Asia Bibi's acquittal of blasphemy challenged in Pakistan Supreme Court

By Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — The acquittal of a Pakistani Catholic woman sentenced to hang for blasphemy is to be challenged in the country's Supreme Court, according to her husband.
Three judges of the court ordered Oct. 31 that the death sentence against Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was to be set aside and she was to be released from prison, where she has spent eight years in solitary confinement.
But her husband, Ashiq Masih, confirmed in a Nov. 4 telephone interview with BBC World Service that the court had since agreed to accept a review petition questioning the legitimacy of her acquittal.
The British Pakistani Christian Association said in a Nov. 5 press release that the review was to begin that same day. The source was Joseph Nadeem, a close family friend, according to spokesman Wilson Chowdharay.
The challenge to Bibi's freedom has been made by Tehreek-e-Labbaaik, an extremist group which is also putting pressure on the government to try to stop Bibi from leaving Pakistan, even if her acquittal is upheld.
In his interview, Ashiq told the BBC that he was "hopeful" and "confident" that the Supreme Court in Lahore would dismiss the appeal.
"I really hope it will not take very much time — two to four days — and this matter could be disposed of by the government and the Supreme Court," he said.
Ashiq said neither he nor his family have seen Bibi, 55, who has remained in protective custody since she acquitted.
"I haven't been able to see her, I haven't been able to meet her yet," said Ashiq, adding that the family was "really worried" about her safety.
He said the family was desperate to find asylum in Europe or North America as soon as possible because they believed their lives were in danger.
He said: "We are so restricted our mobility is virtually zero. We cannot go out anywhere. Even for basic things, we have to rely on other people.
"I have never been so afraid as I am now for my family," he added. "My life and the life of my family is really under threat. Since the verdict has come out, we haven't been provided with any security."
The ordeal of Bibi, who worked as a farmhand, began in June 2009 when she was accused of insulting Muhammad, the founder of Islam, after Muslim co-workers objected to her drinking from a common water supply because she is a Christian.
Bibi was rescued from a mob by police, only to be sentenced to death in 2010 for violating Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which makes insulting Muhammad a capital offense.
No one has been executed under the law so far, but Christians who are falsely accused often are lynched or spend many years in prison.
Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in January 2011 after he said he would fight for Bibi's freedom and, two months later, Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was gunned down after he said he would seek the reform of the blasphemy laws to stop them being abused to persecute innocent Christians.
Following Bibi's acquittal, Saiful Malook, her lawyer, fled Pakistan amid death threats to his family.
Salman Akram Raja, an advocate of the Supreme Court, said Bibi and her family were "quite right to fear for their lives."
He said he was confident, however, that the review petition would be dismissed and there would be no legal obstacles to Bibi and her family leaving Pakistan.
"Asia is an acquitted person, she has no charges pending against her," he told the BBC in a Nov. 4 telephone interview. "There is no law under which the state could restrain her from leaving the country if she has a valid passport and a travel visa.
"There is no grounds for restraining her, so to say that she is being detained on account of some agreement with a religious group (and the government) is to go completely outside the ambit of the law," he continued.
Raja said that review petitions were seldom sustainable and were particularly weak if made by "busybodies off the streets" rather than by the state or by an original complainant. "Review petitions, legally speaking, are not sustainable," he said.

Pakistani priest now in U.S. recalls his own persecution in home country

By Gina Christian, Catholic News Service
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — A Pakistani Catholic priest living in Philadelphia is grateful to learn that Asia Bibi, a Catholic convicted of violating Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, has had her death sentence overturned.
Father Tariq Isaac, chaplain of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Pakistani Catholic community, called the announcement "very good news for all the people who are raising their voice for justice."
However, he urged Catholics and other Christians to "pray for the safety of Asia Bibi, her family and all others convicted of the blasphemy laws" in Pakistan.
Father Isaac and his family know firsthand the dangers of living out the Christian faith in Pakistan.
Seven years ago, Father Isaac's brother and several other Christians were arrested for blasphemy in the family's hometown of Gujranwala, near Lahore. Burned and vandalized copies of the Quran had been placed in front of their houses by local Muslim and political leaders, who then charged and imprisoned the minority group.
Upon their release, several arranged to leave Pakistan immediately. Father Isaac, who had served as a priest in Pakistan for 18 years, followed his brother to the United States. A third brother, who also faced blasphemy accusations, currently lives in Malaysia but hopes to move to Canada. Father Isaac's parents arrived in the U.S. in May 2018; his two sisters remain in Pakistan.
Most of the Philadelphia area's Pakistani Catholics and Christians have similar stories to tell, said Father Isaac, now in residence at a parish where about 60 families celebrate Sunday Mass in Urdu, Pakistan's official language.
"They come because they have been persecuted, or because they have received threats, or because they fear they will," he told, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Father Isaac estimates there are an additional 200 to 300 Pakistani Christian families from other denominations in the Philadelphia area.
In Pakistan, violent protests erupted throughout the country following Bibi's Oct. 31 acquittal by the Supreme Court.
An extremist group called Tehreek-e-Labbaaik has challenged Bibi's freedom and also is putting pressure on the government to try to stop Bibi from leaving Pakistan, even if her acquittal is upheld.
Bibi's lawyer fled Pakistan Nov. 3, citing fears for his safety; her husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed to the United Kingdom's prime minister, Theresa May, to grant the family asylum. Masih also has implored U.S. and Canadian leaders for assistance.
Bibi, 55, has spent the past eight years in solitary confinement after a 2010 conviction for insulting Muhammad, the founder of Islam. In June 2009, she was working as a farmhand when Muslim co-workers objected to her drinking from a common water supply because she is a Christian. They accused her of insulting the prophet.
Bibi's case has long garnered international attention, with Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis and a number of human rights groups calling for her freedom. In their Oct. 31 decision vacating the sentence, the judges cited "glaring contradictions" in the prosecution's evidence.
Pakistan's bishops have cautioned Christians to show restraint in reacting to the verdict and the subsequent protests, so as to avoid coming under further attack.
Ultimately, Father Isaac sees Bibi's acquittal as a triumph of truth over sectarianism, and a demonstration of courage in the face of extremism.
"This is not a question of Christian or Muslim, but an example of how these judges took the burden on their shoulders to give a right decision, a just verdict," he said. "I don't say that they should give decisions in favor of Christians or in favor of any particular religion. Justice should be based on rights and according to the laws."
Given the fallout from the court ruling, however, he remains cautious about the prospect of religious freedom in Pakistan.
"I don't think it will happen," he said. "There is only one possibility, and that is if the government takes stern action against extremists. But officials themselves are afraid of them, and fear that if they take any action, their own families could suffer."
He added that Christians in other nations can support their Pakistani brethren by making world leaders more aware of their plight.
"That means approaching government officials here in America to let them know what is really happening to Christians in Pakistan," said Father Isaac, noting that U.S. leaders often dialogue only with majority Muslim leaders from Pakistan.
Father Isaac stressed that Pakistani Christians need spiritual solidarity from their fellow believers more than ever.
"Our bishops have told us to be patient," he said. "We need prayers for peace in Pakistan. We need prayers for peace in the world."
Christian is senior content producer at, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Pope recognizes martyrdom of U.S. Christian Brother

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has recognized the martyrdom of De La Salle Christian Brother James Miller, who was born in Wisconsin and was shot to death in Guatemala in 1982.
The recognition of the martyrdom of Brother James, or Brother Santiago as he also was known, clears the way for his beatification; the date and location of the ceremony were not immediately announced.
Publishing news about a variety of sainthood causes Nov. 8, the Vatican said Pope Francis had recognized as "blessed" a 15th-century Augustinian brother, Michael Giedrojc.
The recognition amounted to the "equivalent beatification" of Brother Giedrojc, who was born in Lithuania and died in Krakow. With the pope recognizing that over the course of centuries the brother has been venerated by thousands of Catholics, the normal process leading to beatification is not needed.
Brother Miller, the U.S. martyr, was born Sept. 21, 1944, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He met the Christian Brothers at Pacelli High School there and, at the age of 15, entered the order's juniorate in Missouri. After the novitiate, he taught Spanish, English and religion at Cretin High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, for three years. He also was in charge of school maintenance and served as the football coach.
Some websites refer to him as "Brother Fix-it" and an icon featured on the website of the Christian Brothers of the Midwest shows him wearing overalls.
In 1969, he was sent to Nicaragua, where he taught and helped build schools. According to the De La Salle Brother's website, "His religious superiors ordered him to leave Nicaragua in July 1979 during the time of the Sandinista revolution. It was feared that since he worked for the Somoza government, he might be at risk."
Returning to the United States, he again taught at Cretin High School. But in January 1981, he was sent to Guatemala, where he taught at a secondary school in Huehuetenango and at a center that helped young indigenous people learn job and leadership skills.
While on a ladder making repairs to the building on the afternoon of Feb. 13, 1982, he was shot several times by three hooded men and died instantly. No one was ever arrested for his murder. Funeral services were held in Guatemala and in St. Paul before he was buried in Polonia, Wisconsin.
In other decrees published Nov. 8, Pope Francis recognized miracles attributed to the intercession of Edvige Carboni and Benedetta Bianchi Porro, meaning both Italian laywomen can be beatified. Carboni died in 1952; Porro died in 1964.
The pope also recognized the martyrdom of more victims of the Spanish civil war: Angel Cuartas Cristobal and eight of his classmates at the seminary in Oviedo, who were killed between 1934 and 1937; and Mariano Mullerat Soldevila, a physician, husband and father killed in 1936.
In 10 other causes for canonization, Pope Francis signed decrees recognizing that the candidates for sainthood lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way, which is the first step toward beatification. The decrees included the cause of Bishop Alfredo Maria Obviar of Lucena, Philippines, founder of the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus. The bishop died in 1978.

Pittsburgh parishes asked to collect funds for Jewish congregations

By Catholic News Service
PITTSBURGH (CNS) — Parishes throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh will take up a special collection for the three Jewish congregations that worship at the Tree of Life Synagogue, which was attacked by a gunman.
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik asked that the collection be taken at all Masses the weekend of Nov. 10-11.
"This collection is a gift of love and solidarity from one religious community to another, to say that the Catholic people of southwestern Pennsylvania suffer with you and we are here to support you," Bishop Zubik said in a statement Nov. 2. "The congregations at Tree of Life are free to use these donations in whatever way they believe is right, to help their members recover and to restore their house of worship."
In announcing the collection, the diocese said families of the 11 people who died and two others who were injured faced expenses. The synagogue also sustained damage that will require repair and renovation.
A 46-year-old Pittsburgh man, Robert Bowers, has been charged with dozens of counts in federal court in connection with the Oct. 27 incident. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Nov. 1.
Police said worshippers recounted that the suspect allegedly shouted that "all Jews must die" before entering the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city and opening fire. Police said he was armed with three handguns and an AR-15 "style" weapon. He is believed to have acted alone.

Voters in two states OK anti-abortion measures, but Oregon funding stays

By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — An Oregon measure that would have banned state funding for elective and late-term abortions was defeated by voters Nov. 6, while an amendment to the West Virginia constitution stating that women do not have a right to an abortion was passed by a narrow margin.
Alabamans also approved a measure that makes it state policy to "recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children."
The measures were among several nationwide that attracted the interest of Catholic voters, including the legalization of marijuana, the expansion of Medicaid and what would have been the first-ever carbon emission tax in a single state.
The Oregon anti-abortion proposal gained the support of Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, who urged Catholics to approve the measure in a column that appeared Nov. 1 on the website of the Catholic Sentinel, the archdiocesan newspaper.
The measure was written to overturn a 2017 Oregon law that expanded taxpayer funding for abortion.
The passage in West Virginia opens the door to the state Legislature banning abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
In Washington, the state's bishops saw one ballot initiative they supported gain approval from voters while another that was designed to address carbon pollution was defeated.
Initiative 1639, which established new restrictions on gun ownership, was approved 60.4 percent to 39.6 percent.
Supported by the Washington State Catholic Conference, the initiative calls for strengthening background checks, imposes a 10-day waiting period before completing the purchase of semi-automatic weapons, requires safety training, establishes storage requirements and increases the minimum age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21.
A proposal to establish a carbon emissions tax was handily defeated by Washington voters, 56.3 percent to 43.7 percent. Fossil fuel companies and developers poured millions of dollars in advertising to block the initiative.
Washington's bishops said that "wise action" was needed to address climate change to protect the common good for present and future generations and urged voters to carefully consider the emission tax plan.
Oregon voters also turned down an effort to overturn the state's sanctuary law that forbids state and local law enforcement agencies from using public resources to arrest people whose only criminal violation is that they are in the U.S. illegally. The final count was 62.8 percent to 37.2 percent to keep the law in place.
Elsewhere, voters approved Medicaid expansion for low- and moderate-income residents in traditionally conservative Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, the only three states where such measures were up for a vote.
Michigan voters approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, 55.8 percent to 44.2 percent, making the state the 10th in the nation to do so.
Medical marijuana initiatives were approved in Missouri and Utah. However, voters in North Dakota defeated a similar measure.
Voters in Arkansas and Missouri approved issues to raise each state's minimum wage. In Arkansas, the minimum wage was to rise to $11 an hour from $8.50 by 2021, while in neighboring Missouri, the wage was to increase to $12 an hour from $7.85 by 2023.

New coordinating body for Catholic charismatic activities announced

By Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The two international bodies that had been supporting and coordinating the international activities of charismatic Catholics will become one new organization.
"Charis" will take over the roles previously played by the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service and the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, the Vatican announced Oct. 31.
The Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, which certifies international Catholic lay organizations, said Charis will begin operating Dec. 8. The two previous organizations will cease to exist June 9, Pentecost Sunday.
"As a body in the service of all the realities of Catholic charismatic renewal," the Vatican said, "Charis will not exercise any authority over these realities. Each single charismatic reality will remain as it is, fully respected in its own identity and under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical authority upon which it currently depends."
Announcing the new body, the dicastery also said that its ecclesiastical adviser would be Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household.
Jean-Luc Moens, a Belgian and leader in the Emmanuel Community, will be the moderator of Charis, the Vatican said.
Charis will have an "International Service of Communion" coordinating its activity. Auxiliary Bishop Peter L. Smith of Portland, Oregon, has been named the representative for English- and French-speaking members from North America and the Caribbean. Andres Arango, delegate for Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, will represent Spanish-speakers from North America and the Caribbean.

High court to consider if 40-foot-cross war memorial endorses religion

By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Supreme Court announced Nov. 2 that it would hear oral arguments this term to consider if a 40-foot cross in Maryland endorses religion or is simply a secular memorial.
The cross in question sits at a busy intersection in the Washington suburb of Bladensburg, Maryland, and memorializes soldiers who died in World War I.
Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia, ruled 2-1 that the 93-year-old monument is unconstitutional and must be removed or destroyed. "(It) has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion."
Known as the Bladensburg Cross or the Peace Cross, the cement and marble memorial was erected by the Snyder-Farmer Post of the American Legion of Hyattsville, Maryland, to recall the 49 men of Prince George's County who died in World War I. The cross, whose construction was funded by local families, was dedicated July 13, 1925.
The American Humanist Association, a Washington-based group that represents atheists and others, filed suit against the memorial because it is in the shape of a cross. It argued that having a religious symbol on government property violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The group said the cross "discriminates against patriotic soldiers who are not Christian, sending a callous message to non-Christians that Christians are worthy of veneration while they may as well be forgotten."
Supporters of the Peace Cross stress that its message is secular: to commemorate war victims. They also have argued that the monument's cross shape was not intended for religious reasons but to look similar to cross-shaped grave markers in Europe used for American soldiers who died there.
This is not the first time the highest court has considered the status of religious monuments on public land. In 2005 it defended a Ten Commandments monument on the property of the Texas Capitol, noting that its religious message was part of a secular display.
In 2009, the court ruled that it was constitutional for the federal government to permit a large cross to stay within the boundaries of a national preserve in the California desert, but because the case also involved the transfer of ownership of a small plot of federal land, the high court sent it back to lower courts for further consideration. In 2012, a federal judge approved a settlement on the transfer issue allowing the cross to remain.
How the Supreme Court rules on this Peace Cross case could impact similar monuments, including crosses at Arlington National Cemetery, the military cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Arguments in this case are expected before the end of the year.

Catholic agencies closely monitor giving after clergy sex abuse shock

By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Leaders and fundraisers at Catholic organizations are cautiously monitoring the level of donations and gifts as the end-of-the-year giving season approaches, hoping that the clergy sexual abuse scandal won't negatively affect their bottom line.
While most of the professionals contacted by Catholic News Service said it is too early yet to see what effect, if any, the abuse crisis may have on giving, some are taking steps to reassure donors that money contributed to vital ministries is not going for settlements to abuse victims or payments to attorneys.
The crisis is just one factor that concerns the leaders. There's also the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act. It's effect on giving remains a question mark. "People remain confused about it," said Franciscan Sister Georgette Lehmuth, president and CEO of the National Catholic Development Conference.
"The main thing is no one knows. It's way too early," Patrick Markey, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, told CNS.
Beyond that, some organizations have offered the expertise of their members to individual dioceses and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in areas of communications and finances as the bishops prepare to publicly address the abuse crisis during their fall general assembly Nov. 12-14 in Baltimore.
One effort to prevent a drop off in donations has been initiated by Catholic Charities USA. Dominican Sister Donna Markham, the organization's president and CEO, sent a letter to all donors Oct. 31 expressing concern about calls to withhold donations to any Catholic institution.
"This concerns me deeply," Sister Markham wrote. "I am very worried about the consequent impact this will have on many children and families living in poverty or on the edges of poverty right now."
The letter continues, explaining that Catholic Charities agencies annually serve 10 million people nationwide with emergency food, health care and other services. "Catholic Charities donations do not fund the bishops to the dioceses and cannot be used for that purpose," the letter said.
In an interview, Sister Markham said, "Anybody who is working in Catholic organizations right now is being hit by the fallout from the abuse crisis. We have been faced with some of our significant donors saying, 'No more money to Catholic Charities until the bishops straighten out this mess.'"
She said any impact will be known only after the holidays. "But people are calling us daily saying, 'Take me off your mailing list,'" she said.
"The issue here is that if anyone is really concerned or worried that somehow their donation will be misdirected and be used to fund the abuse situation, I think they need to be clear that we are not allowed to do that," Sister Markham added.
It's the devotion to mission that Sister Lehmuth holds up as key to helping the Catholic organizations weather any potential loss in donations.
She said her organization has urged development professionals at Catholic entities to "remind people how your money is being used."
"Don't wait until the end of the year," Sister Lehmuth said. "Keep reminding them what good your money is doing. And remind them of the good that the church is doing too."
Donations to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association have remained stable in recent years, but the organization is continuing to press how it is helping Christian communities in troubled areas of the world, according to Michael J. L. LaCivita, director of communications.
He said Catholic organizations are facing "a perfect storm" in the abuse crisis, the tax cut law and partisan political rancor in the U.S. that has caused people to carefully weigh where to send their money.
CNEWA has received letters from donors expressing anger about the bishops' failure to maintain moral authority over the church, LaCivita told CNS. He described the letters as "well thought out," offering carefully crafted words that express people's moral outrage.
"But the correspondence doesn't hold us responsible," LaCivita said, even though some writers have voiced concern that funds could be used for abuse legal settlements because bishops serve as the organization's trustees.
"People want answers and they want to have their anger heard," he added.
At The Catholic University of America, fundraising has continued to meet annual goals, said Scott Rembold, vice president for university advancement.
"We're not hearing a lot of people holding the university accountable for the crisis," Rembold told CNS, saying about 125 people had contacted the school since June when reports surfaced that Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick had allegedly abused seminarians years ago. Of those, about two dozen said they were not going to donate specifically because of the reports, he said.
The crisis has caused the university to put on hold a plan to build a residence for priests taking graduate level courses. Rembold said the project called for a new wing to be added to Curley Hall with a kitchen and chapel.
Because bishops were involved in raising money for the effort, university officials and the bishops on the board of trustees jointly felt it was best to put the project aside and that it could be reviewed in the future, Rembold said.
In a different path, two organizations have reached out to the bishops offering expertise and action steps to address the anger and concerns that people have.
Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, or FADICA, convened a working group to address the abuse crisis. Alexia Kelly, the organization's president and CEO, told CNS that members generated "ideas and questions and recommendations and opportunities for action either together or independently."
"Our members really feel they have a responsibility as donors and philanthropists not to perpetuate practices or lack of practices that may enable or perpetuate abuse," she explained.
FADICA members will convene in February for the organization's annual meeting to discuss its recommendations for member action. The recommendations also will be shared with the USCCB.
Donors want to ensure, Kelly said, "that adequate safeguarding practices and policies are in place in all the ministries they support inside or outside of the church, and they would continue to explore ways they as philanthropists can support a comprehensive culture of safety in all levels of the church."
Meanwhile, at the Leadership Roundtable, lay Catholic professionals from various fields have stepped up to offer their expertise to assist the bishops as they addressed the sex abuse crisis.
The organization formed after the 2002 sex abuse crisis emerged with the goal of providing dioceses with lay experts who could help institute best practices in offices and ministries to ensure trust.
Kim Smolik, Leadership Roundtable's CEO, said the organization has received calls from more than 50 dioceses seeking assistance since the August release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that examined a 70-year period, beginning in 1947, in six Catholic dioceses. The report said that in that time span there were claims that 300 priests and other church workers had abused about 1,000 minors. It also claimed the church covered up abuse allegations and brushed aside victims.
Roundtable participants are stressing to dioceses that communication is key, Smolik explained, adding that donors are unlikely to withdraw their gifts, but that they want to know that the church is addressing the root causes of the current scandal.
"Laypeople are looking for the church to be responsive and repentant and say what has gone wrong. They are looking for a plan forward, looking for the plan to be implemented and they are looking to be communicated with all along the way," Smolik said.
"Laypeople want to be part of the solution."

Guam's Agana Archdiocese to file bankruptcy, reorganize under Chapter 11

By Catholic News Service
HAGATNA, Guam (CNS) — Sometime in the weeks ahead, the Archdiocese of Agana will file bankruptcy and reorganize under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes said Nov. 7.
"The bankruptcy proceeding is a continuation of the good faith mediation protocol that the archdiocese has engaged in for over the past year," the archbishop said in a statement. "The bankruptcy process will allow all abuse claimants to have their claims resolved in a process that will also allow the archdiocese to continue its mission to the Catholic community."
The bankruptcy filing will take place in the U.S. District Court of Guam between mid-December and mid-January.
"This is the best way to bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims," Archbishop Byrnes said.
He made the announcement to reporters after first meeting with leaders of Catholic parishes, schools and organizations to brief them firsthand.
Archbishop Byrnes made the decision to file bankruptcy and reorganize in consultation with the archdiocesan finance council and the college of consultors, an advisory group of priests. Both bodies support the filing, the archdiocese said.
Parishes and schools will continue their operations after the bankruptcy has been filed. It is expected there will be a notification process to allow all victims of clergy abuse to have their claims resolved "in a fair process."
Archbishop Byrnes, who has been leading the archdiocese since 2016, emphasized to the media the importance of the church "staying strong and united in this newest chapter of its journey to correct the wrongs of the past and become a better archdiocese."
In June 2016, Pope Francis placed the previous head of the Agana Archdiocese, Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron, on leave after accusations the prelate sexually abused minors were made public. The pope named an apostolic administrator to run the archdiocese for several months and named then-Bishop Byrne, an auxiliary of Detroit, to take over as coadjutor archbishop October 2016.
Among Archbishop Apuron's accusers is one of his nephews; he has said the prelate abused him in 1990. The archbishop has repeatedly denied the allegations.
The Vatican appointed U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a noted canon lawyer, to be presiding judge in a canonical investigation of Archbishop Apuron.
After a canonical trial conducted by the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the tribunal announced this March it found the archbishop guilty of some of the accusations made against him, including the sexual abuse of minors.
Vatican judges imposed the following sanctions on the 72-year-old Archbishop Apuron: the removal from office and a prohibition from residing in Guam. The archbishop can and will appeal.
In late August, Pope Francis said the archbishop has appealed the conviction and, while he has asked some canon lawyers for input, he plans to make the final judgment on the archbishop's case himself.
At a news conference March 18 in Guam after the tribunal's announcement, Archbishop Byrnes said a new chapter of humility, repentance and healing has opened for the Catholic Church in Guam following the Vatican verdict against his predecessor.
He publicly apologized on behalf of the whole archdiocese for the "grave harm" caused by Agana's previous archbishop and said: "I called and still call upon all Catholics on Guam to intensify their prayers and with great humility, offer sacrifice for the grave harm and sins which we have experienced or have enabled in our church.
"We hang our heads in shame for the grave evil one member inflicted upon others, in this case the most vulnerable," he said in remarks, which were later released in a written statement.
"Our prayers for the victims of child abuse by Bishop Apuron and all victims of abuse here and worldwide continue; so shall our efforts to bring healing and restoration to all victims of clergy sexual abuse and to ensure this never happens again," he said.
With regard to Archbishop Byrnes' Nov. 7 announcement about the bankruptcy filing, the archdiocese said in a news release the Chapter 11 process will allow "the continued reorganization of the archdiocese's finances, which has been ongoing over the last two years, and is critical in providing transparency to the abuse claimants and the Catholic community."
"The archdiocese believes that this process will be the most expeditious way to resolve all abuse claims," said Ford Elsaesser, an Idaho bankruptcy attorney who has been retained by the archdiocese to handle the Chapter 11 proceeding.
"Our experience with other dioceses that have gone through the bankruptcy process," Elsaesser said in a statement, "indicates that the bankruptcy process works well for this purpose and allows full involvement and participation by the abuse claimants and their counsel."

Panama's church leaders hope World Youth Day strengthens parishes

By Manuel Rueda, Catholic News Service
PANAMA CITY (CNS) — The Church of Christ the Redeemer was built with Panama's hot and humid weather in mind. There are no walls on the building. Its tall round roof is supported by cement columns spread far apart so that a good amount of breeze can make its way down the church's aisles.
But there was no way to stave off the heat in April as a group of some 500 young men and women packed the large church to pray and dance at a service in preparation for next year's World Youth Day.
The young people swayed back and forth, waving their arms joyfully, as they sang a hymn about being "invaded" by God's love. A volunteer who led the service urged them to invoke the Holy Spirit and to pray for young people who had lost faith in themselves.
"I think that World Youth Day will help us to grow spiritually," said Ivan Lopez, 20, who attended the prayer service. "There are many young people who have drifted away from the church, but this will help us to strengthen our parishes."
Panama will host the 16th World Youth Day Jan. 22-27. It will be the first Central American nation to host the massive event, which will include a music festival, dozens of seminars for youth and an expected four-day visit by Pope Francis.
For many of the young people in Panama who are already preparing for this event, however, World Youth is not just about prayer and reflection. Organizers hope the event will strengthen parishes and provide them with an incentive to keep working for a better future in a region that has recently been through tough times.
Volunteers also are hoping that the event will give young people from around the world a chance to meet, share experiences and discuss ways in which young people can make an impact on society.
"We have people coming from places like Brazil, Haiti and the Philippines," said Carolina Vivas, 23, a volunteer who is helping large groups of pilgrims to register for World Youth Day through the event's official internet site,
"I've never been to those places. But when these people come here, I will be able to see the world through their eyes," said Vivas, who is originally from Venezuela.
Father Romulo Aguilar, director of the local organizing committee, said he expected at least 300,000 people to register for the event.
That's a large number for Panama, which has a population of 4 million people, and it means that hotel rooms will be scarce — and quite expensive — during the event.
Father Aguilar said thousands of families in Panama City are opening their doors to pilgrims to stay in their homes. Groups can choose that option when registering.
"We have already managed to make enough room for 60,000 pilgrims at family homes," Father Aguilar told Catholic News Service in April. "Our country has responded with a lot of enthusiasm."
The Panamanian government also will pitch in during World Youth Day by turning several schools in Panama City into shelters for pilgrims. Twenty-five public and private schools are being reviewed as possible shelters.
The government plans to open public hospitals to pilgrims who need medical assistance and organize a task force of 30,000 officers to provide security. Most of the musical performances and religious events will take place along a wide coastal avenue known as the "Cinta Costera," which connects Panama City's historic center with the financial district. Organizers say the central location, in the heart of Panama City, should make it easy for pilgrims to travel to events.
"We want visitors to leave Panama with the best possible experience," said Michelle Dominguez, a spokeswoman for the government's World Youth Day support committee.
For Panama Archbishop Jose Ulloa Mendieta, though, logistical issues are not the only concern. He told CNS that as World Youth Day approaches, he has been visiting parishes to pray with young people, but also to speak with church leaders about how the Panamanian church can better serve them.
"We need to prepare for the day after this event is over," Archbishop Ulloa told CNS. "What type of church will young people whose faith was renewed by this World Youth Day encounter?"
To prepare for the future, the archdiocese has published a manual that helps parish leaders facilitate discussions on 12 issues that matter to young people, including the environment, drugs, social inequalities and the role of women in the church. The manual looks at what church doctrine has to say about these issues.
Archbishop Ulloa said World Youth Day will be preceded by a special summit for indigenous people and by several prayer events in underserved communities, like the one held at Christ the Redeemer Church in April.
"We want this youth day to reach out to everyone, and especially those who are on the margins of society," Archbishop Ulloa said.
In Colon, an impoverished port city about an hour from Panama's capital, young parish leaders said they appreciated church efforts to reach out to marginalized people. But they said more needs to be done to draw young people into the church and show them that a better life is possible.
Colon has only 16 streets, but about 25 gangs are fighting for the local drug market. Entire blocks of the city are made up of decaying buildings with rusted paint, some of which have been abandoned by their owners and taken over by illegal tenants.
Yitzhak Gonzales, a local leader for the youth committee, said young people in the poorest parts of Colon grow up seeing their peers getting into drug-dealing outfits. Many feel the church is irrelevant in their lives.
Gonzalez, 26, said one way to fix that is by creating spaces for youths to "reflect on what they want to do with their lives."
He said even if young people do not turn to crime, they go about life mostly thinking about how to make money to support their families. This hurts the chances of anyone seeking a career in the church. The diocese is notoriously short on priests, which means some rural areas only get Mass once every three months.
"There is not much thought given to what God wants from us, or even if we may have a religious vocation," Gonzalez said. "That is why we need more spaces to talk about our vocation and career options."
Neyci Romero, a World Youth Day volunteer at Colon's Jesus Pan de Vida parish, said part of the problem her parish faces is that the faithful have a habit of keeping to themselves. She is hoping World Youth Day will become an excuse for churchgoers to "reach out" to the rest of the community.
"We are going door to door, encouraging people to learn about World Youth Day and get involved," said Romero, 24. "We also have a car with big speakers that we take into the streets to get noticed and make some noise."
The Colon Diocese is aiming to take 3,000 pilgrims to World Youth Day. Some young Catholic leaders in the city have quit their jobs or taken months of leave to help the diocese prepare for the event.
Gonzalez took a one-year leave from his job at the local port. He said he has found the preparations to be rewarding and that he hopes Pope Francis, who is famous for seeking those on the margins, visits Colon while he is in Panama.
"A papal visit would renew our hope in the future" Gonzalez said. "We don't just need new infrastructure here, our people also need spiritual renovation."