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Survivors' group, archbishop back journalist sued by Sodalitium members

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paola Ugaz

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A network of clergy abuse survivors has joined calls for an end to lawsuits against a journalist who investigated alleged sexual abuse and financial irregularities within a controversial Catholic group.

In an open letter released Jan. 9, the Ending Clergy Abuse organization, also known as ECA, expressed concern regarding five lawsuits against Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz by several members of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.

The lawsuits, the ECA said, are a form of "judicial harassment" meant to punish Ugaz for exposing alleged criminal activities within Sodalitium.

"It is true that we recognize the legitimate right of every person who feels that his or her honor was damaged to take legal action," the group said. "However, it is unlawful for anyone to abuse this right. In the abusive case of legal actions against Paola Ugaz, it is clear the intention is not to seek justice but to silence her."

Ugaz and fellow journalist Pedro Salinas co-authored a book titled, "Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados" ("Half Monks, Half Soldiers"), which detailed the alleged psychological and sexual abuse, as well as corporal punishment and extreme exercises that young members of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae were forced to endure.

A 2017 internal investigation found that Luis Fernando Figari, who founded Sodalitium in 1971 and headed it until 2010, and three other high-ranking former members abused 19 minors and 10 adults.

"I thank ECA with all my heart for this support because it comes at the right time and gives me a lot of encouragement to keep going," Ugaz told Catholic News Service Jan. 9.

She also received the support of Peruvian Archbishop Carlos Castillo of Lima who said Ugaz was "a journalist of great importance." The archbishop challenged the members of the group who are suing her, saying: "If those Christians truly believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, they must stop" the lawsuits.

In an interview Dec. 14 with RPP, the Peruvian radio and television company, Archbishop Castillo said he was concerned that the continuing lawsuits against Ugaz by members of Sodalitium were an attempt "to cover up the truth."

"If we want to use trickery, power, social or economic relationships or influence to hide the terrible things we do, then we are not true Christians and we do not give a witness of service, which is what Jesus came to do," the archbishop said.

By suing Ugaz, he added, members of Sodalitium "are delaying too much to confront and solve something that is very serious, which is the destruction of people in our country, our middle class, who they have damaged psychologically and humanly. This isn't possible! This must change and they cannot shackle the truth."

Ugaz told CNS she also has received "support and solidarity" from Archbishop Nicola Girasoli, apostolic nuncio to Peru.

Archbishops Castillo and Girasoli, she said, "have been following this wave of persecution against me. I am infinitely grateful to both for their solidarity with my work as an investigative journalist."

The lawsuits against her, she alleges, are being used to hamper her investigations and prevent the publication of a new book detailing financial irregularities within Sodalitium. She hopes to publish the book this year.

Ugaz told CNS she has been harassed publicly and received numerous letters threatening further lawsuits against her by Sodalitium members due to her investigative reports as well as her participation in an Al-Jazeera documentary, titled "The Sodalitium Scandal."

"There is no doubt in my mind that this new lawsuit (filed in December) is related to my investigation into Sodalitium's finances," she told CNS. "All the complaints that have been made have the same objective: to harass me, to intimidate me, to take up my time in responding to the complaints, to show me that responding to Sodalitium will drain my finances and that I stop concentrating on my current investigation."

Both Ugaz and Salinas were sued in 2019 by Archbishop Jose Eguren Anselmi of Piura, a professed member of Sodalitium since 1981. The prelate later dropped the lawsuit against Salinas in April and Ugaz in August after facing considerable backlash by the public and the Peruvian bishops' conference.

Citing Pope Francis, the country's bishops distanced themselves from Archbishop Eguren's lawsuit and said the church needs the help of journalists and survivors of clergy sex abuse to overcome the current crisis.

Ugaz said she admires the pope's efforts to combat clergy sex abuse as well as his closeness with survivors who have also supported her throughout her ordeal.

"My answer to Sodalitium's lawsuits will always be the same: more and better journalism," she said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Love is never indifferent to other's suffering, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Most Christians would agree it is wrong to hate someone, but it is also wrong to be indifferent, which is a camouflaged form of hatred, Pope Francis said.

Real love "must lead you to do good, to get your hands dirty with works of love," the pope said Jan. 10 at morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Commenting especially on 1 John 4:19-21, Pope Francis said the Bible "does not mince words." In fact, he said, the Bible tells people, "If you say you love God and you hate your brother or sister, you're on the other side; you're a liar."

If someone says, "I love God, I pray, I enter into ecstasy, and then tosses aside others, hates them, doesn't love them or simply is indifferent to them," the pope noted, St. John doesn't say, "You're wrong," but "you're a liar."

"The Bible is clear because being a liar is the devil's way of being. He is the Great Liar, the New Testament tells us; he is the father of lies. That's the definition of Satan the Bible gives us," the pope said.

Love "is expressed by doing good," he said.

A Christian does not get points for just standing by, he said. Love is "concrete" and faces the challenges, struggles and messiness of everyday life.

Indifference, he said, "is a way of not loving God and not loving neighbor that is a bit hidden."

Pope Francis quoted St. Alberto Hurtado, who said, "It is good not to do evil, but it is evil not to do good."

On a truly Christian path, one does not find those who are indifferent, "those who wash their hands of problems, those who don't want to get involved to help, to do good," he said. "False mystics are not there, those with hearts distilled like water who say they love God but forget to love their neighbor."

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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Iowa priest-photographer surprised by appeal of viral cattle cross image

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Father Michael Schueller

By Dan Russo

BANKSTON, Iowa (CNS) -- It wasn't a miracle, but the scene that unfolded on Dan and Judy Gotto's farm in Bankston shortly before Christmas became a beautiful testament to faith.

On Dec. 23, 2019, members of the family had carefully laid out many small piles of cattle feed in the shape of a giant cross on one of their fields, attracting 171 hungry cows into planned position. In the distance, the steeple of St. Clement Church in Bankston reached upward toward a clear sky.

At the right moment, Father Michael Schueller sprang into action. The pastor of the St. Elizabeth Pastorate, which includes St. Clement Parish, pilots drones in his spare time and enjoys taking aerial photographs.

The priest flew his camera equipped remote-controlled device high above the herd, capturing both still shots and video and posted the image of the Angus beef livestock appearing in the shape of the sacred symbol on his Facebook page.

Almost immediately, the image went viral. There were dozens of comments, hundreds of shares, and the image was featured with an article in the Telegraph Herald, the area's biggest daily newspaper, which ran the story with the headline: "Holy cow: Bankston cattle photo going viral ahead of Christmas."

Thousands have seen the photograph and its impact continues weeks after the priest took the shot.

"I am humbled by the response from the photo," Father Schueller told The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. "I have received many messages from people far and wide, and it has been shared many times -- such a simple image that has connected with so many people."

The inspiration for the photo came from the Gottos' desire to integrate their Catholic faith into their farming. Judy and Dan work land that has been in the family since 1889. Many other relatives also are in the agriculture business, including their son Chad Gotto, who is also a full-time farmer. Most of the cows in the photo are his. This successful effort to capture a cross wasn't the first time they had tried.

He said it is something he and his dad have done the last few years to celebrate the Christmas season, and they just couldn't get a good enough photo.

Father Schueller is a friend and pastor of the family's parish, so the Gottos decided to ask for his help this time. Chad Gotto said it was easy to get the cows in the right place. Also, their goal in staging the photograph wasn't to achieve fame.

"I didn't even know he posted it," said Gotto. "We just wanted a picture for the family."

The image encapsulates a way of life that has been important to the Gottos for generations.

"Our family lives by the three 'Fs' -- faith, family and farming," Gotto explained.

Father Schueller couldn't have predicted the response to the photo when he started flying drones as a hobby about five years ago.

"It was just something different," he recalled of his first experiences with piloting. "At the time, drones were a newer technology. I started taking pictures in the area, primarily of churches."

After crashing the devices quite a few times, especially in the early days, he has since improved his skills and developed a nice portfolio.

The hobby has helped him get to know the rural communities he serves. Farmers will sometimes ask him to photograph them at work, so they have images to share with friends and loved ones.

The priest offered encouragement to anyone who might want to take up the hobby. "I think a lot of people are afraid to fly drones because they are afraid to crash," he said, suggesting that people should take the risk and start with something inexpensive.

In the wake of the popularity of the cattle cross photo, Father Schueller has made it his Facebook profile photo and has posted one of the videos showing how the Gottos got the cows lined up. Commenters on the cattle cross image express a wide range of feelings -- everything from reverence to humor.

Father Schueller believes the photo went viral for two reasons.

"I think it is the faith aspect," he said. "There is a yearning when you see a symbol like that. I also think people like cows."

Chad Gotto is getting ready to welcome some new calves into his herd. The message he wants to share with those who like the photo is that people can make faith part of their daily lives, even if they are engaged in something as simple as feeding cows.

"I just wanted to tell everyone to involve Christ in everything you do," he said.

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Russo is editor of The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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Don't let the devil light 'fire' of war in your heart, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People cannot call themselves Christians if they sow the seeds of war, Pope Francis said.

Finding fault and condemning others is "the temptation of the devil for making war," the pope said in his homily during morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Jan. 9, the same day he gave his annual address to the diplomats accredited to the Vatican.

If people are "sowers of war" in their families, communities and workplace, then they cannot be Christians, he said, according to Vatican News.

Celebrating Mass in the chapel of his residence, the pope preached about the day's first reading from the First Letter of John. The passage underlined how important it is to "remain in God" by following his commandment to love God by loving others. "This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother," one verse says.

"Where the Lord is, there is peace," Pope Francis said in his homily.

"It is he who makes peace; it is the Holy Spirit that he sends to bring peace within us," he said, because only by remaining in the Lord can there be peace in one's heart.

But how does one "remain in God?" the pope asked. By loving one another, he said. "This is the question; this is the secret to peace."

The pope cautioned against thinking that war and peace are only external to oneself, that they occur only "in that country, in that situation."

"Even these days when many fires of war are lit, one's mind immediately goes straight there (to faraway places) when we talk about peace," he said.

While it is important to pray for peace in the world, he said, peace must begin in one's own heart.

People should reflect on their own heart -- whether it is "at peace" or "anxious" or always "at war, straining to have more, to dominate, to be heard."

"If we do not have peace in our heart, how do we think there will be peace in the world?" he asked.
 
"If there is war in my heart," he said, "there will be war in my family, there will be war in my neighborhood and there will be war at my workplace."

Jealousy, envy, gossip and speaking badly about others create "war" between people and "destroy," he said.

The pope asked people to look at how they speak and whether what they say is animated by a "spirit of peace" or the "spirit of war."

Talking or acting in ways that hurt or tarnish others indicates "the Holy Spirit is not there," he said.

"And this happens to every one of us. The immediate reaction is to condemn the other," he said, and this "is the temptation by the devil to make war."

When the devil is able to light this fire of war in one's heart, "he is happy; he doesn't have to do any more work" because "it is we who work to destroy each other, it is we who pursue war, destruction," the pope said.

People first destroy themselves by removing love from their heart, he said, and then they destroy others because of this "seed that the devil has placed in us."

 

 

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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Amid threat of war, world must not give up hope, pope tells diplomats

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Hope is the virtue needed to approach the coming year, especially when the looming threat of war surrounds a humanity scarred by violence, Pope Francis said.

During his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the pope said that with heightened tensions and acts of violence on the rise, the "new year does not seem to be marked by encouraging signs."

Nevertheless, acknowledging the challenges confronting the world today and courageously finding ways to resolve them open a path to hope, he said in his speech Jan. 9.

"Precisely in light of these situations, we cannot give up hope," the pope said. "And hope requires courage. It means acknowledging that evil, suffering and death will not have the last word and that even the most complex questions can and must be faced and resolved."

Among the most "troubling" conflicts emerging, he noted, are the increasing tensions between the United States and Iran, which not only compromise the efforts to rebuild Iraq, but also set "the groundwork for a vaster conflict that all of us would want to avert."

"I therefore renew my appeal that all the interested parties avoid an escalation of the conflict and keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-restraint, in full respect of international law," he said.

In his nearly one-hour speech to the diplomats, the pope reflected on the foreign trips he made over the previous year, as well as the major events and issues that emerged in 2019.

While his visit to Panama last January for World Youth Day highlighted the joy brought by young people "brimming with dreams and hopes" for the future, the pope said the Vatican summit on clergy sex abuse the following month painfully showed how young people can be robbed of that future.

Sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy and laity "are crimes that offend God, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to their victims and damage the life of whole communities," he said.

The pope renewed the church's commitment to not only bringing to light past cases of abuse, but also to ensure that such cases are dealt with in "accordance with canon law and in cooperation with civil authorities on the local and international level."

Young people, he continued, also have brought significant attention to the issue of climate change, which "ought to be a concern for everyone and not the object of ideological conflict between different views of reality or, much less, between generations."

"The protection of the home given to us by the Creator cannot be neglected or reduced to an elitist concern," the pope said. "Young people are telling us that this cannot be the case, for at every level we are being urgently challenged to protect our common home and to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development."

He also addressed the political crises in Latin America, including Venezuela, where he said he hoped "efforts to seek solutions will continue."

"Greater polarization does not help to resolve the real and pressing problems of citizens, especially those who are poorest and most vulnerable, nor can violence, which for no reason can be employed as a means of dealing with political and social issues," he said.

Pope Francis also expressed concern for conflicts in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Lebanon, where growing tensions risk "endangering the fragile stability of the Middle East."

He also called the international community to task for the "general indifference" toward the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, where intense violence "provides fertile terrain for the scourge of exploitation and human trafficking."

Another sad consequence of such conflicts, he lamented, are the thousands of people requesting asylum who often risk their lives "in perilous journeys by land and above all by sea."

"It is painful to acknowledge that the Mediterranean Sea continues to be a vast cemetery," the pope said.

However, he said, the church is hopeful of efforts "made by countries to share the burden of resettling refugees, in particular those fleeing from humanitarian emergencies."

Turning his attention to Africa, the pope expressed his concern for the "continuing episodes of violence" against Christians, especially in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

He also expressed hope for the resolution of conflicts in Sudan and Central African Republic. The pope also said he hoped to visit South Sudan this year.

Recalling his final trip of 2019, which took him to Japan, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for a world without nuclear weapons because "true peace cannot be built on the threat of a possible total annihilation of humanity."

"These weapons do not only foster a climate of fear, suspicion and hostility," he said. "They also destroy hope. Their use is immoral, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]