Pope Francis tells Catholics not to abuse God's mercy


Vatican City, Mar 24, 2019 / 07:09 am (CNA).- The mercy of God is not an invitation to “spiritual laziness,” but requires a sincere and prompt response from those who want to grow in holiness, Pope Francis said Sunday.

“Despite the barrenness which sometimes marks our existence, God has patience and offers us the possibility of changing and making progress on the path of good,” the pope said March 24.

However, the chance for conversion is not limitless, he said. “We can rely heavily on God’s mercy, but without abusing it. We must not justify spiritual laziness but increase our commitment to respond promptly to this mercy with sincerity of heart.”

In his address before the Angelus, the pope reflected on the call to conversion, as depicted in the parable of the fig tree in the day’s Gospel.

In the parable, a man decides to cut down a fig tree in his vineyard because it has not produced any fruit in three years, and he does not want to expend the resources of the land on this barren tree.

But when the man speaks to the farmer who works in the vineyard about cutting down the tree, the farmer asks him to wait one year more and that during that time, he will cultivate and fertilize the land around the fig tree so that it may have the possibility to bear fruit in the future.

“What does this parable represent?” Francis asked. The owner of the land represents God the Father, and the farmer represents Jesus, while the fig tree “is a symbol of indifferent and arid humanity,” he said.

Like the farmer, Jesus intervenes on behalf of humanity, asking for a little more time for “the fruits of love and justice” to grow.

“The fig tree that the owner of the parable wants to uproot represents a barren existence, without fruit, incapable of giving, of doing good,” he said. “It is the symbol of one who lives for himself, satisfied and calm, laid down in his comfort, unable to turn his eyes and heart to those who are close to him and find themselves in a state of suffering, in a state of poverty, of discomfort.”

This state of “spiritual barrenness” is countered by the great love of the farmer for the fig tree, he stated. “He has patience, he knows how to wait, he dedicates his time and his work to it. He promises his master to take special care of that unhappy tree.”

Francis explained that this parable “manifests the mercy of God,” which gives us time for conversion.

“God is the Father and does not extinguish the weak flame, but accompanies and cares for those who are weak so that they may be strengthened and bring their contribution of love to the community,” he said.

Lent, in particular, is a time in which the Lord invites his children to conversion, he said, adding that, “each of us must feel challenged by this call, correcting something in our lives, in our very way of thinking, acting and living relationships with others.”

“We can think in this Lent, what should I do to get closer to the Lord?” he said, adding to not be tempted to put conversion off until “next Lent,” because no one is guaranteed another year.

“Each of us, think today: what should I do before this mercy of God that awaits me, and that always forgives? What should I do?” he asked.

He concluded by asking the Blessed Virgin Mary to help Catholics live Lent “as a time of spiritual renewal and trusting openness to the grace of God and to his mercy.”

After the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed for the success of the discussions underway in Nicaragua since the end of February and focused on resolving the “serious socio-political crisis facing the country.”

“I accompany the initiative with prayer and encourage the parties to find a peaceful solution for the good of all as soon as possible,” he said.

Francis also recognized the Church in Italy’s celebration of the “Day of Remembrance for Missionary Martyrs” and the many bishops, priests, religious sisters, and lay faithful who have been victims of violence.

Forty missionaries were killed in 2018, he said, noting that the number is almost double the number of missionaries killed the previous year.

It is “a duty of gratitude” for the whole Church to remember the sacrifice of those killed for their faith in Jesus, even in these times, he stated.

Recalling recent attacks in Nigeria and Mali, the pope also prayed a ‘Hail Mary’ for the dead, the wounded, and their families, and for the conversion of hearts.


Kazakhstan bishops issue statement supporting Archbishop Chullikatt


Astana, Kazakhstan, Mar 19, 2019 / 10:55 am (CNA).- The bishops’ conference of Kazakhstan issued a statement of support Tuesday for Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, apostolic nuncio to that country, who has recently been accused of financial and personal misconduct during his time of service as the Vatican’s chief diplomat at the United Nations.

“Archbishop Chullikatt has been working very earnestly for the good of the people and the Church in Kazakhstan,” the conference said in a communique issued March 19.

“Immediately after his arrival, with zeal and joy he started visiting all the parishes of Kazakhstan. He has been working very hard for the good of all of us here and we are particularly grateful for all the assistance he gives to the Bishops’ Conference. Besides, he is involved in good projects at various levels (educational, social, charitable etc.) for the people of Kazakhstan.”

“For us, Archbishop Chullikatt is the kind of Nuncio, we Bishops in Kazakhstan would like to have with us at least for a few more years,” the statement continued.

Chullikatt led the Holy See’s permanent observer mission at the U.N. from 2010 until 2014. He became apostolic nuncio to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in 2016.

On March 15, Catholic News Agency reported allegations from former officials and employees of the Holy See’s U.N. mission office that Chullikatt had mismanaged some financial matters, especially those concerning the payment of employees and contractors, and that he had reportedly engaged in an inappropriate romantic relationship while he led that office.

That report detailed allegations made by three priests who had been in service to the U.N. mission during Chullikatt’s tenure. Since publication, an additional priest, also a former official of the U.N. mission, confirmed to CNA his knowledge of the misconduct which had been reported.

Crux first reported the allegations of financial misconduct March 11, in a report that also said information about the archbishop’s alleged financial misconduct was reported to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in 2013, and that the archbishop remained in his post for another six months after those reports were filed.

The communique from the Kazakhstan bishops said that “all these almost past three years of his presence in Kazakhstan we heard only good things about Archbishop Chullikatt from the priests, religious sisters and from our lay people, as well from those who work at the Apostolic Nunciature in Astana.”  

“There was not noticed the slightest suspicion about Archbishop Chullikatt’s moral conduct or any improper behavior towards women. According to our information, his dealings and treatment towards his collaborators and employees in the Nunciature is marked by kindness, courtesy and tact. We never heard any complaint in this regard.”

On March 11, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N. issued a statement saying that during the time Chullikatt led the mission, “the visa status of all members of the diplomatic, technical and service staff of the Mission, whether religious or lay, was fully in line with the applicable provisions of U.S. State Department regulations.”

“The remuneration received by the members of the service staff of the Mission at the time was higher than the minimum salary required at the time by the laws of New York and included a generous compensation package (contributions on a pension fund, health and dental insurance, a 13th month benefit, a fully furnished apartment, a full month’s paid vacation and daily meals),” the statement added.

The statement from the Kazakhstan bishops’ conference, signed by Bishop Jose Luis Sierra, president of the conference, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, its secretary general, said that “we are pleased to recognize the Statement from the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations...which states that the employment conditions and the visa status of all members of the diplomatic, technical and service staff of the Mission during the tenure of Archbishop Chullikatt were fully in line with the laws of New York and the applicable provisions of U.S. State Department regulations.”

“Thereby the relevant accusations" reported in the Crux and CNA articles “against Archbishop Chullikatt have been proven to be unfounded with regard to this concrete issue.”

“We also wish to recognize with sincere gratitude the important role played by Archbishop Chullikatt during his mission at the United Nations as a staunch defender of the unborn, of the traditional marriage and the institution of the family, often in close collaboration with many friendly Muslim-majority countries, including Kazakhstan,” the bishops’ statement added.

“We express our hope that Archbishop Chullikatt can continue his exemplary apostolic work in Kazakhstan with many spiritual fruits and we wish him strength and abundant Divine blessings.”

 


Pope Francis accepts resignation of Chilean cardinal accused of cover-up


Vatican City, Mar 23, 2019 / 09:21 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Saturday accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, who has faced accusations that he was involved in covering up the crimes of several abusive priests.

Cardinal Ezzati’s resignation was originally submitted to Pope Francis in May 2018, along with the rest of the Chilean bishops. The pope March 23 named Bishop Celestino Aos Braco, OFM Cap., to oversee the Archdiocese of Santiago as apostolic administrator until the appointment of Ezzati’s successor.

Ezzati, 77, is the eighth Chilean bishop to have his resignation accepted since last May. The cardinal has come under scrutiny by Chilean authorities for the possible cover-up of the crimes of abusive priests Fernando Karadima, Rigoberto Tito Rivera Muñoz, and Oscar Munoz Toledo. He denies covering up any abuse.

In an interview with Informe Especial this month, Cardinal Ezzati denied knowing and giving money to Daniel Rojas Alvarez, who was about 40 when he was sexually assaulted by Fr. Rigoberto Tito Rivera Muñoz in a room of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral in 2015.

Rojas claims he told Cardinal Ezzati of the attack during a confession, and that the archbishop asked him to pray for the abuser, gave him 30,000 pesos ($45), and asked him not to share what had happened.

In the Informe Especial interview, Ezzati said: “I hear confessions in the cathedral, especially during the time of Holy Week, but I am not aware of having heard his confession, because I don’t know him and still less am I aware of giving him a hug and telling him that a priest would give him some money in my name, that’s not it, this is all very unfortunate, but that’s not the case.”

Asked if he ever had contact with Rojas, the cardinal said “no.”

Chilean police raided several archdiocesan offices last summer after Rivera Munoz was linked to a suspected network of 14 abuser-priests in the neighboring Diocese of Rancagua, approximately 40 miles south of Santiago.  

During one of the searches, authorities discovered a 2013 letter from a former bishop of Rancagua to Ezzati criticizing the cardinal for his response to victims of Fr. Fernando Karadima. Karadima was a serial abuser of minors whose relationship with Bishop Juan Barros triggered a scandal that has engulfed the Chilean Church for months.

Ezzati later invoked his legal right to silence after being summoned for questioning by a state prosecutor.

The intended questioning was likely to have been focused on what the cardinal knew about his former archdiocesan chancellor, Fr. Oscar Munoz Toledo, who was arrested in July 2018 following allegations he sexually abused seven minors.

Munoz has already admitted to sexually abusing one minor, but investigators believe the archdiocese may have been aware of as many as four of his victims. Ezzati was called as prosecutors consider his involvement in a potential cover-up of Munoz’s crimes.

According to Crux, Ezzati's replacement to manage the archdiocese of Santiago, Aos Braco, was charged in 2012 with investigating abuse allegations by former seminarians against five priests of the Diocese of Valparaiso, Chile.

As the diocesan promoter of justice, Aos Braco reportedly spent three months looking into the allegations before dismissing them on a lack of evidence. One of the accused priests has since died and the others have either been suspended from ministry or are being investigated for abuse, Crux reports.