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Pope Francis Meets Iraqi Catholics in Church Where 48 Died in 2010 Terrorist Attack

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Pope Francis meets with Iraqi refugees before flight to Baghdad

Rome Newsroom, Mar 5, 2021 / 03:40 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met with Iraqi refugees in Rome early Friday before his flight to Baghdad.

The pope spent a few moments with about a dozen refugees from Iraq and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, according to a statement from Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, on March 5.

The Iraqi refugees have been assisted by the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio and the Auxilium Social Cooperative since their arrival in Italy.

The meeting took place just before 7 a.m. as Pope Francis was leaving for Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport to board his Alitalia flight for Baghdad.

The papal plane is scheduled to touch down in Iraq at 2 p.m. local time. Pope Francis will be the first pope in history to visit Iraq.

Upon his arrival at Baghdad International Airport, the pope is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the airport before visiting Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace, where the pope will give a speech to a gathering of civil authorities.

Later on Friday evening, Pope Francis will visit local Iraqi Catholics inside the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, also known as Sayidat al-Nejat, the site of a suicide attack by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq during Sunday Mass in 2010 in which 52 people were killed.

On the eve of his flight to Iraq, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and protection on his travels.

Pope Francis is visiting Iraq on March 5-8 in a trip intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and to foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

In just over three days, Francis is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with political leaders, prominent Muslim clerics, and Christian communities.

“I am coming as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim, to implore from the Lord forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism, to beg from God the consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds,” Pope Francis said in a video message published March. 5.

The True Story of a Catholic Chaplain War Hero: Father Emil Kapaun’s Life and Legacy

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Despite denials, HHS nominee Xavier Becerra sued to take away nuns' religious freedom rights

Denver Newsroom, Mar 5, 2021 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Xavier Becerra, US president Joe Biden’s nominee for HHS secretary, did indeed sue to take away the religious exemptions for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and it is only “technically true” for the California attorney general to claim that he sued the Trump administration, not the Catholic sisters who joined the case in order to defend against threats to their rights, says an attorney involved in their case.
 
“This very afternoon I have to go to a hearing against Mr. Becerra in his lawsuit against the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket legal group, told CNA March 2. “I think Mr. Becerra is suing nuns. He is at the very least litigating against the Little Sisters as we speak.”
 
Rienzi’s legal group has supported the Little Sisters of the Poor in their opposition to the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services mandate which requires employers to provide coverage of sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortions. The Little Sisters have secured multiple court victories, and the Trump administration crafted religious and moral exemptions for groups affected by the mandate.
 
Rienzi described the situation by invoking the way parties to a case are named, on different sides of the “v.” abbreviation for “versus.”
 
“For the last three-plus years, (Becerra) has been on one side of the ‘v.’ and the Little Sisters have been on the other side of the ‘v’ and he’s been trying to take away their religious liberty rights,” said Rienzi.
 
In 2017, Becerra, in his role as the attorney general of California, sued the Trump administration over these exemptions. Becerra’s lawsuit, as well as a lawsuit by Pennsylvania against the administration, resulted in the nuns’ appeal to the Supreme Court. The court in 2019 allowed them to intervene in the case to defend their rights, and ultimately ruled in their favor in July by upholding the Trump administration’s religious and moral exemptions.
 
Becerra on Feb. 24 appeared at the U.S. Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. There, he rejected claims that he was suing nuns.
 
“I have never sued any nuns. I have taken on the federal government, but I have never sued any affiliation of nuns,” said Becerra. Rather, his actions were directed at federal agencies that “have been trying to do things that are contrary to the law in California.”
 
The Washington Post in a Feb. 26 fact check analysis, “Biden’s pick for HHS sued the Trump administration, not a group of nuns,” tended to side with Beccera’s interpretation, but also acknowledged the Little Sisters’ interest in the case.
 
“California is suing the federal government, challenging a Trump administration policy that exempts some employers from providing contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Little Sisters of the Poor voluntarily joined that case, taking the Trump administration’s position that the exemptions were legally valid,” Salvador Rizzo’s Washington Post column said.
 
However, Rienzi emphasized the importance of the case for the Little Sisters because of “the threat of what the original federal mandate was going to do.”
 
“If they wouldn’t violate their religion, it would impose $75 million in fines on the sisters,” he said. “When the federal government finally got it right and said ‘okay we’ll exempt you, sisters, you don’t have to do this,’ that’s when Becerra and the states sued to try to get that mandate back.”
 
The Little Sisters had to act, he said: “It’s the looming threat against everything you do that your govt is either going to tell you, violate your religion or shut your doors.”
 
“It’s certainly true that the sisters have won at every stage. They keep winning because this is a ridiculously bad claim that Becerra and others are pushing,” he said. “But they’ve had to fight to get to that point to preserve their ministry of caring for the elderly and caring for the people in need. That’s the burden. That’s the threat. That’s the harm.”
 
Becerra’s case aimed to secure a ruling that exemptions are not required.
 
“In other words, the whole theory of the California case is that there shouldn’t be injunctions like that because federal law doesn’t allow for religious liberty exemptions like that,” said Rienzi.
 
“Technically I suppose the Little Sisters or anybody else could have just sat on the sidelines and watched Becerra and California have a lawsuit designed to take away their rights. But as it was their rights at issue, the federal judge said it was correct that they belonged in the lawsuit. They showed up to protect their rights in the lawsuit,” he said.
 
In another case involving Becerra and nuns, a group of Catholic nuns was affected by the state’s universal abortion coverage mandate. They did not fight the mandate in court, but did file a complaint with the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit alleged that their religious freedom was being violated by having to provide abortion coverage in health plans.
 
The HHS office in January 2020 ultimately found that Becerra violated federal conscience laws, and gave him 30 days to comply with the law. Becerra refused, and in December the agency announced it would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California.

Besides religious freedom, Becerra’s confirmation hearings focused on abortion. He did not directly answer whether he would support taxpayer-funded abortion and did not explain his previous opposition to a 2003 ban on partial-birth abortions. He indicated he wanted to expand access to chemical abortions, citing patients’ use of telehealth technology to consult doctors remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate Finance Committee voted in a party line 14-14 vote March 3 to advance Becerra’s nomination to the Senate floor.

Pope Francis in Iraq: ‘The Name of God Cannot be Used to Justify Acts of Murder’

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Pope Francis Meets with Iraqi Refugees Before Flight to Baghdad

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Investigation: Cardinal Wuerl received $2 million in 2020 for ‘ministry activities’

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2021 / 05:32 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington DC who stepped down in 2018 amid scandal, received over $2 million from the archdiocese last year for unspecified “ministry activities,” an investigation has found. 



A March 3 examination of the archdiocese’s financial records by The Pillar found that Wuerl was allocated $2,012,639 for “continuing ministry activities” during fiscal year 2020.



The amount appropriated to Wuerl is up from approximately $1.5 million in 2019. The archdiocesan financial statement does not detail what “continuing ministry activities” the funds facilitated. 



In contrast, the amount the archdiocese allocated for “Formation of priests” declined slightly from $1.1 million in 2019 to just over $1 million in 2020. 



Similarly, “Archdiocesan charitable giving” in 2020 was listed at just over $401,000, down from just over $651,000 in fiscal year 2019. 



The Pillar confirmed that Wuerl gave at least one retreat to a group of U.S. bishops in January 2021. The archdiocese did not respond to The Pillar’s questions about what other ministry responsibilities, if any, the archdiocese had given Wuerl.  



Revelations during summer 2018 about the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick raised questions about whether Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor, was aware of McCarrick’s misdeeds. 



McCarrick was found to have sexually abused both minors and adult seminarians and priests, and Pope Francis laicized him in Feb. 2019. 



For his part, Wuerl has insisted he knew nothing about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct until 2018.



But previous reporting by CNA, as well as the recent McCarrick Report, found that Wuerl was made aware in 2004 of inappropriate conduct, apparently not of a sexual nature, on the part of McCarrick involving an adult. 



Though Wuerl forwarded a report of the alleged misconduct to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., no record has been found that the nuncio, who by that time had fallen seriously ill, ever forwarded it to the Vatican.



The McCarrick Report also details a 2010 incident whereby Wuerl advised against then-Pope Benedict sending a birthday greeting to McCarrick because there remained “the possibility that the New York Times is going to publish a nasty article, already prepared, about the Cardinal’s ‘moral life.’”



Wuerl, 80, was appointed to lead the Washington archdiocese in May 2006. Pope Benedict XVI named him a cardinal in 2010. He was previously Bishop of Pittsburgh since 1988.



Wuerl had submitted his resignation to the Vatican in 2015 upon turning 75, as is the requirement for bishops. 



Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation in Oct. 2018 at Wuerl’s request, but asked him to remain as Apostolic Administrator until the appointment of his successor. In May 2019, Archbishop— now Cardinal— Wilton Gregory was installed in Washington. 



The archdiocese of Washington released a statement March 4 following The Pillar’s report, saying the funds in the “continuing ministry activities” account are donations “made by persons who want to cover Cardinal Wuerl’s expenses and ministerial needs.”



These include “living expenses, prior travel for business in Rome, as well as for charitable requests asked of the archbishop emeritus,” the statement said, adding that the “donations have accumulated over time.”



However, The Pillar noted that the funds allocated for Wuerl are classified as “net assets without donor restrictions,” meaning they are not subject to “donor imposed restrictions stipulating how, when and/or if the net assets are available for expenditure.”



The designation appears at odds with the archdiocese’s statement that the funds were donated with the specific intention of covering Wuerl’s expenses. 



The Pillar contacted the archdiocese to ask specifically about the funds’ designation—  which is regulated both by state law and the IRS— and did not receive a reply by press time. 



“All the expenses of Cardinal Gregory and Cardinal Wuerl are reviewed by members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council throughout the year. All expenditures go through the Archdiocese’s normal budget and internal control procedures, which are also audited by an accounting firm annually,” the archdiocesan statement concluded. 



The U.S. bishops’ conference has guidelines for providing for retired bishops, recommending that their diocese give them a stipend of at least $2,250 per month, as well as housing, health insurance, a car, travel expenses, secretarial assistance if needed, and a suitable funeral and burial.



McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor, is known to have funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars through what was known as the Archbishop’s Fund, and reportedly made gifts to senior Vatican officials, even while the fund remained under the charitable auspices of the archdiocese.


The Archdiocese of Washington has so far declined to disclose sources, sums, and uses of money, though it has acknowledged that the fund exists.