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Posted on 12/1/2023 23:20 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 18:20 pm (CNA).
At a congressional hearing on Thursday, members of Congress and human rights activists urged Nicaragua dictator Daniel Ortega to immediately release imprisoned Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who they said is being mistreated and possibly tortured.
The hearing, which was held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and chaired by New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, was titled “An Urgent Appeal to Let Bishop Álvarez Go.”
Among the witnesses testifying were several Nicaraguan exiles who had undergone or witnessed the inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the Ortega regime.
Mike Finnan, a representative for Smith, told CNA that the identities of these witnesses were kept secret “for their safety and the safety of their families.”
Smith said during the hearing that Álvarez, the 56-year-old bishop of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, “is an innocent man enduring unspeakable suffering.”
The regime, run by Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, has been targeting the Catholic Church in the country. Smith said that “bishops and priests as well as worshippers have been harassed and detained” and that the international community “can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening to the people of Nicaragua, including and especially to people of faith.”
Álvarez, a beloved bishop in Nicaragua and a critic of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s human rights violations, was arrested by Nicaraguan authorities on Aug. 19, 2022. After refusing to go into exile he was convicted of treason on Feb. 10 and sentenced to over 26 years in prison.
For most of the time since then, Álvarez has been kept in Nicaragua’s Modelo prison, which is known for its particularly cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, according to testimony given by Nicaraguan witnesses on Thursday.
A former prisoner of the Ortega-Murillo regime was among those who testified during Thursday’s hearing. The witness, who was exiled to the U.S. and arrived in the country in February, testified that while he was in prison he was mistreated by authorities and underwent more than 30 interrogations in which “they blackmailed me and threatened the lives of my relatives.”
“They wanted me to declare that the bishop was a member of an organization that wanted to promote a coup d’état against Daniel Ortega and that he received money from the U.S. government and the European Union,” the witness said.
Another witness who testified during the hearing, a parent of a Nicaraguan political prisoner, shared how on a visit to Modelo prison, she found young prisoners tortured and maimed and kept in poor, unsanitary conditions.
“There were some young men, maybe 15, 16 years old, you could see the tortures they had been subjected to,” the witness said. “I remember that one of them lifted up his pants and showed me his calf, it had been burned with acid; he could not bend the fingers of his hands due to the tortures.”
In response to demands for proof that Álvarez is still alive, the Nicaraguan dictatorship’s Ministry of the Interior released new video and images of the bishop on Tuesday.
In a Nov. 28 press release, the Ministry of the Interior stated that the video and photos show that “the conditions of [Álvarez’s] confinement are preferential and that the regimen of doctor’s appointments is strictly complied with as well as family visits, the sending and receiving of packages, contrary to what slanderous campaigns try to make you believe.”
According to Smith, however, the video of Álvarez released this week by the government of Nicaragua “raises serious questions and concerns about his well-being.”
Smith told CNA on Friday that he is going to continue pressuring the Ortega regime to release the bishop and cease its persecutions through increased sanctions.
He said that the video reminded him of a visit he made to a communist gulag under the Soviet Union in which prison officials tried to convince him that the detainees were well-fed and happy by staging food and forcing them to smile.
Though the video shows seemingly comfortable chairs and couches and food on a table, he said that witnesses who survived imprisonment by the Nicaraguan government informed him that “none of that’s real.”
“It’s all one big fat façade of disinformation because they live a horrible, horrible life in prison and with beatings and other kinds of maltreatment,” Smith said.
“He has lost weight; is he ill?” Smith asked during the hearing. “Is he being provided proper nutrition and basic medical care? We have no idea what is going on day to day.”
Throughout his captivity, Smith said, Álvarez has shown incredible courage and fortitude.
“I am in awe of his courage, faithfulness, and kindness,” Smith said. “And I know so many others in Congress, House, Senate, Democrat, Republican, people in the White House, we’re in awe of his goodness and his extraordinary strength. Bishop Álvarez deserves to be respected and revered and free, not persecuted and incarcerated.”
“We’re really going to keep ratcheting up the pressure,” Smith went on. “I’ve been asking to go and visit with him in prison to ascertain for myself and anyone who goes with me, his welfare, his whereabouts … and the biggest hope would be to walk out with him as a released prisoner.”
What are other groups saying?
The Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), also joined in the push for the Nicaraguan dictatorship to release Álvarez this week.
Kristina Hjelkrem, an ADF Latin America legal counsel, said in a Thursday statement that the group was “grateful to the subcommittee for raising the critical issue of religious persecution in Nicaragua and for hosting this vital congressional hearing.”
“Bishop Álvarez has been harassed and unjustly imprisoned by the Nicaraguan government for simply fulfilling his duties as a Catholic bishop,” Hjelkrem went on. “No person should be punished or prosecuted for expressing their faith.”
Deborah Ullmer, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the National Democratic Institute, also testified at the hearing. She said Álvarez “has become the courageous face of resistance in Nicaragua.”
Ullmer said Álvarez’s imprisonment violates several international human rights laws and agreements and suggested several actions the U.S. could take to pressure the regime to release the bishop.
Among her suggestions, she said the U.S. should impose stricter sanctions on Nicaraguan officials and Nicaragua’s central bank. She also said that the U.S. should work more closely with friendly Latin American countries “to advance high-level regional dialogue toward a democratic transition.”
“The Ortega-Murillo regime continues to dismantle democratic institutions, erase the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, and consolidate its dictatorial power,” Ullmer said. “It is essential to call out the ongoing crimes against humanity and violations of fundamental human rights endured by Nicaraguans, including Bishop Álvarez.”
Posted on 12/1/2023 23:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).
In a Nov. 28 interview with “What We Need Now,” the Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver explained what motivated him to write a pastoral letter on the dangers of using recreational marijuana and drugs and proposed some principles to deal with this reality, which he himself has witnessed since the legalization of cannabis in Colorado in 2012.
In the interview posted on Substack, the archbishop warned that the legalization and cultural acceptance of drugs has been “devastating” for society and explained why he decided to write his Nov. 10 pastoral letter, “That They May Have Life.”
“I felt a need to speak about the devastating effects witnessed firsthand, especially since many states have followed Colorado’s lead. The legalization of marijuana and cultural acceptance of drug use has been disastrous to our society, and there are limited Catholic resources about it,” Aquila said.
Regarding the current perspective that there are “recreational” drugs, as some maintain, the prelate pointed out: “Understanding that we are persons created for loving communion, we can judge that drugs are only an apparent good. They are bad for us since they hinder our ability to know and to love.”
“Drugs diminish our self-possession by harming the very faculties that make us human: They inhibit our use of reason, weaken our will’s orientation toward the good, and train our emotions to expect quick relief from artificial pleasure,” he warned.
The archbishop of Denver noted that the Scriptures teach that “we are made in the image of God. And, as if this isn’t enough, we are invited to eternal union with him.”
“We can sum up the two foundational principles that explain why recreational drugs are immoral,” the prelate continued.
“1) Since the human person is of such value, it is wrong to use any substance that is harmful to human life. 2) Anything that diminishes man’s use of reason and will assails his dignity as a human person and is therefore harmful.”
Aquila also noted that “drugs assault the human person by negatively affecting him on physical, intellectual, psychological, social, and moral levels.”
Regarding the belief that marijuana is not harmful, the archbishop commented that in Colorado they have “witnessed a spike in addiction, with marijuana use disorder more than doubling in a span of less than 20 years. This is not surprising since Coloradans’ cannabis use has increased dramatically since legalization [in 2012].”
“More people using marijuana inevitably means more addiction,” he pointed out.
A response from a faith perspective
The archbishop of Denver said that at the “heart of drug use” two themes are usually found: “a crisis of values and a privation of relational connection that make the person open or susceptible to drug use.”
“While drugs offer fleeting pleasure,” Aquila explained, “Jesus wants to give us a fullness of love, joy, and peace that remains constant through life’s peaks and valleys. Rather than reaching for chemicals when we are feeling weary and burdened, Jesus invites us to turn to him, who promises rest and abundance.”
To conclude, he noted that “the most important thing we can do as Christians in response to a drug culture is to proclaim the Gospel.”
“It is through the love, mercy, meaning, and hope found in Christ that people will be deterred from drug use or inspired to break free of its influence,” Aquila stressed.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.
Posted on 12/1/2023 22:40 PM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 17:40 pm (CNA).
Former U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a swing vote who became a key part of the court’s longtime abortion-supporting majority, died Friday. She was 93 and had been suffering from dementia for several years.
Born Sandra Day in El Paso, Texas, in 1930, she grew up on a ranch in eastern Arizona. She was baptized an Episcopalian and later attended Episcopal churches as an adult.
She went to Stanford and Stanford Law School at a time when few women did either. As an undergraduate, she dated future Supreme Court colleague William Rehnquist and turned down an offer of marriage from him. Instead, she married another fellow law school student, John O’Connor.
As a female lawyer during the 1950s, she initially had trouble getting work but eventually joined a prosecutor’s office. She took five years off from practicing law after the birth of the second of her three children to tend to them.
In 1965 she joined the office of the Arizona attorney general, a Republican, after campaigning the year before for the Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, a fellow Arizonan. In 1969 the governor appointed her to fill a vacancy in the Arizona Senate, where she rose to become majority leader. She left in 1974 for a state judgeship, eventually rising to the Arizona Court of Appeals, which is the second-highest court in the state.
O’Connor and abortion
President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court in July 1981, fulfilling a campaign promise to name the first woman to the nation’s highest court.
Reagan was unaware at the time of her selection that O’Connor as a Republican state senator in the 1970s supported abortion, according to conservative columnist Robert Novak’s 2007 autobiography “The Prince of Darkness.” When social conservatives erupted over the announcement, Reagan asked his attorney general to check on complaints about her.
The task went to a young aide, who called O’Connor and reported in a memo that she said she could not recall how she had voted on a 1970 bill seeking to legalize abortion in the state — even though she was a co-sponsor of it. (Before the Internet, it wasn’t easy to check such information.)
She also told the aide — Kenneth Starr, who later served as independent counsel investigating President Bill Clinton during the 1990s — that she “had never had any disputes or controversies” with the leader of the pro-life movement in Arizona, according to a memo Starr wrote. But the pro-life leader told Novak a couple of days later that she had frequently clashed with O’Connor, calling her “one of the most powerful pro-abortionists in the Senate.”
Even so, O’Connor’s nomination went forward and sailed through the U.S. Senate.
Once she joined the court, O’Connor’s position on abortion wasn’t immediately clear. In 1986, she voted with the minority in a 5-4 ruling that struck down a Pennsylvania law that required abortion providers to inform a woman seeking an abortion about fetal development and about “detrimental physical and psychological effects” and “particular medical risks” of an abortion.
O’Connor in her dissent called the court’s abortion decisions to that time “a major distortion in the Court’s constitutional jurisprudence” and said the majority’s decision in the case before it, Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “makes it painfully clear that no legal rule or doctrine is safe from ad hoc nullification by this Court when an occasion for its application arises in a case involving state regulation of abortion.”
But her most memorable abortion vote came in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which she joined the 5-4 majority in upholding what the court called the “essential holding” of Roe v. Wade that abortion is a “fundamental right” before a fetus is capable of living outside the womb.
In Casey, O’Connor co-wrote the plurality opinion that continued a federal right to abortion for another 30 years.
‘Loosen up, Sandy’
O’Connor was a key player in other landmark decisions as well.
In 1986, she joined the majority in the 5-4 decision Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld as constitutional a state statute in Georgia that criminalized sodomy. (The court overturned that ruling in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas; O’Connor joined the 6-3 majority, though she made a distinction between the two cases because Texas’ law banned sodomy only between two members of the same sex, while Georgia’s statute banned sodomy generally.)
In 2003, O’Connor wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld affirmative action based on race in public university admissions. (The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Grutter decision in June 2023 in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard.)
In 2005, she sided with the 5-4 majority in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union that found that displays of the Ten Commandments at two state courthouses in Kentucky violated the Constitution.
She is perhaps better remembered, though, for what happened during a social occasion several years after she joined the court.
In 1985, O’Connor went to a black-tie event in Washington where she was seated near John Riggins, a Washington Redskins star running back, who had drunk “a few beers” and two double scotches before knocking over and spilling four bottles of wine on the table.
O’Connor had previously said she had to leave early and was in the process of doing so when Riggins, trying to get her to stay, piped up: “Loosen up, Sandy baby.”
He then passed out.
O’Connor got a kick out of it and got big laughs when she made a reference to it at the beginning of a speech a few days later.
O’Connor retired from the court in January 2006 at age 75 to spend time with her husband, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease around the early 1990s. (He died in 2009.)
O’Connor was replaced by Samuel Alito, who has since become one of the most conservative justices and who wrote the majority decision in Jackson Women’s Health Center v. Dobbs, which last year overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Posted on 12/1/2023 21:42 PM (The Daily Register)
Posted on 12/1/2023 21:09 PM (The Daily Register)
Posted on 12/1/2023 21:02 PM (The Daily Register)
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Posted on 12/1/2023 20:20 PM (CNA Daily News)
Rome Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).
The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation awarded its annual Ratzinger Prize this week to two Spaniards, the theologian Father Pablo Blanco Sarto and the philosopher Professor Francesc Torralba, the first time the award was held since the passing of the late pontiff last December.
The award ceremony took place in the frescoed state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace on the evening of Nov. 30 and discussed the legacy of Pope Benedict’s rich theological works, focusing specifically on the theme of dialogue between faith and reason, one of the major concerns of his pontificate.
“The legacy of Pope Benedict XVI is alive and will continue to bear important fruits to the path of the Church,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said at the event.
Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Ratzinger Foundation and Vatican spokesman during Benedict’s pontificate, opened the event reflecting on Benedict’s deep contribution to the understating of the relationship between faith and reason.
“Joseph Ratzinger never wanted to build his own system of thought or establish his own school but taught us to seek the truth with the power of reason and the light of faith, always keeping reason ‘open,’ in dialogue between people, disciplines, and the great religious traditions,” Lombardi said.
The pope “was well aware of the possibilities and risks of humanity’s journey, as well as of the Church’s mission for its salvation. He leads us to enter with humility and courage at the deepest level to find and rediscover points of reference and solid and inalienable communities,” Lombardi continued.
The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, established in 2007, aims at “the promotion of theology in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger.” There have been a total of 28 recipients of the award — usually two recipients per year — since it was first bestowed in 2011.
The recipients this week were introduced by Cardinals Gianfranco Ravasi and Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, with each reflecting on their work on Benedict’s theology.
“Ratzinger defined Christianity as the religion of the words but also the religion of ‘agape’ and, therefore, both are key,” Torralba said in an interview with EWTN. “We have to introduce rationality in our public life because it is very marked by emotionalism and sometimes by fanaticism and fundamentalism, but on the other hand, the world needs agape and agape is donation, it is gratuitous love.”
The morning of the award ceremony, the recipients celebrated Mass in the Vatican Grotto, where they then prayed before the tombs of St. Peter and of Pope Benedict XVI. They were then received by Pope Francis in a private audience.
The award ceremony of the Ratzinger Prize was preceded by a conference held at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Nov. 29 titled “Benedict XVI’s Legacy: Unfinished Debates on Faith, Culture, and Politics,” which featured a range of speakers and scholars, both from Italy and the United States.
The event was co-sponsored by the foundation as well as the University of Notre Dame’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.
For Father Roberto Regoli, professor of history at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the conference was an opportunity to evaluate the legacy of the late pope on both the present moment and for posterity, with Regoli describing Benedict’s pontificate as one not of “restoration” but rather characterized by ecclesial reforms and “consolidation” and of “dialogue.”
“One of the characteristic elements of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was that of an intellectual opening and a meeting with exponents of other cultural and religious traditions,” Regoli said.
“This attitude allowed for various cultural repositioning by those with whom he established a dialogue,” he said. “This dialogue responded to a frequent preoccupation that ‘a civilization cannot survive without a great religion to sustain and animate it.’ But the pope’s motivation for dialogue is much more profound, because it is primarily a pastoral concern.”
“Benedict XVI’s legacy is thus simple and full of faith; it is the vision of a beautiful Church that is the work of God and not of man,” Regoli continued.
“His heritage is this radical faith in God. It is an aspect of no little importance in a tired and self-destructive era which exalts man but, in the end, it continuously humiliates him. Benedict XVI chose both faith in God and in man. He chose the harmony between faith and reason. This is his heritage.”