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In major break over Ukraine, Russian Orthodox Church splits from Constantinople

Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct 15, 2018 / 05:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, claiming his recognition of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine departed from Orthodox Christian norms.
 
Metropolitan Hilarion, who heads foreign relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, said Russian Orthodox leaders decided to “break the Eucharistic communion” in response to actions it called “lawless and canonically void.”
 
“The Russian Orthodox Church doesn't recognize those decisions and won't fulfill them,” Hilarion said in Belarus after a meeting of the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The church that acknowledged the schismatics has excluded itself from the canonical field of Orthodoxy.”
 
“We are hoping common sense will prevail and that the Constantinople Patriarchate will change its relations to existing church reality,” Metropolitan Hilarion said.
 
The break comes in response to the decision of Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the “first among equals” leader of the global Orthodox Church, to issue a statement Oct. 11 confirming plans for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and restoring ties with the previously schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate.
 
The announcement also removed the traditional right of the Russian Patriarch to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, a move which observers predicted would be perceived as a deliberate slight to Moscow. The right dated back to a canonical letter first issued in the year 1686.

Archbishop Yevstratiy, chief spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and whose rehabilitation by Constantinople contributed to the current break with Moscow, said the Russian synod’s decision was a move towards “self-isolation.”
 
Writing in a Facebook post, he said “Sooner or later this will be fixed and the Russian Orthodox Church will return to communion.”

According to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Press Service, Yevstratiy claimed that Orthodox Christians must choose whether to follow the Russian Orthodox “into schism” or “remain in unity with the Ecumenical Patriarch (Bartholomew I of Constantinople) through the Local Ukrainian Church.”
 
Among the backers of Constantinople’s move are Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is running for re-election in March 2019. He had previously asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to grant independence to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the Associated Press reports.
 
While the recent push for an independent, autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine emerged as a serious movement in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it gained further momentum following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and Russian backing of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in response to the unseating of Ukraine’s pro-Russia former president Viktor Yanukovych.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which claims traditional and canonical authority over the Orthodox community in Ukraine, has denied taking political sides in the conflict and said it has worked for peace in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Church has also voiced concern that the Constantinople patriarchate’s actions could deepen religious divides in Ukraine and inspire breakaway branches to take over church buildings, Reuters reports.

Kyiv, now the capital of Ukraine, is the site of the 988 baptism of Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev, which resulted in the Christianization of Kyivan Rus', a state whose heritage Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus all claim.
 
Orthodox Christians in Ukraine have recently been divided into three separate groups.
 
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate effectively declared itself independent from Moscow in 1992, and is considered by the Russian Church to be a schismatic group. Until now, the other Orthodox Churches have recognized Ukraine as under Moscow’s jurisdiction and honored the excommunication.
 
The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, re-founded in 1990, is similarly seen as a breakaway group.
 
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is under the authority of the Russian Church and has been the officially recognized Orthodox Church in the country.
 
Patriarch Bartholomew’s plan to create a single, self-governing Church in the Ukraine, led by its own patriarch, is motivated by a desire to unify the country’s 30 million Orthodox Christians. The Russian Church sees the move as an infringement of its jurisdiction and authority.
 
There are about 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. The Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Church in 1054.
 

 

Thousands gather in L.A. archdiocese to celebrate St. Oscar Romero

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Thousands of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles gathered in the cathedral on Sunday to celebrate as Oscar Romero was canonized in Rome.

St. Oscar Romero was canonized by Pope Francis Oct. 14, together with six other new saints. That same day, an estimated 3,000 people gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles for a Mass and celebrations.

Romero, who was the archbishop of San Salvador in the late 1970s, had been a major voice in defense of human rights for the Salvadorian people, especially during the early stages of the country’s civil war.

Before the liturgy Sunday, Salvadorians performed traditional dancing, while clips of Romero’s recorded homilies and speeches could be heard over the loudspeakers.

The inside the Cathedral was decorated with images and photographs of the newly minted saint, including a picture of Romero during one of his famous radio broadcasts and an image of the 250,000 mourners who attended his funeral at San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral.

The Mass was celebrated, in Spanish, by Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar. The homily was given by Deacon Ricardo Villacorta, a Salvadorian immigrant who left the country during its civil war.

Saint Oscar Romero was shot while celebrating Mass in March, 1980, during the country’s escalating civil war. Romero was an outspoken critic of political injustice in the country and of the violence affecting the lives of ordinary Salvadorians. 

In a homily the day before he was martyred, Romero admonished soldiers to follow God’s law over the orders of their superiors.

“This was a very brave act: He told soldiers they have to act from their morals, and not just follow directions from their superiors,” said Rich Villacorta, son of Deacon Villacorta and an archdiocesan employee, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Doris Benavides, associate director of media relations for the archdiocese, told CNA that a

majority of the attendees were Salvadorian. She said that after Mass many participants reflected about the difficult years of violence in their home country and spoke of their closeness to the new saint.

“Very touching,” she said. “I think it was one of the most joyous, happy Masses I’ve seen…even when they were reminiscing and talking about the past they were really happy, happy now that they have a saint that…many of them knew, many of them touched.”

The Archdiocese has a large community of Salvadorians, about 200,000 people, said Benavides, noting that some of these people sought refuge in United States during the civil war, had worked with Romero during his time of ministry, and had even received the sacraments from the new saint.

“These are people who were the poor,” she said. “At that time, even when the Church was going through many phases and difficult times [of the war], they felt the presence of their Archbishop.”

Benavides said that Catholic Charities of Los Angeles continued to welcome refugees from El Salvador, and several other countries experiencing political turmoil. She said that although their reasons for seeking asylum may be different, these people had access to legal, housing, and financial help through the help of the archdiocese.

“The war today is hunger, poverty, and organized crime. So people are running away from the country still. They are seeking asylum again, for other reasons.”

Washington archdiocese releases the names of 28 accused clergy

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Just days after Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington, the D.C. archdiocese has released the names of 28 former clergy of the archdiocese who had been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1948.

Three priests of religious orders who had previously served in archdiocesan parishes or schools were also included in the release.

The posting of the names on the archdiocesan website Oct. 15 marks the first significant act by Cardinal Wuerl as interim administrator of the archdiocese which he led until Friday, and is the culmination of an internal review of archdiocesan files first ordered by Wuerl in 2017.

“This list is a painful reminder of the grave sins committed by clergy, the pain inflicted on innocent young people, and the harm done to the Church’s faithful, for which we continue to seek forgiveness,” said Cardinal Wuerl. He also noted that there had not been a credible allegation of abuse of minors against a Washington priest in nearly twenty years.

“Our strong commitment to accompany survivors of abuse on their path toward healing is unwavering, but it is also important to note that to our knowledge there has not been an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest of the archdiocese in almost two decades. There is also no archdiocesan priest in active ministry who has ever been the subject of a credible allegation of abuse of a minor.”

A press release by the archdiocese underscored the existing safeguarding policies in place in Washington, which include an annual, independently audited report on its child protection work posted on the archdiocesan website and in the Catholic Standard newspaper.  

Kim Viti Fiorentino, Chancellor and General Counsel for the archdiocese, said that while survivors of abuse should remain the first concern of everyone, it was also important that Catholics in the capital’s archdiocese understood the efforts being made to ensure that “there is no safer place for a young person than in an Archdiocese of Washington parish or school.”

The Archdiocese of Washington adopted its first a written child protection policy in 1986, with a Case Review Board operating since 1993. Following the adoption of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms, the archdiocese has also had a Child Protection Advisory Board with a majority of lay experts as members since 2002.

While the release of the names of credibly accused clergy comes at the end of a year-long process of review, it is final authorization by Cardinal Wuerl as archdiocesan administrator instead of archbishop makes for a conclusion few would have foreseen only months ago.

Ordinarily when a diocese is between bishops and under the care of an administrator the principle of nihil innovator  - nothing new - applies, though in this case Cardinal Wuerl was not so much innovating as bringing to a close work he had already begun.

 

This article has been udated to reflect a clarification by the Archdiocese of Washington made after publication.

Pittsburgh Diocese begins years-long parish consolidation process

Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct 15, 2018 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An interim Mass and confession schedule went into effect Oct. 15 in the Diocese of Pittsburgh as the six-county diocese moves to condense its parishes into groups, with the eventual goal of creating new multi-site parishes.

Bishop David Zubik announced in May that the 188 parishes of the Pittsburgh Diocese would be combined into 57 multi-parish groups. After parishioners from each former parish build relationships with each other, each group will become a new parish between 2020 and 2023. Parish groups have been assigned a designation of A, B, or C, with the goal of forming a new parish within two, three, or five years respectively.

A team of clergy, led by a pastor and including parochial vicars, parish chaplains, and deacons, will serve the needs of each parish group during the transition, with retired priests assisting as they are able. The number of Masses available each weekend will depend on the number of priests assigned to each group, since no one priest may celebrate more than three Masses per Sunday according to canon law.

Though Bishop Zubik has not yet specified which church buildings will remain open and which will close, the parish groupings include recommendations for the total number of buildings and priests the group should share. Each new parish could eventually consist of multiple church buildings, but the clergy leaders of each individual group will be ones to make that recommendation to the diocese.

The Pittsburgh Diocese last went through a major restructuring during 1992-94, when the diocese shrank from 333 parishes to 218.

The current consolidation plan is a response to declining Mass attendance overall and the financial struggles of some parishes. Materials provided by the diocese show Mass attendance down nearly 40 percent across the board since 2000.

In addition, the diocese had 338 parish priests in active ministry in 2000, compared with 211 in 2016 and 178 today. The diocese estimates that with priestly retirements and an average of four ordinations per year, the diocese will have just 112 priests by 2025.

The purpose of this restructuring, spokesman Father Nicholas Vaskov said in a statement, is “transitioning from maintenance into ministry and mission”: a shift from pouring resources into church buildings that may not be having success and putting those resources toward ministry and evangelization.

A five-year diocesan planning initiative called “On Mission for the Church Alive!” began in April 2015 with a year of prayer for the whole diocese. Since the second year of the program, over 300 parish consolidation meetings have been held and more than 30,000 religious, clergy and laity have participated and offered input.

The diocese used a list of 21 criteria developed after the meetings to create the parish groups. The criteria specified, among other things, that the parish groups should not exceed one priest per 2,400 Sunday Mass attendees, and that the groupings must allow enough space for new Sunday Mass attendees, and anticipate sustainable growth for the next 20 years. In addition, parishes in dire financial need would not be grouped with other struggling parishes, and nor would affluent parishes be grouped together, unless a sound alternative financial plan is put forward.

The current plan to consolidate was conceived prior to the Aug. 14 release of a grand jury report that uncovered sexual abuse allegations against 300 Pennsylvania priests - including 99 from Pittsburgh - dating back to 1947.

Bishop Zubik told CNA in May that he hopes that this consolidation of communities will be an effective tool for evangelization, generating excitement within the Church and strengthening resources to be used for outreach programs.

“By consolidating the resources of parishes in a grouping, what we’ll do is make sure every parish has all of the programs that it needs to be a parish so every parish will have a religious education program, every parish will have some association with a Catholic school, every parish will have an organized program for reaching out to the poor,” Bishop Zubik said.



Correction 10/16: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the diocese's last major reorganization was between 1989-98 instead of 1992-94 . It has been corrected. 

 

Film spurs hundreds of abuse allegations in Poland as crisis spreads to Europe

Warsaw, Poland, Oct 15, 2018 / 03:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Polish film depicting unsavory characters as clerics has broken box office records and sparked a wave of sexual abuse allegations against clergy in the country where 96 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film ‘The Clergy’ (Kler in Polish) portrays clerics who are alcoholic, who sexually abuse minors, who carouse with women and coerce them into abortion, or who are engaged in various forms of corruption.

While the film itself is fictional, its producers have said events in the film were based on real incidents.

Debuting in the country on Sept. 28, ‘The Clergy’ broke local box-office records, with 935,000 people seeing the movie on opening weekend.

The film may have resonated so deeply in the country due to the timing of its release, which came in the midst of a global sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and just weeks after the Church in Poland was rocked by its own high-profile case of clerical sexual abuse.

Last month, a judge in northern Poland ruled that a religious order was responsible for damages caused by one of its priests, who reportedly kidnapped and continuously raped a 13 year-old girl over a 10-month period. While the priest was arrested and spent four months in jail in 2008, he was only dismissed from the order in 2017.

The religious order will pay approximately 1 million zloty, or $233,000, in damages in the case.

‘The Clergy’ has reportedly spurred hundreds of Polish individuals to come forward with their own allegations of abuse, both recent and historic.

Some clergy in the country have dismissed the film as “vulgar clergyphobia.” A right-wing newspaper opposed to the film reproduced the movie’s poster, replacing its characters with the faces of national heroes such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who offered his life at a concentration camp for a married man who was sentenced to die. The poster calls clergy a “treasure in the fight against Nazism, communism, LGBT and Islamists,” according to The Guardian.

Poland is home to many clerical saints, including Pope St. John Paul II, who was Pope from 1978-2005 and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2013.

The movie also released two weeks after a German report, which detailed the sexual abuse of thousands of children in the country over a period of 70 years, was leaked to media mid-September.

The report, commissioned by Germany’s conference of Catholic bishops, accused 1,670 clerics of sexual misconduct after having evaluated more than 38,000 personnel and other files from 27 German dioceses, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. It also came at the height of a global sexual abuse scandal throughout the Church, in which there have been recent widespread cases and investigations of abuses and cover-ups in countries such as the United States, Chile, Australia, Guam, India and others.  

Pope Francis has called for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican in February to discuss the issue of sexual abuse of minors.