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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 56 min ago

Supreme Court will hear Little Sisters of the Poor case, again

3 hours 48 min ago

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Poor will have their case heard before the Supreme Court yet again in their years-long fight against the federal contraceptive mandate.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hear oral arguments in the case of the sisters against the State of Pennsylvania, which challenged the order’s exemption from the contraceptive mandate.

“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a statement on Friday. 

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all,” she said. 

“We are hopeful that this trip to the Supreme Court will be their last,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, which represents the sisters in court.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. Their mission is to care for the poor and the elderly in more than 30 countries.

Their case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, stems from a lawsuit by the State of Pennsylvania against the exemption granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor to the contraceptive mandate.

The sisters originally sued the federal government over the mandate that employers provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs in health plans. The religious exemption that the Obama administration originally granted was so narrow that the sisters, and many other religious non-profits were not eligible.

When the administration issued an accommodation for the objecting non-profits, the sisters and other religious entities, including Catholic dioceses and charities, still challenged it in court.

Under the revised procedure, the objecting parties would report their objection to the government, which in turn would notify the insurer or third-party administrator to provide the contraceptive coverage anyway. The sisters said they would still be cooperating with the provision of morally objectionable drugs and procedures.

In 2016, the Supreme Court sent the case of the sisters and others back to the circuit courts, ordering the government and the objecting parties to come to an agreement respecting both the administration’s goal of contraceptive coverage and the sisters’ wishes to be exempt from participation in it.

Then in October of 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule protecting religious entities that objected to the mandate.

However, attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California challenged the rule in court, saying that the sisters and other objecting religious non-profits should not be exempt.

The Supreme Court held oral arguments in March of 2018 to determine if the sisters could intervene in the states’ lawsuits, which in April the Court said they could.

At the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania in July of 2019, and appealed to the Supreme Court in October. The Court on Friday agreed to hear their case.

The sisters also lost their case against California’s lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court in October.

Catholic parish will not host Episcopalian consecration

8 hours 18 min ago

Richmond, Va., Jan 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia will no longer hold an episcopal consecration and ordination at a Catholic parish in Williamsburg, following an internet petition signed by over 3,000 people objecting to the event. 

“It is with great sadness that I have received a letter from Bishop-Elect Susan Haynes stating that, due to the controversy of the proposed use of St. Bede Catholic Church for her consecration of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, she has decided to find another location for the ceremony to take place,” said a statement from Bishop Barry Knestout of the Catholic Richmond diocese on Friday, Jan. 17. St. Bede Catholic Church is located within the diocese. 

A statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia said that the consecration will now take place at Williamsburg Community Chapel. The Williamsburg Community Chapel’s website states that it is home to an “interdenominational family of faith.” 

“The decision to change the location from St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg arose out of concern and respect for the ministries and leadership of both the Catholic parish and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond,” said the unsigned statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, released Friday. 

“Learning that its intended use of the building was causing dismay and distress, the Episcopal Diocese withdrew from its contract with St. Bede.”

The statement from the Episcopalian diocese cited 1 Corinthians 8, which warned against “pursuing behavior that might cause problems for others within their community.” 

Episcopal Bishop-Elect Haynes wrote a letter to Knestout and Msgr. Joseph Lehman, pastor of St. Bede, announcing the decision to change the location and thanking them for their prior willingness to host the event. 

“I am writing to withdraw from our contract to use the lovely, holy space of St. Bede for my upcoming consecration as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia,” said Haynes. “We have so appreciated and admired your grace and courage in extending this hospitality and abiding by your invitation even under fire from those within your own flocks.”

Knestout had defended the decision to grant permission to the Episcopal diocese to consecrate an Episcopalian bishop in the Catholic parish, citing various Vatican Council II documents on the importance of ecumenism and hospitality. Permission was first granted to host the event within the parish church in December 2018, well before Haynes was elected as bishop.

In the statement, Knestout said that his diocese “look(s) forward to continuing our ecumenical dialogue with the Episcopal community, and to working with Bishop-Elect Haynes in fortifying the long standing cordial relationship between our communities and our joint service to the poor.” 

Knestout said that he would be praying for Haynes and the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and encouraged the Catholics in his diocese to pray for them as well.

“Pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with humility, kindness, gentleness and joy, be expressed and strengthened in all our faith communities,” he said.

The Episcopal Dioceses of Southern Virginia, Southwestern Virginia do not have a cathedral, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which covers the northern part of the commonwealth, has only a “cathedral shrine.” Past episocpal ordinations for the Diocese of Southern Virginia have occurred either in Episcopal parishes or in other, non-Catholic locations.

'No international right to abortion' says HHS Secretary

9 hours 18 min ago

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- There is no international right to abortion, the U.S. health secretary told officials from more than 30 countries on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“I stated this fact at the United Nations this past September, and I'll repeat it here: there is no international human right to abortion. On the other hand, there is an international human right to life,” Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, stated in remarks first reported by the Washington Times.

Azar addressed representatives from more than 30 other countries at the Blair House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Other U.S. and international officials addressed the audience, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs Katalin Novák, and the Deputy Chief of Mission Minister-Counselor Fernando Pimentel of Brazil.

Novak noted Azar’s remarks on abortion, on Twitter, and also said that Azar was the guest of the Hungarian Embassy to the U.S. on Wednesday, where he thanked Hungary and Poland for their cooperation on life and family issues.

In September, Azar also said “there is no international right to an abortion” at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Azar read a joint statement of the U.S. and 18 other countries before a high-level meeting on universal health coverage, where he said that “ambiguous terms,” including “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” should be opposed in UN documents as they can be interpreted to undermine the family and push for abortion.

On Thursday, Azar encouraged the countries present to collaborate with the U.S. in fighting against abortion at upcoming international meetings including the World Health Organization’s board meeting in Geneva, the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York, the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Thank you for taking a courageous stand with us for the unborn. Thank you for standing up for the idea that every life has value. And thank you for making clear that national sovereignty is not a vague or old fashioned concept, but the most important duty for each of us as leaders in our respective governments,” Azar said.

The venue for Thursday’s gathering, the Blair House, has a history of diplomacy, Azar said, as it hosted discussions between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, at the outset of World War II, to produce the Atlantic Charter.

“The Atlantic Charter highlighted the need for greater cooperation and collaboration, and emphasized that each nation has a sovereign right to self-determination,” Azar said. “These same principles came to undergird the work of the institutions that play a role in our modern world, including the United Nations and affiliated agencies like the World Health Organization.”

“These organizations were founded to protect human rights, defend the vulnerable, and give voices to all nations,” he said. “So it is fitting that we are gathered here, in this historic diplomatic setting, to take the next steps in our work to make these organizations live up to their founding ideals.

Washington DC clears out homeless camp, breaking up community

11 hours 47 min ago

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 08:01 am (CNA).- A homeless encampment in Washington, DC, was permanently dismantled on Thursday, in a move the city said was designed to better improve the safety of the city’s sidewalks.

One former resident told CNA that he believes the dismantling was necessary, and he blames the city for letting the encampment escalate to the point of being out of control.

The encampment, located beneath the K Street NE train bridge, is one of three located on the city’s K, L, and M streets in the northeast quadrant of the city. It was cleared out at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

That afternoon, just one tent--belonging to a woman who was placed in a psychiatric hold earlier that morning out of fear she was going to harm herself--remained, along with scattered litter. 

Most of the former K Street residents have migrated to one of the other encampments nearby. One of those residents, Mike Harris, spoke to CNA about why he chose to move to L Street and why he thought it was “necessary” for the city to clean out his former street.

Harris said that he had lived for about eight months on K Street, and during that time, the conditions in the area had gotten continuously worse. Harris, who uses a wheelchair, said that he had been unable to navigate the sidewalks due to the size, placement, and number of tents, as well as the presence of lawn chairs in front of the tents.

He said he empathized with the people who complained about being unable to push strollers or even walk on the sidewalks due to the presence of tents. 

Harris said that while he was not sure it was necessary to permanently shut down the encampment, he did think it needed to be addressed, as the situation had deteriorated in recent months. 

Harris laid blame at the city for how K Street had changed. He told CNA that when he first moved to K Street, the city had been enforcing various regulations and laws regarding the placement and size of tents. That changed over time.

“I was there for two days and my tent got a warning,” said Harris. “I wasn’t even that far over.” He said that his neighbors, whose tents were blocking pedestrians from using the sidewalk, never received similar warnings, even though their tents were in violation. 

“[Now] 26 to 40 people who lived under the K Street bridge got displaced because approximately five or six people didn’t want to abide by the rules,” said Harris. “Everybody had to suffer the consequences of the actions of a few.” 

Harris told CNA that he thinks the city of Washington wanted the encampment to become a “red flag situation” that would “justify the removal” of the tents. Hence, they stopped enforcing rules. 

Fr. Bill Carloni, the pastor at the nearby Holy Name of Jesus Parish, told CNA that he has been ministering to the homeless populations for about three years. His parish runs a food pantry and also distributes lunches to the homeless on a weekly basis. Carloni told CNA he was concerned about what the future would hold for the former K Street residents. 

“Unfortunately, I still don’t know what happens now,” Carloni told CNA. He said that over the last eight months, he had noticed a “significant increase” in the number of people living under the bridge. 

“I think that more people are getting priced out of DC,” said Carloni. “I mean, we see another element of it where more people are coming looking for emergency rental assistance because they can no longer afford the rents and they are on the verge of becoming homeless.” 

Carloni said there is no “typical” resident of the homeless encampments, and that they ranged in age, health, and reasons for homelessness. Many suffer from mental illness. He said that while there was a reputation for danger and crime in the encampment, Carloni said he’d “never felt threatened” or been mistreated. 

As a pastor, Fr. Carloni said that he worries about the people he ministers to on the streets, and when the encampments are cleaned out, he has to work hard to track everyone down to ensure they are doing okay. While Carloni was concerned that there would be conflict due to the melding of the various encampments, Harris said that there was none of that thus far. 

“I’ve found [the homeless population on K Street] to be amicable and kind of community oriented, like I know a lot of them, that they care for each other,” Carloni said. 

“They like to eat together as a community and they like to share.” 

Harris confirmed this. As he spoke to CNA, other residents of L Street were helping him to move his belongings into his tent. He said there were plans to construct a community table on the street, where the residents would gather for meals and fellowship. 

There are imminent plans to install a generator on the street corner to provide electricity to charge phones--something that Harris said is crucial in the job search that might lead to getting off the street. This generator was purchased with money that was crowdfunded.

Harris said that he had been homeless for about a year, and had lived in the city’s homeless shelters before making the move to K Street. He told CNA that he much preferred life on the streets to life in the shelters.

Life in the shelters, said Harris, was over-regulated and no safer than living in a tent. 

“[The shelters] are nothing to write home about,” he said. “There’s violence, there’s germs, there’s disease, physical altercations, and a lot of stuff that you have to deal with living in such close proximity.”

On the street, he said, there are no set times to check in or leave, and there is more privacy and divided up space amongst residents. In the DC shelters, people sleep on cots or bunk beds. 

“There are benefits of being out here. There’s some shortfalls, too,” he said, noting that he recently had a tent stolen from him when it was packed up. “And I’ve had a backpack stolen too, but I’ve had stuff stolen at shelters too.”

“Yeah, it’s bearable. It’s much more bearable than an institutionalized shelter-type situation,” said Harris. 

Harris will not be spending much more time on the streets. He received a housing voucher, and had there not been a “signature snafu,” he would already have moved into an apartment by now. He told CNA that he has a “great support team,” and that he regularly attends Bible study, church services, and a men’s group. 

It was these influences which helped him to keep his faith during his time being homeless, and he hopes to one day to help others in his situation, as “some of the people out here who are chronically homeless, they lose hope, drive, motivation, courage and faith.” 

“I’ve got a network of positive-minded individuals that’s helping me weather the storm, and I’m going to try to encourage other people who are currently homeless to do the same thing,” he said.

He urges his associates on the streets to “develop a network, a support group, a support team. Someone that can call and check in on, come by, see if you’re doing alright.”

“Just to let you know that someone cares [about you] means a lot.”

Report: Around the world, 260 million Christians face persecution 

17 hours 3 min ago

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 02:45 am (CNA).- Christian persecution around the world is a growing problem, says a new report from an agency that documents abuses against Christians across the globe.

Worldwide, the report states, 260 million Christians are facing persecution. This marks a 6% increase from the previous year.

The annual report from Open Doors, released Jan. 15, ranked North Korea first on its list of 50 most dangerous countries in which to be Christian, the 18th straight year that the country has received that designation.

There are an estimated 300,000 Christians amidst the total population of 25.4 million in North Korea. Open Doors reports that if North Korean Christians are discovered, the government will deport them to labor camps as political criminals or even kill them on the spot. Meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it is done in complete secrecy.

Following North Korea on the World Watch List Top 10 are Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and India.

“Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution of Christians takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, rape, and even death as a result of their faith,” Open Doors said in a release accompanying the report.

China featured four spots higher on the list than last year, up from number 27 in 2019 to number 23 in 2020, due in large part to the Communist government’s efforts to preserve its rule.

Christians in China experienced, among other things, an increase in attacks on churches in the past year. Open Doors reports that 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List, compared with 1,847 attacks reported on churches worldwide in 2019. In 2020, the number is conservatively estimated to be at least 5,576 in China alone, the report states.

According to Open Doors, there are at least 97 million Christians in China. Policies enacted by the Communist Party in 2018 to “sinicize” the church - or adapt it to their way of thinking - have been enforced in more and more territories, resulting in the dramatic increase of persecution against Christians, the group reports.

People of faith also suffer from continual surveillance by the government. Open Doors cites a CNBC report that says there are nearly half a billion surveillance cameras in China, a number only expected to grow.

Additionally, Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from attending church, places of worship are monitored, and pastors are increasingly being asked to register with the Communist government, risking church closure and arrest if they refuse, the report continues. More than 5,500 churches in China have been closed down, and churches in at least 23 provinces have been harassed or shuttered.

There were at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, the report states. Many attacks on Christians in India are perpetrated by radical Hindus and often take the form of mob violence.

Muslim extremist groups were responsible for significant violence against Christians worldwide in the past year. For example, in Sri Lanka, 250 people died and more than 500 were injured in attacks on Catholic and Protestant churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, the report notes. In Pakistan, radical Islamist groups often are given free rein by the government, the report says.

In Iraq and Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians— as much as 87% of the Christian population in Iraq— have been forced to flee due to civil war and the presence of militant groups such as the Islamic State.

Outside of Asia, the report took note of the plight of Christians in the African nation of Burkina Faso, which has risen 33 spots in the past year. Dozens of Catholic priests have been killed in the past year, and Protestant pastors and their families have been killed or kidnapped by violent Islamist militants.

Notably, a spate of violence in churches in Burkina Faso last summer and continuing throughout the year led to Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya saying in December that the Western world has been ignoring the plight of Christians in West Africa and has even been selling militants the weapons that they are using to kill Christians.

In total, nearly half a million people were forced to flee their homes in Burkina Faso in the last five years, and more than 60 Christians were murdered by militants in the country in 2019.

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram also maintains a presence in such countries as northern Nigeria and Cameroon.

Churches critical in fighting human trafficking, members of Congress told

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 19:15

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Faith-based groups play a critical role in the global fight against human trafficking—one which merits a closer partnership with the U.S., one Catholic leader told members of Congress Wednesday.

“Churches are safe havens for individuals and oftentimes the first place that victims seek protection and support,” said Limnyuy Konglim, head of the International Catholic Migration Commission’s U.S. Liaison Office in Washington, DC., to commissioners of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Jan. 15. The hearing before the bipartisan body in the House of Representatives marked the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

She added that “it is critical that faith-based actors receive greater consideration as implementing partners, in addition to suppliers of information for reporting.”

Almost 25 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking, an industry which is estimated to be worth $150 billion.

The TVPA, enacted in 2000 and authored by commission co-chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), set up punishments for traffickers, victim assistance, and prevention programs, making changes to the criminal code such as classifying that a minor exploited by a commercial sex act was a victim and not a perpetrator.

It also established a tier ratings system for countries at the State Department, based upon their efforts and success in curbing trafficking.

“Though it is hard to believe it now, when I first introduced the TVPA, the legislation was met with a wall of skepticism and opposition—dismissed by many as a solution in search of a problem,” Smith said Wednesday. “Reports of vulnerable persons—especially women and children—being reduced to commodities for sale were often met with surprise, incredulity or indifference.”

On Tuesday the Justice Department hosted a Summit on Combating Human Trafficking, during which Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen credited the law with spurring an increase in trafficking charges and convictions, but noted that “we have so much left to do.”

“The TVPA responded to the fact that the ability of one person to control, exploit, abuse and profit from another person’s labor and commercial sex acts has not yet been fully eradicated.  And it needs to be,” he said.

Also testifying on Wednesday were two Trump administration officials: the State Department’s trafficking ambassador John Cotton Richmond, and Katherine Chon, director of the Office of Trafficking in Persons at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Konglim’s group, the ICMC, helps build a global network of national bishops’ conferences and Catholic institutions to serve migrants, refugees, and trafficking victims.

“The work of ICMC is inspired by the Holy Bible, as well as by the ongoing Teaching and
Tradition of the Catholic Church; and we are deeply inspired and guided by Pope Francis, who
has prioritized the Church response to human trafficking,” Konglim said Wednesday.

“As he [Pope Francis] has so eloquently said, ‘We are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country,’ and therefore, ‘we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.’”

She was formerly an advisor on humanitarian protection at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and advised the U.S. bishops’ conference on refugee policy and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts for the conference.

On Wednesday, she emphasized the need for the U.S. to work more closely with faith-based aid groups that are working with local actors on the ground around the world.

She noted that “considering the deep presence and trust of grassroot Catholic organizations within vulnerable communities, there has been a concerted effort to build their capacity,” and that “Organizations such as ICMC, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Caritas International to name a few—have provided both organizational and technical assistance to enhance the response of local actors.”

Smith noted the “long-standing” work of faith-based groups around the world “providing an enormous amount of support for people who have been horribly mistreated.”

He said he had witnessed faith play a critical role in the recovery process for trafficking survivors.

“I have actually been in trafficking shelters all over the world,” he said, “but I was struck … how women who had been so horribly mistreated and raped and assaulted, it was their faith and the nourishment that came from that, the sense of reconciliation, that was helping them to get their lives back together.”

Konglim vouched for the work of faith-based groups in fighting trafficking. “If they can serve, they will serve,” she said, noting the work done by Vatican conferences on trafficking prevention which gathered actors from all over the globe.

In February 2018, the Vatican hosted a conference on human trafficking with Church leaders and law enforcement officers from more than 30 countries.

Trafficking survivors need “holistic,” long-term assistance to get back on their feet, such as shelter and vocational training, she said, and faith-based groups “are looking at the holistic restoration of the person, and they do their best to serve them from beginning to end.”

These groups also have a global network to help better reunify trafficking survivors with their families on other continents.

Asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of the state of trafficking in the U.S., Konglim said that her group, through the USCCB, has observed, “there is definitely a challenge with labor trafficking, and how that’s being recognized.”

“Irregular migration does impact the occurrence of the trafficking, and that migrant populations are more vulnerable,” she said. “And so we are definitely concerned with there being increased border screening, to ensure that people that are coming in are not victims of trafficking, and if they are, they are receiving the appropriate services that they deserve.”

US Senate bill would abolish tax-deductibility of abortions

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 18:18

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Abortion is Not Healthcare Act Jan. 9, a bill that would reclassify abortions in the tax code and end their tax deductibility.

Currently, abortions are eligible for tax deductions with the Internal Revenue Service because they are considered out-of-pocket medical care.

According to the IRS, Section 213(a) of the tax code “allows a deduction for expenses paid during the taxable year, not compensated for by insurance or otherwise, for medical care of the taxpayer, spouse, or dependent, to the extent the expenses exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.”

The Abortion is Not Healthcare Act would amend section 213 of the IRS tax code to disqualify abortions from being classified as medical care, and thus disqualify them from contributing to the total medical expenses for the year.

Lee said in a statement that to classify abortion as health care is misleading.

“The government should not offer tax benefits for a procedure that kills hundreds of thousands of unborn children each year, nor should taxpayers subsidize such a practice. This undermines the truth that all human beings have dignity and worth, and that the purpose of healthcare is to heal and care for them - not kill them,” Lee said.

“Our bill would end the preferential tax treatment of abortion and clarify that this gruesome practice is not healthcare,” he added.

The bill was co-sponsored by 16 other Republican Senators: Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rick Scott (R-FL), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Steve Daines (R-MO), Ben Sasse (R-NE), David Purdue (R-GA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Scott (R-SC), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).

In May, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz, introduced a corresponding bill to the House, which was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, among other pro-life organizations.

Bishop calls Americans to build 'culture of religious freedom'

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The head of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee called on Americans to build a “culture of religious freedom” that respects the ability of all people to live out their beliefs in peace.

Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a statement for Religious Freedom Day, observed nationally on Jan. 16.

“The establishment of a culture of religious freedom is always an ongoing task,” he said. “A culture of religious freedom consists of respect for the dignity of others as they seek to live in accordance with the truth about God.”

Such a culture, he said, allows all people to thrive. Yet today, many religious communities continue to face obstacles in practicing their faith freely.

“Even today, many Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and other communities, all in different ways, face challenges to their religious freedom,” Murry said. “A culture of freedom means that all people of faith and all religious groups are able to freely worship and participate in the life of our society, without fear of intimidation or coercion.”

In his proclamation of Religious Freedom Day 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump said religious liberty is a building block of the United States, attracting the pilgrims and many other early settlers in the country.

“More than 230 years ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was authored and championed by Thomas Jefferson,” he said. “This statute served as the catalyst for the First Amendment, which enshrined in law our conviction to prevent government interference in religion.”

Trump said that during his time in office, he has been committed to defending religious freedom at home and promoting it abroad.

He noted the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. Last month, three civilians and a police detective were killed in a shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two weeks later, a stabbing left five people injured during a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in New York.

“To fight the rise of anti-Semitism in our country, I signed an Executive Order last month to ensure that Federal agencies are using nondiscrimination authorities to combat this venomous bigotry,” he said. “I have also made clear that my Administration will not tolerate the violation of any American’s ability to worship freely and openly and to live as his or her faith commands.”

Bishop Murry applauded the actions taken by the Trump administration, which late last year proposed a rule change to ensure that religious social service providers would not be refused federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services based on their belief in marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The proposal would particularly shield religious adoption and foster agencies that only place children in homes with a mother and a father.

“On this Religious Freedom Day, we are grateful that the right of religious liberty is cherished in this country,” the bishop said. “I appreciate concrete actions the Administration has undertaken, such as recent steps to protect faith-based social service providers.”

“May we Catholics in America resolve to build on our inheritance for the good of all,” he concluded.

 

Trump admin announces rules to allow equal access to grants for religious groups

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 17:55

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- The White House announced new rules from nine federal agencies Thursday to help ensure that religious groups have equal access to public benefit programs.

On Jan. 16, Religious Freedom Day, President Donald Trump announced the rules “to protect religious freedom” throughout his administration. Nine federal agencies issued proposed regulations to allow religious institutions equal access to government grants.

The agencies were the Departments of Justice, Agriculture, Labor, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans’ Affairs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“From its opening pages, the story of America has been rooted in the truth that all men and women are endowed with the right to follow their conscience, worship freely, and live in accordance with their convictions,” President Trump stated in his Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, 2020.
 
“On Religious Freedom Day, we honor the foundational link between freedom and faith in our country and reaffirm our commitment to safeguarding the religious liberty of all Americans.”

The regulations seek to ensure that federal government social service programs are administered in line with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so that religious groups are not barred simply on account of their religious status.

The rules were issued in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 Trinity Lutheran decision, which decided that a church property couldn’t be barred from a state renovation program simply on account of its religious affiliation.

In addition, a memo from the Office of Management and Budget states that the federal agencies themselves would be required to ensure that state recipients are also respecting the First Amendment and not discriminating against religious organizations when administering federal grants.

Currently, 37 states have some form of “Blaine Amendments,” many of them passed during a time of anti-Catholic vitriol to forbid public funding of “sectarian” institutions. The law at the heart of the Trinity Lutheran case was an amendment to Missouri’s Constitution modeled after the Blaine Amendment. The amendments are currently supported as a means of strict separation of church and state.

The president of Alliance Defending Freedom, Michael Farris, stated Thursday that “We affirm the administration’s proposed rules designed to ensure that the government doesn’t treat religious individuals and organizations as second-class to secular institutions.”

One of the nine agencies to issue regulations on Thursday, the Education Department also said it would publish new guidance on prayer in public schools, to improve the reporting process of any violations of a student’s right to prayer at the state and local levels.

“Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“The Department’s efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions.”

Trump held an event in the Oval Office Thursday afternoon to mark the release of the updated prayer guidance.

Critics: Utah bill on confession would criminalize priests, not counter sex abuse

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 17:01

Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan 16, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Utah legislator’s proposal to remove protections for priests and other clergy who hear confessions of the sexual abuse of minors has drawn significant criticism from Catholics and other commentators.

“The motivation for the bill is understandable, to uncover and stop the abuse of children, but H.B. 90 will not have this intended effect,” said Jean Hill, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Peace and Justice Commission.

Removing the clergy exemption would be “making it a crime for the priest to maintain the Seal of Confession,” Hill said in a column for the Jan. 17, 2020 edition of the Intermountain Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. The proposal “could permanently destroy the relationship between our priests and ourselves in the confessional, without furthering the stated goal of the legislation.”

The proposed legislation “places a Catholic priest in the untenable position of violating state law and facing criminal penalties, or violating canon law and facing excommunication,” Hill added.

“For a Catholic priest, revealing the contents of a person’s confession is a mortal sin and grounds for automatic excommunication,” she said. “In the past, priests have been tortured and given their lives rather than break their solemn vow to protect the Seal of Confession. This isn’t just a convenient means of maintaining confidentiality, it is a sacred duty and thus critical to the free exercise of our religion.”

Under Utah law, certain professionals must report allegations of child abuse to authorities. These professionals include clergy, teachers, medical professionals, and law enforcement. At present state law exempts clergy if a perpetrator confesses directly to a religious leader and cannot report “without the consent of the individual making the confession.”

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was raised Catholic. She said she “understands our sacraments and it’s not my intent to go against them,” the Deseret News reports. She said her bill doesn’t target any religion specifically.

“This isn’t about the Catholic Church,” she said. “This is about religious institutions ensuring that people aren’t hiding under the guise of confession to get away with hurting children... Because the trauma they experience from sexual assault doesn’t just impact them, it impacts the entire community, it impacts our families. For me, that’s more important than protecting a perpetrator who will likely hurt other children.”

The legislation could affect the confidentiality of confessions to clergy in the predominant religious group in Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally known as Mormons. The Mormon church, whose global headquarters is in Salt Lake City, has not taken a position on the legislation, the Deseret News reports. It has faced criticisms and lawsuits for various leaders’ handling of sexual abuse of minors.

A woman in Oregon is suing the Mormon church for more than $10 million, after her husband was arrested for child sex abuse. He had confessed to his bishop, following the religion's doctrine, and believed the converation to be confidential. The clergyman reported the acts to law enforcement. The lawsuit claims the religion violated a privileged conversation between clergy and a member of the community.

Hill noted that Catholics are not alone “in viewing the private disclosure of wrongdoing as a path to God.” She cited the Orthodox Churches' use of the sacrament of confession, and wrote that the Church of England also “recognizes the inviolability of an act of confession.”

She added that the Mormon church “views confidential admissions of wrongdoing as an essential part of the repentance process,” and that the Presbyterian Church USA and Baptist and Lutheran ecclesial communities “all recognize the pastoral imperative of confidentiality when congregants seek counseling and care from their spiritual leaders.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, does not support the bill.

“I have serious concerns about this bill and the effects it could have on religious leaders as well as their ability to counsel members of their congregation,” he said in an email to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “I do not support this bill in its current form, and unless significant changes are made to ensure the protection of religious liberties, I will be voting against this bill.”

Wilson had received hundreds of emails critical of the bill. CNA sought comment from Wilson but legislative staff said he had nothing to add at present.

The House Speaker’s opposition to the bill could prevent it from a committee hearing. Romero said she looked forward to discussing the bill with the speaker.

“I’m hoping my colleagues will give this bill a fair hearing and they understand why this is an important piece of policy,” Romero said. “I hope we can follow the lead of other states who have placed the best interests of children over religious institutions.”

Several groups are calling for an end to the exemption, including the Truth and Transparency Foundation, which runs the controversial site MormonLeaks. The site publishes internal LDS documents relating to budgets, international relations and responses to sex abuse, among other topics.

The group said the exemption is “an affront to the safety and well-being of abuse survivors” that “provides an environment where predators are enabled,” it said in a November 2018 email to state legislators.

Sam Young, a former LDS bishop who founded the group Protect Every Child, is also in favor of eliminating the exemption.

Young, who lives in Texas, was excommunicated from the religion after he advocated for an end to the practice of leaders having one-on-one interviews with children that sometimes included sexually explicit questions, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Mandatory reporting exemptions for clergy have been removed by North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and West Virginia, the Deseret News reports. A California proposal to remove these exemptions was pulled from consideration.

Eric Kniffin, a Colorado lawyer and First Amendment attorney who followed the bill in California, told the Salt Lake Tribune that such proposals to remove clergy exemptions would “damage religious liberties.” He cited the Catholic prohibition on clergy revealing anything said in confession on pain of excommunication.

In Kniffin’s view, protecting clergy exemptions may provide greater benefits in the effort to address sexual abuse.

“The confessional is not just a black hole,” he said. “If a priest hears something in confession, they may urge the person to get help, talk to police or say ‘talk to me outside of the confessional’.”

Like Kniffin, Hill suggested removing legal protections for clergy would be counter-productive.

“There is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose cases of abuse learned of in the confessional would have prevented a single case of child abuse,” she said in her Intermountain Catholic column. “On the other hand, there is every reason to believe the elimination of the privilege would mean that perpetrators would simply not bring it to confession.”

The knowledge that confession is “a sacred conversation with God” would encourage Catholics to seek to make amends to both society and their victims. A priest who hears a criminal’s confession can encourage the penitent to self-report to law enforcement or to seek counseling, or can offer to accompany him or her to report their crime.

“H.B. 90 is a bad law that does nothing to protect children and undermines the very real possibility that a sex offender might repent,” she said.

While legislative counsel that reviewed Romero’s bill said it did not violate any religious freedom, Hill invoked the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision Trammel v. United States, which cited the longstanding precedent of protecting confessions to clergy in its ruling on whether spouses enjoy privileges to refuse to testify against a spouse.

“The priest-penitent privilege recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return,” that decision said.

Hill told the Deseret News that the bill is “trying to regulate a sacrament of our religion in a way that we believe violates our free exercise rights.”

The Apostolic Penitentiary reaffirmed the inviolability of the seal of confession in a July 1, 2019 note signed by its head, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza.

“Should the trust in the seal fail, the faithful would be discouraged from accessing the sacrament of Reconciliation, and this, obviously, with serious harm to souls,” Piacenza wrote. Defending this seal, he added, “can never constitute some form of connivance with evil,” but represents “the only true antidote to evil that threatens man and the whole world.”

Some court rulings have indicated that legal protections apply not only to religious groups with a formal confession rite.

Earlier this month, the Montana Supreme Court overturned a $35 million sex abuse judgement against the Jehovah's Witnesses on the grounds that a lower court wrongly ruled that the elders involved in hearing abuse allegations did not enjoy religious confidentiality protections guaranteed by state law.

Mike Pence to meet Pope Francis in Vatican next week

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Vatican next week to meet with Pope Francis.

Pence’s office confirmed with CNA on Thursday that the Vice President is scheduled to be received by the Pope during his overseas trip next week. No details have yet been released about the topics that might be discussed at the meeting.

The Vice President’s visit comes immediately after the U.S. religious freedom ambassador traveled to Vatican City for the launch of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, held on Tuesday at the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich.

Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was present at Tuesday’s opening session of the initiative, which was described by Ambassador Gingrich as “a dialogue designed to promote peace, religious freedom, and interreligious harmony” between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

It was inspired, she said, by the 2018 document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” a joint statement of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi that was signed in the United Arab Emirates.

That document, in part, stated that “[t]he pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

Cardinal Miguel Ayuso, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, was present at the gathering, according to Gingrich’s remarks.

“It’s fitting that your discussions should take place at the Pontifical Gregorian University,” Gingrich said, citing St. John Henry Newman that a Catholic university should “aid in the discernment of truth.”

Quoting Pope Francis, Gingrich stated the questions that could be considered by the initiative: “‘How do we look after each other?  ‘How do we nourish a fraternity which is not theoretical, but translates into authentic fraternity?’ And ‘how can religions be channels of fraternity, rather than barriers of separation?’”

In her remarks at the launch, Gingrich thanked Pastor Bob Roberts of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, Imam Mohammad Magid of All Dulles Area Muslim Society, and Rabbi David Saperstein, the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador from 2014 to 2017, “for making this gathering possible.”

During Brownback’s trip, he and Ambassador Gingrich also met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States.

School threatens suspension for student's 'Virginity Rocks' sweatshirt

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:00

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 16, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- School administrators in Wentzville, Missouri, threatened to suspend a seventh grade student if he returned to school wearing a sweatshirt printed with the slogan “Virginity Rocks.” 

The student, 13-year-old Londyn Piglowski, received the sweatshirt as a birthday gift from a classmate. 

Local news station KMOV4 reported Thursday that Piglowski  was pulled out of social studies class and taken to the principal’s office after wearing the shirt to school. The principal instructed him to either remove the shirt or turn it inside out.

“He said it was a little bit borderline for the school and he told me to take it off or flip it inside or else they would have to take action," said Piglowski to KMOV4.

“I didn’t think this was bad so whenever they told me to take it off I was like, ‘why am I taking this off because it’s a positive message?’”

Piglowski removed the shirt, and his parents say the Wentzville School District threatened to suspend him from class if he showed up to school wearing the shirt again. He says his friend, who owns the same shirt, did not get in trouble when he wore it to school. 

His parents have said their son’s treatment for wearing a shirt that advocated virginity was inconsistent with other school policies.

“They teach sex ed," said Todd Piglowski, Londyn’s father. “How can you teach it but then say hey let’s not have it on a sweatshirt?"

The Wentzville School District has a dress code which prohibits clothing which advocates “immoral, sexual, or violent behavior.” 

The school defended the decision to make Piglowski change clothing. In a statement, the school said that the shirt was “potentially disruptive to the educational environment.” 

“We routinely have conversations with students around attire that may be inappropriate and by and large, our students and families work with our staff to address any concerns,” said the statement. 

Piglowski is not the first student who has been reprimanded over wearing a pro-virginity shirt. 

“Virginity rocks” shirts have been sold for over a decade by various Christian organizations to promote responsible sexual activity.

In 2008, students at Albemarle High School in Virginia reported that they were told by officials to stop wearing the shirts. The students were wearing them in an attempt to promote abstinence. The school district denied that the students were ever told what to wear.

Six years later, a student at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas was asked to change out of her “virginity rocks” shirt. The student, Chloe Rubiano, an eighth grader, said it was one of her favorite shirts, and that she had bought it at a Christian festival. 

In Rubiano’s case, the school vice principal said that while she agreed with the message on the shirt, she did not think it was appropriate for school as “it opens up too many doors for conversations."

Piglowski’s shirt came via the website of YouTube personality Danny Duncan, who sells clothing items with the slogan on them. Duncan, who makes skateboard and prank videos, started selling the apparel in 2018, and has said he designed the shirts to be tongue-in-cheek, but also with a positive message.

Since Duncan, who has nearly 3.5 million subscribers, began selling merchandise with the phrase to a more secular audience, increasing numbers of students have reported punishments. 

In 2018, a 17-year-old at Roseburg High School in Oregon was forced to go home and change after he came to school wearing a Virginity Rocks shirt from Duncan’s apparel line. He went home and changed into another Duncan shirt--one that made a sexual innuendo. That shirt was allowed to be worn. 

The district superintendent defended the decision to prohibit the Virginity Rocks shirt, saying that the school “would have made the same decision if the student had been wearing a T-shirt that said sex rocks or smoke more pot.” 

In October 2019, a student at Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High School in Chetek, Wisconsin, was suspended for a day after he came to school wearing one of Duncan’s virginity rocks sweatshirts. 

The student, sophomore Thorn Willsui, was suspended after he refused to take off the sweatshirt or turn it inside out.

Tenn governor to sign bill protecting faith-based adoption agencies

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 22:34

Nashville, Tenn., Jan 15, 2020 / 08:34 pm (CNA).- Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Jan. 15 that he intends to sign into law a bill to protect adoption organizations which place children based on the belief in marriage as a union between a man and woman.

The state Senate approved HB 836 on the first day of the 2020 legislative session, Jan. 15, after the House approved it last April. Tennessee has several Catholic Charities agencies that handle adoption cases.

The bill would protect adoption agencies that follow their religious convictions in declining to place children with same-sex couples. Declined applicants would be unable to sue an agency for damages in such a situation, the Associated Press reports.

Although religious adoption agencies in Tennessee have not been prevented from acting out of their moral convictions, the bill comes at a time when Catholic agencies in other states have been shut down or denied access to funding for declining to place children with same-sex couples.

The AP reports that to date, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan have all enacted similar protections for adoption agencies to the one being considered in Tennessee. In March 2019, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel settled with the ACLU and required all adoption agencies to match children with qualified same-sex couples in order to receive state funding.

Senator Paul Rose, Republican sponsor of the bill in the Senate, noted that the Trump administration last year proposed a federal rule change to protect faith-based foster care agencies.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced during Nov. 2019 that it would change its enforcement of previous regulations and propose a new rule, allowing faith-based adoption agencies to continue receiving federal funding while not having to match children with same-sex couples against their religious mission.

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) praised the change at the time.

Rossi investigation still 'underway,' 4 months after it began.

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2020 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Four months after the Diocese of Scranton began looking into allegations against the rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a spokesman for the diocese said the investigation is not yet concluded.

“At this point, the investigation is still underway and I have nothing new to report at this time,” Diocese of Scranton spokesman Eric Deadbill told CNA Jan. 15.

On Aug. 14, the Diocese of Scranton told CNA that Bishop Joseph Bambera had “commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation” into concerns regarding Msgr. Walter Rossi, a Scranton priest who works as rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

While the Scranton diocese confirmed this week that the investigation is still underway, it did not answer questions regarding who is actually appointed to conduct the review, and what role the Archdiocese of Washington is playing in the process.

In August the diocese said it would work “jointly and cooperatively” with the Archdiocese of Washington on a “comprehensive investigation.” Rossi lives in the Washington archdiocese.

On Jan. 15, the Archdiocese of Washington referred CNA to the Scranton diocese but did not itself answer questions about the investigation.

The investigation was prompted by concerns raised about Rossi to Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory Aug. 13, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington.

During that session, Gregory called for an independent, forensic investigation of some allegations against the priest.

When called on for a question, a participant at the August event told Gregory that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was made in 2013.

Gregory said he was unfamiliar with that allegation.
 
“That’s news to me. And I am not doubting it, but I have not heard about [this situation].”

“I suspect – I hope – that there is a forensic investigation. But in today’s environment, even a forensic investigation that either proves or disproves, will not satisfy the people. But I would like to see that, I would like to see a forensic investigation of those allegations.”

Gregory was then asked why Rossi remained in ministry at the Washington shrine; as the local archbishop, Gregory is the chairman of the board of trustees.

“It seems to me that the investigation has to come from his bishop, he’s a priest of Scranton.”

Acknowledging that Rossi is assigned to a Washington church, Gregory said that “the investigation has to begin with his bishop, that’s just how things are done.”

“Until that kind of investigation is done, a forensic one [with] outside investigators, I don’t know how we can make a decision [on the suitability of Rossi to continue in ministry in Washington] until those kinds of investigations are completed.”

Beyond the allegations mentioned at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations have also been leveled against Rossi.

In an interview in June, former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano alleged that the nunciature in Washington had received “documentation that states that Msgr. Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America.”

Vigano also said that both the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were “well aware of the situation,” and that Rossi had previously been proposed for promotion to bishop and been blocked.

In September, The Catholic University of America announced that Rossi has taken a leave of absence from the board of trustees at The Catholic University of America. That leave is expected to perdure until the investigation is completed.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law delineates norms for the “preliminary investigation” into possible delicts, or canonical crimes, but it does not mandate that preliminary investigations be completed within any established timeframe.

Rossi remains in office as rector of the DC shrine, which is the largest Catholic Church in North America, and designated by the U.S. bishops as a National Sanctuary of Prayer and Pilgrimage.

Californian families talk progressive but look traditional, study finds

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A new study says that while most Californians support the redefinition of marriage and the family, they choose intact marriages and traditional families.

“People with the most amount of choice and privilege, when they have a choice, they choose things like these traditional structures which are most pleasant to live in,” said Catherine Pakaluk, assistant professor of social research and economic thought at the Catholic University of America, in an interview on Wednesday with CNA.

The new report by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), “State of Contradiction: Progressive family culture, traditional family structure in California,” focuses on a survey of Californians about marriage and children.

Authored by Wendy Wang, director of research at IFS, and W. Bradford Wilcox, a senior fellow at IFS, the report “reveals a paradox at the heart of California’s success.” While Californians mostly supported “family diversity,” or non-traditional families, they also reported higher-than-average intact marriages and families where children live with their biological parents—“traditional” families.

“On the one hand, the Golden State, especially through Hollywood and Silicon Valley, has been a global messenger of expressive individualism, personal fulfillment, and tolerance—values associated with progressivism,” Wang and Wilcox wrote.

“On the other hand, the families that actually live in the Golden State tend to be traditional.”

For the study, IFS analyzed data from its California Family Survey conducted by the polling company YouGov between Sept. 6 and Oct. 11, 2019, of 2,000 adults in California ages 18 to 50.

According to Census data, around two-thirds—67%—of marriages in the state are intact, more than the U.S. average of 63%, the report found. Meanwhile, 65% of children ages 0-17 live with their married biological parents, greater than the national average of 62%.

A possible major contributor to the marriage numbers in the state, IFS said, is the state’s high immigrant population. In the state, 75% of foreign-born parents have children in intact marriages, compared to 62% of native-born Californians.

As Wang and Wilcox noted, “California is home to the largest immigrant population in the United States” while “immigrant families are more likely than native-born families to be intact.”

Pakaluk said the impact that immigrant families have on American culture is significant--but is not certain to last forever. Immigrants may gravitate towards societal trends of non-traditional families over time, and the influx of immigrants into  the U.S. is not a certainty in the long-term.

“The extent to which American culture has been buoyed up by immigrants with very healthy and traditional family patterns, as these immigrant streams start to become smaller--because they will over time,” Pakaluk said, “it’s an open question whether or not we can continue to count on these essentially good cultural contributions from Hispanics and Asians who have these strong traditional family structures.”

Almost half (46%) of California households are Hispanic, and 15% of them Asian, compared with just 22% and 7% respectively for the U.S. average.

And the Asian Californian population—higher than the national average—maintained traditional families while being accepting of the redefinition of marriage and the family. Three-quarters of Asian Californians said it was important for them to get married before having children, compared to just 62% of whites, 66% of blacks, and 59% of Hispanics.

Meanwhile, this population was as likely or even more likely as other demographics to accept family diversity, with 79% of Asians affirming it, compared to 82% of whites, 73% of blacks, and only 67% of Hispanics.

A higher percentage of college-educated adults are likely to approve of “family diversity,” or non-traditional families, while themselves living in or desiring a traditional family structure where children live with their biological mother and father who are married to each other.

However, the authors said, “the education level of California parents does not appear to explain California’s higher level of stable families,” as “among parents with children, California does not have a higher share of college-educated residents than the nation as a whole.”

Among the study’s respondents, 85% of those with a college or graduate degree in California said that family diversity is a good thing. Meanwhile, almost 70% of this population also answered “It’s very important for me, personally, to be married before having my children.”

And, in practice, 80% of college-educated California parents “are in intact marriages.” Meanwhile, just 60% of parents without a college degree are in intact marriages.

‘An act of charity’: Virginia bishop defends parish hosting Episcopalian consecration

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 17:36

Richmond, Va., Jan 15, 2020 / 03:36 pm (CNA).- Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond has issued a statement responding to concerns that a local parish church is to host an Episcopalian consecration of a female bishop.

The online petition, titled “Stop Ordination of Female Episcopalian ‘Bishop’ at Catholic Church” refers to the upcoming consecration of the Rev. Susan B. Haynes as the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. It has attracted nearly 2,000 signatures. 

In a statement Wednesday, Bishop Knestout called the “offer of hospitality to a Christian neighbor in need” an “act of charity and well within the teachings of ecumenism and the norms provided by the Church for ecumenical activities.”

The event is scheduled to occur on Feb. 1, 2020 at St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Haynes was elected an Episcopalian bishop on Sept. 21.

The online petition, posted Monday, called the event “highly disturbing given the fact that Ven. Pope Leo XIII solemnly declared Anglican ordinations to be ‘absolutely null and utterly void,’ and the Church has repeatedly reaffirmed the fact that women cannot receive the sacrament of ordination.” the online petition says, while noting that canon law provides that “only activities which ‘serve to exercise or promote worship, piety, and religion’ are permitted in sacred spaces.”

Neither the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia nor the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia have a cathedral. The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which covers the northern part of the commonwealth, has a cathedral shrine, a small, open-air venue, in Orkney Springs. The closest Episcopal cathedrals to the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia are located in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. 

In the Jan. 15 statement, Knestout responded to “concerns” raised about the event.

“Use of space in a Catholic parish for the Espiscopal Church to conduct their own religious ceremony is well within the accepted ecumenical teachings and norms of the Church,” the bishop said. “I appreciate that [people] are concerned that the sacred space of the Catholic Church be safeguarded, which it is.”

Bishop Knestout pointed to the Vatican Council II document on ecumanism, Unitatis Redintegratio, as well as the 1993 Directory of the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, which he said gives “clear guidelines and recommendations regarding the possibility of sharing space with our separated brothers and sisters.”

Knestout also referred to a Jan. 14 letter from Msgr. Joseph Lehman, pastor of St. Bede, which explained that in December 2018 a previous pastor of the parish gave the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia permission to use the church and parish reception hall for its forthcoming episcopal consecration. 

The agreement was reached months before the candidate for ordination was known. 

“Their request came out of a long-standing formal relationship between our two Churches,” reads the letter. “The Anglican (Episcopal) Communion and the Catholic Church have been in dialogue, both nationally and internationally, since the late 1960s. In addition, in 1990, the two Virginia Catholic dioceses, the three Episcopal diocese, and the two Lutheran Synods of the ECLA [sic] in our Commonwealth have been in a covenant. The United Methodists joined us in 2007.”

“[The former pastor, Msgr. Tim Keeney] sought and received approval from our Bishop to host this event,” Lehman wrote in the letter. 

“The Bishop’s only directive was to ‘remove the reserved Blessed Sacrament.’”

Lehman indicated that St. Bede was approached to host the ordination because it has a seating capacity of 1,200, a social hall and catering kitchen, plus “ample parking.” All of St. Bede’s parish campus is handicapped accessible. 

The two Episcopal churches located in Williamsburg have seating capacities of 380 and 225. 

Keeney did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication. 

The diocesan bishop is responsible for exercising direction and discretion over ecumenical initiatives in the diocese.

Paragraph 137 of the Directory of the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism states that Catholic churches are “consecrated or blessed buildings” that are “generally reserved for Catholic worship.” 

“However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services,” the directory said. That norm also applies for services at Catholic cemeteries.  

Title III, Canon 11, sections 5-6 of the Canons and Constitution of the Episcopal Church, which explain the requirement of Episcopalian ordinations of bishops, have no requirements that such liturgies take place in either a cathedral or church building.

The previous Episcopal bishop of Southern Virginia, Herman Hollerith, was consecrated at William and Mary Hall on the campus of the College of William and Mary, a public university.

The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia is home to 105 parishes and missions. Norfolk, where the main diocesan offices are located, has 10 Episcopal parishes. According to the diocesean website, the consecration service will be live-streamed and tickets are not required for the event.

Congressional leaders raise plight of US pastors in Chinese prisons

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- More than a dozen members of Congress have asked President Trump to press for the release of U.S. pastors imprisoned in China, as the two countries sign phase one of a trade agreement today.

Six senators and seven House members sent a letter to the President on Monday, requesting that he raise the cases of several U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been detained or imprisoned in China, in talks with Chinese leaders.

Among the detained Americans are two Christian pastors who were working in China and neighboring Burma, and who were given prison sentences of seven years and life imprisonment.

The members’ letter was sent to the White House as the U.S. and China are expected to close on the first phase of a trade deal on Wednesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), co-chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), led the letter. Other commissioners signed it, including Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Angus King (I-Maine), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Representatives Chris Smith (R-N,J,), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), and Ben McAdams (D-Utah).

One of the two imprisoned pastors is John Cao, a legal permanent resident from North Carolina who taught in schools for ethnic minority communities in Burma before his arrest in March of 2018, on his way back into China from Burma.

Cao was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly “organizing others to illegally cross the border,” a sentence that was upheld by a Chinese court this summer. The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that Cao was arbitrarily detained, and has requested his immediate release.

Another pastor, David Lin, was detained by China in 2006 while awaiting approval to build a church. He was convicted on fraud-related charges and sentenced to life in prison, although his sentence was later reduced to a scheduled release in the year 2030.

“We write to express our deep concern about the Chinese government’s imprisonment or arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in China,” the members wrote President Trump in their Monday letter.

Several other Americans are mentioned in the letter, which also asks Trump to raise the situation of relatives of American citizens or legal permanent residents who are currently detained in Xinjiang. Almost two million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have been incarcerated in mass internment camps in the region, with reports of torture, forced marriage, and organ trafficking.

“These family members, like the Americans mentioned above, need the Administration to be tenacious advocates for them and the estimated 1.8 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims arbitrarily detained in the XUAR,” the letter states.

Sen. Rubio told CBS’ Face the Nation on Jan. 5 that, with trade talks taking place between the U.S. and China, “absolutely” there should be sanctions on Chinese leaders for human rights abuses committed including the detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

“I will never accept the notion that somehow in order to be able to sell them [China] more things, we have to look the other way on some of the grotesque human rights violations that we're seeing systemized on their part, both in the Xianjing province of—throughout China in general, but also in places like Hong Kong as well,” Rubio said.

Sisters of Life mark 100th birthday of founder, Cardinal O’Connor

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 04:56

New York City, N.Y., Jan 15, 2020 / 02:56 am (CNA).- The Sisters of Life will celebrate the 100th birthday of their late founder, Cardinal John O’Connor, on Jan. 15 with an evening of prayer, reflection and thanksgiving in several major cities.

“We will gather—in New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto—to celebrate his life in prayer and thanksgiving,” Sister Maris Stella told CNA Jan. 14. “It’s a moment for us to thank God for the gift of Cardinal O’Connor’s life. We are grateful that God chose Cardinal O’Connor to found our community. We are grateful that he responded to God’s grace and for the sacrifices he made to make our vocations possible.

“He would say ‘some bishops build cathedrals; the Sisters of Life are my cathedral’,” said Sister Maris Stella, who entered the Sisters of Life in 2006. She is now based in Denver, where the sisters work in college outreach.

O’Connor was Archbishop of New York from 1984 until his death on May 3, 2000. He was a major figure of American Catholicism and an outspoken advocate for the unborn and for other pro-life issues. In 1991 he founded the Sisters of Life, a contemplative, active Catholic community of women who profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, plus a fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.

The sisters’ mission involves service to women who are vulnerable to abortion. This includes giving them the support and resources they need to choose life, their website says. They also aim to help women who suffer after abortion to find God’s mercy and healing, and they host weekend retreats and engage in evangelization.

For Sister Maris Stella, Cardinal O’Connor was “a great patriarch and prophet of the pro-life movement.”

She credited the Sisters of Life’s origin to O’Connor’s 1975 visit to Dachau, the site of a concentration camp under Nazi Germany where thousands of people, both Jews and Christians, were tortured and murdered. There, the clergyman had “a profound spiritual experience” and promised to do everything he could to protect life, she said.

After years of apparent lack of results, he brought these failures to prayer and realized the world needed a spiritual response to a “culture of death” that is rooted in “a deep crisis of faith,” she continued.

In a widely-republished article in the newspaper Catholic New York, headlined “Help Wanted: Sisters of Life,” O’Connor described “his vision of a religious community of women who would give them themselves fully to the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life, beginning with the most vulnerable.”

“He was very much a father to us,” Sister Maris Stella told CNA. “Despite his many responsibilities as the Archbishop of New York, he spent a great deal of time with the community and spoke to us about his vision. He preached two retreats a year for the sisters and would visit regularly. He knew each Sister and would spend time with the community on a regular basis, coming to the convent for Mass and dinner.”

“He was a man who loved the Church and the Eucharist, with his whole being,” she added. “His heart was conformed to the Heart of Christ, which gave him the clarity of vision to see each and every person as an icon of the living God. He was passionate about the dignity of the human person. He believed deeply in God’s redemptive work in souls and would speak powerfully about God’s mercy. He was full of humor and dry wit, and he relished life.”

In New York, the sisters will mark O’Connor’s Jan. 15 birthday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Bishop Edmund Whalen will celebrate Mass at 5:30 p.m.

Afterward, Mother Agnes Mary, S.V., the General Superior of the Sisters of Life, will give a reflection. The night will conclude with a Holy Hour in thanksgiving for Cardinal O’Connor’s life, with the Sisters of Life providing music.

In Cardinal O’Connor’s hometown of Philadelphia, the evening begins with a 6 p.m. Holy Hour at Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre of Philadelphia will celebrate a 7 p.m. Mass, with a reception to follow in Drexel Hall.

The Sisters of Life established their convent in Philadelphia in 2017 at St. Malachy’s Parish in North Philadelphia near Temple University.

In Toronto, the Sisters of Life will commemorate the late cardinal with a 7 p.m. holy hour several days later on Jan. 23 at St. Peter’s Church, across from the Bathurst subway station.

There are now more than 100 members of the Sisters of Life. In addition to their seven convents in the New York area, including in the Diocese of Bridgeport, they serve in the Denver, Toronto and Washington archdioceses. Their religious institute was formally approved in 2004.

Cardinal O’Connor was born in southwest Philadelphia on Jan. 15, 1920. He was ordained a priest for the Philadelphia archdiocese in December 1945 and later spent 27 years as a U.S. Navy chaplain, including a period as a senior chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy. Before his retirement from military service, he rose to the rank of rear admiral and Chief of Chaplains of the Navy.

In 1979, Pope St. John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop of New York assigned to the Military Vicariate, the predecessor of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. He later became Bishop of Scranton, Pa., and just months later was named to New York. St. John Paul II named him a cardinal in 1985.

Sister Maris Stella, herself a Naval Academy graduate and a former naval officer, has been researching the cardinal’s life and his time in the Navy, she told CNA. Her work has included interviewing those who knew him.

Oklahoma City archbishop supports effort to end state death penalty

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 02:16

Oklahoma City, Okla., Jan 15, 2020 / 12:16 am (CNA).- Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City has announced his support for state legislation that would remove the death penalty from consideration in capital cases.

“We don’t end the cycle of violence by committing more violence,” Coakley said in a Jan. 14 press release from the office of State Representative Jason Dunnington (R-Oklahoma City), who introduced the legislation.

“When available, we should choose non-lethal ways to ensure justice and protect society,” the archbishop said. He called the bill “a bold proposal that addresses the disturbing realities and inequity of capital punishment.”

The Oklahoma state legislature will consider House Bill 2876 during the 2020 session, and it will be assigned for a committee hearing in February, Dunnington said.

Coakley joined Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida - both jurisdictions that also utilize the death penalty - in writing a column last month for America Magazine, urging the faithful to reject the death penalty amid efforts to resume federal executions.

The bishops noted that Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all strongly called for an end to the death penalty, with Francis during his visit to the United States in 2015 calling for the abolition of the death penalty because “every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”

“To oppose the death penalty is not to be ‘soft on crime.’ Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life,” the bishops wrote.

“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the death penalty in the United States is racially and economically biased, and it varies arbitrarily in its application based on the location of the crime. Most troubling of all, we know beyond any doubt that innocent people have been sent to death row, 166 of whom have been exonerated since 1973,” they said.

Oklahoma’s last execution took place in 2015. Rep. Dunnington noted that the cost of incarceration for death row inmates is more than twice that of inmates with life sentences. He said there is “no evidence” that the death penalty is an effective crime deterrent.

“This is neither a partisan nor an ideological proposal,” he said.

“The profound problems with the death penalty are a concern for all Oklahomans, indeed for all Americans.”

 

Archbishop Lori calls for increase in security funding for religious sites

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 20:48

Baltimore, Md., Jan 14, 2020 / 06:48 pm (CNA).- Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore joined two U.S. senators and several religious leaders this week in calling for additional federal funding for security measures at religious sites in the U.S.

U.S. Senators Benjamin Cardin and Christopher Van Hollen, both Democrats from Maryland, joined Lori and a group of other faith leaders at a Jan. 13 press conference outside the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville.

The senators have proposed to quadruple the funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program in next year's federal budget. This increase in funding would offer an additional $360 million per year to strengthen security measures for religious and non-profit institutions.

“I commend our Senate leaders for calling us together today to condemn these acts, but also to take concrete and necessary measures to do everything we can to protect the rights of all people,” Lori, according to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The proposal follows a rise in anti-Semitic violence throughout the country in recent months.

In October 2018, a gunman killed 11 people and injured several others at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. In April 2019, a shooting at Poway Synagogue in Poway, California left one dead and three injured. Last month, three civilians and a police detective were killed in a shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two weeks later, a stabbing left five people injured during a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in New York.

Catholic leaders have repeatedly denounced the violence and called for respect for people of all faiths.

“We are deeply disturbed by the recent apparent rise in anti-Semitism, in particular, the violent attacks that took place last year during the Hanukkah celebration in New York and on the kosher market in Jersey City,” said Lori at the press conference.

Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim Congregation vowed not to give in to fear amid the recent attacks on Jewish communities.

“We are emboldened and we will continue to shepherd our respective communities in our faith traditions and never bow to hate and bigotry,” Silber said, according to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

At the press conference, Van Hollen cited FBI reports showing that anti-Semitic attacks have increased by 35% from 2014 to 2018. Cardin pointed to steps taken by European governments to protect religious institutions from being vulnerable to terrorism.

Speakers also pointed to recent attacks against mosques and churches, such as the shooting last month that killed two at West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas.

In addition to supporting legislative action, Lori said, “we also continue to put our faith in the simple act of coming together, standing side by side, to demonstrate that love will always be a greater power than evil.”

 

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