Catholic News Agency

ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
  1. Washington D.C., May 23, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Elise Amez-Droz’s journey to the Catholic Church began in a place well known for religious fervor, but not exactly known for Catholicism: Salt Lake City, Utah.

    While at a conference in Salt Lake City, Amez-Droz, 24, met someone who was converting to Catholicism, which surprised her, she said. A native of Switzerland, Amez-Droz said the only Catholics she knew in her home country were not very devout.

    “I was shocked that, clearly, he loved Christ, and I could see it,” she said. “But it just puzzled me that he was joining what I thought was a dead faith.”

    Amez-Droz was raised an Evangelical Christian, and said that in her youth she had no thoughts of leaving her childhood faith.

    But in gradute school, she struggled.

    “I started really wondering about the purpose of life. It was a really rough time for me," said Amez-Droz. She started to feel as though her life was suddenly without purpose, she said.

    In Salt Lake City, she decided to join her new friend for Mass - the first Catholic Mass she had ever attended.

    “My first thought was 'well, it's not as heretical as I thought it was [going to be],’” she said.

    She kept in touch with her friend, and asked him questions about converting and why he was becoming Catholic. After she moved to Washington, DC, she made many Catholic friends, and noticed “how good all these people were,” and that they practiced virtue, “without having an incentive to do it.”

    She initially found their virtue “annoying,” and was “really struggling” with how nice her new friends seemed to be.

    Still, she decided to learn more about the Catholic faith. In 2018, she entered RCIA. But before committing to an RCIA program, she checked out RCIA at several different parishes in the Washington, DC area.

    “I was like, ‘this is a long process. I’m signing up for something that’s going to last seven, eight months,’” she said, describing her relatively unusual approach to RCIA.

    “I wanted to make sure I could connect well with the leader of it and that I was going to be learning the true doctrine of the Church,” she added.

    After a few weeks, she narrowed it down to two parishes, before deciding on St. Peter’s in Washington, DC. She said she was intrigued by the Dominican friars who taught RCIA at the parish.

    Amez-Droz also appreciated the approach the parish took to RCIA, which was to include past participants who had already been received into the Church.

    "I knew every Tuesday night that there would be a group of people who were going to be there every time," said Amez-Droz. "That really made a big difference for me, because it showed me that people were still learning and they wanted to do that journey with us."

    Still, even though she had put in that much effort to find the right RCIA fit, Amez-Droz still was not entirely sold on entering the Church until just a few months before Easter Vigil.

    She told CNA that she was convinced after a period of intense study and reading.

    “It became more clear to me that I could never go back to my Protestant faith, just having read too much history,” she said. She also was particularly taken by Augustine’s “Confessions,” and she was intrigued by “The Benedict Option.”

    “I thought [The Benedict Option] was really interesting. I think it really warmed me up to tradition, considering what community life looks like,” she said. Another huge influence on her conversion was Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body For Beginners.”

    “That theology made so much sense,” she said. “I was like, this is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever heard, and it’s from a pope. So that’s what made me think.”

    One of the biggest ideological hurdles for Amez-Droz was accepting the authority of the Church. Once she did, however, it was relatively smooth sailing from there.

    "As a convert, it comes down to 'do I accept the authority of the Church?' If I do, then everything else is true,” she said, and one must embrace the Church’s teachings.

    Amez-Droz chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her confirmation saint, after first learning about her at a retreat.

    She told CNA that she appreciated that St. Therese “emphasizes being great by being small,” and that she admired her humility. She also found it interesting that St. Therese died at age 24, the same age Amez-Droz would be when she entered the Church.

    Additionally, Amez-Droz spoke French as her first language, the same as St. Therese.

    The Eucharist was another major factor for Amez-Droz, and was the reason she decided to stick with Catholicism even amid the “summer of scandal” that plagued the Church.

    She also said that she appreciated that the Catholics she knew were open and willing to discuss the scandals, particularly those concerning former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

    "It helped me understand how Catholics were taking it,” said Amez-Droz. “It's true that every time I would hear 'but where else would we go? The Eucharist is only in this Church,’ and I thought that was true."

    She explained that the scandals themselves did not impact her decision to join the Church, but did help her discern where to attend RCIA.

    "I don't expect the Church to be perfect going forward, either. Ultimately, it didn't really affect my decision,” she said.

    “I think the biggest impact it had for me was choosing an RCIA, because I wanted to make sure the priest wasn't involved with scandals himself."

    Amez-Droz received the Eucharist for the first time on April 21, 2019 at the Easter Vigil.

    She almost immediately broke down in tears.

    She explained to CNA that she had spent the day with her best friend, and watched “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie, she said, made her feel as though she was “totally not worthy” of receiving communion.

    “At the Easter Vigil, I was really happy and I was super-excited to get confirmed, but when it came to communion, it was like ‘this is what it's all about,’” she said.

    “I was just overwhelmed that I could share in God’s very person in such a close way, even though I’m totally unworthy,” she said.
     
    While she has only been a confirmed Catholic for a few weeks, Amez-Droz told CNA that she feels entirely supported by her parish, and that she is fond of the structure provided by Mass, and the requirement that Catholics attend Mass each Sunday.

    “There’s so many ways that Christ exposes himself to you in life. It’s not like you finding him, it’s like ‘this is part of your schedule,”” she said.

    “It’s making me a lot closer to God.”

     

    This story is part of "The New Catholics Project," a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith. Look for additional profiles to come.

     

  2. Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 23, 2019 / 12:32 am (CNA).- Dr. Leandro Rodríguez Lastra, an OB-GYN in Argentina, was found guilty on Monday of having prevented an abortion, after he decided to save the life of an unborn baby whose mother had taken an abortion pill.

    After three days of arguments in the Rio Negro Court in Argentina, Judge Álvaro Meynet found Rodríguez guilty of failing to carry out his duty as a public functionary.

    In the coming days, the court will announce the sentence, which could range from suspension from practicing medicine to two years in prison.

    Rodríguez is the head of the department of gynecology at the Pedro Moguillansky Hospital in Cipoletti. In May 2017, he treated a 19-year-old woman who was suffering severe pain due to ingesting misoprostol, the first of a two-part abortion pill regimen, which had been administered by an abortion group.

    The doctor confirmed that the woman was almost 23 weeks pregnant and the baby weighed more than 1 lb. 2 oz., so in conjunction with the medical team and the hospital board, he decided not to terminate the pregnancy.

    Rodríguez stabilized the patient and when the baby reached 35 weeks gestation, labor was induced. Days later, the baby was adopted and will soon be two years old.

    However, Rodríguez and Dr. Yamila Custillo, who also refused to perform an abortion, were cited by Río Negro legislator Marta Milesi, an advocate for the protocol of non-punishable abortion, which the province had adopted in the case of rape, which the woman alleged.

    Custilla was dropped from the complaint in May 2018. But the case against Rodríguez continued on the grounds that he had stopped an abortion in progress.

    Judge Meynet ruled that the doctor carried out a “delaying maneuver” to take advantage of a vulnerable woman. He said that since Rodríguez was not registered as a conscientious objector, he was obliged by law to perform the abortion.

    During the course of the trial, thousands of people and pro-life institutions in the country backed the doctor through social media, petitions drives, marches, and vigils outside the court.

    After the reading of the verdict, Rodríguez said he will appeal the decision and will continue fighting for justice to be done.

  3. New York City, N.Y., May 22, 2019 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- Following an op-ed in the New York Times claiming that all pregnancies are life-threatening, a Catholic doctor emphasized that pregnancy is a natural and healthy condition, and that complications which may arise can be treated without abortion.

    “[Pregnancy] is not a serious health risk to the vast majority of women in this country. And unless these women have some underlying medical problems to begin with, most pregnancies are perfectly normal by any means,” said Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a high-risk obstetrician and Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami.

    “There are pregnancies that are complicated by diabetes, hypertension, previous Caesarean sections, some of those things that he mentioned. But they are uncommon, and with good medical care there is no reason why a woman who is desirous of continuing her pregnancy cannot do so,” she told CNA.

    In an op-ed published Tuesday in the New York Times, a Colorado-based late-term abortion doctor argued that because women are more likely to die in childbirth than from complications related to an abortion, “pregnancy is dangerous; abortion can be lifesaving.”

    “Pregnancy is a life-threatening condition. Women die from being pregnant. We have known that for thousands of years,” abortion doctor Warren Hern wrote May 21.

    Hern wrote the piece in response to recent developments related to abortion in Alabama, where the governor recently signed a near-total abortion ban into law. In Alabama last year, nearly six out of every 100,000 white women who gave birth died as a result of their pregnancy. Among black women, it was 27.6, he said.

    Hern claimed from this data that a ban on abortion would disproportionately harm black women, citing data suggesting an abortion procedure is much less risky than giving birth. He offered a list of potential complications that can result from pregnancy, as well as risk factors that can make pregnancy, in his view, especially dangerous.

    O’Sullivan argued, however, that the op-ed was “bombastic” and employed scare tactics. She reiterated that although any pregnancy carries some risk, it is not a “serious” threat to a woman’s health, especially in the United States. The United States has a higher maternal death rate than Europe, for example, but maternal deaths are still very rare, even in rural areas.

    “She doesn't have a 50/50 chance of dying, unless she has some very serious cardiac problems. So I really think that this is scare tactics to prevent women from getting pregnant at all.”

    O’Sullivan acknowledged that maternal death rates are higher in black women, especially those of lower socioeconomic status. She pointed out that these women also have a higher risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, poor nutrition, and previous Caesarean sections, all of which are risk factors for maternal death.

    Better medical care to address these issues is what is needed, she said, especially for women who are at risk for conditions like hypertension, who should seek medical care earlier rather than later in their pregnancy.

    For the United States overall, the maternal mortality ratio was 20.7 in 2018, meaning that about 20 mothers die for every 100,000 live births. The rate of death for mothers in Sierra Leone, with the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world, is seventy times that.

    In his piece, Hern argued, “Pregnancy itself poses a ‘serious health risk’ — including the risk of dying and losing all bodily functions.” He said that “A woman’s life and health are at risk from the moment that a pregnancy exists in her body, whether she wants to be pregnant or not.”

    O’Sullivan expressed doubt that the statistics Hern quotes were entirely accurate.

    “There are still issues with proper recording of maternal deaths,” she said. “We're getting better, but we're very poor at that in the United States. And also, what we call a 'maternal death' might be a different definition than other countries may use. So we have to be careful with that too.”

    In addition, the statistics Hern used to demonstrate the “safety” of abortion procedures did not include adequate follow-ups on the women it studied, she added, meaning there may have been deaths or complications later on that the study missed.

    O'Sullivan pointed out that throughout her medical career, she has aided women through many difficult pregnancies, and had never once had to perform an abortion.

    “Abortion is not absolutely indicated under any circumstances,” she said.

    There are occasions, she clarified, when a lifesaving procedure for a mother may indirectly result in a child’s death, but this is not the same as an abortion. An example, she said, could be the situation of a severe hemorrhage in a mother’s placenta, known as Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

    “In that case, we have to deliver the placenta,” she explained.

    “The secondary thing that's going to happen is that that baby is not going to survive...the intent is not to kill the baby, but the intention is to remove the placenta. So in that case, yes, if you do not deliver her, [the mother] could well die.”

    Even a situation like DIC is extremely rare, she reiterated.

    “The most important thing is that pregnancy is generally followed by a very good, healthy outcome for both mother and baby,” she concluded. “And with good medical care, even better.”

    Users who left comments on the New York Times website argued that all successful abortion procedures, even if they may be “safer” for the mother, result in the death of the unborn child.

    “Every child has a right to life. Every child,” O’Sullivan said.

  4. Steubenville, Ohio, May 22, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Franciscan University of Steubenville announced Wednesday the appointment of Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, as the university’s seventh president. Several prominent Catholic alumni of Franciscan said Pinvonka’s appointment is positive news for the university.

    Pivonka is the first alumnus of Franciscan University to be named to its top post. The priest, who graduated from the school in 1989, will begin presidential duties immediately and be formally installed in a ceremony later this year. He has served previously as a vice president at the university, and in other administrative and teaching roles.

    Curtis Martin is a 1993 master’s graduate of the university, and was given an honorary doctorate by the university at its commencement ceremony this month.

    Martin is the founder of national campus ministry apostolate FOCUS. He told CNA that Pivonka’s appointment is “great news for Franciscan University!”

    “In each of my encounters with Fr. Dave, I have been impressed by his commitment to Christ and the new evangelization. He is the perfect choice to keep Franciscan University as the leading force for equipping young leaders for a lifetime of dynamic, Christ-centered renewal.”

    Lay evangelist Chris Stefanick, founder of Real Life Catholic, is also a graduate of the university.

    Stefanick said he expects “great things” from Pivonka’s leadership.

    “Franciscan University has remained the hub for dynamically orthodox Catholicism under the two presidents since Fr. Mike [Scanlan]. That said, get ready for a renewal like the university hasn’t seen since Fr. Mike took the helm in 1974.”

    Stefanick referred to the renewal of Catholic identity the university experienced under the leadership of Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR. Scanlan led the university from 1974 to 2000. When he took the helm, the school was a failing regional college on the verge of financial collapse. By the time Scanlan retired, the university had gained a global reputation for “dynamically orthodox” Catholicism, and for graduates reaching leadership roles across the Catholic Church.

    Dr. Timothy Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, a Colorado-based graduate school offering degrees in theology, is one such graduate.

    Gray told CNA that “Fr Pivonka brings tremendous faith and passion to the leadership of Franciscan University and he will continue its amazing service to the Church in the new evangelization. I can think of no one better to continue Franciscan’s spiritual leadership than Fr David Pivonka. This is good news indeed!”

    Congressman Jeff Fortenberry earned a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University in 1996. Fortenberry told CNA that Pivonka is “faithful, sacrificial, and approachable.”

    “America has been devastated by corruption and loss of once-great Catholic institutions— Franciscan must remain strong in a world screaming for meaning,” Fortenberry added.

    National Catholic Register editor-in-chief Jeanette DeMelo is a 1998 graduate of the university, and received an honorary doctorate from the school in 2018.

    DeMelo told CNA that “I have no doubt that Fr. Dave understands what makes Franciscan unique. He experienced it himself as a student and, in a way ever since then, has carried that experience to others through his pastoral ministry.”

    “I remember Fr. Dave from my days as a student, when he had recently returned from his graduate studies and became a faculty member. Students loved him. He is energetic, vibrant and a convincing preacher much like Fr. Mike [Scanlan] was.”

    Pivonka “will build well on the foundation built by his predecessors, especially the recent work of [outgoing president] Fr. Sean [Sheridan], who has led at a time of intense growth as well as pivotal moment in the wider culture,” DeMelo added.

    Alumni of the university are not the only ones to praise Pivonka’s appointment.

    The Diocese of Steubenville told CNA that Bishop Jeffrey Montforton sent a letter to Pivonka, congratulating the priest on his new role.

    “I look forward to our collaboration along the lines of Franciscan University these coming years. I also look forward to our ministerial relationship and sharing our Lord Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters throughout the region,” Montforton wrote.

    “I have every confidence you will be a great blessing to everyone at Franciscan, a university I hold in high regard.”

     

  5. Salt Lake City, Utah, May 22, 2019 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- An actor who has been featured in dozens of homosexual pornographic films has announced his exit from the industry and his entrance into the anti-porn movement.

    Markie More, a porn star of six years, disclosed on Monday that he is now working with Fight the New Drug - an organization that educates about the dangers of pornography addiction.

    “I’ve decided that I’m officially done with the adult industry,” said More on Twitter.

    “If you’re wondering, I’ve quit because I can no longer promote lustful and deviant behavior. Lust is a monster, and the more you feed it, the hungrier it becomes,” he added.

    The 26-year-old’s former employer, Next Door Studios, still has some already-created pornographic content that may be released in the future, but More says he is not looking back as he exits the industry.

    He said he is not out to spread hate but to show an accurate depiction of how pornography harms people.

    “I’ve witnessed porn destroy numerous people, friendships, relationships, families, etc. It does far more harm than good for people,” he tweeted on May 18.

    QueerTY reported that More’s resignation comes five months after he accused the vice president of production at Next Door Studios, Rocco Fallon, of making violent threats. Porn Star Paul Canon said he left for similar reasons.

    According to Towle Road, More had previously decided to exit the industry in 2017, but later changed his mind, stating that the porn industry had helped him in self-discovery.

    However, recently on Twitter, he said his actions in the porn industry were not always a true representation of himself.

    “Unfortunately, telling people you fantasize real love isn’t something a studio wants you to say. So, instead I told lies, not even good ones either. I sincerely apologize for misleading you. I will only speak truths from this point forward,” he said.

    More said he is now recovering from spending the last six years in the porn industry. In his Twitter bio, he directed those suffering from porn addiction to a link for Fight the New Drug.

    Founded by Clay Olsen and Jason Carroll, Fight the New Drug has released numerous reports on the correlation between pornography addiction and various negative effects, including increases in violence toward women, distorted sexual tastes, and damaged relationships.

    The group describes itself as “a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.”

  6. Washington D.C., May 22, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Joe Biden would support federal laws protecting abortion rights, “should it become necessary.” The former vice president is the current frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination often references his Catholic faith in political speeches, publicly making the sign of the cross as a punch-line to jokes and displaying a rosary worn on his wrist.

    Biden’s position was announced by campaign staff on May 21 in response to questions from the Associated Press. His staff further clarified that he would support immediate efforts to enshrine the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in Federal law.

    The announcement marks the latest evolution in Biden’s views on abortion policy over a 50-year career in politics. Earlier on Tuesday he released a video criticizing recent state-level pro-life laws as “pernicious” and “wrong.”

    Shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision found a legal right to an abortion throughout a pregnancy, Biden said in a profile interview with the magazine “Washingtonian” that he did not agree with the court’s conclusion.

    “But when it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother,” said Biden. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

    By 2007, his last year in the Senate prior to becoming vice president, Biden had been given a zero rating by the National Right to Life Committee. The last time Biden received a score above zero from the National Right to Life Committee was in 2003-2004.

    Biden received a 75% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America during his last year in the Senate, having received perfect 100% ratings from the organization in 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

    Previously, Biden had been in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions in the United States. In 1994, he reassured one of his constituents in a letter that he was guided by the principle that “those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” and that he had voted more than 50 times against the federal funding of abortions.

    Twelve years ago, in his 2007 book “Promises to Keep,” he described his position on abortion as “middle-of-the-road,” and he reiterated his opposition to both federal funding of abortions and partial-birth abortions.

    On May 4, he was asked by a volunteer with the American Civil Liberties Union if he supported “abolishing” Hyde, and he quickly answered “Yes.”

    In the 2012 vice presidential debate against Rep. Paul Ryan, Biden described himself as agreeing with the Church’s view on abortion but that he “refuse(s) to impose that on others, unlike my friend here,” referring to Ryan.

    “I do not believe we have a right to tell women that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor,” Biden said.

  7. Rome, Italy, May 22, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Italian March for Life was held Saturday as thousands of people from Italy and around the world rallied and marched one mile through the center of Rome to protest legal abortion and to support the pro-life cause.

    But forty-one years after the legalization of abortion in Italy, some members of the pro-life movement in the country look to the United States as an example of the fight that lies before them – and the progress that can be made in more than forty years of marching for life.

    The Italian “Marcia per la Vita” was itself modelled after the U.S. March for Life in Washington, D.C., which is now in its 45th year; but March organizer Virginia Coda Nunziante said Italy seems to be much further from the possibility of overturning its abortion law.

    Italy’s “law 194,” established in 1978, made abortion legal for any reason within the first 90 days of pregnancy, and afterward for certain reasons with the referral of a physician. Since abortion’s legalization in Italy, it is estimated more than 6 million children have been aborted.

    Nunziante referenced the Alabama’s law outlawing abortion in her final remarks at the March for Life May 18.

    She called it a “first step” reached only after more than 40 years of dedication to the cause, and encouraged March participants to take energy from this fact to keep fighting the “great moral and civil battle” and to grow in determination “not to retreat” from the defense of innocent human life.

    In comments to EWTN News, Nunziante said that “unfortunately, we’re not so close” to overturning legalized abortion in Italy, and that she sees part of the challenge to be the influence legal abortion has had on the culture.

    “The law really enters in the minds of people, and especially young people,” she said, “so this is the reason why we want to have the March and we want to keep the debate on the social and political level.”

    Nunziante, who has participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. several times, said she started the Italian version because she saw the impact of the U.S. March on encouraging a culture of life, especially among young people.

    The March for Life in D.C. was also the inspiration behind the start of the Italian University Students for Life.

    Chiara Chiessi, a student in Rome and the president of “Universitari Per La Vita,” said she was moved by the size of the pro-life demonstration in D.C. when she attended in 2016 and was struck particularly by the large participation of young people.

    She told EWTN News that despite Italy’s strong cultural Catholicism, she finds the environment to be largely unsupportive of their group’s pro-life efforts.

    “It is very, very difficult, because I think there is a crisis of faith,” Chiessi said, “so people don’t have the courage to show the reality of facts...” She also noted a lack of support from university chaplains in some cases.

    Chiessi explained that praying or protesting outside abortion clinics, a common practice of some American pro-lifers, is only just beginning to take place in Italy, and culturally, she thinks many Italians are embarrassed to make such public demonstrations for the pro-life cause.

    “It is not very, very easy, but we know that we have to go forward and not have fear about that,” she said.

    Nunziante also noted a resistance among many Catholics in Italy to “go into the public square.”

    She recalled the fear this generated when they first started the March for Life. But hearing Benedict XVI tell the U.S. bishops in November 2011 that Catholics should bring their voice to the public square encouraged them.

    “So, we understood that it was the right moment to do this, so even if it is an effort, we have to do it,” she said.

    Meanwhile, the March for Life in Italy continues to grow each year, with views towards leveraging international participation so “that Rome and the Roman March can become a hub for the whole world,” Nunziante said.

    Home to the Vatican, “Rome is the capital of the Catholic world,” she argued. “So, I think that people from all the other countries, who are engaged in the pro-life movement, are very interested in being in Rome, because from Rome you can give a voice to the whole world.”

  8. Lourdes, France, May 22, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa, and Lt. Gen Chris Cavoli, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, are two of the highest-ranking members of the American military.

    And over the weekend, they joined the thousands of military pilgrims who traveled to Lourdes seeking healing and peace.

    Harrigian and Cavoli were asked to join the official American delegation to the International Military Pilgrimage, Warriors to Lourdes. Warriors to Lourdes is a program of the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

    Although the two generals are both Catholic, neither had been to Lourdes previously. Both explained to CNA how their faith impacts their military career, and what the pilgrimage meant to them.

    Harrigian has been in his current position for only a few weeks, but joined the Air Force in 1985 and attended the Air Force Academy.

    “I wanted to fly airplanes,” he explained, which led to him applying to the Academy.

    Harrigian was unfamiliar with the story of Lourdes prior to this trip, but he said his wife taught him about the significance of the site, and thought the pilgrimage would be fruitful for the family, for a multitude of reasons.

    “She thought it would be a great opportunity, first to experience it but also to be with some of our warriors here and have an opportunity to interact with them,” said Harrigian.

    The size and scope of the pilgrimage came as a surprise to the general, who repeatedly used the word “extraordinary” to describe the event. Approximately 12,000 servicemembers from about 40 countries traveled to Lourdes.

    "The first thing I would say is, I didn't truly understand the breadth of all the nations that participated in this,” he said. “And to have an opportunity to interact with the different nations, the families, the warriors, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that I'm not sure I truly appreciated as I read about it.”

    “But now that I'm here I find it to be an extraordinary experience," he added. Part of this experience included talking to senior French military officers and members of the Italian military.

    “The interaction has been extraordinary,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity to interact with them on a personal basis and get a sense of what Lourdes means to them as well.”

    Harrigian said that he considers his Catholic faith to be an important facet that helps him maintain balance in his life and helps him with his military duties. He told CNA he is “always praying for our troops that are deployed down-range.”

    “Reflecting on what your faith brings to you, your background, and having that underpin who you are is very important to any person,” he said. “And for me personally, it really helps in the command role that I have now.”

    Cavoli is also visiting Lourdes for the first time. Unlike Harrigian, he was very familiar with the story of Lourdes and had been wanting to visit.

    “I’ve been hearing about [Lourdes] my whole life, since I was a kid, so this is a unique opportunity to get to do something I’ve wanted to do so much,” he said.

    Cavoli told CNA that he finds his faith to be “intertwined” with his military career, and calls upon his faith to provide the graces needed to carry out the duties of his job.

    “Of course, I have my strictly military duties, which are mainly secular in nature, but the moral compass that religion gives me, the moral compass and the ethical fortitude, as well as the emotional strength to deal with what is a pretty hard profession, that helps me a great deal,” he said.

    Additionally, Cavoli credits his faith with giving him the wisdom to make the choices in tough decisions, as well as “the strength to carry on when things are hard.”

    One of the benefits of the International Military Pilgrimage is that it gives servicemembers a chance to be surrounded by people who have similar experiences and can understand and empathize.

    “It gives folks time to be together and to share their thoughts. In this case, in the context of their faith, which adds strength to the discussion.”

    Of course, soldiers, sailors, and airmen train and deploy to defend lives and to risk their own in the service of others. But an inherent truth of military service is that it can involve armed conflict and the taking of human life.

    Even in pursuit of the noblest cause or in defense against the clearest of evil, killing and death leave marks on the consciences of all those involved. The “moral injuries” of armed conflict can be as real and as in need of healing as physical wounds.

    “Moral injury is a serious thing," Cavoli said, offering that civilians could best help in the healing process by not make assumptions about the experiences of servicemen and women. Listening comes before understanding, he said.

    During the pilgrimage, there were major events for all pilgrims, and smaller events for subsets. Both Cavoli and Harrigian said that they considered a shared Mass for English-speaking pilgrims, including servicemen and chaplains from the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland at the Lourdes Grotto, to be a highlight of the journey.

    “The Mass at the Grotto was absolutely moving. It was beautiful,” said Cavoli. Afterwards, he joined a group for the Stations of the Cross, something he said added up to a “beautiful, beautiful morning” that was “just perfect.”

    Harrigian called the Mass was “a great chance to just reflect upon everything that this experience brings to the entire community of warriors that are here, along with our families.”

    And while neither had visited the baths when they spoke to CNA, both were carrying specific intentions with them.

    “Personally, internal to our family, I’m always looking for grace and the opportunity to appropriately look over all those that I work with and work for, in the role that I currently have,” Harrigian told CNA. He said he was extremely grateful to the Knights of Columbus for orchestrating Warriors to Lourdes, which he called “an incredible event.”

    Cavoli had similar intentions, saying he would be praying for “Peace, my soldiers, [and] my family.” He has appreciated his time in Lourdes, saying it was a place that made him feel “very calm” and fully aware of the presence of God.

    “It’s just a wonderful pilgrimage,” he said.

  9. Vatican City, May 22, 2019 / 11:49 am (CNA).- The Vatican's Financial Information Authority said in their annual report Tuesday that they continue to catch cases of fraud involving the city state's financial institutions, including a case of money laundering.

    The report, presented to journalists March 21, showed that there were 56 Suspicious Activity Reports filed with the AIF in 2018, down from 150 in 2017.

    SARs filed over the last three years have led the AIF to investigate cases of money laundering and financial fraud within Vatican financial entities.

    Among these appears to be the case of Argentine Msgr. Patrizio Benvenuti, who was arrested and charged with financial fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering in 2016.

    Sums worth around 9 million euros were seized from Benvenuti’s non-profit organization, Kepha Invest. It is believed he defrauded some 300 people out of around 30 million euros ($33.5 million).

    The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to supervise the Vatican’s financial activity and prevent and counter money laundering. It investigates suspicious activity and then passes the information on to the competent authorities for prosecution.

    The competent authority may be a foreign state or the Vatican’s Office of the Promoter of Justice.

    Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and any non-profit organizations which have registered offices in the Vatican City State fall under the supervision of the AIF, which may take measures to counter and prevent money laundering and terrorism financing as well as undertake “prudential supervision” of financial activities.

    The AIF also monitors and reviews actions carried out by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings, and the Institute for Religious Works, which is commonly called “the Vatican bank,” though a misnomer.

    During 2018, the AIF referred 11 cases to the Office of the Promoter of Justice. The report gave limited to no information on the conclusion of those cases. The report gave four example cases from the last three years, the investigations of which were completed in 2018, but without identifying information.

    One of the examples given likely refers to the case of Angelo Proietti, who was convicted by a Vatican court in December 2018 of money laundering and sentenced to two years and six months in prison. The conviction is currently under appeal. This was the Vatican tribunal’s first conviction for money laundering.

    Another example likely refers to the case against Angelo Caloia, president of the IOR from 1989-2009, and his lawyer, Gabriele Liuzzo, who were indicted March 5, 2018, on accusations of having embezzled money from Vatican real estate sales during the years 2001-2008.

    The report also lists the AIF’s uncovering of a fraudulent “branch” of the IOR in Spain. The alleged non-profit organization presented itself as a canon law foundation, like the IOR is, and used the name of the Vatican institution to elicit donations. The head of the network was also falsely posing as a diplomat.

    According to the report, the AIF collaborated with the Financial Intelligence Unit in Spain and “the beneficial owners of the company were arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy, and sums of money and valuables, including firearms, were seized.”

    Also, in 2018, the AIF exchanged information with counterpart authorities in foreign jurisdictions in 488 cases, and signed eight new “Memoranda of Understanding,” meaning it now has agreements with financial intelligence units and supervisory authorities in 57 countries.

    René Bruelhart, president of the AIF, told journalists May 21, “if we look back in 2018, I think it has been a very positive and also encouraging year."

    While he said challenges still exist, now they have the systems in place to tackle them. “At this point, I think a fully functioning system has been implemented and achieved,” he said. “The path we are walking on has become a well paved one... and we continue moving forward.”

  10. Steubenville, Ohio, May 22, 2019 / 09:58 am (CNA).- Franciscan University of Steubenville announced that Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, has been appointed the university’s seventh president.

    “It’s both humbling and an honor to be chosen to lead Franciscan University of Steubenville,” Pivonka said in a May 22 statement.

    “Over 30 years ago, I first arrived at Franciscan as an undergrad and received an outstanding education as well as life-changing spiritual formation as part of a dynamic, Catholic intellectual and faith community,” he added.

    Pivonka will assume presidential duties immediately, and be formally installed as president at a date not yet determined.

    A 1989 graduate of the university, the priest has a long affiliation with the school. He served in 1998 and 1999 as assistant to Fr. Michael Scanlan, and is closely associated with Scanlan’s tenure at the university.  

    Scanlan is the long-time university president who is credited with imbuing a failing regional college with a sense of “dynamic orthodoxy,” introducing the charismatic renewal to its campus, stabilizing the college financially, and attracting faculty and students from across the country.

    Pivonka played a key role in one of Scanlan’s major initiatives: the university's “household” system. Households, small single-gender, dorm-based faith communities, were among the aspects of university life Scanlan introduced in order to support the faith formation of students. Pivonka served as director of household support from 1996 to 1998.

    The priest has also served as director of the university’s well-known youth conferences, a professor of theology, director of the school’s Austria program, and as vice president for mission and planning from 2003 to 2005.

    In recent years, the priest has led Franciscan Pathways, an evangelistic initiative of his Francscan province, focused on conversion, spiritual formation, and the Holy Spirit in the lives of Catholics. In that role, he produced “The Wild Goose” video series on the Holy Spirit, as well as other documentaries and pastoral videos.

    Pivonka “brings a unique array of perspective, experience, and qualifications to this role. His work as a nationally known preacher and evangelist combined with prior senior-level administrative experience at Franciscan will serve the University well,” the university’s board chairman, Fr. Malachi Van Tassell, TOR, said in a March 22 statement.

    In addition to an undergraduate degree from Franciscan University, Pivonka has an MA in theology from Washington Theological Union, a doctorate in education from the Graduate Theological Foundation.

    The priest’s appointment follows the tenure of Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, who announced last month that he would resign after nearly six years in the role.

    David DeWolf, vice chair of the university’s board of trustees, said that after Sheridan’s resignation, the university board searched for “ a president who was led by the Holy Spirit, a champion for dynamic orthodoxy, and an exceptionally strong executive who understands and values the unique culture and demands of academia and the importance of strong collaboration between the president and the faculty.”

    “After significant prayer and a robust interview process, it quickly became clear that Father Dave Pivonka possesses all of these qualities,” DeWolf said.

    Pivonka takes the reins after the university has faced questions about the handling of historical sexual harassment cases, and its manner of addressing sexual assault claims made by students. Scanlan, in particular, has been criticized for his apparent response to allegations of sexual misconduct made against a fellow Franciscan priest.

    In his last year as president, Sheridan also faced criticism from some faculty members and internet-based groups and blogs, who questioned his commitment to ensuring a faithfully Catholic approach to university education, especially following a January incident in which a professor was found to have used a text with inflammatory passages – termed "blasphemous" and "obscene" by critics – for an advanced reading course.

    Sheridan apologized to those disturbed by the text’s use, and highlighted the importance of forming students “to do battle against the blasphemy and heresy rife in our culture today.”

    Pivonka said May 22 that he is eager to being his new appointment.

    “A lot has changed in our culture in the last 30 years, but Franciscan University continues its mission to provide a superior education in a vibrant faith community where students and parents alike can be confident in their choice of Franciscan University.”