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Florida bishops plead with DeSantis to spare life of death row inmate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a campaign stop in Salem, New Hampshire, on June 1, 2023. / Credit: JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Jun 2, 2023 / 11:25 am (CNA).

Florida’s Catholic bishops are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a stay of execution for a convicted murderer who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 15.

Duane Owen, 62, was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of a 14-year-old babysitter, whom he stabbed to death and then sexually assaulted. He was also sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of a single mother whom he beat to death with a hammer.

Owen would be the fourth person to be executed in Florida this year, the sixth to die by capital punishment during DeSantis’ administration.

In a May 31 letter on behalf of the bishops to DeSantis, Michael Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB), appealed to the governor to grant a stay and commute Owen’s sentence to life without parole.

The letter acknowledged the suffering Owen has caused but stated the bishops’ opposition to the death penalty and belief in the sanctity of life.

“His senseless and horrific acts tragically ended the lives of these young women and have caused immeasurable grief and suffering to the victims’ families, loved ones, and communities,” the letter reads. “However, taking Mr. Owen’s life will not restore the lives of the victims. Intentionally ending his life will do nothing but perpetuate violence in a society steeped in it.”

“Justice does not demand state-sanctioned killing that disrespects the dignity and sacredness of human life,” the bishops said in the letter. “Rather, justice is best served by the alternative punishment of lifelong incarceration. Society must be kept safe from Mr. Owen and those like him, but that can be done effectively without resorting to more violence.”

The letter said there are “notable mitigating circumstances” in Owen’s case that argue for granting him a stay of execution.

“He was raised by alcoholic parents who both died when he was a very young child, he lived in an abusive orphanage, endured physical and sexual abuse, and suffered from organic brain damage. Such traumatic experiences and injuries have been shown to profoundly affect a child’s development and subsequent behavior,” Sheedy wrote on behalf of the bishops.

DeSantis had issued an executive order May 22 to delay Owen’s execution in response to Owen’s attorneys’ statement that their client had been declared insane after a psychiatric evaluation.

One week later, DeSantis issued another executive order for Owen’s execution to proceed as planned after a panel of state-appointed psychiatrists established Owen’s mental competency.

The order said the psychiatrists had concluded: “Owen has the mental capacity to understand the nature of the death penalty and the reasons why it is to be imposed upon him.”

The Florida bishops recently condemned DeSantis, a Catholic, for signing a bill that would make it easier to impose the death penalty in the state. The bill eliminated the requirement of a unanimous jury when recommending a capital punishment sentence. The death penalty can now be imposed with only an 8-4 majority of the jury.

“As Florida persists in its implementation of the death penalty, the process should be as reliable and just as possible. Unanimity is required in every other circumstance when a jury is summoned in Florida. The harshest punishment that the state imposes should require the strictest standards,” the bishops said in an April 13 statement.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267).

The change reflects a development in Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” 

Report: Gänswein ordered to leave Vatican, return to home diocese without new role

Archbishop Georg Gänswein was the personal secretary of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. / Credit: ACI Press

CNA Newsroom, Jun 2, 2023 / 06:34 am (CNA).

According to a German newspaper report, Pope Francis ordered Archbishop Georg Gänswein to leave the Vatican and return to Germany by the end of June. 

The longtime private secretary of Pope Benedict XVI has been told to return to his home diocese of Freiburg in southwest Germany but has not been given any role or assignment, the Welt newspaper reported on Friday. 

According to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language partner agency, the report claims Pope Francis informed the 66-year-old Gänswein of his decision during a private audience on May 19. 

Gänswein had not responded to a request by CNA Deutsch by the time of publication, and the Vatican has not issued any communication on the matter.

The future role of the late Benedict’s secretary has been the subject of rumor and gossip across Rome and the Church in Germany for months. Previous speculations included the claim that Gänswein would serve as papal ambassador in Costa Rica. The eloquent prelate is fluent in several languages, including German and Italian.

According to the German media report, Pope Francis “referred to the custom that the former private secretaries of deceased popes did not remain in Rome.”

A longtime secretary to Benedict, Gänswein also served as prefect of the Papal Household to both Benedict and his successor, Pope Francis, until February 2020.

Hailing from the Black Forest region of Germany, the son of a blacksmith was ordained a priest in 1984 by Archbishop Oskar Saier in Freiburg and holds a doctorate in canon law from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. 

Gänswein is expected in Germany later this week: He is scheduled to preside over Mass on Sunday, June 4, for an annual pilgrimage to the Cistercian monastery of Stiepel near Bochum, in Western Germany.

AFRICA/SUDAN - Resumption of clashes: Missionaries remain on site

Khartoum - The fighting in Khartoum has intensified and 18 people have died and 106 civilians have been wounded in clashes between air raids and heavy artillery in the middle of residential areas. This is confirmed by a statement from the Medical Committee. A World Food Program official also reported that militiamen used military force to seize 20,000 tons of humanitarian supplies destined for the population of the city of Al-Ubayyid.
Despite the dangerous context, the Salesian missionaries have decided to stay close to the population in the capital and in El-Obeid. Almost 50 days after the outbreak of war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces , the religious remain in Khartoum and El-Obeid to share the new difficult daily life with the parishioners and collaborators, to feed hope of peace. "When the first bombs exploded on Saturday, 15 April, the structure of the Salesian missionaries in Khartoum was halfway between the lines of the two fronts", reports the note sent to Fides. "An explosive device fell in the laboratories of the St. Joseph Vocational School, fortunately at a time when the students were still somewhere else", reported the Director of the structure, Father Jacob Thelekkadan. The religious immediately set up an aid service for the families, who asked for shelter and food, and in some cases temporary housing, the same day.
Meanwhile, the people of Sudan are hoping for a lasting ceasefire that will allow food supplies to be replenished, water and energy supplies to be restored, and humanitarian corridors to be set up to protect the population from the armed clashes between the two armies. Archbishop Michael Didi Agdum Mangoria of Khartoum called for prayer "so that reason may prevail on both sides".
In Sudan there are three branches of the Salesians of Don Bosco that have existed for over thirty years: The St. Joseph Vocational Training Center in the industrial area of Khartoum, with more than 500 students. The parish of 'St. Joseph', about 27 kilometers south of Khartoum, with more than 6,000 faithful and The "Don Bosco" Vocational Training Center in El Obeid, about 500 kilometers from Khartoum, with more than 400 students.

AFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA - "Saint Scalabrini shows us the way of welcoming migrants and refugees"

Johannesburg - "Saint John the Baptist Scalabrini is a great model to whom we can turn in prayer, because he lived what we live as Church with migrants and refugees in South Africa", said Msgr. Joseph Mary Kizito, Bishop of Aliwal and responsible for the pastoral care of migrants of the South African Catholic Bishop Conference , in his message for the first celebration of the solemnity of St. John the Baptist Scalabrini, Thursday, June 1.
"Saint Scalabrini defended the human rights of migrants. That is why we are so grateful today to have a patron saint of migrants who can intercede for us...a defender of the poor ", remarked Msgr. Kizito, who called on the people of God "to walk in the footsteps of Saint Scalabrini and call for an end to xenophobia. Saint John Scalabrini had a great vision for a better world, he wanted to see the world as a global village where all people belong".
During a seminar on cross-border migrants held in the diocese of Aliwal, Msgr. Kizito highlighted the plight of undocumented children. Although the diocese has assisted hundreds of undocumented minors in the past, the bishop of Aliwal said the diocese still has to help "many stateless minors".
"We have made some progress on the issue of undocumented children, but we are facing new challenges, especially with final year students who are still undocumented. Many of them have not received a document that allows them to take their final exams. So this is the challenge that we are facing".
During this seminar, a delegation from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Lesotho, together with officials from the Ministries of Interior of South Africa and Lesotho, met the Basotho migrant community of the diocese of Aliwal.
According to Msgr. Kizito, more than 500 citizens of Lesotho attended the seminar for migrants, refugees and stateless people. "Lesotho is our neighbour. We wanted to emphasize family unity, but they face the problem of children who do not have birth certificates and cannot go to school", he added.
Following the seminar, delegations from the South African and Lesotho Department of Home Affairs will work to assist undocumented Basotho residing in South Africa to regularize their stay.
"There are already talks and and a review of the bi-national agreement to facilitate the movement of the Basotho who work and study in South Africa and the cross-border workers who commute daily between the two countries", explained Msgr. Kizito, who had recently called human trafficking a "scandalous industry" during a seminar of IMBISA .

Church in Peru donates thousands of doses of medication to combat dengue epidemic

The Archdiocese of Piura in Peru donated thousands of medicines May 30, 2023, to combat the epidemic of dengue fever that has affected almost all regions of the country, especially Lambayeque and Piura. / Credit: Archdiocese of Piura

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 1, 2023 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Piura in northern Peru donated thousands of doses of medication May 30 to the government’s Regional Health Directorate (DIRESA) to combat the epidemic of dengue fever that has affected almost all regions of the country, especially Lambayeque and Piura. 

Dengue is a virus that is transmitted to humans through mosquitoes and can cause nausea, fever, pain, and in severe cases, internal bleeding and death.

“In the face of these terrible moments that our region is experiencing, the love of Christ impels us, and since man is the pathway of the Church, we are committed to contributing in this difficult hour to reduce the suffering of our brothers suffering from dengue and to avoid more deaths to mourn,” Archbishop José Antonio Eguren of Pirua said on May 30.

A press release from the archdiocese states that thanks to the contribution of Caritas Peru, 15,000 paracetamol pills, 1,140 bottles of oral rehydration serum, and 1,000 units of insect repellent were donated for the poorest patients. The delivery was made in a ceremony held at the premises of DIRESA’s central warehouse in Piura.

According to the National Center for Epidemiology, Disease Prevention and Control of the Ministry of Health (Minsa), as of May 29, 111,085 cases were reported nationwide with 153 deaths and 1,212 people hospitalized.

Just four and a half months into 2023, the figures are 27.82% higher than the 68,290 infections diagnosed in 2017 and 38.19% higher than those reported in 2022 (63,168), years in which dengue infection reached its highest levels.

According to data from the Regional Health Directorate (DIRESA), Piura is the region in which in recent days dengue cases have increased, reaching a total of 34,038 infected people and 40 deaths among children, adolescents, and the elderly, making Piura the region with the most deaths nationwide.

Dr. Myrian Fiestas Mogollón, director general of DIRESA-Piura, expressed her gratitude for “the new delivery of aid that will allow us to continue fighting against dengue, which is greatly affecting especially the child and adolescent population.”

“We will not shrink back in our fight. I would like to take this opportunity to send a message to all citizens: We must take great care of ourselves, we mustn’t be self confident, we must provide facilities for fumigation personnel, use repellent, and avoid at all times storing water in tanks that are outdoors, because they can become breeding sites of the mosquito,” the doctor said May 30.

On the day of the delivery, Archbishop Eguren called on all institutions, private companies, and people of goodwill to collaborate in the effort and send their donations.

“I reiterate my call and thus together we can stop the alarming increase in infections due to dengue and defeat once and for all this terrible disease that continues to threaten the health of the people of Piura and [cause] so much pain in families. It’s urgent that we all join together. Let’s defeat dengue together,” he said.

On May 31, Eguren encouraged the faithful of the archdiocese “to pray the holy rosary daily so that through the intercession of Our Lady of Mercy, our mother and patroness, her Son, the Lord Jesus, may free us from this epidemic, heal our sick, and give eternal life to those who died due to this serious disease.”

“Let us go with confidence to our mother in heaven through the powerful prayer of the holy rosary, a prayer so dear to her, and of proven effectiveness in the most difficult trials of life,” he exhorted.

Recently, the Medical College of Peru announced that the dengue epidemic “is expanding and overflowing” throughout the country.

“We express deep concern about the expansion and overflow of the dengue epidemic in Peru, because day by day the number of people who are infected increases and the number of deaths increases alarmingly,” the institution said on May 19.

Affected areas

César Munayco, director general of the National Center for Epidemiology, Disease Prevention and Control, said at a May 24 press conference that of the 20 departments (administrative districts) affected by the dengue epidemic, six continue to have an increase in cases: Callao, Lima, Ica, La Libertad, Lambayeque, and Piura.

The head of the Ministry of Health, Rosa Gutiérrez, reported that the departments with a decrease in cases are Ayacucho, Cusco, Huánuco, Loreto, Madre de Dios, Pasco, and Ucayali.

Munayco added that cases remain level in Amazonas, Ancash, Cajamarca, Junín, Puno, San Martín, and Tumbes, with no increases or decreases.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Nevada GOP governor signs pro-abortion bill; Oklahoma court strikes down abortion restrictions

null / Credit: Unsplash

Washington D.C., Jun 1, 2023 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

The pro-life movement suffered a blow this week in two states after Nevada’s Republican governor signed a pro-abortion bill into law and the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down two of the state’s restrictions on abortion.


Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed legislation late Tuesday to protect abortionists who violate abortion laws in other states and prevent health care licensing boards from disqualifying a person due to his or her participation in providing abortions.

The bill prohibits the execution of arrest warrants or extradition of a person who is wanted in another state for performing an illegal abortion if such an abortion is legal in Nevada. It also prohibits state agencies from providing any information that would assist in another state imposing civil or criminal penalties on someone who performs an illegal abortion when such an abortion would have been legal in Nevada.

The same rule applies to health care licensing boards, which will not be allowed to disqualify a person for violating an abortion law in another state as long as it is legal in Nevada.

Lombardo is the third Republican governor to sign pro-abortion legislation after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker also signed pro-abortion legislation.

Lombardo’s campaign website claims he is “Catholic and pro-life” and promised to “govern as a pro-life governor.” He was endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee.


Two abortion laws in Oklahoma were struck down Wednesday after the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that they violated the state’s constitution.

One of the laws banned all abortions except in cases of a medical emergency. The second law banned all abortions after a heartbeat was detected with the exception of a medical emergency or if rape or incest had been reported to law enforcement. The bills would have allowed civil lawsuits against abortionists.

Abortion in Oklahoma is still banned except for when the life of the mother is at risk. However, the Supreme Court objected to the phrasing of “medical emergency,” which it argued forced women to wait until their condition worsened before they could obtain an abortion.

The Supreme Court cited its own precedent, which states there is an “inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life.”

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt criticized the ruling.

“I again wholeheartedly disagree with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s use of activism to create a right to an abortion in Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “This court has once more over-involved itself in the state’s democratic process and has interceded to undo legislation created by the will of the people. … As governor, I will continue to do my part to fight to protect the lives of the unborn. From the moment life begins at conception, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect that baby’s life and the life of the mother. Oklahoma will keep working to be the most pro-family state in the nation.”

New ‘Padre Pio’ film is a human look at the famous saint, filmmakers say

"Padre Pio," starring Shia LaBeouf, airs in theaters June 2, 2023. / Credit: Gravitas Ventures

Boston, Mass., Jun 1, 2023 / 16:10 pm (CNA).

The weight of playing St. Pio of Pietrelcina, more popularly known as Padre Pio, one of the most popular saints of the 20th century, was “enormous,” Shia LaBeouf told CNA in late May.

The new film “Padre Pio,” starring “Transformers” and “Fury” star LaBeouf, airs in theaters June 2 and portrays the Italian friar in his early 20s immersed in the suffering of the residents of San Giovanni Rotondo, in eastern Italy, where his monastery is located.

The film, rated R for some explicit violence and language, portrays powerful scenes of Padre Pio ministering to the townspeople and enduring his own spiritual battles with the devil amid the chaos of a violent political clash between the mainly impoverished socialists and the wealthy ruling class, ultimately resulting in a brutal massacre.

"Padre Pio," starring Shia LaBeouf, airs in theaters June 2, 2023. Credit: Gravitas Ventures
"Padre Pio," starring Shia LaBeouf, airs in theaters June 2, 2023. Credit: Gravitas Ventures

Abel Ferrara, the film’s director, called the killings a “nightmare event” and added that all of it came together in the film.

“There’s not a political story and a Padre Pio story. He’s a member of that community. He’s feeling it. He knows what’s going on, and he’s interconnected with those people. And those people are very interconnected to him,” Ferrara said.

LaBeouf, Brother Alexander Rodriguez — who plays a real Franciscan Capuchin in the film — and Ferrara, the film’s director, also addressed a scene in the film that shows the devil in the form of a naked woman as well as the saint’s use of profanity in another scene.

When asked what the message of the film was, Ferrara said that there was nothing specific but added that St. Pio’s message is “compassion and love in the day to day life, not just the hour you’re in church.”

Playing Pio

LaBeouf told CNA that playing the role of the saint while being immersed in his monastery and town added to the intensity.

“It’s enormous pressure, but it only served the film,” he said. “There are scenes where we’re running Mass and these aren’t actors in the seats. These are God-fearing people who love Pio and you feel it, and it only adds to the stakes.”

Many of the extras in the film were from the area surrounding San Giovanni Rotondo.

Despite the pressure, LaBeouf said that “I have never, in the course of my entire career, been on a set where the film felt easier to make.”

Whenever the filming team ran into technical or legal issues, LaBeouf didn’t panic but turned to the saint’s famous motto: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.

“And things worked out. They just did. And I think we made a beautiful film as a result of following his teachings and really leaning into the pragmatic way in which he dealt with the world,” he said.

“It’s probably why I love Catholicism, because it is so nuts and bolts.”

LaBeouf said that he “experienced disordered freedom for so long, like an anarchist” and that the film changed his life. 

At the end of the film, Padre Pio receives the stigmata while in prayer. 

“It’s easy to think that because he was holy, that he received the stigma automatically. No,” Rodriguez said. The First World War and the social political turmoil in San Giovanni Rotondo were the context in which the saint received the stigmata, he said.

“Pio was looking at all of this and saying, ‘I want to take this all upon myself as a suffering servant to help them.’ He didn’t know that the stigmata will be the purpose to help these people out. But it ended up being just that. The stigmata didn’t just happen on its own, in other words,” he said.

"Padre Pio," starring Shia LaBeouf, airs in theaters June 2, 2023. Credit: Gravitas Ventures. Credit: Gravitas Ventures
"Padre Pio," starring Shia LaBeouf, airs in theaters June 2, 2023. Credit: Gravitas Ventures. Credit: Gravitas Ventures

Demonic harassment

Padre Pio is harassed by the devil several times in the film, once even physically. In one scene, the devil, in the appearance of a naked woman disrespecting an image of the Virgin Mary, is taunting and discouraging the saint.

Ferrara told CNA that the scene was taken out of Padre Pio’s private letters to his spiritual director. Rodriguez added that demons would appear in Pio’s room as naked women to harass him.

“We’re taking it from his letters. I mean, we’re trying to embody when he’s talking about temptation in a real way,” Ferrara said.

“A lot of what you see in the movie is pretty accurate,” Rodriguez said, adding that he wrote the letters to his spiritual director in confidence and “would not have wanted the letter to be out.”

Rodriguez told CNA in 2022 that the film’s depiction of the saint is about 90% accurate and is largely based on the saint’s letters to his provincial and spiritual director from 1911–1918. 

Rodriguez, who became close with LaBeouf during the actor’s preparation for the role of Padre Pio, said that “I know for a fact that God wanted this movie to be made.”

He noted how the film came together at a providential moment in LaBeouf’s life, which put the actor on the path to join the Catholic Church

LaBeouf recently told ChurchPOP that he is currently in RCIA, taking weekly classes, and is on track to be confirmed in seven months. 

Another scene in the film shows the devil appearing as an androgynous person coming to Padre Pio in confession and being unrepentant for sins, even to the point of denying the existence of God and hell. 

Once Padre Pio realizes it is the devil, the saint chastises the figure, sends him away, and angrily screams “Shut the f*** up! Say Christ is Lord!”

“When Pio is saying the F-bomb, this is Abel’s take on showing the world that Pio, who is a saint, was also a sinner,” Rodriguez said. He added that in Pio’s letters to his spiritual director, he would write about struggling to deal with his passions of anger and his temper.

At this point in Pio’s life, he is “a saint in the working,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez questioned what the world will think of the film’s portrayal of St. Pio “in a more human way.” 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I just hope for the best that the world accepts the movie as it is. And to see why did Pio receive the stigmata? These are the circumstances in which he got the stigmata and the suffering that he went through,” he added.

LaBeouf told CNA that “if you’ve ever read Little Flowers of St. Francis, he says very clearly, and it’s not conjecture, it’s not paraphrased, he says, ‘if the devil approaches you stuff s*** in his mouth.’” 

“So this idea that saints — and there is no greater a saint than St. Francis — never cursed is just, like, ignorant, and quite frankly, prude, which isn’t Catholicism. Catholicism isn’t prudish,” he said.

“These are human beings before they’re sainted,” he added.

LaBeouf said that he “walked in [the movie process] a wounded man in full-blown suffering, full-blown shame and panic.”

“And through the course of the movie, I came out of my little shame cave and walked back into the world, found purpose again and redemption again. I was saved. I was lost, and I was saved through the love of Christ,” he said.

“That’s what actually happened in my life. It’s beyond the promotion of this movie. It’s what actually transpired in my life. And shortly after coming out of this film, my wife gave birth, and I’m able to show up for my kid in a way I never would have been able to had this not happened for me,” he said.

Nicaraguan dictatorship takes over Catholic school; three nuns may be deported soon

Daniel Ortega. / Credit: Harold Escalona / Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 1, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

The Nicaraguan dictatorship took over a Catholic school in the early hours of May 29 and will probably soon deport three foreign nuns belonging to the congregation that administers it.

According to local media outlet Mosaico, the regime’s police took over the facilities of the St. Louise de Marillac Technical Institute, the only secondary school in the town of San Sebastián de Yalí in the Jinotega administrative district.

The school, where about 100 students are enrolled, is administered by the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Louise de Marillac in the Holy Spirit, founded in 1992.

“It’s a small school, but with a long history and a lot of prestige,” a resident of San Sebastián de Yalí told Mosaico.

According to the Nicaraguan media, the police officers justified the takeover of the school by stating that they must review the school’s documentation.

“There are approximately six nuns, including an elderly one who is blind. They have been very good, also very supportive of the poor in the neighborhood, and they have never had any problems with anyone, because they have been very much of God,” the resident related.

Three of the nuns, who are foreigners, could be deported in the next few days.

On May 31, Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan lawyer and researcher who lives in exile, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that the seizure of the school would be the step prior to the dictatorship expropriating it.

“In the next few days we will already be able to see the order to the attorney general’s office to confiscate it,” she warned.

“For the dictatorship, which always acts arbitrarily, a document establishing the confiscation is not necessary, because all the actions they carry out are already in and of themselves a law for them,” lamented Molina, the author of “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?”

The report details that in the last five years there have been at least 529 attacks by the Ortega regime against the Church, 90 so far in 2023.

It particularly notes the unjust imprisonment of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was sentenced to 26 years and four months on the charge of treason; 32 nuns expelled from the country; seven Church buildings confiscated by the regime; and various media outlets shut down.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

White House condemns Nicaraguan dictatorship’s latest attacks against the Catholic Church

John Kirby, coordinator of the National Security Council for Strategic Communications at the White House. / Credit: EWTN News Nightly

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 1, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration on Wednesday condemned Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega’s attempts to discredit the Catholic Church by accusing it of an illegal money laundering scheme. 

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby called the latest attacks on the Catholic Church “unacceptable” and said the administration is acting to “promote accountability.”

Kirby’s condemnation of the Nicaraguan dictatorship’s latest targeting of the Catholic Church came in response to a question raised by EWTN White House Correspondent Owen Jensen during the May 31 press conference.

On May 27 the Nicaraguan National Police, controlled by the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, published a statement accusing the Catholic Church of various crimes, including money laundering by the Diocese of Matagalpa.

“The dictatorship there continues its persecution of Catholics,” Jensen said. “The latest, accusing the Catholic Church in Nicaragua of money laundering. Human rights defenders say that is absolutely baseless.”

“Daniel Ortega has imprisoned Bishop Alvarez for decades, expelled 32 nuns from the country, confiscated Church buildings, shut down media outlets. Quite simply, what is the White House message to Daniel Ortega?” Jensen asked.

Kirby responded by saying: “There’s been a dramatic deterioration of respect for democratic principles and human rights by the Ortega-Murillo regime, including the harassment and imprisonment of democratic leaders, members of political opposition parties, faith leaders, as you rightly said, including from the Catholic Church, students, and journalists.”

“This is all unacceptable. We condemn these actions,” Kirby continued. “We’ve already taken a number of actions to promote accountability for the Ortega-Murillo regime’s actions, including by imposing sanctions, and will continue to do so.”

For years, the U.S. State Department has levied several sanctions against the Ortega regime, including sanctions on Nicaraguan officials and state-owned companies for repression and anti-democratic actions. 

Most recently, on April 19, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement announcing U.S. sanctions on three Nicaraguan judges who, according to Blinken, “played a role in stripping over 300 Nicaraguans of their citizenship, leaving many of these individuals stateless.”

In a June 2022 press statement, the State Department accused the Ortega regime of stealing the 2021 Nicaraguan election.

“Following months of repression and the imprisonment of more than 40 democratic leaders, including seven potential presidential candidates, opposition members, journalists, students and members of civil society, the Ortega-Murillo regime stole an election that denied Nicaraguans their ability to choose their own government. By declaring victory after the fraudulent election, the regime entrenched itself in power and established a dynastic dictatorship,” the release said.

Despite these actions by the Biden administration, the situation in 2023 appears to have only worsened for both ordinary citizens and the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.

Just this May 18, an Ortega regime official media announced the “voluntary dissolution” of Immaculate Conception Catholic University, a seminary for the Archdiocese of Managua.

On Feb. 10, Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos of the Diocese of Matagalpa was sentenced by the regime to 26 years and four months in prison on the charge of being a “traitor to the homeland.”

Álvarez’s former diocese is the one now being accused by the regime of the money laundering scheme

In a May 29 statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Félix Maradiaga, former presidential candidate and exiled human rights defender, stated that “it’s impossible for the police to have found this alleged illicit money in the Diocese of Matagalpa, because that diocese has been, both the chancery and many of the parishes, under police intervention during the last six months.”

“That’s absolutely unacceptable, but it is also Orwellian. It’s ridiculous that the same chancery from which Bishop Rolando Álvarez was taken away is now designated as the locus of illegal acts,” said Maradiaga, who was deported to the United States on Feb. 9 along with more than 200 other former political prisoners.

Police arrest suspected mastermind of massacre at Rwandan Catholic parish in 1994 genocide

Fulgence Kayishema, a former Rwandan police officer suspected to have ordered the killing of at least 2,000 Tutsis who were seeking refuge at St. Paul’s Nyange Catholic Parish during the 1994 genocide, was arrested May 24, 2023. / Credit: Courtesy photo

ACI Africa, Jun 1, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Fulgence Kayishema, a former Rwandan police officer who is suspected of having ordered the killing of at least 2,000 Tutsis who were seeking refuge at St. Paul’s Nyange Catholic Parish in the current Nyundo Diocese during the 1994 genocide, has been arrested in South Africa.

Reuters reported May 25 that Kayishema, one of the top suspects in the genocide, which claimed some 800,000 lives, was arrested May 24 on a grape farm in South Africa while using a false name, Donatien Nibashumba.

The suspect has been on the run since 2001 when the now-defunct International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) accused him of genocide for his role in the destruction of the Nyange Catholic church.

Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), the U.N. body that took over ICTR’s function, said Kayishema’s arrest “ensures that he will finally face justice for his alleged crimes.”

While confirming the arrest, the leadership of Hawks, an elite South African police unit, said the suspect was to be extradited to Rwanda on May 26 after appearing in South Africa’s Bellville Magistrate’s court.

Nyange Catholic Parish has been transformed into a genocide memorial site.

According to an April 2019 report in The Chronicles, a Rwandan news outlet, 48 Catholic parishes became major killing sites during the genocide as innocent Tutsi faithful ran to the churches to seek refuge against attacks from the Hutus.

The Chronicles report says a number of consecrated persons from the Catholic Church have been convicted following their direct or indirect involvement in the genocide.

On May 2, Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka was dismissed from clerical duties.

Munyeshyaka, who was serving in the Diocese of Evreux in France, was accused of playing an active role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in different parts of Kigali while he was a parish priest at Holy Family Parish in the Kigali Archdiocese.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.