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Wealthy donors working to limit 'inappropriate' religious freedom

Denver, Colo., Dec 18, 2017 / 02:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A network of wealthy donors is funding a series of well-organized lobbying campaigns to restrict legal protections for religious freedom, in order to advance access to abortion and LGBT causes.

Since 2013, a network of funders has earmarked at least $8.5 million in grants for projects intended to limit religious freedom provisions in federal, state, and local law, according to a CNA investigation of grant listings and tax forms.

Many of these funders are part of the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative, a grantmaking fund launched by the Proteus Fund in March 2017. The collaborative opposes “the inappropriate use of religious exemptions to curtail reproductive health, rights and justice, discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, and otherwise undermine fundamental rights and liberties essential to a healthy democracy,” the fund’s website says.

The new anti-religious freedom collaborative was created to oppose “ongoing and growing efforts in too many states to ‘legalize’ discrimination and restrict fundamental human and civil rights under the guise of protecting ‘religious liberty’,” according to the fund’s website.

The Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative has given grants to pro-abortion groups and LGBT advocacy groups at the state, federal and international levels; religious groups including Catholics for Choice; legal advocacy groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal; and aligned academics, including those at Columbia Law School’s “Public Rights, Private Conscience Project.”

One donor, the Arcus Foundation, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to John Podesta’s Center for American Progress initiatives. These grants seek to redefine religious liberty as “a core progressive American value that includes LGBT equality and women’s reproductive health and rights,” according to its latest grant listed at the Arcus Foundation website.

The collaborative’s network also spends millions on leadership development, donor development, anti-violence and anti-discrimination projects, and LGBT and pro-abortion rights advocacy.

The Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative says it will serve as “a vehicle for broader donor education and mobilization in order to achieve deeper funding alignment as well as enhanced donor collaboration.”

The collaborative aims to nurture strategies and organizations that foster collaboration between “the reproductive equity and LGBTQ movements, especially at the state and local level.” It aims to boost the influence of faith leaders and religious communities that it says will support “equal rights and opportunities for everyone while also protecting legitimate constitutionally protected religious liberty rights.” Its website also claims that “discriminatory practices fostered by overly broad religious exemptions” have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

The collaborative’s funding partners, listed on the Proteus Fund’s website, are the Alki Fund of the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Arcus Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Moriah Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and anonymous donors.

The Proteus Fund appears to have had previous success. Its Civil Marriage Collaborative, closed in 2015, was a leader in the push for legal recognition of gay marriage. The fund’s “Hearts & Minds” report says that the consortium of foundations invested $153 million over 11 years in many states and at the national level in marriage-related advocacy.

CNA contacted the Proteus Fund for comment, but received no response by deadline.

Religious freedom laws: ‘not a blank check’

Richard Garnett, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, disagreed with the fund’s claims that religious freedom legal accommodations and exemptions are illegitimate. He said this claim is “inconsistent with our history and with our longstanding commitment to religious liberty as our ‘first freedom.’

“Reasonable exemptions do not ‘undermine fundamental rights and liberties,’ they protect and promote them,” he told CNA.

“Unfortunately, there are powerful and well-funded interests who, with broad support in the academy and in media, have been working hard to associate our ‘first freedom’ with discrimination and prejudice,” Garnett said.

He reflected on the state of religious freedom advocacy.

“Proponents of religious freedom, broadly and generously understood, will need to work hard to remind our fellow citizens that religious liberty – which has to mean religious liberty for all, and not just for ‘people like us’ – is itself a fundamental human right, and a protection for democracy,” he said. “And, of course, to make religious freedom more appealing, it is important that religious-freedom proponents conduct their efforts in a civil, charitable, and inviting way.”

For Garnett, the fund’s rhetoric about discrimination concerns did not accurately represent the current state of the law.

“In fact, only a tiny number of religious-exemptions claims involve antidiscrimination laws and these claims almost always fail,” he said. “The claim that religious-liberty laws undermine important anti-discrimination protections in the marketplace, the workplace, or in public accommodations is false.  

“Instead, what these laws do is call for sensible accommodations for religious conscience, in cases where the accommodations will not undermine compelling public interests. These laws call for a balance, not a blank check.”

Religious freedom protections have become more controversial in recent decades. In 2012, the Obama administration attempted to mandate that all employers, including religious employers, cover sterilization and contraceptive drugs, including drugs that can cause abortions. The mandate burdened many Catholic dioceses and organizations, including EWTN Global Catholic Network, and was only changed by a Trump administration action earlier this year.

There is also an ongoing push in some states to require insurance coverage of abortions, and some medical professionals and hospitals have faced pressure to cooperate in providing abortions.

Garnett thought abortion would be a prime focus of the Proteus funding network.

“My sense is that what efforts like the Proteus Fund are really aimed at is undermining the longstanding protections in American law for religious health care workers and institutions who cannot in conscience participate in abortions,” he said. “These protections are falsely labeled as ‘discriminatory’ when, in fact, they reflect the commonsense notion that it would be deeply unjust to require, as a condition of working as a healer, a pro-life medical professional to participate in a procedure she believes to be gravely wrong.”

Some Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close because placing children with same-sex couples violates their religious convictions. There is an ongoing debate over whether small businesses in the marriage industry must cater to same-sex ceremonies if they have religious objections to them.

Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-author of “Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination,” reflected on the current situation.

“Anti-gay and anti-transgender bigotry exists and should be condemned,” he told CNA. “But support for marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t anti-gay. Nor is the conviction that sex is a biological reality anti-transgender.

“Just as we’ve combatted sexism without treating pro-life medicine as sexist, any public policy necessary to help people who identify as LGBT meet their needs should be crafted so as to respect the consciences of reasonable people, acting on good-faith beliefs about marriage and gender identity,” said Anderson. “Not every disagreement is discrimination. And our law shouldn’t suppose otherwise.”

‘We’re going to punish the wicked’

The Proteus Fund’s collaborative brings together several organizations with experience in effective political advocacy.

One of its funding partners, the Colorado-based Gill Foundation, was launched by the politically savvy former businessman Tim Gill. He has pursued strategic LGBT advocacy through funding both non-profits and political campaigns.

“We’re going into the hardest states in the country… we’re going to punish the wicked,” Gill said in a June interview with Rolling Stone magazine about his LGBT activism.

In March 2015, Tim Sweeney, a former president and CEO of the Gill Foundation,  told leading business executives and others attending the Out & Equal Workplace Advocates executive forum in San Francisco about the need to ensure their fight against religious exemptions is finished quickly.

“We are at a crossroads where the choices we make will mean we will fight religious exemptions for two to three years or have a protracted twenty year struggle on our hands,” he said.

The New York-based Arcus Foundation, founded by billionaire heir Jon Stryker, has dedicated millions of dollars to opposing religious freedom protections and to funding LGBT advocacy within world religions, including dissenting Catholic groups like Catholics for Choice, New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA.

One board member of this foundation is Darren Walker, past vice-president of the Rockefeller Foundation and current president of the deeply influential Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation has funded some projects against religious liberty protections, but is not listed as a direct member of the collaborative based at the Proteus Fund.

However, the Oakland, Calif.-based Groundswell Fund board of directors is chaired by Rocio L. Cordoba, a past program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Justice Program. The Groundswell Fund claims to fund more reproductive justice organizations than any other foundation.

Another partner, the Rockefeller Family Fund, was launched in 1967 by members of the prominent American family, including then-New York governor and future vice-president Nelson Rockefeller. Its mission statement says it “initiates, cultivates, and funds strategic efforts to promote a sustainable, just, free, and participatory society.” The fund did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

The San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund is a private family foundation with half a billion dollars in assets. Since 2014 it has earmarked at least $1.4 million in grants for projects related to religious exemptions, according to a CNA review of its grant listings.

The New York-based Overbrook Foundation, founded in 1948 by financier Frank Altschul and his wife Helen, has a gender rights program to fund those who oppose “overly broad religious exemptions.” Its website listed $220,000 in grants related to religious freedom: a $100,000 grant to the Proteus Fund’s collaborative, and two $60,000 grants to Lambda Legal.

The Chicago-based Irving Harris Foundation, created by the businessman and philanthropist, awards $10 to $15 million in grants annually, InsidePhilanthropy reports. The Washington, D.C.-based Moriah Fund dedicated over $10.6 million to program spending in fiscal year 2016. Neither grant maker's website listed grants related to religious freedom.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 18, 2017.

Correction Oct. 18, 2017, 12:40 pm ET: This article incorrectly identified the Alki Fund as being part of the Rockefeller Foundation. It is part of the Rockefeller Family Fund.

 

 

On his birthday, Pope Francis hosts pizza party for sick children

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2017 / 07:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated his 81st birthday with a pizza party for sick children Sunday, reflecting on the joy of children and the importance that they are raised with the faith.

“The joy of children is a treasure,” he said Dec. 17. “And we ought to do everything so that they continue to be joyous.”

“A joyous spirit is like good land that grows life well, with good fruit,” he said in his Vatican meeting with the children being treated by the Pediatric Dispensary of Santa Marta.

Pope Francis encouraged the children to speak with their grandparents. Grandparents “have memory, have roots, and it will be the grandparents that give roots to the children,” he said.

He asked that the children may not be “uprooted children, without the memory of a people, without the memory of the faith, without the memory of so many beautiful things that have made up history, without the memory of values.”

“And who will help children to do this? The grandparents,” said the Pope, adding that the elderly “love us very much.”

He exhorted parents to “teach them to talk with God.”

“May they learn to pray, to say what they feel in their heart,” Pope Francis said. “It is joy, to talk with the grandparents, with the elderly, and to talk with God.”

He then encouraged the children to eat the pizza, saying it will make them grow.

Before eating, he prayed the Hail Mary with the children.

Knights of Columbus donate $1.4 million for post-hurricane rebuilding

Houston, Texas, Dec 17, 2017 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Texas and Florida continue to rebuild from a devastating hurricane season, the Knights of Columbus are offering $1.4 million to aid the reconstruction of badly damaged churches.
 
“Getting parish facilities up and running again does not just meet a practical need,” said Knights CEO Carl Anderson.

“The people in the affected areas see the revival of their churches as a spiritual joy and as an important signal of recovery for the larger communities that surround these churches.”

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25 and continued over the next five days, killing dozens and causing up to $180 billion in damage. The hurricane is believed to have affected 13 million people.

Not even a month after Harvey hit, Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean before making landfall on Sept. 10 and making its way through Georgia and the Carolinas. The hurricane was responsible for at least 134 deaths and caused billions of dollars in damage.

In Texas, $760,000 will be given by the Knights to seven churches to help the parishes rebuild. Another $690,000 will be given to six churches in Florida and Virgin Islands.

“The Knights of Columbus is committed to building up Catholic families and strengthening parish life,” said Anderson. “The effort to restore these much-needed houses of worship is appropriate for the Knights, who are most effective within the local parish structure of prayer and service to others.”

The organization raised $3.8 million for disaster relief following the storms. More than $720,000 was used to fund immediate post-storm assistance, covering food, water and shelter.

Many knights have also volunteered locally to help in their parishes communities following Harvey and Irma.

In addition, the Knights have donated $100,000 to repair and relief efforts in Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover after Hurricane Maria hit in September.

Founded by Venerable Father Michael McGivney, the Knights of Columbus began in New Haven, Connecticut in 1882. Today, they have 1.9 million members across the globe.

The Knights, who are the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization, also donated $6.7 million to aid dioceses throughout New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005.

 

Pope Francis' three Christmas ingredients: joy, prayer, gratitude

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2017 / 12:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With Christmas just eight days away, Pope Francis said three simple attitudes can help prepare us to welcome Jesus Christ.

“Saint Paul invites us to prepare for the coming of the Lord by assuming three attitudes: constant joy, persevering prayer and continual thanksgiving,” the Pope said. “Joy, prayer and gratitude are three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas in an authentic way.”

Pope Francis’ remarks to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square came ahead of the Angelus for Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, which this year coincided with Pope Francis’ 81st birthday, Vatican News reports.

He said the liturgy in recent Sundays has focused on how to be vigilant and how to prepare for the way of the Lord. For Gaudete Sunday, the liturgy invites Christians to joy.

The Pope cited St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, “always be happy.”

“That is to say, always remain in joy, even when things do not go according to our desires,” Francis explained. “Anxieties, difficulties and sufferings permeate our lives, and so many times the reality around us seems to be inhospitable and arid, like the desert in which the voice of John the Baptist resounded, as the Gospel of today recalls.”

John the Baptist’s voice in the desert reveals that Christian joy rests on “the certainty that the desert is inhabited.”

This is Jesus, who in the words of the Prophet Isaiah comes “to bring the good news to the poor, to bind the wounds of broken hearts, to proclaim the freedom of slaves, the release of prisoners, to promulgate the year of grace of the Lord.”

Jesus’ mission in the world consists of “liberation from personal and social sin and the slavery that it produces.”

“He came to earth to give back to men the dignity and freedom of the children of God, which only He can give,” said Pope Francis.

Unceasing prayer helps us enter into relationship with God, the source of true joy.

“The joy of the Christian comes from faith and from the encounter with Jesus Christ, the reason for our happiness,” the Pope continued. “The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we find inner serenity, even in the midst of everyday contradictions.”

The Christian who has met Jesus cannot be “a prophet of misfortune” but must be “a witness and a herald of joy,” said Francis. This is “a joy to share with others; a contagious joy that makes life's journey less tiring.”

St. Paul also stressed “the grateful love of God,” his generosity, mercy, patience and goodness. Christians are to be “living in an endless state of thanksgiving.”

Pope Francis closed his remarks before the Angelus by entrusting the congregation to the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

“She is ‘the cause of our joy,’ not only because she is the Mother of Jesus, but because she continually leads us to Him,” he said.

After the Angelus, the Pope called for the release of six women religious kidnapped in Iguoriakhi in Nigeria’s southern Edo State.

On Nov. 13 gunmen abducted the sisters, three professed women and three aspirants, from their convent. There have been no claims of responsibility for the crime in a country where kidnapping for ransom has become common.

“I unite my heart to the appeal of the bishops of Nigeria for the liberation of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ,” he said.

“I pray with insistence for them and for all the other persons who find themselves in this painful condition,” he continued, adding “may they all, on the occasion of Christmas, finally return to their homes.”

From Pope Francis, a checklist for good journalism

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 06:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Journalism must prize truth and reflection over sensationalism and clamor, Pope Francis told journalists on Saturday.

“It is important that the criteria of judgment and information are offered patiently and methodically so that ‎public opinion is able to understand and discern, and is not stunned and disoriented,” the Pope said Dec. 16, according to Vatican News.

The Pope encouraged journalism that embodies “serenity, precision and completeness.” It must use calm language that favors “fruitful reflection” and thoughtful, clear words that reject “clamorous and ambiguous speech.”

The Pope spoke to about 350 members of the Italian Periodical Press Union and the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies, who met him at the Vatican.

“Your free and responsible voice is fundamental for the growth of any society that wants to be called democratic, so that a continuous exchange of ideas and a profitable debate based on real and correctly reported facts are assured,” the pontiff told them.

He noted the dominance of speed and sensationalism in some reporting, which lacks precision and thoroughness. It is dominated by overheated emotions, not thoughtful reflection.

The pontiff stressed the need for reliable information, verified data and news that does not aim to amaze and excite. Rather, it creates in readers a healthy critical sense that allows them to ask appropriate questions and make justified conclusions.

“There is no need to fall into the ‘sins of communications’: misinformation, that is saying only a part which is calumny and which is sensational, or defamation that seeks out things past and old and bringing them to light today,” said Pope Francis. “They are very grave sins that damage the heart of the journalist and damage the people.”

Pope to youth: expand your wisdom and meet the elderly

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 04:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with the youth of Catholic Action on Saturday as the movement marks its 150th anniversary year.

The pontiff encouraged the young people to meet with the movement’s “grandparents.”

“This is something very beautiful and important,” he said, adding that “the elderly are the historic memory of every community, a heritage of wisdom and faith to be heard, preserved, and valued.”

“These are your peripheries!” he said.

The delegation of 12 boys and girls, accompanied by their teachers, came from 12 different Italian dioceses, Vatican News reports. The movement aims to expand Catholic influence in society.

The Pope encouraged the youth to fix their attention on “the decisive events of the life of Jesus” and “to seek to become ever more like Him, your greatest and most faithful friend.”

He encouraged them to be ready to shoot a photograph and to be “good photographers,” both of the deeds Jesus has done and of the reality of their world.

They should be attentive to those who have forgotten, “the poorest, the weakest, those relegated to the margins society because they are considered as a problem.”

They should seek out those “no one ever sees” and “dare to take the first step to meet them, to give them a little bit of your time, a smile, an act of tenderness.”

For Pope Francis, the meeting with the delegation was joyful because it allowed them to update him on their activities of “solidarity in favor of the poor and of the most disadvantaged.”

These priests were martyred for refusing to violate the seal of confession

Denver, Colo., Dec 16, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In recent years, some Catholics have been concerned by pushes from governments in locations such as Louisiana and Australia who challenge the secrecy of the sacrament of confession, asking that priests betray the solemnity of penitents’ confessions when they hear of serious crimes in the confessional.

However, Catholics should not be afraid, because keeping the secrecy of the sacrament of confession is one of the most important promises priests make.

The code of canon law states that “the sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” Priests who violate this seal of confession are automatically excommunicated.

Priests take this solemnity of the seal of confession very seriously; these four priests who died protecting it are witnesses to the extreme lengths to which priests are willing to go to protect the seal of confession.

St. John Nepomucene

Born in Bohemia, or what is now the Czech Republic, between 1340 and 1350,  St. John Nepomucene was an example of the protection of sacramental secrecy, being the first martyr who preferred to die rather than reveal the secret of confession.

When he was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Prague, the now- saint servedas confessor of Sofia of Bavaria, the wife of King Wenceslaus. The king, who had infamous outbursts of anger and jealousy, ordered the priest to reveal the sins of his wife. The saint's refusal infuriated Wenceslaus, who threatened to kill the priest if he did not tell him his wife’s secrets.

King Wenceslaus and John Nepomucene came into conflict again when the monarch wanted to seize a convent in order to take its wealth and give it to a relative. The saint prohibited its seizure because those goods belonged to the Church.

Filled with rage, the king ordered the torture of the saint, whose body was then thrown to the Vltava River in 1393.

St. Mateo Correa Magallanes

Saint Mateo Correa Magallanes was another martyr of the seal of confession. He was shot in Mexico during the Cristero War for refusing to reveal the confessions of prisoners rebelling against the Mexican government.

He was born in Tepechitlán in the state of Zacateca on July 22, 1866 and was ordained a priest in 1893. Fr. Matteo served as chaplain in various towns and parishes and was a member of the Knights of Columbus.

In 1927, the priest was arrested by Mexican army forces under General Eulogio Ortiz. A few days later, the general sent Father Correa to hear the confessions group of people who were to be shot. After Fr. Mateo finished administering the sacrament, the general then demanded that the priest reveal what he had heard.

Fr. Mateo responded with a resounding “no” and was executed. Currently, his remains are venerated in the Cathedral of Durango.

He was beatified Nov. 22, 1992 and canonized by St. John Paul II May 21, 2000.

Fr. Felipe Císcar Puig

Fr. Felipe Císcar Puig was a Valencian priest who is also also considered a martyr of the sacramental seal because he was martyred after keeping confessions secret during the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War.

During the war, revolutionary and republican forces engaged in violent battles for power, and many Catholics were targeted. This was especially true of the coastal province of Valencia, on the Mediterranean sea.

The Archdiocese of Valencia indicated that, according to the documents collected, Father Císcar was taken to a prison near the end of August 1936. There, a Franciscan friar named Andrés Ivars asked that Fr. Císcar hear his confession before the friar was executed be firing squad.

"After the confession, they tried to extract its contents and before his refusal to reveal it, the militiamen threatened to kill him,” says an archdiocesan statement by a witness to the event.  The priest then replied, “Do what you want but I will not reveal the confession, I would die before that.”

"Seeing him so sure, they took him to a sham court where he was ordered to reveal the secrets.” Fr. Císar remained committed to his position, stating that he preferred to die, and the militiamen condemned him to death. Fathers Felipe Císcar and Andrés Ivars were taken by car to another location where they were shot on September 8, 1936. They were 71 and 51 years old, respectively.

Both Felipe Císcar and Andrés Ivars are part of the canonization cause of Ricardo Pelufo Esteve and 43 companions.

Fr. Fernando Olmedo Reguera

Fr. Fernando Olmedo Reguera was also a victim of the Spanish Civil War who opted to die rather than break the secrecy of confession.  

Born in Santiago de Compostela Jan. 10, 1873 and ordained a priest in the Capuchin Order of Friars Minor on July 31, 1904, Fr. Olmedo was killed Aug. 12, 1936. He served the order as its provincial secretary until 1936, when he had to leave his convent due to the severe religious persecution in the area.

Fr. Olmedo was then arrested, and beaten in prison. He then was pressured into revealing the confessions of others, but Fr. Olmedo did not give in. According to reports, he was shot at a 19th century fortress outside of Madrid by a populist tribunal. His remains are entombed in the crypt of the Church of Jesus of Medinaceli in Madrid, and he was beatified in Tarragona Oct. 13, 2013.

 

 

This article was first published Aug. 22, 2017.

Treat saints' relics right, says new Vatican directive

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The relics of Christian saints and blesseds deserve special care and their authenticity must be certified by the Church, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has said.

“Relics in the Church have always received particular veneration and attention, because the bodies of saints and blesseds, destined for resurrection, were on earth the living temple of the Holy Spirit and the instruments of their sanctity, recognized by the apostolic see through beatification and canonization,” said the Dec. 16 instruction from the congregation.

The instruction was sent to Catholic bishops, eparchs, and those who take part in procedures related to relics of saints, blesseds and those declared venerable and servants of God, Vatican News reports.

It contains 38 separate items. Among its directives: relics of saints and blesseds that lack a certificate from church authority cannot be exposed for the veneration of the faithful.

Current canonical practice of verifying the authenticity of relics and mortal remains of saints and blesseds remains in place to guarantee that these relics and remains are preserved and venerated. Among other topics, the instruction outlines how to obtain the consent of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for the canonical recognition of relics and the procedure to follow for relics that are taken on pilgrimage.

The new document replaces the appendix to the 2007 instruction “Sanctorum Mater,” also issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Meet the man who holds the keys to the Pope's Museums

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 03:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus told St. Peter, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

Gianni Crea, as the ‘clavigero’ – or key keeper – of the Vatican Museums, has a slightly different job. Beginning at 5:30 every morning, he traverses the dark and quiet halls of the Vatican, opening the more than 300 doors in the “Museums of the Pope.”

As the senior key keeper, Crea oversees nine other key keepers and is responsible for managing 2,797 keys. These keys unlock the 300-some gates and doors of the public spaces of the museums – passed through by thousands of people per day – as well as other various maintenance rooms, closets and personnel spaces.

The most important key of all – that of the Sistine Chapel – is kept not on the ring with the others, but in a white envelope.

“For me this is a unique and extraordinary privilege,” Crea told EWTN. “I have the opportunity to open these doors to all the tourists that come from all over the world to the museums of the Pope, but especially the Sistine Chapel, the seat of the conclave since 1492.”

Possibly the most famous chapel in the world, the Sistine Chapel is where the College of Cardinals convenes to cast their ballots during a papal election. The room’s ceiling frescoes, painted by Michelangelo, depict the story of creation, the Last Judgement, and other Old and New Testament stories.

In the “the Museum of Museums,” each of the more than 300 doors has its own unique key, which the key keepers learn by heart. Some doors themselves are impressive, such as door “401,” whose key is from the 1700s, the oldest on Crea’s keyring.   

Starting every morning at the “Atrium of the Four Gates,” Crea meets his colleague Alessio, selects the right set of keys, and the two proceed with their course.

Five key keepers turn on the lights and unlock the doors of the museums every morning, walking over two miles of the total nearly 5-mile length of the Vatican Museums.

The route “is unique and extraordinary because each door and each key has its charm and its secret that it reveals to the world,” Crea said. “The Vatican Museums are so fascinating and so beautiful that in each corner you discover something, each corner has its own peculiarity.”

His path takes him past many famous works and galleries, including the ‘Laocoön,’ which was the first statue acquired by the Museums in 1506, and Caravaggio’s ‘The Entombment of Christ.’

Passing through the Gallery of Statues, Crea said that “each statue ‘speaks’ about history; each statue has something different and fascinating (to tell).”

He also opens the Niccoline Chapel, which is found in the oldest part of the Apostolic Palace. It is covered in frescoes depicting scenes from the lives of St. Stephen and St. Laurence, painted by Fra Angelico and his assistants. It was used as the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V and is not usually open to the public.

In the “Raphael Rooms,” which used to be the private apartments of Pope Julius II, Crea uses one of the smallest keys on the ring to turn on the lights, illuminating the famous painting of the “School of Athens” by Raphael.

He ends his daily journey at the original “Scala del Bramante,” or “Bramante Staircase,” built in 1505, which Crea considers “one of the most beautiful spots of the Vatican Museums.” From the top you can find a beautiful view of Rome.

The modern Bramante staircase, inspired from the original, was built in 1932 and designed by Giuseppe Momo. The double helix design allows people to ascend and descend without crossing each other.

The Vatican Museums were founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II. The museums are made up of 54 galleries, including the Sistine Chapel, which is the last stop on a visitor’s route through the roughly 20,000 works on display.

The Vatican Museums are among the largest and most visited museums in the world, with more than 6 million visitors annually.


Alexey Gotovsky contributed to this article.

 

Let clarity and compassion define sexual identity debates, bishops say

Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2017 / 03:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a time of cultural conflict and mistaken ideas about sexual identity, religious leaders have put forth their preferred approach.

Several leading Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have backed the Dec. 15 letter “Created Male and Female” published on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The letter stressed two themes: male and female are God-given differences that must be publicly acknowledged, and those who are confused about their own identity deserve authentic support.

“We hope this letter communicates to the public our shared understanding of the goodness of the creation of humanity as male or female and underscores our commitment to service of this truth with both clarity and compassion,” said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chair of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The letter said it is important to acknowledge the reality of sexual identity.

“We hope for renewed appreciation of the beauty of sexual difference in our culture and for authentic support of those who experience conflict with their God-given sexual identity,” it said.

Other signers of the letter include leaders in various Christian denominations and Churches, including Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Baptist. Another signer is Imam Faizal Khan, a founder of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area.

“The movement today to enforce the false idea – that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa – is deeply troubling,” the letter continued. “It compels people to either go against reason – that is, to agree with something that is not true – or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.”

The religious leaders’ letter affirmed that all human beings are created by God and have a God-given dignity.

“We also believe that God created each person male or female; therefore, sexual difference is not an accident or a flaw – it is a gift from God that helps draw us closer to each other and to God. What God has created is good,” they said, citing the Book of Genesis on the creation of humankind: “male and female he created them.”

The desire to be identified as the opposite sex is “a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth,” continued the letter. Their concerns deserve a response of “compassion, mercy and honesty.”

“As religious leaders, we express our commitment to urge the members of our communities to also respond to those wrestling with this challenge with patience and love,” they advised.

The letter also voiced concern about how children are affected by current trends in sexual identity.

“Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can ‘change’ their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults,” said the letter. “Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of ‘first, do no harm’.”

Voicing a desire for the health and happiness of all men, women and children, the religious leaders called for policies that “uphold the truth of a person's sexual identity as male or female, and the privacy and safety of all.”

In addition to Bishop Conley, Catholic signers of the letter include Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, who chairs the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The U.S. bishops’ conference said the latest letter follows three previous letters: a Dec. 6, 2010 letter “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment”; “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together,” from Jan. 12, 2012; and “The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared Witness,” dated April 23, 2015.