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December 14, 2017
Archive of October 9, 2017

Don't rush to judge Columbus, anthropologist encourages

Providence, R.I., Oct 9, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The controversies surrounding Christopher Columbus are sometimes misplaced and should not overshadow Columbus’ Christian motives in his voyages, a scholar of religious studies and anthropology has said.

“In recent times, Christopher Columbus has become the symbol for everything that went wrong in the New World, so much so that it has become difficult to celebrate the holiday commemorating his discovery of the New World,” Carol Delaney, a visiting scholar of religious studies at Brown University, told CNA.

“I have been dismayed by the lack of knowledge about the man by those who are rushing in judgment against him and changing the day that commemorates his extraordinary achievement.”

“While we may not agree with the scenario that motivated Columbus, it is important to understand him in the context of his time,” she added.

Delaney, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, is author of the 2011 book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem,” which examines Columbus’ religious motivations for his voyages.

Her book warns against misjudging Columbus’ motivations and accomplishments “from a contemporary perspective rather than from the values and practices of his own time.”

In her view, some criticism “holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse” and blames him for “all the calamities” that befell the “new world” he was once celebrated for discovering.

Columbus has been a major figure for Catholics in America, especially Italian-Americans, who saw his pioneering voyage from Europe as a way of validating their presence in a sometimes hostile majority-Protestant country. The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, took his name and voyage as an inspiration. At one point in the nineteenth century there were efforts to push for the voyager’s canonization.

In 1892, the quadricennial of Columbus’ first voyage, Leo XIII authored an encyclical that stressed Columbus’ desire to spread Catholic Christianity. The Pope stressed how Columbus’ Catholic faith motivated his voyage and supported him amid his setbacks.

In recent decades, some critics have stressed the negative aspects of Columbus’ voyage and European colonization of the New World, noting that European colonists’ arrival brought disease, violence and displacement to natives. Columbus Day holidays and parades have drawn protests from some activists.

Some U.S. localities have dropped observances of Columbus Day, while others have added observances intended to recognize those who lived in the Americas before Columbus sailed.

Delaney, however, questioned interpretations that depict Columbus as a gold-hungry marauder who did not care for the natives.

She said Columbus was motivated by the belief that all people must be evangelized to achieve salvation and by the belief that he could ally with the Great Khan of Cathay and secure enough gold to support an effort to retake Jerusalem.

“There was no intention of taking land or enslaving the people of the Khan, ruler of one of the greatest empires at the time,” Delaney said.

On his first return voyage to Spain, Columbus brought several natives who were not enslaved. Rather, they had been baptized and educated.

“One became his ‘adopted son’ and translator on future voyages, two were adopted by the (Spanish) king and queen,” she said.

After Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria ran aground on his first voyage, Columbus left 39 men on an island in the Caribbean with special instructions.

“He told them they should not go marauding, should not kidnap and rape the women, and should always make exchanges for food and gold,” Delaney explained.

“When he returned with more ships and people he found that all of the men whom he'd left behind had been killed. Unlike the priest who accompanied him, Columbus did not blame the natives, but his own men; clearly, they had disobeyed his orders.”

Delaney acknowledged that Columbus on later voyages enslaved some natives who resisted Christianization. At the same time, he also punished his own men who perpetrated misdeeds against the natives.

The scholar has also questioned uncritical treatments of the Spanish friar Bartolomeo de las Casas, who is sometimes compared favorably to Columbus.

While las Casas is now remembered primarily as a defender of the rights of native Americans, she said this came later in life. The friar also owned slaves, endorsed slavery, and operated plantations. He also helped suppress a native rebellion

Columbus never owned slaves and yet is “reviled and blamed for everything that went wrong in the Indies,” Delaney said in her book.


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 13, 2014.

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Everything you need to know about Fatima (Part 1)

Fatima, Portugal, Oct 9, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - It’s the most popular and well-known Marian apparition in the recent history of the Church.

One hundred years ago, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field in Fatima, Portugal. She brought with her requests for the recitation of the rosary, for sacrifices on behalf of sinners, and a secret regarding the fate of the world.

Every local bishop since has approved the apparitions and deemed them worthy of belief, the highest recognition a Marian apparition can receive from the Church.

Miracle researcher Michael O’Neill told CNA that the Fatima apparitions could be considered the “gold standard of Marian apparitions.”

“It has everything you’ve ever wanted to look for in a Marian apparition. It’s got these secrets, the prophecies... you also have a feast day in the general Roman calendar, the approval of the local bishop, and of every pope afterwards, you have the canonization of the visionaries and the basilica that was built, so all the hallmarks of a Marian apparition are there,” he said. O’Neill records the details of Fatima, other Marian apparitions and all things miraculous on his site,

This year, Pope Francis visited the apparition site on May 12-13, the 100th anniversary of the first Fatima apparition. The visit included the canonizations of two of the child visionaries, who died just a few years after the visions.

But even though it’s been 100 years, “the messages of Fatima are as relevant today as they were in 1917,” O’Neill said.

“The essence of the message is a call to conversion, and that’s something that’s as important in our life in modern times as it was when Mary appeared in 1917. I think this 100 year anniversary is a great opportunity for us to revisit the devotion and to re-incorporate it into our lives today.”

Historical context

In 1917, the country of Portugal, like most of the rest of the world, was at war.

As World War I raged throughout Europe, Portugal found itself unable to maintain its initial neutrality and joined forces with the Allies, in order to protect colonies in Africa and to defend their trade with Britain. About 220,000 Portuguese civilians died during the war; thousands due to food shortages, thousands more from the Spanish flu.

Besides the hardships of war, Catholics in the country were also facing a strong wave of anti-clericalism.

Begun in the 18th century during the term of statesman Marquês de Pombal, anti-Catholicism reared its head again after the establishment of the Portuguese First Republic in 1910.

Catholic churches and schools were seized by the government, and the wearing of clerics in public, the ringing of church bells, and the celebrating of popular religious festivals were banned. Between 1911-1916, nearly 2,000 priests, monks and nuns were killed by anti-Christian groups.

This was the Portugal the Blessed Virgin Mary entered into when she appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima in 1917, delivering messages about war, peace, suffering, and conversion.

An angel announces Mary’s coming

In the summer of 1916, Lucia dos Santos, the youngest of a family of seven children, began shepherding her family’s flock along with three of her friends, Teresa Matias and her sister Maria Rosa, and Maria Justino. During this time, an angelic figure appeared before the girls three different times as they were praying the rosary in the fields, but did not speak to them. Lucia’s mother dismissed the incident as “childish nonsense.”

Some time later, Lucia was shepherding with her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. One day, eager to play, the children sped through their lunchtime rosary by saying only the titles of the prayers on each bead.

Shortly after they began to play a game, an angelic figure appeared, this time speaking to the children. Over three different appearances, he asked the children to pray and sacrifice. He told them he was the “Guardian Angel of Portugal,” and informed them that Jesus and Mary had “plans of mercy” for them. On the last visit, he gave the children Holy Communion.

“That is pretty unique,” O’Neill said. “There have been thousands of accounts of angels appearing on their own; it’s a rare thing when they come to trumpet the coming of Mary.”

The first appearance of Mary

The next year, on May 5, 1917, Pope Benedict XV wrote a pastoral letter to the world, asking the faithful to petition Mary to bring an end to the war, “that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.”

Eight days later, Mary appeared for the first time, on May 13, to three shepherd children - Lucia, 10 years old, and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 9 and 7 years old, respectively.

She appeared as “a lady dressed all in white, more brilliant than the sun” on top of a small tree in an open field called the Cova de Iria (The Cove of Irene) in the countryside of the small but faithful town of Fatima, and she asked that the children come back to that same spot on the 13th day of the next month.

While she did not reveal her full name right away, the lady did tell the children: “I am of Heaven.” When asked, she promised that all three of the children would go to heaven, though Francisco would have to say “many rosaries” in order to get there.

Aside from the three children, no one was present during the first apparition; but as word spread, the crowds would grow.  

The second apparition: the children’s fate

For the second apparition on June 13, dozens of onlookers testified that they were able to see a cloud above the tree where the children saw Mary. This time, she showed the children her Immaculate Heart, pierced with thorns representing the sins of mankind.

Lucia asked Mary for the healing of a sick person, which Mary said would be granted with his conversion. Lucia again asked Mary to take the children to heaven, and while Mary promised to take Jacinta and Francisco soon, she told Lucia that she must stay on earth “some time longer.”

“Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved,” Mary told her. “He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and those souls will be loved by God like flowers placed by me to adorn His throne.”

The children kept the revelation of the image of the Immaculate Heart secret for some time, until Lucia became a nun. Mary again asked the children to return on the 13th day of the next month.

The third apparition: The Great Secret is given

On July 13, Mary revealed what has been come to be known as the “Great Secret” of Fatima, a secret that Lucia divided into three parts and slowly revealed to the public over time. Two parts of the secret were revealed in 1941, when Lucia was asked to record her memoirs by the local bishop. The rest was not revealed until the year 2000, per Mary’s instructions, initially, and then later instructions of the Holy See.

Mary also told the children to continue praying the rosary daily, and to come back to the same spot on the same day of the next month. When Lucia asked the lady to reveal her identity, she again promised the children that she would reveal herself fully in October, and perform a miracle on that day “for all to see and believe.”

She also asked the children to help sinners: “Sacrifice yourself for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: O my Jesus, it is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

The growing crowds who came with the children to see the apparition witnessed several things during this apparition. Many were able to hear a faint, indescribable sound, believed to be Mary’s voice. Witnesses also recounted a change in atmosphere - when the Lady appeared the sky darkened, and the humid, hot summer air of Portugal suddenly became cool and pleasant.

The crowd also heard a large clap of thunder that shook the ground at the time of Mary’s departure.

The fourth apparition: the kidnapping

With anti-Catholic sentiment still prevalent in the country, the mayor in the district of Fatima had grown suspicious of the growingly popular apparitions, and had unsuccessfully tried to get the children to renounce their story.

Wanting to stop the children from seeing the fourth apparition, Artur Santos, an apostate Catholic and high Mason who was the local mayor, offered the children and their parents a ride in his car to the Cova on August 13. However, he devised a ruse to abandon the parents and to take the children alone to the district headquarters in Vila Nova de Ourem, about 9 miles away. Despite bribes, threats of death by burning oil, and threatening to lock them in a cell with criminals, the children never recanted their story.

Frustrated, and fearing retaliation from the faithful who had grown to love the apparitions, the mayor had the children taken back to Fatima after two days, much to the relief of their parents.

Mary then appeared briefly to the children privately a few days later, repeating her request to pray the rosary daily for the reparation of sins, and asking them to come back on the 13th of the next month.

The fifth apparition: a pillar of clouds and a shower of flowers

Rather than discourage onlookers, the kidnapping incident in August led to an even greater crowd for the September apparition. This time, the visible signs of Mary’s presence became even more pronounced to the crowd. Several witnesses said they were able to see a globe of light, and then a pillar of cloud about 16 feet high by the tree where Mary always appeared.

Many onlookers also described a shower of small white objects - thought to be snowflakes or rose petals - that fell from the sky but disappeared before they touched the ground.

Mary again repeated her promise to the children that she would come again next month and tell the children who she was and what she wanted, and that she would perform a miracle “so that all may see and believe.”

The final apparition: the Miracle of the Sun

On October 13, 1917, the crowds of witnesses had grown to 70,000 - faithful and skeptics alike gathered for what would be the last Marian apparition to the children in the Cova, eager to see the sign from heaven that Mary had promised.

The crowds started to gather at 11:30, not realizing that Mary would appear at solar noon, rather than at noon according to local time. The children, however, knew when to expect Mary, and arrived at 1:00 p.m., shortly before 1:30 (solar noon) when Mary would appear.

As many witnesses described, a steady rain fell on the night of October 12 through the morning of the 13th. The freshly-plowed ground of the field of the Cova was transformed into a muddy wet mess, through which the crowds plodded and waited in waning hope for something miraculous to occur.

Dr. Joseph Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University, was present for the miracle of the sun and wrote down his eyewitness account, included in the book “Fatima in Lucia’s own Words: The Memoirs of Sister Lucia.”  

Because he had arrived too early to the scene, expecting the miracle at noon by the clock instead of by the sun, he waited in the shelter of his car, “looking rather disdainfully towards the place where they said the apparition would be seen, not daring to step on the sodden and muddy earth of the freshly-ploughed field.”

Finally, at about half-past one, a pillar of smoke rose up and disappeared repeatedly at the spot where the children were. The clouds indicated Mary’s arrival, and once she came, Lucia asked the lady what she wanted.

Mary again repeated her request for daily rosaries, and asked that a chapel be built at the apparition site honoring the Lady of the Rosary, which she revealed to the children as her identity. She also promised that the war would soon end and the soldiers would return home. She said she would heal some of the people the children had recommended, but said that people must “amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins.”

The Lady of the Rosary then departed, Lucia recounted, and reappeared to the children, first with Joseph and the child Jesus, and then dressed as Mary under different titles – namely, Our Lady of Sorrows, and then Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Then, Mary “cast her own light upon the sun.” The rain stopped, the clouds dispersed and the sky cleared, catching the attention of onlookers.

What happened next has been described as the “miracle of the sun” or “the time the sun danced.”

“We looked easily at the sun, which did not blind us. It seemed to flicker on and off, first one way and then another. It shot rays in different directions and painted everything in different colors...What was most extraordinary is that the sun did not hurt our eyes at all. Everything was still and quiet; everyone was looking upwards…” recalled Ti Marto, the father of visionaries Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

O Dia, the newspaper in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, reported that “at midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly grey in color, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that the eye could easily be fixed on it. The grey mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were parted and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees in the muddy ground…”

Even O Seculo, an anti-Catholic, Masonic newspaper in Lisbon, reported the miracle of the sun from the perspective of the paper’s editor-in-chief, Avelino de Almedia, who witnessed the miracle for himself.

“ could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared at its zenith, coming out of the clouds,” he wrote.

“Before their dazzled eyes the sun trembled, the sun made unusual and brusque movements, defying all the laws of the cosmos, and according to the typical expression of the peasants, ‘the sun danced’.”

Dr. Garrett added that the sun seemed “to be a living body...It looked like a glazed wheel made of mother-of-pearl.” He also recalled a moment when the sun whirled “wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth, as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.”

Numerous witnesses corroborated the phenomenon of the whirling, dancing colorful sun which at one moment seemed to be terrifyingly plunging toward earth, with the crowds “expecting the end of the world to come at any moment” one witness reported. After that moment, the once-soggy and muddy crowd discovered that they were completely dry.

This is part one of a two-part series. Part two will cover the secrets of Fatima, Vatican recognition of the apparitions, and the deaths of the visionaries.


This article was originally published on CNA May 8, 2017.

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Migration, Reformation center of Pope's meeting with German president

Vatican City, Oct 9, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Monday Pope Francis met German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Vatican for a conversation focused largely on migration and ecumenical dialogue in the country in light of the Reformation anniversary.

According to an Oct. 9 Vatican communique, discussion between the Pope and Steinmeier, elected in February, touched on the “good relations and fruitful collaboration” between Germany and the Holy See, and emphasis was placed on the “positive interreligious and ecumenical dialogue” in the country.

Special mention was made of the relationship between Catholics and Protestants in light of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which Pope Francis marked at the end of October 2016 with a trip to Sweden for a joint-commemoration of the event with Lutheran Church leaders in the country.

Discussion also turned to the topics of both the economic and religious status of Europe, and the world as a whole. Particular emphasis was placed on the issue of migration and “the promotion of a culture of acceptance and solidarity.”

Migration has been a hot topic in Germany recently, which is among the most popular migration destination in the world after the U.S.

In 2015, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel opted to allow more than one million asylum seekers into the country, as migration reached a fever pitch due to war in Syria and surrounding countries.

However, with most of those asylum seekers ending up in Bavaria, Merkel met backlash from her Bavarian allies in the Christian Social Union.

In response, on Sunday – two weeks after a federal election in which her party received the lowest level of  support since 1949 – she and members of her Christian Democratic Union party met with CSU reps on Sunday to reach an agreement over the migration issue.

Both sides agreed to cap the number of incoming refugees at 200,000 per year, with a few small exceptions.

The deal was likely part of the 55-minute long discussion between Pope Francis and President Steinmeier, who subsequently met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

At the beginning of the meeting, Pope Francis, who lived in Bavaria for a brief period of time as a Jesuit, greeted the president in German, and the meeting concluded with an exchange of gifts: the president giving the Pope an antique print from the 1600s by Dutch painter Johannes David, and an emblematic book with various designs and drawings, which the president said was for the Pope's “private library.”

For his part, Pope Francis gave the president his usual gift to heads of state: a copy of his 2014 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, his 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Si, and his 2016 post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia, as well as a medal of St Martin.

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Expert 'shocked' at lack of awareness about online abuse

Rome, Italy, Oct 9, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - At the close of a Rome conference on child protection online, a leading expert in the field said that while the statistics are well-known, he was surprised by the lack of awareness about the problem.

He added that all sectors of society need to take a more pro-active approach to the difficulty.

“If you study this field and if you work in it, you know about the numbers. I am more amazed about the lack of realization in many people about the scale of the problem about which we speak,” Fr. Hans Zollner SJ told CNA Oct. 7.

President of the Pontifical Gregorian University's Center of Child Protection (CCP) and a member of Pope Francis' commission for the protection of minors, spoke to CNA at the close of a four-day conference on “Child Dignity in the Digital World.”

Organized by the CCP in collaboration with the UK-based global alliance WePROTECT and the organization “Telefono Azzurro,” which is the first Italian helpline for children at risk, the conference took place Oct. 3-6 in Rome and was the first of its kind on a global scale addressing the issue of online safety.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin opened the conference on day one, and other participants include social scientists, civic leaders, and religious representatives. Discussion points include prevention of abuse, pornography, the responsibility of internet providers and the media, and ethical governance.

In his comments to CNA, Zollner noted that the European Union currently has a campaign called “One in Five,” referring to the fact that one in five young people in Europe has, at some point, been sexually abused.

“If you realize, if you think a little bit, I'm shocked, so I don't know why the existential and the psychological harm that is done does not really translate into concrete political action to counteract this,” he said.

“(It's) for me one of the mysteries that I can't explain” other than perhaps “it's too big, it's too shocking, so you put it away because nobody can deal with it,” he said. “So we need to start dealing with it step by step, and bringing down the numbers of those who have been harmed.”

Zollner also touched on what he believes were the main takeaways of the conference, the role of both the Church and society at large in safeguarding from online exploitation, and action points for the future, which he said need to have a more “preventative approach.”

Please read below for CNA's interview with Fr. Zollner, edited for length and clarity:

What, for you, are some of your impressions after the conference? How do you think it went? What are some of the highlights?

I'm really amazed and I'm very happy because this conference was the first of its kind in bringing people together of different areas, of different levels of responsibility in society, in business, on the internet, social media corporations, different religion and so forth. So it was the first of its kind and it went very well, I heard it from I believe every single person who participated, because it was not sectoral. On other occasions we would have only the business people, and here the government people and here the scientists. They were really together and they were discussing, so the format worked really well, where in the morning we would have sessions with top experts who have done research for many, many years and decades. And in the afternoon we would have all these people in mixed groups, meaning from different countries, languages, professions and so forth, to get together and they spoke to each other and challenged each other, and they came up with very interesting ideas, reflections and proposals.

There were outstanding experts in the research in what do we talk about, what is online sexual abuse of minors, what is the impact on the brains, the relational developmental and emotional side of young people when they watch pornography or when they themselves are abused as objects of sexual abuse which is then posted and sold on the internet. What can we do to prevent such uploading of material of that kind, and what can we do so that the people who are likely to become offenders don't do what they do now? Very often in a hidden space where people say, even police say, there are very few means to tackle that.

We've heard from Interpol that if you take together all the sex offenders who commit crimes online, we wouldn't have enough prisons to put them in. So we need to have a preventive strategy so that people don't commit crimes. And we need to do that by bringing that together lawmakers, law enforcement, companies who have the technological means with the algorithms and photo DNA recognition which is out there already, but it is not applied thoroughly enough and consistently enough, so we really need to work together.

This was our intention, bringing people together so they enrich each other and they enhance what we can do so that young people grow up in a safer world, also a safer online world. The networking has created so many new relationships and there are so many ideas and concrete proposals for follow-up conferences in different parts of the world: Latin America, Asia, Africa. The ripple-effect is there, so we are happy about that.

So you think some of these regional conferences will actually happen before a second global conference?

Sure, sure. We have worked for more than two years to organize this one, so it's not around the corner, but I have heard that next year there are concrete ideas and they are already talking to each other, people from Asia, people from Africa, people from Latin America, people who would like to have something among religious leaders, an interreligious prevention conference, if you wish. So the faith communities talk to each other and help each other to understand how much they can do in their schools, in their communities, in their institutions whatever they are, to have for example risk-free WiFi access, so we could do much in terms of preventing abuse happening in open space WiFi for example. Unlimited access doesn't mean there is an unlimited possibility of crime.

In terms of bringing all these people together, you said it was a model that worked. How was the interaction, and do you expect these connections to continue in the future?

Absolutely. All of the feedback that I've heard from the working groups was that it was very interesting, interesting for the participants, interesting also because we invited 10 representatives of the 'digital native' generations, so young students here from around Rome, and they brought into the discussion the voices of young people and how they perceive what the adults talk about and what those decision makers think is necessary, whether that's something reasonable for young people, or they don't see a need, of they think you should invest here. So we have a lot of leads. It will will be the task, in the aftermath of this congress, that we will concentrate on 3-4 lines that we can really follow through. Some of the major foundations that were represented here, big foundations, gave us the prospect that they would actually help us to find funding for some of these projects. On a large scale there are a lot of possibilities.

One needs to be focused, one needs to be on target, but you can do many things at the same time. For example, one could ask advertisement companies to do their job and help young people become more aware of the risks that are connected to access to internet, engaging in chats and the exchange of messages with unknown people. So all this is a wide range of measures and possibilities and people who were here were probably in this moment, I believe there were no better prepared people to talk about this than these ones. They have a lot of passion for the protection of minors, you could feel it in the big hall, in the small groups. It was just a spirit of communion and a spirit of common intention and interest.

You mentioned that there have been offers for specific investments. What would be the areas that you think should be targeted first if you had the funding?

Of course, the scientists and the governments said, the government responsibles who were here, ministers, those who were the independent commissioners in their country, etc, all of them said they need reliable data. And interestingly enough, for example the question of work in prevention has not been researched well enough. So we need to go into depth and breadth, because we're talking about millions and millions of young people who are at high risk of being abused, and becoming abusers of other young people when they do 'sexting' or even 'sextortion.'

So one area for scientists would be research in different kinds of prevention measures, safeguarding measures, and finding out where are the keys, so that young people don't become victims. In the same line, but on the other side, so to say, how can we prevent people who are at risk of becoming abusers, adults who have sexual interest, sexual attraction to minors, how can we prevent these people from acting out? So this would be on the scientific side, but many, many more projects can be thought out. On the side of lawmakers, they need to come up with something that transcends national, legal boundaries, because internet companies are multi-national, and if there's one thing that became clear in this conference it's that there is no institution, no science, no single approach, no single nation that can tackle this, because it goes far beyond, in any sense, far beyond what the internet offers, where the access is possible, where the servers are, where things are uploaded, etc. So there needs to be serious thinking about how there can be a joint-effort on the sides of governments.

So we are happy that the WePROTECT initiative partnered with us in our effort, as well as Telefono Azzurro. But there is already an initiative by the British government, and the foundress, Baroness Joanna Shields, was a member of our steering committee, so very dedicated persons who have already had much impact on at least a certain number of governments, even if you can't ask how much they really then really implement, but there are 70 governments already on board. Then of course we would expect, and in one of the interventions yesterday there was a very strong call on internet providers and software companies like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever to do what they can and to maybe even pay a price in their economic profit, because we're talking here about billions of dollars and euros, so it's a big business out there, and having more coherence in the policies that all these companies claim to have and more implementation of that would be a huge step forward. Another area would be in law enforcement, when we talk about the 'dark net,' so the hidden traffic that happens below the radar, purposely hidden, how can police intervene if you know that 83 percent of traffic that is going on in the 'dark net' has to do with sexual images of children.

Both Microsoft and Facebook attended the conference. What kind of feedback and interest did you see from them on this point?

We really appreciated Facebook's help, they supported us, they brought it on Facebook live, the major events were streamed with their help. I've seen very dedicated people. As the Baroness, who is the British government's internet safety person, who was at Facebook and I believe also worked for Google and Microsoft, she said in her speech that there are people very committed to the ethical code.

But then we see, obviously, that other interests come into play and there are hard decisions to be made.

Either you protect children coherently or you make more money because you don't follow your own ethical standards. We heard yesterday that if you compare the use of pornography by young people to the use of cigarettes by young people, maybe in a few years' time it will be possible to sue pornography companies for bringing out in an unrestricted manner pornographic material that is freely accessible, and if one day it is convincingly shown, robustly shown and scientifically proven that watching pornography at the age of five or eight or 10 has this harmful outcome in young people and for adult life, then the companies will be sued on that.

There are many areas where we need to act, and what I perceive is that everyone has taken something for him or her self back home, and I think this is a good starting point for something that could become a movement.

In listening to the talks and hearing the information, many of the numbers and content were shocking for me personally. Was there anything you heard that was new for you or that you were surprised by?

If you study this field and if you work in it, you know about the numbers. I am more amazed about the lack of realization in many people about the scale of the problem about which we speak.

The European Union has started a campaign called “One in Five,” saying that one in five young persons in Europe is sexually abused, online or offline; one in five, which means every fifth young person you see on the street, the European Union officially says has probably been abused sexually. So 20 percent of the whole population. If you realize, if you think a little bit, I'm shocked, so I don't know why the existential and the psychological harm that is done does not really translate into concrete political action to counteract this, (it's) for me one of the mysteries that I can't explain. Except if I say it's too big, it's too shocking, so you put it away because nobody can deal with it. So we need to start dealing with it step by step, and bringing down the numbers of those who have been harmed.

Looking at some of these phenomena, some of the general developments in this area, what are the next, most urgent steps moving forward in terms of action-points. You guys made a list of action-points in your declaration, but what are the most urgent right now?

Right now is to do and apply whatever can be applied in terms of technological means and measures on the side of internet companies and social media. They have many keys and they can and should apply them coherently and according to their own ethical standards. Secondly, governments need to talk together international bodies like UNICEF and the UN in getting governments moving.

Like the Italian government has now engaged in and committed to a very strong position in terms of wanting to do something for the online safety of children. And thirdly all of the scientists that were here, we will have a call for papers. We have invited all the participants here of a high level, the highest level, the stars in the field, to produce original research that will prove what is helpful in terms of prevention, in terms of creating a safe environment, what is helpful in dealing with perpetrators.

As far as the Church goes, both the Pope and Cardinal Parolin mentioned that the Church has learned a lot from her past mistakes in this area, and can given her experience can be a leading voice moving forward. How can the Church lead in this area?

Simply by offering a platform like this one. We asked people from different parts of the world, from different political backgrounds, from different religious backgrounds, from different attitudes towards this whole question of, for example, freedom of expression, and content limitation, and everyone whom we invited came. So it seems that the Catholic Church here in an academic setting here at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and our Center for Child Protection, offered a platform for discussion. We offered a completely free area of discussion of a time, of the forum for the working groups to engage. We chose the names, but not according to a preconceived criteria. We chose the best of the best and they came.

We had a UN person tweeting these days, who is responsible for cyber-crime in the UN, and he said this climate here is outside of political gain, so we can talk freely, we can share freely, and we can really focus on the real issues. So there is a role that we see and that the Catholic Church can play, humbly, within the limits of the surprisingly small resources that we have.

If you talk about the 'foreign ministry' or the 'research ministry' of the Church, this is but a very, very, tiny portion of what one ministry in one country would have in terms of personnel and so forth. But there seems to at least be this possibility to convene people. What you see in trafficking, the question of human trafficking, has happened with the Santa Marta Group, or with ecology and the climate change topic. So there are issues in which the Catholic Church is seen as engaged, but also as a neutral territory where you don't need to come up with the ideological battles.

What gives the Church the authority to be able to speak on these issues and arrange these sorts of meetings?

If you show that you are serious about the issue and the scientific world wants to see data, wants to see results, wants to see proven statements. Of course from the political side it's the pledge that the Holy Father has repeated today, and to do whatever can be done so that young people are safe and safer in the Catholic Church.

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Contemplative religious sisters are coming to this English diocese

Lancaster, England, Oct 9, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Diocese of Lancaster announced Friday that the Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest, an order of contemplative religious sisters, are being welcomed into the diocese with the aim of inspiring a model of prayer and vocation within the local Church.

“It’s a great joy for me to have the Sisters Adorers come into the Diocese, because I think it’s a great gift, not only to have such a strong and vibrant praying presence at the heart of Preston, but especially for the young women in our Diocese to see that some young women still choose this vocation, and that it can be a joyful and beautiful way to live one’s life,” Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster stated Oct. 6.

“We remain very grateful for the historic communities who have served us so well in the Diocese over many years, and yet we are also grateful for the new life that the newer communities – like Sister Adorers – bring to our future life in God,” Campbell continued.

The sisters will establish a house in Preston, 25 miles south of Lancaster.

The Sisters Adorers are an Italian community of sisters founded in Florence in 2004 under the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and through the care of Cardinal Ennio Antonelli. While their charism is contemplative, the sisters are not cloistered and have named St. Francis de Sales, St. Benedict, and St. Thomas Aquinas as their patrons.

The sisters’ spirituality focuses on prayer, including daily Mass and the Divine Office in the extraordinary form, Eucharistic adoration, and the Rosary. Other parts of their day are filled with manual labor and classes on Gregorian chant, Latin, philosophy, and theology. In addition, they also care for liturgical vestments and altar linens, and practice the art of sewing and lace-making.

Their brother community of priests are known as the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, who were recently named caretakers of two churches in the Preston area, including St. Walburge’s Church and English Martyr’s Church. This community was established ahead of the contemplative sisters in 1990, and they have taken “teaching the truth with charity” as their motto.

Bishop Campbell invited the contemplative sisters into the diocese with the help of Monsignor Gilles Wach, prior general of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

“…this invitation to our Sisters from the Bishop of Lancaster is another opportunity to continue the mission of the Institute of Christ the King within the Church,” stated Monsignor Wach.

“The daily prayer of the Sister Adorers will be a great spiritual support towards the work of the Canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in the UK, and will also benefit the Diocese of Lancaster. Their religious life, centered on Eucharistic adoration and the Consecration to the Royal Heart of Jesus will bring more graces to Preston.”

The Sisters will be established at St. Augustine’s Presbytery in Preston, although their arrival date has yet to be announced.

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Robert George reflects on Trump admin's latest religious liberty moves

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Two sets of announcements by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services issued Friday both promise to broaden religious freedom protections in the United States.

The first announcement, by the HHS department, broadens the religious freedom exemptions to the department’s contraception mandate, which has been facing federal lawsuits from conscientious objectors since its introduction in 2011.

The second announcement was a memo issued by the Department of Justice, in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained 20 legal principles all government agencies should consider when dealing with religious freedom concerns.

Neither announcement will automatically resolve religious freedom cases currently within the court system.

In an Oct. 6 interview with CNA, Robert George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University and visiting professor at Harvard University, explained the implications of these two announcements for religious freedom supporters throughout the country.

Can you walk us through an overview of what the new HHS mandate adjustment and Department of Justice rules mean for religious freedom?

I think this is a big day for religious freedom. I see much greater value in the guidance that has been issued today than in the executive order on religious freedom from a few months ago, which I was very disappointed in. I felt that order was essentially meaningless.  [Ed. note: On May 4, 2017, the White House issued the “Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.]

The guidance given today is, I think, genuine, and I think it is very likely to make a positive difference.

The administration goes clearly on the record and instructs all relevant agencies of the government that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies even where a religious entity seeks an exemption from a requirement that the entity confer benefits on third parties. This is a big point in dispute between the two sides in the debate over religious freedom. The administration comes down squarely in favor of what I believe is the correct view.


Another key point the guidance makes clear is that religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employer's religious precepts.

I interpret that to mean that an employer may, if the religious employer chooses for religious reasons, choose to employ only members of its own faith. But it also means that the employer, if it chooses on the basis of its religious faith, can choose to hire people who are not of the same faith, but limit those employment opportunities to prospective employees whose conduct is in line with the moral teachings of the faith. Now this is very important.

It means, for example, that a Catholic school could say, “We don't insist on hiring only Catholics to be teachers in the school. Perhaps we insist on Catholics as teachers of religion, since it's a Catholic school, but we are happy to hire a math teacher, a social studies teacher, or a literature teacher who is Hindu or Protestant or Jewish or Mormon or Muslim.”

But, even if they choose to do that, [a Catholic employer] can choose to employ only people from their own faith or other faiths who live their lives in line with Catholic moral teaching. So if for example the school says, “We do not want to employ people who are living in a cohabiting partnership outside of marriage,” under this guidance, as I interpret it, the employer is entitled to do that, and that's protected as a matter of the employer's religious freedom. This is a very important point.


I do have a question about point 20 [of the memo’s 20 points for consideration]. It has to do with the first word – "generally." The point says, "generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character beliefs or activities."

I don't know what the exceptions are. I assume "generally" is meant to state a rule, but also to contemplate that there are exceptions to the rule. I think we need clearer guidance from the administration and from the Justice Department about the conditions under which the federal government may legitimately condition federal grants or contracts on a religious organization altering its religious character, beliefs, or activities.

Since it's presented as a conditional norm, not as an absolute norm, we really need some clarity about what the conditions are, or what the exceptions are. And I cannot find that clarity in in the material released today.

I’m glad you brought up the previous Executive Order and its shortcomings. Could you briefly explain what your concerns with the order were, for those who are unfamiliar?

There was very little in the Executive Order issued in May that was actually operative in such a way as to protect everybody's religious freedom.

To the extent that there was much operative, it had mainly to do with the interpretation and application of the Johnson Amendment, which forbids political advocacy of certain sorts by churches.

I said at the time that the Johnson Amendment, while problematic both constitutionally and as a policy matter, was not among the top 20 items on a list of genuine concerns about religious freedom. It's very rarely, if ever, enforced. It does have something of a chilling effect, which is why some would like to get rid of it. But those who have not been chilled by it have mostly been left unmolested by the government. So it was not a problem in desperate need of fixing.

There were a lot of things left out, like the protection of employers against being forced to hire people who were in same-sex partnerships, for example, or other sorts of sexual partnerships – perhaps cohabiting opposite sex partners without the benefit of marriage—where the employer's faith judged those kinds of partnerships to be immoral.

There was nothing in the May executive order to protect employers in those domains. So what we see today goes in the right direction on a number of those issues.

Now I know that the preparatory material for the guidance says that this guidance does not resolve any specific cases. It offers guidance on existing protections in religious liberty and federal law. Of course there are cases that are pending. So the proof will be in the pudding.

We need to know whether government officials will interpret these guidance points in ways that will cause them to relent in attempting to limit religious freedom. I certainly hope they will, but by its own terms, this guidance does not dictate to any official that he or she must resolve a specific case in a particular way. It says, directly, "this guidance does not resolve any specific cases.”

Since that's true, we'll need to know how officials interpret the guidance and apply it to specific cases. That will be the proof. That will be the proof in the pudding.

We'll see whether these cases are resolved in ways that are respectful of religious freedom, or whether these guidance points are treated as if they're meaningless, and officials carry on with cases in the way that some have been carrying on with these cases: in ways that limit the religious freedom, or attempt to limit the religious freedom, of these employers.

There are some important points that have been well-established, but it's good to have them reiterated since they remain controversial.

An example of that is that the freedom of religion extends to organizations as well as individuals.  There's a view that says religious freedom rights extend only to individual persons and not to organizations, like churches, schools, religiously based social service providers, and so forth.

This guidance makes very clear that this administration's position is that freedom of religion extends to religious organizations and not just individuals, so that's good. It's not new, but it's good.

Switching gears to the changes to the HHS mandate: how does this adjustment impact the longstanding battle over the mandate that we’ve been seeing for the past six years?

I would defer to what the lawyers [at the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom] have said, because it's their case and they have been completely on top of this. They're excellent lawyers. I'm a member of the board of the Becket Fund and know them well.

I think our lawyers have done a fantastic job in these cases, including Little Sisters of the Poor case, so I would really defer to their judgment.

I will say this though: I believe an authentic, faithful, honest interpretation of these guidelines by the government officials who have responsibility for that litigation would cause them to basically concede to the Little Sisters; to acknowledge that to the extent that the regulations purport to impose upon religious organizations a requirement that they provide, or in any way implicate themselves in providing, contraceptives or abortifacient drugs in violation of religious teaching, that the government has no right to do that.

The regulations cannot be enforced against those religious entities. But again, the proof will be in the pudding.

We'll see whether the public officials to whom this guidance is addressed apply the guidance in that way.


There's another point that's worth making, just to step back from all this for a moment.

Even as late as the middle 1960s there were still jurisdictions – including Massachusetts and Connecticut – that prohibited the sale, distribution, and even use of contraceptives. Those were long-standing laws put on the books by Protestant majorities in the 19th century to protect public morality and the institution of marriage.

The reason that efforts to repeal those laws consistently failed in the legislatures of Connecticut in Massachusetts and some other states – although they succeeded in some states – is that some of the legislatures felt that the widespread availability of contraception would weaken public morality and open the floodgates to promiscuity, adultery, divorce, family abandonment, and all the things that come in the wake of a collapse of sexual morality.

The Supreme Court struck down the anti-contraception laws in 1965 in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, and in 1972 in the case of Eisenstadt v. Baird and they did that at the behest of liberals who insisted that contraception was a deeply private matter in which the public had no right to intrude.

The Supreme Court found an unwritten “right to privacy,” allegedly lurking in “penumbras formed by emanations” of various constitutional guarantees. Included in this putative right, the justices in the majority insisted, was a right to use contraception. Why? Because contraception, they maintained, was a “private” matter. People had different moral opinions on the subject and the State should not allow anyone to impose his or her opinion on others.  One cannot help but notice how liberals have changed their tune. They evidently no longer regard contraception as a private matter. They now treat it as a public good — embracing one side’s moral opinion and permitting it to be imposed, in certain ways, on those who disagree. Specifically, they want to use the coercive power of government to compel people who for religious or moral reasons oppose contraception (and abortion) to pay for other people’s contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

So, one cannot help but perceive a rather huge dollop of hypocrisy in the way the contraception issue has been treated by the progressive movement to from the middle 1960s to the middle 2010s.

If it's private, leave it private. If it's not private, then they had no business asking the Supreme Court to strike down laws prohibiting it in the name of a putative right to “privacy.”

They really should make up their minds whether it's private or not private.

Another change is that the mandate now protects those with non-sectarian conscience objections to the mandate. Can you speak to the importance of this expansion for those who object to these issues for non-religious reasons?

Many people do not derive their moral convictions from a religion, and many religious people believe that there are moral truths that can be known by the disciplined application of reason, even apart from what might, in addition, be known by revelation or the teachings of a church or other religious body.

In other words, many people believe in what has traditionally been called “natural law.”

It appears that in this guidance, it's acknowledged that non-religiously based, or not necessarily religiously based, moral reflection deserves conscience protection in the same way that religiously based moral convictions deserve conscience protection.

Back to the Department of Justice guidance: Can you comment on the guidance on religious freedom objections generally? What other cases or situations can this apply to, beyond the contraception mandate? What are some of the other kinds of cases that the government’s guidance might impact?

In those states that have moved to assisted suicide, I think the guidance system provides some promise of protecting religiously based health care-providing institutions like Catholic hospitals or other religiously affiliated medical institutions from being forced to participate in assisted suicide or, for that matter, in abortion.

This applies to individuals as well as institutions: doctors in state facilities, for example, who cannot in conscience participate in assisted suicide or abortion..

It could be that some states or municipalities move in the direction of banning male infant circumcision – there's a movement, called the intactivist movement, that is strongly pushing for bans on male infant circumcision.  If such laws are adopted, I think that this guidance would strengthen the hands of Jewish organizations and Muslim organizations that will seek to preserve the right to have their male infant children circumcised on a religious basis.

We've seen this in Europe: some jurisdictions in Europe have banned male infant circumcision, and their movement is alive here in the United States. One can easily imagine certain jurisdictions, certain municipalities, maybe certain states, banning circumcision, so it could become important in that area.

These protections will protect not only Catholics and other Christians, but members of non-Christian faiths as well.

What else should our readers know about these two religious freedom updates?

Probably the most important thing to remind people is that the guidance or principles are designed to guide public officials, but they don't dictate results. The same is true of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by the way. It simply gives the religious claimant a day in court and requires that the government prove that its imposition on a religious claimant is supported by a compelling state interest and represents the least restrictive or least intrusive means of pursuing that interest. It doesn't dictate the result.

So while I welcome, and I think all friends of religious liberty and of conscience should welcome, this guidance, we need to hold off cheering until we see how the guidance is actually interpreted and applied by public officials. Until we see the guidance actually applied to concrete disputes we won't know whether to cheer.

There's a human element to this. Rules don't apply or interpret themselves. Human beings interpret and apply rules. So we need to see the human beings in the bureaucracy interpreting and applying the rules, and then we'll know whether there's anything worth cheering about.

But I do believe in the principles that have been endorsed in the guidance documents, and I think that if they are faithfully and authentically interpreted, it will mean a very desirable set of protections for religious freedom – protections that are now many years overdue due to the assaults on religious freedom during the Obama administration.

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