science that is not only misleading, but makes it vulnerable.”

The 69-year-old Jesuit brother, who was born in Detroit, Michigan, said that the phrase suggested that science was the only reliable guide to truth.

“The expression itself sounds like an answer to an unexpressed question: what or whom should we trust? In some ways, it echoes the phrase addressed by Peter to Jesus in John 6:68: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’” he observed.

“And perhaps those scriptural echoes are noticeable to those who, like an evangelical Christian, are familiar with that passage of scripture, but probably not as familiar with science, and therefore perceive those words as implying that ‘trusting the science’ is being proposed as a substitute for trusting the Lord. To such a person, that slogan may unknowingly do more harm than good.”

Consolmagno said that the conviction that science is the sole reliable guide to truth implies that it has infallible authority.

“But anyone with real familiarity with science knows that this is not the case at all,” he wrote.

“Yes, the vaccine prevents disease in the vast majority of the vaccinated and reduces the severity of disease even in cases of so-called ‘breakthrough infections.’ But vaccines are not perfect. Fully vaccinated people can become ill with COVID-19, and indeed this does happen, although rarely with serious effects.”

“To those who oppose vaccines, the fact that such failures happen not only suggests that the vaccine is not perfect, but confirms the fear that blindly trusting science can be dangerous. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, that fear of placing unconditional trust in science contains an element of truth.”

The research astronomer and physicist noted that the history of science was littered with errors. He also highlighted pharmaceutical failures, such as the distribution of the drug thalidomide to pregnant mothers, which resulted in disabilities for their babies.

“The history of vaccines is also not without flaws. As we mentioned, COVID-19 vaccines occasionally allow for ‘breakthrough infection.’ The vaccination process has common side effects, the severity of which can vary from case to case,” he observed.

“Both safety and efficacy are aspects that require a long period of study before a vaccine is approved for general use; and yet errors can and do happen even after that prolonged process. It is not inconceivable that a circumstance will arise in which the worst fears of the antivaccine community may actually come true.”

Consolmagno said that the scientific method depended on doubt and error, analyzing mistakes and learning from them.

“However, science can provide insights into how to see and recognize the truth. And it can tell us what the probability of success is for a given formulation of that truth,” he explained.

“We trust the vaccine not because it is perfect, but because it greatly increases the odds of not getting sick. The real and obvious problem lies in the fact that most of us cannot understand how probabilities work: that is why casinos and lotteries are so successful.”

In conclusion, he wrote: “The phrase ‘trust the science’ does not convince those who most need to be convinced, especially if it reinforces the fear that science is challenging the authority of religious faith.”

“On the other hand, if science is expected to be a sure path to truth, scientific failures can arouse skepticism about it, forgetting how in fact failure itself represents an essential element in the progress of science.”

“And when a desire for certainty, which goes beyond what science can offer, is placed in tension with a culture that promotes suspicion of authority, a Gnostic desire for secret knowledge can be substituted for the just appreciation of those who are authoritative.”

Catholic bishop in India cleared of charges of raping a nun

Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur, who was acquitted of charges of the rape of a nun Jan. 14, 2022. / Linto 11 via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Kottayam, India, Jan 14, 2022 / 10:22 am (CNA).

A bishop charged with the repeated rape of a nun over the course of two years was acquitted by a court in India’s Kerala state on Friday.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur was cleared of the charges against him Jan. 14 in Kottayam.

The judge in the case found that “the prosecution failed to prove all the charges against the accused.”

Lawyers for the nun say they will appeal to the high court.

Bishop Mulakkal, 57, has consistently denied the accusations, and claims he was falsely accused after he questioned alleged financial irregularities at the accuser’s convent.

The bishop was arrested in September 2018 amid protests calling for a police investigation of the allegation. He was subsequently released on bail. The bishop was charged in April 2019 with rape, unnatural sex, wrongful confinement, and criminal intimidation. 

He was temporarily removed from the administration of his diocese shortly before his arrest.

The bishop's charges stemmed from a member of the Missionaries of Jesus who has said he raped her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad, in Kerala. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed in June 2018, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.

The Missionaries of Jesus is based in the Jullundur diocese, and Bishop Mulakkal is its patron.

The bishop has also claimed the allegations were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun's sexual misconduct. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with her cousin's husband.

A witness in the case against the bishop, who is also a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, told investigators Sept. 9, 2018 that from 2015 to 2017 she participated in sexual video chats with the bishop, having been pressured by him, and that he groped and kissed her April 30, 2017, at a convent in Kannur.

This second alleged victim did not wish to press charges, but there have been calls for police in Kerala to bring a suo motu case against Bishop Mulakkal.

The bishop asked in several venues that the charges be dismissed before trial, but in July 2020 the Kerala High Court found there was enough evidence to proceed.

Report: 1 in 5 Irish priests and brothers have died in the past three years

null / materod via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Cork, Ireland, Jan 14, 2022 / 05:15 am (CNA).

An Irish newspaper has reported that 1 in 5 of the country’s priests and religious brothers have died in the past three years.

The Irish Examiner said on Jan. 8 that “more than 21% of Ireland’s entire population of parish priests and brothers — both serving and retired — have died in just three years.”

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference was unable to confirm the figure as the statistics are recorded locally by Ireland’s 26 dioceses and its religious orders.

The Irish Examiner, a national daily newspaper based in Cork, said that at the end of 2018, there were around 1,800 active priests and 720 retired clergy in Ireland, or approximately 2,520 in total.

Referring to figures in the official Irish Catholic Directory, it noted that 166 priests and brothers died in 2019, 223 in 2020, and 131 up to September 2021. The figures added up to a total of 520 deceased priests and brothers.

The newspaper said that “the figures from the directories are likely to be conservative, because not every religious order or diocese reports the death of its clergy to Veritas,” the publisher of the directories.

Ireland, a country of almost five million people, has seen a decline in the number of citizens identifying as Catholic in recent years.

The 2011 census found that 84.2% of the population identified as Catholic. That figure fell to 78.3% in the 2016 census. The next census will take place in April.

The Irish Examiner reported last month that the number of active priests is likely to plummet when the country emerges from the pandemic.

Clergy postponed their retirements to support colleagues struggling to serve the Catholic community during the crisis, it said.

The newspaper gave the example of the Diocese of Cork and Ross, where nine out of 94 pastors are aged over 75.

But no newly ordained priest has joined the diocese in the last four years and only one is expected to in 2022.

Diocesan secretary Father Michael Keohane said: “Several factors, including the COVID pandemic, meant many of the priests who were due to retire in recent years continue to hold full-time appointments.”

“As a result, the number who have passed retirement age is higher, and it is hoped that many of these priests will be permitted to retire in the coming year.”

Alleged vandal faces hate crime charge after major damage to Denver's Catholic cathedral

Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. / Photo courtesy of Fr. Samuel Morehead.

Denver, Colo., Jan 13, 2022 / 17:31 pm (CNA).

A 26-year-old woman has turned herself in on two charges related to some $10,000 in vandalism damage to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Madeline Ann Cramer faces one charge of criminal mischief and another of a bias-motivated crime in connection with an Oct. 10 incident, the Denver District Attorney’s Office said Jan. 13. Both the cathedral building itself and nearby statues were “spray painted with numerous specific messages consistent with anti-Christian bias,” said District Attorney Beth McCann. 

Cramer had fled to Oregon but turned herself in to law enforcement Jan. 12. According to social media video posts, she says she was baptized a Catholic but now identifies as a satanist and opposes Catholic stands against abortion. 

News photos of the vandalism showed slogans such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL”, as well as swastikas, written in bright red spray paint on the outside of the cathedral building, sidewalks, and on the base of a statue of St. John Paul II. The pope had visited the cathedral during 1993 World Youth Day.

The graffiti was cleaned off with the help of parishioners and other volunteers.

Father Sam Morehead, rector of the cathedral, said Oct. 11 that the assailant seemed to have some “deep personal wounds and grievances” against God and the Church.

In an Oct. 2 video, Cramer said she was raised Catholic and baptized at the Littleton, Colo. St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church. However, for her, “the Catholic Church never felt right.”

She said she had recently visited the St. Frances Cabrini church webpage “and saw that they are actively supporting anti-abortion (sic) throughout the country.” 

Cramer charged that the Church “hate(s) women, you want to control women, you want to silence women.” She closed the video saying: “So stop just be honest you're not filled with love for God, for the baby, for the woman. You're filled with hate and you know it and we know it.”

Deacon Chet Ubowski at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church told CNA that Cramer is the woman who approached the altar during Mass at the church Oct. 10, just hours after she had vandalized the cathedral. During her interaction with the celebrant, she claimed to be a satanist.

Ubowski said that none of the current staff knew her or had any recollection of her, adding, “we all have her in our prayers.”

Cramer’s next appearance in court is scheduled for Feb. 14.

She has a prior conviction on a charge of obstructing police. In 2020, she was sentenced to a year of probation and 48 hours of community service. 

Denver’s Catholic cathedral had also sustained costly damage in mid-2020 amid racially charged protests against police brutality related to the murder of Minnesota man George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. At the time, the church building and rectory were spray painted with slogans referencing sex abusers or declaring "God is dead" and "There is no God." There were also anti-police, anarchist, and anti-religion phrases and symbols. 

The cathedral houses the earthly remains of Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave who converted to Catholicism and was known for her charity to Denver’s poor and her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Archdiocese of Denver spokesman Mark Haas told CNA last year that since February 2020, at least 25 parishes or ministry locations in northern Colorado are known to have been the target of vandalism, property destruction, or theft.

In a November 2021 essay in the Washington Post, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver lamented the vandalism, arson and other destruction that has targeted Catholic property. He highlighted the Oct. 10 incident at the cathedral and noted that other religions saw their own property vandalized.

“As Catholics, we recognize that this is a spiritual crisis,” Aquila said. “We pray for the end to such horrifying attacks and for God’s love to drive out the hate in the perpetrators, regardless of who they have targeted. Yet as Americans, we also clearly see a cultural crisis. People of goodwill, whether religious or not, must condemn and confront the societal trends that encourage attacks on houses of worship — trends that extend far beyond religion.”

Religious, pro-life groups make proposals for Chilean constitutional convention

The flag of Chile. / Juan R. Velasco/Shutterstock.

Santiago, Chile, Jan 13, 2022 / 16:38 pm (CNA).

Chile's Constitutional Convention has created a digital platform for citizens to make proposals for issues they consider must be debated and enshrined in the new constitution. 

In an October 2020 referendum, Chileans voted in favor of the drafting of a new constitution.The constitutional convention began meeting in July 2021. Another referendum on whether to accept the to-be-drafted constitution should be held by September.

The threshold to guarantee the convention will consider an issue is 15,000 signatures. Although initiatives backing the right to life, freedom of religion and conscience, and parents’ right to have their children educated in accordance with their convictions have reached that mark, proponents are urging more signatures before the Feb. 1 deadline to signal strong public support and eventual inclusion in the constitution.

Right to freedom of conscience and religion

Religious communities in Chile organized themselves to create Initiative 3042 on “Freedom of conscience and religion,” which states that "religious freedom includes its free exercise, the freedom to profess, continue to practice and change religion or beliefs, as well as the right to associate to profess and propagate religion or beliefs, both in public and in private.”

“The State may not coerce any person to act against his convictions or religious beliefs and any person may refrain from engaging in conduct contrary to them,” it adds.

The initiative also calls for religious confessions to be recognized "as subjects of rights" that "enjoy full autonomy and equal treatment for the development of their purposes in accordance with their own regulations."

Consequently, the state may enter into "cooperative agreements” with these groups. They may "build churches, facilities, places of worship, which will be completely tax exempt" and harm done "to said churches, facilities, places of worship, and the people in the exercise of this right are considered an attack against the human rights of those affected.”

In addition, the initiative states that parents or guardians should have "the right for their children or wards to receive the religious, spiritual and moral education that is in accordance with their own convictions."

These religious confessions launched a joint effort in August 2020 to draft an initiative and presented a base text called "Content Proposal on Religious Freedom in the new Constitution" that was delivered to the Constitutional Convention on Oct. 18.

Bishop Juan Ignacio González Errazuriz of San Bernardo told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister news agency, that gathering the minimum number of signatures only ensures discussing and voting on the proposal, but "nobody is ensuring that the content of the proposed provision will remain in the Constitution."

Therefore as "more citizens express their support for these initiatives" it could help those who "don't understand them well or have another interpretation of these essential themes" to "accept some of the proposals that are made," he noted.

For example, the bishop referred to the decision that the delegates to the constitutional convention could make when they see that the initiative in support of abortion has already gathered more than 24,000, while the initiative defending the right to life has 19,000 signatures.

Bishop González said what is at risk is that fundamental rights, which today are enshrined in the current constitution, could end up being “very poorly configured or insufficiently assured.”

"What’s important is that the State recognize that the religious factor in any of its aspects is a relevant social factor in the life of a country," he stressed.

Parents' right to choose their children's education

Initiative 4102 for a "free and diverse education" calls for freedom of education and the preferential right of parents to educate their children, and seeks to ensure a quality education with universal access.

The proposal states that education should be an "integral good of the human person in the different stages of his life, both in his bodily and spiritual dimension.”

Therefore the state should be responsible for "fostering and financing said development from the communities of families" without "imposing a single vision on the human person, society and the world, nor a single understanding of human rights.”  On the contrary, it must help and support parents in their role of “educating, raising and training their children, as well as the right to choose the educational establishment for them.”

Ingrid Bohn, of the group Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas (Don’t mess with my children) and also a member of the Free and Diverse Education group, explained to ACI Prensa that although 15,000 signatures have already been gathered, today work is being done across the country to gather more, because “the initiative must have a lot of citizen support.”

"We support this proposal and sponsor it together with other organizations of parents, guardians, teachers and students because we are the ones who know our children best and who should have the freedom to choose between a variety of educational projects," she said.

The right to life

Organizations such as Always for Life and the NGO Community and Justice created Initiative 4138 on the "Right to Life.”

The initiative proposes that the right to life have constitutional protection from the moment of conception, "regardless of age or stage of development," because "if the laws and the Constitution do not recognize that we are all equal in dignity and rights, it can contribute to the social problem of arbitrarily discriminating against the unborn.”

The proposal is based on biological, philosophical, and legal arguments from international law.

"It is inconceivable that a Constitution that seeks, precisely, to protect the dignity of all people, without arbitrary discrimination, were to leave a group outside of this protection, just because they were not born," the initiative states.

Even so, since September 2017, Chile has a law decriminalizing abortion on the grounds of rape up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and with no gestational limit for both fetal inviability and risk to the life of the mother. 

Verónica Hoffmann, executive director of the United Chile Foundation, dedicated to supporting mothers with crisis pregnancies, encouraged citizens to sign the initiative “so that the Constitution of Chile continue to protect the right to life and the physical and mental integrity of the person, and that the law protect the life of the unborn.”

“We must take part since the right to life is the dignity of every human being, it’s inviolable, from the moment its existence begins. It is essential that this right be recognized for all human individuals, without distinction, and continue to be present in the Chilean Constitution," Hoffmann told ACI Prensa.