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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.
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Archbishop Lori calls for increase in security funding for religious sites

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 20:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Disability group welcomes ruling against right to assisted suicide in Mass.

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 19:01

Boston, Mass., Jan 14, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Second Thoughts Massachusetts, a disability rights group, has praised a recent ruling that there is not a right to assisted suicide in the state's law or its constitution.

In a decision dated Dec. 31, 2019, Justice Mary Ames of the Suffolk Superior Court ruled that physicians who prescribe lethal medication for assisted suicide in Massachusetts can be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter, but that physicians may provide information and advice on assisted suicide to terminally ill, competent adults.

“We are gratified that the court reaffirmed the law against assisted suicide, and referred the matter to the legislature where lawmaking belongs. Disability rights advocates will continue to press the legislature that assisted suicide is just too dangerous,” John Kelly, director of Second Thoughts, commented Jan. 13.

The case on which Ames ruled was brought by Dr. Roger Kligler, who has prostate cancer, and Dr. Alan Steinbach, who treats patients considering end-of-life problems.

Among the arguments Kligler and Steinbach made were that prosecution of a physician for manslaughter who prescribes medication for assisted suicide “impermissibly restricts a patient's constitutional right to privacy” and their “fundamental liberty interests.”

They also argued that the prosecution of such physicians “violates the constitutional right to the equal protection of law by treating differently terminally ill adults who wish to receive [assisted suicide] and terminally ill adults who wish to hasten death by the voluntarily stopping of eating and drinking (VSED), withdrawal of life support, or palliative sedation.”

Ames wrote in her decision that “any physician is free to provide information on the jurisdictions where [assisted suicide] is legal, guidance and information on the procedures and requirements in those jurisdictions, and referrals to physicians who can provide [assisted suicide] in those jurisdictions. Such conduct, without more, does not constitute involuntary manslaughter.”

She also wrote that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had taken pains “to preserve what it viewed as a meaningful distinction between death that results naturally from the withdrawal of medical equipment and death that results from affirmative human efforts,” and that it had said the law “does not permit suicide” or “unlimited self-determination.”

Ames said that neither of two relevant SJC decisions suggest “that the principles that underlie the right to refuse medical treatment apply to the affirmative act of taking one's own life with the assistance of a willing physician,” and that the SJC would likely maintain “a strong distinction between [assisted suicide], and the withdrawal of treatment and palliative care.”

Compassion & Choices, an assisted suicide advocacy group, has said they plan to appeal the ruling, WBUR reported Jan 10.

Ames wrote that the state legislature could “conclude that difficulty in determining and ensuring that a patient is 'mentally competent' warrants the continued prohibition” of assisted suicide.

She added that the legislature could conclude that “predicting when a patient has six months to live is too difficult and risky for the purposes of” assisted suicide. She noted that the state “put forward expert testimony that while doctors may be able to accurately predict death within two or three weeks of its occurrence, predictions of death beyond that time frame are likely to be inaccurate.”

Moreover, Ames said the legislature could also conclude that “a general medical standard of care is not sufficient to protect those seeking” assisted suicide, noting  that the state provided testimony that assisted suicide “is neither a medical treatment nore a medical procedure and thus there can be no applicable medical standard of care” and that the legalization of assisted suicide “is an attempt to carve out a special case outside of the norms of medical practice.”

The legislature could, too, conclude that assisted suicide “is not equivalent to permissible alternatives,” citing the difference between assisted suicide and voluntary cessation of nutrition and hydration, withdrawal of life support, or palliative sedation.

Ames concluded that “there appears to be a broad consensus that this issue is not best addressed by the judiciary,” and that there are strong arguments for prohibiting assisted suicide or ensuring it “occurs in an environment in which clear, thoughtful, and mandatory standards are in place to protect terminally ill patients who wish to make an irreversible decision. The Legislature, not the Court, is ideally positioned to weigh those arguments and determine whether and if so, under what restrictions, [assisted suicide] should be legally authorized.”

There are bills in both houses of the state legislature to legalize assisted suicide. The bills are due to be considered by the Joint Committee on Public Health next week.

Ruthie Pool, president of MPOWER, a group of people who have experienced mental health diagnosis, trauma, or addiction, commented Jan. 13 that “as someone who has been suicidal in the past, I can relate to the desire for ‘a painless and easy way out.’ However, depression is treatable and reversible. Suicide is not. The current bill in the legislature pretends otherwise.”

In 2012, Massachusetts voters narrowly rejected a ballot initiatve that would have legalized assisted suicide.

At the time, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston commented that “it is my hope and prayer that the defeat of Question 2 will help all people to understand that for our brothers and sisters confronted with terminal illness we can do better than offering them the means to end their lives.”

The 2012 initiative was opposed by both the Massachusetts Medical Association and the Boston Herald.

In the US, assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia; and in Montana by a court ruling.

Analysis: After investigation, when will Pope Francis act on Hoeppner?

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 18:30

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Alongside bishops from North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota, Bishop Michael Hoeppner met with Pope Francis Tuesday, for a two-hour meeting some bishops called “open,” and “hopeful.”

But Hoeppner is unique among his brother bishops: he is the first U.S. bishop to be investigated under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi, the 2018 policy from Pope Francis on investigating bishops accused of mishandling or obstructing allegations of clerical sexual abuse. In fact, alongside Hoeppner at the Jan. 13 papal meeting was Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the archbishop who conducted the investigation.

But while the Vatican authorized the investigation in September, and a report was sent to Rome in early November, it is unclear when the Vatican will announce the results of the investigation, and the next steps in the scandal-plagued tenure of Bishop Hoeppner.

There are no legal timeframes in which the Vatican is required to respond to Hebda’s report, and no indications of when a response will be issued. But as the question of Hoeppner’s future lingers unanswered, the Diocese of Crookston continues to face serious difficulties.

In November, depositions were released in which Hoeppner is seen to admit that he did not properly address an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest that an alleged victim brought to him in 2011. The depositions also include Hoeppner seeming to admit to mishandling the cases of several priests, including one, presently in active ministry, who admitted to diocesan officials that he had sexually abused a 5-year-old while a teenager.

In more recent weeks, sources in the diocese tell CNA, a dispute over a priest removed from ministry for alleged boundary violations has become something of a flash point in the diocese. Several priests have told CNA that in their view, Hoeppner removed Fr. Bryan Kujawa from ministry unjustly, sending him for psychological testing after the anonymous allegation of a boundary violation with an adult — a charge that Kujawa denies. The priest says he has been given no opportunity to defend himself.

Some sources note that Kujawa has been a “voice of conscience” in the diocese, and speculate that the priest has been unfairly targeted by Hoeppner because he has been outspoken about the revelations contained in the November depositions.

While the Kujawa case has apparently become both demoralizing and contentious among Crookston’s priests, it has also captured the attention of Crookston’s lay Catholics, who have planned prayer vigils outside the cathedral and other demonstrations in support of the priest.

Lay Catholics, in fact, have rented 6 billboards in the Crookston area, by which Catholics are urged to contact Hoeppner and his vicar general “to demand justice for Fr. Bryan Kujawa.”

The population of Crookston is 8,000, and 100,000 people live in the “Greater Grand Forks” area. Six billboards in the area represents a considerable investment. But Catholics, at least some Catholics in the area, are angry. Justly or otherwise, Kujawa's suspension has become for some a symbol of Hoeppner's failures.

In short, in the months since Hebda’s report on Crookston was filed, controversy continues to unfold in the diocese, and the information contained in the released depositions represents cause for considerable concern, at least with regard to the norms of Vos estis.

Some Catholics in Crookston tell CNA they are simply demoralized; tired of the cloud of scandal hanging over their diocese.

The question for Crookston Catholics is when Pope Francis or the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops will act on what’s been reported, and what continues to unfold.

The resignation of Bishop Richard Malone from the Diocese of Buffalo was accepted less than a month after his November visit to the pope, and Malone had also been subject to an investigation before that meeting, though not one conducted under the auspices of Vos estis lux mundi.

If Malone’s ouster is a template, Catholics in Crookston might expect to hear whether Hoeppner will remain in office within the next few weeks— after months of waiting, any news will likely come as a relief, even if the outcome is less than what some Catholics - those who have called for Hoeppner’s removal- are hoping for.

But because Hoeppner’s case is the first to be handled completely under the pope’s new norms, how it resolves is likely to be seen as a harbinger of the success or failure of those norms. Some Catholics in Crookston are waiting to see how Pope Francis will respond to leadership they see as compromised, and, while they wait for a report on the misdeeds of Theodore McCarrick, Catholics across the U.S. will also be watching.

Brooklyn diocese releases video of man 'desecrating' altar during Mass

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:00

New York City, N.Y., Jan 14, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Brooklyn has responded to an act of vandalism at a parish this past Sunday, and released a video showing a man “desecrating” the altar during Mass.

According to a statement released by the Brooklyn diocese on Tuesday, the incident occurred during the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Anthony of Padua parish in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Video footage from above the sanctuary shows a man approaching the altar while Father Jossy Vattothu is celebrating Mass. The man, carrying a jar of juice, pours the contents on the altar and tosses some towards Fr. Vattothu.

The diocese called the event a “desecration” of the altar and “a heinous act of religious intolerance.”

The man then turns and walks down the main aisle before being obstructed by Mass attendees. He was subsequently arrested by the New York Police Department and, according to amNewYork, taken by police to Woodhull hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

Fr. Vattothu, a member of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate who is assigned to the diocese, said that in his ten years as a priest he had never witnessed such an incident, and initially thought the man wanted to tell him something as he approached the altar.

“It is a miracle that the bread and wine were not damaged, and I was able to continue the Mass, consecrating the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” he stated. “I pray for this person and do not know what was going through his mind.”

In response to Sunday’s desecration, the chancellor of the diocese called attention to a rise in attacks on and desecrations of churches and synagogues.

“It’s really egregious that somebody would do that at the most sacred part of the Catholic Mass, which is the consecration,” said Monsignor Anthony Hernandez, chancellor of the Brooklyn diocese. 

“I think right now, people are scared given the current environment of anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic incidents. People are afraid to go to their house of worship,” he said.

During the 2019 holiday season, there was a spate of attacks on churches and synagogues.

In late December, five people were stabbed during a Hannukah party at a rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York. At West Freeway Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec. 29, a gunman killed two congregants.

Earlier in the month, two shooters killed four people in a planned attack on a Jersey City kosher market. According to officials, the attackers had a pipe bomb in their van parked outside the market, and had planned the attack for months.

In light of Sunday’s incident, Fr. Vattothu called on Catholics to sit closer to the altar at Mass, “so that we as a faith community can be more together and make the priest feel more comfortable.”

Rubio blasts 'blatant violations of human rights' in Tibet

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 10:00

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has condemend "blatant human rights violations" in China after the province of Tibet passed policies similar to those used in Xinjiang to oppress Uighur Muslims. 

According to the South China Morning Post, the Chinese Government announced that, as of May 1, new policies to “strengthen ethnic unity” will go into effect in Tibet. 

The full text of the new regulations was not released. The Chinese government described them as a list of “dos and don’ts” that local governments should enforce in order to create “ethnic unity.” 

Tibet is an autonomous region in China. It is home to the Tibetan people, most of whom practice Tibetan Buddhism. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) destroyed many Buddhist temples during the Cultural Revolution. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, fled Tibet and currently lives in India. 

On Jan. 13, Sen. Rubio tweeted that “the international community can’t turn a blind eye” to the development, and that “Tibet’s CCP-controlled Congress” was “following Xinjiang’s footsteps.” 

On Tuesday, Rubio told CNA that it was “no surprise that Tibet’s ‘autonomous’ legislature has passed rules to promote ‘ethnic unity’.”

“As the Chinese Communist Party continues its attempts to wipe out Tibetan culture, the U.S. and freedom loving nations should condemn the blatant violations of human rights,” the senator said.

Per Chinese media, these regulations require all facets of society, from villages to large companies, schools, military organizations and religious groups, to promote work on “ethnic unity.” September will be deemed a special ethnic unity month, with a focus on activities to strengthen “ethnic unity” within Tibet. 

A government official was quoted in the state-run Tibet.cn saying,“Tibet has entered a new era of long-term development with peace and stability” and that “These regulations are to consolidate the practices and achievements in building harmonious ethnic relationships and to establish a model for all of the people and industries in Tibet.”

The deputy secretary general of the standing committee of the Tibetan legislature, speaking to Tibet.cn, described the new policies as ones meant to “unify the sense of community of the Chinese nation.”

These rules come about four years after different regulations aimed at “ethnic unity” were introduced in Xinjiang, and about four and a half years after Chinese President Xi Jinping cited ethnic unity in Tibet as crucial for the “sustainable, long-term and comprehensive stability of the society.” 

Since the push for “ethnic unity” began in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has opened a network of over 1,200 detention camps, which house approximately one million political prisoners--mostly Uighur Muslims. China purports that these camps are for the prevention of terrorism and for vocational skill training. A leaked manual from the camps detailed the “re-education” techniques the Uighur population would be subjected to in the camps, and included “ideological education.” 

In the section labeled “Ideological education,” camp personnel are instructed to “Effectively resolve ideological contradictions, and guide students from bad emotions.” Prisoners are repeatedly referred to as “students” throughout the manual. 

“Actively organize and concentrate on activities such as presentations, form a healthy and inspirational atmosphere, promote repentance and confession of the students for them to understand deeply the illegal, criminal, and dangerous nature of their past behavior,” says the manual. 

For prisoners who “harbor vague understandings, negative attitudes, or feelings of resistance,” the manual instructs workers to “carry out education transformation” that will “ensure that results are achieved.” 

China initially denied there was a system of camps before finally copping to their existence in 2018.

In addition to the camps, Uighurs have alleged numerous human rights abuses, including organ harvesting and forced marriages. In the fall of 2019, reports emerged that Uighur women were forced to marry Han Chinese men, who belong to a different ethnic and religious group. Han Chinese is the largest ethnic group in China. The groups rarely inter-marry. 

The Chinese government has been promoting videos, websites, and events seeking to pressure Uighur women to marry Han men. The government also offered a cash reward to an inter-ethnic married couple. 

Uighur women interviewed by human rights workers say that it is understood that if they do not marry a Han man, they or their families will be sent to a detention camp.

Will these Louisiana Cajun Catholics become saints? Diocese begins canonization cause

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 06:00

Lafayette, La., Jan 14, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Three Cajun Catholics from the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana are on their way to becoming canonized saints after an historic ceremony on Saturday, January 11.

During the ceremony, Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette officially opened the causes of two Louisiana Catholics, Miss Charlene Richard and Mr. Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue.

The cause for a third candidate for canonization, Lt. Father Verbis Lafleur, was recognized by the bishop, who said he intends to open the priest’s cause after he seeks the necessary collaboration with two other bishops - extra steps the result of Lafleur’s military service.

Present at the ceremony were representatives of each candidate, who presented short accounts of the person’s life to the bishop as well as an official request for their cause to be opened. Bonnie Broussard, a representative from the Friends of Charlene Richard, spoke at the ceremony and highlighted the precocious faith of Charlene at such a young age.

Charlene Richard was born in Richard, Louisiana on January 13, 1947, a Cajun Roman Catholic who was “an ordinary young person” who loved basketball and her family, and was inspired by the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, Broussard said.

When she was just a middle schooler, Charlene was given a terminal diagnosis of leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and lymphatic system.

Charlene handled the grim diagnosis with “faith beyond the ability of most adults, and determined not to waste the sufferings she would face, she joined herself to Jesus on his cross and offered her intense pain and suffering for others,” Broussard said.

In the last two weeks of her life, Charlene asked Fr. Joseph Brennan, a priest who came to minister to her every day: “Ok Father, who am I to offer my sufferings for today?”

Charlene died on August 11, 1959 at the age of 12.

“After her death, devotion to her spread quickly, many testimonials have been given by people who have benefitted by prayer to Charlene, Broussard said.

Thousands of people visit the grave of Charlene each year, Broussard added, while 4,000 attended the Mass at for the 30th anniversary of her death.

The second cause for canonization approved on Saturday was that of Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue, a layperson whose nickname “Nonco” means “Uncle.” He was born on Jan. 10, 1888, near Lourdes in France, and emigrated with his family to the U.S., where they settled in Arnaudville, Louisiana.

Charles Hardy, a representative of the Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue Foundation, said Auguste eventually earned the nickname “Nonco” or Uncle because he was “like a good uncle to everyone who came into his (circle) of influence.”

Nonco studied to become a teacher, and taught public school in a rural area near his hometown before becoming the only lay member of the faculty of the Little Flower School in Arnaudville.

While studying to be a teacher, Nonco also became a member of The Apostleship of Prayer, an organization that originated in France and whose charism is to promote and spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to pray for the pope. His devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus would come to color Nonco’s whole life.

“Nonco was known for his passionate devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary,” Hardy said.

“He devoutly attended daily Mass and served wherever he was needed. Perhaps most inspiringly, with a rosary looped around his arm, Nonco traversed the highways and byways of his community, spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

He would travel country roads on foot to visit the sick and those in need, and would refuse rides from neighbors even in the harshest of weather, because he considered his walks an act of penance for the conversion of souls on Earth and the purification of those in purgatory, Hardy added.

“He was truly a door-to-door evangelist,” Hardy said. On weekends, Nonco taught religion to public school students and organized The League of the Sacred Heart, which distributed monthly pamphlets around the community about the devotion. He also organized creative plays for Christmas time and other special feasts that portrayed biblical stories, lives of the saints, and devotion to the Sacred Heart in dramatic fashion.

“By the use of drama, he shared a passionate love of Christ with his students and the entire community. In this way, he opened not only the minds but the hearts of his students,” Hardy said. Nonco’s pastor referred to Nonco as another priest in his parish, and Nonco was eventually awarded the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice medal by Pope Pius XII in 1953, “in recognition of his dedicated and humble service to the Catholic Church,” Hardy said.

“This papal decoration is one of the highest honors awarded to the members of the lay faithful,” Hardy added. “For 24 more years until his death in 1977, at the age of 89, Nonco continuously spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for a total of 68 years until the day he died on June 6, 1977, which was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Hardy said.

Fr. Mark Ledoux, a representative for the Friends of Fr. Joseph Verbis LaFleur, said at ceremony on Saturday that the military chaplain is most remembered for his heroic service during World War II.

“Fr. Joseph Verbis LaFleur lived an extraordinary life in just 32 years,” Ledoux said.

Lafleur was born on January 24, 1912 in Ville Platte Louisiana. Although he came from “very humble beginnings…(and) a broken home,” LaFleur had long dreamed of being a priest, Ledoux said.

During his summer breaks from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Lafleur would spend his time teaching catechism and first communicants.

He was ordained a priest on April 2, 1938 and requested to be a military chaplain, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially, his request was denied by his bishop, but when the priest asked a second time, it was granted.

“As a chaplain he displayed heroism beyond the call of duty, earning the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest honor for valor,” Ledoux noted.

“However it was as a Japanese prisoner of war that Lafleur would reveal the intensity of his love” and holiness.

“Though kicked, slapped and beaten by his captors, he always sought to better the conditions of his fellow POWs,” Ledoux said.

“He even let pass opportunities for his escape in order to remain where he knew his men needed him.”

Eventually, the priest ended up on a ship with other Japanese POWs that was torpedoed, unwittingly, by an American submarine that did not realize the ship was carrying POWs.

“He was last seen on Sept. 7, 1944, helping men out of the hull of the sinking ship for which he posthumously earned a Purple heart and a Bronze Star. And in October 2017, for his actions as a POW, Father was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross,” Ledoux said.

The body of Lafleur was never recovered. Bishop Deshotel on Saturday stated his intent to officially open the priest’s cause one he has received the proper permissions from the other bishops involved in the cause.

Lafleur was recognized in a keynote to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2017, by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese, who said: “He was a man for others right to the end… Father Lafleur responded to his POW situation with creative courage. He drew on his virtue to care for, protect, and fortify the men imprisoned with him.”

“Many survived because he was a man of virtue who gave unstintingly of himself. To speak of the greatness of our country is to speak of men and women of virtue who gave of themselves for the benefit of all. We build for a new tomorrow when we draw from that wellspring of virtue.”

 

After 'grotesque' court ruling, Kansas pro-lifers continue push for ballot measure

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 21:12

Wichita, Kan., Jan 13, 2020 / 07:12 pm (CNA).- Pro-life legislators and advocacy groups in Kansas, joined by the state’s Catholic bishops, are working to send a constitutional amendment to voters to counter the Kansas Supreme Court’s declaration that abortion is a constitutional right.

Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), said the amendment is a top priority for the legislature.

“This is not going to be about banning abortions. It’s going to be about putting it back where it’s supposed to be, and that is with the legislature,” he told the Associated Press.

The Kansas Catholic Conference in October 2019 launched a petition to support a state constitutional amendment.

“The immediate priority for all Kansans concerned with protecting the lives of (preborn) children, as well as pregnant women from an unscrupulous abortion industry, is to pass a state constitutional amendment,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas said.

The amendment effort responds to the April 2019 decision of the Kansas Supreme Court. In a 6-1 ruling, the court blocked a 2015 law banning the use of the dilation-and-extraction abortion procedure. Known by its critics as “dismemberment abortion,” the procedure uses surgical equipment, suction devices and other equipment to take apart the living unborn child and remove it from the mother’s womb.

For the first time, the Kansas court ruled that provisions of the state constitution dating back to 1859 extends to a “natural right of personal autonomy” regarding abortion.

The Kansas Catholic Conference has decried the ruling as “a grotesque caricature of emancipation.”

“There is no way to sanitize the barbaric procedure defended by the Court,” the conference said in April 2019. “The issue under review—live dismemberment abortion–is a most excruciating death. The non-anesthetized severing of a living child’s arms and legs and subsequent removal of the body is beyond our comprehension. Legally disguised as healthcare, this procedure kills an average of twelve children each week in Kansas.”

A two-thirds majority in both of Kansas’ legislative chambers is needed in order to add a referendum to the ballot. Voters would then have to pass the proposal by a majority vote.

Kansans for Life is drafting language for such an amendment.

Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, sees the amendment as an important step for the pro-life movement, rather than simply passing an abortion ban through the state legislation.

“Bans on abortion in other states have not been successful. Even in some of the most pro-life states, they’ve not been successful, and in states where one has passed, they’re being tied up in court,” she told the Associated Press. “You’re effectively not achieving anything.”

Gawdun defends an incremental strategy to limit abortion, citing a 40% drop from 1999, when a peak of 12,400 abortions were performed. In 2018, that number had fallen to about 7,000.

Pat Goodson, founder of Right to Life of Kansas, disagrees with this incrementalist approach. He is among the school of pro-life advocates who say that a constitutional amendment regulating but not banning abortion is a step in the wrong direction, because it would effectively mean that the constitution allows abortion.

Goodson told a committee considering the amendment that it “denies the humanity of unborn humans and jeopardizes the rights of all humans.”

In Kansas, abortion is not legal after the 22nd week of a pregnancy. Parents must be informed if their minor child is seeking an abortion, and they must give consent to the procedure.

Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas, a pro-abortion rights Democrat, won the 2018 election. She has the power to appoint justices to the seven-member Kansas Supreme Court. Her first nominee, Justice Evelyn Wilson, assumed office in December 2019. Wilson’s nomination was opposed by pro-life groups.

State courts can declare legal abortion to be a right under the state constitution. Even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and similar precedents that mandate legal abortion across the country, these decisions will likely create binding precedent at the state level.

Elise Higgins, vice president of the pro-abortion rights Kansas Abortion Fund, told the Associated Press that if voters pass a constitutional amendment rejecting a right to abortion, “then the minute Roe v. Wade is undermined or overturned, people in Kansas will lose their right to abortion, period.”

Pro-life lawmakers in the Iowa legislature are also pushing for a constitutional amendment saying there is no right to abortion in the state constitution.

Alabama and West Virginia have already amended their constitutions to prevent state supreme courts from interpreting them to find a right to abortion. In 2020, Louisiana residents will vote whether to amend their constitution to clarify that does not recognize abortion as a right.

 

Texas bishops urge governor to reconsider refugee resettlement

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 18:18

Austin, Texas, Jan 13, 2020 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- Texas' 16 Catholic bishops on Friday responded to Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement that the state will not participate in the federal refugee resettlement program, calling the decision “deeply discouraging and disheartening.”

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided. It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans,” the bishops said in a Jan. 10 joint statement.

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien. We use this occasion to commit ourselves even more ardently to work with all people of good will, including our federal, state and local governments, to help refugees integrate and become productive members of our communities.”

Several of the bishops, including Edward Burns of Dallas, noted that Catholic Charities agencies in their dioceses have partnered for years with the federal government to resettle refugees, all of whom have been screened and approved for resettlement by the Department of Homeland Security.

Abbott informed the U.S. State Department Jan. 10 that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year, the Texas Tribune reported. Texas is the first state this year to opt out of the program; more than 40 other state governors have already chosen to opt in, the Texas Tribune reports.

Abbott acknowledged in his letter to the State Department that refugees could still settle in Texas after first arriving in another state that does participate in the resettlement program.

Several Texas bishops also released their own statements on the matter.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth Jan. 10 echoed the joint statement by noting that refugees are those who have fled life-threatening situations at home, and who have been vetted by the federal government. Many, he said, are Christians fleeing religious persecution.

Olson said current local refugee support services will continue to help refugees in Texas, and if Abbott does not reverse his decision those agencies will have to use local funds to replace lost federal refugee funds.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville wrote on Twitter Jan. 10 that “the Governor’s decision not to allow the Federal refugee resettlement program to operate in Texas affects refugees vetted by the current administration. They flee violence & persecution, and seek a chance to live, work & contribute in peace. The Governor should reconsider.”

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio also expressed on Twitter opposition to Abbott’s decision.

Abbott’s veto of the resettlement program was made possible by a September executive order by President Trump which requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries, the Tribune reports. A federal judge in Maryland is expected to rule this week on whether Trump exceeded his authority with the executive order, the New York Times reports.

The Tribune reports that Texas had been a national leader in resettlement for several years after reaching a high of about 8,212 people in 2009. The number remained around 7,500 from 2012-2016, and in 2016 the governor sued the Obama administration in an effort to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas.

Despite this, and despite Abbott’s subsequent withdrawal of the state from the resettlement program, local agencies continued to resettle refugees in Texas, which accepted about 1,700 refugees during FY 2018— more than any other state— and about 2,460 in FY2019, the Tribune reports.

Pro-life group will support pro-life Democrat Lipinski in 2020

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 19:40

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2020 / 05:40 pm (CNA).- After a Democratic congressman said he would like to see more support from the pro-life movement in his re-election bid, one national pro-life group said its support has kept the lawmaker in Congress, and committed to supporting his 2020 bid for reelection.

On Thursday, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), a Catholic, eight-term congressman, and a co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, told CNA that he has not received as much support from the pro-life movement as he had hoped in his re-election campaign.

“I’ve gotten some support from pro-life groups, but honestly, not as much as I’d like to see,” Lipinski, who is fighting off primary challenger Marie Newman for the second election cycle in a row, told CNA.

“Some people in the pro-life movement do not seem to believe it’s that important to protect pro-life Democrats. And I think you just have to look at what the other side is doing, see the value that they place on defeating someone like me,” Lipinski said.

Lipinski also said his stance on other issues, such as his support for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, should have no bearing on the support he recieves from pro-life voters and groups.

But one pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA that its get out-the-vote effort played the decisive role in Lipinski’s 2018 primary victory.

SBA List said it mobilized 70 canvassers to visit 17,000 “pro-life Democrat households” in the Illinois third district in the days leading up to the vote. The group spent more than $100,000 on Lipinski’s 2018 candidacy.

In a March 2018 Facebook video, Billy Valentine, SBA List’s vice president of public policy, called Lipinski “a Democrat who leads on the issue.”

“We can send an equally-strong message to pro-life Democrats that if you stand strong for the unborn, if you stand strong for mothers, we are going to defend you against the radical abortion lobby,” Valentine said in 2018.

SBA List told CNA on Friday that it will be devoting resources to support Lipinski’s 2020 primary campaign.

The organization also told CNA that while it did criticize House members who voted in December to impeach Trump, it did not intend to criticize Lipinski, who voted for the impeachment, directly or personally.

Other pro-life groups have also responded to Lipinski’s remarks.

Josh Mercer, co-founder of CatholicVote.org, told CNA Friday that his group is “proud to support him [Lipinski] and urge every Catholic in America -- Democrat or Republican -- to do the same.”

Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, tweeted his admiration for Lipinski, but noted that the congressman voted for the Equality Act, “which would overturn most pro-life laws, including the Hyde Amendment.”

 

I like Rep. Lipinski & admire how he has stood up to attacks on his record HOWEVER he seems to forget that last year he voted for the Equality Act - which would overturn most pro-life laws, including the Hyde Amendment. So quit whining https://t.co/abHXomzekn via @cnalive

— Tom Mcclusky (@TMcClusky) January 10, 2020  

“So quit whining,” McClusky said of Lipinski’s complaint that pro-lifers had not given him enough support. McClusky told CNA, when asked if March for Life Action would be supporting Lipinski, that the group “does not get involved in elections.”

March for Life Action generally focuses its efforts on policy advocacy related to abortion. In May 2019, the group opposed the Equality Act, which it said “could be used to force health care professionals and hospitals to perform abortions, regardless of if this would violate their conscience.”

The Equality Act, passed by the House last year, bars discrimination based on “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” in many public areas including housing, employment, education, and public accommodations while establishing definitions of “sex,” “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity.”
 
The bill, critics warned, not only lacked proper religious freedom safeguards, but would enshrine in law ideologies antithetical to Christian views on the human person, sexuality, and marriage. The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference opposed the bill.

The bill has not been passed by the Senate.

Lipinski was the only House Democrat not to co-sponsor the legislation, a fact used by his primary opponent to attack him. The Congressman eventually voted for the legislation, saying he opposed discrimination, but he emphasized his committment to work for stronger safeguards for religious freedom.

On Jan. 9, Sean Nelson, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International, tweeted that Lipinski “has been a great supporter of #ReligiousFreedom while in the House, and co-chairs the International Religious Freedom Caucus.”

 

Montana high court reverses sex abuse judgement against Jehovah’s Witnesses

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 19:01

Helena, Mont., Jan 10, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Montana Supreme Court has unanimously reversed a $35 million judgement against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the grounds that the lower court wrongly ruled that the elders involved in hearing allegations of abuse did not enjoy the religious confidentiality protections guaranteed by state law.

A Montana district court wrongly ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were mandatory reporters under state law, said the 7-0 decision written by Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker and announced Jan. 8.

Under the law, the court said, “clergy are not required to report known or suspected child abuse if the knowledge results from a congregation member’s confidential communication or confession and if the person making the statement does not consent to disclosure.”

The high court overturned the 2018 verdict of compensatory and punitive damages to a woman abused as a child in the mid-2000s by a member of the Thompson Falls Jehovah’s Witness congregation. Her lawsuit accused the congregation of illegally failing to report a child sex abuser to authorities, a failure which allowed him to continually sexually abuse another child.

Jim Molloy, who represented the woman, said, “This is an extremely disappointing decision, particularly at this time in our society when religious and other institutions are covering up the sexual abuse of children.”

Joel Taylor, the attorney for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the denomination follows the law.

“No child should ever be subjected to such a debased crime,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “Tragically, it happens, and when it does Jehovah’s Witnesses follow the law. This is what the Montana Supreme Court has established.”

According to the lawsuit, the congregation’s elders internally disciplined the woman’s abuser over allegations he abused a stepdaughter and stepson in the 1990s and early 2000s. They expelled him from the congregation in 2004 and reinstated him the next year.

Abuse of the third victim, the lawsuit’s plaintiff and a niece of the abuser’s stepchildren, began in 2002, when she was five. She was ten years old when it ended. The abuse happened on a weekly basis and escalated to “numerous incidents of rape,” the Supreme Court’s opinion said.

Montana’s mandatory reporting law requires various professionals to report abuse of underage victims during the course of their official work. These professionals include physicians, nurses, school teachers and other school officials, social workers, foster care workers, and peace officers.

Members of the clergy are required to report abuse under the law, but they are allowed exemptions in cases such as confidential communications.

In the Montana Supreme Court’s view, a committee of Jehovah’s Witnesses elders were not mandatory reporters of child abuse under Montana law  “in this case because their church doctrine, canon, or practice required that the clergy keep reports of child abuse confidential.”

Disclosing confidential information could be a breach that results in an elder’s removal. Even if not removed, the court reasoned, the elder believed he would be accountable before his “ultimate judge.”

In its decision, the court said that almost every witness supported the claim that church doctrine requires confidentiality from its elders. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses have an established process to receive and investigate reports of child abuse, they also maintain confidentiality “pursuant to church doctrine, canon and/or established practice.”

The Montana Supreme Court noted that legislators amended the mandatory reporting bill with exceptions after hearing clergy concerns that the legislation would “entangle the State in the affairs of the church.”

The decision cited the Jehovah’s Witnesses argument that “imposing a narrow definition of confidentiality impermissibly could discriminate between different beliefs and practices, protecting confidentiality of reports made in a confession from a parishioner to priest, like the traditional Catholic practice, while offering no protection to a congregant’s disclosures to a committee of elders using a process like that followed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The decision noted that the court was prohibited by state and federal constitutions from adjudicating any questions about whether religious conduct conformed to the standards of the religious group.

Some states do not allow religious exemptions for clergy in mandatory reporting laws.

In 2019, the Montana legislature passed legislation that adds the possibility of felony charges for mandatory reporters who fail to report sexual abuse of a child, the Associated Press reported last year.

The same legislation ended the statute of limitations on prosecution of child sexual abuse. It extended the age deadline for a victim to file a lawsuit against their abuser from 21 to 27. It opened a one-year legal window for victims to file lawsuits against their abuser even if the statute of limitations on civil action has expired.

While some Catholic commentators suggest that the abuse of minors is rarely discovered in sacramental confessions, they also worry that the lack of protections could result in legal prosecution of priests accused of learning of abuse in the confessional.

CNA sought comment from the Montana Catholic Conference and the Catholic dioceses in Montana, which declined to respond.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, founded in Pennsylvania in the 1870s, make up less than one percent of the U.S. population, the Pew Research Center reports. They are known for their door-to-door proselytism.

However, they differ from mainstream Christianity in their rejection of the Trinity, the divinity and resurrection of Christ, the immortality of the soul, and the reality of hell, among other differences.

House excludes unborn from 'vulnerable populations' at risk from chemicals

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- House Democrats rejected an amendment that would have added the unborn to a list of “potentially vulnerable populations” deserving of protection from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in a bill that was ultimately passed with bipartisan support. 

The bill, H.R. 535 PFAS Action Act of 2019, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.” 

PFAS are found in a variety of common items, including Teflon pans, paints, and cleaning products, as well as in foam used in fire-fighting equipment. Firefighting foam is often the source of groundwater contamination, which then spreads to plants and animals. 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced a motion on Friday that would send the bill back to committee to amend the language to include the unborn. In a speech on the House floor, McMorris Rodgers said it was a “simple, clear, and direct” motion, that “clarifies the protection of ‘vulnerable populations’ must include any unborn child.” 

In her speech, McMorris Rodgers noted that Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had both raised concerns about the effects of PFAS on pregnant mothers and child development. 

“By rejecting this amendment, the Majority would be denying the science of the development of a child in the womb,” she said. 

“This motion is consistent with policy the EPA itself has employed – considering the impact of chemical exposures to babies in the womb,” the representative added. “For example, in 2011 the EPA under President Obama decided to regulate certain chemicals in drinking water, based in part on the impacts to the in-utero person.”

The 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act also recognized the personhood of the unborn. That bill was passed with both Democrat and Republican support. 

McMorris Rodgers’ motion was rejected and the bill was not amended. Democrats voted against the motion by a vote of 219 to 4. 

PFAS chemicals are ubiquitous in society, and every person has some level of PFAS in their bloodstream. Newborn babies are at particular risk, as they can absorb PFAS chemicals in utero through the umbilical cord, as well as through breast milk. 

The EPA says that exposure to PFAS chemicals can cause low birth weight, detrimental effects to the immune system, cancer, and thyroid issues. PFAS chemicals are also believed to increase cholesterol levels. 

The bill was passed on a vote of 247-159 on Friday, Jan. 10.

Bishops narrowly approve USCCB rate hike for 2021

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 09:43

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2020 / 07:43 am (CNA).- The bishops of the United States have narrowly approved an increase on the amount dioceses must contribute to the national bishops’ conference. The measure initially failed to pass when put to a vote during their November 2019 meeting and additional votes had to be collected by mail to ensure the measure passed.

On the first day of their November meeting last year, the bishops voted in favor of a three percent rise in the amount each diocese in the country is required to contribute for the funding of the USCCB, based in Washington, DC, for the year 2021. But the vote of 111 to 55 in favor failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass.  

The conference leadership ruled the vote “inconclusive” and determined to send additional postal ballots to bishops not present at the meeting. Two months after the initial vote in Baltimore, the measure passed with a final tally of 130 in favor, 62 against, and three abstentions.

The final result of 130 votes in favor from diocesan and eparchial bishops was the minimum number of votes required to pass. During the first vote in Baltimore, the bishops of New York had to vote electronically from Rome, where they were conducting their ad lima visit to Pope Francis and the Roman curia.

The diocesan assessment, currently estimated at $25 million per year, is used to fund administrative, pastoral, and public policy programs at the USCCB, and the conference has told the bishops that a regular increase is necessary to maintain reserves.

The three percent increase is the first to be passed by the bishops since November of 2017, but which did not come into effect until the 2019 financial year. In November of 2018, no increase was approved for the 2020 assessment, largely due to the costs dioceses were facing from a surge of new clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Following the inconclusive vote at the 2019 meeting, USCCB treasurer Archbishop Dennis Schnurr called the failure to pass “no surprise,” and acknowledged the financial challenges of some dioceses facing a resurgence in clergy sex abuse claims from new openings in state statutes of limitations.

“There are a lot of dioceses in this country that are looking at bankruptcy,” Schnurr said.

While the assessment increase can now come into effect, some bishops have publicly stated their opposition to the rate hike.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in November that his archdiocese’s assessment amounts to $257,000 per year which, when paired with a matching donation to the Holy See, totals more than half a million dollars annually.

“I don’t have this kind of money to keep increasing it [the assessment],” Chaput said. “We have huge expenses because of the sexual abuse issue and related circumstances.”

Chaput also noted that the conference itself was in ruder financial health than many of the dioceses being asked to fund it at ever-increasing rates, including his own.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had to pay more than $32 million in settlements to abuse victims, after a window for new abuse claims closed on Sept. 30 in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report, released in August of 2018.

Chaput said that the USCCB also has more savings and investments in reserve than the archdiocese does.

“I don’t think that some of the work of the USCCB is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said.

Other bishops have noted that the three percent increase is essential for the conference to keep up with inflation and rising operating costs.

In November, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago noted that it had been several years since the last rate increase, and that the three percent rise would not even keep up with the accumulated cost of inflation.

Beyond DC, more pro-life marches set for 2020

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 02:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 10, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- While hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates will gather in Washington, D.C. for the National March for Life this Jan. 24, thousands will attend similar events in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Denver.

Although they address serious subjects, some events will take on a celebratory air, aiming to convey the joy of human life.

In Los Angeles, OneLifeLA’s Sixth Annual Walk for Life will take place Jan. 18, beginning with a young adult rally, and culminating in a festival, and even an official after-party.

Participants will walk from the rally site through city streets to Los Angeles State Historical Park, the venue for a pro-life festival and food trucks. The event will have a children’s area with face painting, balloon art and space for frisbee games.
 
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will host a requiem Mass for the unborn, before events conclude with a young adult after-party at the Imperial Western Terminal at Union Station.

Last year’s OneLifeLA event drew 30,000 people, Angelus News reports.

The rally’s keynote speaker is sex trafficking survivor and criminal justice reform advocate Cyntoia Brown-Long. The event will also feature musical guests, including the group Love and the Outcome and singer-songwriter Francis Cabildo.

Kathleen Buckley Domingo, senior director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, reflected on this year’s theme: “One Mission, One Family.”

“The goal is always to get people to recognize our mission and do it all year-round, a groundswell of action in the community that loves, cherishes, and respects every single person, and doing it as part of one extended family. We want this to feel as if it’s our own family reunion, and a time to tell our family stories.”
 
The March for Life Chicago, held Jan. 11, bills itself as the largest pro-life event in the Midwest. Last year’s event drew about 8,000 attendees. The theme is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”

Keynote speaker for the Chicago rally is Claire Culwell, who survived the abortion procedure that killed her twin sister, and was born two months premature. She was adopted after birth and reconnected with her birth mother in 2009.

Political figures to speak at the event include U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, who narrowly won a primary victory in 2018. U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) will also speak.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago is among the speakers, as is Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Morning and evening convention sessions at Congress Plaza Hotel will feature pro-life organizations from across the U.S. At the hotel there will be a morning youth rally, a Catholic Mass, as well as an evening banquet and a swing dance for young adult attendees.

In 2019, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation to declare abortion a “fundamental right.” It removed several abortion laws from the state code, including a ban on partial-birth abortion, required waiting periods for an abortion, and regulations on abortion clinics.  Illinois’ Catholic bishops criticized the goals of the bill and the manner of its passing, without hearings or the public release of the final text in the final days of the legislative session.

Dawn Fitzpatrick, president of the March for Life Chicago, placed the March for Life in that context.

“Furious that Illinois legislators have made this state an abortion oasis for the Midwest, pro-life advocates from across the country are empowered to come together in a joyful gathering knowing we can build a brighter future,” Fitzpatrick said Nov. 22.

“More people than ever plan to turn out for the March for Life Chicago.”
 
This year’s pro-life events are significantly larger in scope, she said.

“This expansion gives participants the opportunity to connect with companies, organizations, and other individuals from across the country who share their values. Now, they will depart ready to take further action in their own communities,” said Fitzpatrick, who is also senior coordinator for Respect Life Ministries at the Chicago archdiocese.

In Colorado, Catholic Charities of Denver’s Respect Life office organized the Jan. 11 Celebrate Life Rally and March. The rally will begin on the west steps of the state capitol in Denver followed by a march around Civic Center Park.

The event will begin with several morning Masses in the area, including one at the nearby Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The rally’s keynote speaker is former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Trevino. Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver will also speak at the rally.

The Denver event aims to emphasize a proposed 2020 ballot measure known as Initiative 120, which will ban late term abortions 22 weeks into pregnancy, with exemptions for abortions that in a doctor’s judgement are an immediate threat to a woman’s life.

“I urge all Catholics to get involved in this effort!” Archbishop Aquila said Jan. 7. “We must not let up in our efforts to ensure that the goodness of every human life is respected in our laws, our churches and our families.”

Backers of the proposal must collect over 124,000 signatures by March 4 in order to qualify for the November 2020 election ballot.

In Richmond, Va. the second annual Virginia March for Life is scheduled for Feb. 13 at the state capitol. The state event was launched last year in response to abortion legislation in the state legislature, including a bill that its own sponsor admitted could allow abortion up to birth.

The Texas Rally for Life, held in Austin Jan. 25, includes a walk to the capitol in Austin at 1 p.m., a rally at the capitol at 2 p.m., followed by a pro-life expo on the Great Walk of the Capitol Grounds. Organizers estimated 10,000 people attended last year.

 

 

Neb. pro-life bill introduced; Governor declares Roe v. Wade anniversary a day of prayer

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 20:30

Lincoln, Neb., Jan 9, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- On the first day of the Nebraska Unicameral’s legislative session, state Sen. Suzanne Geist introduced a bill that would ban a common procedure used for second-trimester abortions.

The bill, introduced Jan. 8, seeks to ban dilation and evacuation abortions, or “dismemberment abortions” as the bill calls them.

“Dismemberment abortion means an abortion in which, with the purpose of causing the death of an unborn child, a person purposely dismembers the body of a living unborn child and extracts him or her one piece at a time from the uterus through use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or similar instruments that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slice, crush, or grasp a portion of the unborn child's body to cut or rip it off,” the bill says.

The bill would make an exception for cases in which the mother’s life is at risk by continuing a pregnancy, or for cases in which a physician determines there is “serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function” should the mother continue a pregnancy.

Only doctors performing dismemberment abortions would face sanctions under the bill; it would not seek to punish women seeking or undergoing the procedure, or any staff assisting the physician, including nurses or pharmacists.

“Regardless of our individual opinions on the issue of abortion, I think we can all agree that no living human being should be torn apart limb by limb,” Geist said at a Jan. 8 press conference, NET News reported.

The bill comes at a time when several other states have passed or introduced bills that restrict abortion in some way, while other states are scrambling to expand access to abortion, in anticipation of a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.

Some bills restricting abortion have passed state legislatures, but have been blocked in court.

Geist has said she is not concerned about judicial appeals of the bill.

“My job is to legislate, not to worry about what the courts are going to do,” the state senator told NET News.

The bill was introduced on the same day that Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts declared the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as a day of prayer for the state of Nebraska.

“Nebraska state law states that it is ‘the will of the people of the State of Nebraska and the members of the Legislature to provide protection for the life of the unborn child whenever possible,’” Ricketts said in a proclamation.

“Nebraskans display our pro-life values in a multitude of ways from the crisis pregnancy centers that provide free care for expecting parents to the prayer vigils held across the state every year.”

The governor encouraged Nebraskans to pray according to their own faith tradition for an end to abortion, as well as to “take direct action to aid mothers, fathers and families in need, especially those expecting a child who cannot provide for themselves.”

 

 

 

 

Congressman: Pro-life Democrats get little support from pro-life groups

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, has questioned the commitment of some pro-life groups to bipartisanship in the movement to end abortion.

“I’ve gotten some support from pro-life groups, but honestly, not as much as I’d like to see,” Lipinski told CNA in an interview on Thursday.

“I am not someone who’s a big self-promoter but, look, I have put myself on the line in a more difficult political situation than almost any other pro-life member of Congress,” Lipinski said.

Lipinski is an eight-term pro-life Catholic congressman now fighting for his re-election in Illinois’ third congressional district, in the suburbs of Chicago. The district is safely Democratic, but this election cycle marks the second straight challenge Lipinski has seen in the primary.

In the 2018 Democratic primary, his opponent Marie Newman raised more than $1.4 million while making Lipinski’s pro-life support a focal point of her campign. A significant amount of outside money went into the race, and Lipinski barely held her off with a slim 2,145-vote margin. Buoyed by her strong challenge, Newman promptly announced her intent to run again in 2020.

“Some people in the pro-life movement do not seem to believe it’s that important to protect pro-life Democrats. And I think you just have to look at what the other side is doing, see the value that they place on defeating someone like me,” Lipinski said.

Actively pro-abortion groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood have lined up in support of Newman.

Lipinski had to dig deep to survive the 2018 primary, raising more than $1.5 million and spending almost $2.4 million. Although he has not had to spend as much this election cycle, Newman’s campaign presents another stiff challenge just two years after the last one.

Democrats who carry the pro-life mantle are few and far between. Lipinski was one of only seven candidates for the House or Senate endorsed by the group Democrats for Life in the 2018 elections.

The re-election of John Bel Edwards—Louisiana’s governor who signed a “heartbeat” bill into law in an election year—was seen as a boost to hopes that more such Democrats could win in red or purple states.

Yet in a presidential election year, the top candidates have issued a stern challenge to the party’s voters—stand behind abortion access.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called abortion rights “human rights” and “economic rights” at a November debate; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at the same debate called on American men to support abortion, saying that “if there’s ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment.”

Joe Biden, meanwhile, reversed his longstanding support of the Hyde Amendment and now supports taxpayer-funded abortion. Pete Buttigieg has said that decision to have an abortion, even until birth, is up to the woman.

As Lipinski told CNA on Wednesday, he has not seen the support he has desired from pro-life groups and individuals while he faces one of his toughest re-elections yet.

While Democratic party leaders have acknowledged the possibility of pro-life Democrats—House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Mary.) said in September that “Absolutely there's room in our party” for pro-life members— and some of Lipinski’s colleagues refuse to undermine him, others in the party, including progressive Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have openly or quietly supported Newman’s campaign.

“So it disappoints me at times, when people say that they’re not going to support me,” Lipinski said of pro-life voters.

The congressman gave the example of his vote to impeach President Donald Trump in December as a possible sticking point with some in the movement.

“I think that [vote] should have nothing whatsoever to do with supporting a pro-life candidate,” he said.

The day the House voted to impeach President Trump, the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List issued an indictment of the vote and said it “will be a huge political liability for House members going into 2020.”

But the pro-life movement needs both parties to thrive moving forward, Lipinski said.

“I think that if the pro-life movement is going to be confined to one party, it would be even more difficult to ever get anything done to protect life,” he said. 

“It will be easier for the Republican Party to take pro-life voters for granted—even easier than it is right now.”

Lipinski will not be attending the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., as the House will not be in session that week. He said he will be campaigning in his district with the primary approaching on March 17.

However, Lipinski will address the Chicago March for Life this Saturday, and will speak at a pro-life dinner around that march as well.

Maine bishop suspends chalice amid flu outbreak

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 16:00

Portland, Maine, Jan 9, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland issued a directive on Thursday suspending the distribution of Communion under both species and the exchange of handshakes during the sign of peace in response to an outbreak of influenza in the state.

Starting the weekend of January 11-12, and continuing until the end of the flu season, priests throughout the diocese will make announcements requesting that any parishioner exhibiting cold or flu symptoms skip Mass and stay home, and that they are released from their obligation to go to Mass on Sunday. In addition to prohibiting the distribution of the consecrated wine, extraordinary Eucharistic ministers are also being required to take extra sanitary measures.

Since December, six people have died from the flu in Maine. From December 28 until January 4, there were 368 new cases, marking a 40% increase over the previous week. Additionally, 90 people have been hospitalized with flu-related complications. 

There have been over 1,200 positive flu tests in Maine since the start of flu season. Officials say it is likely that even more people have had the flu, but gone undiagosed.

“Encouraging people who are at risk to stay away from large church gatherings is an extra step intended to maintain their health,” said the directive. The release said that the instructions were developed after reviewing reports from state health authorities. 

Instead of handshakes during the Sign of Peace, the faithful in Maine are “encouraged to offer a verbal greeting, smile, or bow of the head,” and hospitality ministers should refrain from shaking the hands of those entering the parish. Hospitality ministers will also be encouraged to sanitize their hands before and after Mass.

“Parishioners should not hold hands during the Our Father,” adds the directive. 

During Masses, the chalice will only be distributed to people who are unable to partake in the consecrated hosts, such as those with celiac disease or other gluten allergies. Deeley is encouraging, but not requiring, Catholics to receive Holy Communion on the hand rather than directly on the tongue. 

The directive states that all ministers of Holy Communion will be required to sanitize their hands before and after the distribution of Holy Communion, and those who distribute Holy Communion are advised to not touch the tongue or hand of the communicant while distributing hosts. 

Any sponges found in holy water fonts are to be removed, and each Mass will include a prayer for those sick with the flu or other illnesses, their caretakers, and the community at large during the Prayers of the Faithful. 

A statement from the Diocese of Portland said that these new protocols are “similar to those established during other severe flu seasons” and they will be “in effect until further notice.” 

The Diocese of Portland is the only Roman Catholic diocese in the state of Maine.

Lawsuit on disclosure of abuse claims allowed to proceed against Diocese of Pittsburgh

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 13:58

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jan 9, 2020 / 11:58 am (CNA).- A judge in Pennsylvania is allowing a lawsuit to move forward arguing that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has created a public nuisance by failing to properly report and disclose information on sexual abuse of children.

The lawsuit is filed by both abuse victims and parents of children in the Catholic Church. Their attorney, Benjamin Sweet, said the ruling is unprecedented in supporting a suit filed by individuals who are not alleging abuse against themselves or a family member.

“This is the first time a cause of action has been brought by a non-survivor member of the public and the first time a court has said that is a viable legal strategy, that a private citizen can compel the church to prove it’s complying with the mandatory reporting law,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

He noted that none of the plaintiffs or attorneys are seeking monetary awards or damages in the suit, but said that they hope to push for additional transparency in the Church.

The plaintiffs are asking that the diocese be required to publicly release all of the information given to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury for its 2018 report on sex abuse in the Church in Pennsylvania. They also want a way for people making claims of clerical abuse to ensure that their allegations have been properly filed with the Church and secular authorities, the AP reported.

The suit had originally been filed in 2018 against all of the state’s eight dioceses. However, local CBS affiliate KDKA-2 reported that the judge issued a preliminary dismissal for the other seven Pennsylvania dioceses because there are no specific allegations against them.

Ellen Mady, chancellor of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA that the diocese is aware of the ruling but cannot comment on pending litigation.

“The diocese is in full compliance with the State of Pennsylvania’s mandated reporting requirements, and reports all allegations regarding sexual abuse of a minor to the district attorney’s office. We pray for healing for all victims,” she added.

According to the AP, diocesan lawyers had argued that they were not required to publicly release information about allegations, just to report them to law enforcement officials.

 

 

Chick-Fil-A still aims 'to glorify God' after corporate giving flap

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Chick-fil-A’s CEO has said that the restaurant chain “inadvertently discredited” many faith-based organizations when it announced last year that it was adjusting its corporate giving last year. The admission came in a December letter to a Christian organization.

"As you have seen, recently we announced changes to our giving strategy at the Chick-fil-A Foundation. These changes were made to better focus on hunger, homelessness and education," said Dan T. Cathy in a letter dated December 5, 2019. 

“We understand how some thought we were abandoning our longstanding support of faith-based organizations. We inadvertently discredited several outstanding organizations that have effectively served communities for years,” he added. 

The letter, addressed to American Family Association president Tim Wildon, made clear that the company’s Corporate Purpose, “to glorify God by being a faithful steward to all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A,” would not be changing. 

“Let me state unequivocally: It is not,” said Cathy. 

In November 2019, the Chick-fil-A Foundation announced that it would restructure its commitments to charitable organizations. The Foundation would be giving a large grant to Junior Achievement, Covenant House International, and food banks located near new Chick-fil-A locations.

Notably, the new giving strategy did not include donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Salvation Army, two faith-based organizations that had previously received multi-year grants from the Chick-fil-A Foundation. Both organizations promote the Biblical view of marriage and sexual relations and have come under sustained public criticism from LGBT campaigners. The November decision by the foundation was widely interpreted as a move to distance Chick-fil-A from that criticism.

The Salvation Army responded to the announcement at the time, saying they were “saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations — areas in which The Salvation Army, as the largest social services provider in the world, is already fully committed.” 

The Salvation Army said in the statement that a large number of the 23 million people they serve each year are part of the LGBT community, and that “we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population.” 

The statement also condemned “misinformation” regarding the organization’s work, and that they serve everyone in need, regardless of their sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity.

In the letter to Wildon, Cathy affirmed that Chick-fil-A would still give to religious charities in the future. 

“Chick-fil-A will give to faith-based and other organizations that we believe to be highly effective in a particular area,” he said, adding that “grant recipients will likely rotate” each year. 

Franchise operators are still able to donate to the charitable organization of their choice, “at their discretion,” said Cathy. 

“We have been entrusted with much to share and the needs are great,” he said.

New York bishops condemn 'dangerous' surrogacy bill

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 18:00

Albany, N.Y., Jan 8, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The bishops of New York stated their opposition to commercial surrogacy Wednesday as a new bill was introduced to legalize the practice in the state.

“The surrogacy legislation is designed mainly to benefit wealthy men who can afford tens of thousands of dollars to pay baby brokers, at the expense of low-income women,” said a Jan. 8 statement from Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.

A bill, A.1071 / S.2071, has been introduced in the state legislature which removes existing prohibitions on surrogacy contracts in New York. The Empire State is one of the few remaining states in the country not to have legislation on surrogacy. 

Under the legislation, embryos created in a laboratory through in vitro fertilization (IVF), using sperm and eggs that may or may not be from the legal parents, can be transferred to the uterus of a woman who, having agreed to be a surrogate mother, is contractually obligated to bear the child and give the baby back to the legal parents.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, supports the legislation.

Regarding the practice of IVF, the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2376 teaches that:

“Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’”

The New York Catholic Conference, which speaks on behalf of the bishops of the state, called the bill “a dangerous policy that will lead to the exploitation of poor, vulnerable women, and has few safeguards for children.” There are no safeguards such as residency requirements and background checks for surrogate parents, the conference says.

Other countries, including almost all European Union members, have begun moving away from the practice after cases of abuse of poor women acting as surrogates were made public.

India, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia have banned the commercial surrogacy trade and the EU Parliament has found it to be a “serious problem” and one “which constitutes an exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs.”

In addition, the legislation explicitly denies any and all rights to babies in utero, stating that they may not be viewed as a ‘child' under the laws of New York, with the presumption that they must instead be viewed as manufactured products or disposable goods.

Archbishop Gomez urges prayers for peace amid Iran tensions

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged Catholics to pray for peace during amid rising conflict between the United States and Iran.

Gomez released the statement on Tuesday evening, after Iranian forces fired missiles at an American military base in Iraq in response to the killing of Iranian General Qassam Soleimani last week.

“We must pray urgently that our world’s leaders will pursue dialogue and seek peace,” said Gomez. 

“Please join me in asking our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, to intercede, that Jesus Christ might strengthen the peacemakers, comfort the suffering, and protect the innocent and all those in harm’s way, especially the men and women in our military and diplomatic service,” he added.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump addressed the press shortly before noon, and stated that the United States would not be escalating the situation further, and that “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

The president said that had been no casualties from the missile strike on Tuesday, and that there was “only minimal damage” to the base. 

Trump defended the airstrike that killed Soleimani, saying “Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood” and that “he should have been terminated long ago.” 

“By removing Soleimani, we have sent a powerful message to terrorists: If you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our people,” said Trump.

The president urged NATO to become deeper involved in the peace process in the Middle East, and said that America would impose further economic sanctions on Iran. These sanctions would continue until Iran makes changes.

As of Wednesday, there was no plan for a military invasion of Iran. 

“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it,” said Trump. “We do not want to use it.  American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”

Trump ended his address with a message to the Iranian people and their leaders, saying that America wants the country to “have a future and a great future--one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home, and harmony with the nations of the world.”

“The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” he said. 

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