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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: 34 min 28 sec ago

US bishops calls report of shutting down refugee program 'disturbing'

1 hour 32 min ago

Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- If reports of major cuts to the U.S. refugee resettlement and asylum programs are true they are alarming, the chair of the US bishops' migration committee said Friday.

Politico has reported that officials in the Trump administration were considering cutting the annual refugee cap next year to zero, or to greatly reduced numbers such as 10,000 or 3,000. This represents the total number of refugees that would be allowed into the United States in the next fiscal year.

“This recent report, if true, is disturbing and against the principles we have as a nation and a people, and has the potential to end the refugee resettlement program entirely,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin said July 19..

The reports were leaked to Politico from three individuals close to recent meetings of security officials.

These numbers would represent a dramatic decrease from this year’s cap of 30,000 refugees. In 2018, the cap was 45,000, and in 2017 it was 50,000. According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, reported by the Washington Post, prior to Trump’s presidency, the immigration cap has typically been set, since the 1990s, between 70,000 and 80,000.

Vasquez said he was concerned by the reports of cuts to the refugee cap when “the world is in the midst of the greatest humanitarian displacement crisis in almost a century.”

“I strongly oppose any further reductions of the refugee resettlement program,” he said. “Offering refuge to those fleeing religious and other persecution has been a cornerstone of what has made this country great and a place of welcome. Eliminating the refugee resettlement program leaves refugees in harm’s way and keeps their families separated across continents.”

Vasquez noted that refugees already undergo an intense vetting process that often lasts between one and a half to two years, and includes extensive interviews and background checks.

“Many of these refugees have familial ties here and quickly begin working to rebuild their lives and enrich their communities,” he added.

“As Pope Francis has said we must work for ‘globalization of solidarity’ with refugees, not a globalization of indifference. Rather than ending the program, we should work instead to restore the program to its historic norms of an annual resettlement goal of 95,000,” Vasquez concluded.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration published a new regulation for asylum seekers, which states that people seeking asylum in the U.S. must prove that they also sought protection in at least one other country that they passed through in order to get to the U.S.

The move appears to be targeted at the wave of migrants from Central American countries, who pass through Mexico in order to get to the U.S. border.

Trump has made increased immigration restrictions and regulations a cornerstone of his 2020 presidential re-election campaign.

The final cap for refugees for the 2020 fiscal year will be announced in September.

Car crash reveals Santa Rosa priest embezzled $95,000

3 hours 28 min ago

Santa Rosa, Calif., Jul 22, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- When EMTs rushed to the scene of a Santa Rosa car accident June 19, they found Fr. Oscar Diaz, a local pastor, stuck in the car with a broken hip and other injuries. They also found $18,305.86, in cash.

Diaz told police the money was his salary. It wasn’t.

The money belonged to Santa Rosa’s Resurrection Parish, where Diaz is pastor. Diaz was attempting to steal it. A subsequent investigation found that Diaz had, in his office and home, collection bags from Resurrection Parish, totaling more than $95,000.

The priest has now been suspended from ministry, the Diocese of Santa Rosa announced July 22, and he has been the subject of a police investigation.

“There is also evidence that money was stolen in a variety of ways from each of the parishes where he had served as pastor. I am deeply grieved that this has happened and am deeply saddened that the parishes he was sent to serve have been harmed,” Bishop Robert F. Vasa wrote in his July 22 press release.

“The full extent of the theft is not known and may never be fully known but the Diocese is committed to determining as fully as possible the extent of the theft from each of these parishes. Once such determinations are made it is the goal of the Diocese to make restitution to the parishes.”

Vasa added that the Santa Rosa “police determined that the protocols surrounding collection accounting would make it difficult to arrive at sufficient proof of theft to pursue criminal prosecution.”

In addition to its July 22 statement, the Diocese of Santa Rosa posted on its website a July 19 memo from Vasa to priests of the diocese, offering further details on the embezzlement.

Diaz, 56, admitted the theft, according to the memo, and will likely not be permitted to serve again in the diocese.

“I will not hide this ugly truth. I have no desire to be defamatory. What we, as a Church, do at this juncture needs to be healing, restorative and transparent. This public declaration is a way in which Father Oscar can be made accountable for his actions. Unfortunately, given the length of time over which theft occurred, the variety of methods and the total dollars involved, I cannot envision any possible future ministry. This will need to be discerned further,” Vasa wrote.

After the priest’s admission of guilt, “I expressed to him my deep sadness, anger and dismay that he had so seriously violated the trust given to him by the Diocese, by the Parishes, and by the parishioners,” Vasa added.

The July 19 memo also explained “reluctance to pursue a criminal investigation” on the part of police.

Vasa noted that pursuing possible criminal prosecution of the thefts would require the diocese to contract a Certified Fraud Investigator, costing at least $5,000, “and possibly more.”

“I have no idea what such an investigation would cost,” Vasa wrote, noting that a fraud investigator would be required to visit five parishes and examine their records.

“While I am willing to have Father Oscar face prosecution I do not know that I want to expend additional money for a prosecution which brings no additional benefit to either the Diocese or the parishes which are victims of his crimes. I am very interested in determining a full accounting of  the theft for possible Insurance purposes and in order to do this I initially thought that a criminal complaint by me and a police investigation would be the only way to access Father Oscar’s Banking Records. To his credit, Father Oscar has been very cooperative with me in obtaining the records I need to establish some estimate of the full extent of theft,” Vasa wrote.

The bishop added that he had reflected prayerfully on whether to expend diocesan funds to pursue the possibility of criminal prosecution.

“My goal is some semblance of justice, reparation, and at least spiritual restitution,” Vasa wrote.

“I am still very angry and it is almost impossible to set that anger aside and mercifully discern the path forward. I have asked myself repeatedly what ‘good’ could come from Father Oscar’s prosecution and possible imprisonment. What does ‘justice’ look like in this particular case?”

Vasa noted that possible prosecution could be a deterrent to future theft, but noted that canonical penalties could serve the same purpose. He added that the priest’s “public exposure...is certainly a punishment which sends a strong message.”

“It may happen that the individual parishes involved may desire to file charges and pursue prosecution. I could not oppose such an action. It is the parish’s right to do so. I would however advocate for mercy,” the bishop wrote.

“I have seriously considered this matter from a variety of perspectives but that does not mean that I am convinced that I am right,” Vasa added.

“I know and fully understand that Father Oscar’s actions have only indirectly touched me. Others have been more strongly affected, either directly or indirectly. I am aware that you, my brothers in the priesthood, have felt this theft as a violation of fraternity and a betrayal of both trust and friendship. I cannot speak for your ability, desire, or will to forgive. I can only acknowledge that I am aware of these feelings.”

“Other individuals have been betrayed as well; mostly the lay faithful. Our laity have been asked so often to understand and forgive and I can assure you that I take my responsibility to speak on behalf of the Church, which is all of us, most seriously. I speak in the name of the Church but the individual parishes where Father Oscar has served have a voice as well. I do not envision that any individual parish will seek to pursue criminal prosecution but I fully understand the hurt and anger which undoubtedly will be stirred up in light of this theft and betrayal,” the bishop wrote.

“I ask you to try to turn this moment from one of hurt and anger to a desire for healing, compassion and ultimately forgiveness. I am not negating the seriousness of the crime, I am suggesting a way forward which is more fully consistent with a good and merciful God.”

Church in Puerto Rico to hold 24 hour prayer encounter amid protests

3 hours 53 min ago

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jul 22, 2019 / 10:40 am (CNA).- The Puerto Rican bishops' conference announced Saturday it will hold a 24-hour prayer encounter this weekend, in the face of the territory's social and governmental instability.

Protesters have been calling this week for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Earlier this month, crude messages from a group chat among Rosello and some of his team were published in the media.

More remotely, his administration has faced pressure over corruption and its response to the territory's debt crisis, economic recession, and Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017.

Rosello announced July 21 that he will not seek re-election next year, but he intends to complete his term.

The Puerto Rican bishops' conference said July 20 that it will hold a day-long prayer encounter at the National Sanctuary of Mary, Mother of Divine Providence in San Juan. The encounter will begin and end with Mass on the evenings of July 26 and 27, with Eucharistic Adoration in between.

“We invite the People of God to participate and to unite in prayer at a crucial moment of the history of Puerto Rico,” read the message signed by Bishop Ruben Antonio Gonzalez Medina of Ponce and Bishop Eusebio Ramos Morales of Caguas, the president and secretary, respectively, of the bishops' conference.

The bishops emphasized that the encounter will be an opportunity to contribute to the correction of Puerto Rico's “complicated social, political, and economic situations.”

“Under the mantel of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Divine Providence, Patron of the whole of the Puerto Rican mation, let us implore the mercy of God for our people and that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit be poured out upon our leaders,” the bishops concluded.

“Let us make this convocation in faith and in confidence in God the Father who walks with his people.”

Fla. McDonald's sued for denying employment to Hasidic Jew because of his beard

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 08:01

Orlando, Fla., Jul 20, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- An Orlando-area McDonald’s is being sued for denying employment to a man on account of his beard.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed the lawsuit on the man’s behalf, said in their lawsuit that the McDonald’s manager told the man that "he could not hire him because doing so would violate McDonald's policies and the law," News 6 in Orlando reported.

According to the lawsuit, the man told the restaurant that he was a Hasidic Jew and that his religious beliefs prevented him from shaving his beard, but that he offered to wear a beard net instead. He was applying for the position of a maintenance worker at the restaurant in September 2016.

His employment was still denied. The EEOC filed a lawsuit with the Orlando McDonald’s July 17, three years after the incident. The man is asking for three years worth of back pay for the job in damages, News 6 reported.

Hasidic Judaism is an orthodox movement within Judaism in which men do not shave their beards, per instructions in the Torah. In the lawsuit, the EEOC argues that McDonald’s violated the man’s rights by declining his employment due to his religious beliefs.

In an interview with News 6, Rabbi David Kay with Congregation Ohev Shalom in Maitland, another Orlando suburb, explained that the beard was an “expression of faith” for Hasidic Jewish men, and that he considered the lawsuit to be a teaching moment on Jewish traditions.

"Anytime we have the opportunity to expand our awareness and understanding of how faith traditions express themselves, I think that’s a plus," Kay told News 6.

McDonald’s had not responded to News 6 requests for comment by press time. It is unclear why this lawsuit is being filed now instead of immediately after the incident occurred.

Illinois to fund abortion clinics after Title X Protect Life Rule

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 18:08

Springfield, Ill., Jul 19, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- Illinois will provide state funding to abortion clinics and clinics that refer for abortions in the light of new changes to Title X rules, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.

Earlier in the week, part of the “Protect Life Rule,” which created new eligibility guidelines for Title X family planning funds, went into effect.

“President Trump’s gag rule undermines women’s health care and threatens the providers that millions of women and girls rely on, and we will not let that stand in the state of Illinois,” said Pritzker in a July 18 statement. The state’s Department of Public Health will instead fund the 28 clinics in the state that received Title X funds and also refer for or provide abortions. The clinics were due to receive about $2.4 million in federal funds through the end of September, the current fiscal year.

Planned Parenthood locations in Illinois received 40 percent of the Title X funds distributed in the state, despite only operating 17 of the more than 70 clinics who received funds each year. Approximately 112,000 people in Illinois acquired birth control through Title X.

Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide currently receive about $60 million in federal funds annually from this program, more than 10 percent of the half-billion dollars in total federal funding it receives per year.

Shortly after the Protect Life Rule and Title X changes were announced in February, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced that they had no plans to comply with the new rules.

“We will not violate our own medical ethics, and because of what the gag rule does, which blocks patients from getting accurate information about their care, we won’t accept the money,” Julie Lynn, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune at the time.

Lynn stated that Planned Parenthood of Illinois would adjust to ensure that their patients were still able to receive contraception, and forgo Title X funds.

Six days after the Protect Life Rule was finalized, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced a new initiative, dubbed “Access Birth Control”, that would distribute contraception pills or devices, including IUDs, condoms, and Depo-Provera shots, free of charge to eligible persons.

On its website, Planned Parenthood of Illinois said that the program will run through January 2021, the end of President Donald Trump’s first presidential term, in apparent expectation of a victory for an opposition candidate more favorable to abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services informed Title X fund recipients July 15 that they will no longer be permitted to refer mothers for abortion services, and must keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions.

As of March 2020, abortion facilities will no longer be allowed to co-locate with clinics that receive Title X moneys. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion may still receive funds.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

Michigan considers two pro-life ballot initiatives

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 16:26

Lansing, Mich., Jul 19, 2019 / 02:26 pm (CNA).- The Michigan Catholic Conference is urging state residents to support a petition drive for a ballot initiative to ban dilation and evacuation abortions, instead of a separate petition drive that seeks to ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

The competing initiatives are backed by different groups. The D&E abortion ban is being conducted by a group called Michigan Values Life, while the heartbeat ban is supported by the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan are both supporting Michigan Values Life.

The ban on D&E abortions would make it a felony for a physician to perform the procedure, and the ballot initiative seeks to update the state’s existing ban on partial-birth abortions.

D&E abortions are typically done in the second trimester of pregnancy and involve the dismemberment of an unborn child.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has said she would veto any pro-life legislation. The ballot initiative push is a way for these bills to become law outside of her signature.

Presently, Michigan law prohibits all abortion, though this law is not enforced due to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, but would go into back into effect if the decision were overturned. If the proposed heartbeat bill were to become law and Roe were overturned, it would actually liberalize existing Michigan abortion law and permit the abortion of infants prior to the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

“At worst, the heartbeat ban could be interpreted to create a conflict in the law and replace the 1931 ban, actually allowing abortions up until a baby’s heartbeat is detected,” said a fact sheet released by the Michigan Catholic Conference.

While it is not uncommon for pro-lifers to oppose heartbeat legislation due to the potential of expensive legal and constitutional challenges, this is relatively unusual as pro-life groups are opposing the heartbeat bill due to the existence of an even stronger piece of anti-abortion legislation.

Several states have passed “heartbeat bills” which have been signed into law. None of the bans have been allowed to actually go into effect due to legal challenges.

Supporters of either petition drive must get approximately 350,000 signatures for the questions to appear on the ballot.

Vatican announces sanctions on disgraced Bishop Bransfield

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 15:57

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 19, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, Bishop emeritus of Wheeling-Charleston, will no longer be allowed to participate in public Masses or live within his former diocese. He must “make personal amends” for the harm he brought to the diocese, Pope Francis announced in a communique released on Friday afternoon.

Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

The July 19 Vatican communique, which was published Friday on the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s website, was sent from the Apostolic Nuncio of the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis on Sept. 13, 2018, five days after Bransfield reached the retirement age of 75.

When Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation, he appointed Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore as the apostolic administrator of the diocese. He also authorized Lori to start an investigation into the allegations made against the retired bishop, which at the time were described as financial abuses and the sexual harassment of adults.

A hotline for the investigation that was set up in September received more than three dozen calls during its first two weeks.
In March, Lori announced that he had restricted Bransfield’s ministry in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as well as in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and that the Holy See would be conducting an additional evaluation of the investigation. That assessment was released on Friday.

“Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bishop Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Lori said in a March 11 press release.

The Holy See’s communique expands that restriction, and adds the additional prohibition on living within the diocese. Further, the Vatican wrote that Bransfield has “the obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.”

Per the release, “the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.”

After the investigation, Archbishop Lori confirmed that investigators had established a pattern of sexual malfeasance, and serious financial misconduct by Bransfield throughout his time as bishop.

“The investigative report determined that during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said, citing renovations to multiple residences and the misuse of Church funds “for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items.”

Some bishops who received cash gifts from Bransfield pledged to return them.

Planned Parenthood eschews federal funding to continue abortion referrals

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 02:31

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2019 / 12:31 am (CNA).- As a new regulation takes effect, barring Title X recipients from making abortion referrals, Planned Parenthood has reportedly decided to forego the federal funds in order to continue directing women to abortion.

“We are not going to comply with a regulation that would require health care providers to not give full information to their patients,” Jacqueline Ayers, the group's top lobbyist, said Tuesday as reported by ABC News.

The Trump administration announced July 15 that parts of the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits recipients of Title X family planning funds from referring or performing abortions, will go into effect immediately. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion may still receive funds.

Pro-life advocates have praised the regulations as a commonsense way to ensure enforcement of already-existing rules against taxpayer money being used for abortions.

“A strong majority of Americans have consistently voiced their opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion – it is even unpopular among Democrats and self-described pro-choice Americans,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List last week.

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.”

The Protect Life Rule will strip about $60 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood, whose clinics both refer for abortion services and are co-located with abortion facilities. Planned Parenthood presently receives about one-fifth of the total amount of Title X funds distributed and serves about 40 percent of all clients who benefit from Title X.

Title X does not pay for abortions, but recipients have in the past been able to refer patients for abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services informed Title X fund recipients on July 15 that they will no longer be permitted to refer mothers for abortions, and must keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood described the court’s decision as “devastating” and “crushing news,” though the organization remains eligible to receive $500 million in other federal funding.

As of March next year, abortion facilities will no longer be allowed to co-locate with clinics that receive Title X money.

HHS received $4.1 million in Title X funds in April to disburse to almost 70 service sites, many of which are Planned Parenthood affiliates, The Hill reports.

The rule is being challenged in federal court, but the administration says there is currently no legal obstacle to enforcing it, ABC News reports.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

An independent family planning provider in Maine announced that it too would continue to refer for abortions and eschew federal funding.

Planned Parenthood’s president Dr. Leana Wen parted ways with the organization earlier this week, saying her employment had been ended due to “philosophical differences” with the board “over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

Wen noted that when she was interviewed for the role of president, she asked the search committee whether they viewed the organization primarily as an advocacy organization “with medical services that are necessary to strengthen its impact” or as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.”

Wen said that she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be fundamentally about health care, and has spent her eight months as president focusing on patient care and the promotion of reproductive rights as health care.

The board, however, wanted to move in a different direction, emphasizing abortion advocacy as their fundamental mission, she said.

Wen was appointed head of Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards. Political organizer Alexis McGill Johnson has been named as acting president.

 

Villanova historian says Chaput, Cordileone, and Strickland are ‘devout schismatics’

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 20:35

Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 18, 2019 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- A Church historian at Philadelphia’s Villanova University has said three U.S. bishops are “devout schismatics” who try to diminish the authority of Pope Francis.

“They are devout in the sense that they publicly display their preference for a traditionalist Church and its devotions, such as the rosary. They are schismatics because they openly promote the undermining of the bishop of Rome among the Catholic faithful,” Massimo Faggioli wrote in a July 16 essay for La Croix magazine.

Faggioli made specific mention of three U.S. bishops: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.

The historian said the “schismatic instincts” of those bishops were manifested when in August 2018, when they “sided with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to Washington who called on Francis to resign.”

Viganò released on Aug. 25, 2018 a “testimony,” which, among other things, accused Pope Francis of ignoring warnings about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual deviancy, and then raising McCarrick’s status within the Vatican.

After the testimony was released, Strickland issued a statement calling Vigano’s allegations “credible,” and Cordileone said he could confirm that some of Vigano’s statements were true.

Contrary to Faggioli’s claim, however, Chaput did not endorse Vigano’s allegations. While a spokesman told reporters in August that Chaput “enjoyed working with Archbishop Vigano during his tenure as Apostolic Nuncio,” he declined to comment on the former nuncio’s allegations.

The spokesman said that the Chaput could not comment “on Archbishop Vigano’s recent testimonial as it is beyond his personal experience."

In 2013, Chaput told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that the election of Pope Francis had made him “extraordinarily happy, because quite honestly, he is the man I was hoping would be Pope eight years ago.”

Two years later, Chaput hosted Pope Francis in Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. Reflecting in 2018 on that meeting, Chaput wrote that the pope’s “time with us was filled with powerful public moments and deeply grace filled intimate gatherings hallmarked by an overarching spirit of mercy, compassion, and charity.”

“[Pope Francis] has repeatedly challenged us to bear witness to Christ through concrete action—by serving the poor, by helping immigrants, by preserving families, and by protecting the sanctity of life. It’s the kind of challenge we can and should answer with a hearty yes each day,” Chaput added.

In his essay criticizing “devout schismatics,” Faggioli wrote that “dissent against this pope has become radicalized with schismatic instincts because this kind of political devotion is more about a partisan ideology than about the Church. Catholicism was exposed to ideological manipulation by those who do not really care for the Gospel, but who are more interested in a particular conservative political culture.”

Chaput, among those identified as a “devout schismatic,” has frequently emphasized his unwillingness to align with a political party.

In 2016 he criticized Catholics, especially politicians, who accept “the transfer of our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new ‘Church’ of our ambitions and appetites,’ in order to achieve political or personal goals. he group of those who do so “cuts across...both major political parties,” Chaput said.

The Church's canon law defines schism, the charge Faggioli makes against the three bishops, as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Faggioli could not be reached for comment.

 

Religious persecution is a global problem, Pence and Pompeo tell Ministerial

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Religious persecution is a concern for the entire global community, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a religious freedom gathering on Thursday.

“We’re gathered here, 106 nations strong, because we believe in the freedom of conscience—the right of all people to live out their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs,” Vice President Pence told religious and civic leaders from around the world at the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.

The Ministerial was hosted by the U.S. State Department from July 15-19. Religious and civic leaders from all over the world, as well as over 100 foreign delegations, gathered to bring attention to global religious persecution and discuss strategies to promote and defend religious freedom.

Survivors of religious persecution were present and shared their stories; these victims have endured prison sentences, mob violence and state-sanctioned terror,” Pence stated on Thursday, the last day of the Ministerial. For some others, they have been killed for their beliefs, he said.

Pence noted that “on a personal level, my faith in Jesus Christ has brought meaning and purpose to me and my family every day of my life.”

The Vice President was baptized Catholic, but said has said that while in college, his faith became “real” when he “made a personal decision for Christ”; in a 1994 interview he identified as an “Evangelical-Catholic,” began attending an Evangelical megachurch with his family and calls himself a “Christian.”

Also on Thursday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered his keynote remarks at the Ministerial. He stated that “religious freedom isn’t just a Christian concern, a Jewish concern, a Muslim concern, a Buddhist concern, a Hindu concern, or a humanist concern. It’s all of our concern; it is everyone’s concern.”

In their remarks, Pompeo and Pence mentioned persecution of religious minorities in the Western Hemisphere in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, as well as anti-Semitism in Europe, genocide against Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria, and the persecution of religious minorities in Iran, China, and North Korea, as well as the “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

“In Nicaragua,” Pence said, the regime “condones thugs who repress and intimidate Catholic Church leaders for defending democracy and religious freedom.” Meanwhile, in Venezuela, “dictator Nicolas Maduro is using so-called ‘anti-hate’ laws to prosecute Catholic clergy who speak out against his brutal regime,” he added.

 Pence drew attention to the mass detention of more than one million Chinese Muslims and ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China; they have endured brainwashing by Chinese authorities in what survivors have described as “a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith,” Pence said.

The Chinese Communist Party has targeted Uighur Muslims as well as Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners in its brutal campaign of “sinicizaition” to forcibly bring religion under its control, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) stated in his remarks at the Ministerial on Wednesday.

“Under sinicization, all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology—or else,” Smith said. The government has harassed, surveilled, detained and tortured believers, burning Bibles and crosses, destroying churches, and rewriting Bibles and religious texts, he said.

“Muslim-majority countries must protest these abuses even at the risk of endangering the benefits from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure projects,” Smith said.

Pence reaffirmed U.S. support for “people of faith in China” regardless of the outcome of U.S.-China trade negotiations. He also stated the administration’s support for religious freedom in North Korea while talks continue on the country’s denuclearization.

Certain countries actively suppressed or tried to intimidate attendees of the Ministerial, Pompeo said. Cuba prevented four Evangelical pastors from attending the Ministerial, and China tried to intimidate delegations from other countries into not attending.

“If you’re here today and you’re a country which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you,” Pompeo said.

The Secretary of State urged those in attendance to attend regional roundtables and conferences on religious freedom to be held in Albania, Columbia, Morocco, and the Vatican.

August 22 will be the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly and “thanks to Poland’s efforts,” Pompeo said.

Both Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence announced funding for victims of religious persecution and actions the U.S. has taken to punish human rights abusers.

This week, the U.S. sanctioned four military officials in Burma, including two high-ranking leaders, and also placed additional sanctions on two leaders of Iranian-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, Pence said. Iranian-backed militias are harassing Christians in the Ninewa Plain as they return home from the ISIS genocide, and have posed some of the greatest security threats in the region to Christian minorities.

Meanwhile, the State Department “trained nearly 12,000 employees on how to identify religious discrimination and persecution and how to work closely with faith leaders all across the world,” Pompeo said. a 2016 law authored by Rep. Smith, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, required training on international religious freedom for all foreign service officers.

In addition, the agency established an International Religious Freedom Fund for victims of persecution; the fund has helped with the medical bills of some of the survivors of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which targeted churches and hotels on the holiest weekend of the year for Christians, Pompeo said.

In addition, over $340 million in U.S. assistance has supported “vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq, particularly those that ISIS had targeted for genocide,” he said.

Priests and sisters arrested with protestors at immigration demonstration on Capitol Hill

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A group of Catholics were arrested at the Russell Senate Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday during a peaceful protest organized as a “Catholic Day of Action.” The group, including priests, religious sisters, and lay people, sought to draw attention to the situation at the southern border of the United States and the detention of children in particular. 

“We felt like it was time for something more significant, and needing to take more of a risk to raise the consciousness of Catholics across the country,” demonstrator Maggie Conley told CNA during the demonstration, held July 18. 

Conley, who works with the justice team of the Sisters of Mercy explained that she would like to see immigration reform presented as a pro-life issue, and expressed hope that Catholic members of Congress and the Trump administration will offer a more public witness on Catholic teaching and immigration.

“It’s challenging when we don’t hear [a call for action] coming from the pulpit as often as we want, and as integrated as some of the rituals of our faith,” said Conley. 

Religious orders present included the Sisters of Mercy, the Bon Secours Sisters, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Jesuits, and Franciscan friars. There were also several men at the protest wearing clerical collars, who did not appear to be part of any order.

Members of the group who intended to provoke arrest wore yellow bracelets, and many wore signs with pictures of migrant children who had passed away in U.S. custody and the date of their deaths. Five people laid in the center of the Russell Senate Building rotunda, forming the shape of a cross. 

Among those arrested included Sr. Pat Murphy, age 90, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Pat has worked in immigration and migrant advocacy in the past, and has held a weekly prayer vigil outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Chicago for over a decade. 

Sr. Judith Frikker, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, was not one of the people who got arrested, but was still present at the protest “to stand in solidarity with my sisters, and more importantly, with immigrants.” This was not Sr. Judith’s first time participating in demonstrations of this kind, and she told CNA that she believes that “immigrants, detainees, their families--especially children--are being treated in a way that violates their human rights.” 

Sr. Judith told CNA that she believes the crisis at the southern border is not about immigration itself but about how immigrants are received into the country as they try to enter. 

“The crisis isn’t the people coming in, the crisis is what is happening to the people when they try to enter,” she said. “They’re seeking to live with dignity. Many people are seeking asylum and their rights are being denied. We have to act against that.” 

Frikker said that she advocates for policy options to address immigration, asylum processing, and detention at the border which do not require changes to infrastructure.

“Instead of building a wall, I would increase our judicial system [in a way] that would allow the processing of immigrants and their asylum cases so they could enter here,” she said.  

Katie Murphy, a local resident and Catholic, said she was attending the event out of “concern for the children, and also for the character of our nation, the soul of our nation.” 

“I feel that the way we treat the most vulnerable is who we are, is like our character. I am deeply saddened and distraught over what our nation is doing. We have a crisis on the border, and we need to address that crisis in a way that dignifies the values that we stand for.” 

The demonstration occurred just days after the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference publicly denounced action by the Trump administration to tighten rules on asylum seeking at the southern border, and to enforce court-ordered removals against thousands of people who had exhausted their legal appeals to remain in the country. 

On Tuesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo issued a statement condemning a newly-announced rule which requires that those seeking asylum along the U.S. southern border first apply for asylum in any country they may pass through along the way.

“The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection,” DiNardo said.

The cardinal also spoke out against a recent series carried out by ICE in cities across the United States. 

“Enforcement actions like those anticipated this week by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities,” said DiNardo.

“I condemn such an approach, which has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the country. I recently wrote the President asking him to reconsider this action.”

Wheeling-Charleston Diocese launches new financial accountability plan

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 17:22

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:22 pm (CNA).- In the wake of reports of financial and sexual misconduct on the part of former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia announced several new financial policies and procedures for increased transparency.

These new policies include the use of a new third-party auditing firm which will audit the diocese and publish the findings annually, the expansion and strengthening of the diocesan finance council, and the dissolution of the discretionary “Bishop’s Fund,” among other changes.

In a July 17 letter, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who serves as Apostolic Administrator of Wheeling-Charleston, announced the financial policy changes, which were decided at a meeting with the diocese’s finance council.

“From my visits and communications with people from throughout the Diocese I clearly understand that the Church has a long way to go to regain your confidence and trust,” he said.

The reports about Bransfield’s “excessive spending and extravagant lifestyle,” as well as sexual misconduct, Lori said, have caused “great pain and caused many to rightly ask: How could such behavior go unchecked for so long a time? Is there a process in place to check a bishop’s behavior when he takes advantage of his co-workers or when he misuses diocesan funds that should be dedicated to the Church’s mission?”

“These are questions that must be addressed not only in West Virginia but also in the wider Church,” Lori added.

Lori was named apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston in September 2018 by Pope Francis, following a series of allegations made against Bransfield including sexual and financial misconduct.

According to reports made public by the Washington Post, Bransfield used diocesan money to fund an extravagant lifestyle, including luxurious personal travel, a multi-million dollar home renovation, large monthly amounts spent on alcohol and fresh flowers, and large financial “gifts” to other members of the clergy.

The gifts of money he conferred on fellow clergy in the years leading up to his retirement totaled $350,000, the Washington Post reported.

An investigation into Bransfield also found that while there was not conclusive evidence that he sexually abused minors, there was credible evidence of Bransfield’s sexual misconduct with adults.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Lori subsequently barred him from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

In his July 17 letter, Lori also announced that a third-party reporting system was being put in place in the diocese, “to make it easier to report abuse, harassment and malfeasance by bishops.”

Other policy changes include rebalancing the distribution of resources in the diocese so that greater resources will remain with parishes, restructuring the diocesan school board, enhancing the training of advisory bodies, reviewing the administration of Wheeling Hospital and Wheeling Jesuit University, and entering into a Contract of Sale for the former bishop’s home.

Lori added that a review of best financial practices for the diocese is still underway, and that additional details or updates will be announced “in a spirit of openness and with the goal of restoring your confidence and trust” as they are made.

“When a bishop is entrusted to care for a diocese, he is expected to be a wise and honest steward of its resources. He has responsibility to ensure that these resources are for the Church’s mission of faith, worship and service. The Church has also put into place structures to help ensure that funds are used well and wisely,” Lori said.

Several such checks and balances existed under Bransfield, though he managed to circumvent them. Lori said he hopes the new policies will strengthen the measures in place and prevent such financial abuse by bishops in the diocese in the future.

Lori added that although bishops, like priests, do not take a vow of poverty, “they are expected to lead a simple lifestyle and to manage their own finances.”

“Excessive financial expenditures and the personal use of diocesan funds by any bishop stands in contrast to those bishops who engage in responsible stewardship of the resources entrusted to them and who abide by the fiscal policies and controls in place to ensure a fiscally healthy Church,” he said.

Lori concluded his letter by calling for prayer for the appointment of a new bishop to the diocese, and urged Catholics to entrust the future of their diocese to God.

“In the darkest days of exile, Jeremiah told the Chosen People that God had plans for them, plans for ‘a future full of hope,’” Lori said. “As a diocesan church rooted in Christ’s saving love, how much more confident we should be as we look to the future? Together, as the People of God, let us walk together, undaunted.”

According to diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop, Lori’s letter was sent directly to approximately 40,000 Catholics in the diocese, and it was published on the diocesan website and through its social media channels as well.

A 'wealth' of resources available to St Louis women with unexpected pregnancies

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 05:01

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- With a law banning abortions after roughly eight weeks of pregnancy and one remaining abortion clinic whose licensure is being debated in court, Missouri has been described as a state “hostile” to abortion.

“The state makes it extremely hostile for an abortion facility to remain open,” Ushma Upadhyay, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California San Francisco, told Vox for a story on the last abortion clinic in the state.

While the state may be increasingly restricting abortions, it has numerous programs that provide a wealth of resources and support to thousands of women in need each year who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, pro-life advocates told CNA.

“Our aim is for those moms who want to give life to their baby, we provide them with all sorts of alternatives (to abortion),” Michael Meehan, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Children and Family Services in St. Louis, told CNA.

Good Shepherd is one of eight agencies operated through Catholic Charities in St. Louis that are available to pregnant women in need, and provide them with a variety of resources and support, including housing, education classes and scholarships, counseling, and substance abuse recovery.

Good Shepherd itself has a maternity shelter and transitional living program for teen and young adult moms, who may otherwise be homeless, that can accommodate 14 mom and 20 babies, for just a few days or up to a year or longer, depending on the needs of the moms and children, Meehan said.

Besides group and individual counseling, on-staff nurses, and classes on life skills, parenting, and child development, completing a high school education is a requirement for moms in the program, Meehan told CNA.

“That’s a mandatory part of being here is re-engaging in your education. It opens and closes the single biggest bunch of doors for independence,” Meehan said. Thus, Good Shepherd has a full-time education advocate who is a certified teacher, and helps any mom who has not yet completed high school or gotten her GED.

There is also a home visitation program for women who have housing but need other kinds of support throughout their pregnancy, Meehan said. Good Shepherd provides those women with case management, crisis management for problems such as domestic violence, connection to good health care, and referrals to additional needed resources.

And because abuse and neglect prevention is a core part of Good Shepherd’s program, they can continue providing support through home visits until the youngest child in the home is three years old, he added.

“We want to ensure that moms and babies get the best possible start in life,” Meehan said.

They also have foster care and adoption services for women who feel that they are unable to parent their child but still want to provide a better life for them, Meehan said.

“We’re hopeful that we can get the word out that adoption is an option for women who might otherwise consider abortion,” he said.

When asked if he had noticed an increase in women seeking services from Good Shepherd in light of there being one remaining abortion clinic in the state, Meehan said that they have noticed an increase, but that they are unsure whether it is directly connected to the closing abortion clinics.

According to data from 2005 from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization, the top three reasons that women seek abortions are: having a child would interfere with education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).

Knowing these statistics, Meehand said that it is Good Shepherd’s goal to help women remove as many of these obstacles as possible so that they can keep their babies.

“We are about removing perceived obstacles,” he said, “which typically isn’t a baby. It’s a violent relationship, it’s pending homelessness, it’s deep and desperate poverty, it’s a perception that this is impossible, I’m just not going to be able to do it, the baby would be better off not being brought into the world.”

In recent years, Meehan said, Good Shepherd has done even more work to “get the word out” about their services so that women know what resources are available to them.

“The message is that the Church wants to control women, the Church doesn’t care about women, the Church only cares about women until they’re born and then couldn’t care less,” Meehan said. Those messages are easily proved false, he said, “if anybody bothered to look a smidge more deeply.”

And it’s not just the Catholic Church, or even religious organizations, that are providing life-affirming help to women and children in the St. Louis area.

Birthright of St. Louis is a secular non-profit that does not accept state or federal government funding. The goal of the agency is to provide women with the care and support that they need to be able to handle unexpected pregnancies, and to offer life-affirming alternatives to abortion.

“We just focus on the woman one-on-one,” Maureen Zink, the executive director of Birthright in St. Louis, told CNA.

“Our focus is that you have to be a quiet place where women can come where they don't feel like you have an agenda and just talk about why this pregnancy is so hard for them,” she said.

Birthright provides a variety of services to women free of charge, Zink said, including professional counseling, pregnancy testing, and financial aid and scholarships for women who are still in school.

They also have a program called Melissa Smiles, which supports mothers whose children are disabled and connects them to the resources that they need, she said.

“Pretty much anything a woman needs, we'll work with her,” Zink said. “We love to be able to take care of the women, so that they can take care of their babies. The goal is that they'll be able to provide a loving, safe, and nurturing healthy home for their babies.”

Every service provided by Birthright is free, Zink said, but women do not necessarily have to demonstrate a financial need to seek out help from the agency.

“There's college women that find out that they're pregnant and they're overwhelmed and they need help sorting it out,” Zink said.

Zink said that she has not noticed an uptick in women seeking services from Birthright in light of the closure of all but one abortion clinic; things have remained “pretty steady.”

“I think our services will always be needed no matter what the laws are,” she added.

Mary Varni, program manager with the Respect Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, sent CNA a list of resources, both Catholic and secular, that they use to help connect women facing unexpected pregnancies with the resources that they need.

Varni noted that while many women in crisis pregnancies are poor, financial stability is often not the only thing they need.

“Based on our experience, if a woman is pregnant and concerned about her financial situation, she may also be concerned about the safety of the residence or neighborhood in which the child will grow up, the education the child will be able to receive, the child’s health care, or even basic needs like food and shelter,” she said.

“There is help to address all of these concerns, and by sharing the resources we know can help with the women we serve, we hope they will see that life is the right choice.”

Besides Good Shepherd, Catholic Charities in St. Louis also operates three additional shelters, Varni said: the Queen of Peace Center, which offers family-centered behavioral health care for women (and their children) who are overcoming substance use disorders; the St. Patrick Center, which helps people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless; and Marygrove, which offers an independent housing program that provides shelter and services to pregnant teens and young adults.

Furthermore, the Respect Life Apostolate offers the Blessed Theresa of Calcutta fund, which offers financial aid to expectant or recent parents within the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

There is also Our Lady’s Inn, which shelters and supports homeless women and their babies, and Thrive St. Louis, a women’s clinic that provides pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, parenting and life-skills classes, and referrals for housing, medical care, counseling, utility assistance, food and more.

The Society of St Vincent DePaul in St. Louis also provides food and financial resources, such as assistance with housing and transportation, to those in need, Varni said. They are also currently considering a closer partnership with Good Shepherd to more directly assist pregnant women and families in need.

Varni said that when a woman comes to the apostolate or the archdiocese for help, their first job is to listen to what those women are struggling with.

“We let them know they are not alone in their struggles, which is why there are so many resources available to assist with their needs, and alternatives to abortion that can help support a healthy life for their baby,” she said.

“We remind them that their pregnancy is a gift from God, and that He chose them to carry their baby for a reason He knows better than all of us—and that because He loves them, there is always hope. They will be able to overcome the challenges they are facing.”

The licensure of Missouri’s last operating abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, is still being debated in court. The next hearing over the clinic’s license is not until October, and a judge has ruled that the clinic can still offer abortions through that hearing.

But despite some of the hand-wringing over what could be the closure of the last abortion clinic in the state, Meehan said it would be a good thing - and that women will still get the help that they need, through the many services available in the state.

“People lose track of the fact that...we’re talking about well over 600,000 babies dying every year (from abortion),” he said. “That’s a lot.”

“If Planned Parenthood disappeared today, the need of our population could be met, that’s not an issue. They’re not nearly as indispensable as they would have us believe.”

DC priest: celibacy allows a priest to give himself for others

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 19:20

Denver, Colo., Jul 17, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Commentators and critics, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have in recent months called for an end to the discipline of priestly celibacy, especially in the wake of revelations of widespread historical sexual abuse in the United States, and in response to a perceived dearth of priests in some parts of the world. 

“We cannot bring about real reform of the Roman Catholic priesthood unless we do away with mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests in the Latin rite,” Washington D.C. priest Peter Daly wrote in a July 15 op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter.

Father Carter Griffin of the Archdiocese of Washington, author of “Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest,” told CNA in an interview that celibacy has been intrinsically linked to the Catholic priesthood from the very beginning, when Jesus, who was himself celibate, ordained the apostles as the first priests.

Christ enjoined celibacy on some of his disciples, Griffin said, and others who were already married practiced marital continence— abstaining within marriage— after becoming priests.

“Celibacy allows for a certain openness of heart, kind of wideness of heart, which facilitates a man's capacity to live his priesthood, and to give himself to others,’ Griffin said. 

“[Jesus] really had to be available to everyone...if his heart had a privileged share [of love] going to his wife or children, he simply couldn't do what he intended to do. And I think that sense of being ordered to love as a priest, priestly love, and really spiritual fatherhood...is in my opinion one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, for celibacy.”

Celibacy also points to the existence of God and supernatural realities, Griffin said, by reminding others that “our highest goods are not earthly pleasures, but in fact even greater and higher.”

Daly argued in his op-ed that priests who are allowed to marry and have children will better understand their role as spiritual fathers.

“With real parents in the priesthood, it would make us more aware of the vulnerability of children and more outraged at their abuse,” Daly wrote.

Griffin admitted there could be some truth to that claim, and said that a seminarian’s natural father has an important and often overlooked factor in the formation of new priests. But the benefits of understanding different forms of fatherhood also could work in the other direction, he said.

“There are many things I've learned as a spiritual father that have proven to be very helpful to the many natural and biological fathers that I am close to and get to know,” he said.

“The question comes, at what cost?” he cautioned, however.

“There is going to be this sort of challenge of living these two vocations [marriage and the priesthood] in the way that they're really both demand to be lived.”

Daly also argued that celibacy restricts the pool of eligible candidates for priesthood and “diminishes its quality,” while fostering “a culture of mendacity and secrecy, which contributes to sexual cover-ups,” as well as being physically unhealthy for men.

Responding to the objection that allowing married priests would cause an uptick in vocations, Griffin said this could be true— at first— but presented some major caveats.

“There are plenty of mainstream denominations which just have not married clergy, but women clergy, and all these other restrictions lowered, and they still can't find enough,” he pointed out.

“So the idea of this being some kind of magical cure, 'just let them get married and suddenly the seminaries will burgeoning and everyone will be back to 1955,’ is a little bit false.”

In addition, Griffin said that in his opinion the vocations crisis would not be solved by lowering the requirements of the priesthood, because although the numbers may tick up slightly, the overall quality and holiness of the priests will likely not improve.

“If the right thing for us is celibate priests, then let's figure out how to build the Catholic culture as it's been done every time that this question has come up from century after century...I think we need to change what is causing the dearth in vocations, rather than simply change the standards for entering seminary,” he said.

On the question of whether a celibate life leads to dangerous sexual repression, which in turn leads to abuse, Griffin pointed out the many healthy and well-adjusted celibate people— both Catholic and non-Catholic— who throughout the centuries have sacrificed sexual relations for some sort of a higher good.

“An objection like that could only be made in a culture that is suffering from the aftershock of the ‘Sexual Revolution,’ which has tried to convince us that we really cannot control ourselves sexually, that the sexual urge is something that simply has to be indulged, and any restrictions on it are necessarily unhealthy,” he commented.

“All of us know people who are not married who are wonderfully balanced and good people. And the vast majority of priests are happy in their vocation and are doing good work and faithful. So to take some examples from the headlines and to draw universal conclusions from them seems to be not the right move.”

Griffin pointed out that being married does not abolish the possibility of a person abusing children, any more than it abolishes the possibility of a person committing adultery against their spouse.

“It's precisely not living marriage well that is adultery. It's precisely not living celibacy well that is any kind of infidelity. And yes, there are unfaithful celibate priests, and the problem is that they're unfaithful. The problem is not that they're celibate,” he explained. 

“I think here the problem is a lack of priestly zeal, or a lack of justice, or a lack of a sense of the purpose of the priesthood. Because the purpose of the priest is not to garner power for himself, in this kind of clerical mindset, but it's to pour himself out for others. His whole purpose in life is to serve...and so if we're not doing that, if we're not setting an example, or we're not pouring ourselves out in that way, let's focus on that problem, instead of saying 'it's a boy's club' or something like that.”

Specifically on the “boy’s club” objection, that a married priesthood would foster greater respect for women among a mostly male culture in places like seminaries, Griffin said an attitude of “clerical arrogance” does exist in some places, but not a majority.

“I think in good formation and good seminary culture, I don't see any of that,” he said. 

“I see brothers growing together and really thriving and striving for holiness in their Christian lives and encouraging each other, and that kind of building of a fraternal and paternal bond among these men I think will bear tremendous fruit.”

In terms of helping to build a Catholic culture in which priestly celibacy can truly work, Griffin said it’s important for young men to see celibacy, and chastity in general, modeled for them in a joyful way, whether they plan to enter the priesthood or not. He also mentioned the importance of fostering a family culture where vocational discernment is taught and valued.

Finally, he said an emphasis on chastity, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture, should help to counterbalance the deadening and dulling effects of such things as internet pornography, which he said make “seeing the beauty of chastity, let alone the beauty if celibacy, more difficult.”

“I think having parents who really take seriously the healthy and integral formation of their children to really grow up to become holy men and women, really authentically Christian, living chaste, holy, purity...I think the vocations crisis would frankly disappear, if we really could redouble our efforts as Catholic families in those three ways.”

Griffin concluded by relating his own experience as a celibate priest.

“My experience has been similar to many other priests, which is that celibacy has in fact been a gift,” he said.

“I planned to get married, I would have loved to have gotten married and had a family in many respects, but the Lord has used those desires and kind of transformed them, and I'm the happiest guy alive. And I think that a lot of priests would say the same thing. I hope that people are able to, in sorting through all the stuff being thrown at them, are able to still see that— that many priests are joyfully and beautifully living out their vocations.”

 

Facing dire financial situation, Pittsburgh diocese looks to make changes

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 17:53

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 17, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is evaluating options to respond to severe financial strains, exacerbated in the last year by the sex abuse crisis, a diocesan official said Wednesday.

“The challenges that we’re facing are similar to that of many other churches, I think, throughout the country,” said Msgr. Ronald Lengwin, Vicar for Church Relations for the diocese.

He told CNA that already-existing financial struggles had been greatly compounded by the sex abuse crisis that broke last summer.

In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, identifying more than 1,000 allegations of abuse at the hands of some 300 clergy members in six dioceses in the state, including 99 from Pittsburgh. It also found a pattern of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations – either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Since that report was released, Mass attendance has dropped 9% and offertory donations have declined 11%, CBS Pittsburgh reported.

Lengwin told CNA that the decline in Mass attendance and collection money had been going on before the sex abuse scandal was unveiled. Ten years ago, he said, some 187,000 people attended Mass in the diocese each Sunday. By 2018, that number had dropped to about 120,000 – a decline of more than 30%.

The abuse scandal has intensified problems that were already present for the local Church, including parishes that had been borrowing from the diocese to pay insurance premiums, creating an unstable financial situation.

When the diocese set up a survivors’ compensation program to aid the healing of abuse victims, it expected to receive about 250 claims, based on the number of allegations that had already been received, and estimates constructed from talking to other dioceses.

“But now we’re looking at 350-400 claims,” Lengwin said. “We don’t know what that final number will be, but we have reason to believe it will be significant.”

The decline in offertory money, combined with the unexpectedly high number of victims’ compensation filings, means that the diocese could be millions of dollars short in addressing survivors’ claims and other diocesan expenses.

With limited resources, Catholic leaders are looking for solutions. Thirty-two employee positions have been eliminated. Bishop David Zubik has emphasized that responding to abuse victims remains a top priority.

“We’re trying to identify additional money that exists,” Lengwin said. The diocese has sold most of its parcels of property already, and a small building that previously served as a headquarters for the local Catholic newspaper is expected to be sold soon.

In addition, a court hearing will be held in coming weeks, as the diocese seeks permission to use money from an already-established foundation to fund payments of abuse claims.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is working toward consolidating and merging a number of parishes, a process that was already underway before last summer.

CBS Pittsburgh reported that Bishop Zubik has also warned that “more than a few” diocesan schools could close, saying that each school must prove its financial stability in order to stay open.

“Even before abuse crisis last summer, we had engaged in a program to consolidate our schools,” Lengwin said. “Now it’s clear that won’t be enough.”

Embattled Crookston diocese reaches $5m abuse settlements, will release depositions and files

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 16:55

Crookston, Minn., Jul 17, 2019 / 02:55 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota announced Wednesday that a $5 million settlement has been reached in 15 sexual abuse lawsuits filed against it, bringing to conclusion all open sexual abuse litigation against the diocese. The diocese says it will be the only one in Minnesota to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection. Crookston's bishop, however, is still accused personally of covering-up abuse.

“To all victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as the Bishop of Crookston I apologize for the harm done to you by those entrusted with your spiritual care. Although you can never be fully compensated for your suffering, we are thankful this litigation has now come to a good end and are hopeful this settlement offers you justice and will be helpful for healing,” Crookston’s Bishop Michael Hoeppner said in a July 17 statement.

“To you, the faithful of this local Church, I say thank you for your continued prayer: for victims of sexual abuse; for a fair resolve to these cases. Let us all now, humbly, offer prayers of thanksgiving.”

The statement said that insurance carriers will cover most of the settlement amount, while the diocese will be responsible for $1,550,000 in payments. The diocese said that money would come from the sale of a camp and a Newman Center, and from estate gifts. Hoeppner said that some funds would also come from diocesan cash reserves. He emphasized that no funds from the annual diocesan appeal would be used.

The settled lawsuits were filed in 2016 and 2017, during a three-year “window” which allowed alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse to file civil suits even after the state’s statute of limitations for abuse litigation had expired. The diocese said that its settlement agreement had been reached “after years of negotiation and mediation."

“Because of this settlement, the Diocese of Crookston can avoid filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,” Hoeppner said.

“All other dioceses in Minnesota have filed or announced their intent to file for financial reorganization. We will not have to lay off staff. We can joyfully and steadfastly continue our mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to this time and place. We pledge our continued efforts to rid the Church and world of sexual abuse and provide a safe environment for all.”

In addition to funds, the settlement will require the diocese to make public the names and files of priests accused of sexually abusing children, and depositions from clergy sex abuse lawsuits in the diocese will also be made public.

While the settlement resolves abuse litigation against the diocese, it is likely not the end of difficulties for Hoeppner. The bishop has been accused of pressuring a diaconal candidate in the diocese, the father of a diocesan priest, into recanting his own allegation of abuse against a Crookston priest.

Several sources have told CNA that Hoeppner is likely to face a canonical investigation of those charges by Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, through a process devised by Pope Francis in May, which came into effect June 1.

It is expected that the soon-to-be released depositions could factor heavily into any investigation into the allegations against Hoeppner. If the bishop is found to have interfered with a legal or canonical investigation into a claim of sexual abuse, he could be removed from his office in the diocese.

 

Sri Lankan Christians 'have no hate in their hearts,' Ministerial hears

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Survivors of deadly Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka have forgiven their perpetrators, but distrust between religious groups threatens a tenuous peace in the country, one survivor said on Tuesday.

Survivors “are on the path to recovery,” Yamini Ravidran told a global religious freedom gathering July 16 in Washington, D.C.  “They have no hate in their hearts,” she said.

Tuesday marked the first day of meetings and discussions at the U.S. State Department of the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Ministerial is a gathering of religious and civic leaders from all over the world, as well as leaders of non-governmental organizations and over 100 foreign delegations.

On Tuesday, attendees heard testimonies of survivors of religious persecution and terror attacks targeting churches, mosques, and synagogues.

Ravidran was joined on a panel by Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 were killed in a shooting in October, and Dr. Farid Ahmed, a survivor of a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Sunday targeted three Christian churches—two Catholic churches and a Protestant church—and three resort hotels in Sri Lanka, as well as a residence and a zoo, killing over 250 people and injuring around 500.

“Easter Sunday is supposed to be a day of celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Ravidran said, but in 2019 that day “was going to permanently change the lives of many.”

Outside one church targeted in the attacks, children were asked by their Sunday school teacher how many were willing to die for Christ, she said. Most raised their hands, and “only a few minutes later, this became a reality for many of them.” Out of the 32 victims of the bombing of that church, 14 were children, she said.

Before the bombings, these children “could be called the first generation” in the country that “did not experience war, division, or brutality,” Ravidran said. A decades-long civil war ravaged the country and religious communities are still healing from the division of the conflict—division that could once again be fanned into flames. As a result, emergency restrictions, recently lifted after the decades-long conflict, have returned, Ravidran said.

The attack “has empowered some of the extremist elements” in the country, she said, and has “left us with a fear psychosis like never before.”

Catholic and Christian churches were closed for weeks after the attack, with the first public masses at Catholic churches held three weeks after Easter on May 12; attendees had to pass through strict security checks, the Guardian reported.

“There has been an increase in the distrust between communities,” Ravidran said, with instances of hate speech targeting Muslim communities.  

However, “the people of Sri Lanka are deeply resilient and compassionate,” she said, having survived previous disasters including the deadly 2004 tsunami and the civil war. Survivors of the bombings are forgiving the perpetrators, and “that is what we see in Sri Lanka,” she said.

U.S. withholds funding from UN population fund for third year

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 10:00

New York City, N.Y., Jul 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The United States has said it will not support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the third year in a row, the UN agency announced on Tuesday morning. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will not contribute the expected $32.5 million to the agency. The funding instead will be transferred to the US Agency for International Development, where it will be used for family planning programs in line with the Mexico City policy, as well as maternal and reproductive health activities. 

Pompeo said the United States would not support the UNFPA because of its partnership with the Chinese government through its office in that country. 

"China's family planning policies still involve the use of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization practices," a state department spokeswoman said.

The State Department said that, according to the fund’s own materials, the agency “partners on family planning with the Chinese government agency responsible for these coercive policies."

The UNFPA denies that its work in the country is related to sterilization or abortion. Sarah Craven, the chief of the UNFPA’s office in Washington, DC, told CNN that the agency is “trying to end (China’s) sex-selective abortion and coercive birth limits,” and that they are in no way assisting the Chinese government with these goals. 

“It’s literally the opposite,” said Craven to CNN. 

The UNFPA also denies that their work is contributing to abortion or sterilization, and was critical of the United States’ decision to once again forego funding the agency. 

“UNFPA has not yet seen the evidence to justify the serious claims made against its work,” said the organization in a statement published to its website. “UNFPA does not perform, promote or fund abortion, and we accord the highest priority to universal access to voluntary family planning, which helps prevent abortions from occurring.”

Additionally, the UNFPA said it “opposes coercive practices, such as forced sterilization and coerced abortions,” and considers them to be human rights abuses. 

While the agency maintains its separation from coercive use of abortion and sterilization, the use of both practices as tools of population control have been closely contested.

The Holy See’s Permanent Observer mission to the United Nations has long warned of the use of coercive policies in matters of population. In a major address to the International Conference on Population and Development in September 1994, the then Vatican diplomat to the UN Archbishop Renato Martino told the conference that women are often the “primary victims” of population policies which “often tended towards coercion and pressure, especially through the setting of targets for providers.”

Martino specifically cited the practice of promoting sterilization to women as a “family planning” option, often without the women understanding the permanence of the procedure. He also noted the increasing campaign to recognize abortion as a “human right.”

In April of this year, the Holy See’s current Permanent Observer to the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, spoke at a conference held to evaluate the progress made since the 1994 summit. 

In his speech, Auza underscored the Church’s opposition to ongoing attempts at the UN to legitimize and promote abortion as a human right and to see it as a legitimate tool in population control. 

“Suggesting that reproductive health includes a right to abortion explicitly violates the language of the [1994] International Conference on Population and Development, defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations, and divides efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially those yet unborn,” he said.

Colorado petition seeks to bring late-term abortion ban to the ballot

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 18:53

Denver, Colo., Jul 16, 2019 / 04:53 pm (CNA).- A pro-life group in Colorado is leading a signature drive in the hopes of asking voters in 2020 whether to ban abortion after 22 weeks.

Last month, the Coalition for Women and Children filed an initiative to end late-term abortions with the Colorado Secretary of State. The organization must now collect nearly 125,000 signatures within a six-month time limit in order to have the question appear on the ballot in November 2020.

The ballot initiative filing cites “substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by 22 weeks gestation,” noting that a child of this age will react to painful stimuli by recoiling or swimming away.

It also notes that with the help of modern science, babies born at 22 weeks gestation have been able to survive. “The state of Colorado and the people of Colorado have a compelling state interest in protecting the lives of children who feel pain and who can survive outside the womb,” it says.

Colorado currently has no laws regulating late-term abortion, either restricting the procedure or explicating protecting it. As a result, abortions can take place up until birth.

This is more extreme than the New York Reproductive Health Act that drew widespread attention earlier this year, Erin Behrens of the Coalition for Women and Children told CNA.

That law, passed in January 2019, declares abortion to be a “fundamental right,“ but only allows for the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy is the baby is not deemed viable or a doctor believes the mother’s life or health are at risk.

Organizers of the Colorado initiative, which they’ve dubbed “Due Date Too Late,” say they believe 22 weeks to be a reasonable limit on abortion, and that after this point, the procedure should be reserved to “to the rare case where a woman’s life is at risk.”

Keri Ebel, a member of the Coalition for Women and Children, told CNA that organizers would actually like to see abortion restricted far before 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“We feel it should be illegal from conception,” she told CNA.

But Colorado does not have a good history of passing pro-life legislation, she said, and the 22-week ban seemed like a more realistic starting point than a broader restriction.

Earlier this year, the “Colorado Protect Human Life at Conception Act” was postponed indefinitely, just a month after being introduced to the Colorado House and assigned to the Health and Insurance committee.

Personhood amendments, which would define human personhood as beginning at conception and ban all abortions, have gone before voters in the state three times, failing by significant margins each time.

Amid internal dispute over mission, Planned Parenthood president resigns

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 17:52

Washington D.C., Jul 16, 2019 / 03:52 pm (CNA).- Citing disagreements with board leaders over whether Planned Parenthood should focus on health care or abortion advocacy, the organization’s president is stepping down.

Dr. Leana Wen took the reins at Planned Parenthood eight months ago. On Tuesday, she announced that she was resigning.

Wen’s statements about her departure suggested internal turbulence within the organization.

She initially posted on Twitter, “I just learned that the @PPFA Board ended my employment at a secret meeting. We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

A few minutes later, she posted an official statement.

“As a physician and public health leader, I came to Planned Parenthood to lead a national health care organization that provides essential primary and preventative care to millions of underserved women and families, and to advocate for a broad range of policies that affect our patients’ health,” she said.

“I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is.”

Wen said that she is stepping down due to philosophical differences with the new board chairs over the direction that the organization should be moving.

In a memo to Planned Parenthood employees, Wen elaborated on her dispute with board leaders.

She noted that when she was interviewed for the role of president, she asked the search committee whether they viewed the organization primarily as an advocacy organization “with medical services that are necessary to strengthen its impact” or as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.”

Wen said that she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be fundamentally about health care, and has spent her eight months as president focusing on patient care and the promotion of reproductive rights as health care.

“I came to Planned Parenthood to run a national health care organization and to advocate for the broad range of public health policies that affect our patients’ health,” she said.

But the new board chairs of Planned Parenthood Federation of American and Planned Parenthood Action Fund disagree with that emphasis.

“The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” Wen said.

Planned Parenthood announced on Tuesday that former board member Alexis McGill Johnson has been named acting president, adding that the organization hopes to appoint a new president by the end of 2019.

Wen was appointed head of Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards.

Wen moved to the United States from China at age eight. Before taking on her role with Planned Parenthood, she worked as an emergency room doctor and as the health commissioner of Baltimore. She was the first physician to lead Planned Parenthood in five decades.

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions.

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

Abortions, however, have increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

The debate about Planned Parenthood’s public image as a health care provider or abortion advocacy group comes as cuts in funding and abortion restrictions in dozens of states across the country have put the organization on the defensive.

The appointments of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have brought the issue of abortion into the spotlight, amid speculation that the court could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

In addition, a new rule under the Trump administration prevents Title X fund recipients from performing or referring for abortions, and bars abortion clinics from sharing facilities with entities that receive Title X money. Planned Parenthood stands to lose about $60 million in federal funding as a result of the rule, which was upheld by a federal court of appeals last month.

Planned Parenthood has also faced increased scrutiny following the release of a series of undercover videos in 2015 in which executives at the organization appear to be discussing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies for money, a practice that would violate federal law.

 

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