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Pope to Italian scouts: ‘We must defend the dignity of all human life’

As the Italian Catholic Movement of Adult Scouts (MASCI) celebrates 70 years of foundation, Pope Francis encourages them to continue to stay true to their founding values of community, education, service, and care for human life and our common home.

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Iranian action on Israel expected, says US President

President Biden has urged Iran not to attack Israel in retaliation for last weeks deadly strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria.

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Pope Francis approves decrees for new Italian Saint and two Blesseds from Spain

Pope Francis approves the canonization of the foundress of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit and the beatfication of a priest and a layman murdered in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

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Pope: Like our cities, we build future with an eye to the past

Meeting with members of the Spanish World Heritage Cities Group, Pope Francis says people build their cities and cultures by mixing faith in God with their historical situations.

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Young people of St. Francis look to a better world

Amid celebrations for the eighth centenary of St. Francis of Assisi's stigmata, hundreds of young people gather in Florence until Sunday to look at the future through the eyes of the great saint.

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Police arrest man suspected of robbing Catholic parishes in fake priest scam

Police in California on April 11, 2024, announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. / Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn; Riverside County Sheriff

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Police in California have announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. 

Multiple Catholic parishes in both New York and Texas over the last several months reported encountering a man who in some cases identified himself as “Father Martin” and who managed to gain access to private parish areas and steal hundreds of dollars. 

The scammer was most recently reported at several New York-area parishes; at one he succeeded in stealing nearly $1,000.

On Thursday of this week, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in Riverside, California, announced in a media release that they had apprehended the individual suspected of perpetrating those scams. 

The sheriff’s department said that on Wednesday they had located a car matching the description of the vehicle connected to the robberies. 

“The driver of the vehicle, identified as 45-year-old Malin Rostas, a resident of New York, was taken into custody for an outstanding felony warrant out of Pennsylvania for burglary,” the department said.

Local investigators “discovered Rostas was ‘Father Martin’ and had just attempted to burglarize a local church,” the sheriff’s office said. 

Rostas was booked on the outstanding warrant, police said, and he will additionally be charged with the attempted burglary. 

The sheriff’s office “believes there may be additional burglary victims,” they said. Investigation of the case is ongoing. 

In New York last month, the scammer gained access to a Queens parish as well as the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville’s motherhouse on Long Island. He also reportedly attempted the scam at a Brooklyn parish last year.

Last fall, meanwhile, he showed up at six different parishes in the Diocese of Dallas and also managed to steal several hundred dollars from a Houston parish.

Pope Francis’ approval rating remains high in the U.S. but has slipped since 2021

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square gathered for his weekly general audience on April 3, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

new Pew Research study has found that three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped 8% since 2021. 

In addition, the Pew report suggests that a majority of Catholics in the U.S. want the Church to change its teaching on a number of key issues, including the all-male priesthood, contraception, and so-called same-sex marriage. But broken down by political affiliation, significant differences in opinion emerge. 

“Regardless of their partisan leanings, most U.S. Catholics regard Francis as an agent of change. Overall, about 7 in 10 say the current pope represents a change in direction for the Church, including 42% who say he represents a major change,” the new April 12 Pew report reads. 

Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

Broken down by self-described party affiliation, 35% of Catholic Republicans and Republican leaners said they have an “unfavorable” view of Pope Francis, compared with just 7% of Catholic Democrats and Democratic leaners. Catholic Republicans’ views of Pope Francis have gotten more negative over the past decade, while the views of Catholic Democrats have not changed much, Pew says. 

“The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it’s ever been in our surveys,” Pew noted.

“Roughly 9 in 10 Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party hold a positive view of him, compared with 63% of Catholics who are Republicans or lean Republican.” 

Pew asked respondents about their opinions on several hot-button issues related to the Church’s teaching and found that the Catholics most likely to be in favor of changing Church teaching largely identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (57%), and many say they seldom or never attend Mass (56%).

In contrast, Catholics who mostly say the Church should not change its teachings are predominantly Republicans or lean Republican (72%), and many say they attend Mass at least once a week (59%).

Of those surveyed, 83% said they favored a change of the Church’s teaching on contraception; 75% said the Church should allow Catholics to take Communion even if they are unmarried and living with a romantic partner; 69% said priests should be allowed to get married; 64% said women should be allowed to become priests; and 54% said the Church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. (These findings are not markedly different from those of a decade ago, Pew says.)

Catholics who attend Mass regularly — once a week or more — are far more inclined than those who go less often to say the Church should take a “traditional or conservative” approach on questions about the priesthood and sexuality, Pew says. 

Argentine archbishop found guilty of gender-based violence against nuns

Archbishop Mario Antonio Cargnello of Salta, Argentina. / Credit: Archdiocese of Salta

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A civil court judge in Argentina’s Salta province ruled in favor of the Carmelite sisters in Salta, the provincial capital, in a case of gender-based violence against the local archbishop, Mario Antonio Cargnello, a bishop emeritus, and two priests, ordering them to undergo psychological treatment and training on gender issues in addition to an existing restraining order.

The case involves the Discalced Carmelite sisters of San Bernardo convent, who have been in conflict with the archdiocese for years. In addition, the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Nuevo de Julio, Martín de Elizalde, is also among the defendants along with the judicial vicar, Father Loyola Pinto y de Sancristóval, and Father Lucio Ajaya.

According to the Argentine news site Infobae, the issue underlying this situation is the conflict over the alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary to María Livia Galliano de Obeid in Salta, a phenomenon that has received support from the women religious but has not yet been approved by the Catholic Church.

The phenomenon began more than two decades ago and led to attributing to Mary the title of “the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,” which is under observation and study by the Church but each year attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Salta.

From the time the apparitions were made public, the Carmelites gave their support to the visionary. However, the Archdiocese of Salta questioned the authenticity of the phenomenon.

In the ruling issued April 5 by Judge Carolina Cáceres Moreno, the underlying issue was not addressed but specifically the object of the complaint: the relationship between the archbishop and the nuns, which reached the maximum point of conflict when the sisters became part of a foundation that gave a sort of legal status to the apparitions.

Consequently, in 2021 the Holy See sent Bishop de Elizalde, accompanied by Sister Isabel Guirov, as apostolic visitors in order to “analyze the problems raised.”

The following year, the Holy See ordered the religious congregation to “not in any way get involved in activities linked to the so-called spiritual work ‘I am the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Eucharistic Heart of Jesus’ and ‘I am the Most Sacred Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,’” the name of the spiritual movement formed around the alleged apparitions.

The meetings the sisters had with the archbishop, the apostolic visitors, and other factors are apparently what led the nuns to file a complaint for gender-based violence.

According to Infobae, the judge concluded that the Discalced Carmelites “have suffered acts of gender violence of an institutional scope of a religious, physical, psychological, and financial nature for a period of more than 20 years.”

She also pointed out “the obstruction/delay/refusal in the election of the prioress and the loan of money to the bishop, which hasn’t been returned to date, which constituted psychological and financial gender violence.”

The judge also made reference to “what happened during the apostolic visit carried out by Bishop Martín de Elizalde, in which they suffered psychological gender violence.”

As a result of these events, the judge determined that the four defendants must “undergo psychological treatment with a gender perspective in order to work on patterns of relationships and acts of violence.” Therefore, for six months they must submit monthly proof of compliance to the court. In addition, they must undergo training on gender violence “in order to modify behavioral patterns.”

The judge also enjoined women religious to go on “retreats and/or do spiritual exercises in order to psychologically process the consequences of the gender violence suffered; being required to present the respective proofs to this court on a monthly basis for a period of six months.”

Eduardo Romani, Cargnello’s defense lawyer, criticized the verdict as “flawed” and lacking any foundation in the law. He has already filed an appeal.

“We are facing a totally flawed process where the basic norms established for gender issues were not met. In our understanding the ruling exceeds the powers granted to Ms. Judge Cáceres Moreno, by which she clearly failed to comply with her duties,” Romani told Nuevo Diario de Salta, stressing that the judge’s decision doesn’t comply with Law 7888, which deals with protection against gender violence.

For the lawyer, these alleged errors make it clear that his client was not fairly treated nor in accordance with the law and that he was prejudged “from the beginning of the case,” pointing out that there “was a marked lack of respect on the part of the magistrate, who at all times addressed in a derogatory manner the highest authority of the Church in the province of Salta, something she did not do with the rest of those involved in this trial.”

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

‘Irena’s Vow’: The true story of a Polish Catholic nurse who hid Jews during the Holocaust

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in the new film "Irena's Vow." / Credit: Quiver Distribution

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A new film depicting the incredible true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic nurse who risked her own life to hide Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II, debuts in theaters across the country April 15-16. 

“Irena’s Vow” is told through the eyes of strong-willed 19-year-old Irena Gut. When Gut is promoted to be the housekeeper in the home of a highly respected Nazi officer after learning that the Jewish ghetto is about to be liquidated, she makes it her mission to help the Jewish workers.

Gut decides to shelter them in the safest place she can think of — the basement of the German major’s house. Over the next two years, she uses her creativity and quick thinking to keep her friends safe until she is able to help them escape. 

Actress Sophie Nélisse portrays Gut in the film. She and Jeannie Smith, Irena’s real-life daughter, spoke to CNA about what they hope viewers will take away from the film and what it’s like for Smith to share and watch her mother’s story on the big screen.

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution
Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution

“I immediately fell in love with Irena’s story because I felt it was just so relevant to this day, and I think there’s so much to learn from her story and a tale that brings a lot of hope, I find, despite all the horrific events,” Nélisse said. 

As a Catholic, Smith shared that her mother’s faith “100% played a role” in the work she did to save the lives of Jews. 

“She was raised that people mattered and that the differences in people did not matter,” she said. “They were all human beings and part of one human family and stood under God created by him.”

Smith added that Gut had “childlike trust.”

“[God] would open a path and she would walk in it and then it was up to him to take care of her, and her job was just to do what she was supposed to do — to follow. She kept that her whole life. It just was part of her. It wasn’t even something she had to think about,” Smith said.

Gut had no intention of ever sharing her story when she came to the United States, Smith explained. It wasn’t until she crossed paths with a “Holocaust denier” that she opened up about her experience. 

“She was faced with a Holocaust denier, over the phone, a young man who was just doing a report in school about the propaganda of it all,” Smith recalled. “That’s when she realized that if she didn’t start talking, history could easily repeat itself.”

From then on, her mother slowly began talking, but it was evident to Smith “how hard it was for her, especially that first time, and I stayed away from the subject.” 

“It wasn’t until I went with her to a school — I was almost 20, [and] I took her to a school so she could talk to kids — that I not only heard her story but saw the saw amazing reaction … and I thought, ‘Man, this story is powerful.’”

Gut received several recognitions for the work she did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, including being honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust Commission. This title is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jewish people during WWII. She also received a Medal of Honor in a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and her story is part of a permanent exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., among other recognitions.

One that particularly meant a lot to Gut was the papal blessing she received in 1995 from Pope John Paul II for her sacrifice. Smith explained that her mother had a very painful experience when she went to confession, after enduring sexual abuse and being forced to have sexual relations with the German major.

Unable to confess to her usual priest one day, Gut went to a young priest who Smith said was “more anti-Semitic and told her she didn’t have a part in the Catholic Church, which broke her heart.”

“So [there was] this papal blessing where Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope, sent a delegation from the Vatican, and we had a ceremony in a Jewish synagogue in Irvine, California,” she said. “So the mixture was amazing, and it was just coming home for her. It meant a lot.”

Nélisse pointed out that Irena Gut’s life can inspire everyone. 

“I think we as individuals think that we can’t really make a difference or that we’re too small to really have an impact, and I think that she’s the perfect example that — I mean, she obviously did heroic things — [but] by doing tiny things that seem so simple, it could be smiling to someone or helping them with a bag or complimenting them, it does have a ripple effect,” Nélisse said.

Smith added that she has heard from kids who were thinking about taking their lives by suicide, but one day someone sat with them at lunch and that changed their minds. She hopes that her mother’s story reminds people that “we are all able to do amazing things.”

“People will call my mom a hero or somebody who’s special, and she wouldn’t have liked that and I don’t either, because you label somebody that way and it gives them permission to do things that you can’t, [but] the bottom line is we are all able to do amazing things,” she said.

Myanmar priest shot while celebrating Mass amid violent conflict 

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A Myanmar priest was shot this week while celebrating Mass in the state of Kachin, according to media reports, with the assault coming amid ongoing violent conflict between the military junta and resistance forces in the region. 

Masked assailants shot Father Paul Khwi Shane Aung as he celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in the town of Mohnyin in the northern region of Myanmar.

The priest “was rushed to a hospital in Mohnyin and was later moved to a hospital in Myitkyina,” according to UCA News.

The reason for the attack is unknown and the shooters are reportedly still at large. Aung is listed on the Myitkyina Catholic Diocese’s website as a priest in the Mohnyin Zone. He was ordained in 2013. 

In February, the aid group Christian Solidarity International warned of a rise in violence against the persecuted Christian minority in Myanmar, with an advocate warning that ethnic-minority Christians there “are subjected to cruel ethnic-cleansing campaigns.”

Since a military coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, Myanmar has for years been wracked by violent conflict.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, president of the Burmese bishops’ conference, in 2021 urged Catholics in Myanmar to share God’s mercy amid the suffering caused by the military coup there.

That year the prelate noted that Myitkyina had been the victim of a “great tragedy” of “killing the innocents in the streets.” 

“We need the light of God’s mercy in Myanmar,” Bo said at the time. 

The shooting of Father Aung comes just weeks after the fatal shooting of a Baptist pastor, also in Kachin, while the pastor worked at his computer shop.