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Mali's first cardinal, Archbishop Jean Zerbo

Bamako, Mali, Jun 27, 2017 / 03:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among those bishops who will be created cardinals at the June consistory is Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, a man who has already been called the “cardinal of peace.”

In announcing the June 28 consistory at the Regina Coeli on May 21, Pope Francis expressed the desire to choose men who represent the “catholicity” of the Church. His selection of Archbishop Zerbo is particularly noteworthy in this regard, as he will be the first cardinal to hail from Mali.

Born Dec. 27, 1943 in Ségou, Archbishop Zerbo was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ségou July 10, 1971. He earned his licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Ponifical Biblical Institute in Rome, studying there from 1977 to 1981. Upon returning to Mali in the early 1980s, he taught at the major seminary in Bamako, Mali's capital, and served as a pastor in Markala.

In June 1988, St. John Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of Bamako. In 1994, he was appointed Bishop of Mopti, and in 1998 was made Archbishop of Bamako.

Archbishop Zerbo represents Pope Francis’ frequent calls to focus on areas where the Church is persecuted: Mali is a majority-Muslim nation that often sees harsh application of sharia as well as extremist violence against Christians.

Speaking to Cuore Amico in January this year, Archbishop Zerbo described the situation of Christians in the country as “a test comparable to that of the early disciples.”

Mali has recently been ravaged by a civil war, which exploded in 2012 with various rebel forces seizing control of parts of the country, and a subsequent coup. Although it officially ceased in 2015, fighting has continued throughout the country.

The war is largely driven by several factions of Islamist militants seeking to impose sharia, as well as by ethnic separatists. These militant groups occupy much of the northern part of the country.

During his ministry, Archbishop Zerbo has participated actively in peace talks in Mali’s civil conflict. His appointment to the College of Cardinals therefore sends a powerful message in favor of peace in the country, and a red hat will give added weight to the new cardinal’s contributions to talks.

He has also called for humanitarian aid for those suffering from hunger, thirst, and disease due to war in the country. In 2013, he told Fides that “[A] new period of suffering is beginning for the people of Mali. We would welcome support so that we can help the increasing number of displaced and refugees.”

He has stressed the need for conversion, on the part of both Christians and Muslims, saying that “peace can only be achieved through the conversion of the hearts regardless of faith. We Christians are always called to an effort of reconciliation.”

The Church in Mali has recently been accused of embezzlement of funds related to the Swiss Leaks investigation. The Malian bishops' conference said in a May 31 statement that it “takes issue with the allegations that certain bishops have misappropriated funds from the Catholic faithful” and that it “functions in full transparency.”

The bishops' conference also asked if “the authors of the tendentious article are aiming at another unavowed objective, rather than bringing constructive information to public opinion? Does this act made at the moment that this Church has just been honored with the nomination of its first cardinal aim at dirtying its image and at destabilizing it? God who sees all and who knows all will one day restore the truth.”

What does it look like to be gay – and a practicing Catholic?

Rome, Italy, Jun 27, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA).- More than 10 years ago, Joseph Prever found himself scouring the internet for anything that might help him: he was gay, Catholic, and confused. Resources were scarce for a man struggling with homosexuality and trying to remain faithful to the Church’s teaching.

In the intervening years, Catholics experiencing same-sex attraction have become a more vocal presence in the Church.

Google the words “gay Catholic” and one of the top sites to appear will be Prever’s own blog, a blog with the tagline: “Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine.” There, the 30-something writer considers his own experiences as a man struggling with same-sex attraction and trying to live out the virtue of chastity.

What follows is an edited version of a conversation about everything from homosexuality and Batman to poetry and football. The interview is published in two parts.

Part One

Can you introduce yourself and your blog?
 
I'm Joe Prever. I used to blog under the pseudonym Steve Gershom. I’ve been doing that for a few years now. The blog is about what it’s like to be a gay Catholic – a gay Catholic who is of course, celibate – and I say ‘of course’ because that seems to me like the only option if you’re going to be both gay and Catholic. On the blog I try to stay away from abstract discourse about spirituality and sexuality in general and more towards lived experience: that’s what I see as my niche.
 
Why did you start writing a blog?

I honestly don’t remember the thought process that led me to it, but I do remember wishing at one point that there was somebody blogging like that, and in fact these days there are just a whole lot of people in my situation who are blogging, and that’s really great. It seems liked it’s very much exploded in the last few years. My friends and I joke that there’s a gay Catholic renaissance on, or actually a gay Christian renaissance on, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of it – or at least we tell ourselves that we’re at the forefront.

Did those other people read your blog before they started theirs?

Some of them did, yes. In fact, a couple of them have said to me that I was someone who helped to inspire them to start, so I’m very proud of that.

This was a few years ago. Even at that time there were a fair amount of resources, in the sense that there were people who were writing about it, and you could find various testimonials online if you googled hard enough, but there were very few people who, on a day to day basis were like, ‘here’s what this is like, here’s how you deal with that,’ etc.

And so you decided you were going to be that resource?

Yes. Because at that time, I was sort of starting to feel for the first time that things were very much manageable, and I think back to this very specific moment in college when I was 18 or 19, and googling this kind of stuff, just to see if there was anybody out there who I could relate to and who would have some wisdom to share about it, and I did in fact find some stuff. It was remembering the feeling of how good it was to find that made me want to pass that along.

You blogged pseudonymously for years and then you ‘came out,’ so to speak, in the summer of 2014. Why did you decide to do that?

It was one of those decisions where by the time you make it, you realize that you’ve already made it, if you see what I mean. It was hard in the sense that I’d actually always said that people shouldn’t be public about being gay, because it was not anybody’s business and I felt that it would lend legitimacy to this idea that being gay is a sort of a single way to identify yourself: I actually still sort of hold that position – kind of. (Laughs).

It’s hard to describe: I don’t think that being gay is as essential of a way to identify yourself as say, being male is, or being Catholic, or being human. I guess my position right now is that if the cultural atmosphere were different from what it is, then I don’t know whether I would have gone public.  

The real reason I did is because of the blog, and talking about these things in general, and the cultural conversation in general that’s happening right now – all of these things have become such a big part of my life... it wasn’t really a question of honesty. It’s just that when something is so much a part of your life, people ask you, ‘oh, so what’ve you got going on?’ or ‘what are you doing these days?’ and I felt really lame saying, ‘oh, you know, programming computers. Watching movies. Hanging out. Stuff.’  

So honestly, it was largely a vanity thing. It’s like the scene in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne is doing this, ‘I’m a rich celebrity playboy’ thing, and he’s bathing in fountains and buying hotels and so forth, and Katie Holmes’ (character) is upset with him for being such a wastrel. (Laughs) And I felt like I wanted to be publicly Batman: strictly for vanity-related reasons. I wanted everyone to know how awesome I am.

I’m trying not to laugh...

Well, it’s perfectly true. And I suppose there are other reasons, like I want to be a public witness and things like that, but I suspect that it’s mostly vanity.

What response did you get when you ‘came out’? When people began to associate you with this gay guy who writes a blog?

On the day that I made public the post where I came out, I received just piles and piles of comments and emails and text messages. Most were from people I didn't know, except for the text messages, obviously, but a very large portion of them were from people who had known me for a long time and who just wanted to say how pleased they were that I had done this and how proud they were of me to have taken this stance, and how courageous they thought I was and how honored they were to be my friend, and all of this stuff. In other words, I can't think of a single friend, family member, or acquaintance who did not greet this revelation with support.

I think I would have had a very, very different response were I not celibate. When I get negative feedback, which I occasionally do from people who disagree with what the Church teaches, they say that I am being made a poster boy and that I'm being used – which is to say, conservative Christians are super happy to have somebody to point to whom they can say, ‘well look, here's one person who agrees with us.’

Do you think being accused of being a ‘poster boy’ means that people are people angered by your celibacy?

That's an interesting question. I think some people are angered on my behalf for what they perceive to be a sort of ‘Stockholm syndrome,’ and I've actually heard that phrase thrown around more than once. People see me defending the Church’s teachings on marriage, and on sexuality, and what they see is somebody who’s been taught to suppress his own nature for so long that he's actually come to believe the things he’s been told about himself – that’s what they see.

What’s really there?

I can’t sum myself up, but the point is that if any of the people who accuse me of being the poster boy or of having ‘Stockholm syndrome’ or anything like that were actually to read the things I’ve said, they would see that, number one, I don't sort of unquestioningly accept whatever I'm told about sexuality, but I always bring it back to my own experience. And number two, I very much admit the difficulties inherent in the life I live and I don’t pretend that they don't exist. And I don't think I would do either of those things if I had ‘Stockholm syndrome.’

Your blog header is, ‘Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine,’ and you’ve been using the word ‘gay’ throughout our conversation so far. Do you have any thoughts on that word, as opposed to ‘same-sex attraction’ or other terms?

Absolutely. That is another hard question, and it’s a question about which my position has been continually shifting, so I don’t feel as though I’ve found solid ground yet.

I’ve always used the word. It used to be that I would use the word in writing, but sort of in my interior monologue and in private conversation I would say ‘same-sex attracted.’ I used to joke that the only reason I used the word 'gay' was so that I would tend to show up more on Google, which is only partially a joke, because you know if you’re going to use the tools of technology to evangelize, then you have to be savvy about what Google is going to find and what it isn’t.  

But I guess the shift mainly happened as I began to approach being more public about it, because as I became more public I also came into contact more openly with people who identified as gay or who struggled with same-sex attraction, or whatever. And what I found was that a lot of them had a lot of resentment towards people who insisted on not using the word gay.

Why did they have resentment?

For a few reasons. It’s a really complicated topic, and I’m not sure how to distill what is offensive about it. One, is that it’s offensive to be told what you ought to be allowed to call yourself. And in fact, I rarely feel strongly about whether I should use the word gay or not, but the one time I do feel strongly about it is when somebody starts upbraiding me for it. Because it feels incredibly intrusive.

This is a topic that gets very political very fast. It’s the sort of thing where people feel, and I think rightly, that they have been constrained to keep silent for most of their lives – and a lot of people have, whether it’s constrained by actual explicit homophobia among the people that they love and/or are related to, or whether it’s just sort of a general culture understanding that you don’t talk about this sort of thing. So you have a set of people who have felt this way for most of their lives, and then you have people saying ‘oh, well it’s sort of cool now if you talk about that, but just be sure you talk about it in this or that way.’ This is frustrating and comes across as very patronizing because these are people who don’t have any insight into the experience of what it is to be gay telling you what it is or is not ok to talk about, and what it is and is not ok to call yourself.

Would you also apply that criticism to the Church who never uses the word ‘gay’ in her documents?

I understand why She (the Church) doesn’t. I don’t know if that will continue to be the case. I don’t have any bitterness towards the Church as a whole in that way.  

This is reason that I haven’t yet come to a solid opinion on this question – because the problem is that secular people and Christian people mean two different things by the word ‘gay.’

Could you explain that a little more?

It’s really hard to distill. But you know what’s at the heart of it?

When I told my roommate I was gay, the first thing that he said to me was, ‘do you mean same-sex attracted?’ And that was actually the precisely wrong thing to say, and I don’t hold it against him. (Laughs) But the heart of it is that I was telling him this incredibly personal thing, and he was instructing me in the right way to feel about it, immediately, from the get-go.

Now I think that one reason Christians tend to dislike the word ‘gay’ is because if somebody says that they are gay, then they are usually implying that it is an unchangeable aspect of their personality. Whereas the sort of default position among a lot of Christians is that homosexuality is changeable. The unspoken implication is that if you identify yourself as ‘gay,’ then you’re probably not trying hard enough to be straight. And I believe that this why it is so offensive to be told that they shouldn’t use the word gay.  

It might be true that some people can change to some extent, but it’s extremely offensive to assume that the only reason somebody hasn’t changed is because they haven’t tried. And even though very few people would have the chutzpah to make that explicit, I do believe that that’s the belief that’s behind it.

What do you think we should be doing as a Church, as a Christian community, to be helping people who struggle with homosexuality?

That’s a really good question! I’ll start first by saying that I’m extremely grateful for the organization People Can Change, which is an organization founded precisely on the idea that radical change with respect to homosexuality is possible. I’m grateful for them not because they ‘made me straight’ or something, but because they gave me a space in which to work out some of my issues, many of which turned out not to be related precisely to homosexuality in particular, but were just sort of emotional issues that needed dealing with.

I think a lot of gay men and women do have emotional issues that aren’t going to be dealt with if they’re told that everything is already ok. But on the other hand, this is dangerous because you have a lot of Christian people already assuming from the get-go that if somebody is homosexual, then they must have various and many emotional issues that need working on, and that’s not necessarily the case. (Laughs) So you see why this is difficult!

If the understanding in the Christian world is that homosexuality is a “disorder,” and homosexual activity is a sin, then logically it would seem like as Christians, we would want to help our fellow Christians who are “dis-ordered” to be “ordered.” Do you think there’s a problem with that logic?

I think there’s a problem with that phraseology. There’s a subtle but importance difference in saying that somebody has a disordered inclination and saying that somebody is disordered.

The Church has to be clear with respect to ‘what is the nature of homosexuality itself,’ but can’t make a pronouncement on whether it is a mental disorder, for example. Many people assume that when the Church says ‘homosexuality consists of a disordered inclination,’ they take that word ‘disorder’ and assume that She means ‘mental disorder.’ But I think the Catechism has purposely phrased it in such a way that you can’t actually conclude that if you’re reading carefully. But it takes careful reading.

The Church never changes her underlying principles, but when something new happens, it’s always a question of, ‘well, what do the underlying principles dictate in this particular situation?’ And a lot of the times it turns out that it doesn’t dictate what we thought it did but it takes a while to figure that out.

What do you think the underlying principles are that are dictating what the Church is saying about homosexuality?

That men are men, and women are women, and the two are not the same.

Do you want to expound on that at all?

Nooooo. (Laughs).  

Well, what I think is that one, at the bottom of it, men and women are different. Number two, that eros is different from friendship, and number three, that physical acts have spiritual meanings.

I think those things are the fundamental axioms that we have to work with here. And I think those things are precisely the things that are being argued about. I don’t think the Church is arguing about them, and I don’t think She should, because as far as I’m concerned, those things are absolutely essential to what the Church believes about people. But those things are very much being debated in the broader culture.

I'll tell you how I see myself and what I do, which is not only with respect to homosexuality but with how I try to live the Catholic faith in general. I try to live my life by those principles that make sense to me as a human being, and are consonant with what I know about human nature and with what the world at large has discovered about human nature. However, I also believe that if anything is true, it is Christian: that every truth is a Christian truth, and that there can be no truth about human nature which is not consonant with what the Church teaches about human nature.

This article was originally published on CNA June 30, 2015.

Hope continues for captured Filipino priest sighted alive

Marawi, Philippines, Jun 27, 2017 / 09:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Captured priest Father Teresito “Chito” Suganob was seen alive on Sunday in a part of a Philippines city under Islamist militant control, Agence France Presse reports.

“We don’t have details of his health. We were just told that he was sighted alive,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera told reporters in Marawi, citing reports from rescued civilians.

Militants of the Maute group stormed the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, May 23. The group, formed in 2012, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.

The militants still have about 100 civilian hostages, whom they use as human shields, ammunition carriers, and stretcher-barriers.

Father Suganob, who is vicar general of the Marawi territorial prelature, was featured in a video released one week after his capture. He appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw the army and stop the airstrikes.

Several bishops, including Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, have appealed for the hostages’ release.

Most of the city’s 200,000 people have fled since its occupation. Nearly 400 people have been killed in the fighting in Marawi.

The city is mostly Muslim. An eight-hour truce on Sunday allowed residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan, but military air and artillery bombardment of militant enclaves resumed with the truce’s end.

The government has said some of the militants appear to be from abroad, including countries like Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Herrera said there are indications other slain militants have come from the Middle East.

The militants’ violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader. Their initial attack burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence.

Local priest named fifth bishop of Allentown, Penn.

Vatican City, Jun 27, 2017 / 07:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Vatican announced Pope Francis' pick of Mons. Alfred A. Schlert to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania, himself born and raised in the diocese.

Bishop-elect Schlert, 55, fills the vacancy left when his predecessor, Bishop John Oliver Barres was appointed to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York at the end of January.

In a statement on the appointment June 27, Bishop Barres said that Mons. Schlert “has a blend of holiness, intelligence and pastoral experience that will serve the mission of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Allentown in an extraordinary way.”

“He is primarily a loving pastor with an insightful and compassionate pastoral charity and a non-stop New Evangelization missionary spirit,” the statement continued.

“He is humble and down to earth and has this incredibly creative sense of humor that is charitable and puts everyone around him at ease. He is calm and steady but passionate about Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the Catholic Church’s mission of mercy in the world.”

Mons. Schlert, who was born and raised in the Diocese of Allentown, has been serving as Diocesan Administrator of Allentown since Bishop Barres' move to New York.

It is the first time a priest of the diocese has been named its bishop.

Bishop-emeritus of Allentown, Edward P. Cullen said that the people of the region have received “a great blessing” with the appointment of Mons. Schlert.

“The formation he received in the seminary of Saint John Lateran in Rome brought out in his heart and soul a powerful love for all of God’s children,” Bishop Cullen said in a statement June 27.

“His intellectual capacity is extraordinary, and his 30 years of ministry reflects his gifts as a homilist, a writer and an administrator whose heart is as compassionate and forgiving as is his love of God.”
 
Bishop-elect Schlert will bring “prudence and sound judgement to every aspect of the pastoral life of the diocese,” he continued.

“I can say without reservation that Bishop-elect Schlert is truly God’s chosen and beloved. Let us bring to him the fullness of our spiritual support.”

Bishop-elect Schlert was born in Easton, Pennsylvania on July 24, 1961, just six months after the Diocese of Allentown was formed.

He attended both Catholic grade school and Catholic high school before entering Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook. He also studied theology at the Pontifical Roman Seminary and the Pontifical Lateran University.

He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Siena in Allentown on Sept. 19, 1987.

He served as assistant pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Allentown, and as a professor at his alma mater, Notre Dame High School, and as the Catholic chaplain at Lehigh University.

In 1992 he completed graduate studies at the Pontifical North American College and Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, receiving a Licentiate in Canon Law from the Pontifical Lateran University.

Mons. Schlert was named Vice Chancellor and Secretary to Bishop Thomas Welsh in 1997.

From 1998-2008 he was in residence at the Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Siena while serving as Vicar General of the diocese under Bishops Edward Cullen and John O. Barres. In this position he oversaw the coordination of all the administrative offices of the diocese.

He was given the title of monsignor by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999. Benedict XVI named him a Prelate of Honor, the second highest rank of monsignor, in 2005.

While Vicar General, he was also pastor of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church in Hellertown from July 2008-Feb. 2010.

His ordination and installation as bishop will take place at the cathedral on Thursday, Aug. 31st.

In addition to English, he also speaks Italian.

Bishop-elect Schlert “loves the People of God of the Diocese of Allentown,” Bishop Barres stated.

“He is a priest’s priest and now will be a Bishop’s Bishop. He is very serious about prayer and sacrifices deeply to pray deeply. Bishop-elect Schlert is a natural teacher who fine-tuned his ability to communicate in religion classes at Notre Dame High School in Easton. I am ecstatic about Pope Francis’ providential choice.”

Refusal to teach LGBT issues could fail a Jewish school in Britain

London, England, Jun 27, 2017 / 07:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Jewish girls' school has received a failing report from a British education standards monitor because it did not teach its pupils about sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

The report concerns Vishnitz Girls School, an Orthodox Jewish school in the London borough of Hackney for students up to age eight. Inspectors charged that the school did not give its students a “full understanding of fundamental British values.”

The British education standards office, informally known as Ofsted, faulted the school’s lack of instruction about all legally protected characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender-reassignment, the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph reports.

Ofsted charged that this means students have “a limited understanding of the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose in present-day society.” It said school policy “restricts pupils’ spiritual, moral and cultural development and does not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles.”

The school monitor has inspected the school three times in less than a year. Its report suggested school officials are aware school policy does not fulfill U.K. equality laws.

The school’s annual tuition is about $6,600. The Ofsted report did praise the school’s resources, its teachers’ expertise, and its improvements in areas like safeguarding children and leadership.

However, failure to meet Ofsted’s requirements could shut down a school.

The British Department of Education has required schools to teach “fundamental British values,” in reaction to reports that extremist Muslim groups were trying to infiltrate schools. In November 2014, these requirements were strengthened, with all schools being required to promote equality and diversity, as defined by the education department.

At the time, the British newspaper The Guardian reported these rules were likely to conflict with Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious schools because they require them to prioritize secular law over religious teachings.

In 2014 a highly ranked Catholic school in Suffolk drew criticism from government inspectors for allegedly failing to prepare students for modern life in Britain.

The school filed a formal complaint about the investigation. The school said parents complained that the inspectors asked children as young as ten about same-sex sexual acts and transsexualism.

Ofsted and the “British values” requirement drew criticism from Catholic leaders like Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh, president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain. He charged that Ofsted “appears to be guilty of trying to enforce a kind of state-imposed orthodoxy on certain moral and religious questions.”