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After LGBT teachers resign, Seattle archbishop says teachers must be Gospel witnesses

Seattle, Wash., Feb 21, 2020 / 06:04 pm (CNA).- After students at a Catholic high school in Washington state staged protests in support of two teachers who resigned their posts in order to civilly marry their same-sex partners, the Archbishop of Seattle said that teachers in Catholic schools must live Catholic doctrine.

“Pastors and church leaders need to be clear about the church’s teaching, while at the same time refraining from making judgments, taking into consideration the complexity of people’s lived situations. We are always called to compassion as we journey with our people. The end goal of walking together in faith is to help people embrace the fullness of the Gospel message and integrate the faith more deeply into their lives,” Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle said in a statement Feb. 19.

“Those who teach in our schools are required to uphold our teaching in the classroom and to model it in their personal lives. We recognize and support the right of each individual to make choices. We also understand that some choices have particular consequences for those who represent the church in an official capacity,” the archbishop added.

The statement came after Michelle Beattie and Paul Danforth of Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington voluntarily resigned last week, according to school officials, although the teachers later retained an attorney. They have not opened legal action against the school, and have not yet spoken out publicly, but their attorney has said the teachers expected the Archdiocese of Seattle to terminate the employment.

A statement from the school last week praised the teachers as "highly capable, gifted and qualified teachers who have served our community with dedication and humility. Their loss will be felt deeply by their students and the entire community. We are thankful to Paul and Michelle for their years of service."

Some students at the high school staged a sit-in and a walkout on Feb. 18 in support of the teachers.  Students, as well as parents and alumni of the school, also staged a protest outside the diocesan chancery in Seattle.

Michael Prato, president of Kennedy Catholic, said in a statement that the two teachers approached him in November 2019 to share their desire to civilly marry their same-sex partners. 

The teachers had voluntarily signed a covenant agreement to “live and model the Catholic faith in accord with Church teaching,” Prato said. In light of the agreement they signed, both chose to resign, he said.

“I hired these teachers and I care about them very much. I still do,” Prato said.

“I wanted to make sure they felt supported, and so we discussed several options including the possibility of finishing out the school year.”

He said he gave the teachers the option to select the date they wanted to resign, and they indicated they wished to resign prior to the winter break in February. He said they also worked out a transition plan and financial package for the teachers.

In the United States, various Catholic schools and dioceses have faced lawsuits from employees who have been fired after contracting civil same-sex marriages in violation of the diocesan or school policy.

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexual inclinations are not sinful, homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law...under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say that people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

However, in 2003, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”

“One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection,” the CDF added.





Santa Fe archbishop weighs in on papal discussion of Fr. James Martin

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2020 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has offered his recollections of a meeting between Pope Francis and the American Southwest, especially as regards a discussion during the meeting of Fr. James Martin, SJ.

CNA reported Feb. 20 that Martin was discussed during a Feb. 10 meeting between the pope and bishops of the USCCB’s Region XIII, who were with the pope as part of their ad limina visit.

Martin, an American Jesuit, is well known for his writing and speaking on LGBT issues and the Church. His work has been a subject of controversy; it is criticized by some bishops and praised by others.

Wester confirmed that Martin and his Sept. 30 visit to the pope had been discussed in the meeting, in a Feb. 21 commentary published by the National Catholic Reporter.

The Santa Fe archbishop, who was appointed to his post in 2015, is one of seven U.S. bishops to have endorsed “Building a Bridge,” Martin’s 2017 book on the Church and homosexuality.

“This courageous work is necessary reading for all who wish to build up the Christian community and to give witness to the Gospel message of inclusion,” Wester wrote of Martin’s book.

In his Feb. 21 commentary, the archbishop indicated that a broader discussion of Martin had taken place than was previously reported. Wester said bishops raised to the pope questions about a recent speech Martin delivered to the presidents of Catholic universities, “and his work in general with the LGBT community.”

The pope’s visit with Martin “was only mentioned in passing and was not the main point of the questions” bishops raised to the pope about Martin, Wester wrote.

The archbishop did not indicate what he saw as the “main point” of the bishops’ questions, nor did he indicate the response of Pope Francis to questions raised about the issues he mentioned.

While it would be “difficult for anyone to remember with precision anything that was said” in such a lengthy meeting, Wester said that he did not recall “the pope saying or implying that he was unhappy with Father Martin or his ministry.”

Regarding the pope’s visit with Martin, one bishop told CNA Feb. 20 that Pope Francis “made his displeasure clear” about the way the meeting was interpreted, and framed by some journalists.

Wester’s commentary confirmed that report. The archbishop added that from his viewpoint, “it was not Father Martin the Pope was talking about, but the way others tried to use that encounter, one way or the other.”

The Archbishop of Santa Fe did take issue with a bishop who told CNA that “the Holy Father's disposition was very clear, he was most displeased about the whole subject of Fr. Martin and how their encounter had been used. He was very expressive, both his words and his face -  his anger was very clear, he felt he'd been used."

Speaking of that bishop’s description, Wester said “the language subtlety, yet incorrectly, leads the reader to believe that Father Martin was the issue while in fact, it was how others used their meeting that was in play.” Wester said he did not think the pope had been “angry, upset or annoyed.”

In his commentary, Wester disagreed with reports from other bishops that the pope said Martin had received some correction about the way the Sept. 30 visit was framed.

"Not at all true from my vantage point," Wester said.

Wester conceded that there was some discussion of raising issues with Martin's superiors, though he was not specific about what was said.

“I vaguely remember some mention of people in leadership trying to clarify any misunderstandings about his ministry,” the archbishop wrote. Wester said he thought that reference had to do with an article Martin had written in America Magazine, and not with the pope's meeting with Martin, although he did not indicate what factors led him to that conclusion.

Martin himself, after Wester’s commentary was published, tweeted that he has “never heard anything negative from Jesuit superiors, nor was I ever given a ‘talking to.’”

The archbishop said he could not recall other aspects of reports about the meeting.

“I believe that I have an obligation to offer my perspective on those matters contained in the CNA article about Father James Martin, SJ, since my understanding of the facts differs from what was reported anonymously,” Wester concluded.

The bishops who spoke with CNA reported that Martin’s work in regards to the LGBT community was also discussed with the heads of numerous Vatican congregations, and that some officials expressed concern about aspects of the priest’s work. Wester did not comment on those reports.


Parts of Notre-Dame plaza, crypt expected to reopen this spring

Paris, France, Feb 21, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- French officials are hopeful that parts of the plaza of Notre-Dame de Paris, as well as the church’s crypt, will be re-opened roughly a year after a fire ravaged the roof and much of the interior of the cathedral.

Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris, said the internationally cherished cathedral’s plaza and crypt should reopen sometime before the summer “if everything goes OK,” the New York Times reported.

Officials told the New York Times that these parts of the cathedral and the surrounding area have thus far remained closed due to lead contamination from the rubble of the burnt roof and spire, which collapsed in the fire.

According to French government information, obtained by the New York Times, lead levels on the cathedral’s plaza following the fire were as high as 1,300 times above French safety guidelines, and on other surrounding areas lead levels were 955 times above safety regulations.

“Obviously this depends on whether the site has been properly cleaned up, but we have been doing regular lead checks,” Karen Taïeb, also a deputy mayor for Paris, told the New York Times. If all goes well, she said the plaza and crypt could be opened as early as the end of March.

On April 15 last year, a fire started in the center of the cathedral’s roof and nearly destroyed the entire building before it was put out.

The church receives more than 12 million visitors each year.

The roof had been undergoing restorative work at the time of the fire, and in the subsequent months, fire officials said they believed either malfunctioning electrical work or an abandoned cigarette butt from a worker caused the fire.

Most of the church’s sacred and artistic treasures, including the Eucharist and a relic of the crown of thorns, were rescued during the fire thanks to a planned rescue strategy that was in place for just such emergencies.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to restore the cathedral within five years following the fire, and nearly $1 billion has been pledged towards its restoration from private donors.

Last summer the French government passed a bill organizing how the restoration funds would be distributed, though debates about whether the cathedral will be restored as it was are ongoing.

Since the adoption of the 1905 law on separation of church and state, which formalized laïcité (a strict form of public secularism), religious buildings in France have been property of the state.

Fla. bishops laud parental consent for abortion bill as it goes to governor

Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 21, 2020 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- The Florida bishops applauded Thursday the passage through both houses of the state legislature of a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking to procure abortion. The governor has said he intends to sign the bill.

The Florida House of Representatives passed SB 404 by a 75-43 vote Feb. 20. It had cleared the Senate by a 23-17 vote earlier this month.

“We praise our state’s legislative leaders for advancing this pro-life legislation, especially bill sponsors, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and Representative Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), who took on the difficult task of guiding it through the committee process and onto the floor of the Senate and House,” the Florida bishops' conference said Feb. 20.

“We also commend the Democratic lawmakers who courageously crossed party lines and voted to ensure vital protections for parents and their children.”

The bill would require minors to received notarized approval from a parent or guardian, or to get consent from a judge after a hearing, before procuring an abortion.

Under the bill, minors seeking an abortion will be required to receive notarized approval from at least one parent, guardian, or from a judge. Doctors who perform abortions without the parental consent of a girl under 18 would face up to five years in prison for a third-degree felony.

The permission requirement would not apply in cases of “medical emergencies” when there is not sufficient time to obtain written permission from a parent.

The bishops noted that “Parental consent is required prior to a minor's medical treatment in most every instance, this includes simple medical interventions such as taking an aspirin or getting one’s ears pierced. This legislation is a common-sense measure that holds abortion to the same consent requirements as most every other medical decision involving a child.”

Ingrid Delgado, associate director for social concerns and respect life for the Florida bishops' conference, commented that “standards that relate to children's health care should apply especially in the context of abortion, which critically affects the lives of two children.”

Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, voted for the measure, calling it “a good bill for our children,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, a sponsor of the measure, said: “It is indisputable that abortion ends a life, and the decision to end a life is permanent and life-altering not only for the baby, but for the girl, the father and the family.”

Those opposed to the bill said it will create more difficulties for young girls who are already in a desperate situation, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said that “we don't live in a Utopia where parents always love and advise their children and young girls never get pregnant.”

The Florida legislature first enacted a parental consent law in 1979, but the state Supreme Court struck it down a decade later, saying it violated privacy rights.

Governor Ron DeSantis has said he thinks parental consent “deserves to be reconsidered” at the court, adding that parents “want to be involved with what’s going on with their kids.”

The Florida House passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to make it out of Senate committees for full debate.

Existing Florida law requires a minor seeking to procure abortion to give notice to their parent, or a judge.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, 1,398 minors, 193 of whom notified a judge rather than her parents, procured abortion in the state in 2018.

Twenty-six states require parental consent for a minor's abortion.

Sri Lankan cardinal calls for full investigation into Easter bombings

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb 21, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, has called for a full investigation into the bombing attacks on Easter Sunday 2019, and introduced a program to pray for the victims of the attacks. 

“The people of this country have a right to know the truth about the Easter bomb attacks,” said Ranjith on Feb. 18. “We hope that our political leaders will work to fulfill that obligation.” 

The Easter bomb attacks killed 259 people and injured more than 500. Two Catholic churches, one evangelical Christian church, four hotels, and a housing complex were hit by a total of nine suicide bombers. 

The suicide bombers, who were all Sri Lankan citizens, belonged to an Islamist group known as the National Thowheeth Jama’ath. They attacked the three churches in the middle of Easter Sunday services. 

"Anybody who had dealings with these people who set off the bombs, even their bank accounts and their telephone calls, has to be investigated," the cardinal said.  

Ranjith has criticised past inquiries into the attacks. 

“It is difficult for us to say what happened based on the reports of former government commissions. We believe [the commissions] may have worked to cover up what happened,” said Ranjith. 

“We are pleased with the new presidential commission. They are trying to explain every aspect of the issue.” 

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who assumed office in November 2019, has worked with Ranjith on the investigation into the attacks, and asked him to appoint a representative to the commission. Ranjith did not nominate a representative, and instead appeared before the commission himself on December 6 and 7. 

Ranjith said that he wished to represent the concerns of both the victims and the country’s Catholic community. The Archdiocese of Colombo, which he leads, is the only Catholic diocese in the country and also includes the Maldive islands. Christians make up approximately 7% of Sri Lanka’s population, but roughly eight out of 10 Christians in Sri Lanka are Catholic. 

In addition to the request for a further investigation, Ranjith also announced prayer services to mark the anniversary of the attack. 

“It is the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Colombo to never forget all those who lost their lives in this tragic attack on that day,” he said. 

Two of the prayer services will be held at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kotahena and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, the locations of the attacks. 

Ranjith has been increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan authorities’ failure to prevent the attacks. It has been reported that Indian intelligence services repeatedly warned Sri Lanka about the possibility of an attack occurring on Easter Sunday, including the morning of the attacks. 

“Nobody took serious note,” said Ranjith in June. “This disaster could have been prevented because if I knew that there was an attack planned I would have closed the churches and told the people to go home.”

Argentine clergy abuse victims in Rome, one year after Vatican summit

Rome, Italy, Feb 21, 2020 / 12:49 pm (CNA).- One year after the Vatican hosted a summit on the abuse crisis, three former students of an Argentine institute which cared for deaf children, and from which two priests were convicted last year of sexual abuse, have traveled to Rome to ask the Vatican for files on accused priests.

Two Catholic priests were sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted in November of sexually abusing students at the now-closed Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired children in Argentina’s Mendoza province.

Three victims, who are former students of the institute, were accompanied by around 18 other victims of clergy sexual abuse, activists, and lawyers at a gathering near the Vatican Feb. 21.

The group was at the United Nations in Geneva earlier in the week, where they gave presentations to the UN committees against torture, on disability rights, and on the rights of the child, according to Denise Buchanan of advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse.

The Argentina case was presented “so that they can discuss it in the committees and pressure the Vatican to do whatever they need to do to make this stop from that end,” Buchanan told CNA.

One of the young victims from Argentina, Claudia Labeguerie, told CNA they went to the UN to “denounce the pope and the Vatican for cover-up, and then we came here to Rome to tell [about] the report.”

Labeguerie, who is deaf and uses sign language, spoke with CNA through her sister, Erica. Labeguerie said she suffered “abuse and torture by priests and sisters” at the Provolo Institute.

Buchanan, who was in Rome during the 2019 Vatican summit on abuse, said the Argentine victims “want Pope Francis to know that right here, right now is the time for there to be some reparation for them.”

She described reparation as including financial support for the victims, many of whom came from poor families. She also said they are looking for papal acknowledgment and changes to Church law.

The 2019 convictions in Argentina were for crimes which took place from 2004 to 2016. The cases involved 10 students, though around 20 have made abuse accusations.

Noting that some of the abuse occurred as recently as four years ago, Buchanan said they hope “people understand that [abuse is] not a past issue, it’s a present issue.”

Friday’s gathering was held in the square outside the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes of abuse by clergy or religious according to Church law.

Buchanan and others present said they were outside the CDF because they want the Vatican to hand over to Argentine lawyers the files on priests connected with the Provolo Institute and their photos.

Lawyers for the students, who were also present Friday, want the files to aid in their own prosecutions, according to Buchanan.

The CDF does not share information or the case files on ongoing investigations and legal proceedings. After the conclusion, prosecutors in other countries may request access to case files through the Secretariat of State.

Gemma Hickey is the founder of victim advocacy organizations the Pathways Foundation and ACTS-Canada. The Church “has lost its way,” in handling clergy abuse, Hickey told CNA, calling for “ownership, transparency, accountability.”

Hickey, who is a victim of clerical abuse and now identifies as a transgender man, said, “when someone abuses you and they represent God, that never leaves you.”

“As much as you move on, as much therapy as you do, you still carry that with you every day. It’s very difficult. It compromises your faith and your relationship to God, your relationship with yourself.”

Members of SNAP, the ECA network, and were also present at the gathering.

Patricia Dold, a religious studies professor, said she herself is not a victim of clergy abuse, but she is angry and frustrated “to see this Church fail survivors.”

Their presence in Rome “is just one way to make the statement that we want the Church to live up to its moral code.”

Pope Francis: Canon law revision project is concluding

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2020 / 11:36 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said on Friday that canon law can be like medicine, because justice is healing for the entire Church. The pope also said that a long-running process of revising canon law’s penal norms has come to an end, suggesting that major revisions to the Code of Canon Law could soon be issued.

“Making known and applying the laws of the Church is not a hindrance to the presumed pastoral ‘efficacy’ of those who want to solve problems without the law, but a guarantee of the search for solutions that are not arbitrary, but truly just and, therefore, truly pastoral,” Pope Francis said Feb. 21.

“By avoiding arbitrary solutions, the law becomes a valid bulwark in defense of the least and the poor, the protective shield of those who risk falling victim to the powerful in turn,” the pope added.

Pope Francis met with the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts at the end of their plenary assembly. The pontifical council is not itself a lawmaker, but assists the pope, who is the Church's supreme legislator, in drafting, and interpreting canon law.

For more than a decade, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has been at work on a set of major revisions to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, which covers penal law in the Church.

The revision was commissioned by Benedict XVI.

“The work of revision of Book VI of the Latin Code, that has occupied you for several years and with this Plenary arrives at [its] conclusion,” Pope Francis said. 

“I urge you to continue tenaciously in this task,” the pope added.

The pope said that the pontifical council’s revision is moving “in the right direction” with its update to the canonical legislation to “make it more organic and in accordance with the new situations and problems of the current socio-cultural context” and “together offer suitable tools to facilitate its application.”

The Church’s law is a pastoral tool, and as such must be considered and accepted, Francis said.

“Contrary to that provided for by the state legislator, the canonical penalty always has a pastoral meaning and pursues not only a function of respect for the order, but also the reparation and above all the good of the guilty party,” the pope said. “The reparative aim is designed to restore, as far as possible, the conditions preceding the violation that disturbed the communion.”

“Every crime affects the whole Church, whose communion has been violated by those who deliberately attacked it with their own behavior,” Pope Francis stressed.

“The aim of the recovery of the individual underlines that the canonical penalty is not a merely coercive tool, but has a distinctly medicinal character. Ultimately, it represents a positive means for the realization of the Kingdom, for rebuilding justice in the community of the faithful, called to personal and common sanctification,” he said.

Pope Benedict XV established the pontifical council following his promulgation of the first Code of Canon Law in 1917. The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has since played a role in interpreting the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and revising the code of canon law. A new code for the Latin Catholic Church was promulgated in 1983, and a code of canons for Eastern Catholic Churches was promulgated in 1990.

In his address to the pontifical council, Pope Francis quoted Benedict XVI’s “Letter to Seminarians” and said it can be an invitation to all Catholics to learn to “understand and -- I dare say - to love canon law in its intrinsic necessity and in the forms of its practical application.”

“Dictatorships are born and grow without rights. In the Church this cannot happen,” Pope Francis said.


More than 207,000 sign petition to shutter porn website after trafficking violations

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 21, 2020 / 11:26 am (CNA).- Underage pornography and trafficking videos have been found on the online pornography platform PornHub.

By Feb. 21, a petition on calling on the site to be shut down and its executive held accountable for aiding trafficking had more than 207,000 signatures.

The petition points to several instances of child rape pornography found on PornHub in the past year.

Laila Mickelwait, Exodus Cry's Director of Abolition and the author of the petition, said there may be more instances of this illegal material on this site as well.

“We already have evidence, and it is just the tip of the iceberg,” the petition states. “It’s time to shut down super-predator site Pornhub and hold the executives behind it accountable.”

The petition will be sent to the US Department of Justice, the FBI, US President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and several US Congressmen.

Mickelwait’s organization was established to abolish commercial sex abuse, sexual exploitation, and global sex trafficking. Exodus Cry is based on two principles: altering mindsets and changing laws.

Dr. Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research & Education, said the petition is proposing a fair and moderate position. She said the actions which occurred on PornHub's watch are already illegal.

“Laila and her organization are taking a very reasonable stance. They're only talking about children and they're only talking about children that are being advertised for sale. Any prostitution of a child according to U.S. federal law is trafficking,” she told CNA.

“This is pictures of the trafficking of kids, in other words, pictures of the prostitution of children. To prosecute PornHub for profiting from photographs of the sexual assault of children for money...I'm delighted that her organization is taking this on.”

While Mickelwait did not originally plan to make a petition, she told CNA the initiative came about after she received feedback from people who were angry at the news regarding PornHub’s negligence regarding illegal material on its site.

“Everybody's in agreement that children should not be trafficked and raped. Women should not be trafficked and raped for profit, for the sexual pleasure of billions of people who visit that website. There's just no arguing with that,” she said.

During last year, 58 videos of sexual abuse and rape of a 15-year-old girl appeared on PornHub. The girl had been missing for a year when her mother found her on the adult website, leading to the arrest of her captor, Christopher Johnson, a 30-year-old Florida man.

Mickelwait said the 15-year-old girl had been approved by the supposed “verification system” of Pornhub, despite the girl being underage. She said that to upload a video, all that is needed is a valid email address.

“They had verified that 15 year-old-girl who was raped and assaulted on 58 videos on their platform … that was part of kind of what's been called an explosive revelation of what's happening on this website,” she said.

Michael James Pratt, head of GirlsDoPorn, was sued for over $12.7 million by 22 women who had been led to believe they were applying for “modeling jobs.” As it was actually a pornography shoot, the women who agreed to participate were told they would only appear on physical DVDs published in other countries and not online. The women were aged between 17 and 22.

Pratt is now facing charges in the US for trafficking and producing child pornography. He is reportedly on the run in New Zealand.

According to BBC, Rose Kalemba was abducted, beaten, and raped at age 14. Later a video of her sexual abuse appeared on PornHub. She found out about the videos through her classmates, who sent her links and bullied her for it.

After she discovered the videos, she would email PornHub over the next few months pleading for the content to be taken down and emphasizing her status as a minor, BBC reported. The website only obliged once she posed as her own lawyer.

Mickelwait said that because of the massive amount of content on Pornhub, she believes there are more instances of the sexual exploitation and child pornography than has been reported.

“If you go on my Twitter and you just scroll through, you could see case after case, after case, after case of instances where real rape, real trafficking is being uploaded to PornHub and PornHub is profiting off of that exploitation. It's a huge problem,” she said.

“If we know that there's 10, 12, 15, 20[cases], [then] there's probably hundreds, thousands [of cases of sexual exploitation]... We have no idea how huge this could be based on the amount of content they have on their site.”

Mickelwait said the company that owns PornHub has a monopoly on the pornographic industry, having consolidated nternet porn.

“When people do things that are not okay, they need to be held accountable for that. But it also sets a precedent and example for anybody else who would try to do something like this and allow it, promote it, profit off of it. The public in the world is not going to put up with that,” she said.

“If it can happen to the world's largest, richest, most powerful internet porn company, it could happen to anyone. I think that that's why this is particularly important.”

She said that viewers of pornography are also harmed: “Experimental exposure to porn leads men and women to have a diminished view of women's competence, morality, and humanity,” she said.

“Studies have been done that show that and demonstrate that when you watch hardcore violent pornography, it creates what's called permission-giving beliefs about rape. It makes people believe what's called the rape myths: that women want rape, that they deserve rape.”

Farley told CNA that all violent pornography is a problem, which may lead to extreme and violent fetishes or cases of prostitution. She said that all people harmed by sexual assaults in pornography should be compensated.

“My concern as somebody who's been studying the sex trade for 20 years is that pornography is filmed documentation of sexual assault, humiliation, degradation, threats, and things like that. So any photograph of sexual assault is a problem,” she said.

“I would go much further. I would say that any pornography that harms anyone, whether they're six, 16 or 60 years old, whether they're male, female, trans, anyone who's prostitution is filmed, who's abuse is film, if they can show harm, they should sue PornHub for just everything it's worth,” she added.

Syria’s Hidden Victims - Samer Hanna

Damascus, Syria, Feb 21, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Syrian civil war has led to one of the largest refugee crises of modern times, and presented unique problems for Syria’s ancient Christian communities. Marginalized for centuries, persecuted by ISIS, afraid to attract any attention from the West, Syrian Christians remain, by most accounts, the war’s most invisible victims.

Samer Hanna, a Christian living in the eastern city of Qamishli, was born and raised in Raqqa—made famous in later years for being the capital of ISIS’s would-be caliphate—and in 2013 fled from escalating violence to a small village called Tel Fayda, before finally settling down in Qamishli. At 37 years old, Samer works 70-hour weeks as broadcasting director for Suroyo FM, a radio station that celebrates the linguistic and ethnical diversity of Syria by broadcasting political, social and artistic programs in Syriac, Armenian and Arabic. 

In partnership with the Philos Project, CNA sat down with Samer Hanna:

Tell us what your life was like in Raqqa before ISIS and how you ended up in Qamishli.

My life was like any normal person’s life. I had finished my studies, got permanent employment and bought a house. We never felt a distinction between denominations, religions, or ethnicities before 2011. It wasn’t mentioned in front of us growing up. The region was a diverse one because people came from all over Syria to work after the split of the Euphrates Dam in 1973. Sunnis from Hama and Aleppo, Assyrians, Syriacs and Kurds from al-Jazira and Ain al-Arab, and Alawites from Latakia and Tartous. 
On March 3, 2013 I fled from Raqqa to Tel Fayda in the countryside of Tell Tamer. I stayed there for 9 months before I moved to Qamishli. I had never been there before and never imagined I would flee there.
What changed when the war started?

I supported the Syrian government, probably because of what we heard about war from our relatives in Iraq and the lack of any real change in the Arab Spring. 
When the Free Syrian Army entered Raqqa in March 2013, everything changed. People fled in their pajamas away from constant bombing, mass shelling, and air strikes. The government forces were under siege. I remember looking at the city from a bus window as I left, telling myself, “I won’t be long, I’ll be back.” At that time, I had no idea that it would take over six years for me to return. 
Many of my Muslim friends and neighbors stayed in Raqqa when ISIS took over. They told us not to come back because they’d kill us. They confiscated my house. One neighbor sent a picture of my house to me. I still get emotional thinking about it.
How did your life change when Islamists took over Raqqa in late 2012?

On December 31, 2012, I got a call from a Muslim man named Abu Khouthayfa who threatened to blackmail me, because I was Christian. My dad had to pay the bribe by selling his car. This event really scared my family. We had to leave Raqqa and many of my Muslim friends and neighbors who stayed back would tell us, “Don’t you dare come back! They want to kill you!”
Have you lost any family members or friends?

I have not lost any family members, but my mom fled to Germany with my brothers. My dad refused to leave and settled in Qamishli instead, so I stayed with him. My dad had hoped to return, saying that Raqqa would be liberated soon. His words and my own hope of returning made it difficult to move forward with life in Qamishli.
Two of my friends were killed. One was murdered by al-Nusra, an Islamist jihadist group, after a physical altercation that broke out regarding his consumption of alcohol, which is forbidden under Islamic law. The other friend died in one of the clashes of the war. My cousin’s husband was killed by a Syrian airstrike while working in his shop. They were trying to hit a weapons depot but unfortunately his shop was close to that area. 
Did anything change with the Turkish invasion?

Of course! The first thing that changed was the lack of security in Qamishli. I feared losing everything again, and the fear increased every time Turkish forces seized new territories on our side of the border. The mass exodus that a full Turkish invasion could inflict would change the whole demography of the area.
You say that Raqqa is a special case. How so?

Raqqa is truly a special case and has unusual magic. For decades the Roman Catholic church was the only functioning church in Raqqa so all of us Christians would gather in that church regardless of ethnicity or denomination. We shared holidays, prayers and youth groups there. 
Unlike in the rest of Syria, church bells never rang in Raqqa. It wasn’t allowed because, according to my priest, Muslims were not used to hearing them. So, the bells never rang in Raqqa, and they probably never will.
Even before ISIS, we were subjected to harassment from bigoted Muslims in Raqqa. In 2006, the Syriac Orthodox community leased an Armenian church downtown that had been closed for 30 years. During the mass, Muslim kids would sometimes open the doors of the church and throw stones at us. 
Do you want to stay in Qamishli, go back to Raqqa, or leave? 

After the massive destruction in Raqqa I thought it would be impossible to return and rebuild. I realized then that I needed to settle down in Qamishli, mentally and emotionally.
In Qamishli, there is no coexistence regardless of what people on the outside say. It’s a façade, a ticking bomb that can explode at any moment. The neighborhoods are divided by denomination or ethnicity, unlike the way it used to be in Raqqa, and there have been clashes between these groups several times. Racism between people from the same religion is not uncommon.
Even still, I would not consider fleeing abroad unless the Turks reach Qamishli and there’s no other place in Syria to take refuge. I hope this doesn’t happen because I have settled here, and I’ve made friends here.
What is your hope for yourself?

I don’t know what to say. That question is difficult because I’m so lost. I don’t know my path and I constantly fear what might happen tomorrow. I don’t have the ambition to build more because I always have the feeling that I could lose everything at any moment. I used to have a lot of dreams for the future, but my fears stop me now. I am being treated for PTSD. My return to Raqqa, after it was liberated in 2017, caused massive mental health issues for me, and I couldn’t sleep for 3-4 months. I have been treated by a psychologist for the last two years.

Unfortunately, another disadvantage here in Qamishli is the lack of doctors because so many have emigrated. The psychologist that I use is the only one left in his field. 
What have the challenges you’ve faced taught you about being a Christian? 

They’ve taught me that I am subject to murder and genocide solely because I’m Christian. They wrote “Nazarene” on all our Christian homes in Raqqa and took our property. Driving on the streets, I fear that a radical person will stop, see my name, and know that I’m Christian, which would put me in danger. 
What message would you want Christians in the West to know?

I want the whole world to say, “Enough war, killing, and destruction!” The Syrian people have no hopes, dreams, or future. Our hope is to go grocery shopping without being killed in a car bomb. These are our miserable dreams now because we’re in a state of war. Even though there’s no ongoing war here, our souls are being killed slowly. 
An entire generation has been destroyed, kids born into the sound of bullets and bombs. Their first memories are of blood, crime, killings, and hatred of others. I wish all these people could unify their voices and stop all the wars in the world, not only in Syria. 

Update: In early February, authorities in Raqqa started rebuilding the Armenian Catholic Martyrs’ Church and the Melkite Catholic Church, the churches that Samer grew up in. The city is not controlled by the Syrian government, and the Armenian Catholic Eparchy in Qamishli have said that no Masses will be held in the church after the rebuilding if the city is not then under control of the Syrian government. There are seven Christians in Raqqa that Samer knows of. One is Armenian, one Melkite Catholic, and five are Syriac Orthodox. The majority of the Christians who fled during the Islamist invasion went to the Qamishli and Hassake, in northeast Syria. Samer has interviewed many of them; he said 90% of them said they won’t go back to Raqqa even if the churches are rebuilt because their houses have been destroyed.

Pope Francis prays for victims of German shooting

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed Friday for the victims of a shooting in Germany that killed nine people at two hookah bars.

The victims of the attack on the night of Feb. 19 were predominantly immigrants in Germany from Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. German authorities said that the suspected gunman posted an online video calling for a genocide of ethnic minorities in Germany before carrying out the attack and then killing himself and his 72-year-old mother.

“Having learned of the terrible act of violence in Hanau, which caused the death of innocent people, the Holy Father Francis was deeply affected,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote in a telegram Feb. 21.

“In prayer, Pope Francis entrusts the dead to the mercy of God and implores Christ, Lord of life, so that mourners will find consolation and trust, and will be accompanied by the blessing and peace of God,” Parolin said.

The Vatican Secretary of State sent the telegram on the pope’s behalf to Bishop Michael Gerber of Fulda, who leads the diocese where the shooting took place.

Bishops throughout Germany spoke out in the wake of the attack. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German bishops’ conference denounced racism and radical nationalism, saying that these cannot be justified from a Christian perspective.

“The news that a man has killed and injured numerous people in Hanau leaves me stunned. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their relatives. We hope that the injured will recover soon. In this situation, we also think of the people who have to deal with this terrible act in their neighborhood,” Marx said.

The German cardinal said that such violence is due to right-wing extremism and violent statements on the internet, which must be opposed.

“As Christians, we believe that all people - regardless of religion, nation, culture or language - are children of God. That is why we stand with everyone together against violence and terror,” Cardinal Marx said.