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Analysis: Freed from prison, will Cardinal Pell now face Vatican trial?

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2020 / 10:20 pm (CNA).- The High Court of Australia ordered the acquittal of Cardinal George Pell on Tuesday. 

While Pell’s criminal trials in Australia are now at an end, the same accusations which saw him first convicted, then denied appeal, then acquitted, must now be addressed by the Church’s own legal process. That canonical process, on hold while the Australian justice system ran its course, can now begin.

While many of Pell’s supporters might consider any further legal ordeal for the cardinal to be unnecessary, even cruel, Vatican efforts to restore faith in its ability to handle accusations of sexual abuse fully and fairly – no exceptions – mean that there will have to be some kind of canonical process.

The necessity for some canonical process to formally address the accusations against Pell does not, however, mean it need be lengthy. While the pope alone is competent to determine how a case against a cardinal proceeds, in practice Francis is almost sure to depute the process to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – something provided for in the motu proprio Sacromentorum sanctitatis tutela. Unless there is pressing evidence on both sides of the case, the CDF rarely convenes a full trial-  especially when the matter has received a full litigation in a secular court.

The decision the CDF will face is how, and if, to proceed with the preliminary investigation.

As a first step, the CDF will have to determine if the accusations against Pell rise to the level of “a semblance of truth,” that is they are not “manifestly false or frivolous.” 

Following the High Court’s decision, which repeatedly pointed out the lack of any supporting evidence for the accusations of Pell’s lone accuser, it is entirely possible that the CDF could chose to rule that the accusations against Pell do not meet even this most basic criterion and dismiss the charges out of hand, as the Victoria police did with several of the more obviously false allegations collected by its open-ended investigation into Pell.

This would have the benefit of sending the most emphatic message possible that Rome views the accusations against Pell as absurd, and by implication his original conviction a farce. But, it could also represent something of a setback for the Vatican’s aim to be seen to give every accusation a formal examination.

A more likely way ahead may be for the Congregation to open a preliminary investigation, the bulk of which would likely consist of the court documents from Pell’s trial and appeals. This investigation could then conclude, as the High Court did, that there is simply no evidence to support the charges against Pell, and a considerable diversity of evidence arguing for his innocence.

Under the legal terms of Pell’s appeal, the High Court could only consider the “reasonableness” of the jury’s decision to convict in the light of the standard of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. But nothing prevents the CDF from examining the same evidence and pronouncing that it positively establishes Pell’s innocence and dismissing the case at the pre-trial phase.

Another option, one which would be seen to follow the canonical process to the full, would allow Pell’s sole accuser to present his accusations and testimony directly to officials from the CDF, assuming he is willing. The CDF would also take depositions from Pell and from as many of the witnesses at the trial as possible – all of whom appeared in Pell’s favor – before proceeding to issue a decision.

Whatever process is followed, almost no one expects a canonical court in Rome to find Pell guilty, given the overwhelming evidence he has now presented in his own defense.

Victoria Court of Appeal judge Mark Weinberg noted, in his opinion dissenting from the decision to uphold Pell’s conviction, that the cardinal had been made to prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt; an inverted burden of proof many observers feel he cleared.

Throughout Pell’s three-year legal battle, Rome has remained studiously non-committal about the cardinal’s case.

At each stage of proceedings, the Vatican press office released no more than flat acknowledgments of the case’s progress, noting that Pell had a right to exhaust every appeal, and expressing faith that the Australian justice system would run its course.

That course has now been run.

Whatever statements are released in Rome welcoming the end of Pell’s legal battle while underscoring the Church’s commitment to child protection, the real measure of the Vatican’s opinion on the case will come from the speed, nature, and verdict of the canonical process which must now follow.

For Cardinal Pell, it likely cannot come soon enough.

'The only basis for justice is truth' - With conviction overturned, Cardinal Pell speaks

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 07:12 pm (CNA).- After his conviction for child sexual abuse was overturned Tuesday by Australia’s High Court, Cardinal George Pell has released a statement expressing gratitude to his family, friends, and legal team, and noting that he does not bear resentment toward his accuser.

“I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice,” Pell said April 7, according to a statement published by the Archdiocese of Sydney.

“This has been remedied today with the High Court’s unanimous decision,” Pell added. “I look forward to reading the Judgment reasons for the decision in detail.”

“I hold no ill will to my accuser. I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough.”

“The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all,” the cardinal added.

Pell is expected to be released from prison April 7.

Pell was convicted in 2018 of five counts of child sexual abuse. He was alleged to have sexually assaulted two choir boys while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.

Pell’s attorneys called the allegation “simply impossible,” but after a hung jury in a first trial, he was convicted in a second.

While Pell was, for many, the face of Catholicism in Australia, and was much maligned after an Australian government enquiry revealed decades of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and other institutions, Pell insisted that his ordeal should have been limited to the allegations against him.

“My trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of peadeophilia in the Church.”

“The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes and I did not.”

Pell’s statement expressed “thanks for all the prayers and thousands of letters of support.”

“I want to thank in particular my family for their love and support and what they had to go through; my small team of advisors; those who spoke up for me and suffered as a result; and all my friends and supports here and overseas.”

“Also my deepest thanks and gratitude to my entire legal team for their unwavering resolve to see justice prevail, to throw light on manufactured obscurity and to reveal the truth.”

The Australian High Court granted Pell’s petition for special leave to appeal on April 7. In the decision, the seven justices unanimously found that there was “no evidence” to support the accuser’s narrative beyond his own perceived credibility by the jury, and that, “acting rationally on the whole of the evidence,” the jury could not have avoided reasonable doubt about Pell’s innocence.

“Plainly they did,” the justices concluded.

“Making full allowance for the advantages enjoyed by the jury,” the High Court said, “there is a significant possibility in relation to [the] charges... that an innocent person has been convicted.”

The decision markes an end to a process which began in 2013, when police in Victoria opened Operation Tethering, an open-ended investigation into possible crimes committed by Pell, despite there being no accusations or criminal complaints against him at that time.

The following year, in 2014, senior police officers in Victoria discussed via internal email how developments in the Pell investigation could be used to deflect media scrutiny and criticism from an unfolding corruption scandal in the force.

The operation was given a more formal footing the following year and charges were announced in 2017. Pell repeatedly denied all the accusations and left Rome for Melbourne insisting that he would clear his name in court.

During pre-trial committal hearings, several of the accusations, related to his time as a priest in the town of Ballarat, were dropped by prosecutors owing to lack of evidence.

In 2018, Pell arrived in court to face the first of what was originally meant to be two trials. That trial proceeded to a deadlock under a court-ordered media blackout in the early autumn of 2018. A five week retrial, also subject to blanket reporting restrictions, convicted Pell in December of that year, and Pell was sentenced to six years in prison.

The second trial collapsed before it could begin when, in January last year, prosecutors conceded they did not have enough evidence to proceed to trial.

Pell’s initial appeal of the verdict was rejected in 2019 by a court in the Australian state of Victoria, before the case went to the High Court which quashed the conviction.

Throughout his trial Pell has maintained his innocence, telling friends that he was committed to living his time in prison - much of it spent in solitary confinement - as a monastic retreat.

“He sees himself as living a time of purgatory for the sins of the Church, and he’s embracing it as that,” one close friend of Pell told CNA last year.

 

Cardinal George Pell's abuse convictions overturned by Australia's High Court

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2020 / 06:25 pm (CNA).- After an ordeal that began nearly four years ago, and more than 13 months of imprisonment, Cardinal George Pell is expected to be released from prison imminently, after his conviction for five alleged counts of sexual abuse was overturned unanimously Tuesday by Australia’s High Court.

Pell is expected to be released from prison within two hours.

The court ordered that "the appellant's convictions be quashed and judgments of acquittal be entered in their place," in its April 7 decision.

“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant's guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place,” the court said in a judgment summary April 7.

After a March hearing at the High Court in Canberra, which Pell was not permitted to attend, the cardinal will soon be released from HM Prison Barwon, a maximum-security facility southwest of Melbourne. Pell is expected to celebrate with a private Mass of thanksgiving, the first he will celebrate since his incarceration in February 2019.

At issue in the appeal was whether the jury that convicted Pell in December 2018 of sexually abusing two choristers could have plausibly found Pell guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, having heard the case presented by the prosecutors and the defense mounted by Pell’s lawyers.

The High Court found the appellate court that heard Pell’s appeal last year “failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt.”

With regard to the jury, “The Court held that, on the assumption that the jury had assessed the complainant's evidence as thoroughly credible and reliable, the evidence of the opportunity witnesses nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to the applicant's guilt in relation to the offences involved in both alleged incidents,” the judgment summary explained.

The Court’s April 7 summary release added that “The unchallenged evidence of the opportunity witnesses was inconsistent with the complainant's account, and described: (i) the applicant's practice of greeting congregants on or near the Cathedral steps after Sunday solemn Mass; (ii) the established and historical Catholic church practice that required that the applicant, as an archbishop, always be accompanied when robed in the Cathedral; and (iii) the continuous traffic in and out of the priests' sacristy for ten to 15 minutes after the conclusion of the procession that ended Sunday solemn Mass.”

 

In their appeal, Pell’s attorney argued that the conviction should have been overturned because it was based upon uncorroborated testimony of only one complainant.

That complainant said that he and another choir boy were sexually abused by Pell after Sunday Mass while the cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

According to the complainant, Pell exposed himself and forced the two teenage choir boys to commit sex acts upon him, while the cardinal was fully vested in his Sunday Mass garb, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. The complainant also said that Pell fondled him in a corridor in 1997.

"The assumption that a group of choristers, including adults, might have been so preoccupied with making their way to the robing room as to fail to notice the extraordinary sight of the Archbishop of Melbourne dressed 'in his full regalia' advancing through the procession and pinning a 13 year old boy to the wall, is a large one," the High Court said in its decision.

The other apparent victim died in 2014, and was unable to testify in the proceedings. In 2001 he denied to his mother that any abuse occurred while he was a member of the choir.

Pell was convicted in 2018, in the second trial concerning the allegations. The first trial ended in a hung jury.

After the conviction, the cardinal was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he had been required to serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole. Pell was to be eligible for release in October 2022.

Pell, 78, has maintained his innocence. His defence has insisted that the alleged crimes would have been, under the circumstances, “simply impossible.”

The conviction has divided opinion in Australia and internationally. The cardinal’s defenders have contended that the sacristy abuse allegations are not possible given the high traffic after Mass and the obstructing nature of the Mass vestments.

The cardinal has been incarcerated in HM Prison Barwon, a maximum-security prison southwest of Melbourne that holds some notorious crime bosses.

The cardinal is now expected to face a canonical proceeding in Rome, overseen by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Shortly after the High Court announced its decision Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane released a statement on behalf of the Australian bishops' confernece saying that the news "will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the Cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process." 

But, Coleridge said, the result "does not change the Church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of sexual abuse."

"The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community," the archbishop said.

This story is developing and is being updated.

Federal courts uphold stay on Ohio elective abortion ban, block Oklahoma restrictions

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday allowed some surgical abortions and medication abortions to continue during the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) crisis. The decision was made in relation to a state-ordered halt to elective abortion procedures in Ohio for the duration of the pandemic.

Ohio had ordered a halt on surgical abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the new coronavirus crisis, before a district court in Ohio on March 30 put a temporary restraining order on that policy.

The court allowed for surgical abortions to continue in the state, but on a case-by-case basis. If abortions could not be safely postponed or conducted via chemical prescription, then they could occur, the court said.

On Monday, the Sixth Circuit declined the state’s appeal of the decision, saying it lacked jurisdiction, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

As the district court’s restraining order allowed abortions on a case-by-case basis and did not allow for a wholesale continuation of all surgical abortions, a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit wrote that “we are not persuaded” that the court’s order “threatens to inflict irretrievable harms or consequences before it expires.”

Ohio’s health department had ordered a stop to elective abortions, among other non-essential medical procedures, during the new coronavirus pandemic in order to preserve health care personnel and resources to treat the growing pandemic.

“While all Ohioans are being asked to make sacrifices in order to preserve innocent lives, the larger medical community is sacrificing the most: not only their time, but their equipment, their private practices, and potentially their own lives,” stated Stephanie Ranade Krider, Vice President of Ohio Right to Life, on Monday.

Also on Monday, a federal judge in Oklahoma blocked that state’s restrictions on elective abortions during the coronavirus outbreak from going into effect, CBS News reported.

Judge Charles Goodwin of the Western District of Oklahoma issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s act to stop non-emergency abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the state can take lawful “emergency measures” during the new coronavirus crisis, Judge Goodwin wrote, such actions should not be “a plain, palpable invasion of rights,” including of “access to abortion.”

He concluded that the state “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.” Regarding its ban on medication abortions, Goodwin said its “minor” contribution to public health is “outweighed by the intrusion on Fourteenth Amendment rights.”

On March 31, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on a district court ruling, regarding Texas’ act to stop abortions except in cases where the mother’s health or life was at stake.

A district court had enjoined the state’s order from going into effect, but the Fifth Circuit put a temporary stay on that ruling to have more time to consider the case. The Texas order is back in effect for now.

Landlord encouraged by prayer waives rent amid coronavirus

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic landlord made the decision March 30 to waive April’s rent for all of his 200 tenants, in the hopes of giving them one less thing to worry about amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I told them not to worry, not to panic, we're going through some very tough times with this monster disease," Brooklyn landlord Mario Salerno told EWTN News Nightly.

"My Catholic faith brought it upon me to make this decision. I pray every day, and when I have extra time, when I'm in quarantine, I pray and I ask the good Lord to please conquer this vicious virus.”

Salerno, 59, owns a mechanic shop, gas station, and an auto body shop as well as 80 apartments in Brooklyn. Many of his tenants have lost their jobs, he said.

"I wanted them to have some peace of mind, not worrying about where their next dollar was. As a human, I felt a lot more comfortable making sure they had food on their table, which several of them didn't, and I felt very honored to tell them that."

Salerno said he’s not overly concerned about the loss of his income— and more concerned about the human lives residing under his roofs. The financial losses are irrelevant to the value of a human life, and “I value people's lives," he said.

“At the end of my journey, when I go and meet the dear Lord and the dear master, I want to ask Him before he could ask me: 'Was I good? How was my faith?'" he said.

Salerno posted notices on all his buildings that April’s rent would be waived. Since then, many of his tenants have approached him offering to help to pump gas at his station, mop his buildings, and offer other help.

Salerno said he has encouraged his tenants to take care of their neighbors first. He said some are still working, and are willing to pay him rent, and he has encouraged them to put their rent money toward food instead.

"We need the good Lord. He can conquer this; we need to pray,” Salerno said.

Almost ten million people in the U.S have filed for unemployment insurance in the last two weeks, a period representing the most catastrophic job loss since the Great Depression. Economists have estimated that national unemployment rate is now roughly 13%, higher than it has been since the 1930s.

 

Christmas lights for Easter? Kentucky diocese encourages 'Easter Lights'

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 03:17 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Owensboro is encouraging Catholics to decorate their houses with “Easter lights” as a sign of solidarity and as a reminder that through Christ’s resurrection, “the light has come into our world and has conquered even death.”

“Though it is not possible for Catholics of our diocese to gather in our parish churches for the celebration of the Easter Vigil, we can still be united in our prayer,” an April 3 announcement from the diocese reads.

The Owensboro diocese suspended public Masses March 16 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Many across our state and nation are putting up ‘Easter lights’ as a sign of solidarity during this time, so we invite all Catholics of Western Kentucky to engage in this project meant to communicate faith and hope to our neighbors and be a sign of encouragement and support to all who are suffering.”

Catholics are encouraged to display some kind of light – whether strings of Christmas lights, a candle in the window, or something else – on their property beginning at 8:00 PM April 11, Holy Saturday, through May 31, Pentecost Sunday.

The diocese also suggested that each night when people turn on their Christmas-turned-Easter lights, they also could light a candle and say a prayer for an end to the pandemic, recalling that the risen Christ  is the one who, in the words of the Exsultet, “sheds his peaceful light on all humanity.”

The announcement also recalled that the newly baptized receive a lighted candle, and are asked to “keep its flame burning brightly.”

“Let’s unite with one another in prayer this Easter season and remind one another and our neighbors that we are never beyond the reach of God. Let’s light up the world!”

Federal coronavirus financial relief: What Catholic groups need to know

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- After the federal government clarified Friday that religious non-profits are eligible for small business loans during the coronavirus pandemic, legal experts have said the news could prove welcome relief for cash-strapped Catholic dioceses and parishes.

“The bottom line is that Friday’s rule is very good news for religious organizations,” said Eric Kniffin, a partner in the religious institutions practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, about new federal guidance on coronavirus relief for religious non-profits.

“Parishes should coordinate with their dioceses before moving forward, but this is a huge relief to religious organizations as they seek to support their employees in the midst of this pandemic,” he said.

On March 27, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which provided relief for businesses, non-profits and workers affected by the new coronavirus pandemic.

The law allows eligible non-profits to apply for small business loans. One of the requirements for loan applicants is that they have 500 or fewer employees, which made Planned Parenthood ineligible for the relief.

As some Catholic parishes and institutions have already begun cutting or furloughing employees during the economic downturn from the pandemic, the new federal relief was seen as a possible solution to help Catholic non-profits keep employees on payroll, but many groups had questions about their eligibility under the law’s provisions.

If the Small Business Administration considered Catholic dioceses along with all their related entities—such as parishes, schools, and charities—as one large non-profit entity governed by bishop, then many, if not all, dioceses would exceed the 500-employee limit to apply for relief.

However, if each Catholic parish, school, and charity were eligible to apply for a small business loan under the CARES Act, then it could be a significant boost to their ability to keep employees on payroll as donations dried up.

Over the weekend, the SBA published a document clarifying its new rule on the eligibility of religious groups for paycheck protection and economic injury loans during the pandemic.

While not all questions have been answered, ultimately the updated rule summary is “deferential toward religious groups,” Kniffin said, as “government is prohibited from second-guessing church’s interpretation of their own doctrine or ecclesiology.”

New affiliation rules for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program issued by the Treasury Department clarify that if a smaller entity—such as a parish—and a larger one—a diocese—are tied together on religious grounds, they do not have to be considered as one large entity.

"If the tie between your local entity and a larger entity is the result of your religious beliefs, then you do not have to count that tie when you are counting up your employees,” Kniffin said.

The SBA’s updated guidance is “a grace” for Catholic institutions, said Jeremy Reidy, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, LLP who is also a member of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocesan review board.

Before the new rule was issued, “I don’t think any diocese across the country would have qualified [for small business loans],” Reidy said. The bishop “has ultimate control over everything” in a diocese including smaller entities such as parishes and Catholic charities, he said, and each diocese could have been considered by the government to be one big organization.

Yet the government now treats the smaller entities as separate from dioceses “so long as they’re tied together for religious purposes,” he said.

Not all dioceses are structured the same, Reidy cautioned. While in “the vast majority” of U.S. dioceses, the parishes and schools are separate non-profit corporations, in some other cases the diocese is the only incorporated entity.

In these select cases, Reidy said, a “potential obstacle” to a parish or school still receiving federal relief might be that they do not file payroll taxes and tax returns separately from the diocese, and thus would be aggregated into the diocese.

A tie between a parish and diocese that is “practical” and not just religious in nature might also pose an obstacle to their obtaining relief, Kniffin said.

Yet, both Kniffin and Reidy said, Catholic institutions should consider applying for the loans under a “good-faith interpretation” of eligibility.

As the rules are “deferential” to the eligibility of religious organizations, Kniffin said, lenders are also being directed “to accept applicants’ good-faith representations at face value.”

As long as Catholic groups have their own employer identification number and 500 or fewer employees, they could apply on their own.

“I think all dioceses, with this new regulation, can make that good-faith certification,” Reidy said.

In its guidance, SBA emphasized that non-profit loan recipients can have a religious mission, and will not be penalized for employing only people who abide by the religious mission of the organization.

Each recipient “will retain its independence, autonomy, right of expression, religious character, and authority over its governance,” SBA said. Loans can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and staff.

The new rules do require that loan recipients do not discriminate when they provide goods and accommodations to the public. Depending on the interpretation of existing civil rights protections, some charities might be ruled ineligible for loans because they do not provide services in certain cases.

Examples of this might include a religious adoption agency refusing to place children with a same-sex couple, or a homeless shelter refusing to house a man identifying as a woman with other women.

The SBA says it “will not apply its nondiscrimination regulations in a way that imposes substantial burdens on the religious exercise of faith-based loan recipients, such as by applying those regulations to the performance of church ordinances, sacraments, or religious practices, unless such application is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

This question of compliance with nondiscrimination provisions is one that religious groups are still asking about, Kniffin said.

Yet with a Catholic group providing social services, such as a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, they most probably have received government funding and would thus would already be in compliance with federal regulations.

The ultimate goal of providing the loans, SBA added, is to ensure quick relief for many small businesses and non-profits which have been severely impacted by the recent coronavirus crisis.

The SBA loan is a “forgivable loan” that “can become basically a stimulus check” if non-profits abide by certain provisions such as keeping the same number of employees on payroll, Reidy said.

“It’s a great deal,” he said. “I encourage every organization to do it.”

Jerusalem archbishop blesses city with True Cross relic

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Unable to lead the traditional Palm Sunday procession through Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, blessed the city with a relic of the True Cross on April 5.

The annual procession, which recalls Christ’s entry into the city and the beginning of Holy Week, was cancelled in line with international efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, with public gatherings and events suspended in Israel. 

“We decided since we cannot have the palm procession, to have anyway a moment of prayer this afternoon,” said Pizzaballa on Sunday. The archbishop led a short, multi-lingual “moment of prayer” at Dominus Flevit, a church located on the Mount of Olives.

The church, which is shaped like a teardrop, overlooks the city, and was built to mark the Gospel account of Jesus weeping as he envisioned the destruction of Jerusalem.

The prayer service ended with Pizzaballa raising a relic of the True Cross over the city in benediction. 

Jerusalem, said Pizzaballa, “is a symbol of the church, the symbol also of humanity. It is the house of prayer for all the people, according to the scriptures.”

“So when we cry [over] Jerusalem, together with Jesus, we cry [over] all our human fraternity, for this difficult moment we are living, for this sad Palm Sunday, this Easter we have to celebrate.”

Pizzaballa said that sadness over being unable to celebrate the liturgical feasts of Holy Week is real, but “maybe, in a way also very true, very essential.” 

“Today we have not celebrated the solemn and beautiful entrance of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem like every year, with faithful from all the parishes of the diocese and with pilgrims from all over the world,” Pizzaballa said during the prayer service.

“We have not raised our palms and olive branches to cry out ‘Hosanna’ to our king, Jesus the Christ.” 

Instead, the archbishop asked Catholics in the Holy Land and around the world to consider what the Lord may be trying to say during these times.

He noted that, while the people of Jerusalem in the Gospel greeted him with cheers on Palm Sunday, Jesus knew that “He came to Jerusalem, not to be on the throne like David, but to be put to death.” 

“The meaning that Jesus attributes to his ‘triumphal entry’ is different from the meaning that the people of Jerusalem saw in it,” he said.

“Perhaps this is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us today. We turn to God when there is something that harms us. When we are in trouble, suddenly we all want to ask big and difficult questions.”

While people may be praying for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic as we often do for solutions  to other problems, the archbishop said that  “Jesus responds in His own way” to these prayers. 

“Precisely because Jesus says ‘yes’ to our deepest desires, He will have to say ‘no’ to our immediate desires,” he said.

Drawing comparisons between this year's Palm Sunday and the biblical Palm Sunday during Christ's earthly life, Pizzaballa said the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem “is a lesson on the discrepancy between our expectations and God’s response.” 

The crowd who greeted Jesus was disappointed that their salvation was not immediate, said Pizzaballa, but “Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is truly the moment when salvation is born.” 

“The ‘Hosannas’ were justified, even if not for the reasons the Jerusalemites had supposed,” he said. 

This remains true today, he explained. Although it may seem as though God is not answering prayers and leaves people “disappointed,” this is in part because “our expectations remain without an apparent response.”

Christianity, he said, “is based on hope and love, not certainty,” and that while God will not answer all problems with certainty, “He won’t leave us alone.” 

“And here, today, despite everything, at the gates of His and our city, we declare that we really want to welcome Him as our King and Messiah, and to follow Him on His way to His throne, the cross,” he said.  

“But we also ask Him to give us the strength necessary to carry it with His own, fruitful love.”

Raphael revisited: Vatican offers virtual tour 500 years after artist's death

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- Monday, April 6 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael, the Renaissance painter responsible for “The School of Athens” and “The Transfiguration.”

While the Vatican Museums was due to unveil the last phase of restoration of its Raphael Rooms this week, the restored frescoes remain hidden from the public after coronavirus restrictions closed the museums a month ago. However, the Vatican is encouraging people to make virtual museum visits to “admire, even from a distance, the splendor of Raphael's art.”

Art historian Elizabeth Lev shared with CNA her advice for Catholics who wish to spend some time contemplating Raphael’s works of art during the coronavirus quarantine.

“From his early Oddi altarpiece painted when was about 19 or 20 to the fresco of the School of Athens, to his dazzling tapestries and his architectural feat of a portico decorated with scenes from the Bible, it's easy to understand why Raphael was hailed as an exemplar of ‘Catholic excellence,’” Lev said April 6. 

“Raphael produced some very powerful altarpieces and, in some cases, even created new types of iconography, especially in the Madonna of Foligno and his St Cecilia panel in Bologna. He reinvented the ‘sacred conversation,’ which are paintings where saints dialogue with Mary and Jesus, welcoming viewers into greater prayer and contemplation,” she said.

The Vatican Museums offer a virtual tour of the Raphael Rooms with a 360 degree view of each room. Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the four rooms in the Apostolic Palace which formed part of the papal apartments. 

The School of Athens fresco placing Plato alongside Aristotle can be viewed in the Room of the Segnatura, along with illustrations of the cardinal and theological virtues. 

The Room of Constantine was the last of the Raphael Rooms to undergo restoration, a project which began in the 1980s. The virtual tour of the Room of Constantine displays paintings of Constantine’s baptism, vision of the cross, and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge before the restoration. 

One room in the Vatican Museums’ Pinacoteca, or painting gallery, displays Raphael’s Crowning of the Virgin, Madonna of Foligno, and The Transfiguration

“In this very unique week, I would propose reflecting on Raphael's Transfiguration painted just before he died and placed upon his tomb during his funeral,” Lev said. “In this work, Raphael paints two distinct areas, the lower section where the apostles attempt to heal a boy possessed by demons (Mark 9:17-29) and then the upper section where Jesus reveals himself to Peter, James and John and God the Father announces ‘This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.’”

“People are afraid and confused, trying to control things they cannot and struggling pointlessly in the shadows. But lifting one's gaze, one sees Jesus. Everything is subordinate to Him, and he appears as transfigured, a dynamic, powerful light that can repel the encroaching darkness. What an inspiring way for us to envision Jesus during these dark days,” she said.

Lev also recommends Raphael’s Madonna and Child paintings, such as The Alba Madonna in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“These were small devotional works, meant for contemplation in the home, appropriate for all of us who are housebound,” she said. “He did endless variations on them, so there is something for everyone -- versions where Joseph hovers protectively, others where young John and Jesus cavort.”

Born Raffaello Sanzio in 1483 in Urbino, Italy, Raphael went on to work in Rome from 1508 to 1520, serving Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X.

Raphael died at the age of 37 on Good Friday, April 6, 1520. He is buried in the Pantheon, which had already been consecrated as the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs, where the artist’s tomb remains on display.  

“He was brilliant and tremendously successful. When he died at the age of 37 he was already running the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company: the largest studio of the Renaissance,” Lev said.

Earlier this year, the Vatican Museums displayed 10 of Raphael’s tapestries in their original place in Sistine Chapel for one week. The tapestries, commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515, depict the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

Raphael painted the Apostolic Palace at the same time as Michaeangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel

“Michelangelo was eight years his senior and was already working in the Sistine chapel when Raphael arrived to paint the apartments of Pope Julius. The two had completely different perspectives on painting. Raphael’s was more similar to Leonardo’s, with careful backgrounds and elegant compositions, while Michelangelo's figures were sculptural and monumental,” Lev explained.

“As these two Titans clashed stylistically, the world's greatest works of art were born,” she said.

The Sistine Chapel, the Pio Clementino Museum, the Chiaramonti Museum, the New Wing, the Niccoline Chapel, and the Room of the Chiaroscuri can also be viewed via virtual tour on the Vatican Museums website.

Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale exhibition center had also opened a major exhibition on Raphael this year, which brings together 200 works of art from Louvre, the Uffizi and elsewhere. This exhibition was forced to close 72 hours after its March 5 opening due to the Italian government’s closure of all museums in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

A video posted on YouTube by the exhibition center allows quarantined Italians and art lovers around the world to catch a glimpse of the paintings displayed in this exhibition originally scheduled to end June 2. 

“Most of us lead very busy lives that were abruptly halted by the quarantines. As we are all required to exercise the virtue of patience these days, we can also rediscover the skill of looking carefully at things, appreciating details and the value of serenity. And nowhere are those qualities better expressed than in the art of Raphael,” Lev said.

Vatican Major Penitentiary: Mercy does not cease amid coronavirus

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 11:21 am (CNA).- In an Easter letter to confessors on Saturday, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary wrote that while 'social distancing' is necessary amid the coronavirus, 'mercy does not cease'.

Despite the restrictions placed by many civil and ecclesial governors, “Mercy does not cease and God does not distance himself,” Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the Major Penitentiary, wrote April 4.

“The social distancing required for health reasons, while necessary, cannot and must never turn into ecclesial distancing, let alone theological-sacramental distancing,” he added.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is the Holy See's tribunal with responsibility for the internal forum and indulgences.

Cardinal Piacenza recalled his March 19 decree granting plenary indulgences to those suffering from Covid-19, asd well as health-care workers, their family, and those who care for them in any capacity; as well as an attached note on the sacrament of confession calling for reflection on its “urgency and centrality.”

In his letter to confessors, the Major Penitentiary wrote: “Mercy does not cease because where ordinary celebration of the sacrament is impossible, we are committed to pray, to console, to present souls to divine Mercy, fulfilling that priestly role of intercessors, which was conferred on us on the day of ordination.”

“Mercy does not cease because we all need the closeness and the 'caress' of Jesus, which also materializes in a moment of listening and dialogue, capable of opening a perspective of hope and light, in this circumstance of trial.”

Mercy “is expressed in the pastoral creativity of so many confreres,” he said, “who try in every way to make themselves close to the people entrusted to them, giving testimony of faith, courage, fatherhood, fully living their priesthood.”

Nor does mercy cease “because the sacrifice of the Holy Mass does not cease, even if celebrated without the physical presence of the people, from which every grace flows for the Church and for the world.”

Cardinal Piacenza wrote that “from the Cross, the bloody sacrifice of Christ, the possibility of salvation and reconciliation is given to all men; salvation also flows from the Eucharistic celebration, the bloodless sacrifice of Christ, the current re-presentation of the bloody one. In this sense, despite today's dramatic circumstances, we are called to rediscover the centrality of the priestly ministry and, above all, what is essential in it: the work of Christ more than ours, the sacramental implementation of salvation, of which we are ministers, that is, servants.”

“Mercy does not cease but is expressed in every consideration to which the pandemic pushes us, in the rediscovery of the values for which it is worth living and dying, in the rediscovery of silence, of adoration and of prayer, in the rediscovery of the closeness of the other and, above all, of God.”

Neither does mercy cease, he said, “at the celebration of the sacred liturgy, which faithfully actualizes the mysteries of salvation, but becomes lived charity, which extends a helping hand to those who suffer,  and through the priestly ministry God's forgiveness is offered.”

“Mercy does not cease even towards those who have been called to eternity because each of them is reached by the prayers of suffrage in the paschal certainty that with death, relationships are not broken but are transformed, strengthened, in the communion of saints.”

Cardinal Piacenza concluded urging that confessors “entrust this time, our ministry of Reconciliation, and this Easter so anomalous, to the protection of the Holy Virgin, Mother of Mercy in the certainty of her intercession so that each and every one may be given that new life, which is the yearning of every believer and of every man.”