Pope Francis’ words on women

By Junno Arocho Esteves


Pope Francis talks with a woman during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 18 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME (CNS) — International Women’s Day is a day that celebrates the social, cultural, political and economic achievements of women.

Pope Francis has often spoken on their achievements and contributions to the church, but has honored their pivotal role in the history of salvation — from the bravery of Judith who rallied the people of Israel to trust in God to the courage of Mary who through her “yes” to God, brought forth the savior of the world.

Here are just some of the pope’s words on the importance of women in the world and in the church:

Posted in CNS

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, March 5, 2017

"The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being." -- Genesis 2:7

“The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” — Genesis 2:7

March 5, First Sunday of Lent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7

      Psalm 51:3-6, 12-13, 17

      2) Romans 5:12-19

      Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11


By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

Was the original sin of Adam and Eve a matter of simply disobeying God’s command to not eat of a certain tree when tempted by a snake? Or was it a deeper issue: falling prey to the devil’s false promise that they could attain equality with God by partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?

Upon attaining equality with God, their creator would henceforth become unnecessary, they thought. Life in the Garden of Eden would be splendid without divine supervision!

In March 2014, three college roommates bought a used couch for $55 from a Salvation Army thrift shop in New Paltz, New York. After noticing odd lumps in the old couch, they opened it up to find $40,000 in cash, plus a receipt with a woman’s name.

They called the woman and learned that she kept her life savings in the couch. At 91 years old, the woman had gotten quite ill and entered a hospital, where her family expected her to die, so they started liquidating her property, giving the old couch to the Salvation Army. However, she survived and had returned home.

The poor, broke students returned the money, bringing tears of joy to the woman.

Eve and Adam’s mistake was refusing to believe that they were already created in the image of God. Seeking equality with God is preposterous, not something to be grasped at.

The students who returned the money personify the difference between living in the image of God versus acting equal to God. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us that Jesus is the source of redemptive grace and model of unconditional love.

Bearing fruitful grace and love, the students made a sacrifice, knowing it was the right thing to do.

No human has the authority to act equal to God, deciding matters of life and death. Pursuing a life without God is the devil’s folly. Surpassing intellectual knowledge, true wisdom draws us into right relationship with our creator and savior.

Lent means “springtime.” May we humbly return to the garden, purified of suffocating weeds, and blossom in God’s image as fruitful flowers of faith.


Why do we see others, but not ourselves, as images of God? Is doubt the devil’s doorway?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: The spirit of the Gospel and the letter of the law

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Fifth in a series)

ROME — For six years during middle school and high school, I studied Latin as a foreign language. My teachers constantly repeated the phrase, “Lingua Latina non mortua est” or “the Latin language is not dead.” I am very glad that I listened to their constant exhortations because in this week’s seminars my class at the Gregorian studied canon law as it pertains to sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

In today’s blog, though I am not claiming to be an expert, I will briefly cover the “recent” history of canon law in terms of prosecuting offenders in the church. You can find a more detailed history on the Vatican website. It is my hope that this explanation will give you some insight into the changes that have taken place within church law, and where the law stands today. This will be helpful when you read about abuse cases that arise in the media, since those articles do not typically touch upon this subject.


Pope Benedict XV

First off, the full, original Code of Canon Law (which governs the entire Catholic Church) was promulgated by Pope Benedict XV in 1917. Five years later, an Instruction, known as Crimen Sollicitationis, was developed to create procedures for dealing with delicts or canonical crimes. These procedures, which were updated in 1962, were provided for dioceses to respond in a special way to sexual solicitations by priests that occurred strictly during the Sacrament of Penance. Other crimes known as “crimen pessimum,” which included the crime of sexual abuse of children, were treated similarly. It wasn’t until 1983 that an updated code was promulgated by St. John Paul II to more comprehensively codify the way to respond to the larger issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

You can find that major addition to the 1983 Code in Canon 1395 § 2 which states, “A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force of threats or publicly with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.” In 1994, the age of minors was raised from 16 years old to 18 years old for the United States, by request.


Code of Canon Law books for the Latin and Eastern Catholic churches. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

So when a member of the clergy is accused of these crimes, where do the trials take place? Until 2001, canonical trials regarding sexual abuse were conducted in individual dioceses, and appeals and recourse were heard by the Roman Rota and the Congregation for the Clergy. It was not until April of that year, with the promulgation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela that trials would be conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Some other trials reserved for the doctrinal congregation include heresy, apostasy, schism and desecration of the Holy Eucharist. This shows the weight with which the Vatican considers the crime of sexual abuse of minors.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, promulgated a revised text of Sacramentorum. Some of the changes included: the addition of “a person who habitually lacks the use of reason” as being the equivalent of a minor; the addition of the “acquisition, possession, or distribution of child pornography” as a delict or crime; the ability to present cases directly to the Holy Father; and the extension of the “normal prescription for action against a delict from 10 years to 20 years … with due regard to the right of the (doctrinal congregation) to derogate from prescription in individual cases” — meaning a case of sexual abuse of a minor can be heard up to 20 years after the last day of a minor’s 18th year, unless the congregation decides it has enough evidence to hear the case anyway. However, individual dioceses in the United States provide assistance to those who have been abused regardless of when the abuse occurred.


Pope Francis outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Of course, this is just a brief summary of some of the many aspects of canon law as they relate to sexual abuse of minors by clergy. There is also Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio, “As a Loving Mother,” which focuses on the removal of bishops in cases of grave negligence of abuse; issues concerning religious institutes (CIC Canons 695 and 1717); and the “Essential Norms” that are currently in place as specific law for the United States.

Ultimately, all of our laws must emanate from the words of Jesus himself, who in the Gospel admonishes those who hurt children and calls for us to care for the children in our midst. I hope this overview of canon law as it relates to clergy who have sexually abused a minor will be helpful as you continue to read about cases that emerge in the media. If you are interested in learning more, you can contact your local canonist, read the Code of Canon Law, or visit the Vatican website. Ci sentiamo presto!








Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 


Posted in Protecting Children blog

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Feb. 26, 2017

"I will never forget you." -- Isaiah 49:15

“I will never forget you.” — Isaiah 49:15


Feb. 26, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

     Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 49:14-15

      Psalm 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

      2) 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

      Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34


By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

I will be showing my age and possibly run the risk of losing many Generation X and millennial readers when I use this example, but sometimes when I feel at the end of my rope, or look around at the state of the world or even look at how my day-to-day life can seem out of control, I often think of a 1970s television show called “Hee Haw.”

There was a recurring segment that featured a song with the lyric:

Gloom, despair and agony on me

Deep, dark depression, excessive misery.

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all;

Gloom, despair and agony on me.

The song was meant to be comedic, but there are times in my life when I take this lyric quite literally.

We all go through times of doubt, worry and despair. For some, this state of mind can be persistent. There are no simple answers or one-size-fits-all remedies. Even the powerful words of the holy Scriptures are not some kind of divine magic formula that, when read, come with a guarantee to ease all symptoms and launch us into euphoria. Yes, miracles happen, but they are not the sole guarantee of God’s presence in our life.

God is present and aware of every moment of our life. While he does from time to time step in and dramatically impact the created order, more often than not God chooses to walk with us through the hard times to help us grow in holiness.

This week’s readings give us some hope and some advice as to what to do when our world becomes too much.

First, the hope: The prophet Isaiah says: “Can a mother forget her infant? … Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

Then, Jesus reveals what we should do when we are overwhelmed: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” He means, stop focusing on yourself and the temporal world and look to him and his kingdom.

But not only that. Also seek to be righteous or holy like he is holy. Then, and only then, will there be perspective and peace. We might feel lost, but we are not forgotten.


How does it feel to realize that God never forgets you? What are some things you do to seek first the kingdom of God?

Posted in Word to Life | 2 Comments

Protecting children: Healing needs listening, respect, justice

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Fourth in a series)

ROME — When Pope Francis came to the United States in September 2015, many people followed his trip with excitement. Much attention was paid to the Holy Father’s visit to the White House and Capitol Hill and to what His Holiness would say to our president and congressional leaders.

But one of the less visible parts of the pope’s trip was his meeting with victims of sexual abuse at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. During that meeting, Pope Francis apologized for the abuse that many had suffered, for the times when those abused were not heard or believed, and for the times some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children. He also made a promise to support the continued healing of those abused.


Pope Francis meeting church leaders at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Sept. 27, 2015. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

This week at the Pontifical Gregorian University, my class learned how to play our own small part in fulfilling that ongoing promise. First and foremost, it is important to listen to victims or those who have been abused. Listening to the needs of someone who has been abused opens the door to dialogue and support that can begin the healing process. I would also like to note that in some cases, it is better to use the words “those who have been abused” rather than “victim” or “survivor” to reflect an individual’s wish to not be defined by their abuse, especially if they have worked to finally overcome the suffering they experienced.

Another crucial part of the healing process for those who have been abused is bringing an offender to justice. Although in some countries there is not a legal obligation under civil law to report abuse to law enforcement, representatives of the church always have a moral obligation to do so. In the United States, in accordance with civil law, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People requires dioceses to report to public authorities an allegation made by a person who is a minor. Dioceses are also to cooperate with public authorities even when the person is no longer a minor. When it comes to abuse, the church has a zero-tolerance policy, meaning priests who abuse are to be removed from ministry. These requirements are found in Article 4 and 5 of the Charter.


Members of a victims’ group in Valletta, Malta, where Pope Benedict XVI met in 2010 with people who had been abused by clergy. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Restorative justice was another concept that we discussed in class. Restorative justice is concerned with restoring the relational connections between a victim of crime and his or her family, friends, community and institutions. Some forms of restorative justice have already been incorporated into the church’s outreach efforts, such as family group conferences, circles of healing, and victim/offender mediation. Again, these forms of healing are focused on active listening as a restorative tool. This is a very simplified explanation of restorative justice and there are many different forms and aspects of this important approach to healing and justice. If you are interested, there are many resources available online to learn more. You may also contact your local “victim assistance coordinator” to discuss available forms of restorative justice in your diocese.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak with one of my classmates, Father Paul Balassa, a priest and professor at the Grand Seminaire de Philosophie Benoit XVI in Togo. Father Balassa, who is also a psychologist, explained some of his experiences related to restorative justice and the idea of healing the relationships between victims of crime and their environment.

promiseFather Balassa’s experience in hospitals made him realize that while much focus is placed on taking care of the medical problems of victims of crime, there can be a major gap on how much time is spent on fixing the problems a victim may have developed in terms of his or her relationship with family, colleagues and society-at-large. For this reason, Father Balassa and a community of social workers, psychologists, clinicians and family support workers have been working on a new initiative to support victims of abuse of any kind by holistically repairing those bonds that may have been broken. The group, called PsyMed Togo, is one example of the many steps taken by my classmates to support victims in repairing their minds, bodies and souls. I am interested in speaking to my other classmates over the next few weeks to see what they are doing in their own dioceses as well.

pledgeThe final words Pope Francis spoke during his meeting with victims in Philadelphia were, “I humbly beg you and all survivors of abuse to stay with us, to stay with the church, and that together, as pilgrims on the journey of faith, we might find our way to the Father.” My class and I share in that sentiment as we continue to study at the Gregorian and seek to better assist and support those who have been abused as they follow their path to healing.

– – –

Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 


Posted in Protecting Children blog

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Feb. 19, 2017

"I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." -- Matthew 5:44

“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” — Matthew 5:44


Feb. 19, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18

      Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13

      2) 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

      Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48


By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

A grieving mother, speaking to the press after her son was charged with a deadly act of terrorism, is incredulous. “I don’t know where this came from. We have a loving home. Our family always has been respectful and caring,” she says. “Why would he do this? That’s not who we are!”

We hear that phrase often lately. For instance, congressional leaders condemning torture as a means of getting information from enemies note, “That’s not who we are!” An official of a city that had been making progress in race relations laments a hate crime, “That’s not who we are!”

Their point is that our family, our country, our community is not one that lives by the power of subjugation and violence. It’s not in our makeup. As a people, we renounce such conduct.

This weekend’s Scriptures, in both the Old Testament and Matthew’s Gospel, exhort God’s people to take no revenge on those who hurt them and, in fact, to love their enemies.

According to Leviticus, God tells Moses to instruct his people thusly, “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge.” Why? God explains simply, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

In other words, don’t be a vengeful people, because that’s not who we are!

Jesus encourages his disciples in the same way, if I may paraphrase: You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you offer no resistance to the one who is evil — because that’s not who we are!

This is one of the most difficult teachings to follow. It’s human nature to strike back when someone harms or threatens us. More than once have I convinced myself that even if two wrongs don’t make a right at least it’ll make me feel better. But it doesn’t. It just incurs more sin.

These Scriptures emphasize that being the people of God is not about seeking reward for our actions. It’s more fundamental than that: It’s about our actions growing out of who we are.

Call it integrity; call it honor. God calls it being holy.


Presently, who do I see as my enemies and what are the greatest challenges to loving them? What must I do to overcome those obstacles?

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Protecting children: Being our brother’s keeper

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Third in a series)

ROME — On Monday, classes at the Gregorian kicked into full gear for the Diploma in Safeguarding of Minors. We were happy to have the opportunity to begin the day with Mass in the university’s chapel. The first reading from Genesis 4 recounted Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel. The Gospel from Mark 8, described how the Pharisees asked for a sign from Jesus, which Jesus did not provide because of their lack of faith. Based on the readings, the main celebrant, Jesuit Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, who is also the rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, preached a great homily to my class.

promiseTwo simple messages from his homily still remain with me. First, as Catholics, we are indeed our brother’s keeper. We must be concerned with how others are being treated. Second, it is our duty to be the signs of Christ’s love in the world, especially as it relates to the protection of children and care of survivors of abuse. Christ, who is the “way, the truth and the life,” must be the source and foundation of our efforts if they are to be truly effective. This is something I have written in previous blogs, and will probably write again, because it is so important to remember.

Following Mass, my class received an official welcome from our professors. We were also introduced to some of the doctoral students who will be conducting post-doctoral seminars every week as a continuation of their previous work on the issue of abuse.

pledgeThe rest of the week our classes centered around three topics: culture and childhood, terms and definitions, and restorative justice. These are just three of the dozens of topics we will be covering over the next 12 weeks. For this week’s blog, I would like to reflect on some ideas we discussed regarding culture and childhood.


Girls at a protest against child marriage in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 18, 2017. According to UNICEF, in 2016, 52 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before the age of 18, one of the highest rates in the world. (Photo credit: CNS/EPA)

The first is that different cultures have different concepts of when childhood begins and ends. For example, in some cultures, individuals are considered to be adults when they reach 14; in other cultures, 18. The concept people have of childhood varies based on their traditions, laws and culture (including religion); they do not base their concepts of childhood strictly on biological or psychological factors. The U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms define any sexual activity between an adult and minor under the age of 18 as abuse.

Another thing we learned is that economic status impacts the rate of abuse of minors. For example, a 2013 study of children in Argentina conducted by Observatorio de la Deuda Social showed that children whose families were in the bottom 25th percentile of income were twice as likely to be exposed to physical abuse as those in the top 25th percentile of income. The reasons for this discrepancy are many and would need much more space than this brief blog post.

epaselect epa04664840 A child stands in a slum behind Nile City Towers, in Ramlet Bulaq neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt, 16 March 2015. Ramlet Bulaq's residents live in run-down shacks and lack basic facilities, such as running water. They make for an extreme juxtaposition with the gleaming Nile City Towers, home to wealthy companies, a nightclub and the Fairmont Hotel, which has a swimming pool on its roof. During an investment conference that wrapped up activities on 15 March, the Egyptian government signed a 45 billion dollar agreement with an Emirati company to develop a new administrative capital east of Cairo. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

A child stands in a slum in Cairo, Egypt. In this 2015 photo, residents lack basic services, such as running water. They live alongside a wealthy neighborhood featuring the Nile City Towers, home to big businesses, a nightclub and hotel. (Photo credit: CNS/EPA)

These are just two small pieces of what we covered in regards to culture and childhood. We began with this topic because it is important to be well-versed in cultural differences before preparing to implement protection and assistance policies in another country or culture.

Next week I look forward to both the seminar on psychology with Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Center for Child Protection, and the seminar on developmental psychology with Jesuit Father Xavier Hwang. Ci sentiamo presto!

Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 


Posted in Protecting Children blog | 1 Comment