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Arlington priest pays restitution for burning KKK cross in family's lawn

Arlington, Va., Dec 11, 2017 / 03:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Arlington priest who was formerly a KKK member has written an apology letter and paid restitution to a family for burning a cross in their lawn in 1977.

Fr. William Aitcheson, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and was arrested in 1977 for burning six crosses, one on the lawn of Philip and Barbara Butler. He was 23 years old at the time.

In a handwritten letter to the Butlers released on Friday, Aitcheson apologized for his “despicable act” and for the pain that it caused. “I also know that the symbol of the most enduring love the world has ever known must never be used as a weapon of terror,” he wrote.

Besides the letter, the priest also sent the Butlers a check for $23,000, the original restitution owed them in 1977, and offered to pay their legal fees of $9,600.

While the family originally refused to accept Aitcheson’s apology and money, the diocese said in a press release that the Butlers “have since reconsidered and accepted” the restitution and money for legal fees, which were paid from Aicheson’s personal funds and a private loan.

The diocese also stated that “Fr. Aitcheson had no legal obligation to make restitution, and it should be clarified that he had no obligation under Church law either. Fr. Aitcheson felt a moral obligation to pay as much as he could. The Diocese supported this decision.”

“Fr. Aitcheson acknowledges that he should have reached out to the Butler family and paid restitution decades ago, but he hopes this resolution begins a process of healing and peace,” the diocese added.

In August, Aitcheson’s past as a KKK member was made public when he wrote an article in the diocesan newspaper “with the intention of telling his story of transformation” from being a Klan member to abandoning his racist beliefs and becoming a Catholic priest.

The article, entitled “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace,” was written in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 11-12, which drew national attention. According to the diocese, a freelancer reporter contacted the diocese at that time after she found that Fr. Aitcheson’s name matched that of a man arrested in the 1970s. Fr. Aitcheson saw it as a chance to share his story of conversion, and the diocese agreed to publish his account.

“He left that life behind him 40 years ago and since journeyed in faith to eventually become a Catholic priest,” the diocese said in a statement in August.

The Butlers’ lawyer has told local media that the family is still pursuing a civil suit against the law firm that originally represented them at the time of the incident and failed to renew the judgment on the case, allowing it to expire. The family is seeking to collect the interest accrued on the original $23,000, which would now be more than $68,000.

The family is also looking into a civil suit against the diocese, which they believe should have come forward about Aitcheson’s past, and alleging harm caused by an apology letter published by the priest.

The diocese has said that they were aware of Aitcheson’s past KKK involvement but were not made aware of the civil suit until August.

Fr. Aitcheson entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nev. in 1988. He came to the Arlington Diocese in 1993. The Arlington Diocese stated in August that “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

Fr. Aitcheson has been on a voluntary leave of absence since August. According to the diocese, “plans for (Aitcheson’s) future priestly ministry are still being discerned.”

 

Vatican conference highlights role of laity in addressing modern challenges

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 03:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leading lay experts and top Vatican officials have joined forces this week to talk about how they can collaborate in addressing key areas of modern concern, placing a special emphasis on the role of laypeople.

“Even before the (Second) Vatican Council, the conviction of the Church was that lay involvement in certain spheres of life, particularly political and social, was absolutely indispensable,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher told CNA Dec. 11.

The importance of the laity “is quite clear even more today,” he said, explaining that without their activity and social and political advocacy, the Church would lose its voice.

“It is absolutely key, crucial, for the future of the Church's engagement with society that laypeople should be prepared to do this, should be courageous in doing it, and should have this great will to bring the voice of Christ now in the political sphere and social sphere, on a local level and an international level,” he said.

“I think they can do a great service to the Church and to the world in this way,” he said, adding that “any form of engagement” is encouraged.

Msgr. Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, spoke before celebrating Mass on the opening night of a Dec. 11-13 conference organized by the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs, titled “Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World.”

The conference, which drew a slew of representatives from various NGOs around the world, including non-Catholics, focused on how Catholic-inspired organizations can help safeguard core values such as family and religious freedom, and ensure the that a proper integral human development is achieved in the context of a rapidly changing global society.

In his speech for the conference, Gallagher said the Holy See and Catholic-inspired NGOs can work together to achieve “the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.”

He stressed that the Holy See isn't “controlling” the forum, but that rather, the members and leaders of the NGOs are the real protagonists, since they bring “real life experiences and expertise” to the table through their work.

Among those “protagonists” present for the conference was Helen Alvare, a professor of family law, law and religion, and property law at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University. She is also the cofounder of the “Women Speak for Themselves” organization, the president of “Reconnect Media” non-profit communications group, and an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

In comments to CNA, Alvare also stressed the importance of the role of laity, specifically women and the poor, in advocating key issues in the Church, especially in regards to the family.

Through the organizations she is involved with, Alvare focuses on giving voice to people on the grassroots level and empowering them to have a greater role in the push for both religious freedom and the family values lost in the sexual revolution. The hope is to show that questions on sexuality “cannot be separated from issues about economic well-being and poverty and human happiness.”

Pope Francis has been a leading voice advocating for women and the poor, Alvare said.  However, while the Pope has set “a wonderful tone” on these issues, she believes that “one of the signs of the times is that it cannot come from top down in the Church.”

“No matter how lovely a tone Pope Francis sets on empowering women and the poor, when the subject matter turns to sex, marriage and parenting, the powers that be don't want to hear from him or the Church in any level,” she said.

Rather, the argument needs to come from those who have supposedly been empowered by the sexual revolution – laity, and especially lay women.

When the Church hierarchy joins forces with laity and religious on the ground, they can have a powerful effect, Alvare said, and this includes reaching the people taken in by the agenda of the sexual revolution.

Speaking of the partnership the Holy See can have with NGOs and the people who run them, Gallagher in his speech highlighted several key areas of collaboration, the first being to advance the 2030 sustainable development goals, which Pope Francis has called “an important sign of hope” and which in large part are aimed at ending poverty, protecting the environment, and promoting education.

He also pointed to the issues of forced migration and displacement resulting in “unprecedented population shifts,” giving specific mention to the 2018 U.N. global compacts on migration and refugees.

Other major areas of concern, he said, are climate change and the promotion of an integral human ecology; the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes concern for religious discrimination and persecution; and freedom of expression, as well as the freedom to convert.

While the global landscape in light of these issues might seem “immense and complex,” Gallagher said it is also promising, because the efforts that appear to be small are capable of “developing and achieving ends for the benefit of the common good of all.”

In a brief Q&A after his talk, Gallagher encouraged members of NGOs to be active and involved in the debate on relevant issues in their competence, keeping the papal representatives in the loop on the discussion and seeking advice or input from the Holy See when needed.

“Part of the thing about autonomy, is one shouldn't be waiting for instructions,” he said. “It's about working together, its about collaborative ministry together,” he said, adding that it's not about “a voice coming from on high saying, 'Do a,b,c'.”  

Responding to a question on his advice for Catholic doctors and medical personnel who work with Catholic-inspired medical organizations, Gallagher said the most important traits needed today are “great courage and sacrifice.”

Part of this courage also means exercising the right to follow their conscience. “We expect you to assert the rights of your conscience and that of your more vulnerable colleagues,” he said, adding that the role of the conscience for those working in the medical field right now “is absolutely fundamental.”

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Analysis: What the Vatican does to stop money laundering

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 01:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee has praised the Holy See’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Information Authority, in a report published last week.

The report noted the progress the Holy See has made in establishing an effective reporting system for suspect transactions, and in its international cooperation with investigation and reporting of financial irregularities. The report recommended that the financial authority “actively pursue” pending criminal cases of money laundering.

Moneyval is the Council of Europe’s “Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.” It evaluates how financial systems in European states work to counter money laundering and stop the flow of funds to organizations connected to terrorism.
 
The progress report is part of the Moneyval’s regular evaluation procedure, which it conducts for all members.

The Holy See applied to Moneyval in 2011, after issuing its first anti-money laundering legislation. Moneyval issued a general “mutual evaluation report” on the Holy See and Vatican City State in July 2012. That evaluation called for improvements to the Holy See’s financial oversight procedures, which the Vatican has since pursued.
 
After the first general report, each state is called to report on its progress the year after the general evaluation, and to submit subsequent progress reports every two years.

The Holy See submitted a progress report in 2013, 2015 and now in 2017. The next report will be submitted in 2019, and it is expected that there will be an on site visit by Moneyval inspectors in the course of 2018.
 
The reports’ data confirm that Vatican is now in the third phase of implementing effective protections against money laundering.
 
The first phase, “the assumption of responsibility,” led to a Monetary Convention between the Holy See and European Union in 2009, and Benedict XVI’s motu proprio that established the first Vatican anti-money laundering laws at the end of 2010.
 
The second phase was “debugging financial transparency reforms.” The Vatican’s anti-money laundering law was amended and substantially re-written, and this led to a generally positive evaluation by Moneyval. In 2013, the Vatican financial system was furtherly improved with the issuance of additional laws and policies.
 
The third and current phase is that of improving the effectiveness of the system.
 
The progress report highlights a sort of “two speed” situation for Vatican financial reforms. While the overall system is working, the court system still needs to be developed, as reports on suspected money laundering did not lead to prosecutions.
 
Both Monyeval and Holy See Press Office releases acknowledge that the Holy See’s Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) has carried out a significant work in the past two years.
 
According to Moneyval, the Holy See “has established a functioning reporting system.”
 
“In the past two years,” a Dec. 8 Moneyval release said, “the Holy See has established a functioning reporting system. Both the AIF and the judicial authorities have sought and were responding to international cooperation requests in their work.”
 
The AIF has established 24 new Memoranda of Understanding with foreign financial intelligence units and 4 new Memorandum of Understanding with supervisory authorities.
 
The Holy See recieved 380 requests for cooperation from foreign authorities in 2015, a number that increased to 837 in 2016, probably due to the Institute for Religious Works remediation process that led to the closure of about 4,800 IOR accounts. In 2017, the number of international cooperation requests decreased to a total of 104.
 
Beyond the data on international cooperation, the report also provides data about money laundering investigations.  
 
Since Jan. 2013, the report says, “69 disseminations to the Promoter have been made by AIF where money laundering was suspected”. The Promoter for Justice – the Vatican prosecutor – opened 27 criminal distinct investigations out of the 69 AIF disseminations.
 
Of those investigations, 8 investigations “have been closed formally without any charges”, while 6 investigations concluded without an indictment and their formal closure has been requested. There are currently 8 criminal investigation open as money laundering investigations.
 
These facts also bring to light the main problem highlighted by the Moneyval report.
 
The Moneyval report noted that “the Holy See had still not brought a money laundering case to court”.
 
The committee stressed that “while considerable amounts of assets continued to be frozen, no criminal case had yet produced a confiscation order.”  For this reason.  “Moneyval recommends the Holy See ensure that the money laundering aspects of all outstanding investigations in criminal cases by proactively pursued”.
 
“In this regard, the committee noted that the overall effectiveness of the Holy See’s engagement with combating money laundering depends on the results that will be achieved by the prosecution and the courts,” the release concluded.
 
However, there have been steps forward on the side of the Holy See’s judicial system that show how the Vatican is working to meet the requirements of its new money-laundering laws.
 
A Holy See Press Office release delivered Dec. 8 underscored that Moneyval welcomed “the creation of a specialized Economic Financial Crimes Investigation Unit within the Corps of the Gendarmerie and the appointment of a specialized Assistant Promoter of Justice.”
 
These two steps are crucial in making of the Vatican City State judicial system more prompt in prosecuting suspect money laundering cases.
 
It must be clear that the report is not about particular cases, and does not review any internal problem. Without naming them, the report describes five cases of Vatican trials that involved financial issues – some of them more recognizable, and some of them not.
 
But Moneyval is called to assess if the financial system to counter money laundering and financing of terrorism works, and not to judge on singular cases. The report is not in any way related to situations like, for instance, the recent firing of Giulio Mattietti, adjunct director to the IOR, which led to much speculation on the state of Vatican finances reforms.

It was a positive sign that the Vatican’s progress report was approved within Moneyval’s regular process. Otherwise, the Vatican would have had to submit a new report in a future plenary session.

The committee’s approval shows that the Holy See’s commitment, despite needed improvements, is welcome and appreciated by its European neighbors.
 
Moneyval’s progress report said that, despite some things that need to be fixed, the Holy See’s commitment to financial transparency, started under Benedict XVI, meets international standards, despite the unique reality of the Vatican City State and Holy See’s mission.
 
For the Vatican, finances are just a tool to carry out the mission of evangelization, and not an end in themselves. 

Court rejects Washington archdiocese's Advent metro ad

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2017 / 11:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court has denied relief to the Archdiocese of Washington, in its request for an injunction that would have allowed it to run bus ads encouraging riders to discover the true meaning of Christmas.

“We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our ‘Find the Perfect Gift’ Advent ad campaign,” said Ed McFadden, Secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington.

“While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square.”

The district court’s decision denied emergency relief to the archdiocese after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) declined to run the ad campaign, citing a 2015 policy which prohibits the promotion or opposition of religion in advertisements.

The archdiocese’s ad shows the Star of Bethlehem and reads “Find the perfect gift,” advertising the website www.findtheperfectgift.org and the hashtag #PerfectGift.

A version of the ad which includes a Bible verse is already posted at numerous city bus stops, which are controlled by the District Department of Transportation, not WMATA. The bus ads have been running for nearly a decade, and reach areas of the city which do not have many bus shelters.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson stated in her decision that she declined to grant the archdiocese relief from WMATA’s decision because she does not believe its case will succeed on religious freedom or free speech grounds.  

“The advertisement does not seek to address a general, otherwise permissible topic from a religious perspective — the sole purpose of directing the public to www.findtheperfectgift.org is to promote religion. The website declares: ‘JESUS is the perfect gift. [F]ind the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas’,”she wrote.

 

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