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As March for Life goes virtual, U.S. bishops call Catholics to prayer instead

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- After the national March for Life announced last week it would be taking place virtually, the U.S. bishops’ pro-life chair has exhorted Catholics to prayer instead.

“Peaceful prayer and witness must and will continue this year—just in a different format,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, stated on Tuesday.

 

The archbishop encouraged Catholics who originally planned to attend the national March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 29, to instead unite in prayer beginning on Thursday, Jan. 21, the eve of the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The 9 Days for Life novena will continue until Jan. 29.

 

The March for Life is an annual peaceful pro-life gathering in Washington, D.C. in protest of abortion. It has occurred every year since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

 

Annually attended by pro-life advocates from all over the U.S., the march is the world’s largest annual human rights demonstration, according to organizers.

 

It is scheduled to take place on Jan. 29, but last Friday organizers for the event decided to confine attendance to a small group of pro-life leaders, citing safety precautions. The leaders will leave roses in front of the Supreme Court in mourning for the lives lost to abortion.

 

Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life, cited the safety of participants as a key reason for the change in plans. The march was originally intended to continue albeit with health precautions for attendees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

“In light of the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic which may be peaking, and in view of the heightened pressures that law enforcement officers and others are currently facing in and around the Capitol, this year’s March for Life will look different,” Mancini said.

 

Through the fall and into the winter, the number of reported cases of COVID-19 soared; the total number of deaths in the U.S. due to COVID-19 has now surpassed 400,000.

 

Security in Washington, D.C. has also intensified following the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol by thousands of rioters. Now, large portions of downtown Washington, D.C. are locked to the public in advance of the Jan. 20 Inauguration.

 

More than 25,000 National Guard troops are currently stationed in D.C., according to NBC News 4 Washington, and the National Mall has been closed to the public.

 

“The annual rally will take place virtually and we are asking all participants to stay home and to join the March virtually,” Mancini said.

 

Archbishop Naumann praised the decision by the march to move to a virtual format.

 

“As long-time participants in the annual March for Life, my brother bishops and I commend the march organizers for their concern for the lives and safety of all participants,” he said. “The countless, peaceful, pro-life marchers who would normally gather each year should not be put at risk.”

Presidential Inaugural Committee facilitates donations to Planned Parenthood

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 01:55 pm (CNA).- The Presidential Inaugural Committee is facilitating donations to Planned Parenthood, encouraging supporters to sponsor American flags on the National Mall in the name of unity.

 

Through the committee’s “America United” program around the Jan. 20 Presidential Inauguration, supporters of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are encouraged to become a “symbolic sponsor” of the “Field of Flags” on the National Mall; they can do so by donating to a number of groups including Planned Parenthood.

 

“At a time when Americans cannot gather together in person for the inauguration, the PIC will install an extensive public art display on the National Mall that will include approximately 191,500 U.S. flags of varying sizes, including flags representing every state and territory, and 56 pillars of light,” the committee stated in a Jan. 11 announcement. 

 

The hundreds of thousands of flags “will represent the American people who are unable to travel to Washington, DC,” the committee stated, encouraging supporters “to become a symbolic sponsor of the Field of Flags in exchange for a donation to PIC’s partners in service.”

 

 

Here’s your first glimpse of what the #NationalMall will look like for Wednesday’s Inauguration of @joebiden: a sea of 200k US flags and state/territory flags. “All of it to show the American people that we're thinking about them in this time” - @moojv77. More on @cbsthismorning pic.twitter.com/rwHgW2tRGa

— Nancy Cordes (@nancycordes) January 18, 2021  

 

On the donation page for the Field of Flags, among the 95 groups listed as “partners” of the committee is the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

 

Among the other 95 “partner groups” of the committee are a number of pro-LGBT groups including the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

 

At the bottom of the donation site of ActBlue Charities, a 501(c)3 charitable organization of the Democratic fundraising site ActBlue, users are informed that they will receive emails from Planned Parenthood.

 

“You'll receive emails from Planned Parenthood organizations. You may unsubscribe at any time,” the site reads.

 

The committee had announced the “America United” program as an effort that “reflects the Biden-Harris commitment to healing the nation and bringing Americans together.”

 

Planned Parenthood supported the Biden-Harris ticket, and expressed jubilation over the selection of Harris as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in August.

 

In August, Planned Parenthood Action spent five figures on an online video ad hailing Harris as “OUR Reproductive Health Champion.” The group Planned Parenthood Votes also released a fact-sheet “Nine Reasons to Love Kamala Harris.”

 

As a 501(c)4 organization, the Presidential Inaugural Committee is considered a non-profit under tax law; such organizations can engage in certain political  advocacy, such as endorsing political candidates, that 501(c)3 charitable organizations cannot engage in.

 

The “America United” program of the inauguration committee cited the need for unity amid “unprecedented crisis and deep divisions,” including more than 370,000 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, economic hardships, and “political divisions.”

 

Vatican cardinal: Synodality is a vital tool in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Strengthening synodality is “the most important contribution” that the Catholic Church can make to ecumenical dialogue, especially dialogue with the Orthodox, a Vatican cardinal has said.

Writing in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Jan. 18, Cardinal Kurt Koch said: “Theological and pastoral efforts to build a synodal Church have a profound effect on ecumenism, as Pope Francis emphasizes with the basic principle of ecumenical dialogue, which consists in the exchange of gifts, thanks to which we can learn from each other.”

Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that “the synodal tradition of Christianity includes a rich heritage that should be revitalized.” The cardinal’s essay was published at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place on Jan. 18-25.

He welcomed Pope Francis’ decision to hold a Synod of Bishops in 2022 on the theme of synodality.

“This synod will not only be an important event in the Catholic Church, but it will contain a significant ecumenical message, since synodality is an issue that also moves ecumenism, and moves it in depth,” he explained.

He pointed to the 2007 “Declaration of Ravenna,” in which Catholic and Orthodox theologians agreed that the bishop of Rome was the “protos,” or first among patriarchs, before the separation of East and West.

According to the Swiss cardinal, this was an immensely important step in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

“The fact that the two dialogue partners were able to declare together for the first time that the Church is structured synodally at all levels and therefore also at the universal level, and that she needs a protos is an important milestone in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue,” he said.

For this step to bear fruit in the future, Koch argued, it is necessary to deepen the relationship between synodality and primacy.

“It is not about reaching a compromise on the lowest common denominator. Rather, the respective strengths of the two ecclesial communities should be brought in,” he said. 

Koch pointed to a recommendation made by one Orthodox-Catholic working group that “the Churches must strive above all to achieve a better balance between synodality and primacy at all levels of ecclesial life, through the strengthening of synodal structures in the Catholic Church and through the acceptance by the Orthodox Church of a certain type of primacy within the world communion of Churches.”

The cardinal emphasized that “there must be a willingness to learn on both sides.” 

He said that the Catholic Church “must recognize that in her life and in her ecclesial structures she has not yet developed that degree of synodality which would be theologically possible and necessary” and that “a credible link between the hierarchical and the synodal-community principles would favor the advancement of ecumenical dialogue with orthodoxy.”

“The strengthening of synodality must undoubtedly be considered as the most important contribution that the Catholic Church can make to the ecumenical recognition of primacy,” he said.

On the Orthodox side, Koch said, “we can instead expect that, in ecumenical dialogue, they will come to recognize that primacy at the universal level is not only possible and theologically legitimate, but also necessary.”

The cardinal suggested that intra-Orthodox tensions showed the need for a “ministry of unity also at the universal level of the Church” not limited to “a simple honorary primacy” but with legal elements.

“We Catholics consider the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as a gift from the Lord to his Church and, therefore, also as an offering to all of Christianity on the path of rediscovering unity and life in unity,” Koch wrote.

Report: Joe Biden set to promptly reverse pro-life policies

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- President-elect Joe Biden is expected to promptly roll back pro-life policies the Trump administration put in place, NBC News reported on Monday. 

 

Biden, who will become the second Roman Catholic president when he is sworn in to office on Jan. 20, is believed to be seeking to repeal the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule and the expanded Mexico City Policy.

 

The Protect Life Rule prevents organizations which perform or refer for abortions from receiving Title X family planning funds. It effectively stripped Planned Parenthood of approximately $60 million annually in federal funding. 

 

The Mexico City Policy prohibits federal funding of international non-governmental organizations which promote abortion as a method of family planning.

 

Biden is also expected to address the contraceptive mandate, and he has previously pledged to repeal the Hyde Amendment and codify Roe v. Wade into law; the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funding for elective abortions in Medicaid. 

 

Those actions, however, would depend upon Congress passing legislation.

 

Biden had previously supported the Hyde Amendment during his time in the Senate. Over the course of a 24-hour period in June 2019, however, he changed course amid pressure from pro-abortion groups and announced that he favored repealing the policy.

 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris took credit for Biden’s abrupt about-face on the Hyde Amendment. 

 

Newly sworn-in presidents traditionally either rescind or reinstate some form of the Mexico City Policy. The first iteration of the policy was in 1984. It was rescinded in Jan., 1993 by President Bill Clinton, reinstated in Jan., 2001 by President George W. Bush, rescinded again in Jan., 2009 by President Barack Obama, and reinstated by President Donald Trump in 2017. 

 

Shortly after he reinstated the policy, the Trump administration expanded it to encompass more than $8 billion in global health assistance and not just funds earmarked for family planning programs. 

 

Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States, said it was “tremendously exciting” that her organization has “champions (in the administration) who understand what needs to happen in the first 100 days.” 

 

Biden, who invited leaders in Congress to church on the morning of his inauguration, expressed dismay when the Supreme Court sided with the Little Sisters of the Poor in their court battle against the contraceptive mandate. 

 

He pledged to reinstate Obama-era policies requiring the sisters to ensure access to birth control in their employee health plans, in violation of their religious beliefs.

Pope Francis to Venezuelan clergy: Serve with ‘joy and determination’ amid pandemic

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).- Pope Francis sent a video message on Tuesday encouraging priests and bishops in their ministry during the coronavirus pandemic and reminding them of two principles which he said would “guarantee the growth of the Church.”

“I would like to point out to you two principles that should never be lost sight of and which guarantee the growth of the Church, if we are faithful: love of neighbor and service to one another,” Pope Francis said in a video message to a meeting of priests and bishops in Venezuela on Jan. 19.

“These two principles are anchored in two sacraments that Jesus institutes at the Last Supper, and which are the foundation, so to speak, of his message: the Eucharist, to teach love, and the washing of the feet, to teach service. Love and service together, otherwise it won’t work.”

In the video, sent to the virtual two-day meeting focused on priestly ministry during the coronavirus crisis, the pope encouraged priests and bishops to minister to “renew the gift of yourselves to the Lord and to his holy people” during the pandemic.

The meeting, organized by the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, is taking place a week and a half after Venezuelan Bishop Cástor Oswaldo Azuaje of Trujillo died of COVID-19 at the age of 69.

Pope Francis said that the virtual meeting was an opportunity for priests and bishops “to share, in a spirit of fraternal ministry, your priestly experiences, your labors, your uncertainties, as well as your yearnings and your conviction to carry on the work of the Church, which is the work of the Lord.”

“In these difficult moments, the passage from the Gospel of Mark comes to mind (Mark 6: 30-31), which tells how the Apostles, on their return from the mission to which Jesus had sent them, gathered around him. They told him all they had done, everything they had taught and then Jesus invited them to go, alone with Him, to a deserted place to rest for a while.”

He commented: “It is essential that we always return to Jesus, with whom we gather in sacramental fraternity to tell him and to tell each other ‘all that we have done and taught’ with the conviction that it is not our work, but that of God. It is he who saves us; we are only instruments in his hands.”

The pope invited priests to continue their ministry during the pandemic with “joy and determination.”

“This is what the Lord wants: experts in the task of loving others and capable of showing them, in the simplicity of small daily gestures of affection and attention, the caress of divine tenderness,” he said.

“Do not be divided, brothers,” he urged the priests and bishops, warning them against the temptation of having “an attitude of a sectarian heart, outside the unity of the Church” amid the isolation caused by the pandemic.

Pope Francis asked the Venezuelan clergy to revive their “desire to imitate the Good Shepherd, and to learn to be servants of all, in particular of the less fortunate and often discarded brothers and sisters, and to ensure that, in this time of crisis, all feel accompanied, supported, loved.”

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, the archbishop emeritus of Caracas, said earlier this month that the pandemic had exacerbated Venezuela’s already severe economic, social, and political problems.

Inflation in Venezuela surpassed 10 million percent in 2020, and many Venezuelans’ monthly salaries cannot cover the cost of a gallon of milk. More than three million Venezuelans have left the country in the last three years, many of them on foot.

“The political, economic and social situation continues to be very bad, with runaway inflation and extremely high devaluation, which make us all increasingly poor,” Urosa wrote on Jan. 4. 

“The outlook is bleak because this government has not been able to solve the problems of ordinary administration, nor guarantee the fundamental rights of the people, especially to life, food, health, and transportation.” 

But the Venezuelan cardinal also stressed that “even in the midst of the pandemic, of economic, social and political problems, in the midst of negative personal circumstances that some of us may suffer, God is with us.”

Pope Francis thanked the Venezuelan priests and bishops for their service during the pandemic.

“With gratitude, I assure my closeness and my prayers to all of you who carry out the mission of the Church in Venezuela, in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the numerous initiatives of charity towards brothers exhausted by poverty and the health crisis. I entrust you all to the intercession of Our Lady of Coromoto and of St. Joseph,” the pope said.

Pope Francis praises Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘timely’ message of peace

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said on Monday that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream “of harmony and equality for all people” is still relevant today.

“In today’s world, which increasingly faces the challenges of social injustice, division and conflict that hinder the realization of the common good, Dr. King’s dream of harmony and equality for all people, attained through nonviolent and peaceful means, remains ever timely,” the pope said on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In a message addressed to King’s daughter, Bernice A. King, Francis said that it was imperative to see people “in the truth of our shared dignity as children of Almighty God.”

“Only by striving daily to put this vision into practice can we work together to create a community built upon justice and fraternal love,” he said, praying for “divine blessings of wisdom and peace” upon participants in the Beloved Community Commemorative Service, marking MLK Day.

Hosted by The King Center, the streamed service on Jan. 18 featured as a keynote speaker T.D. Jakes, bishop of The Potter’s House, a megachurch in Dallas, Texas.

Quoting his 2020 encyclicalFratelli tutti,” the pope said that “each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths of dialogue.”

 

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On Dr. King's birthday, @Pontifex blessed our 20-21 MLK Nike City Edition jersey to honor our shared commitment to making positive change in social equality, economic empowerment and love.

?: https://t.co/ob7sSp0J9H#EarnTheseLetters pic.twitter.com/Hy8xts7t9y

— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) January 15, 2021  

Last week, Pope Francis blessed a special MLK jersey of the NBA basketball team the Atlanta Hawks. The uniform features the initials “MLK” across the front in honor of King, who was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929.

The Hawks will wear the special edition uniform when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 18.

The jersey sent to the pope had a number one and “Francis” written across the back. After blessing the shirt, the pope also signed it.

The Atlanta Hawks wrote on Twitter that the jersey was in honor of their “commitment to making positive change in social equality, economic empowerment and love.”

Bernice King told Vatican News in June 2020 that she felt a strong sense of harmony between her father and Pope Francis, whom she met twice in 2018.

She said that if Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today he “would be guided by his philosophy of nonviolence, which corresponded with his following of Jesus Christ.”

“He would, as he often did while he was living, share that we cannot cure violence with violence, which he said is a descending spiral. Of course, I believe he would compel us to embrace nonviolence, which is strategic, courageous, love-centered and organized,” she said.

Vatican says trial of Italian woman for alleged embezzlement will begin soon

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced on Monday that the trial of an Italian woman for alleged embezzlement would begin soon. 

A statement issued on Jan. 18 by the Holy See press office also indicated that the Vatican was dropping its request for the extradition of Cecilia Marogna from Italy.

It said: “On Jan. 13, 2021, the investigating judge of the Tribunal of Vatican City State, accepting the request made by the Office of the Promoter of Justice, revoked the precautionary measure previously ordered against Ms. Cecilia Marogna, against whom a trial is about to take place for alleged embezzlement committed in conjunction with others.” 

It continued: “The initiative intends, among other things, to allow the defendant -- who has already refused to defend herself by not appearing for questioning before the Italian judicial authority, requested by the Promoter of Justice through a rogatory procedure -- to participate in the trial in the Vatican, free from the pending precautionary measure against her.” 

The Vatican issued the statement on the day that Italian judges had been due to rule on whether to allow Marogna’s extradition. 

Marogna, a 39-year-old Sardinian, has been accused of misappropriating Vatican funds from payments of more than 500,000 euros (around $600,000) she received from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State through her Slovenia-registered company in 2018 and 2019.

Marogna has said that she worked for the Secretariat of State as a security consultant and strategist. She acknowledged receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican but insisted that the money was for her Vatican consultancy work and salary.

Marogna was held in custody following her arrest on Oct. 13 on an international warrant reportedly issued by the Vatican through Interpol.

A court of appeal in Milan decided on Oct. 30 to release Marogna from the city’s San Vittore jail on condition that she registered her presence daily with local police, the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

In December, the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court, annulled a lower court’s validation of the precautionary measure against Marogna.

Italian media alleged that funds intended for humanitarian purposes were used for personal expenses, including stays at luxury hotels and purchases of designer label handbags. But Marogna insisted that expensive gifts “were used to create cooperative relationships.” 

Media have also claimed that the payments were made under the direction of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the former sostituto of the Secretariat of State and a fellow Sardinian.

Becciu resigned from his curial position and gave up his rights as a cardinal on Sept. 24, reportedly in connection with multiple financial scandals dating back to his time as the second-ranking official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. 

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

In October, lawyers representing Becciu denied Italian media reports that the former curial official had been summoned by the Vatican in connection with payments to Marogna.

“In the interest of His Eminence the Cardinal, the defense attorneys once again reiterate that their client has not received any communication from the competent authority,” said lawyers Fabio Viglione and Agostinangelo Marras.

Pope Francis: The greatest joy for every believer is to respond to God’s call

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that great joy is found when one offers his life in service to God’s call.

“There are different ways of carrying out the plan that God has for each of us, which is always a plan of love. … And the greatest joy for every believer is to respond to this call, to offer all of himself at the service of God and his brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Jan. 17.

Speaking from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope said that each time that God calls someone it is “an initiative of His love.”

“God calls to life, He calls to faith, and He calls to a particular state in life,” he said.

“God’s first call is to life, through which He makes us persons; it is an individual call because God does not make things in sets. Then God calls us to faith and to become part of His family as children of God. Lastly, God calls us to a particular state in life: to give of ourselves on the path of marriage, or that of the priesthood or the consecrated life.”

In the live video broadcast, the pope offered a reflection on Jesus’ first encounter and call of his disciples Andrew and Simon Peter in the Gospel of John.

“The two follow Him and remained that  afternoon with Him. It is not difficult to imagine them seated asking Him questions and above all  listening to Him, feeling their hearts inflamed ever more while the Master spoke,” he said.

“They sense the beauty of the words that respond to their greatest hope. And all of a sudden they discover that, even though it is evening, … that light that only God can give burst within them. … When they leave and return to their  brothers, that joy, this light overflows from their hearts like a raging river. One of the two, Andrew, tells his brother Simon - whom Jesus will call Peter when he meets him: ‘We have found the Messiah.’”

Pope Francis said that God’s call is always love and should always be responded to only with love.

“Brothers and sisters, faced with the call of the Lord, which can reach us in a thousand ways even through people, happy or sad events, sometimes our attitude can be one of rejection: ‘No, I'm afraid” -- rejection because it seems contrary to our aspirations; and also fear, because we consider it too demanding and uncomfortable: ‘Oh I won't make it, better not, better a more peaceful life… God there, I am here.’ But God's call is love, we must try to find the love that is behind every call, and respond to it only with love,” he said.

“At the beginning there is an encounter, or rather, there is ‘the encounter’ with Jesus who speaks to us of His Father, He makes His love known to us. And then the desire to communicate it to the people we love will spontaneously arise within us too: 'I met Love.' 'I met the Messiah.' 'I met God.' 'I met Jesus.' 'I found the meaning of life.' In a word: ‘I found God.’”

The pope invited each person to remember the moment in his life in which “God made himself present more strongly, with a call.”

At the end of his Angelus address, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, which was hit by a strong earthquake on Jan. 15.

“I pray for the dead, for the wounded and for those who have lost their homes and jobs. May the Lord comfort them and support the efforts of those who are committed to helping,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also recalled that the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” will begin Jan. 18. This year’s theme is “Remain in my love and you will bear much fruit.”

“In these days, let us pray together so that Jesus' desire may be fulfilled: ‘That all may be one.’ Unity is always superior to conflict,” he said.

Pope Francis prays for Indonesia after deadly earthquake

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2021 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis sent a telegram Friday with his condolences for Indonesia, after a strong earthquake killed at least 67 people on the island of Sulawesi.

Hundreds of people were also injured in the 6.2-magnitude quake, according to Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Indonesia.

Pope Francis was “saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life and the destruction of property caused by the violent earthquake in Indonesia.”

In a telegram to the apostolic nuncio in Indonesia, signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope expressed his “heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this natural disaster.”

Francis “prays for the repose of the deceased, the healing of the injured and the consolation of all who grieve. In a particular way, he offers encouragement to the civil authorities and those involved in the continuing search and rescue efforts,” the letter stated.

The death toll is expected to rise, according to local search and rescue teams, who say that many people are still trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings, CNN reported.

The telegram concluded with the pope’s invocation of “divine blessings of strength and hope.”

Sulawesi, governed by Indonesia, is one of the four Greater Sunda Islands. The western side was struck by the 6.2-magnitude quake at 1:28 a.m. local time about 3.7 miles northeast of the city of Majene.

Eight people died and at least 637 people were injured in Majene. Three hundred houses were damaged and 15,000 residents displaced, according to Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management.

The affected area is also a COVID-19 red zone, provoking concerns about spreading the coronavirus amid the disaster.

Vatican court due to hold sentence hearing for ex-Vatican bank president

Rome Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican court is due to hold a sentence hearing next week in a criminal trial against the former president of the Institute for Religious Works.

Angelo Caloia, the 81-year-old ex-president of the institute commonly known as the “Vatican bank,” has been on trial for two years for money laundering and self-laundering, and embezzlement.

The HuffPost reported last month that the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, is seeking an eight-year jail term for Caloia, the first time the Vatican has sought a prison sentence for financial crimes.

The Jan. 21 hearing is reportedly being held to issue the court’s sentence after the two-year trial.

Caloia was president of the institute -- also known by its Italian initials, IOR -- from 1989 to 2009.

The Jan. 21 hearing will also include Caloia’s lawyer, the 96-year-old Gabriele Liuzzo, and Liuzzo’s son, Lamberto Liuzzo. The lawyer was tried on the same charges as Caloia and is also facing a possible eight years in prison. His son was tried for money laundering and self-laundering and may get up to six years in prison, according to the HuffPost.

Diddi also reportedly asked for the confiscation of 32 million euros ($39 million) already seized from the accounts of Caloia and Gabrielle Liuzzo also at the institute.

In addition, Diddi is said to have requested the confiscation of the equivalent of a further 25 million euros ($30 million).

The Vatican court ordered Caloia and Liuzzo to stand trial in March 2018. It accused them of participating in “unlawful conduct” from 2001 to 2008 during “the disposal of a considerable part of the institute’s real estate assets.”

The HuffPost said that the two men allegedly sold the IOR’s real estate assets to themselves through offshore companies and firms in Luxembourg via “a complex shielding operation.”

Former IOR director general Lelio Scaletti, who died on Oct. 15, 2015, was part of the original investigation, launched in 2014 after complaints were lodged by the IOR.

In February 2018, the institute announced that it had joined a civil suit, in addition to the criminal proceedings, against Caloia and Liuzzo.

The trial began on May 9, 2018. At the first hearing, the Vatican court announced plans to appoint experts to assess the value of properties that Caloia and Liuzzo were accused of selling at below-market rates, while allegedly making off-paper agreements for higher amounts to pocket the difference.

Caloia was present at the nearly four-hour hearing, though Liuzzo was absent, citing his age.

According to the HuffPost, hearings over the next two and a half years drew on appraisals by the Promontory Financial Group, at the request of Ernst von Freyberg, IOR president from February 2013 to July 2014.

The hearings also reportedly considered three letters rogatory sent from the Vatican to Switzerland, with the most recent response arriving on Jan. 24, 2020. Letters rogatory are a formal request from courts in one country to the courts of another country for judicial assistance.

The Institute for Religious Works was founded in 1942 under Pope Pius XII but can trace its roots back as far as 1887. It aims to hold and administer money designated for “religious works or charity,” according to its website.

It accepts deposits from legal entities or persons of the Holy See and of Vatican City State. The IOR’s main function is to manage bank accounts for religious orders and Catholic associations.

The IOR had 14,996 clients as of December 2019. Nearly half of clients are religious orders. Other clients include Vatican offices, apostolic nunciatures, episcopal conferences, parishes, and clergy.