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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: 42 min 37 sec ago

Patrick: The saint who knew what it was like to be a slave

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 06:04

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2019 / 04:04 am (CNA).- Among the most popular saints today, Saint Patrick was a bishop and missionary to Ireland. However, he also spent several years as a slave, and once issued a heartfelt plea on behalf of girls and boys abducted into slavery.

In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, St. Patrick intended to shame the fifth-century general whose raiding soldiers the saint declared to be “blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.” He denounced those who “divide out defenseless baptized women like prizes.”

Patrick said he did not know what grieved him more: those who were slain, those who were captured, or the enslavers themselves – “those whom the devil so deeply ensnared.”

The plea is all the more poignant because St. Patrick was himself a former slave. In his letter he wrote that Irish raiders once took him captive and slaughtered the men and women servants of his father’s household.

“He would have known acutely what these slaves were going through, because he was the victim of just such a raid,” said Jennifer Paxton, a history professor who teaches at The Catholic University of America’s Irish Studies program.

“In the fifth century this kind of raiding was endemic, all around the British Isles. He was stolen from someplace, we’re not sure where, in western Britain, and taken to captivity in Ireland.”

He spent six years tending sheep for his master.

“Obviously he did not enjoy his time as a slave and wanted it to end,” Paxton told CNA. “So he would have definitely identified with these victims.”

The saint’s letter is a unique witness in medieval history.

“We do not have any other first person account of someone who was captured by barbarians and survived,” the history professor explained. “We have nothing else quite like it.”

The letter was written to be read aloud elsewhere, with the hope that Coroticus and his men would eventually hear of it and come under popular pressure. St. Patrick said those who hear the letter should “not fawn on such people” and should not share food or drink with them until they release their captives and “make satisfaction to God in severe penance and shedding of tears.”

Paxton said St. Patrick’s style is “somewhat defensive” because “he is up against tremendous odds, and he knows it.”

“He does not, as far as we know, ever get these captives back,” Paxton continued. “What we have is this cri de coeur that has resonated down through the ages. But he doesn’t manage to save them.”

She speculated that St. Patrick must have felt “the tragedy of seeing these people newly saved from damnation by baptism, and (then) taken away into slavery.”

Modern slavery is an enduring problem. In Nigeria, where St. Patrick is a patron saint, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram became infamous for the April 2014 abductions of several hundred girls from a school in the country’s northeast.

In December 2014 major religious leaders including Pope Francis signed a joint declaration at the Vatican urging the eradication of modern slavery. A 2014 report from the organization Walk Free estimated that almost 36 million people worldwide suffer some form of slavery, with 61,000 people held in slave conditions in the United States.

As for St. Patrick, his letter seeking the release of slaves was not widely circulated. It was preserved in a few places, including the Book of Armagh. Paxton said the letter played little role in Christian debates over slavery, which was taken for granted for centuries.

Slavery’s decline in Europe doesn’t owe much to Church efforts, she said. “It was more economic forces that led to its decline, I’m sad to say,” Paxton remarked, adding that Coroticus himself was probably a Christian.

St. Patrick became known for his life of sacrifice, prayer and fasting. Although he was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, he is widely regarded as the most successful.

Paxton noted that St. Patrick’s letter and his other known work, the Confession of St. Patrick, are “steeped in the scriptures.”

“He basically writes in scriptural quotations. That’s the way Patrick thinks,” she said.

St. Patrick’s use of the Bible is rare in a medieval text because he quotes from many different sections of the Bible: the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and numerous prophetic books.

Paxton said she found Patrick “a really fascinating figure.” In later legends he became a “wonder-working superhero” who expelled the snakes from Ireland and defeated druids in battle.

“But the real St. Patrick of his own words is really a far more moving and inspiring example for Christians of today,” she added.

“Ireland was never the same as a result of what he did. That’s something I think we should all be impressed by, somebody who himself was very marginal, who was not a major figure in his own Church, persevered in the face of all these obstacles and achieved something really wonderful.”

This article was originally published on CNA March 17, 2015.

Cardinal DiNardo hospitalized after 'mild stroke'

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 20:33

Houston, Texas, Mar 16, 2019 / 06:33 pm (CNA).- The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference was hospitalized March 15 after suffering a mild stroke, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which has been led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo since 2006.

“It is expected that Cardinal DiNardo will remain hospitalized for a few more days of testing and observation, followed by a transfer to another facility for rehabilitation.  He is grateful to the doctors and nurses for their wonderful care and for continued prayers during his recovery,” the March 16 statement said.

“The Cardinal is resting comfortably and conversing with associates, doctors and nurses.”

DiNardo, 69, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1977. As a priest, he spent six years working in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, and became Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, in 1998. He became coadjutor bishop of Galveston-Houston in 2004, and was installed as archbishop of that archdiocese two years later.

DiNardo became a member of the College of Cardinals in 2007. He was the first Archbishop of Galveston-Houston to be appointed a cardinal.

The cardinal began in 2016 a three-year term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He served as vice president of bishops’ conference from 2013 to 2016.

The archdiocesan statement said that DiNardo is eager to resume his duties. According to the statement, DiNardo said today that “with so much to do, I am looking forward to getting back to work as soon as possible.”

Facebook uses AI to tackle revenge porn on social media

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 18:50

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 16, 2019 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- Facebook has announced that it will begin using AI software to prevent and restrict the distribution of non-consensual sexual material – also known as revenge porn.

In a March 15 statement, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, said the new technology will detect nude videos or pictures distributed without permission on Instagram and Facebook.

“This means we can find this content before anyone reports it, which is important for two reasons: often victims are afraid of retribution so they are reluctant to report the content themselves or are unaware the content has been shared,” she wrote.

Davis said the machine learning and artificial intelligence technology will identify the problematic material. The company’s Community Operations team will then determine whether the content violates Facebook’s policies and, if it does, likely disable the account of the offender.

The company already had a policy of removing content with sexual violence or exploitation, including intimate images shared without consent and advertisements of sexual services, once it was reported to them.

Use of the new technology is an attempt to be proactive in finding such content more quickly.

The program will build on a pilot project, which ran in Australia in 2017. Under this initiative, individuals fearing retaliation from an angry ex-partner may submit intimate photos to Facebook proactively. The social media platform will then use a digital fingerprint of the picture to preemptively ban the image from ever being distributed on its website.  

Davis said Facebook will also launch “Not without my consent” – a victim-support center. Here, individuals who have been targeted by revenge pornography can learn about actions they can take to delete the content and prevent its further promotion. The support center is a joint project of numerous international groups including the U.S. Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

In addition, Facebook hosted a March 15 event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City with Dubravka Šimonović, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and other advocates and experts.

The goal of the event was to “discuss how this abuse manifests around the world; its causes and consequences; the next frontier of challenges that need to be addressed; and strategies for deterrence,” said Davis.

Revenge porn laws have been on the rise, both in the U.S. and globally. Forty-three states and Washington D.C. have laws banning the distribution of this material in place. New York is the most recent state to criminalize revenge porn, earlier this year.

 

Abortion rights advocates to challenge pro-life bills in Kentucky

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 08:01

Frankfort, Ky., Mar 16, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Kentucky legislature passed two pro-life bills this week, which are expected to be signed by the governor. The bills, which would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and for discriminatory reasons, are already facing planned legal challenges.

The Senate passed HB 5 by a 32-4 vote March 13, meant to prevent discriminatory abortion decisions. The House approved SB 9 March 14 by a vote of 71-19, a legislation that bans abortion after a heartbeat has been detected. Both pieces of legislation passed through their legislative counterparts last month.

The bills need to be signed by Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who has emphasized the state’s pro-life stance and is expected to the sign the bills into law.

Shortly after the legislation was passed, American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the anti-discrimination bill and promised to open another case against the fetal heartbeat ban. The organization is acting on behalf of the state’s only abortion clinic, located in Louisville.

Following the lawsuit’s announcement, Governor Bevin responded on Twitter, challenging the organization to face the pro-life attitude of Kentucky.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bring it!<br><br>Kentucky will always fight for life...<br><br>Always!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreProLife?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreProLife</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreKY?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreKY</a> <a href="https://t.co/Qioq9iEQb8">https://t.co/Qioq9iEQb8</a></p>&mdash; Governor Matt Bevin (@GovMattBevin) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovMattBevin/status/1105957222796984321?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 13, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

HB 5 prohibits abortions to be performed because of the baby’s gender, race, national origin, or disability. Under the bill, doctors would be required “to certify a lack of knowledge that the pregnant woman's intent” was in line with discrimination. The doctors would subjected to losing their license if the measure is violated.  

According to Cincinnati Public Radio, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a sponsor of the bill, said the legislation was anti-discriminatory.

"House Bill 5 would hold the abortionist accountable for performing an abortion for a specific reason: because the baby is a boy or a girl, because the baby is a particular race or because they might be born with a known or suspected disability," Alvarado said.

In a March 13 statement, Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the law restricts a woman’s ability to make a decision on abortion.

“Kentucky women must be able to have private conversations with their health care providers and must be able to decide whether to have an abortion. We see this legislation for exactly what it is – part of a campaign to prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion if she needs one – and we won’t stand for it,” she said.

The heartbeat ban would require an examination to determine whether the fetus has a heartbeat or not. If so, an abortion would be prohibited, unless the mother’s health is at risk.

“It recognizes that at the sound of a heartbeat, that a child is living,” said Rep. Chris Fugate, according to the Associated Press.

“And at the sound of a heartbeat, those who would kill the unborn child would not be allowed to do so anymore. Senate Bill 9 recognizes a heartbeat as a sign of life.”

In a March 14 statement, Amiri said the abortion heartbeat ban was a common move by anti-abortion groups, noting that Kentucky has become the most recent state to pass this bill. In recent years, a handful of states have passed similar legislation, although they generally face difficulties in court.

“These bans are blatantly unconstitutional, and we will ask the court to strike it down,” she said.

Last month, testimonies were given in front of the Kentucky Senate before votes were cast. April Lanham, a local resident, allowed the heartbeat of her unborn baby to be played through an electronic monitor. Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic and now pro-life activist, also spoke at the event.

“Abortion can never, on its face, be safe, because in order for an abortion to be deemed successful, an individual and unique human with a beating heart must die,” Johnson said, according to WDRB.

New Mexico Senate blocks repeal of state abortion ban

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 17:26

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal to repeal the state’s law criminalizing abortion, which dates to 1969. The state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the law’s repeal.

Eight Democrats joined all 16 Republicans in opposing House Bill 51, voting it down 24-18. The House of Representatives passed the bill last month, and Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had promised to sign the measure into law.

At issue is a New Mexico law which makes it is a felony for any doctor to perform abortions, except in instances of congenital abnormalities, rape, and a danger to the woman’s health. The law has not been enforced since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

Democratic Sen. Gabriel Ramos reportedly cited his religious beliefs and the Catholic Church before voting against House Bill 51, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“This is one of the toughest decisions any of us will ever have to make,” he was quoted as saying in the Journal.

“I stand unified against legislation that weakens the defense of life and threatens the dignity of the human being.”

The debate over the bill lasted for hours and featured emotional and sometimes tearful testimonies from both opponents and supporters, the Journal reported.

Advocates for House Bill 51 had expressed concern about a possible repeal of Roe v. Wade. Representative Joanne Ferrary, co-sponsor of the bill, has said the bill was a necessary protection to ensure abortion services are “safe and legal.”

"It is time to remove this archaic law from New Mexico's books," she said, according to Las Cruces Sun News.

"With the threat of a Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe, we need to pass this bill to protect health care providers and keep abortion safe and legal.”

In a Jan. 7 statement ahead of the House passing the bill, Bishop James Wall of Gallup voiced his opposition and encouraged lawmakers to focus on policies that support human prosperity at all stages of life.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” he said.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living.”

Eight other states have laws that would also ban abortion and four additional states have “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

Michigan governor asks for additional $2m to investigate clergy sex abuse

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 16:54

Lansing, Mich., Mar 15, 2019 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the state’s ongoing sex abuse investigation into Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses.

Spurred by the release of the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania last year, which documented hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse that took place over several decades in almost every diocese in the state, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the state’s own investigation in August 2018.

This week, Whitmer asked the state legislature for additional funding to cover the costs of the rest of the investigation, which is expected to last two years, The Detroit News reported.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, told The Detroit News that while the investigation had thus far been covered internally by the state department, “the sheer size and scope of the investigation requires that we ask the Legislature to appropriate funds for this project.”

Rossman-McKinney told The Detroit News that the requested funding would come from state settlements, and would be used to cover “additional investigatory resources and victims’ advocacy services,” pending approval by the state legislature.

The investigation covers all seven Catholic dioceses in the state - Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and Detroit - and includes cases of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s.

After the announcement of the investigation in the fall of 2018, the dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit said at the time that they “looked forward” to cooperating with state officials and actively participating in the investigation. The archdiocese also emphasized its confidence in its safe environment practices already in place, but added that the investigation would be the next step toward healing.

While the dioceses have pledged cooperation, in a press conference last month, Nessel warned dioceses against “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements with victims, and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with state authorities.

The Archdiocese of Detroit countered that Nessel was making “broad generalizations” and that she should clarify which dioceses, if any, were being uncooperative.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit does not self-police,” the archdiocese said Feb. 21. “We encourage all victims to report abuse directly to law enforcement.”

“Clergy with credible accusations against them do not belong in ministry,” it added. “Since the attorney general’s investigation began, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not received notification from that office regarding credible accusations against any of our priests. Should we become aware of such a complaint, we will act immediately.”

The Detroit archdiocese noted its support for mandatory sex abuse reporting laws and its efforts to widely publicize the state’s sex abuse tip-line. It added that the archdiocese places no time limits on the reporting of sex abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other personnel. The archdiocese added that the attorney general’s office has not asked it to stop internal review processes.

Other dioceses responded in kind, asking for clarification and reiterating their dedication to cooperation and transparency.

Each diocese was subject to a raid by state authorities last October as part of the investigation, for which the dioceses pledged full cooperation, including Saginaw, which had undergone an earlier, local raid in March, in which local authorities cited a lack of cooperation from diocesan officials.

In a statement, Saginaw emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the state raids in October.

According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Attorney General’s office has received approximately 360 complaints since the investigation began in August.

Last year the state extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years in criminal cases, and 10 in civil. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim's 28th birthday.

State officials have urged victims of clergy abuse or those with tips pertinent to the investigation to file complaints with the clergy abuse hotline at (1-844-324-3374) or online at mi.gov/clergyabuse.

What Catholic universities are doing to address the sex abuse crisis

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Late last summer, as accusations of abuse against then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick surfaced, a grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailed decades and hundreds of cases of clerical abuse, and dioceses began listing their priests accused of sexual abuse, lay Catholics horrified by the news grasped for something they could do.

Some started letter-writing campaigns, prayer campaigns or petitions. Others launched anonymous watchdog websites. A social media campaign with the hashtag #SackClothandAshes encouraged the laity to offer fasting and sacrifices for the sins of the clergy.

Now, several Catholic universities have announced how they’re joining in the reform efforts.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. recently announced the launch of ‘The Catholic Project’, an initiative aimed at bringing healing and reform to the Church after the sex abuse crisis.

Leaders at the university have said that as the pontifical university in the U.S., CUA is uniquely situated to respond to the crisis in a number of ways.

“CUA has a unique place in the American Catholic landscape, being sort of the bishop’s university that has a special relationship with the Vatican, but it’s also a lay-led institution,” Stephen White, who was named executive director of the project, told CNA.

It also makes sense geographically for CUA to respond to the crisis, White said, since it sits across the street from headquarters of the U.S. bishop’s conference and is in Washington, D.C., the same city where the now-laicized McCarrick had previously served as cardinal and archbishop.

Furthermore, White said, CUA has a host of invaluable resources at its fingertips.

“(CUA) has all of these assets at its disposal - a law school, a canon law faculty (the only one in the country), theologians, social workers who’ve been working on these questions for decades now,” White said. “It’s sort of a perfect place for a response to the crisis.”

But what form will that response take? There are many, White said.

“It’s sort of an all-of-the-above approach which is sort of why the name of this project came to be ‘The Catholic Project,’” White said.
“We came to realize that there were so many aspects to this and so many things the University can do, that we chose a broader, more generic name.”

Some of those aspects of response began before The Catholic Project existed, such as listening sessions the university hosted with students, a forum where students could vent their frustrations and fears about the crisis. It included a panel discussion “Church in Crisis” series, which included panel discussions about the crisis.

One of the upcoming initiatives of the project will be a collaboration with the USCCB, which will bring bishops together with abuse victims who want to share their story and help the Church heal.

“(They) understand that the Church needs bishops, and they understand that if the Church is going to heal from this, and move forward from this, that the bishops need to understand the survivor’s perspective and that survivors have something to give to heal the Church, even though they are the ones who are least responsible for where we are,” White said.

The project will also be promoting research into sociological questions surrounding the crisis, White said, such as: “What was it that made the abuse spike like it did in the middle of the 20th century? Why did that happen? Was this unique to the Catholic Church or were there other institutions who saw similar spikes? Has the Dallas Charter (the bishop’s previous abuse prevention plan) worked? And if it has worked, what parts of it have worked? Are there parts that have been implemented but that didn’t really make much of a difference, or parts that worked, and what are those parts?”

Another part of the project will work with the business school to come up with ways to help priests and bishops be better managers of their parishes and dioceses.

“When you have an organization that’s run transparently and efficiently and well, you’re less likely to have parts of the organization where bad things can fester,” White said.

“So there’s lots of different components to (the project),” he added.

White also recognized that academic work and research are not going to solve completely the problem.

“But it’s important, and the work that’s going to have to be done in chanceries, and parishes, and bishop’s conferences, is work that can be helped by the things that we’re going to be doing at CUA,” he said.

Other Catholic universities and colleges are responding in similarly strong and broad ways.

Fordham University in New York recently announced a lecture titled “Reckoning and Reform: New Horizons on the Clergy Abuse Crisis” as a part of their ongoing response to the abuse crisis.

David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, told CNA that the event will be a two-part presentation aimed at helping people understand the crisis and what can be done moving forward.

“People are upset and understandably just aghast at what is going on, but in order to find some solutions we have to figure out what has happened,” Gibson told CNA.

Gibson said that by hosting the event in the late afternoon and evening, he hoped to catch some “Catholic regular working folks who are vitally interested in this kind of thing and they can attend,” he said.

“Academic conferences are good and a lot of people are doing those kinds of things, but I think it's also really important that we do things that can get regular Catholics coming to attend them and to get informed on these kind of things so it's not just ‘professional Catholics’,” he said.

Gibson added that Catholic universities and colleges will be “indispensable” in the response to the sex abuse reform, for several reasons: because of their vast array of resources, because, as lay institutions, they now have more credibility with many Catholics than the bishops, and because they are positioned all throughout the country, where they can reach many people.

Another prominent Catholic institution of higher education, the University of Notre Dame, recently published a statement outlining the ways that university has and will continue to address the abuse crisis.

Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame, noted in the statement that in October 2018 the university created two task forces to being the work of reform: a Campus Engagement Task Force, which “was charged with facilitating dialogue and listening to the observations and recommendations of our campus community,” and the Research and Scholarship Task Force, which “considered ways in which Notre Dame might respond and assist the Church in this crisis through its research and scholarship.”

He then outlined both the immediate and ongoing steps the university will take to address the crisis, as informed by the task forces.

As for immediate steps, Jenkins said the university will “initiate prominent, public events to educate and stimulate discussion.” The focus of the first event will be “where the Church is now, identifying steps that have been taken and problems that must be addressed.”

The second event “will focus not only on the issue of sexual abuse, considered narrowly, but also on the broader questions the current crisis raises, such as structures of accountability in the Church, clericalism, the role of women, creating and sustaining ethical cultures, and the continued accompaniment of survivors.”

The university will also be making research grants available “across a wide range of disciplines that will address issues raised by the current situation. In accord with this recommendation, the President’s Office will provide up to $1 million in the next three years to fund research projects that address issues emerging from the crisis.”

For ongoing efforts to address sex abuse in the Church, the university will continue to “encourage and share relevant research and scholarship … with the goal of producing recommendations for ensuring that seminaries and houses of religious formation are safe environments free from sexual harassment.”

It will also “train graduates for effective leadership in the Church during and beyond the crisis,” through graduate programs in theology, teacher and leadership formation programs, and catechist training programs, which are all “committed to training ministers and teachers to be aware of issues of sexual abuse and policies and behaviors needed to prevent it.”

Jenkins also noted that university will “redouble” its efforts in preventing and addressing cases of sexual assault that occur on Notre Dame’s campus.

“As I join others in praying for survivors, I will do what I can to prevent these terrible offenses. I encourage everyone, each in their own respective positions and roles, to contribute to real and lasting change that will prevent sexual assault and abuse, in the Church and outside it, and to support survivors,” Jenkins noted.

“To the extent we can do this, the dark night of the current crisis will lead us to a hopeful dawn.”

Federal budget proposal draws criticism for slashing foreign aid

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 02:36

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 12:36 am (CNA).- A Catholic aid agency is asking Congress to maintain its commitment to international humanitarian funding, after the Trump administration proposed a federal budget that would cut foreign aid by 24 percent.

In a March 12 statement, Catholic Relief Services warned that the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request “would undermine dramatic progress in global poverty reduction over the past two decades, disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalized people.”

The budget proposal, released earlier this week, would cut foreign aid by nearly one-quarter, and would combine current departments for international food aid, disaster response, and migrant and refugee assistance.

Given drastic humanitarian crises currently ongoing throughout the world, the U.S. should be increasing, not decreasing, its funding for international aid, a top CRS official told a recent congressional subcommittee.

Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs that violence, droughts and other disasters have left millions vulnerable and in need of aid.

“U.S. foreign assistance is a moral and practical imperative. Poverty not only causes unnecessary suffering, but also breeds instability. Aid empowers local leadership, builds local capacity and supports a community on its journey to self-reliance,” O’Keefe said.

The United States should be maintaining a leadership role in offering humanitarian aid, especially for the more than 68 million people displaced from their homes globally, he told the members of Congress on the subcommittee.

O’Keefe specifically called for U.S. money to be allocated for development aid, disaster response, migrant and refugee assistance, and disease eradication.

Catholic Relief Services highlighted the situation in Venezuela, where 3 million people have fled as extreme shortages of food, medicine, and water are compounded by political unrest.

In addition, the agency said, millions in the Horn of Africa are experiencing drought conditions that are expected to create widespread conditions of severe hunger this year, with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicting up to 30 percent crop failure in some areas.

Matt Davis, CRS regional director for East Africa, said the agency is “very concerned by the deteriorating conditions in the region where we are seeing families – whose lives rely on the land – unable to cope.”

He warned against changes to U.S. funding that “could abandon millions of families around the world just when they need help the most.”

Most families in the Horn of Africa are small-holder farmers, and “much of the livestock – which many families depend on for a living – has already died off, been sold, or eaten,” Catholic Relief Services said.

“In South Sudan, 7.7 million people – more than half the population – will need food assistance by August. That crisis has been caused by both conflict and drought,” the agency added.

Humanitarian aid is currently being offered to alleviate the situation in parts of the Horn of Africa, Davis explained, but more help is necessary.

CRS works with local groups to help the communities in the region prepare for droughts, as well as to increase their resistance against drought through new technology, micro-savings programs and education on nutrition and health.

The agency counts on U.S. foreign aid funding for these efforts, as well as emergency food distribution in times of crisis.

Similar foreign aid cuts were proposed by the Trump administration last year, but rejected by Congress. Catholic Relief Services asked Congress to again reiterate its commitment to foreign aid funding.

“Helping the poor is a moral imperative, and a wise investment in global stability,” Davis said.

Catholic leaders speak out against 'Remain in Mexico' policy

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 20:32

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders released a statement this week in disagreement with the United States’ expansion of a policy that restricts asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We oppose U.S. policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting to access protection in the United States. We urge the Administration to reverse this policy, which needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols,” the statement read.  

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, released the joint statement on March 13.

First implemented in January, the Migrant Protection Protocols require asylum seekers at the San Ysidro border crossing to remain in Mexico while immigration courts process their case – a procedure that may take years. In previous administrations, asylum seekers were often permitted to remain in the U.S. while awaiting their court dates.

The U.S. government announced Tuesday that the program would now be expanded to the border crossing in Calexico, which is about 120 miles outside of San Diego. Department of Homeland Security officials stated that 240 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico since the policy was enacted. They anticipate that the number will grow significantly as the program expands.

In February, a lawsuit was introduced in federal court challenging the policy, which is known unofficially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The suit claims that the program puts asylum seekers at risk because of Mexico’s dangerous conditions. A federal judge has not yet announced whether an injunction will be granted to block the policy while it is being considered in court.

The Associated Press reported that Mexico’s Foreign Relations and Interior departments objected to the policy update, which they say was made unilaterally by the United States. However, citing “humanitarian reasons,” the departments said a majority of the asylum seekers returned to Mexico will be allowed to stay.  

Vasquez and Callahan also voiced opposition to the policy, emphasizing the rights of the people seeking shelter from harsh conditions, especially from the dangers witnessed in Central America. 

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement read.

The Church leaders reiterated the call of Pope Francis to protect and welcome immigrants and encouraged the government to respond with policies that best promote human dignity.

“Our government must adopt policies and provide more funding that address root causes of migration and promote human dignity and sustainable livelihoods,” they said.

 

Ban on gender transition among US military to take effect next month

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 19:19

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Troops enlisting and serving in the U.S. military will have to serve as their biological sex and are forbidden from transitioning to another gender, a new Department of Defense policy states.

The policy was announced in a memo that was obtained by the Associated Press March 12. The policy will go into effect April 12.

While not a ban on transgender persons in the military altogether, the new policy will presumably result in many transgender troops being discharged from the military if they wish to serve under a different sex, seek cross-sex hormones, or gender transition surgeries.

The new policy has additional rules regarding gender dysphoria, a condition where someone identifies as a different gender than their biological sex. Recruits with a history of gender dysphoria will not be permitted to join the military unless they can show they have been identifying with their birth gender for three years and have not transitioned to a different gender.

If someone in the military were to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, this new policy would not permit them medically or surgically to transition to a different gender.

Transgender individuals who are either already enlisted or under contract to join the military prior to the start of the new policy will be grandfathered in to the transgender policy introduced in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. That policy permitted transgender troops, and allowed those serving in the military to change their gender marker and begin to transition genders.

Per the updated policy, exceptions would have to be made for transgender individuals to continue to access health care associated with their gender transition. Those with gender dysphoria will be permitted to serve as their identified gender.

According to the Department of Defense website, there are “many transgender individuals already are serving honorably in uniform,” and they will not be removed from the military.

“DOD policy prohibits involuntary separation solely on the basis of gender identity, and it seeks to protect the privacy of transgender service members,” says the website.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D) said in a statement that the new policy was “bigoted” and a “stunning attack on the patriots who keep us safe and on the most fundamental ideals of our nation.”

There is no reliable data on the number of transgender troops in the military. Estimates suggest there could be as many as 10,000 transgender troops, with about 1,000 troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria. There are a little over 2 million members of the U.S. military.

Pelosi said that the House of Representatives would fight against this “discriminatory action, which has no place in our country.”

The Supreme Court ruled in January 2019 that President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender persons in the military was legal and could proceed. Trump announced this policy change in July 2017, in a tweet posted to Twitter. In that tweet, Trump said that there was “tremendous medical costs and disruption” associated with transgender troops.

The next month, the Pentagon announced a new policy that would permit transgender soldiers in the military, as long as they have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and have not transitioned from their birth sex. Troops identifying as transgender would have to wear the uniform associated with their biological sex and would not be permitted to use facilities associated with their desired sex.

The new policy forbade individuals who have transitioned genders from serving in the military or joining the military.

When Trump announced the policy in 2017, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America said it was the “right decision.”

Those who identify as transgender are “people made in God's image, and they deserve our compassion, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, but that doesn't mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation,” Dr. Chad Pecknold told CNA.

“Pope Francis is famous for his stress upon dialogue, and his non-judgmental approach with respect to the dignity of every person,” he said. “But the Holy Father has also been crystal clear that ‘gender theory’ represents a burning threat to humanity, starkly describing it as a ‘global ideological war on marriage’.”

Critics question ‘Equality Act’ exclusion of religious freedom

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 19:08

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 05:08 pm (CNA).- Federal legislation purporting to guarantee equality explicitly rejects religious freedom protections and would open the gates to anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious believers and institutions who disagree with the bill’s broad view of LGBT discrimination, critics said.

Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom's U.S. legal division, said the proposed Equality Act, reintroduced into the House of Representatives on March 13, would undermine “the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience that the First Amendment guarantees for every citizen.”

She said “disagreement on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality is not discrimination.”

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

Waggoner compared it to similar state and local laws that would “force Americans to participate in events and speak messages that violate their core beliefs.”

About 20 states have such legislation. Besides combating mistreatment of self-identified LGBT persons, they have been invoked to shut down Catholic adoption agencies that only place children with a mother and a father or to compel people working in the wedding industry, like florists, photographers and bakers, to provide their services for same-sex ceremonies.

Critics have argued that the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity are too broad and will lead to rejecting appropriate recognition of difference between the sexes or differences between married heterosexual couples and other couples.

The legislation could endanger religious protections, particularly for those who believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. While U.S. law has historically allowed for broad religious freedom protections, those who disagree with same-sex marriage could be viewed as “discriminating” against a same-sex couple.

Though the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed with overwhelming support, such protections have recently drawn strong opposition from some lawmakers, pro-abortion access groups and LGBT advocates who contend they interfere with basic rights.

As drafted, the Equality Act explicitly removes the ability under RFRA to cite religious freedom as a defense against discrimination claims.

Tim Schulz, president of 1st Amendment Partnership, told the Deseret News that if the Equality Act becomes law, religiously affiliated schools and other faith-based organizations could face lawsuits over policies on self-identified LGBT students, customers or employees.

“There would be an effort to punitively sue them into oblivion,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a backer of the bill, said the legislation “clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used in civil rights contexts, prohibiting religious liberty — which is a core American value — from being used as a license to discriminate.”

The ACLU has long opposed Catholic hospitals that act according to Catholic ethics and refuse to provide “reproductive health” services including abortion and sterilization. In California, the legal group filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital for refusing an elective hysterectomy to a woman who identifies as a man and who sought the procedure as part of her putative sex reassignment.

It has also sided with efforts targeting institutions and small businesses that do not recognize same-sex unions as marriages. ACLU lawyers have backed a lawsuit against a Washington State florist who declined to serve a same-sex ceremony, while the group has tried to block Michigan state agencies’ cooperation with Catholic adoption and foster agencies.

Waggoner was critical of the Equality Act and predicted negative consequences if it becomes law.

“Americans simply deserve better than the profound inequality proposed by this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation,” she said.

“Our laws should respect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of every citizen, but the so-called ‘Equality Act’ fails to meet this basic standard,” Waggoner added. “It would undermine women’s equality and force women and girls to share private, intimate spaces with men who identify as female, in addition to denying women fair competition in sports.”

The proposed law would apply not just to employment, but other areas like housing, jury duty, credit, and education. It bars discrimination in 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.

David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the bill’s main sponsor in the House, NBC News reports. As of March 13, the bill had 239 co-sponsors in the House.

“In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are,” he charged. “We are reintroducing the Equality Act in order to fix this.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is the only Republican to back the bill, though she was one of four currently serving Republican Senators to back similar anti-discrimination categories in a 2013 employment bill.

The legislation’s 161 corporate sponsors include PayPal, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Overall they have a combined revenue of $3.7 trillion, CNBC reported March 8.

Leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have not yet commented on the Equality Act. However, in the past they have criticized the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar actions deemed to be employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In May 2010, the bishops said the act “could be used to punish as discrimination what the Catholic Church teaches.” While they called for a “comprehensive religious exemption” to such a bill, there could be “government retaliation” for institutions that rely on such exemptions. Without strong protections, it would be applied “to jeopardize our religious freedom to live our faith and moral tenets in today's society,” they said.

The bishops rejected “every sign of unjust discrimination,” while also stating that Catholic teaching cannot be equated with unjust discrimination.

Leading bishops criticized the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in an Oct. 31, 2013 letter to the U.S. Senate, saying it does not advance “authentic non-discrimination.” They warned that the bill’s vague definition of sexual orientation does not distinguish between homosexual “status” and “conduct.” Its concept of “gender identity” rejects the “biological basis of gender” and would give force of law to a view of gender as “nothing more than a social construct or social psychosocial reality.”

CNA investigations have found close to $10 million in spending that targets religious freedom protection, including funding for ACLU projects. Major backers of the campaign include the Ford Foundation, which gives out some $500 million in grants annually, as well as the Arcus Foundation, an LGBT advocacy group that also funds groups that reject historic Christian ethics on LGBT issues. The network of funded groups tends to argue that religious freedoms are too broad if they exempt objectors to “reproductive rights” and LGBT political and legal concerns.

FDA clamps down on sale of unapproved mail-order abortion pills

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 18:01

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- As part of a wide-reaching crackdown on the online sale of illegal drugs, the US Food and Drug Administration has warned several online providers of abortion-inducing medications to stop the sale of unapproved abortion pills.

The FDA sent last week a letter to Rablon, an online pharmacy network, and Aid Access, requesting they immediately desist selling unapproved versions of the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol online.

According to the FDA warning letter, the "sale of misbranded and unapproved new drugs poses an inherent risk to consumers who purchase those products."

"Drugs that have circumvented regulatory safeguards may be contaminated; counterfeit, contain varying amounts of active ingredients, or contain different ingredients altogether," the letter states.

Mifepristone and misoprostol are two drugs taken together to carry out a medical abortion. They work by inducing miscarriage in pregnancies before 10 weeks.

FDA-approved versions of the drugs have been available to US consumers since 2000, but may only be prescribed by a certified health care provider in a hospital, clinic, or medical office setting. They may not be sold online or in a retail pharmacy.

The health care provider must inform patients about the serious risks associated with use of the medications, and sign a waiver certifying the patient has access to emergency care or a surgical abortion in the case of complication.

These requirements are part of an FDA risk mitigation program called REMS, which is used for all higher-risk medications.

The letter to Aid Access stated that the FDA-approved version of mifepristone, called "Mifeprex," is under the REMS program because "the drug carries a risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects, including serious and sometimes fatal infections and prolonged heavy bleeding, which may be a sign of incomplete abortion or other complications."

Failure by the websites to correct the violations outlined, the FDA stated, could result in "regulatory action, including seizure or injunction, without further notice."

Aid Access is a website that says it offers abortion-inducing drugs to healthy women who are nine weeks pregnant or less.

If women qualify for the pills through online consultations, Aid Access writes them prescriptions for the two drugs. These prescriptions are filled at a pharmacy in India, which mails the drugs to women in the U.S. The service costs $95, and the website notes that financial aid is available.

Rablon is an online pharmacy network owning at least 87 websites, with sites such as AbortionPillRx.com and AbortPregnancy.com offering mail-order access to mifepristone and misoprostol.

New Open Society Foundations leader co-founded controversial ‘Catholic Spring’ groups

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 17:18

New York City, N.Y., Mar 14, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The deeply influential Open Society Foundations has announced that Tom Perriello - a former congressman, pro-abortion rights gubernatorial candidate and co-founder of controversial Catholic political groups linked to John Podesta amid speculation of a “Catholic Spring” revolution against the bishops - will oversee grantmaking and advocacy for the U.S. programs branch of financier George Soros’ philanthropy network.

The foundations’ Oct. 10 announcement of Perriello’s new role as executive director of its U.S. programs cited his roles as diplomat, educator, and activist for human rights, civil rights, economic equality and democratic practice in the U.S. and around the world.

As executive director, his duties will include oversight of the foundations’ U.S. grantmaking and advocacy in areas like civic, political and economic participation as well as accountability and effectiveness of civil society institutions. Laura Silber, communications director for the foundations, also cited work in criminal justice reform and support for high-quality journalism, the Roanoke Times reports.

“Our institutions are under attack, the rule of law is being challenged as seldom before in our history, and the very foundations of our democracy are under enormous stress,” Open Society Foundations president Patrick Gaspard said in the announcement. “These times demand bold leadership, new ideas, and sharp strategic thinking.”

Perriello was listed as a guest in the meeting book for the foundations’ U.S. programs September 2012 board meeting in New York. His biography in the book cited his roles in helping to launch Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics United, Faith in Public Life, and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello served in Congress from 2009-2011, then served as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political wing of the Podesta-founded Center for American Progress. Perriello then took a position with the State Department analyzing U.S. diplomacy and development efforts in 2014, and was named by President Obama as special envoy to the African Great Lakes in 2015.

The co-founder of Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United made a failed bid for the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor in 2017. During this race, Perriello had major backing from Soros, who gave at least $500,000 to his campaign. Three of Soros’ sons gave another $185,000, while Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager and a board member of the Center for American Progress, gave $300,000, the Washington Free Beacon reported in June 2017.

Perriello on his gubernatorial campaign website said “I have always been pro-choice.” He voiced opposition to a ban on abortion 20 weeks into pregnancy. He backed a state constitutional amendment to guarantee legal abortion in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns precedent. He advocated the removal of abortion restrictions such as a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling and mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion.

After the 2017 election, Perriello joined the board of directors of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

Perriello said his work with the Open Society Foundations will likely focus on funding policy research, expanding political engagement, and racial issues.

He also praised Soros, telling the Roanoke Times in November, “I think a lot of what he does is calling us to our highest aspirations, and I think as Americans, we also have traditionally fallen well short of those aspirations.”

Soros’ foundations spend about $100 million in the U.S. each year and about $1 billion worldwide. He gave $18 billion to his foundations in 2018.

While Soros and his foundations are the subject of much unfounded rumor and speculation, his foundations have undeniably had global influence on many issues.

Various reports established that the Open Society Foundations helped fund pro-abortion rights groups to repeal Ireland’s pro-life constitutional amendment, seeing this effort as a model for change in other traditionally Catholic countries, such as Poland. The foundations gave at least $1.5 million to Planned Parenthood’s damage control efforts to counter the Center for Medical Progress videos appearing to show the abortion provider and other pro-abortion leaders involved in the illegal for-profit sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts. As part of a funding collaborative at the Proteus Fund, the foundations helped gay marriage become legally recognized in the U.S.

The foundations funded groups that sought to use Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. to influence the 2016 elections and to cultivate influence within the Catholic Church. These include Faith in Public Life, which foundation documents describe as a partner organization with Catholics in Alliance.

Catholics in Alliance itself received at least $450,000 in funding from the Open Society Foundations, then known as the Open Society Institute, from 2006 to 2010. An internal foundations document from 2009 cited the group’s key role in influencing Barack Obama’s controversial 2009 Notre Dame speech, and praised its campaigns that “broadened the agenda” of Catholic voters to see abortion as just one of several election issues.

Catholics United effectively merged with Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in 2015.

The two groups were founded in the wake of then-Sen. John Kerry’s defeat in the 2004 presidential election campaigns. This loss was in part attributed to the failure of Democrats to sway religious voters. The two groups engaged in various forms of religious commentary, activist organizing, issue advocacy, and political campaigning.

Ahead of the 2012 election, Catholics United told pastors of Florida Catholic churches they had a network of volunteers monitoring election-related speech in churches for reputed illegal political activity. Local Catholic leaders said appeared to be “an attempt to silence pastors on issues that are of concern to the Church this election season.”

The same group criticized the Knights of Columbus for its work to support civil marriage as a union of only a man and a woman.

Its state affiliate Keystone Catholics criticized Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on matters like his interpretation of Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia,” his critical approach to LGBT political causes, and his refusal to allow the 2015 World Meeting of Families to be a platform for groups to lobby against Church teachings.

Catholics United received funding from the Gill Foundation, founded by savvy LGBT strategist and millionaire Tim Gill. The group was a partner on the website of the Arcus Foundation, which has funded dissenting Catholic groups and other religious organizations to advocate on LGBT issues, among others.

Ahead of the 2016 elections, the site Wikileaks posted 2012 emails apparently involving Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, at a time of significant Catholic controversy over mandatory health plan coverage of contraception. His email responded to Sandy Newman’s suggestion of a “Catholic Spring” revolution within the Church which, in Newman’s vivid words, “Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.”

Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, replied: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”

He suggested consultations with former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

According to Open Society Foundations internal documents from 2009, the departure of Catholics in Alliance co-founder Alexia Kelley to join the Obama White House left the group “without strong leadership.” Kelley is now president and CEO of the influential philanthropy consortium Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities.

Catholics in Alliance did draw opposition from Catholics for Choice, a pro-abortion rights group not acknowledged by the U.S. bishops as Catholic. In 2015, when surreptitiously filmed videos showed Planned Parenthood’s apparent involvement in the illegal sale of aborted baby parts, Catholics in Alliance’s then-executive director Christopher Hale voiced strong criticism of the abortion provider.

In various interviews with Hale in late 2016, Hale said his organization had changed emphasis in recent years, speaking out more against abortion than it had in the past. He said that the Podesta email did not reflect the daily work of the organization and rejecting claims his group was concerned with “the internal politics of the Catholic Church.”

Hale sought to distinguish the organization’s work from its funders, saying “we work with people who disagree with a lot of the work we do.”

CNA contacted the Open Society Foundations and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

George Soros outlined his philosophy and his work in a Jan. 24, 2019 speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said he has devoted his life to “fighting totalizing, extremist ideologies, which falsely claim that the ends justify the means.”

“I believe that the desire of people for freedom can’t be repressed forever. But I also recognize that open societies are profoundly endangered at present,” he said.

According to Soros, his foundations aimed “to open up closed societies, reducing the deficiencies of open societies and promoting critical thinking.” He claimed success in undermining South African apartheid and in liberalizing his home country of Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. However, he admitted previous decades’ work failed to advance an open society in China. His speech voiced criticism and concern about that country’s present state, and he also warned about President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Criticism of George Soros has become controversial in recent years and there are charges his political opponents have engaged in active sabotage. Russian hackers are believed to have targeted his foundation and released some of its internal documents to the website DCleaks.com. He has cut back on efforts in Hungary amid claims that the government there is tapping into anti-Semitic hatemongering against him; and the social network Facebook hired a public relations firm to attack Soros in seeking to undermine its own critics. He was among many prominent targets of a pipe bomb attack.

The Podesta emails were posted to Wikileaks at a critical time in the election, and some reports attribute the hacking of his email account to Russians.

Soros and Podesta are part of a wider network of wealthy funders, NGOs, and political leaders that share left-leaning or Democratic political causes and goals, and sometimes even sharing leadership, staff and funding.

The Open Society Foundations have given millions to the Center for American Progress, which it considers “the most influential think tank in our funding universe.” According to the foundations’ internal documents, the center also enjoys support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Humanity United Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, among others.

The unexpected success of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign has renewed scrutiny for Republican- or right-leaning political and social advocacy, including from Catholic groups, with much focus on Steve Bannon. Bannon was executive chairman of Breitbart News before becoming chairman of the Trump campaign and then serving as chief strategist for the Trump White House.

 

Abortions declined following Texas law regulating abortion clinics

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 15:51

Austin, Texas, Mar 14, 2019 / 01:51 pm (CNA).- A recent study found that the number of abortions procured in Texas decreased 18 percent after the application of a 2013 law regulating abortion clinics.

Though the total number of abortions fell, the number of abortions procured during the second trimester increased.

A study published March 13 in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that second-trimester abortions increased by 13 percent while the total number of abortions declined by 18 percent following the implementation of a law regulating abortion clinic safety standards in 2013.

Texas House Bill 2 introduced two key regulations of abortion clinics in Texas: that abortion doctors had to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and that clinics had to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

HB 2, which was passed in July 2013 and resulted in the closure of about half the state’s abortion facilities, was struck down by the Supreme Court 5-3 in June 2016.

The March 13 study, conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, examined the 12-month period before HB 2 was introduced and passed (November 2011-October 2012) and compared it to the 12 months after the law was implemented (November 2013-October 2014).

The research found there to have been a total of 6,813 second-trimester abortions performed before the law’s implementation, and 7,720 after.

Meanwhile, there were 64,902 abortions performed in the first 12-month period studied and only 53,174 in the second period after the implementation of the regulating legislation.

The study’s authors concluded that the regulations of HB 2, though overturned in 2016, caused delays in abortion access for Texas women, resulting in more second-trimester abortions, largely because of increased distance from an abortion clinic, and waits of three or more days for the initial state-mandated consultation visit.

The study found women in Texas, on average, waited one week longer for an abortion in the 12-month period after the implementation of HB 2.

The study was published as New York legislators in January passed the Reproductive Health Act, a law allowing abortions “within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or (when) there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient's life or health.”

The state law removes the act of abortion from the criminal code and places it in the public-health code. It strips most safeguards and regulations on abortions and allows non-doctors to perform abortions.

The bill aimed to protect legal abortion in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns pro-abortion rights precedents.

Catholic Charities Maine receives grant to expand elderly ministries

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 14:19

Portland, Maine, Mar 14, 2019 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Catholic Charities Maine has received a $100,000 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to support 165 volunters aiding the state's senior citizens.

Maine's U.S. Senators, Angus King and Susan Collins, made the announcement this week.

“In Maine, hundreds of seniors make significant contributions through our state’s Senior Corps programs, including the RSVP program,” the senators said in a joint statement March 11.

“One of the many ways these selfless individuals help their communities is through home visits and other volunteer activities, which prevent social isolation. We welcome this funding, which supports Senior Corps volunteers’ efforts to address the unmet needs in our communities.”

Through the Corporation for National and Community Service's Senior Corps RSVP program, the volunteers will be trained under the Catholic Charities’ program SEARCH - Seek Elderly Alone, Renew Courage & Hope. The grant is a three-year program.

“The RSVP Program... strengthens public and nonprofit agencies like Catholic Charities Maine by building the infrastructure needed to efficiently and effectively mobilize experienced and skilled volunteers to support key programs,” Kathy Mockler, communications director for Catholic Charities Maine, told CNA.

The volunteers will provide home visits, chore assistance, and companionship. The volunteers will also help senior citizens with transportation to doctor's appointments, grocery stores, and other health care resources.

Catholic Charities will be launching this ministry in Somerset County and expanding its outreach in Kennebec. The ministry already has 190 volunteers providing aid in Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Franklin, Lincoln, and Cumberland counties.

Programs such as these help elderly people facing issues like abuse, financial exploitation, loneliness, and addiction. Mockler said the volunteers will help solve the problems unique to senior citizens, noting that Maine has a high rate of poor senior citizens.

“The median age is the oldest in the nation (44.6 years in 2015) and, according to the Economic Policy Institute, nearly half of older adults in Maine are economically vulnerable,” she said.

For the last 50 years, Catholic Charities Maine has used Independent Support Services to connect volunteers to isolated seniors. The SEARCH program was founded in 1975.

Michael Smith, director of mission at Catholic Charities Maine, told CNA the agency was grateful for the grant and expressed joy for the benefit it will bring to the community.

“We are thrilled to receive this award as it helps fulfill our mission in a personal and compassionate way to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31) and we know how much it means to those we serve as they often note that without their volunteer they would ‘rarely get out of the house’ and that ‘it wouldn’t be possible to make important doctor’s visits and appointments without them.’”

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Winona was also a recipient of a grant from the CNCS, for $235,443, as was Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, for $73,110, and Catholic Charities Chemung/Schuyler, for $42,367.

Board members say Chicago seminary closure lacks transparency

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 13:35

Chicago, Ill., Mar 14, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Members of the advisory board for Chicago’s college seminary have written to Cardinal Blase Cupich, saying that his recent decision to close the seminary was made without consultation or transparency, and will negatively impact the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“The complete lack of transparency surrounding this decision (neither the Board nor the Rector were consulted) seems symptomatic of many issues currently affecting the church,” advisory board members at St. Joseph College Seminary in Chicago wrote to Cupich in a March 11 letter published by NBC 5 Chicago.

“Aside from the horrible impact this decision will have on the seminarians and our church in the future, we feel compelled to tell you that this unfortunate approach to decision-making is driving people away — not encouraging opening and healing to a broken church.”

Cupich announced in January that the college seminary would close in June.

In a Jan. 14 press release, the archdiocese cited declining enrollment figures and the changing demographic of aspirants to the priesthood, saying that the need for undergraduate seminaries like St. Joseph has diminished because men more frequently have completed college before applying to the seminary than they had in times past.

Undergraduate seminarians for the Archdiocese of Chicago will after June matriculate at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Minnesota, the archdiocese announced.

When the closure was announced, some complained that the news had come without warning during a visit of Cupich to the seminary.

In their letter, board members said they “expected more” from Cupich “than just an 11-minute announcement with no advance warning or dialogue. Discussion with the Board regarding your concern about the ‘numbers’ would have been our expectation and a far more appropriate approach.”

According to an archdiocesan report, college seminary enrollment at St. Joseph is in fact on the decline. In 2014, the year Cupich was installed as Archbishop of Chicago, there were 45 students at St. Joseph College Seminary. By 2017, that number had fallen to 28, and, according to the archdiocese, dropped to 20 students by January 2019.

The number of Chicago seminarians in postgraduate “major seminary” formation at the archdiocesan Mundelein Theological Seminary is also on the decline. While there were 63 Chicago seminarians at Mundelein in 2013 and 66 in 2014, by 2016, there were 48 Chicago seminarians at Mundelein, and 53 in 2017.

The advisory board’s letter said those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“While the very recent numbers have been disappointing to us as well, we’ve been more focused on the quality of young men over quantity. Moreover, the Quigley Scholar Program for High School students was just beginning to bear significant fruit.”

Indeed, archdiocesan figures suggest that while college seminary enrollment has declined, the number of graduates continuing priestly formation in postgraduate “major seminary,” could be on the rise: while in 2013, 2014, and 2016 only two graduates continued on for further formation at Mundelein Seminary, that number doubled in 2015 and 2017 to four.

The names of the seminary’s advisory board members are not publicly available, and calls to the seminary were not returned by press time. But the letter noted that some board members have been active fundraisers for the seminary.

“When veiled in complete secrecy, how can we, as a Board of Advisors with years of dedicated service and millions of dollars raised conclude anything other than this was a decision bereft of objective criteria and prayerful discernment? While talk about ‘transparency and accountability’ is a noble goal, here there was neither.”

The news of the college seminary’s closure came seven years after St. Joseph College Seminary moved into a new home. While the seminary had before then rented dorm space at Chicago’s Loyola University, in 2012 a new building opened with capacity for 68 students, and six suites for priests and faculty members.

Father Paul Stein, who was in 2012 rector of the seminary, called the new facility “a statement of faith and hope about the future of the priesthood here in this archdiocese and in the many dioceses and religious orders which we serve.”

In their March letter, advisory board members said that when the building was dedicated “Cardinal Francis George once again renewed the Archdiocese of Chicago’s long-time commitment to the young men discerning priesthood.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not respond to requests from CNA for comment.

The advisory board members said they will be waiting for a response from the archdiocese, and from Cupich.

“Your total disregard for the Board of Advisors, our Rector-President and others in the Archdiocese who have made significant financial contributions to the college seminary over many decades, together with the lack of any apparent consultation in making this decision, speaks volumes about the value, or lack of it, that you place on us, as financial supporters and  Board members, and on the long history of Niles College and St. Joseph College Seminary. We await your response with prayerful anticipation.”

Senate confirms Neomi Rao to Circuit Court of Appeals

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Senate voted confirm Neomi Rao to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, with a 53-46 party-line vote. All Senate Republicans voted in favor of Rao’s confirmation, and no Democrats voted for her.

Rao will fill the vacancy created when President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She previously served as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and also taught law at George Mason University’s Scalia School of Law. She worked in the White House counsel’s office under President George W. Bush, as well as on the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

During her confirmation process, Rao came under close scrutiny for her opinions on a range of issues.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is now running for president, questioned Rao about morality during her confirmation hearings. Booker asked Rao if she believed that marriage was between a man and a woman, and if she thought that two people of the same-sex in a relationship was “immoral.” He explained it would be akin to her thinking that two African-Americans in a relationship would be immoral.

Rao said that she would follow all judicial precedent when it came to these kinds of decisions, and that she would put any of her personal beliefs “to the side” as a judge.

She has not publicly commented on her religious beliefs, although her nomination was announced during the White House celebration of the Hindu holiday Diwali.

Rao also faced questions over her college newspaper writings, in which she appeared to argue that women bore some responsibility in preventing sexual assault by how they behave. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a survivor of sexual assault, expressed reservations about supporting her nomination, but eventually voted her out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rao wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leadership where she said she regretted her editorials.

Concerns were also raised about Rao’s possible views on pro-life issues. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) threatened that he would not advance Rao out of the committee unless he was confident that she was not in favor of abortion rights. Hawley, too, eventually decided to vote her nomination out of committee.

Family researcher says conservatives should be on board with AFA child allowance

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 02:00

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A newly-proposed U.S. child allowance policy could support families, boost fertility rates, and reduce childhood poverty according to one economist focused on family research.

The American Family Act is a broad expansion of the currently existing Child Tax Credit (CTC) - so broad, in fact, that researcher Lyman Stone said it could almost be considered something entirely different.

“...it’s almost better to think of the plan, not as expanding the CTC, but rather as implementing a new child allowance. For example, the bill calls for the benefit ($3,600 per child) to be paid out in monthly checks, rather than as part of a tax refund,” Stone, a research fellow with the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), wrote March 12.

The 2019 AFA is a Democrat-proposed and supported initiative, first introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and backed by a majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress.

While the IFS typically leans right-of-center politically, Stone said most conservative arguments against the AFA fall flat, and that while the legislation is not without its flaws, a child allowance is something that should be supported across party lines.

“With a major child allowance now on the table, and with a real shot of being implemented in the next few years, it’s time for conservatives to take stock of the evidence on the issue and decide if we are really willing to support families,” Stone said.

The AFA would not only “dramatically boost the incomes of poor families,” Stone wrote, but it would also “be a net positive for virtually all single parents making under $150,000, and all married parents making under $200,000.” “That’s the overwhelming majority of parents,” Stone noted.

The policy is similar to those that have been implemented in multiple countries in Europe, as well as Australia and Canada, and could potentially have similar benefits of strengthening families, boosting fertility rates and reducing childhood poverty, he added.

“Some of the most compelling evidence comes from Australia, where numerous studies of their ‘baby bonus’ program found both short- and long-term increases in births and birth intentions,” Stone wrote. He estimated the cost of the Australia program to be about $100,000-$150,000 per child.

While population researchers have long sounded the alarm about overpopulation, the opposite now may be a bigger problem: in many countries throughout the world, fertility rates have dipped below replacement levels. In the United States, data from the National Center for Health Statistics suggests that the fertility rate is 16 percent below what it should be for replacement levels.

Australia saw a fertility increase of 1.73 to 1.96 kids per woman following their baby bonus, Stone noted, and the U.S. could see the number of births increase by tens or even hundreds of thousands if the AFA passes.

“Beyond these benefits, by reducing financial strain on families and creating an explicit benefit for childbearing, the AFA would support stronger families across a wide range of incomes. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that it could reduce the prevalence of divorces motivated by financial strains, as well as yielding other positive family outcomes. Australia’s baby bonus, for example, has been shown to improve child health and even eventual test scores,” he said.

One major concern among conservatives about child allowance programs such as the AFA is the cost, Stone said, and the AFA is estimated to cost the U.S. about $90 billion.  

Stone suggested that this money could come from a slight increase on taxes on excisable goods such as tobacco, alcohol, guns and gasoline.

“And while many conservatives may be upset about bullets costing 9 percent more than they currently do, that’s a small price to pay for cutting child poverty in half, making Social Security more solvent, strengthening middle-class family life, and pushing the birth rate back towards something that can actually sustain a civilization without needing mass migration to prop it up,” he wrote.

Even a family that spent a considerable amount on ammunition every year would only be spending potentially a couple hundred dollars more a year, compared with the potential of several thousand dollars per year earned through the child allowance, he said.

Overall though, Stone said he was not attempting to propose exactly how the child allowance could be funded but only "to note that while conservatives may balk at a $90 billion expense, it’s easy to find ways to pay for it that conservatives can endorse. Charging urban progressives a few cents more for their $18 cocktails to pay for parents to buy diapers is worth it.”

Another concern of conservatives over child allowances has been that it is just another government hand-out that would allow some people to quit their jobs and live off of government benefits, Stone noted.

However, most child allowance studies have shown that such policies have the biggest impact on the number of married women who work, meaning that the benefit, by and large, allows married women in two-income households to quit their jobs and stay home to raise their children, rather than allowing single moms to quit their jobs and live off the benefit, Stone said.

“Is it really conservative to say that both parents should always have to work? Since when were conservatives opposed to stay-at-home parents? Are we suddenly supposed to believe that conservatives want to see every adult in the workforce and every child raised in a daycare center? Of course not,” Stone said.

Furthermore, he noted, because the AFA would be nearly universal, it could be considered a benefit similar to Social Security or Roth IRAs, rather than a welfare hand-out.

“A simple, flat child allowance with a high phase-out will have only very modest work-discouraging effects, and mostly among married moms who want to raise their kids at home. It won’t eat away at anybody’s dignity for society to say ‘thank you’ to parents for their hard work in the form of a check,” Stone wrote.

Still, the AFA is not without its flaws, Stone said. For example, it removes the requirement for those applying for the benefit to list the social security number of each child, creating the potential for fraud. How the benefit is paid for will be another source of contention between parties, he added.

The AFA is also not totally universal, and would penalize some married people who are high earners.

“By not making the child allowance fully universal, the AFA creates distortionary work incentives, marriage penalties, and it excludes high-earners, who tend to be politically influential. Adding the children of high-earning households doesn’t add that much to the cost, and can solve all these problems,” Stone said.

Stone believes the AFA is unlikely to pass until Democrats have both a majority in Congress, and a Democrat president. Still, he said he thinks conservatives and progressives should work together to implement the policy because of the many ways it could strengthen and benefit families.

“The American Family Act would dramatically reduce child poverty while increasing the number of children born. Those kids would be born into families of all types, but those born into married families would be more likely to benefit from having at least one parent stay home with them in their early years. That’s a world I think most conservatives would like to see.”

 

 

Courage conference to focus on 'Courageous friendship'

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 18:19

Chicago, Ill., Mar 13, 2019 / 04:19 pm (CNA).- A Catholic ministry announced Tuesday the theme for its upcoming conference for people who experience same-sex attraction and the families of those identifying as LGBT.

Courage International’s event will be held July 18-21 at Mundelein Seminary, near Chicago. The theme of the conference is “Courageous Friendship: Inspiring Hope and Renewal.”

A clergy day will proceed the event to prepare deacons, religious, and priests on how best to minister to people with same-sex attraction.

With more than 150 chapters across 18 countries, Courage International looks to support individuals with same-sex attraction who have decided to live a chaste life.

The conference attendees will be able to hear a variety of discussions, consisting of topics such as pastoral ministry and psychology. Participants will also be able to be involved with opportunities of prayer, like daily Mass, confession, and Eucharistic adoration.

The speakers at the event will include Adam Minihan and David Niles, hosts to The Catholic Man Show; Avera Maria Santo, a young adult blogger and member of courage; Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum; Mark Houck, co-founder and president of The King’s Men; and Father Michael Gaitley, Director of Evangelization of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

Founded by Fr. John Harvey, the first Courage chapter meeting was held in 1980. The five foundational goals of Courage are chastity, prayer, fellowship, support, and good examples.

DeVos allows religious groups to provide educational services

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Education will no longer enforce a provision that forbids religious organizations from providing federally-funded educational services to private schools. The decision was announced in a March 11 letter addressed to congressional leadership.

 

“Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization,” wrote Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the Monday letter.

 

“The Trinity Lutheran decision reaffirmed the long-understood intent of the First Amendment to not restrict the free exercise of religion,” she wrote, referencing the 2017 Supreme Court decision in the case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.

 

That decision found that the state of Missouri acted illegally in not awarding Trinity Lutheran Church a grant for resurfacing a playground located at its preschool and daycare center. The grants were awarded to similar, but non-religious, organizations. Trinity Lutheran was denied solely because it has a religious affiliation.

 

In the decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court said that Missouri had violated the First  Amendment by denying the grant to to the church.

 

Citing the decision, DeVos said the department will stop enforcing the specific provisions in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)--sections 1117(d)(2)(B) and 8501(d)(2)(B)-- that prevent religious groups from providing specific services, including tutoring, special education programs, and mentoring.

 

The ESEA says that those enrolled in both public and private schools must receive “equitable services,” which can be provided by contractors. Until the Monday announcement, those contractors could not belong to any sort of religious organization, and in the case of private schools they must be independent of the school.

 

In the letter addressed to Congressional leadership, DeVos said these two provisions were unconstitutional.

 

“After consultation with the Department of Justice, I have concluded that the requirement in ESEA sections 1117(d)(2)(B) and 8501(d)(2)(B) that an equitable services provider be ‘independent of . . . any religious organization’ impermissibly excludes a class of potential equitable services providers based solely on their religious status, just like the State policy that was struck down in Trinity Lutheran,” said DeVos in the letter.

 

The secretary said that the exclusion of religious organizations by virtue of their beliefs constituted a “status-based prohibition” that “cannot be justified.”

 

DeVos wrote that allowing both religious and secular organizations to provide these services would not violate the Establishment Clause, and that “the Department generally considers faith-based organizations to be eligible to contract with grantees and subgrantees and to apply for and receive Department grants on the same basis as any other private organization.”

 

All other provisions of the ESEA, including that the equitable services provided be “secular, neutral, and nonideological” would still be enforced, DeVos said.

 

Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, told CNA that he believes the change is “actually constitutionally required."

 

"What the Department of Education said was they understand that the Constitution and the Supreme Court's recent decisions about the Constitution make clear that the government can't exclude religious people and religious organizations from participating in otherwise neutral programs,” Rienzi told CNA.

 

Rienzi explained that it would be different if the government were hiring people to preach religion or to celebrate Mass, but in this case, it involves hiring teachers from a religiously-affiliated school to teach secular subjects, such as English as a second language classes.

 

“What the Department of Education said is that the Constitution does not allow the government to exclude religious groups and religious organizations from participating on equal terms with everybody else in those kinds of programs," he explained.

 

The idea that the government forbids religious groups from equal participation in programs is “just not the law,” he said.

 

Rienzi compared the past Department of Education policy to one that would forbid the fire department from putting out a fire at a church.

 

“The church is a building in town just like the library, the bookstore, and the drugstore and everything else. And of course, the government can and should provide equal services and let them participate on equal terms with everybody else.”

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