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Victim of Bishop Zanchetta: ‘Don't turn your back on us; we didn’t deserve such treatment’

Former Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta of the Diocese of Oran, Argentina. / ACI Prensa

ACI Prensa Staff, Aug 13, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

A former seminarian and victim of the bishop emeritus of Oran, Argentina, Gustavo Zanchetta — who was sentenced to prison for sexual abuse in Argentina — asked the Catholic Church not to turn its back on him.

On Aug. 12, ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency,  interviewed G.C., a 28-year-old former seminarian and one of Zanchetta’s victims, after the bishop was allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest in July.

The place of house arrest, according to the newspaper El Tribuno, is a house for retired priests in the Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley of Nueva Orán of the Order of the Immaculate Conception-Franciscan Conceptionist Mothers.

In March, Zanchetta was sentenced to four and a half years in prison after being found guilty of abuse.

“Simply that: don’t turn your back on us. We didn’t deserve such treatment,” G.C. told ACI Prensa when asked about what he is asking of the Catholic Church.

“Faced with such a situation, God willing, there will be no other cases, but if it does happen, let (the Church) not turn its back as it did to us because we didn’t deserve that treatment, first from a person who is a persona non grata to the Church, a person who harmed the faithful, the people of God,” the victim said.

“And second, if psychological therapy is offered so much in the seminaries, well, I think that the Church didn’t see many things in that respect. Many things were known about Zanchetta when he was ordained a bishop and I think it was a mistake, to not use another (worse) word,” G.C. lamented.

House arrest ‘not what we expected’

Regarding the house arrest, Zanchetta’s victim said he was not surprised by the decision by the judges after the request “to be able to have a comfortable prison available to him, according to his status. He always stressed the power that he has and that’s why he is where he is and not in a prison.”

“I always say that if I had lost the trial, I’m sure that I would — we would — have been in prison and not under house arrest,” he added.

G. C. also said that in the case of Zanchetta, “justice was done, but not in the way we expected. We expected him to serve his sentence in jail.”

‘The Church didn’t help us’

When asked if he has felt welcomed by the Church, the victim was clear: “No, not at all. Since he left the seminary the Church hasn’t taken care of us or our situation. Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

“I even spoke with the current bishop, Luis Antonio Scozzina. I talked to him so he could give me the possibility of helping me with the psychological therapy that I still need,” G.C. said.

The victim later said that the bishop agreed to it “because financially I wasn’t well and neither was my family. So I asked him for help for this reason but he didn’t help me.”

“There wasn’t even a talk with me after this, to ask how we were, if we were okay, if we needed anything,” he lamented.

After saying that at this time he feels alone, although there was a priest who accompanied him, G.C. he said he “expected more from the Church. As I told you, we have felt alone in that regard. The Church didn’t help us.”

Diocese of Oran’s response

ACI Prensa contacted the Diocese of Oran to ask whether or not it is helping the victims with psychological therapy.

“The bishop indicates that the seminarian M.C, who requested help, although he denies receiving it, has received it for five months. Psychological help is provided for that, but the other one (G.C.) didn’t request help,” the diocese responded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

A ‘non-binary’ Joan of Arc? Theater's spin on Catholic heroine stirs backlash

Side view of the gilded statue of Joan of Arc at Place des Pyramides in Paris, France. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 12, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is re-inventing the story of St. Joan of Arc in an upcoming production called “I, Joan,” in which the French Catholic heroine will be portrayed as a non-binary “queer” character who refers to herself with “they/them” pronouns. 

The news has prompted a backlash in Catholic circles, with several taking to Twitter to voice their dismay, saying the interpretation detracts from Joan of Arc’s heroic life and erases the dignity of womanhood.

The Globe announced its decision Thursday in a tweet: 

In a statement Friday, the play’s artistic director Michelle Terry said, “History has provided countless and wonderful examples of Joan portrayed as a woman. This production is simply offering the possibility of another point of view.”

Terry argued that play adaptations make “anything possible” because “theatres do not deal with ‘historical reality.’”

The play, which is described by the theater as “queer and full of hope,” opens on Aug. 25 and will feature actress Isobel Thom in the leading role. Thom identifies as non-binary.

The play will follow Joan’s role in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, although it is unclear what historical events will be included. 

To Catholics, St. Joan of Arc is a symbol of chastity and courageous femininity as the woman who sacrificed her life for the pursuit of truth — leading some to speak out against how far the production takes artistic liberties.

“Please stop saying amazing women aren’t really women,” Abigail Favale, a Catholic professor and expert on gender studies and feminist literary criticism, wrote. Favale is the author of “The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory” (Ignatius Press, 2022), which approaches gender from a perspective informed by Church teaching.

The theater claims that Shakespeare himself “did not write historically accurate plays” and “play[ed] with identity, power, with the idea of pleasure, and with all sides of an argument.”

The Globe Theatre’s move to re-write Joan of Arc’s history is part of a push to promote LGBTQ themes in the performing arts. In New York City, Roundabout Theatre on Broadway has announced that the beloved Broadway musical “1776” will take the stage on an international tour solely depicting the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution by “actors who identify as female, transgender, and non-binary.”

“History be damned,” wrote one critic.

Arrests made in Nigeria Pentecost massacre

State officials walk past injured victims on hospital beds being treated for wounds following an attack by gunmen at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, southwest Nigeria, on June 5, 2022. / AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 12, 2022 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

At least seven people have been arrested in connection with a devastating June massacre at a Catholic Church in Nigeria, the governor of Ondo State in the West African country has confirmed.

Four of the arrests were made on Aug. 1, according to General Lucky Irabor, Chief of Nigeria’s Defense Staff. One of the arrested suspects is a high-ranking member of ISWAP — the so-called Islamic State in West Africa Province and a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, a group that at least one government official had blamed following the attack.

Two other suspects were arrested Aug. 9, and Ondo State’s governor, Arakunrin Akeredolu, reported that another person who housed the suspects before the attack was also arrested, Vatican News reported. It has not yet been announced if the suspects have been formally charged, and their names have not been released. 

On June 5, several gunmen attacked St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria, killing at least 40 people and injuring scores more with bullets and explosives. The victims spanned in age from a 2- and a 3-year-old all the way to 85. 

The assailants, some of whom sat through the Mass pretending to be worshippers, sprang into action toward the end of the service, detonating explosives and spraying bullets into the congregation. A priest present during the attack said he heard three or four explosions in addition to gunfire, with the entire attack lasting 20-25 minutes. 

At least 4,650 Christians were killed for their faith in 2021 and nearly 900 in the first three months of 2022 alone, according to the advocacy group Open Doors. Some aid organizations and experts are assembling evidence that the killing of Christians in Nigeria constitutes genocide

As Muslims in Albuquerque grieve murders, U.S. bishops offer sympathy and support

null / null

Denver Newsroom, Aug 12, 2022 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

The murders of four Muslim men in Albuquerque shocked the local community. In response, Catholic leaders have offered prayer and support.

“We join you in your sorrow and promise you a remembrance in our prayers,” Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said Aug. 11. “May all people of good will work together to deliver our communities from all forms of violence so that we might enjoy the gift of God’s peace.”

Cupich is the Catholic co-chairman of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue. Bishop David Talley of Memphis, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, shared Cupich’s statement.

Four Muslim men of South Asian descent were killed in the Albuquerque area between November 2021 and August of this year, CNN reports. The latest three murders took place in the span of two weeks.

On Tuesday Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said police had detained 51-year-old Muhammed Syed in connection to the crimes.

Syed, who denies the allegations, is originally from Afghanistan. On Wednesday he was charged with the July 26 murder of Aftab Hussein, 41, and the Aug. 1 murder of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, NBC News reports.

Medina said Syed is a suspect in the Friday killing of Naeem Hussain, 25, and is the “primary suspect” in the Nov. 7 killing of Mohammad Zahar Ahmadi.

Ahmadi was originally from Afghanistan. He was shot outside a halal café and market he ran with his brother. His brother said that Ahmadi and the suspect had a confrontation two years prior when the suspect bought large amounts of rice from the store and tried to sell them back at a profit, NBC News reports.

After the confrontation, in early 2020, Syed allegedly slashed the car tires of Ahmadi’s brother outside Friday services at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Syed was temporarily banned from the mosque when security video footage appeared to show him slashing the tires.

The three most recent victims were from Pakistan and attended the same mosque. They were “ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed,” police said.

The fourth victim, Naeem Hussain, attended a funeral for two of the victims last Friday and was found dead hours later.

Medina told reporters the police department refrained from labeling the shootings hate crimes or attributable to a serial killer because “it would’ve been irresponsible for us as a police department to say that and further drive fear into a community that was already in fear.”

“We still don't have any indication that either of these topics or labels would've been appropriate,” he said, according to CNN.

Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Society of New Mexico, initially told the New York Times that he understood the authorities were exploring the possibility the suspect was a Sunni Muslim who resented his daughter’s marriage to a Shia Muslim. He later told Time magazine this was a “rumor” that requires further investigation.

Police said it is unclear whether this was a full motive, a partial motive, or part of “a bigger picture.”

Catholic leaders spoke out in support of Muslims and the affected community.

Citing “the tragic loss of four Muslim lives,” Cupich said he affirmed an Aug. 7 statement from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which includes Albuquerque.

“The Catholic community stands in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters during this time of crisis. The senseless murders of these upstanding members of our community bring sorrow to all of us,” the archdiocese said in a Sunday statement.

“We are fervently praying for the safety of all in the Muslim community and are asking our loving God to keep them safe and watch over them,” the Santa Fe archdiocese said. “Our hearts go out to those who have been killed and to those who lost loved ones. We pray that our loving God will take them quickly to Himself.”

Persecuted bishop in Nicaragua tells faithful to overcome evil with good

Bishop José Álvarez Lagos surrounded by police officers on Aug. 4, 2022. / Diocese Media TV Merced / Diocese of Matagalpa

ACI Prensa Staff, Aug 12, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, Rolando Álvarez, who has been kept under house arrest by the Nicaraguan police for eight days, called on the faithful not to be afraid because evil never prevails.

Since Aug. 4, the regime of President Daniel Ortega has not allowed Álvarez to leave the chancery, with police officers stationed at the door and around the premises. The prelate remains inside with 10 other people, including priests, seminarians, and laity.

In his homily for the Aug. 11 Mass celebrated in the chancery chapel,  Álvarez recalled that Christ taught that one must not harbor resentment but must always forgive, defeating “evil with the force and power of good.”

“We are here, gathered together and under detention, already on the eighth day that we are spending today,” he said at the beginning of the Eucharist. “Our 11 lives are in the hands of the Lord.”

Álvarez said that thanks to God, they are in good health, living in community, and celebrating the Eucharist “with inner strength, with peace and serenity in our hearts” that “can only come from God.”

“We are experiencing a retreat in the presence of the Lord. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, says the apostle St. Paul, and we are totally convinced that everything is happening for our good, because God loves us and because we love him,” the prelate said.

Álvarez assured that “painful experiences do not happen in vain; they don’t fall into a void. These experiences are offered to the Lord and God returns them in blessings for us.”

The bishop of Matagalpa, who expressed his gratitude for the thousands of expressions of solidarity, prayers, and rosaries, said in his homily that Christ calls his disciples not to harbor resentment and to always forgive.

The prelate said that when you want to harm another person, that “means that the devil has managed to penetrate your heart and has managed to enter in, infecting your heart. You shouldn’t allow that.”

“Evil is defeated by the power of good. Good is always more powerful. Good is eternally powerful. Evil is tremendously limited, even though it makes more noise,” he noted.

“Evil, by its demonic nature, always tries to confuse us by making us think that it’s the one that wins and that it’s greater than good, but this is a temptation from Satan to make us despair, to make men and women of good will despair,” he pointed out.

The bishop of Matagalpa encouraged Nicaraguans not to fall into despair, because “that’s another temptation we face, because a people without hope is a self-entombed people.”

Instead, he invited the faithful to be “inundated with the hope” of Christ, who defeated death.

“It is the hope of the grain of wheat that dies and that is the only way it can produce much fruit,” he said.

The Nicaraguan bishop recalled the Gospel account of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, when the apostles were frightened because they believed that the boat would sink. Christ, he affirmed, “always overcomes storms.”

Álvarez said that their hearts are “full of forgiveness” and of the “mercy of God” and that they are offering “this difficult situation that we are experiencing for you.”

“Don’t have the slightest doubt that the Lord is blessing you, because he is daily accepting our offering for you. And keep offering your prayers and supplications for us,” he encouraged.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Catholic parish in Nigeria struggles to feed thousands uprooted by violent attacks

Displaced Nigerians camped near St. Francis Xavier Parish in Agagbe, Nigeria, in 2022. / Courtesy of Adakole Daniel

Jos, Nigeria, Aug 12, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The news that help was on the way didn’t come soon enough for Joy Akaa.

The 30-year-old mother of three lost her husband, Orguze Akaa, 50, when he was shot and killed in an ambush June 30 while scrounging for extra food for their family in embattled Benue State, located in north-central Nigeria.

Yet for Akaa and others attending Mass Aug. 7 at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Agagbe, it still came as a relief to learn that Benue's governor, Samuel Ortom, had decided to arm a 500-man volunteer militia to help defend communities like Agagbe from radicalized Islamic bandits.

“We are ready! We are ready to defend our people and our land,” Ortom vowed, as Channels Television reported.

“We cannot continue to play around and let them [terrorists] continue,” the governor said. “Benue is under siege.” 

Akaa only wished Benue's leaders had taken this step sooner.

"If there were security guards in the village, my husband would have still been alive," she told CNA. "But the lack of security was what cost his life."

Desperate for food

Akaa and her children are among the thousands of people uprooted by bandit attacks in surrounding villages and towns in recent years who have sought refuge at camps set up near St. Francis Xavier Parish, which oversees a network of dozens of smaller churches within the Diocese of Makurdi.

Joy Akaa and her late husband, Orguze (center), with one of the couple's three children. Orguze Akaa, 50,  a farmer from Benue State, Nigeria, whose family was uprooted by terror attacks in the region, was ambushed and killed on June 30, 2022, while seeking food for his family. Courtesy of Adakole Daniel
Joy Akaa and her late husband, Orguze (center), with one of the couple's three children. Orguze Akaa, 50, a farmer from Benue State, Nigeria, whose family was uprooted by terror attacks in the region, was ambushed and killed on June 30, 2022, while seeking food for his family. Courtesy of Adakole Daniel

Residents blame radicalized herdsmen from the Fulani tribe, a large ethnic group in West Africa, for the violence.

More than 1,700 people in Benue State have been killed in these attacks since 2018, a spokesman for the Idoma and Igede ethnic groups said in November.

According to the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, militants “propagating an Islamic agenda” have killed 192 persons thus far in 2022 in Benue, making it the fourth most terrorized state behind Kaduna, Niger, and Plateau States.

More than 1 million people have been displaced by the violence, according to some estimates. The vast majority of these people — about 80% — are being cared for by the Makurdi diocese, Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe has said.

But places of refuge like St. Francis Xavier Parish are feeling the strain. Benue is known as the most productive agricultural state in Nigeria, often called the nation’s breadbasket. Yet many of the people in the camps go hungry.

“The federal government rarely sends anything to us,” said Ibaa Terna Jacob, who oversees the humanitarian effort at St. Francis Xavier. “The last time they sent us food was months ago.”

On June 30, Orguze Akaa felt his only option was to walk three hours and dig for mud-burrowing fish in a dried-up stream bed close to his abandoned town of Tse-anyion. It was a risky journey, but the once-successful farmer would not give up.

It cost him his life.

Seventeen others have met the same fate, said Adakole Daniel, a local youth leader.

“All the attacks occurred while the people were searching for their daily meals,” Daniel said in a phone interview.

Persistent attacks

Bishop Anagbe says the bandits are working in a coordinated fashion to clear out the densely populated state to make room for herding communities.

“The scale of killings, displacement and wanton destruction of property by these Fulani jihadists militia only buttresses the now revealed agenda to depopulate Christian communities in Nigeria and take over lands, “ Anagbe wrote in a report issued July 3.  

“Tellingly, the government in power in Nigeria at the moment continues to do nothing about these persistent attacks, save to give laughable reasons like climate change or that some Muslims, too, are sometimes killed in attacks by so-called bandits.“

“Having said the above, I would like to again say that, notwithstanding the threats to personal harm especially when people speak up against the evil Fulani herdsmen jihadists, we shall continue to draw the attention of the outside world to the plan by Islamists and their sponsors to Islamize Christian territories through these killings and occupation of lands,” Anagbe continued.

“Recall what I said in my previous report that from the time I became bishop of Makurdi in 2014 to the present day, hardly a day passes by that I don’t receive a sad story of killing and displacement of our people by barbaric Fulani herdsmen,” he wrote. “For some years now I have not been able to carry out pastoral activities in parts of my diocese.“

Thousands of Nigerians displaced by violent attacks by militant herdsmen have taken shelter near St. Francis Xavier Parish in Agagbe, located in north central Nigeria. Courtesy of Adakole Daniel
Thousands of Nigerians displaced by violent attacks by militant herdsmen have taken shelter near St. Francis Xavier Parish in Agagbe, located in north central Nigeria. Courtesy of Adakole Daniel

From May 1 to June 30, 70 unarmed persons across Benue State were murdered by Fulani terrorists, the bishop said.

The latest attack on July 14 killed three villagers working on a farm near Akakuma village in the Guma Local Government Area, or county, said Nyiakaa Mike, the county chairman.

“They were seven working in their farms when the herdsmen shot three dead and kidnapped four others,” Mike said in a phone interview.

His colleague who heads Gwer West Local Government Area, Ayande Andrew, said attacks by terrorists in his county occur daily. “They [terrorists] have sent people out of their villages and each time they [villagers] try to access their farms to feed, they are killed,” Andrew said in a phone interview.

“They move freely with their guns and have taken over more than 30 communities,” he said.

Sacraments disrupted

Father Cletus Bua, the priest in charge of St. Francis Xavier Parish, said attacks by Fulani militias since 2018 have blocked close to 20,000 congregants from attending Mass and receiving other sacraments in his parish.

“In Agbage [parish], we have 50 outstations and all of them have been displaced by the Fulani militias,” Bua said.

“These are churches with members ranging from 200 to 400 each. Many more are folding up in other parishes as the attacks are increasing,” he said.

“Even the parish headquarters in Agagbe itself is not safe because they have attacked the community in 2019,” he added.

The parish is one of 15 in the Makurdi diocese, which is home to some 1 million Catholics. The diocese has been the hardest hit of the four dioceses in Benue State.

“This is where the Fulani started their genocide in Benue,” Mike, the county leader, said.

Will armed volunteers make a difference?

Joy Akaa expressed some optimism to CNA. “If these [militia volunteers] will truly work, then maybe what happened to my husband will not happen again,” she said.

Salman Rushdie attacked at lecture in New York

Salman Rushdie speaks at the Frankfurt Bookfair, Oct. 12, 2017. / Markus Wissmann/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Aug 12, 2022 / 12:01 pm (CNA).

The author Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” led to a call for his assassination from Iran’s Supreme Leader in 1989, was stabbed in the neck on Friday while onstage in New York state.

The Associated Press said one of its reporters “witnessed a man confront Rushdie … and begin punching or stabbing him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced” Aug. 12.

Rushdie, 75, was preparing to speak at the Chautauqua Institution, an educational center and resort in Chautauqua, New York, about 70 miles southwest of Buffalo.

Henry Reese, who was to interview Rushdie about the U.S. as a haven for exiled writers and artists, also suffered a minor head injury. Reese is co-founder and president of City of Asylum, a nonprofit housing exiled writers.

The attacker has been arrested, and Rushdie has been taken to hospital.

Rushdie, who was born in Bombay in 1947, won the Booker Prize in 1981 for “Midnight’s Children.”

“The Satanic Verses” was published in 1988. The book of magic realism, set in the present day, includes dream sequences involving Muhammad. These were considered blasphemous by some Muslims. 

Ruhollah Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s killing the following year. There was an assassination attempt that year, and in 1991 Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of “The Satanic Verses,” was murdered. 

A bounty has been offered for Rushdie’s killing, and he lived in hiding for some time.

In Rome, a setback for Father Vincent Capodanno sainthood cause

Father Capodanno with fellow Marines in Vietnam / null

Denver Newsroom, Aug 12, 2022 / 09:40 am (CNA).

There is a new obstacle for the sainthood cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, the “grunt padre” who died on a Vietnam battlefield as a military chaplain to U.S. Marines. Consultants to the Vatican body tasked with judging possible saints have recommended the suspension of Capodanno’s cause, though his backers are appealing the decision they say is only preliminary.

“It is the firm conviction of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, that Father Capodanno is enjoying the bliss of heaven and it is felt that raising the exemplary service of this distinguished priest to the altars would serve the Church and especially the Chaplain Corps of the USA,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services told CNA Aug. 11.

Broglio’s archdiocese is responsible for launching the priest’s canonization cause.

At the Vatican, the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints is responsible for canonization decisions. 

In May, an advisory panel of theological consultants considered the “positio” document prepared by the postulator and its arguments in favor of and against Capodanno’s beatification.

The consultants voted to recommend to the dicastery that Capodanno’s cause be suspended.

Broglio characterized the recommendation as “a consultative vote” for the dicastery, previously known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“The body only makes a recommendation to the congregation,” the archbishop said. “The postulator has already petitioned the congregation to appeal the decision and allow the postulation to respond to some of the questions raised by the theologians.”

Broglio said the dicastery has the responsibility “to determine if the process can continue.”

Capodanno, a member of the Maryknoll religious order, was a U.S. Navy chaplain who served in the Vietnam War with U.S. Marines. Enlisted Marines are informally known as “grunts,” and he acquired the moniker “the grunt padre.” 

When in combat he would put the well-being of Marines above his personal safety. The priest would move among the wounded and dying on the battlefield to provide medical aid, comfort, and Last Rites.

He died on the battlefield Sept. 4, 1967 after shielding a Marine from enemy machine gun fire.

In 2006, the Congregation for Saints declared him a Servant of God, a first step to possible beatification or canonization.

The Father Capodanno Guild, a private Catholic association that promotes the priest’s canonization cause, also responded to the consultants’ recommendation to suspend the beatification cause.

The recommendation is “not what we have been praying for,” the guild said on its website Aug. 8. Nonetheless, it added, the decision is “not the end of our journey.”

“Other causes have had to struggle through the process in Rome,” the guild said. “Let us pray for the will of God and arm ourselves with faith, hope, and trust.”

“Initial engagements with congregation leaders have emphasized the widespread interest in the cause,” the guild said. “These leaders have responded that the possibility to move forward exists and should be pursued.”

The theological consultants have written individually to Dr. Nicola Gori, the postulator of Capodanno’s cause to express any concerns.

The Fr. Capodanno Guild summarized these concerns and suggested possible responses to them.

One consultant voiced concern that the positio focuses mainly on the last year of Capodanno’s life and shows little evidence of his spiritual growth. The guild said this focus is appropriate because it is proposing beatification under the standard that the priest gave freely of his own life.

For another consultant, the fact that Maryknoll has not pursued Capodanno’s cause is a matter of concern. To this, the guild suggested a reply that the Archdiocese for Military Services took responsibility for the cause of one of its own chaplains. “Maryknoll is now supporting our efforts,” the guild said.

Another concern about the priest being “fastidiousness about his appearance” prompted another possible explanation: “This reflects the strong Italian family that he grew up in and was reinforced by the Navy and Marine Corps. It is not an indication of sinful pride.”  

“With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church,” one consultant wrote.

To this, the guild responded: “No one likes war especially those who serve their countries in them. One of the most important things for these serving men and women is to have access to the Sacraments. Our chaplains selflessly give of themselves to provide these Sacraments. Pope Francis pushes strongly to ensure that chaplain priests are available for militaries.”

If the appeal of the consultants’ decision is supported, there could be a chance to submit more evidence for Capodanno’s beatification cause.

Vincent Robert Capodanno was born on Staten Island in New York City to Italian immigrant parents. In 1957 he was ordained a Catholic priest by Cardinal Francis Spellman, then vicar of the U.S. Military Ordinariate.

He entered the Maryknoll religious order and served as a missionary in Taiwan and Hong Kong from 1958 to 1965. After he successfully petitioned his Maryknoll superiors to release him to serve as a U.S. Navy chaplain, he arrived in Vietnam during Holy Week of 1966.

He held the rank of lieutenant and took part in seven combat operations.

During the Operation Swift campaign, Fr. Capodanno was injured by an exploding mortar round which caused multiple injuries to his arms and legs and severed part of his right hand. He continued to tend to the wounded and nearly lost his hand to shrapnel. Despite his wounds, he refused care so that medical supplies could go to his injured Marines.

The priest directed Marines to help the wounded and continued to move about the battlefield, encouraging them with his words and example.

While seeking to aid one particular Marine, he put his own body between the wounded man and an enemy machine gunner who opened fire. He died from 27 bullet wounds.

He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Navy Bronze Star medal, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, and the Purple Heart Medal.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services has scheduled a memorial Mass for Fr. Capodanno Sept. 6 at the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Germany denies refuge to Christian convert from Iran

European Court of Human Rights. / CherryX/wikmedia. CC BY-SA 3.0

CNA Newsroom, Aug 12, 2022 / 04:05 am (CNA).

The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed the case of an Iranian convert to Christianity, who is appealing his deportation from Germany back to Iran, on the grounds of religious freedom. 

Campaigners fear that the court’s decision means that the 44 year-old, will likely face prison or death, on account of his religious conversion.

Hassan – whose name has been changed to protect his identity and is recorded only as “H.H” in public records – is a cabinet maker who applied for asylum in 2018 and is currently residing in Germany where he can freely practice his faith. 

After he, his wife and his family converted to Christianity, security forces in Iran stormed their house confiscated their books, computer, passports and Bible. He then fled to Germany with his family via Turkey.

In a statement released August 11, Lidia Rieder, Legal Officer at ADF International, warned that Iran was one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians. She said: “No one should be persecuted for their faith. Iran is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians, and converts are particularly at risk. In the last year, religious persecution has greatly worsened. So-called “religious deviants” can be given prison sentences, national security charges are continuously used to target religious minorities. The courts in Germany must take this into account when processing asylum applications.”

Hassan’s conversion to Christianity was inspired by the witness of his brother-in-law who was imprisoned for his practicing his Christian faith and subsequently killed. His brother-in-law’s wife was also abused.

“My wife’s brother had become a different person by becoming a Christian. We wanted to see if we would get this feeling when we became Christians,” H.H. said in his application to the German authorities.

But the Greifswald Administrative Court, which heard Hassan’s case after it was rejected by the German authorities, said it was “not particularly likely” that a Muslim would convert to Christianity given what had happened to his brother in-law and his wife, following their conversions.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights then refused to hear arguments in Hassan’s defence, which campaigners claim leave him at significant risk of deportation.

In a statement prepared by ADF International, Hassan explained: “I had had many problems in Iran…I had many questions, but I was not allowed to ask them. When I asked questions, I was beaten at school. This led me to want to know which God I was facing. One day my brother-in-law said to me and my wife that he had good news. There is a treasure, there is a living God, Jesus Christ, we are His children and not His slaves…He said there is a free salvation available…In Germany I share the Gospel, I organize prayer circles here in the accommodation. I want to be a good example, to win the others to faith in Jesus Christ. My greatest goal would be for my children to be able to find Christ in freedom, and to do good.”

In August 11 statement, Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Global Religious Freedom at ADF International, said: “Iran systematically fails to protect its citizens’ right to religious freedom. Iranian law must be amended to be brought into accordance with international human rights law, which protects the right of every individual to choose and freely practice their faith. Until this happens, countries like Germany have a responsibility to help to protect vulnerable religious minorities when they have an opportunity to do so. Ignoring that responsibility can have fatal consequences.”

The history behind the persecution of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, is monitored by police in early August 2022. / Photo credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

Denver Newsroom, Aug 12, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

A bishop under house arrest, priests harassed by the police, the Missionaries of Charity expelled, and numerous restrictions on worship: this is the situation that the Catholic Church in Nicaragua is experiencing today under the current government of President Daniel Ortega.

But how did the Central American country come to such a crisis?

This story begins in 1979 with the overthrow of the dictatorship of the Somoza dynasty and the first Sandinista government that led Nicaragua from then until 1990. And 40 years later, the hostilities and persecutions repeat themselves.

On July 19, 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a leftist guerrilla group, overthrew Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the third and last member of the so-called Somocista dynasty — following his father, Anastasio Somoza García, and his brother, Luis Somoza Debayle — who had ruled the country since 1937.

In November 1979, the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference published a pastoral letter titled “Christian Commitment for a New Nicaragua” that, among other things, saw this “revolutionary process” as an opportunity for the country and called on the population to make the necessary sacrifices and to experience a “profound conversion of heart.”

The bishops also called for “ample space for freedom allowing it (the Church) to carry out its apostolic work without interference.”

Shortly after Somoza’s fall, a five-member National Reconstruction Governing Junta was established: three from the FSLN and two independents, including Violeta Chamorro (widow of Pedro Chamorro, director of the newspaper La Prensa, who was assassinated by Somoza) and Alfonso Robelo. The coordinator was Daniel Ortega.

Violeta Chamorro resigned from the Junta in April 1980 due to the socialist direction the FSLN was taking and the influence of Cuba in the government. Robelo resigned for the same reasons and later joined the political directorate of the Nicaraguan Resistance (called the “Contras” for “counterrevolutionaries”) that, financed by the United States, fought a civil war with the Sandinistas throughout the decade.

The Junta governed Nicaragua until 1985 and handed over power to Ortega, who had won the 1984 presidential elections with the FSLN, which had become a political party.

Priests in the government and the intervention of John Paul II

With the inauguration of the Junta, three well-known priests who promoted Marxist liberation theology assumed positions in the Sandinista government: Miguel D’Escoto was minister of foreign affairs (1979-1990); Ernesto Cardenal was minister of culture (1979-1987); and Edgar Parrales was vice minister deputy director general of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (1979-1980), minister of social welfare (1980-1982) and Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States (1982-1986).

The participation of these priests in the government caused tensions with the bishops. Although the episcopate initially authorized this participation, in January 1980 the bishops’ conference decided that they could no longer be part of the Sandinista government.

In April of that year, Pope John Paul II received the Nicaraguan bishops at the Vatican and told them in an address that “an atheist ideology cannot be the guiding instrument of the effort to promote social justice, because it deprives man of his freedom, of spiritual inspiration, and of the strength to love his brother, which has its most solid and operative foundation in the love of God.”

A few weeks later, the bishops asked the priests to resign from their positions in the Sandinista government, but they refused.

In February 1984, John Paul II suspended ad divinis the three priests and Father Fernando Cardenal, Ernesto’s brother, who also participated in the Ortega regime. From that year until 1990, Fernando Cardenal was minister of education.

A courageous archbishop and an ambushed priest

During the first Sandinista period, one of the members of the Catholic Church who stood out for his denunciations of human-rights violations was the archbishop of Managua, Miguel Obando y Bravo (1926-2018), whom John Paul II made a cardinal in 1985.

The archbishop was already known for denouncing human-rights violations during the Somoza dictatorship and didn’t remain silent in the face of the abuses of the Ortega regime.

In addition, his role was decisive in preventing the spread of the so-called “people’s church” promoted by priests and religious subscribing to Marxist liberation theology.

The FSLN government retaliated and targeted prominent pastors. In August 1982, agents from the regime dressed as police officers arrested Father Bismarck Carballo, who was then a spokesman for the Church and the director of a Catholic radio station.

The agents entered a house where the priest was and fabricated an alleged sexual scandal with a woman. They stripped him naked, took him out on the street, and published the false story in all the official media.

In February 1986, the U.S. secretary of state published the testimony of former Sandinista lieutenant Álvaro Baldizón Avilés, a defector who stated that the scandal involving Carballo was staged by the Ortega regime.

Another of Ortega’s outrages against the Church was the expulsion of 10 foreign priests in July 1984. The priests were accused of violating national laws and participating in anti-government activities for attending a march called by Obando y Bravo in solidarity with Father Luis Amado Peña, a priest accused of terrorism by the regime.

The role of the Church in the peace agreement

In the 1980s, clashes between the FSLN and the resistance or the “Contras” left tens of thousands dead. On Aug. 7, 1987, the Esquipulas II Peace Accord was signed in Guatemala to end the civil war in Nicaragua and achieve a “lasting peace” in Central America. The document called for free multiparty elections and the establishment of a National Reconciliation Commission.

Obando y Bravo and the then auxiliary bishop of Managua, Bosco Vivas Robelo, participated in this commission.

Ortega ran for president in the February 1990 elections and was defeated by Violeta Chamorro. Ortega ran again unsuccessfully in 1996 and 2001.

On Oct. 18, 1996, two days before the elections, Obando y Bravo told a story — which the press called “the parable of the viper” — exhorting Nicaraguans to be prudent and think about what is best for the country.

Ortega makes peace with the Catholic Church

After losing the elections, Ortega — who was then leading the opposition — apparently made peace with the Catholic Church. In July 2003, the former guerrilla apologized for the “excesses” and “errors” of his government against Catholics in the 1980s.

In June 2004, Ortega proposed nominating Obando y Bravo for the Nobel Peace Prize, “in recognition of his struggle for national reconciliation” and the signing of the peace accords that ended the civil war.

That month, Obando y Bravo accepted Ortega’s request to offer the Sandinista-sponsored Mass for the thousands of dead in the civil war.

In July 2004, as part of the 25th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, Ortega publicly apologized for the abuses against the Catholic Church during his first government and explicitly referred to Carballo.

Ortega returns to power in 2007

Ortega won the 2006 elections with 38% of the vote thanks to an electoral reform that lowered the percentage to win the presidency to 35% of the vote if there is a 5% margin over second place.

In February 2007, Ortega invited Obando y Bravo, then archbishop emeritus of Managua and 81 years old, to preside over the National Council for Reconciliation and Peace created by his new government. The cardinal accepted the position on a “personal basis” and had the support of the episcopate.

However, in September 2008, the bishop of Matagalpa, Jorge Solórzano, warned that while relations with the government seemed friendly, measures against the work of the Church were anticipated, such as the elimination of state subsidies for Catholic schools. 

In November of that year, violence broke out again in the country after allegations of fraud in the municipal elections that gave 62% of the mayor’s offices throughout the country to the FSLN. The bishops made a strong call for peace.

Ortega attacks the Catholic Church again

In early 2009, tensions resumed between the Sandinista government and the Catholic Church. At the end of April, an email from the Nicaraguan presidency sent a document to the media that described the Nicaraguan bishops as corrupt, prompting a formal reaction from the episcopate.

In June, Ortega tried to silence the criticism that several bishops made about his government by calling them to pray instead of commenting on politics. The prelates responded that it’s not enough to pray if one doesn’t work for justice.

In April 2010, when the possibility of Ortega running for re-election in 2011 was being debated, the bishops called on the country to dialogue and denounced the “acts of transgression” against the constitution that specifically prohibited successive presidential terms.

However, the Supreme Court of Justice, with Sandinista members, allowed Ortega to run in the elections held on Nov. 6, 2011.

In this context, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez, warned that Nicaragua was on the way “to a visible or covert totalitarianism” and requested the presence of international observers.

The secretary of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Sócrates René Sandigo, said that with this candidacy, the country lacked the rule of law and that distrust among the population had grown.

Almost a month before the elections, several bishops reported receiving threats.

The Sandinista leader won the elections with more than 62% of the votes cast, amid allegations of fraud. The Carter Center report said that, according to the assessments of national and international observers, the elections “were not transparent.”

In a statement, the bishops said that the legitimacy of the results was “totally questionable.”

Catholic Church opposes indefinite re-election

After his third term, in which there was also friction with the bishops, Ortega decided to run for a fourth term.

In January 2014, the Sandinista majority in the National Assembly approved the constitutional amendment to allow Ortega’s indefinite re-election, which the bishops criticized. The legislature also gave the presidency the power to issue decrees with the force of law.

In June 2016, the episcopate called on Ortega to guarantee that the Nov. 6 elections would be transparent and with the presence of national and foreign observers.

However, Ortega won the elections again under allegations of fraud.

‘We are a persecuted Church’

The current crisis in Nicaragua began in April 2018, during Ortega’s fourth term. The reform of the health and pension system triggered numerous protests throughout the country, which were violently repressed by the police and during which numerous bishops and priests received death threats.

In this context, the archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes; his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio José Báez; and the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Somertag, were beaten by a pro-government mob while making a pastoral visit to the Minor Basilica of St. Sebastian in Diriamba, 25 miles from the capital.

On July 13, 2018, police and paramilitaries shot up Divine Mercy parish in Managua, where young people who had protested against the regime had taken refuge.

Báez condemned the “criminal repression” of civilians on Twitter and asked the international community not to be indifferent. The prelate said that “we are already beginning to be a persecuted Church.”

Shortly after, the Catholic Church agreed to participate once again as a mediator in the national talks to resolve the crisis that had already left hundreds dead, but the negotiations were suspended.

In 2019 there was another attempt at talks between the government and the opposition, but this time the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference declined to participate and asked that “the laity be the ones who directly assume responsibility” for this process.

In March 2019, Pope Francis received Báez in a private audience at the Vatican. Two weeks later, Brenes reported that the pontiff asked Báez to move to Rome. Currently the bishop resides in the United States.

A year later, on July 31, 2020, one of the most symbolic attacks against the Church occurred. An unidentified individual entered one of the chapels inside the Managua Cathedral and threw a firebomb that destroyed the famous image of the Blood of Christ, a 382-year-old crucifix beloved by Nicaraguans.

When the presidential elections were held on Nov. 7, 2021, the main opposition candidates had already been imprisoned. Days before, the bishops’ conference said that each citizen should act considering what was the most just and best for the country.

It is estimated that absenteeism was 81.5%. The bishop of León, René Sándigo, was the only prelate who went to the polls. Ortega was re-elected for the fourth consecutive time with 75% of the votes.

A bishop under house arrest

After ordering the dissolution of 100 NGOs, the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity and the closure of several Catholic media outlets, the government now has the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, one of its strongest critics, in its sights.

Since Aug. 4, the prelate has been kept under house arrest at the chancery along with five priests, two seminarians, and three lay people.

That day, when the Church celebrated the feast of St. John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, Álvarez came outside the chancery with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance and denounced that the police sent by Ortega wouldn’t let his priests and collaborators enter his chapel to celebrate Mass.

After almost an hour of calling for dialogue and respect for the Catholic Church, the prelate returned inside the chancery and celebrated the Eucharist with his assistants.

However, that same afternoon, riot police blocked access to the chancery and would not let Álvarez, who had invited the faithful to go to the Matagalpa cathedral to celebrate the holy hour and Mass, leave the building.

The Sandinista regime has threatened to imprison the bishop, who has received expressions of solidarity only from the local episcopate and from a few other countries.

Attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, recently published an investigation titled “Nicaragua: a Persecuted Church? (2018-2022),” which documents 190 attacks and desecrations committed against the Catholic Church up to May of this year.

For experts like Molina, there is no doubt that the “dictatorship” of Ortega “has a frontal war against the Catholic Church of Nicaragua and its objective is to completely eliminate all those institutions related to the Church."

In the past, Ortega has called the bishops “terrorists” and “devils in cassocks.” 

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.