As U.S. lawmakers continued to wrangle over a decision on the nation’s debt ceiling and proposed budget cuts, representatives of faith groups held a protest on Capitol Hill and Catholic leaders urged lawmakers to remember the nation’s poor and vulnerable people.
During the protest, about a dozen people prayed publicly to ask the Obama administration and Congress “not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor,” according to a statement from the coalition that planned the action.
After they ignored warnings by U.S. Capitol Police to stop praying, they were arrested for demonstrating in the Capitol. Late in the day, the group was still being held, but a spokeswoman for the group expected them to be released within hours. Each person was expected to be fined $50.
Those arrested included the executive director of Faith in Public Life, the general secretary of the United Methodist Church and a past president of the National Council of Churches of Christ.
Daily prayer vigils led by a different religious organization each week have been taking place on the grounds of the United Methodist Building near the Capitol.
Meanwhile, the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees reiterated their message to Congress, telling members of the U.S. House July 26 that they cannot ignore “the moral and human dimensions” of the ongoing debate.
“A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” wrote Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y. “It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.”
Bishop Blaire is chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Hubbard, the Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The bishops wrote that every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects human life and dignity, how it affects “the least of these,” including the hungry and homeless, and how well it reflects the shared responsibility of the government and other institutions to promote the common good of all, especially workers and families struggling in the current economy.
A group of Ohio Catholic priests, women religious, religious brothers and laypeople said in a letter July 27 to House Speaker John Boehner, a fellow Ohioan and Catholic, that “as one of the most powerful Catholics in Congress,” he was faced with “a monumental choice.”
“You can heed the consistent moral calls from Catholic leaders who have urged lawmakers to decrease our debt fairly and protect the most vulnerable, or you can yield to growing political pressure from Tea Party Republicans willing to accept catastrophic default for the first time in our nation’s history,” they said.
“This is a stark choice between responsible leadership that serves the common good and narrow ideology that makes tax cuts for the wealthy our most sacred national priority. … Now is the time to seek a compromise that reflects the Catholic values of solidarity with the most vulnerable and prudential judgment,” they added in a Catholic News Service report.
News reports said that Boehner has called on everyone in the House, including members of the Tea Party, to get behind his debt-ceiling plan even if it falls short of the spending cuts many of them want.
Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., recalled Archbishop Pietro Sambi as a “joyful priest who had the ability to blend a sense of humor, deep spiritual insight and a great humility in a way that drew people to him. He clearly enjoyed the vibrant faith he experienced in the United States, as we enjoyed his.”
He said the archbishop seemed happiest when encouraging young people in their faith, especially each year during the Mass for Life or when he welcomed a group of diocesan school students to the nunciature.
Archbishop John J. Meyers of Newark, N.J., called the apostolic nuncio a “strong friend and supporter” U.S. church.
He said he worked with Archbishop Sambi for many years and “relied upon his counsel and friendship” as they not only shared the joys of ministry but sought ways to help the homeless and victims of natural disasters, sexual abuse and poverty.
In a July 28 blog entry, Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote that the nuncio “served the bishops by speaking the truth in love to us often,” and he noted Archbishop Sambi challenged the bishops to “be more open than perhaps we are and less iron-fisted.”
Among other messages of condolences was a statement from Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who said the archbishop’s “untimely death” is “a loss for the Catholic Church and for Catholic-Jewish relations.”
Rabbi Rosen and Archbishop Sambi worked closely together on Israel-Vatican relations and the establishment of the bilateral commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See, an initiative of Pope John Paul II.
“Archbishop Sambi was a consummate diplomat even though he could often be unusually forthcoming for someone in his profession,” said Rabbi Rosen. “He was a genuine friend of the Jewish people and a devoted advocate of Jewish-Christian reconciliation and cooperation.”
Miguel Diaz, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said in a July 28 statement that the apostolic nuncio had “a profound understanding of the rich and diverse reality of the United States” and was a “superb diplomat whose skills left a lasting impact in places where he served.”
“His kindness, wisdom, and leadership will be sorely missed,” he added in a Catholic News Service report.
In a roundup of reaction to the death of apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Catholic News Service reports that Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien said the impact of the late nuncio’s work in the U.S. “will be felt for many years to come.” “Both as a diplomat and a priest, Archbishop Sambi excelled through his gentle spirit and infectious goodness,” he said.
“A churchman who served us with extraordinary spiritual insights, boundless physical energy and a compassionate generosity that reached out in all generations, Archbishop Sambi has been a great model to so many of us of full-hearted love for Christ’s church and dedication to the Holy See and to the vicar of Christ,” Archbishop O’Brien said.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said everyone in his archdiocese felt “a particular bond” with Archbishop Sambi because of the planning that led up to the papal visit in 2008 as well as the events themselves. He added that he personally will miss his friendship.
“We all recognize his extraordinary work as the pope’s personal representative and the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, his sense of humor, his friendly and open manner, and his clear love for the church and our Holy Father.”
In a statement released in Los Angeles, Archbishop José H. Gomez noted all the postings Archbishop Sambi had in his 42 years of diplomatic service, and said “he had a special affection for his last posting, as papal nuncio to the United States.”
“In speaking to U.S. bishops last fall, he said, ‘Here the Lord has planted me, here I must flourish. This has become my home, this has become my people; to put all my energies at its service is my joy and my crown.’”
Among other messages of condolences was a statement from John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, who called Archbishop Sambi “a passionate advocate of Catholic education.”
“We will always remember his enthusiastic proclamation of the Word, his cheerfulness, and his openness to everyone who crossed his path,” Garvey said.
Msgr. Edward Arsenault, president and CEO of St. Luke Institute in Washington, said Archbishop Sambi’s “deep pastoral concern for those ministering in the church was evident when he visited” the institute.
“He treated every person he met, from psychologists to residents to the kitchen staff with respect, joy and prayerfulness. His devotion to the church and to his own priestly ministry was an inspiration to all who met him,” the priest said.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life/Gospel of Life Ministries, praised the archbishop for his efforts on behalf of the pro-life cause, saying, “At certain critical moments of our growth, he provided direct assistance and guidance to protect and strengthen our ministry.”
Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican nuncio to the United States, died late July 27 at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore after a hospitalization that began with lung surgery. He was 73.
On July 22, the apostolic nunciature in Washington announced that the archbishop had been “placed on assisted ventilation to attempt recovery of his lung function” two weeks after undergoing “a delicate lung surgery.”
A veteran Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Sambi was appointed as U.S. nuncio, or ambassador, in December 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. Prior to the U.S. appointment, he had been nuncio to Israel and Cyprus; he was the second Vatican ambassador to Israel, after the Vatican and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1994.
After he arrived in the United States Feb. 24, 2006, he said in an interview with Catholic News Service in Washington that he was impressed by the vitality of U.S. Catholicism, the level of weekly Mass attendance among U.S. Catholics and their generosity toward others.
The archbishop was known for his warm and affable manner, sense of humor and being open and ready to listen to people.
Archbishop Sambi, a native of central Italy, was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. He was named an archbishop and nuncio to Burundi in 1985, a position he held for six years until being named nuncio to Indonesia. In 1998, Pope John Paul II named him nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine.
During Pope Benedict’s April 2008 visit to the United States, Archbishop Sambi accompanied the pope and during the pontiff’s stay in Washington hosted him at the Vatican Embassy, or nunciature, where the pope held a historic private meeting with five victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Before the pope’s arrival, the archbishop said the pontiff was coming to “strengthen the faith, the hope and love of the Catholic Church in the United States,” adding that he hoped the pope’s visit would “bring a new wind of Pentecost … a new springtime” to the U.S. church.
Among honors the archbishop received was a Living Stones Solidarity Award in 2009. Bestowed by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, it honors those who have made “a sustained and extraordinary effort to love, support and stand in solidarity with the Christians in the Holy Land.” In May of this year, he was awarded an honorary doctor in public and ecclesial service degree from Jesuit-run Regis University in Denver.
During his U.S. tenure, Archbishop Sambi traveled throughout the country to attend the ordinations of bishops, celebrate Mass and participate in myriad events.
As a result he “understood and loved our nation,” said New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. The nuncio “enjoyed the highest respect and deepest affection” of the bishops and the nation’s Catholics, the archbishop said in a statement July 28.
Last September, Archbishop Sambi was the principal celebrant of a Mass marking the 13th anniversary of the death of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, which coincided with the U.S. Postal Service’s issuance of a stamp bearing her likeness.
“This stamp looks almost like a holy card. I pray it may serve in some small way as a reminder of Mother Teresa,” Archbishop Sambi said. “May Jesus stamp upon our hearts the same spirit as Mother’s to love God, the church and the poorest of the poor more than ourselves.”
In 2009 at a 10th anniversary observance of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by Catholics and Lutherans, Archbishop Sambi told a Washington audience that today’s disciples of Jesus, like the first disciples, should be recognized by how they love each other and, guided by Jesus, they should walk together in a spirit of unity, mutual respect and brotherhood.
“Each act of unity is profession of faith in the Lord Jesus,” said the archbishop.
Around the same time, he spoke in Garrison, N.Y., at a centennial celebration of the reception of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of Atonement into the Catholic Church.
“The spirit of Jesus creates unity,” said Archbishop Sambi. “Where there is love and unity, there is God. Where there is unity, there is a spirit of family.”
Earlier that year, the archbishop hosted a reception at the Vatican Embassy for the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, attended by hundreds as the group launched its first national outreach effort during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“To be a leader is to have a clear sense of identity,”” he said at the reception. “What I wish for all Latino leaders is that you have a sense of identity and of very clearly belonging.”
Archbishop Sambi told the 2009 assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men that the church should not be “a prisoner of sex scandals,” nor should it be “a prisoner of the crisis of religious life,” adding that he was “deeply convinced that the values and witness of religious life are extremely important for the renewal of the church.”
Pointing out the challenges faced by today’s priests and religious orders, the archbishop called the clergy abuse scandal “a horrible experience which has deprived all of us of our credibility before our faithful and before society.”
At the 2007 convention of the National Catholic Educational Association, he called teachers “the greatest artists of the world … because you sculpt the best of what you are, not in a piece of marble but in human beings who are the glory of God.”
“Each of us has forgotten a lot of what we were told in school,” he added, “but a lot of what’s inside is from the example of teachers.”
In his first remarks to a U.S. bishops’ meeting, in June 2006 in Los Angeles, he described them as “a people of great experience, great holiness and also great suffering.” He stressed the importance of evangelization and urged the bishops not to be disheartened by the clergy sexual abuse scandals that have plagued them in media headlines for the past four years.
In all his previous diplomatic posts from the Vatican, he said, he found that what is essential is faith in Jesus and the Gospel message of his resurrection.
To highlight the global role of the United States and the U.S. church, he shared with the bishops an anecdote from his time in Indonesia. He told of a Christmas he spent in a remote village there. In its street shops, he recalled, “I found Coca-Cola and Marlboros.”
“I think the United States and the church of the United States has something more to bring to the world than Marlboros and Coca-Cola,” he said.
In Washington, after he arrived as nuncio, he told CNS that in his travels as a papal diplomat, it was “difficult to find a part of the world where the charity of U.S. Catholics did not reach the poor or sick people.”
Before he departed Israel, the one thing he would have liked to have seen during his tenure in Jerusalem, he said, was the development of a larger and more aggressive interreligious dialogue to show “that the holy city of Jerusalem (unites) human beings, not divides them.”
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio to the United States since early 2006, “enjoyed the highest respect and deepest affection” of the U.S. bishops and the nation’s Catholics, said New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop Sambi, 73, died July 27 at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore apparently from complications of lung surgery performed approximately three weeks earlier.
On July 22, the apostolic nunciature in Washington announced that the archbishop had been “placed on assisted ventilation to attempt recovery of his lung function” two weeks after undergoing “a delicate lung surgery.”
“Archbishop Sambi understood and loved our nation,” Archbishop Dolan said in a statement July 28 and reported by Catholic News Service. “He traveled throughout the country, often to attend the ordination of bishops, always eager to meet the faithful, and to share with them the affection that the Holy Father has for them and their country.”
“He was open to the media as a conveyor of truth and welcomed journalists as representatives of the American people,” the USCCB president said. “He enjoyed everything from a stroll in the park near his residence in Washington to the diplomatic functions he attended as part of his service as the representative of the Holy See to the United States.”
A veteran Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Sambi was named as papal nuncio to the U.S. by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2005. At the time of his appointment he was the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, where he helped arrange Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000.
After he arrived in the U.S. Feb. 24, 2006, he said in an interview with Catholic News Service in Washington that that he was impressed by the vitality of U.S. Catholicism, the level of weekly Mass attendance among U.S. Catholics and their generosity toward others.
Archbishop Dolan recalled “the indispensible role” the nuncio had during Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the U.S. in 2008, saying he had “enabled our entire nation to see the wonderfully warm solicitude of the Holy Father for America.”
As English-speaking parishes around the world await delivery of the new translation of the Roman Missal, the Vatican’s Vox Clara Committee already is at work on additional texts.
The committee, which advises the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on English translations, met in Rome July 24-26. A committee statement released July 27 said members spent most of their time on a new translation of the prayers bishops use for the chrism Mass, the Holy Week liturgy where the oils used in the sacraments throughout the year are blessed.
In the United States and Canada, the bishops’ prayers for blessing the oils were included in the old missal, which will go out of use on the first Sunday of Advent 2011. To avoid a situation in which bishops would need to pull the old missal off the shelf for the solemn Mass in 2012, the congregation commissioned its own draft translation of the prayers.
The translation was reviewed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy — which normally drafts the translations — and was revised in consultation with Vox Clara, the statement said. The new text “should be available in the first months of 2012,” it said, and bishops’ conferences can decide whether to adopt the new text for use in their countries, a Vatican official said.
Also at their July meeting, members of Vox Clara “approved plans for several future publications on behalf of the congregation, most notably an interim edition of the ‘Roman Pontifical,’” which contains prayers and rites usually reserved to bishops. In most countries, the chrism Mass blessing of oils is included in the book, rather than in the missal.
The statement said the committee also supported the congregation’s authorization of several editions of the “Missale Parvum,” an abridged version of the Missal traditionally used by priests who are traveling.
“Finally, the commission adopted plans for the revision of the ‘Ratio Translationis’ for the English language,” a translation style guide, “and approved the scope of work in the continuing revision of the translations of the Latin liturgical books of the Roman rite,” said the statement, according to Catholic News Service.
The new Roman Missal contains all of the prayers used at Sunday and weekday Masses throughout the year, as well as special Mass prayers for saints’ feast days.
However, the missal does not include texts such as the rite of matrimony, confirmation, baptism or ordination or the text of the Liturgy of the Hours — all of which, eventually, will be translated.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio to the United States, has been placed on “assisted ventilation” since experiencing complications from “delicate lung surgery” performed two weeks earlier, according to the apostolic nunciature in Washington.
The ventilation is necessary “to attempt recovery of his lung function,” the nunciature said in an announcement released the evening of July 22.
“The apostolic nunciature and the nuncio’s family kindly ask that bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful offer sacrifices and prayers for the health of the apostolic nuncio,” it said.
As of midday July 25, no update on his condition was released. In response to a call from Catholic News Service that morning, a receptionist at the apostolic nunciature said all media queries were being handled by the U.S. bishops’ Office of Media Relations. Information on where the archbishop was hospitalized has not been made public.
A veteran Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Sambi, 73, was named papal nuncio to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2005. At the time of his appointment, he was the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, where he helped arrange Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000.
After he arrived in the United States Feb. 24, 2006, he said in an interview with CNS in Washington that that he was impressed by the vitality of U.S. Catholicism, the level of weekly Mass attendance among U.S. Catholics and their generosity toward others.
As a papal diplomat, “I travel a lot throughout the world,” he said. “It is difficult to find a part of the world where the charity of U.S. Catholics did not reach the poor or sick people.”
The archbishop is known for his warm and affable manner, sense of humor and being open and and ready to listen to people.
During Pope Benedict’s April 2008 visit to the United States, Archbishop Sambi accompanied the pope and during the pontiff’s stay in Washington hosted him at the nunciature, where the pope held a historic private meeting with five victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Archbishop Sambi, a native of central Italy, was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. He was named an archbishop and nuncio to Burundi in 1985, a position he held for six years until being named nuncio to Indonesia.
In 1998, Pope John Paul II named the archbishop to be the new nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine.
Archbishop Sambi was the second Vatican ambassador to Israel; the Vatican and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1994.
In an exceptional move, the Vatican recalled its nuncio to Ireland so that he could participate in meetings aimed at drafting the Vatican’s formal response to an Irish government report on clerical sex abuse.
Following the publication July 13 of the so-called Cloyne Report “and, particularly, after the reactions that followed, the secretary of state has recalled the apostolic nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, for consultations,” the Vatican said in a statement July 25.
Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said recalling the nuncio “denotes the seriousness of the situation, the desire of the Holy See to face it with objectivity and determination, as well as a certain note of surprise and disappointment over some excessive reactions” to the report and its accusations against the Vatican.
The Cloyne Report, which examined how the Diocese of Cloyne handled accusations of clerical sexual abuse, said the bishop paid “little or no attention” to child safeguarding as recently as 2008 and that he falsely told the government his diocese was reporting all allegations of abuse to the civil authorities.
The report also accused the Vatican of being “entirely unhelpful” to Irish bishops who wanted to implement stronger norms for dealing with accusations and protecting children.
Addressing parliament July 20, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the Cloyne Report “exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago.”
“And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day,” the prime minister said.
After the prime minister spoke, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, issued a statement calling for greater objectivity in discussing “topics so dramatic” because the first concern of all should be “the safeguarding of children and of young people and the renewal of a climate of trust and collaboration” between church and state.
In announcing the recall of the nuncio, Father Benedettini said the Vatican Secretariat of State wanted to ensure its response to the Cloyne Report was serious and complete, and to do that it was necessary that “the person on the scene,” Archbishop Leanza, take part in drafting discussions along with officials from the congregations for the doctrine of the faith, religious, clergy and bishops.
According to Catholic News Service, he said the Vatican expects to forward its formal response to the Irish government before the end of August.
In a statement July 25, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said, “The decision to recall the papal nuncio to the Vatican for consultations is a matter for the Holy See. The government is awaiting the response of the Holy See to the recent report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne and it is to be expected that the Vatican would wish to consult in depth with the nuncio on its response.”
A day earlier, Kenny told a crowd during a visit to County Donegal he had received “thousands of messages from around the world” supporting his comments.
“The numbers of members of the clergy who have been in touch in the last few days, to say it is about time somebody spoke out about these matters in a situation like you are, has astounded me,” Kenny added.
“I haven’t made any other comments except to say that we await the response from the Vatican,” he said.
Church officials in southern Karnataka state have joined growing protests against the compulsory teaching of Hindu scripture in government-run schools.
The vocal demonstrations have developed since June 9 when the state’s education department announced it would allow Hindu groups to conduct classes on Bhagavad Gita, one of the Hindu scriptures.
The Karnataka government is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
“A secular government should never try to impose or promote one religion alone,” Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, who heads the Catholic church in Karnataka, told Catholic News Service July 20.
The archbishop also criticized statements from Karnataka government officials who disparaged protesters opposing the introduction of Bhagavad Gita into the schools.
The first statement came July 13 from Vishweshara Hegde Kageri, Karnataka’s minister for school education, who told protesters “to quit India” following demonstrations by secular student organizations and their supporters in front of several schools where Gita classes were being held.
Dhananjay Kumar, the Karnataka government’s representative in New Delhi, escalated the conflict July 19 by saying that Christianity and Islam are “foreign” religions and those who believe in them are not Indians but “outsiders.”
“These statements show that they even do not care about the constitution under which they assumed the government office,” Archbishop Moras said.
“Our constitution bans discrimination on the basis of religion,” he added.
A delegation of Christian and Muslim educators from the Karnataka State Minorities Educational Institutions Management Federation met with Karnataka Gov. Hans Raj Bharadwaj July 19 and called for a ban on compulsory teaching of the Hindu scripture in the state-run schools.
Carmelite Sister Genevieve, secretary of the education commission of the Karnataka Regional Catholic Bishops Conference, a member of the delegation, told CNS that “compulsory teaching of the Bhagavad Gita alone violates the freedom of religion” guaranteed under the Indian constitution.
“We have no problem if the scriptures are used without discrimination to teach good values to the children,” she said. “But the language of the minister denigrating other faiths shows that it has a hidden political agenda to saffronize (promote Hindu nationalism).”
The education federation also asked the state high court to remove the education minister and ban the teaching of the Gita. The court has yet to rule on the request.
Meanwhile, Justice Alok Aradhe, a Hindu judge in the high court of central Madhya Pradesh state, July 18 declined to hear a Catholic Church plea challenging the teaching of Hindu scriptures in that state, which also is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Aradhe said withdrew from hearing the case because of his religion to avoid a conflict of interest. He asked the court’s chief justice to appoint another justice to hear the case.
Martin Cantu prays the rosary every morning in the Christ the Prisoner Chapel, where he also attends Mass twice weekly. The deeply Catholic father of four spends his days sewing jackets in a prison workshop and passes much of his spare time reading the Bible and pondering the allegations of fraud that landed in a minimum security prison.
Cantu, a slim man with a thick beard he grew for his portrayal of Christ in the prison’s annual Passion play, said he was wrongfully convicted in a hasty and unfair trial in which key evidence was ignored — a claim often made among people in prison the world over.
He’s making the best of a difficult situation behind bars in Saltillo, an industrial city in northern Mexico. Still, life is difficult.
“For me, this is hell,” he said of the two years he has been behind bars during an interview in the prison chapel.
An accountant by profession, Cantu was accused of fraud involving about $300,000 but denied any wrongdoing.
Such claims have received more attention in Mexico in recent months, however, especially since the hit documentary “Presunto Culpable” (“Presumed Guilty”) generated national outrage at a legal system in which guilt is assumed, transparency is minimal and due process is seemingly an afterthought.
As the documentary reported, “Being innocent isn’t enough to be free.”
Father Robert Coogan, prison chaplain in the Diocese of Saltillo, has seen the film and said he has heard similar expressions of judicial dissatisfaction for years along with horror stories ranging from the fabrication of evidence to the accused not understanding the charges against them.
Mexico’s prison system, he said, has worked in some parts of the country — such as the lockup in Saltillo, until recently — but not the judicial system.
Father Coogan points to Cantu’s case as an example in which the judicial process raised more questions than provided answers.
Cantu has not seen “Presunto Culpable,” but he can relate to the events it portrays.
The documentary focused on the retrial of a computer repairman convicted of manslaughter. The testimony of the lone witness in the case fell apart during the trial. The police, meanwhile, said they had no recollection of arresting the accused, Jose Antonio Zuniga. Evidence showed Zuniga had never fired a weapon. The prosecutor did little more than submit her case on a floppy disk.
Zuniga was convicted again, but he won on appeal after a judge watched film of the proceedings.
Cantu said his case unfolded in a similar way.
The film’s directors discovered that 93 percent of prisoners never knew a warrant for their arrest had been issued, as required by law. Cantu said he was arrested in Monterrey and held for trial without any advance warning.
The directors also found that 93 percent of those convicted never see a judge or their case files. Cantu said he never saw his case file, although he did ask about it.
Like the case presented in “Presunto Culpable,” he said key evidence that might have worked in his favor — bank records showing no improper transactions and a report saying his family lived within the means of his accountant’s salary, for example — were either omitted or ignored.
Equally horrifying as the portrayal of the legal system was life inside prison where Zuniga slept: under a bunk in an overcrowded and cockroach-infested cell.
Approximately 78 percent of families are responsible for feeding and caring for their incarcerated loved ones, according to the documentary.
Cantu’s family makes the 45-mile journey from Monterrey to visit him on weekends, bringing bags of food and basic necessities on every trip. The Saltillo prison lacks overcrowding problems and now features self-rule by inmates, according to the National Human Rights Commission.
Separation from his family and an inability to provide for them has been the most difficult issue for Cantu. He broke into tears when discussing his wife and children, later explaining that the financial hardship of being incarcerated forced a daughter to abandon university studies and might force his teenage children to drop out of a private Catholic high school.
“I would make three times as much on the outside,” he said.
“What little we have, we’re selling.”
Father Coogan said Cantu has held up reasonably well because of faith and family — things many inmates lack.
“It helps that he’s a devout person,” Father Coogan said in a Catholic News Service report. “Most people here don’t come from a religious background.”