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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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Film to portray Catholic woman who saved Jewish children in WWII 

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 20:47

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2019 / 06:47 pm (CNA).- The true story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic woman who helped smuggle thousands of Jewish children out of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw during World War II, will feature in a new historical thriller film produced by and starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

Gadot, an Israeli actress well-known for her 2017 role as Wonder Woman, is co-producing the film, “Irena Sendler,” with her husband Jaron Varsano as the first project for their new production company, Pilot Wave.

“As producers, we want to help bring stories that have inspired us to life,” Gadot and Varsano told Deadline. “Pilot Wave will create content that promotes the perspectives and experiences of unique people and produce impactful stories aimed at igniting the imagination.”

According to Deadline, the new film will focus on Sendler’s underground activities and her arrest, and “the drama becomes a race against time to save not only herself but the identities of the hidden thousands who’ll face certain execution.”

Irena Sendler was a 29 year-old social worker for the city of Warsaw when the German army occupied the city in September 1939. Using her connections from work, Sendler did what she could to help the persecuted Jewish people of Warsaw.

A little over a year later, nearly 400,000 Jewish people - almost all of the remaining Jews in Warsaw, and roughly 30% of the total population of the city - were rounded up and forced to live together in a cramped 1.3 square miles called the Warsaw Ghetto.

Conditions in the ghetto were grim - space was crowded, food was scarce, and the sanitary conditions were horrendous. It was sealed by a 10-foot wall with barbed wire on top and heavily guarded by German soldiers to ensure no one could get in or out.

Undeterred in her determination to help the Jews, and risking her own safety, Sendler was able to obtain a permit through her work connections that allowed her to enter the ghetto under the guise of inspecting its sanitary conditions, according to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

In reality, she was working with Jewish organizations inside the ghetto to smuggle out as many Jewish children as she could, who were then placed in either Christian homes or in institutions run by Catholic nuns.

According to The Irena Sendler Project, she was able to get children out of the ghetto in ambulances, or through the still-standing courthouse located on the edge of the ghetto, through the sewage system, and on a few occasions by using dogs. There was also a Christian church next to the ghetto guarded by the Germans, and a Jewish child who could convincingly recite some Christian prayers could sometimes use this as an escape route.

In 1942, Sendler, who went by the underground name of Jolanta, became an active member of the Council for Aid to Jews (Zegota), which helped rescue those still left in the ghetto after mass deportations took some 280,000 Jews to the extermination camp Treblinka.

Sendler eventually became director of Zegota’s Department for the Care of Jewish Children in September 1943, months after the Warsaw Uprising left the ghetto destroyed and thousands more Jewish people either killed or deported. It is estimated that Sendler and her associates were able to save 2,500 Jewish children from the ghetto.

In October 1943, Sendler was arrested for her underground activities and sentenced to death, though members of the underground resistance were able to bribe her prison guards for her release in February 1944. Before her arrest, she had been able to hide any information that would have led to the capture of the Jewish children she had helped to save or the people protecting them.

In 1965, Irena Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem for her life-saving efforts, when she was named one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non-Jews for their efforts to help the Jewish people during the Holocaust at great personal risk. She was also granted honorary citizenship by Israel in 1991.

Sendler lived to be 98 and died on May 12, 2008.

'Transgender mandate' struck down by federal court

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 18:00

Dallas, Texas, Oct 15, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge struck down the so-called “transgender mandate” on Tuesday, vacating an Obama-era requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon request.

Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas—who had issued a preliminary injunction on the transgender mandate at the end of 2016—struck down the mandate Oct. 15 in the case of Franciscan Alliance v. Azar, after doctors around the country filed suit against the mandate on religious freedom grounds.

“Today marks a major victory for compassion, conscience, and sound medical judgment,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented plaintiffs that filed suit against the mandate.

“Our clients look forward to joyfully continuing to serve all patients, regardless of their sex or gender identity, and continuing to provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold,” Goodrich said.

In 2016, the Obama administration issued a regulation that would require most doctors throughout the country—900,000 physicians, by the agency’s estimate—to perform gender-transition surgeries upon request, despite any conscience-based or prudential objections.

The rule omitted any clear religious exemption for doctors, and did not allow doctors to refuse a request for surgery if they deemed it harmful to the patient; surgeries would also have had to be performed on children.

The regulation stemmed from Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. HHS interpreted “sex discrimination” under this rule to include gender identity, thus mandating the provision of gender-transition surgeries.

In response to the rule, an alliance of more than 19,000 health care professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations combined in two lawsuits against the mandate, saying that it unlawfully required doctors to, in cases of objection, violate their religious beliefs or the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to the patient. Becket represented the plaintiffs.

In December of 2016, two different federal courts ruled against the mandate, and in May of 2019, the Trump HHS proposed a rule to roll back the inclusion of “gender identity” within the nondiscrimination rule. While the proposed rule has not yet been finalized, the previous regulation was still valid.

Another lawsuit against the mandate, New York v. HHS, is still pending in federal courts.

In other recent cases in California, two Catholic health systems are facing lawsuits from two women identifying as transgender men, who claim that they requested hysterectomies at Catholic hospitals but were denied the procedures.

Goodrich, in a series of tweets on Tuesday, said that two different federal circuit courts—the First and the Fifth Circuits—have said that no consensus in the medical community exists that gender transition surgeries should be mandatory.

“The doctors and hospitals in these cases argued that they shouldn’t be forced to perform procedures that violate their consciences and could harm their patients. The federal court today agreed,” Goodrich tweeted.

Study finds fertility below replacement rate is 'new normal'

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Fertility rates around the world are stalling at below the replacement level, a new study has shown, as countries with higher fertility rates have shown sharp decreases. 

A study from the Institute for Family Studies, authored by Lyman Stone, released Oct. 15, analyzed fertility rates from 2017, 2018, and projected 2019 rates for different regions around the world. Stone found that countries with fertility rates above 1.6 or 1.7 children were seeing decreasing rates over the past decade, but countries with fertility rates below that number were either stabalizing, or even increasing in some areas. 

“Current declines are probably not just cyclical, but likely reflect a ‘new normal’ with most countries having birth rates between 1.4 and 1.9 children per woman,” wrote Stone. 

Analyzing the most recent total fertility rate (TFR) data for each country, Stone found the steepest average annual changes in TFR since 2007 were in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, and Honduras. The biggest gains were in Mongolia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia. 

“The figure shows fertility fell the most in the highest-fertility regions, and it rose somewhat in lower-fertility regions. Put in statistical terms, the amount of variation among these 61 countries declined by half between 2007 and 2019,” Stone said.

“What we appear to be seeing is a global convergence around fertility rates of 1.6 or 1.7 children,” he said. 

While fertility rates are trending downward worldwide, Stone wrote that there has been significant progress made on increasing fertility rates in countries that had previously been facing demographic challenges. Japan, for example, now has the highest fertility rate in East Asia, with the exceptions of North Korea and Mongolia. 

“The perception of Japan as an ultra-low fertility, unfriendly-to-families, closed-to-immigration country is increasingly outdated,” said Stone. In order to boost fertility rates, Stone said that the Japaense government become “creative” in incentivizing births, as well as being more open to immigration and migration. 

Conversely, Stone said South Korea’s efforts to boost its 0.92 TFR is “misguided and failing,” and will do so without major changes made to the country’s workaholic culture. 

Elsewhere in Asia, there are other signs of hope. Mongolia, a country which experienced a “baby bust” of decreased fertility following the fall of the Soviet Union, has seen its TFR rebound substantially over the last 14 years. Presently, the Mongolian TFR is around three children per woman, which is an increase by a full child since 2005. Other former Soviet countries have experienced a similar bust-and-boom cycle of fertility rates, that now appear to be leveling off. 

The United Nations lists replacement-level fertility rates at 2.1 children per mother. With worldwide trends seeming to stabilize around 1.6 to 1.7, the long term effects for countries which depend on a large population and tax base to support social programs could be severe, experts have previously warned.

In May of this year, Jonathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” told CNA that there were no easy answer for societies facing a clear and steady population decline.

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

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

While some governments have introduced measures to incentivise women and families to have more children, the IFS data indicates that governmental efforts to reduce the number of children born to a woman have proven far more successful than any pro-birth initiatives. 

“In other words, the ongoing global fertility slump suggests that the future human population will be smaller than expected,” said Stone. 

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

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

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

‘Life Empowers’: March for Life unveils 2020 theme 

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The 2020 March for Life will honor the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States, promoting a pro-life message of “empowerment” of women and taking aim at the false equation of abortion with independence. 

“Our hope and prayer for this year’s theme,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, at a Tuesday event on Capitol Hill unveiling the March’s 2020 theme, “is that it will be a healing remedy for the wounding and deceptive messages about women coming from the abortion industry and beyond.”

The theme of the upcoming March is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.” Mancini announced the theme during a panel event Oct. 15 with pro-life and feminist leaders on Capitol Hill.

The year 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19thAamendment, which extended the right to vote in the United States to include women. 

Underscoring the link between the significance of the anniversary and the theme of “empowerment,” Mancini told CNA that “we primarily chose it because of the centennial.”

The March for Life is an annual pro-life gathering in Washington, D.C., with participants traveling from all over the country. The march has been held every January since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court found a legal right to abortion in all 50 states in its Roe v. Wade decision.

Joining Mancini on a panel at Tuesday’s event were Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, Gloria Purvis, a radio host and chairperson of Black Catholics United for Life, and Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life.

Abortion is currently “being promoted as essential to women’s freedom, to women’s empowerment, and to women’s progress,” Mancini said on Tuesday, citing the National Abortion Rights Action League’s (NARAL) #ShoutYourAbortion campaign that encouraged post-abortive women to publicly share the details of their abortion so as to normalize it.

Campaigns like NARAL’s aim to turn motherhood—something essential to being a woman—into something “to be ashamed of,” Mancini said. Instead, she said, motherhood is something that is “miraculous” and a “gift.”

“Our theme aims to change hearts and minds, to make abortion unthinkable in our culture,” she said on Tuesday.

The upcoming march will also be held in a presidential election year, a fact not lost on those planning the national pro-life event.

“We need to speak about confusing messages on women,” Mancini told CNA of the organization’s planned message for 2020. “Right now, as we know, none of the Democratic candidates are with us on this issue, and even more, they’re wildly out of touch with mainstream America on this issue.”

“To listen to their many, many, many debates, you come away with a very different understanding about what it means to be pro-woman,” she told CNA.

Speaking Tuesday, Serrin Foster said that “Feminism is a philosophy that embraces the rights of all human beings without exception,” noting that Susan B. Anthony, the feminist most identified with helping secure women’s suffrage in the U.S., was opposed to abortion.

“Those who see no moral problem with the taking of human life see abortion as the great equalizer,” said Victoria Cobb.

Abortion is the fruit of a mentality that sees a woman’s body and the inherent goodness of motherhood as an “enemy,” Gloria Purvis said. Furthermore, it is used as a distraction rather than a solution to the problems of workplace discrimination and poverty, she said.

The language of abortion rights makes a proposal to women akin to “in order to be equal to men in the workplace, you need this abortion,” Purvis said, which is a “deflection” from the need to “help them thrive and flourish in the workplace.”

“We have to make the greatest sacrifice just to be at the table,” Purvis said of women who have abortions because they feel they cannot afford to not work. “That is not being pro-woman.”

Abortion is also used to “deflect from real solutions to poverty,” Purvis said. “Killing the poor is not a solution to poverty.”

While the abortion rights movement is advocating for a woman’s choice without working “to help their struggling neighbor,” those the pro-life movement must look at their neighbor and ask “what is their need and how can I help them?” Purvis said.

US Secretary of State discusses international religious freedom threats

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 15:01

Nashville, Tenn., Oct 15, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- In a speech on Christian leadership Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted international religious freedom threats, especially in China, Iran, and Iraq.

Pompeo spoke Oct. 11 in Nashville to the American Association of Christian Counselors, discussing Christian leadership in disposition, dialogue, and decision making.

“Before you can help others, you need to have the right approach to yourself,” he began in speaking of disposition. “How you carry yourself is the first arena of Christian leadership.”

Pompeo noted he keeps an open Bible on his desk, and tries to read it each morning. “I need my mind renewed with truth each day. And part of that truth … is to be humble.”

He also noted the importance of forgiveness in one's disposition.

Turning to dialogue, Pompeo emphasized the importance of listening carefully and not rushing to judgement, but especially truth telling.

He noted that as Secretary of State “I’m especially telling the truth about the dire condition of religious freedom around the world. America has a proud history of religious freedom, and we want jealously to guard it here. But around the world, more than 80% of mankind lives in areas where religious freedom is suppressed or denied in its entirety.”

He said the Chinese Communist Party “is detaining and abusing more than one million Uighur Muslims in internment camps in the Xinjiang” and “Christian pastors today are being unlawfully arrested, beaten, detained inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. We need to speak about this.”

“Christian areas in northern Iraq that I’ve had the privilege to visit have been ravaged by ISIS, part of a greater trend of Christian persecution all across the Middle East,” he added.

Pompeo spoke of the State Departments efforts in recent years to emphasize religious freedom, saying, “we've hosted ministerials. We bring leaders from all around the world called the Ministerial on Religious Freedom at the State Department. We’ve told the world about these shortfalls and the success of nations when individuals are given their basic human dignity to practice their conscience, their faith, or to choose no faith if they so choose all around the world.”

Finally, the state secretary addressed decision making, focusing on faithful stewardship and intentional use of time.

“Decisions are a question of priorities, often … I am grateful that my call as a Christian to protect human dignity overlaps with America’s centuries-old commitment to the same mission in our foreign policy all across the world.”

Pompeo noted that “international organizations will try, from time to time, to sneak language into their documents claiming that abortion is a human right. And we’ll never accept that. We’ve worked diligently to find every dollar that might be going to that and we have worked tirelessly and successfully now to bring it nearly to an end.”

El Paso bishop encourages Catholics to overcome racism with acts of inclusion

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 14:19

El Paso, Texas, Oct 15, 2019 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso issued a pastoral letter Sunday reflecting on the area's history of racism and encouraging Catholics to be a source of justice, after a mass shooting in the city some months ago.

Night Will Be No More was issued Oct. 13 “on the theme of racism and white supremacy to reflect together on the evil that robbed us of 22 lives.”

Bishop Seitz wrote that “God can only be calling our community to greater fidelity. Together we are called to discern the new paths of justice and mercy required of us and to rediscover our reasons for hope.”

An armed man opened fire at a shopping complex in El Paso Aug. 3, killing 22 and injuring more than two dozen. The shooter reportedly published a four-page document online in the hours before the attack, detailing his hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics.

“Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy,” said Bishops Seitz.

“I know God will never allow the hate that visited our community on August 3rd to have the last word. We must recommit ourselves to the hospitality and compassion that characterized our community long before we were attacked, with all the risk and vulnerability which that entails. We must continue to show the rest of the country that love is capable of mending every wound,” he added.

While a lack of gun control and mental healthcare contribute to mass shootings, the bishop said, he noted racism as the prime motivator for the attack in El Paso.

“This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color,” he said.

“This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization.”

He said that “the history of colonization can discern both the presence of a genuine Christian missionary impulse as well as the deployment of white supremacy and cultural oppression as tools of economic ambition, imperial adventurism and political expansion.”

The bishop asserted that “it was in the encounter between the Spanish colonists and Indigenous communities that fateful identities were co-produced and sinful notions of civilized versus uncivilized and the invention of the savage were born.”

He chronicled the history of racism and discrimination among various groups in the area.

“Older generations of El Pasoans still talk about entrenched attitudes against Latinos and how the system was stacked against them growing up. Latinos were excluded from political life by a closed network dominated by White, wealthy men. Latino children at school didn’t see themselves, not in the faces of their teachers or school leadership, but only custodial and cafeteria staff,” he said.

He called the wall on the US-Mexico border wall “a powerful symbol in the story of race” which “has helped to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects.”

“It is not just a tool of national security. More than that, the wall is a symbol of exclusion, especially when allied to an overt politics of xenophobia … The wall deepens racially charged perceptions of how we understand the border as well as Mexicans and migrants. It extends racist talk of an ‘invasion’.”

For Bishop Seitz, the border wall “perpetuates the racist myth that the area south of the border is dangerous and foreign and that we are merely passive observers in the growth of narco-violence and the trafficking of human beings and drugs.”

It is the responsibility of Catholics to defend the immigrant, he said. He pointed to the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who asked Saint Juan Diego to build a church in her honor. In the image, Our Lady is depicted as a mestiza “who takes what is noble from each culture, elevates it and points out new ways towards reconciliation,” he said.

“Our Lady affirmed Juan Diego against dehumanization. And that affirmation came with a divine charge to make persistent petition before the authorities and build a temple.”

Likewise, he said Catholics must build a “Temple of Justice” through which solidarity, friendship, and charity may take place. He said the evil history of racism may be overcome with encounters of love.

“God offers us the chance to build a new history where racism does not prevail. The ‘manifesto’ of hate and exclusion that entered our community can be countered with a manifesto of radical love and inclusion. I want to see an El Paso that addresses both the legacy of racism and one which builds more just structures to eradicate and overcome that history.”

He said there must be practical steps of inclusion and love, overcoming unjust political measures and the racism of the past. There needs to be a new history of human rights and bridge building, he said.

“It is not enough to not be racist. Our reaction cannot be non-engagement. We must also make a commitment to be anti-racists in active solidarity with the suffering and excluded,” he said.

“We must take active steps to defend the human rights of everyone in our border community and their dignity against dehumanization as we work to forge a new humanity. What racism has divided, with the help of God, we can work to restore.”

To combat racism, he said, measures need to be taken to ensure equal educational opportunities, universal health care, immigration reform, improved wages, and environmental protections. He also emphasized the role of priests and the importance of the sacraments, which communicate anti-racist themes.

“In [baptism] we celebrate the radical transformation and equality that comes from renewal in Christ. In the anointing with holy oils we proclaim a reverence for human life without distinction. The strength of these symbols should flow into our daily parish life and work for justice,” he said.

“Likewise, in our celebration of Mass, pastors can lead our people to a deeper consciousness of the weight of communal and historical sin that we bring to the table of the Lord in the penitential rite. We should ask ourselves carefully who is yet not present, and whose cultures are not yet reflected at the banquet of the Lord that we celebrate at the altar,” he asserted.

He also encouraged President Trump, members of Congress, and the jurists of the highest U.S. courts, “in the absence of immigration reform … to listen to the voice of conscience and halt the deportation of all those who are not a danger to our communities, to stop the separation of families, and to end once and for all the turning back of refugees and death at the border.”

New York will get statue of Mother Cabrini

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 12:30

New York City, N.Y., Oct 15, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the state will erect a statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.

The announcement comes two months after a New York City public arts program decided they would not build a statue of Mother Cabrini, despite the saint topping a poll organized by the program. 

During a public nominations period for the She Built NYC program, Mother Cabrini received 219 nominations--more than double the number received by Jane Jacobs, who received the second-most nominations.

In an announcement at the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York on Oct. 14, Cuomo said 

“We’re also pleased to announce we’re going to build a statue to Mother Cabrini.”

The move was immediately welcomed by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“I welcome the assistance the Governor is promising in erecting a statue for Mother Cabrini, which we hope is a monument to her for her work on behalf of immigrants,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn on Monday. 

Cabrini was the founder of the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and opened and operated many schools and orphanages in New York City. She was canonized in 1946, the first naturalized American citizen to be declared a saint, and she is venerated as the patron of immigrants.

The Diocese of Brooklyn participated in the annual Columbus Day parade on Monday, marching with a float and banner in honor of the saint and calling for the erection of a statute in her honor.

“Almost all of our churches in Brooklyn have a statue of Mother Cabrini. It’s not another statue we’re talking about. It’s respect for immigrants,” DiMarzio said.

“We will work with Governor Cuomo's office to make it happen.”

The state commission will work alongside the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Italian-American heritage organization the Columbus Citizens Foundation to construct the statue. Cabrini was an Italian immigrant who arrived in New York in the late 19th century. 

The She Built NYC program was created to increase the number of statues of women throughout the city. In mid-August, the program’s selection committee, led by Chirlane McCray, married to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and former deputy mayor Alicia Glen, announced that statues were to be built of Rep. Shirley Chisolm, Katherine Walker, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Billie Holiday, and Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias. They received the third, fifth, seventh, 19th, 22nd, 24th and 42nd-most nominations, respectively. 

Johnson and Rivera, who are both biological men who identified as “drag queens,” will appear on a statue together. 

In August, a spokesperson for Ms. McCray told CNA that the public nominations process was not intended to determine which women would be honored, but only to inform the judgment of the selection committee.

“Nominations made by the public were the foundation of this entire process – only those submitted were considered by the advisory committee and the City,” Siobhan Dingwall, press secretary for the Office of the First Lady in New York City, told CNA in a statement. 

In addition to the public nominations, She Built NYC also considered other factors, such as proposed locations, existing monuments, and site availability when deciding who and where to erect new statues.

Indian archbishop, parish priest killed in California car accident

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 06:30

Wilbur Springs, Calif., Oct 15, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong, India and Fr. Mathew Vellankal died in a car crash Oct. 10 during a visit to the Diocese of Oakland.

The visiting archbishop and two local priests’ Toyota Prius was hit by a tractor-trailer truck on a California highway in Wilbur Springs at 2:20pm on Oct. 10, according to California Highway Patrol.

Fr. Joseph Parekkatt, pastor of St. Anne Parish, survived the crash with injuries and is in stable condition at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Fr. Vellankal, pastor of St. Bonaventure in Concord, and Archbishop Jala, both died at the scene of the accident.

“Father Vellankal’s joyous spirit and faith will be deeply missed,” Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland said in the diocese announcement Oct. 12. “May his soul and the soul of Archbishop Jala rest in the peace of Christ.”

Jala, 68, served as the archbishop of Shillong, India for the past 19 years and was apostolic administrator of Nongstoin, India since 2016.

The Indian archbishop was visiting the U.S. to attend the meeting of the International Commission for English Liturgy, according to the Archdiocese of Shillong. He had previously visited Rome Sept. 17-28 for the ad limina visit at the Vatican.

Born in Meghalaya in northeastern India in 1951, Jala went on to be ordained a priest in the Salesians of Don Bosco in 1977. He authored the book, “Liturgy and Mission” in 1987, and served as head of the Liturgy Commission of the north East India Regional Bishops’ Council.

The Shillong Archdiocese elected Fr. John Madur, former chancellor of Shillong, to serve as the diocesan administrator.

Fr. Vellankal, 58, was a Salesian priest born from Kerala, India, who had served as a parish priest in the Diocese of Oakland since 2001. He wrote a book in 2005, “From Humor to Inspiration: Jokes, Reflections and Quotes to Enliven Your Day.”

Funeral arrangements for Archbishop Jala and Fr. Vellankal are pending. Catholics in Shillong are praying each day at 5:30pm at the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians as they await the return of their late archbishop’s mortal remains.

Historic Marian shrine in Florida elevated to national shrine

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 05:01

St. Augustine, Fla., Oct 15, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine announced Friday that the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche has been elevated as a National Shrine by the US bishops' conference.

The shrine is located at the Nombre de Dios mission in St. Augustine, founded in 1587. According to the Diocese of St. Augustine, it is America's oldest Marian shrine.

It is dedicated to the nursing Mother of God, and is a site of pilgrimage particularly for those hoping to become pregnant or to have a safe delivery.

Bishop Estévez made the announcement at an Oct. 11 Mass for the feast of Our Lady of La Leche.

“Mary recognizes the living God who closes the door to the mighty of this world and raises up the little ones, the poor in spirit, who are blessed by God,” he said. “She praises God in his great mercy towards those who obey him and open their hearts to him.”

“When we look at the image of Our Lady of La Leche, in pure beauty, we see the whole mystery of Incarnation,” he reflected. “If Mary has a message for us today, I find it in the only words that appear in the Gospel of St. John, attributed to her: 'Do what He tells you.'”

Some 200 people attended the Mass, including benefactors, members of the Confraternity of Our Lady of La Leche, and Knights and Dames of Malta.

The first Mass at the site of the Nombre de Dios mission was said in 1565, and the mission itself was founded 22 years later by Franciscans. A chapel dedicated to Our Lady of La Leche was established on the grounds of the mission in 1609.

The statue of Our Lady of La Leche will be crowned Oct. 11, 2020, as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the erection of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

California expands statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 02:02

Sacramento, Calif., Oct 15, 2019 / 12:02 am (CNA).- California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law on Sunday a measure extending the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse victims.

The law allows civil claims of childhood sexual abuse to be filed by victims until age 40, or five years after discovering the damages from the abuse.

Previously, claims had to be filed by age 26, or within three years of discovering damages from the abuse.

The new law also opens up a three-year window to revive past claims that would have expired under the previous statute of limitations. That window begins Jan. 1, 2020.

Andy Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, responded in an Oct. 14 statement, saying, “Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction.”

“The Catholic Church has confronted this issue of child sexual abuse for more than two decades now,” Rivas said. “It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them.”

He noted the reforms made by the Church to protect children and that new reports of abuse in the Church in California are rare. He also pointed to efforts by dioceses in the state to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to therapy and pastoral care to abuse victims.

“The Church cooperated with then-Governor Gray Davis and the legislature during the opening of the statute of limitations in 2003. The Church paid more than $1.2 billion to settle claims filed by hundreds of victim-survivors,” he said.

Rivas noted that earlier this year, six of California’s 12 Catholic dioceses established an independently managed compensation program, which would provide compensatory payment to those alleging to be victims of priestly sexual abuse, regardless of what that abuse is alleged to have happened.

The programs covers Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange, and Fresno. These six dioceses represent 80% of California’s Catholics, according to an announcement about the compensation program.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who authored the California bill, said in a statement, “The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous.”

“More and more, we’re hearing about people who were victims years ago but were not ready to come forward to tell their story until now,” she said. “We shouldn’t be telling victims their time is up when in reality we need them to come forward to protect the community from future abuse.”

However, critics argue that the law goes too far, opening the door to cases with little evidence and allowing damages to be tripled if cover-up of abuse was involved.

Rivas also noted with disappointment that the law does not cover sexual abuse victims of state employees.

According to the Associated Press, school districts in the state showed heavy opposition to the legislation, arguing that reliable evidence and witnesses are more difficult to collect 40 years after an alleged act of abuse.

Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association, said the bill “has a very real chance of bankrupting or impoverishing many districts,” the AP reported.

“We don't want to minimize or trivialize the trauma that's associated with inappropriate sexual conduct in schools,” Flint said, but added that the financial impact on school districts in the state could “inhibit our ability to properly serve today's students and students in years to come.”

The Boy Scouts of America - which has faced millions of dollars in damages to child abuse victims, said it is considering “all available options,” including declaring bankruptcy, the AP reported.

In a statement the organization said it cares “deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize(s) to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting.” It noted the procedures put in place to avoid individual youth and adult interactions and ensure respect for privacy.

According to the Associated Press, Michael Pfau, an attorney based in Seattle, says his firm has approximately 100 abuse victims who are ready to file suits against California schools, Catholic dioceses, foster homes, the Boy Scouts when the extended window opens.

California is among several states to consider expanding the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse.

Earlier this year, New York widened the statute of limitations for both criminal and civil claims, and opened a one-year window for abuse survivors to files suits against their abuser or the institution where the abuse occurred.

More than 400 lawsuits were filed in the state on the first day of the expanded window, including claims against members of the Catholic clergy, the Boy Scouts, and the state’s public schools.

The governor of New Jersey signed a similar law in May. North Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have also considered similar legislation in the last year.

 

Ohio Down syndrome abortion ban remains blocked after court ruling 

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 20:52

Cincinnati, Ohio, Oct 14, 2019 / 06:52 pm (CNA).- A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a block on an Ohio law banning abortions on the grounds of a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Former Governor John Kasich signed the law nearly two years ago, but it has not yet been able to come into effect.

The court’s decision comes amid Down Syndrome Awareness Month, which advocacy organizations observe in October.

The law outlawed abortions in cases where there was a positive test result or prenatal diagnosis indicating Down syndrome, the Associated Press reports. Physicians convicted of performing an abortion under such circumstances could be charged with a fourth-degree felony, stripped of their medical license and held liable for legal damages. The pregnant women would not be held liable.

The office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has said the state will seek a review by the full 6th Circuit, as Friday’s decision was handed down 2-1 by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel.

Federal Judge Timothy Black first blocked the law from taking effect in March 2018. It was set to go into effect the 23rd of that month.

Supporters of the law have questioned Black’s impartiality. He had served as president of Cincinnati’s Planned Parenthood in 1988 and as its director from 1986-1989. He recused himself from a case involving Planned Parenthood in 2014.

Former Governor John Kasich first signed the law in December 2017, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood the subsequent February against the Ohio Department of Health, county prosecutors, and members of the state medical board.

Current Ohio Governor Mike Dewine has not yet commented publicly on the law’s most recent blockage, but on Monday tweeted his support for Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As attorney general, DeWine had set the state’s appeal against the judge’s decision into motion.

Attorney General says education is 'ground zero' in fight for religious freedom

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 17:00

South Bend, Ind., Oct 14, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Education is “ground zero” in the fight for religious freedom, the U.S. Attorney General told an audience at the Notre Dame Law School on Friday.

While speaking on the threats posed to freedom of religion in the U.S. by aggressive secularism, Attorney General William Barr told law students that nowhere is the threat to religious freedom so great as in education.

Education, he said, should lead students to the truth and teach them to “love the truth” and to develop the “discipline to live by it.” However, he added, “the times are hostile to this.”

Barr addressed law students at Notre Dame on religious freedom Oct. 11, while a crowd of protesters had gathered outside the law school reportedly blowing whistles and holding signs that included asking the Trump administration to end the practice of separations of immigrant families at the border.

The protest of blowing whistles was in reference to a whistleblower complaint that President Donald Trump, on an official phone call with the Ukrainian president, had offered Barr’s services to help investigate the son of opposing presidential candidate Joe Biden and his business dealings in the Ukraine.  

A Catholic, Barr was previously the U.S. attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He was confirmed as the 85th attorney general of the U.S. on February 14, after former attorney general Jeff Sessions resigned in November of 2018 at the request of President Trump.

He recently drew criticism for his decision to resume federal executions of some prisoners on death row, after Pope Francis had declared the death penalty “inadmissible” in 2018 and the U.S. bishops had long pushed for its abolition.

In his Friday remarks, Barr warned of a rise in secularism that is intent upon the “organized destruction” of the Judeo-Christian ethic, which he said the U.S. was founded upon.

This secular effort, he said, marshals the resources of academia and the entertainment and communications industries to promote a vision of life and morality that is fundamentally at odds with Christianity; it uses social ostracization, lawsuits, and other threats to push compliance, and even functions as a religion of sorts, he said.

Education, Barr said, is “ground zero” in this fight where secularism seeks to impose itself on the populace even in violation of religious freedom.

Public school curricula are being pushed by states and local boards of education that are “incompatible with Judeo-Christian principles,” he said, with no opt-outs being offered to parents with religious objections. Barr referenced the states of Illinois, California, New Jersey and Colorado which require by law that public schools teach “LGBT history.”

The right of parents to transmit faith to their children is paramount, he said, and “for the government to interfere in that process is a monstrous invasion of religious liberty.”

For instance, the New Jersey law was passed without any opt-out for parents when the policy takes effect in middle and high schools in 2020-2021. 

The Orange County Department of Education in California issued a memo in 2018 stating that parents who objected to comprehensive sexual education could not withdraw their children from instruction on gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

These cases are part of an effort of the “state requiring local public schools to insert themselves into contentious social debates without regard to the religious views of their students or parents,” Barr said. “Those families are implicitly told that they should conform or leave.”

In other cases, religious schools are being singled out and marginalized simply because of their religious status when they are being considered for public benefits, he said.

Long-standing laws such as Blaine Amendment statutes—once passed in many states as anti-Catholic measures—are now being used to “starve religious schools of generally available funds” such as tax credits to help underprivileged students attend the school of their choice, Barr said, pointing to a Montana case, currently before the Supreme Court in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

In Indiana, a lawsuit brought by a former teacher at Cathedral Catholic High School is challenging the authority of the Archbishop of Indianapolis to determine the Catholic identity of a school in his archdiocese, Barr said, saying that the situation painted “ a disturbing picture.” 

Barr encouraged Catholics to “do all we can to promote and support authentic Catholic education at all levels,” while promising that the Department of Justice would “fight” for religious freedom, “the most cherished of all American liberties.”

In 2018, a religious liberty task force was created at the Department of Justice to implement a 2017 religious liberty executive order. Barr said that the task force involves the Solicitor General, the Office of Legal Counsel and others to meet regularly and discuss cases where the Establishment Clause is misapplied or abused by states against people of faith, or where the free exercise of religion is being violated.

In his remarks on Friday, Barr blamed the “erosion” of traditional morality for the subsequent rise in secularism that now threatens religious freedom, and represents a break with the founding values which underpin the American constitutional order.

The Constitution, he said, was created for people who could govern themselves and practice “moral discipline,” but in the last several decades there has been a decline in the common understanding and adaptation of Judeo-Christian principles and adherence to the natural law.

“The campaign to destroy the traditional moral order,” he said, “I believe has brought with it immense suffering and misery,” Barr said, while noting that the rise of secularism had come with an attack on organized religion brought with “force, fervor, and comprehensiveness.”

Calif. governor signs state college campus abortion pill mandate into law

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 13:48

Sacramento, Calif., Oct 14, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Friday a measure requiring public universities to provide free access to medical abortions for students.

The law will take effect in 2023, and applies to the 34 campuses of the University of California and California State University.

Sen. Connie Levya (D-Chino), the law's author, said Oct. 11 that “abortion is a protected right, and it is important that everyone—including college students—have access to that right, if they so choose. I thank the Governor and my legislative colleagues for upholding the right to choose and affirming the right of college students to access medication abortion on campuses here in California.”

The law will also create a fund to provide a $200,000 grant to each public university student health center to pay for the cost of offering abortion pills, with money coming from nonstate sources such as private sector entities and local and federal government agencies.

The law will only take effect if $10.29 million in private funds are made available by Jan 1, 2020, which funding has already been secured according to an Aug. 12 analysis of the bill by the State Assembly's appropriations committee.

It also requires abortion counseling services to students, but it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling,” the California Catholic Conference said in a statement on their website.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, a public supporter of abortion, vetoed a similar bill last September, saying it was was “not necessary,” as abortion services are already “widely available” off campus.

The California Catholic Conference was opposed to the law as it passed through the legislature, and last month the group urged Newsom to veto “this unprecedented and unnecessary legislation because it purposely narrows a young woman’s choices and puts the state’s prestigious academic institutions in a position of actually promoting, facilitating and potentially funding only abortions.”

Currently, a majority of campus health centers offer gynecological services and contraceptives, but they will refer students seeking an abortion to an off-campus abortion clinic.

The California Catholic Conference said the bill overemphasizes abortion as an option for college pregnancies. While the bill invites health centers to include abortion counseling services, the conference said it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling.”

“This bill will promote only abortion-inducing drugs on college campuses,” said Andrew Rivas, executive director of the conference. “No government-funded institution, medical or counseling center, should ever provide only one set of services. If this bill is truly about providing choices for female students, the state should then also require and fund life-affirming services on campus.”

“Offering state-funded abortions as the only alternative to pregnancy undermines the ability of a state academic institution to promote the value of diversity and the empowerment of women,” he added.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first, mifepristone, blocks progesterone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the fetus.

What are you willing to die for, Chaput asks students

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Oct 14, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- It is important to consider what we are willing to die for, Archbishop Charles Chaput reminded students and faculty in a speech at the University of Notre Dame on Friday.

“It’s a good thing, a vital thing, to consider what we’re willing to die for,” Chaput said in a lecture given to the Constitutional Studies Program at the university on Oct. 11.

“To even ask that question is an act of rebellion against a loveless age. And to answer it with conviction is to become a revolutionary; the kind of loving revolutionary who will survive and resist—and someday redeem a late modern West that can no longer imagine anything worth dying for, and thus, in the long run, anything worth living for.”

Chaput said he was moved to consider the question as he prepares for retirement; he turned 75 last month, and in line with canon law submitted his resignation to Pope Francis.

“When you get to be my age, a topic like ‘things worth dying for’ has some special urgency,” Chaput said, noting that he expected this to be his last speech delivered as a sitting archbishop. He told his audience that to consider that life, death, and meaning are all bound together in love.

Parents, the archbishop said, were the first example of natural love. Offering the example of the parents who shielded their child with their own bodies during the El Paso shooting in August, Chaput said that all parenthood requires a sacrifice of love, and that motherhood itself is an act of mortal risk.

But, he warned, “as religious belief recedes, and communities of faith decline, the individualism at the heart of the American experiment becomes more selfish, more belligerent, and more corrosive. It breaks down family bonds. It tempts parents to treat their children as accomplishments, or as ornaments, or—even worse—as burdens.”

“It also weakens the ties between grown children and their parents, who as they age can often become dependent. It’s a useful experiment for some of you who are here today as students to consider what you’d really be willing to give up for the sake of caring long-term for a mother or father.”

Citing the works of Tolkien, Chaput also pointed out that we are becoming effective strangers to the true understanding of friendship.

“Friendship is generally a milder form of love than family, and the notion of dying for a friend might seem remote. But someone rather famous once said that ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’”

History, Chaput said, is built on and by the examples of soldiers who died for their friends, or put themselves in harm’s way to shield others.

“All true friendship requires a readiness to die” the archbishop said, “if not literally, then in the sense of dying to ourselves; dying to our impatience and our reluctance to make sacrifices for others.”

“Pope Francis often talks about accompaniment as a key to Christian discipleship. The willingness to be with our friends when they’re not easily lovable, to accompany them in their neediness or to share in their suffering—this is the test of true friendship.”

The archbishop went on to discuss the love of honor, something often now held to be an anachronism, but which is really the love of personal integrity in the service of higher truths. Drawing a line from classical examples of honor in the Iliad, through to the life and work of St. Paul, to the fight to maintain personal dignity under the Soviet regime in the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Chaput said love of honor provides the essential inspiration for personal, sometimes total sacrifice for the true and the good.

“As St. Paul warns us, the principalities and powers of this world always seek to control our lives. Evil is real, even when it’s masked in pleasant forms and excellent marketing. Therefore, it’s always important to honor our deepest convictions. And doing so can be costly.”

“We’re living in a moment of vigilant, even vindictive, political correctness on matters ranging from sex to the meaning of our national history,” said Chaput. “And our politics often seems gripped with amnesia about the price in human suffering extracted by the bitter social experiments of the last century—always in the name of progress and equality.”

Love and honor and sacrifice in the face of attack, Chaput said, needs to be tempered with prudence, and are not a rationale for self-destruction. Drawing on the examples of the early saints, Chaput said that the martyrs, like Polycarp, did not seek confrontation or death, and avoided both when they could, but without compromise.

“Silence and avoiding situations that force us to state our convictions can sometimes be the prudent course of action,” Chaput said. “The key word in that sentence is ‘sometimes.’ Cowardice is very good at hiding behind a number of virtues. Too often we censor or contort ourselves to fit into what we perceive as approved behavior or thought. We muffle our Christian beliefs to avoid being the targets of contempt. Over time, a legitimate exercise of prudence can very easily become a degrading habit; a habit that soils the soul.”

“Jesus urges us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The self-love proper for a Christian includes the love of personal honor, the kind that comes from living with integrity in a world that would have us betray our convictions.”

Chaput closed by warning that believers can expect “a rough road in the years ahead” in the coming years.

“There can be no concordat between the Christian understanding of human dignity and sexuality, and the contempt directed at our beliefs by important elements of our culture,” he said.

“This is very likely my last talk as a serving archbishop. But the Church, her mission, and the Christian story go on. And the greatest blessing I can wish, for each of you, is that you take up your part in the tale with all the energy and passion in your heart. Because it’s a life worth living.”

‘Newman converts’ come home to Rome for canonization

Sun, 10/13/2019 - 14:00

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The canonization of St. John Henry Newman Sunday drew “Newman converts” to Rome from throughout the English-speaking world, all of whom followed Newman’s writings across the Tiber River and into the Catholic Church.

Elayne Allen, 24, is one such “Newman convert.” She came into the Catholic Church in December 2017. Allen decided to become a Catholic after a friend loaned her a copy of Newman’s “An Essay on the Development of Doctrine.”

Allen traveled to Europe for the first time so that she could be present at Newman’s canonization Oct. 13.

“It was ... deeply personal and gratifying to see someone who’s impacted my thinking and prayer life so much become a saint. The grace God has given me through this saint made me think of the beautifully intricate and various ways God chooses to reveal himself to us,” Allen told CNA after the canonization Mass.

Newman was canonized by Pope Francis along with Mariam Thresia, Marguerite Bays, Giuseppina Vannini, and Dulce Lopes, during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square, with an estimated 50,000 people in attendance.

“The Church’s universal mission kept returning to my mind. I thought it a splendid image of the Church’s catholicity that Mother Vannini, who grew up as an Italian orphan, and John Henry Newman, widely considered among the Church’s greatest theologians since Thomas Aquinas, honored side by side,” she said.

Allen, who had been had been raised attending non-denominational evangelical churches, was introduced to the writings of Newman as a student at Baylor University during a class on 18th and 19th century literature.

“I had never even heard of Newman … the existence of a formidable Catholic intellectual tradition was completely alien to me,” she said.

“I quickly found Newman to be a demanding but electrifying writer. He is known for sentences that occupy an entire page, piling one qualifying or descriptive clause after another. His lucid, crisp but recondite prose utterly absorbed me.”

Allen credits Baylor’s Great Texts program for providing her with an introduction to Catholicism and Church history. By the time she reached graduation, she was reading early Church history on her own with an eye on both Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

“My reading pointed to Rome or Constantinople. It seemed evident that the Church is an institutional body protected the Holy Spirit to safeguard doctrine, but I wasn't certain which communion was most consistent with Scripture and early ecumenical councils,” she said.

That is when a friend gave her a copy of “An Essay on the Development of Doctrine.”

Allen said she was “elated by the...simplicity and vigor” in “Newman’s groundbreaking explanation of the way ideas crystallize over time through contact with various circumstances, contexts, and even errors.”

“He says the ‘deposit of faith,’ the earliest revelations of Christianity, imply a variety of interconnected doctrines that require time and contact with living reality to be realized. Newman crucially argues that, while the power of human reason can detect and discern these developments, Christ promises the Holy Spirit as the ultimate protector against error,” she explained.

“I soon became convinced that the Catholic Church, even with all its excesses and eccentricities, is the only communion where doctrine actually develops and knew that I wanted to become Catholic,” Allen said.

She was received into the Catholic Church on Dec. 6, 2017. She continues to ask regularly for Newman’s intercessions and has “not been able to stop reading his work.”

“I read ‘The Grammar of Assent’ earlier this year, a challenging but rewarding book. His ‘Apologia Pro Vita Sua’ revealed to me his spiritual sensitivity and the turmoil he faced before and after his conversion,” she said.

As a recent convert, Allen says she has also enjoyed discovering the beauty of the Church in Rome for the first time this weekend.

“It’s positively overwhelming and enchanting to be here. It’s made me realize the ways in which God chooses to use human artifice and genius to demonstrate His glory. Breathtaking artwork and written works crafted by men and women to glorify Him are ever-displayed throughout Rome,” she said. “It has been a treasure to behold!”
 

 

How Cardinal Newman saved a mother and baby in a dangerous pregnancy

Sat, 10/12/2019 - 06:01

Chicago, Ill., Oct 12, 2019 / 04:01 am (CNA).- Melissa Villalobos spoke to CNA Newsroom for the Cardinal Newman episode, which can be found here. This article is an adaptation of that conversation.

 

 

 

When Melissa Villalobos first heard about Cardinal John Henry Newman, she had no idea the pivotal role he would play in her life, nor the pivotal role she would play in his cause for sainthood. The Catholic wife and mother from Chicago stumbled into a show about Newman on EWTN “just by accident” in 2000, while she was getting ready for work and ironing her clothes. She was struck by what the show had to say about him.

 

“These priests and scholars were talking about him and his life and what a holy man he was, and what a tremendous influence he had on the church and on other people in his life,” Villalobos told CNA.

“I was really taken by it and I thought, ‘This man is so amazing,’” she said. But it wasn’t until a year later, when her husband brought home two holy cards of Cardinal Newman, that Villalobos’ devotion to him really began.

She displayed one of the cards in the living room, the other in her bedroom, and “I would pass by his image every day, and I would look into his eyes and I would pray to him and I would just talk to him as a mother,” she said. “And I felt like his expression was matching my emotions at the time. If I felt sad for some reason he looked sympathetic, if I felt joy, he looked pleased, and I just felt like we were really living life together,” Villalobos recalled. She invoked Cardinal Newman often, and considered him one of her closes spiritual friends. Eventually she started looking up his writings online, and described the experience like “finding gold in the backyard.”

“He was every bit as holy and loving as I had suspected he was by looking at his face. He had such a tremendous affection for ordinary people, which I discovered by reading his letters, and I felt like I could be one of those ordinary people in his life.”

Born in 1801 in London, John Henry Newman was originally an Anglican priest before his conversion to Catholicism in 1845 at the age of 44. He would soon become a renowned Catholic priest, theologian, poet, homilist, and, in 1879, a cardinal. His works are considered among the most important contributions to the thought of the Church in recent centuries.

His conversion to Catholicism was controversial in the birthplace of Anglicanism, and he lost many friends as a result, including his own sister, who refused to speak to him again. Newman was also a devoted educator and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England in two locations. He died in Birmingham in 1890 at the age of 89. The Vatican announced his Oct. 13 canonization date in July. The more Villalobos learned about Newman, the closer she felt to him, and she would eventually come to rely on his intercession in a major way. In 2013, more than a decade after first hearing about Newman on EWTN, Villalobos was pregnant with her fifth child and was experiencing serious complications. In her first trimester, Villalobos started bleeding continuously, and she learned she had a condition called subchorionic hematoma, a blood clot between the placenta and the uterine wall that causes the placenta to be “partially ripped and detached from the uterine wall.” “It was a life-threatening problem because I could hemorrhage to death,” Villalobos recalled. 
The prognosis was grim. There was no cure to be found in medicine or surgery. Villalobos was ordered to be on strict bed rest to give her baby the best possible chance. She did the best she could, but Villalobos was still caring for her other four young children in the meantime. On the morning of May 15, less than a week after being diagnosed with the condition, Villalobos woke up in a pool of her own blood.
With her husband away on a work trip, Villalobos debated when she should call 9-1-1. She decided to give her kids some breakfast first, and then she locked herself in the bathroom to figure out what to do. But by then, Villalobos had lost so much blood that she collapsed on the floor.

“Unfortunately though, somehow I did not have my cellphone with me,” she recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”

She considered shouting for one of her kids to bring her phone, but worried that the shouting would cause more bleeding or a miscarriage. Desperate, she called out to her old friend, Cardinal Newman. “I said, ‘Please Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.’ And just then, immediately it stopped. And I stood up and I smelled roses that filled the bathroom air.”
The smell of roses is often considered the “scent of holiness”, with many stories of saints leaving a rosy scent in places where they have intervened in prayer. “And I said, ‘Oh Cardinal Newman, did you just make the bleeding stop? Thank you!’ And then there was this second burst of roses. And I knew I was cured, and I knew Gemma my daughter was ok,” Villalobos said. Villalobos had an ultrasound scheduled for that afternoon, and the doctor found what Villalobos attributes to Cardinal Newman’s intercession: the bleeding had completely stopped.

“The doctor saw that there was no more bleeding and he was amazed, and he said, ‘the baby looks perfect.’”

It was vastly different than Villalobos’ previous experience in the pregnancy. 

“The doctors (had) said you will probably miscarry if you’re lucky, the placenta could barely hold up to the third trimester, and she’ll be born but she’ll be really small and she’ll have medical problems,” Villalobos recalled. “Thanks be to Cardinal Newman and to God that I was cured and Gemma was born completely healthy.”

Villalobos said she waited until after Gemma was born to report the miracle to Fr. Ignatius Harrison, the postulator for Newman’s cause for canonization. After receiving her letter, Fr. Harrison came to Chicago to meet with Villalobos, her husband, Gemma, and the doctors. He examined medical records and conducted interviews, and told Villalobos to keep the potential miracle a secret until it could be investigated by the Vatican. She got brief updates about twice a year, she said, but for the most part, she did not really know how the cause was advancing, she just prayed with her family that Newman would soon be canonized.

“There was really no one to ask to say, ‘Well how does this usually work?’ You know sometimes if you’re going through something in your life you say ‘Oh, well how did it work for you?’ But there was no one to ask to say ‘Well, when you were miraculously cured, how long did it take to hear from the postulator?’” she said.

Then in February 2019, Villalobos received the news that Pope Francis signed the degree recognizing the miracle.

“I’m surprised at how many people tell me that they’re happy to know that God still performs miracles,” Villalobos said, “I’m glad they know that. I feel like I’ve known that, and I want other people to know that God has never abandoned us. I know it’s hard to believe in miracles because we don’t always get what we want, but we know that God the Father in his love always gives us what’s best for us.” Villalobos, Gemma, and the rest of the family traveled to Rome to be there for Newman’s canonization, which will take place this Sunday.

“I just love him dearly and I hope that anybody who needs help, whether you’re a mother, or a student...or a convert, he can really touch the lives of so many people. I just hope they’ll reach out to him and see a friend in him. He’s so loving and amazing.”

 

Kate Veik contributed to this report.

Millionaire pornographers charged with sex trafficking in California

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 18:00

San Diego, Calif., Oct 11, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The owners and two employees of two related pornography websites were charged in federal court with sex trafficking on Thursday, Oct. 10. 

Michael James Pratt, 36, Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, are all charged with “Sex Trafficing by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison and maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and a woman named Valorie Moser, 37, are additionally charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which also has a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pratt and Wolfe are the owners of two pornographic websites, GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys. Garcia is described in the release as an “adult film performer and producer,” and Moser is an administrative assistant. 

According to the release from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Garcia was arrested on Wednesday, Wolfe was placed into custody by immigration officials and transferred into federal custody on Tuesday, and Moser will be arranged on Friday. Pratt is described as a “fugitive” who is at large. On Wednesday, the FBI raided the websites’ office in San Diego. 

The four are accused of placing ads for “modeling jobs” that would pay $5,000. In fact, the jobs were for pornographic films. The complaint alleges that Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser told the women they could remain anonymous and that their videos would not be shared online. The charges allege that this was not true, and that the videos were made exclusively for the internet. 

Financial records show that the two websites earned more than $17 million for Pratt and Wolfe. 

The complaint alleges that instead of a modeling job, women were “pressured” into signing documents they were not given the chance to read thoroughly, and were threatened with legal action or “outing” if they did not “perform” in a video. Others alleged victims say they were not allowed to leave the location of the shoot until a video was complete, and that their families and friends saw their videos online, which resulted in harassment and estrangement from their families. 

The complaint also says that at least one performer was raped during a shoot, and others were sexually assaulted. The complaint states that performers would be forced to perform things they did not want to, or else they would not receive payment for their work or be allowed to leave. 

The FBI in San Diego is requesting that any additional victims come forward and share their experiences. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.

“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

Abortion funding fight looms over Senate appropriations process

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- When the Senate returns for business on Oct. 15, it will have little more than a month to pass legislation funding the government—and pro-lifers are concerned that attempts to circumvent protections against taxpayer funding of abortion could be successful.

Shortly before the Senate left for the October recess, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a funding bill for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and related agencies, that increased U.S. international family planning assistance and reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA).

Some pro-lifers are concerned that this is problematic because the appropriations could end up increasing funding of groups that promote abortions abroad.

The bill including Shaheen’s amendment was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and, like other bills funding various parts of the government, will have to be approved by the full Senate. After that, any differences between it and the House funding bill would have to be resolved in negotiations between members from both chambers; the final product would then have to pass both chambers to reach the President’s desk.  

However, for pro-life advocates, the approval of Shaheen’s amendment by the full Senate Appropriations Committee set a troubling precedent because it established a “ground floor” in fights over abortion funding in the budget negotiations.  

Shaheen had previously tried to offer an amendment directly repealing the Mexico City Policy but, she claimed, she was denied the opportunity to do so by Senate Republicans.

The Mexico City Policy bars U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning. The Trump administration expanded upon this policy, applying the funding prohibition to an estimated $8.8 billion in U.S. global health assistance.

Shaheen’s amendment that was successfully approved by the committee would increase international family planning and reproductive health funding to $665 million. If the Mexico City Policy were to be repealed in the future—as it has been by the last two Democratic presidents—this increased funding would go to organizations that promote abortions abroad.

Certain domestic organizations promoting abortions already receive foreign aid, and could stand to receive even more funding if Shaheen’s amendment is enacted into law in spite of the Mexico City Policy.

The group Pathfinder International, for instance, receives U.S. assistance and says on its website that it works “to ensure access to comprehensive abortion care for all women.” The group Population Council says it teaches safe abortions, and claims that “[w]here abortion is not legal, we document the public health and cost burden of unsafe abortion.”

Other abortion-supporting groups that could receive more U.S. assistance include Engender Health and PATH.

Shaheen’s amendment also reinstated funding of the UNFPA. The Trump administration has redirected funding away from the UNFPA for three straight years because of the fund’s partnership with the Chinese government, which has instituted a coercive two-child policy and has enforced it through forced abortions and sterilizations.

Currently, the $32 million in funding of the UNFPA under Shaheen’s amendment could not be used in China, cannot be “comingled” with other UNFPA funds, and would be blocked if UNFPA funds abortions.

In addition, it would be subject to the Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibiting funding of organizations that perform or participate in forced abortions and sterilizations; the administration has invoked this amendment as an authority when announcing that UNFPA funding is being redirected.

Nevertheless, the reinstatement of UNFPA funding would seek to undercut the administration’s policy and could at least be a statement of support for the organization despite its partnership with the Chinese government on family planning.

Shaheen’s amendment comes after several attempts in the Senate to insert “poison pill” amendments into appropriations bills to undo pro-life policies, despite an early bi-partisan agreement not to do so during the appropriations process.

The chamber had to pass a dozen appropriations bills by Sept. 30 to fund various government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, but disagreements on border wall funding and pro-abortion amendments derailed the process.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tried to repeal the Title X Protect Life Rule in a proposed amendment for a bill funding the Departments of Labor, HHS, Education, and related agencies. The Protect Life Rule forbade Title X family planning grants from going to entities that were co-located with abortion clinics, or that referred for abortions.

Instead of passing the appropriations bills, Congress instead passed a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund the government through November 21, setting up the new deadline for perhaps another showdown over abortion funding.

Also included in Shaheen’s amendment was a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era nondiscrimination rule, that USAID contractors cannot discriminate against beneficiaries on the basis of “gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy.”

The 2016 USAID rule was interpreted as a prohibition on discrimination against individuals identifying as LGBTI, but the inclusion of “pregnancy” has led some pro-lifers to believe it could also be interpreted to prohibit “discrimination” against women seeking abortions.

For instance, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibited discrimination on basis of sex, which HHS interpreted to include discrimination by health care providers against the “termination of pregnancy.”

Shaheen’s amendment would also mean that USAID has to create a mechanism to investigate claims of discrimination. As a press release by Shaheen’s office explained, “The investigation would ensure biases by the administration regarding reproductive health do not interfere or alter the delivery of services on the ground.”

Republicans in the committee inserted a mandate that such investigations be conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and not from within the State Department.

Tax churches that oppose gay marriage, Democratic candidate says

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A Democratic candidate for president has said religious institutions should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage. 

On Thursday night, during and Equality Townhall hosted and broadcast on CNN, Robert Francis O’Rourke, a former congressman, was asked by CNN anchor Don Lemon if he thought that  "religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage?"

O’Rourke answered “yes,” and after applause and cheers from the crowd, added, “there can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so, as president, we’re going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.” 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another presidential candidate, was asked earlier in the night if he would strip the tax-exempt status of churches who were opposed to same-sex marriage. Booker said that such a move would entail a “long legal battle,” but signaled his sympathy with the idea. 

“I’m saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination,” he said. “And if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory [body].”

Both O’Rourke and Booker are averaging less than 2% in polls of democratic voters. 

Of the five largest Christian denominations in the United States--the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Church of God in Christ--none condone or perform same-sex marriages and all consider same-sex activity to be sinful. 

Same-sex activity is banned in most mainstream forms of Islam, and most Orthodox Jewish rabbis will not conduct same-sex marriages. 

Tax-exempt status for religious institutions is protected by Supreme Court precedent.

In the 1970 case Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, the court found that exempting religious institutions from taxes did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

On the contrary, the Court decided that taxing churches could increase government entanglement with religion, as a church may be unable to pay its tax bill and be shut down. In order to avoid this from happening, the court instead the court found in favor of continuing to exempt religious institutions from taxation. 

Tax exemptions for organizations opposed to same-sex marriage have been an open question since the oral arguments of Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that resultred in same-sex marriage being legalized throughout the country. 

During arguments, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who was arguing on behalf of same-sex couples, if colleges or churches would face the same fate as Bob Jones University. In the 1983 case Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court found that the IRS was right to deny a tax exemption to the school on the grounds that it engaged in racial discrimination by banning inter-racial dating (Bob Jones University dropped its anti-interracial dating policy in 2000, and regained federal tax-exempt status in 2017). 

At the time of oral arguments in Hodges, Verrilli admitted that he did not have an answer to Alito’s question “without knowing more specifics,” and said that “it’s certainly going to be an issue.” 

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that he did not believe O’Rourke’s suggestion was constitutionally sound.  

"Stripping the tax-exempt status of religious groups simply because they hold beliefs that the government dislikes is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Goodrich. 

“It's also foolish because those groups provide billions of dollars in essential social services to their communities. Churches and ministries should be allowed to hold centuries-old beliefs without fear of government retribution." 

Transgender issues were also discussed on Thursday night, and transgender activists interrupted the townhall several times throughout the event. A nine-year-old girl who identifies as a transgender boy questioned frontrunner Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) about what she would do to protect transgender children in schools. Warren said she would dismiss the current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who she characterized as one of the worst people to hold the position. 

"I want to make sure that the person I think is the right secretary of education meets you and and hears your story, and then I want you to tell me if you think that's the right person and then we'll make the deal," Warren said to the child.

Praying for souls, and runs: The parish serving Washington’s baseball fans

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- In a rapidly-gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood, a historic parish is putting the New Evangelization into practice by reaching out to a specific crowd—baseball fans.  

The parish of St. Vincent de Paul features a “Nats Mass,” a noon Sunday Mass for fans of the local baseball team, the Washington Nationals, who are traveling to the nearby stadium for a Sunday afternoon game.

“Let’s go to where they are,” said Fr. Andrew Gonzalo, pastor of St. Vincent in Southeast Washington, D.C., when explaining the concept of a “Nats Mass” and evangelization.

St. Vincent de Paul parish, canonically established in 1903, sits on a busy street corner with a view of the U.S. Capitol Building to the north, just one block away from the baseball stadium. For Nationals fans traveling to a baseball game along South Capitol Street, they will likely walk or drive past the over-100 year-old parish.

St. Vincent’s is situated in between D.C.’s Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront neighborhoods, a rapidly gentrifying area that now features new high-rise apartment buildings and townhouses, restaurants and bars, a waterfront park, and a new soccer stadium. The demographics of the parish have changed, and with it, the plan for evangelization.

“It’s a unique pastoral challenge, in the parish,” Fr. Gonzalo told CNA. The demographics of the neighborhood were once mostly African-American, but the area is now more racially and economically diversified, he said.

Nearby Nationals Park, finished in time for the 2008 baseball season, hosted a papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI on April 17, 2008, during his apostolic visit to the U.S. and the UN headquarters.

With the parish adjacent to the stadium, then-pastor Fr. Andrew Royals added a noon Mass to the St. Vincent Sunday schedule in 2014, whenever the Nationals had a scheduled Sunday afternoon game. Attendance at the “Nats Mass” shot up from five people to more than 120 by the following season, he told EWTN News Nightly in 2015.

“For me it was kind of a no-brainer,” Fr. Royals told EWTN News Nightly in 2015. “We’ve been serving the community for over 100 years, and now our community includes a baseball stadium.”

Five years in, the “Nats Mass” is advertised with a large white banner hanging from the side of the church announcing the Mass time. The Mass draws fans from all over the D.C. metropolitan area—and has helped transform some Catholics into regular Sunday mass-goers.

Fr. Gonzalo said some have told him that they had not been to Mass for some time, but saw the banner and decided to attend.

“They came, and they are now regulars,” he said, and some have frequented the noon Mass even when no game is scheduled; the noon Mass time is now a part of the year-round Sunday schedule.

The local O’Boyle Knights of Columbus council cooks hot dogs in the parking lot for attendees to socialize between Mass and the first pitch.

It’s an “opportunity also for evangelization,” Fr. Gonzalo said. “I embraced it right away,” he said of the Mass, because “baseball is a kind of national pastime for us here.”

“Baseball gathers people together,” he said, “and the Church should also do something like that.”

Fr. Gonzalo spoke to CNA on Wednesday, ahead of a pivotal win-or-go-home playoff game for the Nationals in Los Angeles

“I am praying that they will win,” he said.

Perhaps in part because of the prayers, the Nationals rallied from being three runs down for a stunning 7-3 victory on the road to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Although no home playoff game is scheduled for this Sunday at Nationals Park, a noon Mass will be celebrated at St. Vincent’s with confessions scheduled for half an hour beforehand.

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