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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: 2 hours 58 min ago

US bishops oppose Trump immigration plan, say families are foundational

3 hours 25 min ago

Washington D.C., May 19, 2019 / 03:09 am (CNA).- Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference voiced concern over President Donald Trump’s new immigration plan, stressing that families should be strengthened and promoted in the immigration system.

“We oppose proposals that seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely ‘merit-based’ immigration system,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, who heads the conference’s migration committee.

“Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history, and our immigration system,” they said. “As Pope Francis notes: ‘Family is the place in which we are formed as persons’.”

DiNardo and Vásquez responded May 17 to the immigration plan announced by Trump the previous day. They said that although they appreciate the effort to address concerns in the current immigration system, the new plan falls short in several areas.

Trump said his plan prioritizes American values and workers, while attracting “the best and brightest from all around the world.”

The proposal would not seek to cut back on total annual legal immigration numbers, but would significantly reduce the current family-based portion of the immigration system, instead focusing on applicants with high education and skill levels.

The current system awards a majority of immigration visas based on family connections in the U.S. About 12% are approved based on skill level – a number that would be increased to more than 50% under Trump’s proposal.

According to the New York Times, officials said this would result in nearly 75% of immigrants to the United States holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, and would increase the average immigrant salary from $43,000 to $96,000.

Nuclear families would be prioritized under the proposal, while it would be harder for extended family members to immigrate based on family connections.

The plan also involves the completion of a border wall and new technology to monitor the southern border. It would “a permanent and self-sustaining border security trust fund,” financed by border crossing fees, Trump said.

Critics of the proposal argue that it fails to address the root causes of the migration crisis at the southern border and inhumanely turns away those in need. Democrats in Congress have indicated that they will oppose the plan.

The plan does not provide legal status for Dreamers, those brought to the United States illegally as children. Nor does it provide a clear path forward for Temporary Protected Status holders.

In their statement, DiNardo and Vásquez called these omissions deeply troubling.

They also said that “securing our borders and ensuring our safety is of the utmost importance, but this will not be achieved by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children.”

“Instead, we must confront the root causes of migration and look to humane and pragmatic solutions, such as improving our immigration courts, expanding alternatives to detention, and eradicating criminal networks,” they said. “We urge lawmakers to put aside differences and engage in meaningful action on humane and just comprehensive immigration reform.”

The ‘young man with a big, good heart’: STEM hero Kendrick Castillo laid to rest

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 17:35

Denver, Colo., May 17, 2019 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- On a warm Friday morning in May at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado, about 40 Knights of Columbus dressed in full regalia flanked the entrance of the church as friends and family of Kendrick Castillo filed in to commend him to God at his funeral.

Each attendee was handed a small card - on one side, Kendrick smiling, dressed in a Christmas sweater and sitting on a Jeep. On the other side, a simple tribute including his birth and death dates, funeral location, and the bible verse John 15:13 that seems to capture the way his life ended: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Kendrick was the lone casualty in the STEM high school shooting on May 7 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He died, witnesses say, after he jumped up in the line of fire and ran to stop one of the shooters with a couple other students.

His funeral was attended by relatives and friends that filled the large Catholic church, and included an honor guard of 80 Knights of Columbus, about half of whom dressed in the old feather-capped regalia, and half in the new uniform with a beret.

The Knights lined the aisles and drew their swords in tribute to Kendrick during the processional and recessional, honoring a young man who spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the Knights of Columbus with his dad. A group of Kendrick’s close friends from high school served as pallbearers.

Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, auxiliary bishop of Denver, and five other priests and deacons presided at the Mass.

In his homily, Rodriguez talked about how Kendrick imitated Christ and “pleased God” throughout his life as a selfless, loving person.

Kendrick was “a holy young man,” Rodriguez said. “A young man who was a good disciple of Jesus Christ. We call ‘saints’ those able to love to the end. Kendrick gave everything he is, and everything he had -family, a future, a degree, his life- so other young men and women could go back to their families, have a future, graduate and live.”

“Kendrick’s life is like the echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,’” he added, again referencing John 15:13.

The bishop referenced Scripture throughout his homily, noting how Kendrick was pleasing to and loved by God.

“Only a young man with God in his heart and possessing a big good heart can do what he did: to lay down his life to save his friends. I’m sure John and Maria, that you feel proud of your son: God too is very proud of his child, Kendrick,” Rodriguez said.

“The Book of Wisdom repeats: ‘His soul was pleasing to the Lord.’ The soul is the center of our consciousness, freedom, the seat of love and will; that self that makes us God’s image and touches who we really are. God loves Kendrick’s soul because he is a good young man,” he added.

He noted that Kendrick was only a few days from his high school graduation when he was killed, and could have accomplished many more things on earth with his “big good heart,” but that he was now with God, where “all the evil of this world will not be able to touch him again.”

Instead, Kendrick experienced a much more profound kind of graduation, Rodriguez said.

“Kendrick graduated not for an academic degree, but he graduated in humanity and in Christian life,” he said.

At the end of life, everyone will be examined not on their academic knowledge or worldly success, the bishop noted, but on how well they loved.

“Kendrick passed this test with honors,” he said. “He accomplished in a short time a great career in honorableness, love and holiness. As Scripture says, the greatness of a man ‘cannot be measured in terms of years.’”

Even though Kendrick was a good person and is loved and cared for by the Lord, his death still causes “unbearable” pain, especially for his family, Rodriguez said.

The bishop encouraged John and Maria, the parents of Kendrick, to hold fast to the Gospel of John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”

That passage, Rodriguez said, contains two promises for Kendrick: that he is enjoying eternal life in heaven, and that he will be raised with Jesus on the last day.

“Dream with that moment, when you will see Kendrick right in front of you, radiant, smiling and coming to you for a big hug,” he said.

He then encouraged everyone in attendance to follow the example of Kendrick’s faith and love, and thanked John and Maria for their son.

“John and Maria, Kendrick, your son, is a gift for all of us. And we all must commit to keep his legacy and to praise God for the gift of Kendrick’s years among us.”

“God loves your child. Now, he is with him. And he left, keeping you in his heart.”

Despite religious freedom concerns, House passes Equality Act

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 13:12

Washington D.C., May 17, 2019 / 11:12 am (CNA).- The House of Representatives passed the controversial Equality Act on Friday, amid heated opposition from those who argue it would pose serious threats to critical constitutional freedoms.

“This bill undermines human dignity by threatening the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience that the First Amendment guarantees for every citizen,” said Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of the U.S. legal division for Alliance Defending Freedom. “Americans deserve better than the profound inequality that this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation offers.”

In a May 17 statement, Waggoner said the legislation would harm women.

“It undermines women’s equality by denying female athletes fair competition in sports, depriving women of business opportunities designed for them, and forcing them to share private, intimate spaces with men who identify as female,” she said.

Waggoner added that the legislation would force Americans to participate in events and message that go against their deepest convictions.

“Many activists want to con Americans into believing that disagreement on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality is a form of discrimination that requires the government to enforce one view over another, but that is obviously wrong,” she said.

The House approved the bill by a 236-173 vote. Eight Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Seven Democrats refrained from voting for or against.

The legislation would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion.

It would apply not just to employment, but other areas like housing, jury duty, credit, and education, as well as at retail stores, emergency shelters, banks, transit and pharmacies, among others. It would also specify facility access for self-identified transgender persons, such as access to male and female bathrooms.

Critics have argued that the bill’s concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity are too broad and would penalize the appropriate recognition of difference between the sexes or differences between married heterosexual couples and other couples.

Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had opposed the measure in a March 20 letter. They said that while they support efforts to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect, the legislation would fail to advance those goals and would instead harm society.

“The Act’s definitions alone would remove women and girls from protected legal existence,” they said. “Furthermore, the Act also fails to recognize the difference between the person – who has dignity and is entitled to recognition of it – and the actions of a person, which have ethical and social ramifications. Conflating the two will introduce a plethora of further legal complications.”

The bishops also warned that the Equality Act would harm free speech, conscience, and exercise of religion. It would require that homeless shelters place biological men with vulnerable women and adoption agencies place children with same-sex couples, even if this violates their beliefs and the birth mother’s wishes. It could threaten professionals in the wedding industry who will serve all customers but cannot express messages to which they object. And it would require health professionals to provide “gender transition” treatments and surgeries in violation of their medical and ethical judgments, they said.

Furthermore, the Equality Act would exempt itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a move that the bishops noted is “unprecedented.”

The Equality Act now moves to the GOP-led Senate. Supporters of the bill will need to pick up more than a dozen Republican votes to advance the legislation. President Donald Trump has said that he opposed the measure, but has not indicated whether he would veto it if it came to his desk.

‘Stand firm for life against the evil opposing it’ Kentucky governor says

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 12:15

Frankfort, Ky., May 17, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is urging his fellow governors to “be bold” on the issue of life.

The first-term governor made the call during an interview Thursday on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, as states across the country continue to debate abortion related legislation.



In recent weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.), Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wisc.), and Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.) all rejected their states’ versions of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. Shortly after, Bullock launched a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In contrast, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) and Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) signed major pro-life legislation.

Speaking to Pro-Life Weekly host Catherine Hadro, Bevin said that arguments against Born-Alive laws are “weak,” and that such measures are far from redundant.

“It would seemingly be the same argument you might say for ‘why have airbags in a car if we already have a seatbelt,’” Bevin argued.

“Not to protect a human life, and to ask a doctor to take responsibility for protecting that human life, and to hold them accountable if they do not—especially given that they have taken an oath to do so, and in fact are licensed to do so—would be irresponsible.”

Urging his fellow governors to stand in defense of unborn life, Bevin said, “Don’t be politically opportunistic, don’t be beholden to outside interests that are going to help you politically, but be bold and do the right thing.”

 

Alabama's Governor signed the Human Life Protection Act into law.
Georgia's Governor signed the Heartbeat Bill into law.

We speak with another pro-life governor on @EWTNProLife, @GovMattBevin, who says - while there is pressure - being pro-life is the right thing to do. pic.twitter.com/0BCxEIm8Mc

— Catherine Hadro (@CatSzeltner) May 16, 2019  



While discussing his work to pass pro-life legislation in Kentucky, Bevin called the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision a “travesty,” and said he believes the issue of abortion will ultimately be returned to the states.

“In the meantime, states like ours have passed very intentional laws related to things like informed consent and ultrasounds performed in advance,” Bevin said.

Bevin also pointed to a recent bill he signed into law prohibiting abortions based on the race, gender, or a disability diagnosis of an unborn child. He said that the “non-eugenics bill” might reach the Supreme Court and “may very well be involved in the ultimate decision making as it relates to Roe v Wade.”

“We passed a bill here in this past session in Kentucky that says you can’t kill a child based on its race, based on its gender, or based on some perceived disability. We used language very similar to what we find in the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal statutes that are already on on the books.”

After the anti-eugenics bill passed into law earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky promptly announced they would sue over the legislation, but the governor said he is undeterred.

 

We will see the state of Kentucky in court (again) after they attempt to ban abortion (again) #HB5 #stopthebans #kyga19 https://t.co/dJGMYRBCpc

— ACLU of Kentucky (@ACLUofKY) March 13, 2019  



Bring it!

Kentucky will always fight for life...

Always!#WeAreProLife #WeAreKY https://t.co/mFfqhGhAWe

— Matt Bevin (@MattBevin) March 13, 2019  



Critics of the discrimination abortion ban, Bevin said, “think that they’re defending folks when in fact they’re standing in the way of human life.”

“I’m grateful for the fact that ours is a strongly pro-life state, and that people are standing in the gap on the side of the vulnerable and those who cannot speak for themselves.”

The governor said he was bullish about the state’s prospects defending the law in court. “The gild is coming off the lily on the other side of this issue,” he said.

“We are standing firm and we will continue to do so regardless of the money, and the reasons, and just the evil, frankly, that is opposing us on the other side of the equation,” he said.  

Bevin acknowledged that “there is pressure of course, politically” on governors who sign pro-life legislation, “but here’s the thing, to do the right thing is the right thing.”

“Sometimes of course, in politics and in other areas, it’s easier for some to do the easy wrong than to do the difficult right,” Bevin continued. “But I think we have a moral obligation, and for many it’s maybe a religious obligation, but I think for those for whom it’s not religious based, it’s moral to save a human life.”

 

Kate Scanlon is a producer of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Pro-life doctors: Despite Ohio bill, there is no procedure to save ectopic pregnancies

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 02:32

Cincinnati, Ohio, May 17, 2019 / 12:32 am (CNA).- An Ohio bill seeking to limit insurance coverage of non-lifesaving abortions erroneously states that a procedure exists in which a doctor can reimplant an ectopic pregnancy in a woman’s uterus. No such procedure yet exists that has been proven safe and effective, two pro-life OB-GYNs told CNA.

“It astounds me that people would be writing law like this who don’t know the basics,” Dr. Lorna Cvetkovich, an OB-GYN with the pro-life medical practice Tepeyac Center, told CNA.

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus - usually in a fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies cannot survive outside of the uterus and pose a serious threat to the mother’s life, Cvetkovich said.

The legislation in question in Ohio is HB182, a bill that was introduced in April by state Rep. John Becker (R), and was co-sponsored by 19 other state legislators.

The bill seeks to limit insurance coverage for “nontherapuetic abortions” - elective abortions that are not performed when a doctor determines that the mother’s life is at risk.

The legislation states that it would still allow insurance companies to cover certain exempted procedures, including: “A procedure for an ectopic pregnancy, that is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman’s uterus."

“I don’t know of any way that we can technologically, surgically put that embryo through the trauma (of reimplantation),” Cvetkovich said.

The doctor said the procedure has reportedly been tried three times, but it has not worked, and there is no approved, standard medical procedure for reimplantation that has undergone the appropriate steps to ensure it is safe and effective.

Journals reporting on two such cases are posted on John Becker’s Facebook page. One case occurred in 1915, before ultrasounds were invented, and another in 1980.

Cvetkovich said of the 1915 case that not enough documentation of the procedure exists to confirm its scientific validity, and that the 1980 case was found to have used falsified research.

The reason reimplantations have yet been impossible for doctors, Cvetkovich said, is that once an embryo implants into either the uterine or the tubal lining, it begins creating microscopic blood vessel connections with the mother.

“It’s like a microscopic heart-lung machine, and you can’t just disrupt that and redo it,” she said.

In rare cases, ectopic pregnancies have reimplanted themselves in the liver or bowel, causing an abdominal pregnancy, but there has not been a successful surgical reimplantation in a uterus, Cvetkovich noted.

Dr. Donna Harrison is an OB-GYN with the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs (AAPLOG).

Harrison told CNA that AAPLOG would support an ectopic transfer procedure if it “were scientifically validated through the usual channels of animal studies to prove safety and efficacy, and then human trials to prove safety and efficacy. If such a procedure followed that protocol, and if such a procedure were then validated to be safe and effective in a human being, AAPLOG would support that,” she said.

“We would love to be able to save the baby if we could,” she said.

But to date, an ectopic pregnancy transfer procedure does not yet exist that has gone through the required safety and efficacy procedures to Harrison’s knowledge, she said.

However, she added, Dr. Stephen Sammut at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio is currently investigating such a transfer in animal models.

“So there is research being conducted in animal models right now, but it is very preliminary right now and there are no conclusions of that research yet,” she said. “And as far as I know that is the only research being conducted so far in the animal model.”

Because ectopic pregnancies can pose a serious threat to the life of a mother, pro-life doctors can morally perform a procedure in which they remove the fallopian tube or other organ where an ectopic pregnancy has implanted, Cvetkovich said.

This allows doctors to remove a malfunctioning organ of the mother in order to save her life, which has the secondary but unintended effect of terminating the pregnancy, she added.

“It’s what we call the principle of double effect,” she said. “You can go in to do the procedure that will save the mother’s life. Your intent is not to destroy that pregnancy, your intent is to keep her healthy. In the process of doing that, you accept but do not want that there’s a fetal demise. So that’s how we would handle this rare, rare situation where you would have...a viable fetus with a heartbeat in the tube.”

This kind of procedure is permitted by the Catholic Church, she said, which states that abortion is never permissible, though a procedure to save a woman’s life that has the unintended effect of an unborn baby’s death is morally permissible.

“Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child,” the U.S. Catholic bishops state in the fifth edition of their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

This kind of procedure would also be exempted under the Ohio bill, which states that insurance companies could still cover: “A procedure, in an emergency situation, that is medically necessary to save the pregnant woman's life.”

Cvetkovich added that it was concerning that the Ohio legislators apparently did not consult with medical experts or research before writing the bill.

Legislation that contains erroneous scientific statements makes the pro-life movement “look bad, it makes us look silly, it makes us look stupid,” she said.

“I wish these guys would do some consultation before they wrote this,” she added.

On the other hand, Harrison said the bill could spur further research into developing a scientifically valid transfer procedure.

“I think the bill could encourage the appropriate research needed to develop such a procedure,” she said.

 

Analysis: Which state pro-life laws could arrive at the Supreme Court

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 19:45

Washington D.C., May 16, 2019 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- Earlier this week, the state of Alabama passed legislation to make abortion a felony. The measure is the nation’s strongest prohibition on abortion. It directly contradicts Roe v. Wade and is intended as a challenge to the Supreme Court case that established a nationwide “right to abortion” in 1973.

The Alabama law has generated serious controversy, and the promise of an immediate legal challenge, but it is not the only state legislation taking aim at Roe.

With a Supreme Court considered favorable to the pro-life cause and a total of more than 100 Trump nominees in the federal court system, states have been flooding the books with pro-life legislation, in the hope of winning significant victories nationwide.
 
Heartbeat bills
 
Four states – Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio – have so far this year passed laws to ban abortions after the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, often around 6 weeks of pregnancy. All four laws are already facing legal challenges.

Nearly a dozen other states legislatures have considered similar legislation this year.

Heartbeat bills are often considered to openly contradict the jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade and subsequent court cases, which established a framework for abortion regulations – the closer an unborn baby is to viability, the more restrictions on abortion are generally deemed to be constitutional. In the earliest weeks of pregnancy, court precedent says, government cannot limit abortion in a way that places an “undue burden” on women.

Because of this, heartbeat bills have historically fared poorly in the court system. In January, an Iowa judge ruled against the state’s heartbeat law, which had passed last year. Similar laws in North Dakota and Arkansas were also struck down in recent years.

However, supporters of heartbeat bills plan to keep passing the legislation in state after state, hoping that it eventually ends up before the Supreme Court. Their wager is that the court, with its current makeup, will take the opportunity to deliver a fatal blow to Roe v. Wade.
 
Reason restrictions
 
Another category of legislation seeks to ban abortions performed for specified reasons, such as the sex or race of the baby, or a diagnosis of disability. Kentucky has signed into law one such a bill, which is currently being challenged by the ACLU in court.

While a ruling in favor of these laws would not necessarily eliminate legal abortion, pro-life advocates would view it as a step in the right direction and a powerful recognition of the humanity of the unborn child.
 
Safety standards for abortion clinics
 
In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down two key regulations on abortion clinics in Texas - a requirement that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a rule that abortion clinics must meet the standards or ambulatory surgical centers. The vote in that case was 5-3.

Other cases are already in the court system. Next week, a court will hear a challenge to a Virginia law stating that only doctors may perform abortions, rather than nurses or other medical personnel.

One case to watch is June Medical Services v. Gee, which involves a 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The legislation closely mirrors the Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. A district court initially ruled against the law, but its decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals’ 5th Circuit. The Supreme Court was asked last month to hear an appeal in the case.
 
Dismemberment bans
 
Several states have introduced bans on Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) abortions. This abortion method, known by opponents as a “dismemberment abortion,” is most commonly performed in the second trimester. North Dakota signed a ban on these abortions into law earlier this year.

One case challenging a Texas ban on D&E abortions is currently before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Its placement in the court system means that it could have a shot at being taken up by the Supreme Court in the coming months.

Other restrictions
 
There is also a range of other legislation on the books in numerous states that does not ban abortions but enacts various requirements for those seeking them. These include mandatory 24-hour waiting periods before procuring an abortion, ultrasound requirements, and measures requiring parental notification or consent for a minor to obtain an abortion. 

Such restrictions could be upheld by the Supreme Court without completely overturning Roe v. Wade. Some pro-life strategists suggest that it more realistic to hope the nation’s highest court will affirm numerous pro-life laws in this category, in essence chipping away at Roe rather than reversing it in one fell swoop.

Of course, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the legality of abortion would not be immediately clear. A broad ruling on Roe could set a new national standard, but simply overturning Roe would send the question back to the individual states. Seven states have passed trigger laws, which would automatically ban abortion if Roe were to be overturned, while New York and Vermont have passed legislation affirming abortion as a “right” even if Roe were to be reversed.

Court cases take time, and it is likely that the question of abortion restrictions will remain prominent well into the 2020 election cycle. With several state laws taking the spotlight, and several others in the works, abortion may end up being a key issue in the upcoming presidential and congressional races.

 

‘Appeal-proof’ abortion ban advances in Missouri

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 18:15

Jefferson City, Mo., May 16, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- The Missouri Senate has passed a bill that would ban most abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy. Legislators responsible for the bill have said that, unlike recent measures in other states, the bill is specifically designed to pass scrutiny under legal appeal.

After passing a senate vote on May 16, the measure now moves to the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 126 includes a ban on all abortions past eight weeks of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency. Doctors who perform abortions after that point could face a 15 year jail sentence, but women who recieve abortions would not be punished.

"I think we've crafted a bill that will win in the courts," state Senator Andrew Koenig, one of the bill's sponsors, told CNA after the senate vote on Friday.

According to Koenig, the bill’s provisions are justified by a 98.5% chance of an unborn child  surviving to term after eight weeks, compared to a 24% chance of a natural miscarriage at five weeks and under.

"We believe that the state of Missouri has an interest in protecting that viable pregnancy [after eight weeks]," the senator said.

State Representative Nick Schroer, the bill's sponsor in the House, told CNA in February that he worked with fellow lawyers to craft the bill so that it would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

"We looked at a bunch of case law and worked with attorneys on this," Schroer said.

Schroer said that should a district court rule against the bill’s eight-week ban coming into force, the law would still include a further ban at 14 weeks. Schroer said roughly two-thirds of abortions in Missouri take place before 10 weeks.

The bill invokes the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and argues that most abortions performed at 14 weeks gestation invovle in utero dismemberment, which the bill terms "cruel and unusual punishment."

While the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals has not previously struck down a 14 week ban, Koenig noted, even if it were to do so the bills contains additional bans at 18 and 20 weeks, when doctors are required to certify that the unborn child can feel pain.

"We call it the 'heartbeat bill,' but it actually operates a lot differently than any other heartbeat bill that's passed," Koenig explained.

Several states, including most recently Georgia, have passed so-called “heartbeat bills” which would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia currently have “heartbeat” laws waiting to come into force, while courts have struck down similar restrictions in North Dakota and Iowa.

The Missouri bill's sponsors say they knew that to avoid falling to similar legal challenges, they had to draft a bill not already covered by court precedent.

"We need to give the courts something that doesn't have precedent behind it, but accomplishes the same goals," Koenig said.  

“Ultimately I think other states can take our language and start really limiting abortion, because I think our law will, for the most part, get upheld."

The Missouri vote came hours after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a near-total ban on almost in that state. Unlike the Missouri bill, the Alabama law is intended to generate a court battle and challenge the 1073 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

"[Our law] is not a piece of legislation that is designed for a challenge," Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr told the Associated Press.

"This is the type of legislation that is designed to withstand a challenge and to actually save lives in our state."

The Missouri bill also provides for a 70% tax credit for donations Missourians make to pregnancy resource centers on or after January 1, 2021 to foster a "culture of life" in the state, Koenig said.

If passed, the law would also prohibit "selective" abortions following a medical diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or on the basis of the race or sex of a baby.

"For me as a Catholic, for me being pro-life, this is common sense to me," Schroer said.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that since peaking at more than 20,000 per year in the 1980s, in 2017 the annual number of abortions in Missouri had dropped to fewer than 7,000.

The bill would also require any abortion providers operating in the state to have at least $3 million in insurance to cover women in case of botched abortion procedures.  

"I think that's actually a huge provision we added in the Senate," Koenig said. "I think ultimately we'll be able to eliminate abortion in Missouri because of this bill, but I think also because Planned Parenthood would just say it's not worth doing business in the state of Missouri.”

Missouri has only one abortion provider in the state, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.

A Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, MO has been blocked from performing abortions since October 2018, after the facility failed to adhere to state rules and license expired. No abortions have been performed there since.

Lowest-ever fertility rates have complicated causes, no easy solutions, experts say

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 15:05

Washington D.C., May 16, 2019 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- Fertility rates in the United States have fallen to an all-time low, according to provisional figures released by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.

According to an early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, the lowest ever and well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, less than 3.8 million children born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

The data comes amid warnings from experts about the economic and social consequences of the continued decline. At the same time, the same experts say that the complicated causes of ever-lower fertility mean there are no clear or easy ways of reversing the trend.

 

Causes and effects

While the statistics underline a stark trend, experts emphasize that there is no single root cause behind the general decline.

In the past, women in their 20s have had the highest birth rate. But since 1968, the average age of a first-time mother has increased by more than five years, from 21.4 to 26.8.

Last year, childbirth rates among women aged 20-24 dropped 4%, and 3% among women aged 25-29. In 2018, women aged 30-34 had a higher birthrate than those aged 25-29 – marking the first time women in their early thirties were the leading age demographic for the number of children born.

Johnathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” points to a complex of social factors which, he says, contribute to the numbers of women having fewer children later in life.

“Many of the reasons people are having children later are good and reasonable. Look at the drop in fertility among 20-24 year-olds: that’s in large part down to the number of people now attending college, and people just don’t tend to get married and start families while they are in college,” Last told CNA.

Last also pointed out that while the broader trends all point in a single direction, individual section of society had outsized influence. “What we are seeing is record fertility lows coming off of what is essentially a drop among a single cohort, which is Hispanic-Americans.”

“If you look at the data, among white and African-Americans the fertility rates are broadly constant in their decline. What we are seeing is that Hispanics are arriving in the US with higher fertility rates that are dropping much faster than many expected, even within a generation or two.”

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that changes in the use of contraception could also be a factor.

Since 2002, use of the contraceptive pill has declined in favor of implanted contraceptive devices. In 2002, 19% of women aged 15-44 reported using the pill, while only 1.3% used IUDs. By 2017, pill usage had dropped to less than 14%, and 8.6% of women were using IUDs.

This, Pakaluk said, could be contributing to the sharp drop in unplanned pregnancies.

“These long-acting contraceptives tend to be much more immune to behavioral screw-ups. Even with the pill people are prone to contracepting badly and have a higher error rate leading to accidental but not necessarily unwelcome births, and these are disappearing.”

“It’s not a negligible percent, I don’t think it is the whole story but I do think it could be enough to be dragging us down to the historic lows we are seeing.”

Pakaluk said that while it is difficult to study, a shift in the way women approach pregnancy and contraceptives means that birth rates are increasingly subject to the expectations and experiences of generations raised in smaller families.

“One thing that should give us pause, and which I am really interested in examining more closely, is the effect of being around babies on adolescent wellbeing and mental health,” Pakaluk said.

“If you live in a society in which the typical family has three or four children, the older children will be experiencing a young child into their teenage years. But if you move to an average of 1.5-2, no teenagers on average will live with babies – think what that means for their own likely fertility choices.”

Experts have long warned about the wider societal and economic problems associated with declining birth rates, especially below the population replacement rate.

Last told CNA that the wider aspirations of society and politics to sustain and grow social welfare programmes depends on a demographic model opposite to current trends.

“The things we take for granted, let alone the things we aspire to do, in welfare, healthcare and so on, just do not work when you have an inversion of the population growth” Last told CNA.

Pakaluk agreed that there is widespread consensus on the economic and social problems associated with the long-term trend of lower fertility.

“We see immediately that it is not socially optimal from any rational social planning perspective because you know you cannot support the generous social programs that we like to think are good for society,” Pakaluk said. “Things like a decent social security system, MediCare, MedicAid, you just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7.”

But if the wider problems associated with dropping fertility rates are well known, both Pakaluk and Last highlight widespread dissatisfaction at the personal level.

“While the wider societal problems are well known,” Pakaluk said, “what is fascinating is that is seems that it isn’t individually optimal either.”

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having.”

Last told CNA that these numbers need to be considered as a factor in the state of our society.

“What we are seeing is the constant ‘fertility gap’ between people’s stated desire to have more than two kids and the reality that they tend to have less,” Last said. “For a whole host of reasons, people aren’t meeting their own expectations, and that has wider societal impact.”

Pakaluk said that the connection between parenthood and individual happiness is well known but rarely considered in relation to the fertility gap.

“We do know that children are a tremendous source of satisfaction for both men and women and if you take the net effect of [available data] on happiness and wellbeing - even in very controlled studies - we know that children contribute a tremendous amount of happiness.”

“I would certainly say that we need to look at [how] we have the lowest birthrates on record and the highest rates of addiction and depression on record. I’m not ready to say that is causal, but I think we need to think about it,” Pakaluk said.

“We are living in a fascinating paradox. In the post-feminist age of women’s right and control of reproduction they are not getting what it is that they say they want.”

 

No easy answers

If the causes of long-term demographic decline are difficult to untangle, so too are efforts to reverse or mitigate the effects of the trend.

Last noted that the standard response to address the economic problems associated with declining fertility is to rely on immigration to supply the demographic difference. But, he cautioned, this offers an imperfect fix.

“Immigration offers a short-term solution to the problem of funding entitlement programs for governments, but it doesn’t solve the long-term problem,” Last told CNA.

“In a healthy model you want to see a kind of pyramid shape, with the largest cohort among the youngest people tapering up to the oldest. Relying on adult immigration creates a bulge around the middle, which doesn’t address the underlying problem or future effects of low fertility and an ageing population.”

Last said that various policy solutions had been tried in different parts of the world, but without significant effects.

“Governments in all different parts of the world have experimented with policies to try to get people to have more children, but there isn’t any example which demonstrates real success – even in Singapore where the government basically offered $20,000 for people to have a kid, that only goes so far,” Last said.

“The bottom line is that having a child is a heavy lift, and no policy is going to make up someone’s mind to do it.”

Pakaluk agreed, pointing out that most models and policies made assumptions about individual behavior which simply could not account for the full human condition.

“Economists like to model fertility choices as the product of a highly rational process,” she said. “But in reality, no economist will ever tell you that even their idealized agents are acting subconsciously.”

“My read is that if you talk to women in their early 20s, you will get a response that sound very conscious and deliberate. But the choices that ‘make sense’ to people seem to be highly informed by something in the [cultural] water,” said Pakaluk.

According to Last, there is a level or irreducible complexity to changes in the fertility rate, intended or otherwise.

“The causes of lower fertility are incredibly complicated, and there is no obvious or simple mechanism for moving those numbers in the other direction,” he said. “It isn’t a matter of simply pushing button A and pulling lever X, it’s everything.”

“Of course,” Last noted, “ consistently the single greatest tracker of higher fertility is church attendance: across all faith communities, people who regularly show up for religious services have more kids.”

“I think a big part of this is looking at your life as part of a linear continuum, understanding your place between what has come before and what will come after helps condition you to understanding the greater good of starting a family and having children,” said Last.

“If your worldview is primarily formed around personal fulfillment and self-actualization, where is the incentive to have a family? You might have one child for the experience, but not two or three or four.”

Detroit archdiocese cancels sporting events on Sundays

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 05:05

Detroit, Mich., May 16, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- The Archdioceses of Detroit has announced that it will no longer hold required sporting events on Sundays, in an effort to refocus the day on prayer, family and rest.

In a reflection on his 2016 pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Allen Vigneron issued a pastoral note on Wednesday, emphasizing the importance of “the Lord’s Day.”

He said Sunday is ultimately a time for faith, family, and rest, announcing that Catholic grade and high schools in the archdiocese will cease sports practices and games on this day.

“Sunday [is] a day set apart for the Lord, for family and for works of mercy,” he said. “In our time, Sunday has slowly lost its pride of place. In the Archdiocese of Detroit, we are committed to setting aside this day as much as possible for God-centered pursuits.”

“In shifting away from the hustle of required sporting activities on Sunday, we will reclaim this holy day and create more time for families to choose activities that prioritize time spent with each other and our Lord,” he added.

The change in the archdiocesan sporting policy comes in response to a local synod in 2016, which included lay Catholics, religious, and clergy members. The archbishop’s pastoral letter soon followed, calling Catholics to embrace greater conversion and efforts of evangelization.

In his recent pastoral note, Archbishop Vigneron emphasized the importance of Sunday as a day of holy rest. He said it is a weekly celebration of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on the disciples and Christ's resurrection, making it a mini-Easter and mini-Pentecost.

“First and foremost, Sunday is the day of the Resurrection of Jesus to new life. It is the day that definitively marked Jesus’ victory over sin and death, and it is the day that represents that in Jesus we too share in this same victory through our baptism,” he said.

“Finally, Sunday is the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out in power upon the disciples of Jesus. In fact, John Paul II called Sunday a ‘weekly Pentecost,’” he added.

He said the holiness of Sunday should, first, be exercised by participation in Mass. Beyond that, he said, it is appropriate for families to pursue other faith-based activities together, as well as “technology-free family time.”

“Eucharistic adoration, personal prayer, reciting the Rosary, time for catechesis and Bible studies, faith sharing groups and the like all are ways families and individuals honor the Lord’s Day beyond Sunday Mass,” he said.

The archbishop also noted the importance of rest, saying that society has a “cult of busyness,” which has created false identities. He warned that an overemphasis on work can accentuate what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture.”

“When work becomes the most important thing in our lives, we value ourselves and others by what they can contribute rather than by who they are,” he said.

“Instead our worth comes from what God has done for us: We are made in his image and likeness, and Christ has died for us. When we choose to make Sunday a day of rest, we choose to renounce these false cultures and live as part of Christ’s band of disciples.”

The new regulations will take place in the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. In upcoming months, the archdiocese will be issuing additional resources for families to embrace the Lord’s Day.

“Ultimately, by removing the requirement of sporting activities, we leave more time for families to choose activities that prioritize time spent with each other and our Lord,” the archdiocese said.

Several other local schools have held Sunday as a holy day of rest, including Calvinist schools and the Michigan High School Athletic Association. The Frankel Jewish Academy also does not host games from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

Archbishop Vigneron said this time of “missionary conversion” requires radical opposition to the culture. He said setting aside Sunday as a Holy Day will be part of doing this and will be a source of additional graces.

“Living Sunday more radically and intentionally as God’s people will help us do this. It will help us to root our lives in prayer and the sacraments. It will create the space for us to demonstrate unusually gracious hospitality and to include those on the margins. And it will remind us of God’s presence even in difficult and stressful times, so that we can be Jesus’ band of joyful missionary disciples in Southeast Michigan,” he said.

 

'We all need to be a little more like Kendrick': Friends and family remember STEM hero

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 19:12

Denver, Colo., May 15, 2019 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- A funny, selfless, and kind kid who loved tinkering with his car, goofing around with his friends, and above all, serving others, whether at Knights of Columbus pancake breakfasts or in robotics class - this was the Kendrick Castillo that friends and family gathered to remember at a celebration of his life on May 15 at Cherry Hills Community Church.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit,” Fr. Javier Nieva, pastor of St. Mary’s in Littleton, Colo., said at the ecumenical celebration. The quote, from Jesus, is in the Gospel of John.

“We celebrate fruits today,” Nieva said. “Not death (but the) fruits of his life.”

Kendrick laid down his life for others not only “in the moment of dying, but in his love for his family, his passion for service, his love for the truth” and helping others, Nieva said.

Kendrick Castillo, 18, gave his life to protect his friends when he jumped into the line of fire to stop a school shooter on May 7, according to witnesses. Castillo was the only casualty in the shooting at STEM high school in Highlands Ranch, Colo.; eight other students were injured in the incident.

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in May, friends and family packed Cherry Hills Community Church to remember a funny and kind friend, parishioner and son who was always smiling and helping others. On display at the church were some things representative of Kendrick’s hobbies and passions: a kayak, a red blazer he wore while ushering at Notre Dame parish, robotics and engineering paraphernalia.

Former teachers and friends from school took to the stage one by one to share a favorite memory of Kendrick, to extol his virtues and thank his parents.

Joseph Nguyen, a family friend of the Castillos and a member of the Catholic charitable group the Knights of Columbus, presented Kendrick’s parents, John and Maria Castillo, with a plaque that honored Kendrick as a full member of the Knights.

“Kendrick is forever a brother within the Knights of Columbus,” Nguyen said, presenting a plaque that came from members throughout the country and the world.

“His service with the Knights, in everything he did, there was a smile on his face,” Nguyen said, noting that Kendrick and his father John had logged  a combined 2,600 hours of community service with the Knights.

“I remember Kendrick for the just young man he was, the one who imitated Christ’s self-sacrificing love so that others might live and be safe,” he said. “Kendrick loved people, he loved his Church, and he loved his God.”

Charlene Molis, the principal of Notre Dame Catholic School, which Kendrick attended from pre-K to 8th grade, remembered a loving child who “is certainly proof that one person can make a difference.”

Molis said she saw Kendrick’s caring nature on the very first day of preschool, when he noticed a little boy crying across the room.

“The little boy was missing his mom,” Molis said. “Kendrick walked over, put his arm around him and told him it was going to be ok.”

She remembered a student who “respected everyone and always did his best.” She remembered that he liked to get dressed up for school plays as a cowboy or a pilgrim, but when it came to all-school Masses, he donned a three-piece suit.

She remembered his ability to figure out “anything technology related,” and how by the time he was a 6th grader, he became a sort of pseudo IT technician for his teachers, helping them with computer issues. She remembered his bright smile, quick wit, and willingness to collaborate with his teachers in playing jokes on his fellow classmates.

Most of all, she remembered how he served others.

“He seemed to be happiest serving others, and he did this humbly,” she said, whether it was working in the background to put on the school talent show, making and serving pancakes for the Knights of Columbus, DJing school dances, leading the computer club, or serving on the student council.

“He was the first to arrive and last to leave at school and church functions,” she said.

“He was the epitome of a young Christian man, and an inspiration to everyone who was lucky enough to know him,” Molis said. “We love you, Kendrick. We are all better people for having known him.”

Jordan Monk, Kendrick’s best friend, said they first met as freshmen in an engines class in high school. When it became clear that Kendrick knew the most about engines in the class, Monk jumped at the chance to become his lab partner.

“Our friendship started purely out of survival instincts,” Monk said. “I wanted an A in that class, and found the best way to do so.”

But after just one class period, “I like many others knew there was something special about Kendrick. I’d figured we’d get along just fine as lab partners, but I had no idea he’d have such a profound impact on my life.”

The two bonded over lab projects and mishaps, and soon became best friends.

“Teachers had a love-hate relationship with us,” Monk said. “They loved us because of the joy and laughter that we brought to class, but that joy and laughter was apparently distracting for some students.”

When they weren’t in school, Monk spent hours with Kendrick in his backyard, where they would tinker on mini-bikes or golf carts, and on their cars once they got their licenses.

“We changed brakes and oil...and detailed our cars almost religiously,” Monk said. “Whenever I was able to drag (Kendrick) to our school dances, we always had the two cleanest rides.”

Monk recalled a favorite memory with Kendrick, when they dressed up as the main characters from the movie Wayne’s World, and drove around with their car tops down, fake mullets flowing in the wind, and Queen blasting on the radio.

“The only sound you could hear over Bohemian Rhapsody was our laughter,” Monk recalled. He said he and Kendrick often were up to things that could be considered weird, but they didn’t care, “because we had the time of our lives doing it.”

At the end of the celebration, Kendrick’s father, John, addressed the crowd. He thanked the school and church communities and first responders for their care and support, and said he has “felt the love of thousands” in the days since his son’s death.

“If we had to describe him a certain way, first it would be love, the love for anybody he met,” John said. “I mean anybody. He was compassionate. If you were walking down the street and fell, he’d walk over to make sure you’re ok.”

“There’s risk in love,” he added. “There’s risk in being hurt, in rejection. Kendrick knew all of these things and he never wavered. He knew right from wrong, and we all do.”

John remembered Kendrick as a son who valued relationships over physical things, who cherished hunting trips with his dad and grandpa and loved going to animated movies with his mom.

“We all really really love Kendrick, and to carry on his life’s message, we need to be more like him,” John said, whether that’s helping someone who is struggling or including someone who is lonely.

“I always knew he was a gift and a hero, he was filled up with the good stuff” of life, he noted, like faith and love.

He encouraged those present to “walk your faith like Kendrick did,” recalling how his son would take off his hat and bless his food before eating at Taco Bell without caring what people might think.

“It’s not difficult,” he said. “We just have to love.”

Kendrick’s funeral and burial will be at the end of this week. The details are kept private at the request of the family.

Mom demands apology from state Rep. Brian Sims, who doxed her daughters outside Planned Parenthood

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 16:29

Philadelphia, Pa., May 15, 2019 / 02:29 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania mother of teenage daughters is demanding an apology from state representative Brian Sims, who shouted down and tried to dox the teens while they were quietly praying outside of a Planned Parenthood in late April.

Sims has been under fire recently after he livestreamed a video posted to Twitter May 2 in which he appears to harass and confront a woman who was praying the rosary quietly by herself outside of a Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood.

Ashley Garecht, the mother demanding an apology from Sims, said he treated her daughters similarly, shouting them down, calling them racists, and offering to donate $100 to Planned Parenthood if someone could reveal the girls’ identities and personal information online, a practice known as doxing, which is illegal in most jurisdictions.

“The three girls deserve your genuine, explicit apology. I believe you know that your actions toward them were inherently wrong. You accosted them and said that they should be ashamed of threatening and attacking young girls trying to enter the clinic,” Garecht said in an open letter to Sims, published in Philadelphia newspaper The Inquirer.

“You and I both know that the girls were peacefully standing at the far corner of the property line, praying in a barely audible voice. They were not threatening, and they certainly weren’t attacking anyone or preventing access to the building,” she added.

Garecht said she had brought her two daughters, along with one of their friends, to pray quietly at the Planned Parenthood. One of the girls is 13 years old, while the other two are 15. When Sims reportedly began shouting at the girls and pointing a camera at them, Garecht said she tried to intervene and asked Sims that he engage only with her, as the adult in the situation.

“...you looked over my shoulder and continued to scold the girls that they were white racists who shouldn’t dare tell women what to do with their bodies,” she wrote.

The friend that Garecht brought with her daughters isn’t white, Garecht noted.

“...our purpose there was to pray that women of all races would choose life for their babies because we believe that all human life is sacred and we know that our society is better off with more children of every color walking among us,” she said in the letter.

“These girls aren’t racist, Mr. Sims. You devalue the term and cheapen it by using it so egregiously and inappropriately.”

She called his attempts to dox her girls especially “dangerous”, and said that she and her family now live “in constant heightened alert” because of his actions.

Despite Sims’ harassment, Garecht said her daughters and their friend “were not intimidated by you. After we left, they saw you berating the kind young gentleman who respectfully removed his hat to speak with you. All three girls told me we should go back and stand with him. They didn’t want him to have to endure your bullying alone.”

Garecht said that as an elected official, Sims should support the girls’ “First Amendment right to express their faith through speech.”

“Those rights aren’t theories or hypotheticals. They are specifically enumerated guarantees. It’s your job to protect and uphold those rights for all citizens, including beautifully courageous and kind teenage girls,” she said.

On May 7, Sims said in a post to Twitter that he acknowledged his aggressive behavior toward the woman in his May 2 video.

“I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Sims has since set his Twitter account to private.

On May 10, a “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” drew 1,000 people outside of that same Planned Parenthood where Sims had allegedly harassed numerous people. Pro-life speakers at the event called for Sims’ resignation. Leaders from local and national pro-life groups attended the rally, including the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Family Council, 40 Days for Life, Students for Life, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, Sidewalk Servants and the Susan B. Anthony List.

Garecht said in her letter that she believes Sims owes a specific apology to her teenage daughters.

“Mr. Sims, you said you wanted to do better for the women of Pennsylvania. I take you at your word, and I forgive you,” she wrote.

“I’m now asking you to do the right thing by being accountable for your actions and making a genuine, explicit apology to my daughters and their friend. They don’t need anything from you, but they certainly deserve it.”

 

 

Man who brought gasoline, lighter into New York cathedral deemed unfit to stand trial

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 15:54

New York City, N.Y., May 15, 2019 / 01:54 pm (CNA).- A man accused of attempting to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York last month carrying containers of gasoline and a lighter has been deemed unfit to stand trial due to his mental health.

Police arrested Marc Lamparello in April after he attempted to enter the cathedral. The 37-year-old is a New Jersey resident and Ph.D. student at City University of New York.

A court-appointed psychiatrist has now found him mentally unfit to stand trial, according to his lawyer Chris DiLorenzo, who also said May 14 that Lamparello suffers from schizophrenia and was off his medication on the day of the alleged arson attempt.

Assistant District Attorney David Stuart said his office would review the results and determine how to proceed with the case, the New York Post reports.

Manhattan prosecutors had that day indicted Lamparello on attempted arson and reckless endangerment charges. The suspect will remain in Bellevue Hospital Center’s prison ward pending a court hearing June 7, the North Jersey Record reports.

Lamparello’s apparent arson attempt took place two days after a major fire destroyed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The cause of that fire has not yet been determined, but police suspect it was an accident.

Lamparello was also an adjunct professor of philosophy at Lehman College in the Bronx and also taught at Seton Hall University. He published a 400-plus page book on philosophy in 2016.

A friend of Lamparello’s family described them to the New York Post as “a good religious family” and as “strict Catholics.”

Lamparello was apprehended by cathedral security around 8 p.m. April 17 and taken into police custody by officers with the NYPD Critical Response Command. He attempted to start a fire using a lighter, police said, and he had a car nearby to escape the scene.

According to the NYPD, Lamparello had four gallons of gasoline, two cans of lighter fluid, and two lighters with him when he attempted to enter the cathedral. He was prevented from entering by cathedral security, but was able to spill some of the gasoline on the floor as he was leaving.

NYPD said that Lamparello’s story was “not consistent” and suspicious, though they have not yet determined any sort of motive. He claimed he cut through the cathedral as a shortcut, as his van had run out of gas. The minivan had in fact not run out of gas, which led to police taking him into custody.

He was charged initially with resisting arrest, defiant trespassing and interfering with the administration of law.

The attempted entry was the second time that week the man was arrested at a Catholic cathedral. Earlier in the week, Lamparello was arrested for refusing to leave the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey.

Lamparello has been arrested previously for criminal trespass and public drunkenness.

NYPD have confirmed that Lamparello had recently purchased a one-way airplane ticket to Rome, scheduled to depart the next evening, and had already cancelled class. He had also booked a hotel room not far from St. Peter’s Basilica.

California confession bill won't stop abuse, but threatens religious liberty, critics say

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 12:47

Sacramento, Calif., May 15, 2019 / 10:47 am (CNA).- The appropriations committee of California’s state senate will hold a hearing Thursday on a bill that would require priests to violate the seal of confession if they became aware of allegations of child abuse or neglect while celebrating the sacrament of penance. Critics say the bill would deny Constitutional religious liberty protections, and that there is no evidence it would actually prevent child abuse.

The bill, California SB 360, requires clergy members to report to law enforcement knowledge or suspicion of child abuse or neglect, “including when the clergy member acquires the knowledge or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication.”

Clergy in California are already required to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse in most circumstances, though penitential conversations like sacramental confession are exempted, as are other kinds of privileged conversations, among them those covered by attorney-client privilege.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.” Hill’s office declined to respond to requests from CNA for clarity or specific instances of the abuse cited.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a May 15 column that Hill’s claim is “simply not true. Hearings on the bill have not presented a single case — in California or anywhere else ­— where this kind of crime could have been prevented if a priest had disclosed information he had heard in confession.”

“SB 360 claims to solve a crisis that does not exist,” Gomez said.

While priests are forbidden from disclosing the contents of sacramental confessions under any circumstances, and face excommunication for doing so, few believe Hill’s bill would prevent child abuse.

California Catholic Conference executive director Andy Rivas told Angelus News May 15 that “there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose what is learned in the confessional would prevent a single case of child abuse.”

If penitents report being abused, several priests told CNA, they are generally asked to discuss the matter with the priest-confessor immediately after confession has ended. When such conversations take place after confession, clergy members in California are already required by law to report them.

The bill is not the first time Hill has taken issue with internal Church practices. In 2015, he signed a letter urging San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to end an archdiocesan requirement that Catholic school teachers live in accord with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

The letter said the requirement had “a divisive tone, which stands in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and its history.”

The right to confidential religious communications has been recognized in Western legal traditions for centuries. The sacrament of confession is understood within Catholic teaching to be a revelation to God of sins, and confession is kept absolutely confidential in order to ensure that no penitent is discouraged from making use of the sacrament.

California’s bill would be a striking reversal of long-standing legal precedent preceding even the foundation of the United States. The state would be the first to explicitly revoke religious confidentiality while keeping protection for other kinds of confidential conversations in place.

Gomez’ May 15 column noted directly that the proposed measure “only targets Catholic priests.”

While the bill’s sponsor insists that’s not true, the bill was introduced shortly after the release a Pennsylvania grand jury reporting detailing decades of clerical sexual abuse allegations, and after the scandal that began June 20, 218, when credible allegations of abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick were made public.

Gomez also said this week that “from a public policy standpoint, if the goal is to prevent child sexual abuse, it does not make sense to single out Catholic priests and the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which is the formal name for confession.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California’s largest, has faced two allegations of child sexual abuse by priests in the last ten years. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there are seven allegations of clerical sexual abuse made each year, across the United States.

Although all educators in California, as in most states, are mandated reporters, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 10% of public school students in the U.S. will experience sexual misconduct by a school employee before graduating from high school. 6,220,413 students were enrolled in California public schools in 2017-2018, according to the state’s department of education. If California does not significantly deviate from national statistics, 622,041 of those students are likely to experience sexual misconduct by public school employees before graduation.

Hill, himself a licensed teacher, has not weighed in publicly on another California bill that would remove the civil statute of limitations for lawsuits involving sexual abuse claims against employees of public schools and other California institutions.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, along with five other California dioceses, established May 14 an independently managed compensation program, which would provide compensatory payment to those alleging to be victims of priestly sexual abuse, regardless of what that abuse is alleged to have happened.

Gomez, for his part, has called Catholics to oppose the confession bill, which he called “a mortal threat to the religious freedom of every Catholic.”

“The privacy of that intimate conversation — our ability to speak with total honesty from our lips to God’s ear — is absolutely vital to our relationship with God,” Gomez wrote.

At the same time, the archbishop encouraged Catholics to pray for the healing of abuse victims and their families.

“Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us bring healing to every victim-survivor of abuse and help us build a society where every child is loved, protected, and safe.”

 

 

Police search Dallas diocesan chancery

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 12:30

Dallas, Texas, May 15, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Police are conducting a search of Church premises in the Diocese of Dallas. Officers executed a warrant on the chancery offices at 7:30 am local time.

Investigators from the Dallas child exploitation unit arrived at the chancery Wednesday morning to search for information and evidence in relation to five current or former clergy of the diocese.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the investigation is focused on Fr. Edmundo Paredes, Fr. Richard Thomas Brown, Fr. Alejandro Buitrago, Fr. William Joseph Hughes, Jr., and Fr. Jeremy Myers.

Local media have also reported that searches are being carried out at a warehouse storage facility and the parish of St. Cecilia in Oak Cliff.

All five men were included in a list of names of clergy “credibly” accused of sexual abuse released by the dioceses of Texas in January. The Diocese of Dallas released the name of 31 accused clerics, including 24 incardinated in the diocese and seven priests either from other dioceses or religious orders who had worked in Dallas.

Local media have reported that police increased their investigations into clerical sexual abuse in the diocese following the January release of names.

Fr. Paredes is the former pastor of St. Cecilia’s. After serving in the parish for 27 years, he was suspended from ministry in June 2017, under suspicion of having stolen between $60,000 - $80,000 from the parish. In February of 2018, Paredes was accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys over the course of his time at the parish.

Paredes fled the diocese and his whereabouts are currently unknown, though Burns has previously said the diocese believes he returned to the Philippines, from where he originally came.

Both Meyers and Buitrago were removed from ministry in 2018.

On Wednesday morning, a diocesan spokesperson told local media that the diocese was “surprised” by the early morning search, but that chancery staff were "cooperating" with investigators. 

"We've been talking with and working with police throughout the process," said Annette Gonzales Taylor. "We're obviously surprised by it this morning."

The Diocese of Dallas is home to more than 1.2 million Catholics. Bishop Burns has served in the diocese since his appointment in December 2016.

Prior to his arrival, Dallas was led by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who now serves as the head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in the Vatican.

This story is developing

It's time to fight for holiness, Bishop Barron tells 2019 Catholic grads

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 05:22

Santa Paula, Calif., May 15, 2019 / 03:22 am (CNA).- Contemporary America is “mission territory,” and young Catholics must step up to respond to the twin crises of Church corruption and increasing religious disaffiliation, Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles said in a recent speech.

Speaking to young graduates, Barron cited a “time to fight” by becoming saints and sanctifying the world.

“Don’t wait for other reformers to arise; this is your moment to meet this crucial moral challenge. And no pusillanimous people need apply,” he said at the May 11 commencement for Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., where the college’s graduating class numbered 83.

Barron, citing Pope Francis, said that corruption is not far behind when the Church fails to go outward and instead turns in on itself.

For Barron, the Thomas Aquinas College campus reminded him of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary because of its “distinctive blend of natural and man-made beauty.” He compared it to “something of a Catholic heaven on earth.” It is a campus he said offers liturgy, prayer, fellowship, and “deep communion with the saints and geniuses of the Catholic tradition.”

“Just as the students at Mundelein were not meant to stay on the grounds of the seminary, so you are not meant to stay at this lovely place,” he added. “Rather, you are meant to go forth, carrying what you have received and cultivated here, in order to sanctify our suffering world.”

In his remarks, Barron named two challenges that call forth “heroic moral excellence,” namely corruption in the Church and “the massive attrition of our own Catholic people, especially the young.”

“Wicked priests and clueless religious superiors are, sadly, nothing particularly new in the life of God’s people,” he said.

“Undermining the work of the Church in practically every way, the clerical sex abuse catastrophe has been the devil’s masterpiece,” the bishop continued, acknowledging that many Catholics face the temptation to leave the Church.

“But it is my conviction that this is not the time to leave; this is the time to fight,” said Barron.

He encouraged the new graduates to fight by entering the priesthood or religious life as well as to “fight by your very holiness of life, becoming the saint that God wants you to become.”

The young should fight by “calling for real reform” and “insisting that the guilty be held accountable.” He encouraged graduates to do a daily Holy Hour to purify the Church, to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to take part in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to evangelize. They should sanctify their family, their workplace, public life, and the realms of politics, sports and entertainment, he said.

Another great crisis, according to Barron, is the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. The religiously unaffiliated in early 1970s America made up only 3%, doubling to 6% by the early 90s. At present, they make up nearly 25% of Americans. About 40% of Americans under 30 describe themselves as non-affiliated.

For every one person who becomes Catholic, six leave the faith.

“Any way one looks at these statistics, one must conclude that we are hemorrhaging young people from religion in general and Catholicism in particular,” the bishop said.

Disbelief in the teachings of Christianity is the principal reason for people leaving the faith. They find Christianity “intellectually untenable,” Barron said.

However, he suggested that Thomas Aquinas College graduates are “specially qualified for the arduous task of engaging the army of skeptics who have wandered from the Church.” The graduates’ contemplation of great intellectuals is good in itself, but at this moment it should give rise to “active evangelization and compelling apologetics.”

Barron drew on St. Thomas Aquinas’ reflections on the virtue of magnanimity, “the quality of having a great soul,” and the vice of pusillanimity, faintheartedness or fear of attempting moral excellence.

“It seems to me that the entire purpose of the programs here at Thomas Aquinas College is to produce magnanimous people, young women and men of great souls, capable of high moral achievement, willing and able to undertake arduous tasks for which they will rightly merit great honor,” he said. “Thomas Aquinas College has no interest in giving rise to pusillanimous graduates, men and women with small souls, who would shrink from the difficult moral challenge of the present time.”

He told the graduates they faced “arduous tasks” and “choppy seas,” but he encouraged them that they had been prepared.

“Your four years here have given you great souls. Let them be unleashed!” his commencement address concluded. “God bless you all!”

Alabama Senate outlaws abortion, setting up Supreme Court Roe v. Wade challenge

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 22:57

Montgomery, Ala., May 14, 2019 / 08:57 pm (CNA).- The Alabama Senate approved a bill Thursday that will outlaw nearly all abortion in the state. The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, is intended to be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional state measures prohibiting abortion.

The Human Life Protection Act (HB314), if signed into law, will make attempting or performing an abortion a felony offense. Doctors who perform abortion would be charged with a Class A felony and could face between 10 years and life in prison.

The penalty would apply only to doctors, not to mothers, who, according to the bill’s sponsors, would not face criminal penalties for undergoing abortions.

The state Senate engaged in fierce debate last week, which ultimately erupted in a shouting match on the Senate floor,  over whether an exemption for cases of rape or incest should be included in the bill. A vote scheduled for May 10 was delayed after exemption was removed from the Senate’s bill following a voice vote May 9.

The measure does include a provision that would allow abortions “in cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child's mother.”

The bill defines a serious health risk as a condition requiring an abortion “to avert [the mother’s] death or to avert serious risk of substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

Opponents pledged months ago to challenge the legislation in court. This is exactly what the bill’s sponsors expected. Supporters say court challenges could lead to a reversal  the Roe v. Wade decision.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham said in April that the legislation reflects “the strong commitment that the people of Alabama have to life.”

In an April 3 statement, the bishop praised the lawmakers’ efforts.

“I strongly support these bills and stand behind the efforts of these legislators to promote life and to, hopefully in the near future, eliminate this evil we know as abortion from within the boundaries of the State of Alabama; and, eventually, to make the killing of unborn children in our country something that is no longer viewed as anything but the horrendous and inhumane killing of the most innocent among us that it is,” he said.

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), sponsor of the House bill, said the bill passed Thursday is designed to “confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person,” Collins added. "This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is.”

“It is meant to actually use some of the same language that is addressed in Roe vs. Wade. So, hopefully it just completely takes it all the way to the Supreme Court eventually to overturn.”

 

 

 

After alumni organize advocacy, Georgetown Visitation will recognize alumnae same-sex legal unions

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 19:16

Washington D.C., May 14, 2019 / 05:16 pm (CNA).- A Catholic girls’ high school has announced that its alumni magazine will publish notices of the same-sex legal unions of former students. The decision comes after a school alumnae group organized to advocate for a change to school policy.
 
Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, DC, is run by the Salesian Sisters of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. The school announced its policy change in an emailed letter sent May 3 to school students, families, and alumnae.

Sister Mary Berchmans VSM, superior of the monastery responsible for the school, and the school’s former president, signed the email.

The letter was not signed by Dan Kerns, Head of School, nor by any other member of the Board of Directors. Karns is due to retire from the school in July.  

Berchmans’ email said a decision to recognize the same-sex legal unions of alumnae had been reached by “school and Monastery leadership after much prayerful consideration and thoughtful dialogue.”

Part of that dialogue appears to have taken place with a small group of pro-LGBT alumnae and activists.

Before the decision was made, alumnae calling themselves the Georgetown Visitation Alumnae for Equity established a private Facebook group in which they discussed efforts to encourage the school to recognize same-sex unions of alumnae.

In the Facebook group, one former student posted the text of an email she sent to Kerns and Berchmans, in which she described herself as a “proudly gay alumna” and complained that the school had declined to publish in its magazine the notice of a same-sex union filed by another alumna.

“I understand that recently a fellow alumna submitted a wedding announcement and was denied publication. It is my further understanding that the administration’s rationale for the lack of inclusion is that you [the school] ‘have an obligation as a Catholic school to take no public position that is in conflict with the sated teachings of the Church at this moment.’”

The former student noted that notice of her own “marriage and same sex partnering” was included in the alumnae notes section of the magaizine in the early 2000s.

“When you talk about the teachings of the church, I want you to remember all of the teachings of the church. I want you to remember to Live Jesus,” the former Visitation student told Berchmans and Kerns.

The alumna posted to the Facebook group the text of a reply from Berchmans, who said that the school was working “towards a solution.”

In her May email to the school community, Berchmans used similar language to the former student's letter, writing that she had been “reflect[ing] upon what it means to Live Jesus in relationship with our LGBTQ alumnae.”

“The Church is clear in its teaching on same-sex marriages,” Berchmans wrote. “But, it is equally clear in its teaching that we are all children of God, that we each have dignity and are worthy of respect and love.”

The religious sister also wrote that she had been praying over what she called the “contradiction” between the Church’s perennial teachings on human sexuality and the Gospel imperative to love.

Noting that “the Church, in its humanity, makes mistakes,” Berchmans said that she was compelled to make a “choice: we can focus on Church teaching on gay marriage or we can focus on Church teaching on the Gospel commandment of love.”

“Beginning with the fall issue of our alumnae magazine, we will publish news of our alumnae’s same-sex unions, along with all updates our alums choose to share with their classmates.”

There are divergent accounts of how the school’s decision has been received among the Visitation community.

A member of the Facebook group posted earlier this month that “Sr. Mary Berchmans is struggling from the amount of negative pushback from members of the Visitation community” after Berchmans announced the decision. The same member noted that Berchmans might be required to “defend” her decision to the school’s board of directors, and called for letters of support to be sent to her and the school.

The Washington Post reported May 13 that a Visitation spokesperson called responses to Berman’s email “overwhelmingly and heartwarmingly positive.”

The Post also reported that school officials had said there were “few complaints about the policy shift from students, parents and the school’s alumnae.”

Before the Washington Post’s story was published, a participant in the Georgetown Visitation Alumnae for Equity Facebook group posted that a Post reporter was working on the story, was a friend of another group member, and urged members of the group to contact him.


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One Visitation alumna told CNA that she only learned of the school’s decision when her daughter, a current Visitation student, received the email from Berchmans.

“It was a remarkable way to find out,” she said. “You don’t expect your child to be coming home and telling you about these things when they are supposed to be at a school forming them in the faith.”

The mother told CNA that many other parents objected to the decision but were concerned about confronting school administrators and faculty, noting that school officials seem to have already tacitly approved of retaining a teacher at the school who is widely known to be in a same-sex legal union.

A second parent with daughters at the school told CNA that within the school community there is pressure to conform and support “so-called LGBTQ values.” She said many parents feel pressure to support the same-sex union of one teacher, even if they feel it is inapproproate in the context of the school’s commitment to Catholic teaching.

“All the parents felt like we had to support this teachers ‘marriage,’ and we didn’t really know how to deal with it,” one parent said.

“You worry about soft discrimination against the children,” another mother said. “A’s become B’s very quickly, and you do not want to have a reputation as one of the ‘angry parents.’”

One parent also noted that the school holds an annual “diversity day” for which the students are assigned specific personas to assume, including homosexuality.

The same parents were also quick to insist that much of the school’s religious education and other programs are faithful to Catholic teaching.

“My daughter was taught the Theology of the Body, sound pro-life teaching, exactly what you would want in a Catholic school,” one mother said. “I think there is a minority among the faculty and staff that have gradually taken over parts of the school community and are just really committed to a very politically progressive agenda.”

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The Washington Post also reported May 13 that the Archdiocese of Washington said it had not been informed or consulted before Visitation’s decision was made and the email was sent.

While the school is not directly affiliated with the archdiocese, the archdiocese is responsible for ensuring independent Catholic schools maintain their Catholic identity, and is charged with providing advice and guidance on matters related to Church teaching.

An email circulated by school spokesperson Caroline Handorf to the school community May 13 said that representatives from the archdiocese supported the decision.

“We have been in touch with several contacts in the Archdiocese, including Bishop Michael Fisher, to ensure that we are aligned as we move forward and they are assured of our continued commitment to our Catholic identity and to the teachings of the Church,” Handorf wrote.

An archdiocesan spokesman told CNA May 14 that the archdiocese “was not made aware of the discussion on Catholic identity or the recent decision of the school to communicate the change for their alumni publication until after the letter announcing the decision was distributed to the wider Georgetown Visitation community.”

The spokesman also told CNA that Bishop Fisher had not been contacted prior to the email’s circulation.

Handorf has not responded to CNA’s requests for comment.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are “objectively disordered” and constitute a trial for those who experience them.

People who experience same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, the Church says, and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Successive popes have condemned the move towards civil recognition of same-sex unions by the state and expressed their concern that the concept undermines the natural law of the family and marriage, which is between a man and a woman.

Pope Francis has spoken about a state of “critical confusion at the moment” regarding marriage and gender in the world, observing that the word “marriage” can never be used to describe same-sex unions.

Speaking about the essential nature of marriage as between a man and a woman, Francis said in 2017 that “we cannot change it.”

“This is the nature of things,” the pope said, while observing that “we do not joke around with truth.”

Georgetown Visitation was founded in 1799, and is the oldest Catholic high school for girls in the United States. Tuition is $30,100. Approximately 500 students are enrolled in the school.

California bishops announce compensation program for abuse victims

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 18:56

Los Angeles, Calif., May 14, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Bishops in California announced May 14 a new program to compensate victims of clerical sexual abuse, through which any person sexually abused as a minor by a diocesan priest can apply for compensation— no matter when the abuse occurred.

“We have been providing pastoral care and financial support for victim-survivors here in the Archdiocese for many years. We will continue to do so,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a letter accompanying the announcement.  

“But we also understand that some victim-survivors are reluctant to come to the Church for assistance. Our hope with this new program is to give these people a chance to seek redress and healing through an independent program.”

The new program applies to six of California’s 13 Catholic dioceses— Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange, and Fresno. These six dioceses represent 80% of California’s Catholics, the announcement asserts.

The protocol for the program is still in draft form, so victims are not yet able to file claims, but a website dedicated to the program will be launched soon, spokesperson Amy Weiss told CNA.

Survivors can elect to enter this program as an alternative to pursuing their claims against the Church in court, the announcement notes. Victims will have to submit a claim form along with any supporting evidence.

Victims need not have a lawyer and there is no fee to participate; settlements for fully completed claims are to be paid within 90 days.

“Those harmed many years ago and barred from filing lawsuits because of civil statutes of limitations will be eligible to make claims under this new program,” the announcement says.

“Also, because this program has no proof-of-citizenship requirement, undocumented immigrants who may have been abused are also eligible to make claims.”

The program applies only to diocesan priests. Claims against members of religious orders active in California, or against deacons or laypeople, are not eligible. Victims who have previously entered into a settlement agreement resolving the claim of sexual abuse against a diocesan priest are also not eligible.

The bishops began been working with mediators Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros in November 2018 to develop the program. Feinberg and Biros will have full control over the amount of compensation each victim gets and the diocese will not be able to appeal their decision.

Feinberg is an attorney and mediator who led the Sept. 11 victims' fund and was involved in overseeing a compensation program in the wake of the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting in 2012. He and Biros recently led the creation of abuse victims compensation programs in New Jersey, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. They also administer the Archdiocese of New York’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which began in Oct. 2016.

Former California governor Gray Davis, and Maria Contreras-Sweet, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, are among the members of the independent oversight board overseeing the fund.

California’s diocese have paid out nearly $1.5 billion in settlements to survivors of sexual abuse in the past two decades alone, the announcement says. Safeguards diocese have implemented to protect children have included training on abuse prevention and reporting, and stricter background checks and reporting requirements.

“As a result, new cases of sexual misconduct by priests involving minors are rare today in the Catholic Church in California. Nonetheless, the Bishops undertake this program in their continued efforts to provide avenues for victim-survivors of abuse to receive assistance to continue their healing,” the announcement concludes.

 

New Jersey extends statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 18:56

Newark, N.J., May 14, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law this week a bill relaxing the state’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims.

The law will allow increased time for civil action and will permit victims to seek compensation from institutions as well as individuals.

The Archdiocese of Newark objected to certain portions of the bill, but stressed that overall, the Catholic Church is in favor of its crucial goal of bringing justice and healing for victims.

“While we disagreed on specific elements of this legislation, the Catholic community, the legislature, and the Governor sincerely agree on one key position - the need to restore justice for the victims of sexual abuse in New Jersey,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

Currently, the statute of limitations in New Jersey restricts sex abuse lawsuits to when the victim is 20 years old or two years after they first realize that they were harmed by abuse. In December, the new legislation will allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later.

For those who have been previously barred from seeking damages, the law will also offer a two-year window to pursue legal action.

During a debate on the legislation in February, the state’s Catholic conference argued that only individual offenders, not institutions, should face civil action for past sexual abuse.

According to the Associated Press, Patrick Brannigan, executive director for the Catholic Conference of New Jersey, said the Church will fully comply with the government, noting that it “sincerely regrets that some in the Church failed to protect children.” However, he had requested the law’s start date be delayed.

Governor Murphy recognized the financial concern for organizations but highlighted the responsibility to the victims of sexual abuse.

“Survivors of sexual abuse deserve opportunities to seek redress against their abusers,” he said, according to North Jersey. “ This legislation allows survivors who have faced tremendous trauma the ability to pursue justice through the court system.”

In February, all the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey released lists of clergy who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940.

On the list is disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who headed New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen from 1981 until 1986 and the Archdiocese of Newark from 1986 until 2000. He retired as Archbishop of Washington.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after being credibly accused of abusing two minor boys. He was found guilty by the Holy See and was removed from the clerical state in February.

As part of efforts to foster the healing of victims and as an alternative to lawsuits, the five Catholic dioceses of New Jersey have set up their own compensation fund. The Catholic Conference said the compensation fund offers a quicker alternative to the litigation process with a lower level of proof than is required by the court.

According to North Jersey, Senator Joseph Vitale, the primary sponsor of the new law, expressed concern about the trustworthiness of institutions. He also said it is important that the names of abusers are released to the public.

“With a compensation fund, there's no discovery. You are offered a sum of money for your injury and therapy. But the public doesn't know what happened or who the pedophiles are, and that's critical to know so we can protect children,” Vitale said.

In the statement on Monday, the Archdiocese of Newark reiterated its current efforts to help promote the healing of sex abuse vicitms, as well as steps taken to prevent future abuse.

“The Catholic community is confident that the Independent Victims Compensation Program established by the five dioceses in New Jersey is a significant step towards restoring justice for those who, as minors, were abused by ministers of the Church,” the archdiocese said.

“Further, we are committed to the comprehensive healing of those harmed and we will continue our policies aimed at protecting children from abuse.”

Sale of consecrated hosts violates Etsy's policies, website confirms

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 14:28

Washington D.C., May 14, 2019 / 12:28 pm (CNA).- An Etsy representative has clarified that the sale of consecrated hosts for the purpose of desecration is a violation of the e-commerce website’s terms.

A petition asking Etsy to confirm that it does not allow the sale of consecrated hosts gained thousands of signatures overnight, following a listing claiming to offer hosts to abuse.

On May 7, the Etsy account “Pentagora” claimed to be selling “Real Catholic Hosts, consecrated by a priest.” The hosts were advertised “to abuse for classic black fairs or black magic purposes.” The listing claimed to be selling a package of nine hosts that had been consecrated in Germany.

In the following days, the listing drew attention on Twitter, with critics arguing that it violated Etsy’s policies. The popular online marketplace only allows for the sale of items that are handmade, vintage, or craft supplies. Stolen items are explicitly prohibited, as are items that “support or glorify hatred toward people or otherwise demean people based upon: race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation.”

A few days later, the listing for the consecrated hosts was marked as “Sold Out.” It was subsequently deleted.

On May 13, a Change.org petition was started, calling on Etsy to clarify that the sale of consecrated hosts is a violation of the platform’s policies.

“Catholics believe that Consecrated Hosts are truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is the most precious thing in our religion,” the petition said.

“It is given freely, and so the only reason anyone could ever have to sell it would by definition be illicit. To sell them ‘for abuse’ is hateful against the Catholic Church, and should be prohibited by Etsy.”

The petition recognized that Etsy does not screen individual listings, but said that “to prevent this happening again, we ask that Etsy add ‘Consecrated Hosts’ to their already strict list of prohibited items.”

By the following day, the petition had gained more than 7,500 signatures. Jess Kallberg, policy manager for Etsy, responded to the petition May 14, confirming that “the reselling of consecrated hosts is a violation of our policies.”

Etsy removed the “sold out” listing promptly upon being notified of it, she said.

Kallberg reiterated Etsy’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment, including for religious users.

She noted that listings are not pre-approved before appearing on the site.

“We rely on each seller to ensure the items they list adhere to our policies, and our specialized teams take action when we see items that violate these policies,” she said. “We strongly encourage anyone who sees an item that violates our policies to submit a flag by clicking the ‘Report this item to Etsy’ link at the bottom of the listing.”

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