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Priest apologizes after 'hurtful' homily on Muslims, immigration

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 16:22

St. Paul, Minn., Jan 30, 2020 / 02:22 pm (CNA).- A priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has apologized for a homily that described Islam as the biggest threat in the world to the United States and to Christianity.

“My homily on immigration contained words that were hurtful to Muslims,” Fr. Nick VanDenBroeke, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Lonsdale, Minn., said in a Jan. 29 statement posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

“I’m sorry for this. I realize now that my comments were not fully reflective of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Islam,” he stated.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda also issued a statement on the homily, in which he said that he addressed the issue with VanDenBroeke, who “has expressed sorrow for his words and an openness to seeing more clearly the Church’s position on our relationship with Islam.”

“The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear. As Pope Benedict XVI noted, ‘The Catholic Church, in fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, looks with esteem to Muslims, who worship God above all by prayer, almsgiving and fasting, revere Jesus as a prophet while not acknowledging his divinity, and honour Mary, his Virgin Mother,’” Hebda said.

“That continues to be our teaching today,” he added.

“Pope Francis has echoed Pope Benedict, stating that it is important to intensify the dialogue between Catholics and Islam. He has emphasized ‘the great importance of dialogue and cooperation among believers, in particular Christians and Muslim, and the need for it to be enhanced.’ He has called for all Christians and Muslims to be ‘true promoters of mutual respect and friendship, in particular through education,’’ he noted.

VanDenBroeke gave the homily for which he apologized Jan. 5, which Minnesota’s Catholic bishops have designated as Immigration Sunday.

According to the local newspaper City Pages, VanDenBroeke said in his homily that unlike issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, Church teaching on immigration is not “black and white.”

He noted that nations have the right to protect their “ideas and ideals” as well as the duty to “welcom(e) the stranger.”

He then said that “as Americans and as Christians, we do not need to pretend that everyone who seeks to enter America should be treated the same.”

“I believe it is essential to consider the religion and worldview of the immigrants or refugees. More specifically, we should not be allowing large numbers of Muslims asylum or immigration into our country,” he said.

He added that Islam is “the greatest threat in the world” to Christianity and the U.S. and that the Church must work to “(keep) bad ideas out of the country,” City Pages reported.

“I’m not saying we hate Muslims,” VanDenBroeke said in the homily. “They are people created out of love by God just as each one of us is. But while we certainly do not hate them as people, we must oppose their religion and worldview.”

He added that he supported President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and that he supported a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers - undocumented students and young people brought into the United States by their parents.

The Minnesota Star Tribune reported that VanDenBroeke has given political homilies in the past, including a homily in 2018 in which he urged his parishioners to pray for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh, who is pro-life, was seen by many Catholics as a key nomination to the court for a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which allowed for legalized abortion in the United States.

According to City Pages, the Jan. 5 homily was posted to VanDenBroeke’s parish website (it appears to have since been taken down). It caused an uproar in the local community, including from the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Minnesota), which issued a statement calling on Catholic leaders to condemn the homily.

“We urge leaders of the Catholic Church in Minnesota to repudiate these hate-filled and un-Christian remarks as unrepresentative of the faith they hold dear,” Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-Minnesota’s executive director, said in a statement reported in the Minnesota Star Tribune.

In his statement, Hebda concluded by saying that he was “grateful for the many examples of friendship that have been offered by the Muslim community in our region and we are committed to strengthening the relationship between the two communities.”

Virginia Lt. Governor breaks senate tie to liberalize abortion access

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 14:15

Richmond, Va., Jan 30, 2020 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Catholic, cast the tie-breaking vote on Wednesday to pass a bill to liberalize abortion access in the commonwealth. 

Senate Bill 733 received 20 votes in favor and 20 votes against on Jan. 29. Virginia’s state Senate is composed of 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Fairfax, as lieutenant governor, is the Senate president and casts tie-breaking votes. 

The bill, which has already passed the House and now awaits the Governor’s signature, would repeal a Virginia law mandating that only doctors can perform abortions, allowing other medical professionals, such as physicians assistants and nurse practictioners, to do abortions. The bill will also repeal a law requiring a woman to be given specific information about the abortion procedure before it takes place. 

Under current commonwealth law, a woman must be given “a full, reasonable and comprehensive medical explanation of the procedure,” as well as alternatives to abortion. The woman must also be told that she can change her mind and withdraw her consent to the abortion at any time, and that she can talk to the doctor performing the abortion so they can answer questions. 

The current law also requires that a woman be told how old her preborn baby is, and have an ultrasound to confirm the estimated age. The woman can be shown the ultrasound if she wished. 

Under the new law, an abortionist--be it a physician, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant--still has to obtain “informed written consent of the pregnant woman” who wishes to have an abortion, but now no longer has to perform an ultrasound. 

The bill also changes the medical standards for abortion facilities. Under the new bill, places which “perform five or more first trimester abortions per month” are no longer considered to hospitals “for the purpose of complying with regulations establishing minimum standards for hospitals.” This means that abortion facilities will be held to a lower safety and cleanliness standard than hospitals.

This bill is expected to be signed into law by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), a known advocate for abortion. 

Last year, Northam supported a bill that would have permitted a legal abortion to take place even if the woman was in active labor. On a local radio show, Northam said that he believed that if a baby happened to survive an abortion attempt, it should be left up to “the woman and her doctor” to decide whether or not to keep the child alive. 

Northam’s comments sparked fierce criticism and calls for the governor’s resignation. Shortly after this radio comments, a picture from Northam’s page in a medical school yearbook emerged, showing a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe standing next to a person in blackface. Northam initially apologized for the image, then later denied it was him in the picture.

Fairfax, whose deciding vote moved the bill to Northam’s desk, has also faced controversy and calls to resign in the last year. 

Amid renewed calls for Northam’s resignation over the racist photograph and speculation that Fairfax could soon be sworn in as governor, two women came forward and said that they had been sexually assaulted by the lieutenant governor. Fairfax denied both of the allegations, admitting to a one-night encounter with one of the women which he called “100% consensual.”

Cistercian nuns seek help to build new monastery in Wisconsin

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 13:49

Madison, Wis., Jan 30, 2020 / 11:49 am (CNA).- Valley of Our Lady Monastery, a community of Cistercian nuns in Wisconsin, is raising funds for a new monastery complex following a vocations boom.

The planned monastery is being designed to house up to 30 nuns. There are presently 22 in the community.

Valley of Our Lady was founded in 1957 on a small plot of land in the Diocese of Madison. The existing buildings are both too small and in poor condition. A relocation projected was begun in 2000, and the site of a new monastery in Wisconsin's Iowa County was purchased in 2011.

The community has a master plan for their new monastery, to be built in two phases.

According to the monastery's winter 2019 newsletter, their Phase 1 goal is $12 million, and another $1.8 million in pledges is needed before continuing with schematic design. This phase includes a temporary chapel, living quarters, an altar bread workshop, and guest quarters. The nuns support themselves by baking altar breads.

The second phase, for which $8 million is needed, would complete a cloister with a church and guesthouse.

The contemplative community is the only foundation of Cistercian nuns of the Common Observance in the English-speaking world.

The Cistercian order was founded at the end of the 11th century to return to a literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict by cloistered monks and nuns. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was an early abbot of the order and promoted its expansion across Europe.

This unique Catholic school has served Native American students since 1927

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 05:31

Chamberlain, SD, Jan 30, 2020 / 03:31 am (CNA).- In central South Dakota, along the northern jog of the Missouri River in what one might call “the middle of nowhere,” sits St. Joseph’s Indian School, a modern school with a long history.

While it seems remote, the location of the school is fitting for the Lakota Sioux tribes it serves - Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Rosebud, Pine Ridge, and several other reservations are within roughly two hours of the school.

At a time when public schools in the state are failing to successfully educate Native American students, St. Joseph’s has seen notable success. The high school graduation rate for students who attended St. Joseph’s at some point in their education is around 96% - while state high school graduation rates for Native American students is around 60%. On their assessment tests, St. Joseph’s students consistently show 85% grade-level improvement every year, the Argus Leader reported.

School officials told CNA that it’s a combination of factors that drive student success at the school, from small class sizes to a safe residential environment to numerous educational supports, such as tutoring, that are available on campus.

“I think we are really fortunate that we have small class sizes,” LaRayne Woster, who teaches Lakota Studies at St. Joseph’s, told CNA.

“We've got about 12 students in a class and they get a lot more individual attention and we're able to individualize the work that we do for them to meet them where they're at. We also have a very large counseling program here,” she said. Each of the school’s 221 students is paired with a counselor who meets with them weekly, helping to evaluate and support their mental health, since they live away from their family, and many have experienced trauma.

The model of the school is unique - every student is required to live on campus, in family-style homes divided by gender and age range, and looked after by house parents. The K-8 school also includes a high school program, where high school aged students live on campus and attend the local public school. A transition specialist works with the students to prepare them for post-graduate life.

The “secret sauce” is also in the school’s religious identity and its desire to give students a well-rounded education that focuses not only on academics but also on faith and culture, school officials told CNA.

LaRayne Woster teaches Lakota Studies at St. Joseph's Indian School. Photo courtesy of St. Joseph's Indian School. 

Artwork in the school depicts Jesus dressed in native attire, Joe Tyrell, Director of Mission Integration for St. Joseph’s, told CNA. “So our kids don't feel like church is just for white people,” or that they have to choose between a Catholic or Lakota identity, he added.

“They can be proud of who they are. They can look and say: ‘This is who I am. I'm Catholic, Christian and I'm Lakota,’” he said. “You just see the integration of both cultures in everything that we do.”

But this mentality of encouraging students to embrace their Lakota culture was not always the case in educational models for Native Americans.

‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man’

A Catholic residential school for Native American students may conjure up unsavory images of the past, when the goal of boarding schools for Native Americans was to rid the students of their native culture and “Americanize” them.

Starting in the mid-late 19th century, Native American parents in the U.S. typically had three schooling options for their children: public reservation day schools, private reservation boarding schools, and off-reservation boarding schools, which appealed especially to families who lived in remote areas.

The first off-reservation boarding school was Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, founded by Colonel Richard Henry Pratt in 1879.

Pratt operated his school with the idea that Native Americans must be “civilized,” and he came up with the motto: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Pratt, like many others at the time, believed that separating Native American children from their indigenous roots and culture was the only way they could be transformed into productive citizens and members of United States society.

Chamberlain Indian School, a government boarding school for Native Americans, opened in 1898 on the grounds which now belong to St. Joseph’s, and operated under a similar education model and mentality as Carlisle.

But the school struggled materially, as the surrounding acres were poor for farming and were not enough to sustain the school. Schools like Carlisle and Chamberlain also struggled with communicable diseases like smallpox and tuberculosis, which spread swiftly among the students living and learning in such close quarters, often killing a number of students.

In the early 20th century, the tide started to turn and preferences for the education of Native American students shifted to reservation-based day schools - they were less expensive, and educators felt that the students might be a good influence on the reservation.

Tornadoes and fires and nuns: The founding of St. Joseph’s Indian School

It was in this movement away from boarding schools that the Chamberlain Indian School was sold to a religious order for a brief time, and then in 1927 was sold to the Priests of the Sacred Heart (the SCJs), an order of priests that was looking to build a Catholic school for the local reservations.

There had been calls from the local native tribes for a Catholic school to be built in the area since the mid-1800s. At an Indian Congress held in 1922, representatives from tribes across the state voted for a Catholic Mission School to be built on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

With permission from the Bishop of Sioux Falls and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Father Henry Hogebach, SCJ, founded St. Joseph’s on the Chamberlain campus in 1927.

“The charism of the Priests of the Sacred Heart would be to look to those situations where people are not treated justly, and to try and work for a more just solution,” Clare Willrodt, director of communications and outreach for St. Joseph’s, told CNA. “So, I'm sure that that influenced their feeling called to be here.”

“The school was probably pretty much founded on the boarding school model,” she added. “But ...where the government schools would go around the reservations and round up kids, and take them from their parents, any children who have ever attended (St. Joseph’s) were sent here by their parents. We didn't go out and round them up.”

Prior to purchasing St. Joseph’s, the SCJs attempted to build a Catholic school on the Cheyenne River reservation, as the Indian Congress desired. However, the grounds lacked the necessary water supply for a school, and so the school was moved to the Chamberlain campus.

The first few years were rough - the nuns that were supposed to teach the first year bailed at the last minute after not receiving the proper permissions from Rome, and Fr. Hogebach scrambled to hire some teachers before the children arrived. There was a tornado, a fire, financial hardships and students sent to the school beyond its official capacity, including an orphan baby sent to be taken under the care of the Franciscan sisters, who came to the school in its second year.

Despite the challenges, St. Joseph’s school grew rapidly, peaking with enrollment levels of 300-340 students in the 1950s and ‘60s.

It was also in the 1950s that the priests of the school started incorporating some traditional cultural activities into the school setting, even while laws at the time still made it illegal for them to let the children speak their native language in school, Willrodt said.

“Those priests did do quite a bit of work to try and keep the culture alive - beautiful beadwork, dancing, things like that,” she said.

By the 1970s, civil rights movements and changing philosophies in education - particularly towards boarding schools - brought changes to St. Joseph’s. By 1981, the school transitioned the students to family-style residential homes, rather than dormitories.

It was also in the 1980s that the Lakota language was incorporated into prayer services at St. Joseph’s, and that the school’s religion department published documents exploring the links between Catholicism and Lakota religious beliefs.

St. Joseph’s today

“At this point in St. Joseph’s history, Lakota culture no longer involves taking a class or attending a Pow Wow,” Kathryn Cravens wrote in Educating for the Future, a book about St. Joseph’s Indian School.

“Native culture pervades every aspect of the school, from the look and feel of the campus, to the manner in which values and religion are reinforced. A sweat lodge has been built on the grounds of the school campus and is available for students who wish to participate in this Lakota ritual,” Cravens wrote.

There are also Lakota tribal flags hung in the school cafeteria. The Lakota Medicine Wheel, called the Circle of Courage at the school, emphasizes Lakota values of generosity, courage, wisdom, and respect, and are displayed in the family homes on campus. Lakota language is taught and encouraged daily in school, and extracurricular activities for students include cultural activities like traditional beading, drum group, archery or dancing. Students also go on regular field trips to culturally important sites both near and far.

The school also continues to embrace its Catholic identity, and to help students understand that they can be both Lakota and Catholic. The church on campus is called Our Lady of the Sioux, and the Virgin Mary is depicted in traditional Lakota regalia.

Our Lady of the Sioux chapel on St. Joseph's campus. Photo courtesy of St. Joseph's Indian School.

“I'm proud to work here to show our kids the ability to pray and be proud of who they are as a Lakota kid, and if they're Christian as well,” Tyrell said, though he added that he helps students learn how to pray no matter what their faith background is.

“My goal as a religion teacher for the past eight years was to have our kids know that they have some way to pray,” he said, so that they’re able to navigate the tough times in their lives once they leave the school.

“I really love the ability for our kids to find who they are as an individual and then tie that in with their culture and spirituality. And then that amplifies who they truly are and (they’re able) to use it for the rest of their lives.”

Woster, a member of the Rosebud tribe, said she is glad that the students have an opportunity to learn so much about their culture in a safe environment, which not all reservation towns may be able to provide.

“I think what a lot of our South Dakota residents and citizens would say is, ‘I grew up either on a reservation or a border town and didn't know anything about the people who first lived here,’” she said.

“We’re at a place in education where kids are getting to learn the correct history and who they are and they're able to be proud of what that is. As a mission, we're supporting and embracing the fact that this is...a living culture. I was not raised learning about my culture and who I was at school, so I'm super excited and proud of the fact that I get to do that here everyday,” Woster added.

Danielle Kucera, associate director of communications and outreach for the school, told CNA she is proud that St. Joseph’s provides a safe environment in which students can learn and be involved in extracurricular activities, and where their parents trust that they are safe. She said that even if students come from stable homes, reservation environments on the whole can be unstable, with high rates of drug and alcohol addiction, depression, violence and other issues.

“ wasn't necessarily that (families) couldn't provide for their students or for their children, it was more so that they wanted them to be in a place that they could guarantee that they were in a safe environment and learning in a way that was impacting,” Kucera said. “We provide this safe place for our students, and our families know that they're a part of our family here.”

St. Joseph’s is able to provide all of its additional support for students - including counselors, speech and occupational therapists, and tutors - through private donations. The school receives a small amount of Title I funding from the government for children who need educational support, but everything else is donor-funded. The school also provides resources such as food assistance to struggling families and alumni who need it.

“Our resources are large because of our donor base, and so we're able to do a lot of things for our families,” Kucera said. “I’ve always said that if the families are doing good back home, that means our students probably are, too.”

Sharmel Olson, director of education at St Joseph’s, told CNA that she is most proud of the school’s educational legacy, as well as its ability to educate the whole person and prepare each student for life after high school.

“Certainly education for me is at the forefront, but at the same time we're able to do things that other schools honestly don’t get to focus on,” such as faith and culture, she said. Their numerous avenues of support also allow them to look out for all the needs of their students.

“If (a student is) struggling emotionally, we make sure we take care of that, and sometimes that has to be above school, that has to be taken care of so that you can learn. We have a strong team, and a philosophy here that the kids come first and whatever their needs are at that time is what we're going to take care of. And so I think that's very unique that a lot of schools don't necessarily have those capabilities to do that,” she said.

Teachers and staff who come to St. Joseph’s often end up staying for a long time, she added, because they feel a strong sense of mission in serving the Native American population.

“We're very mission-based, and I think most of (the staff) at our school...we're here for a reason,” she added. “We really feel that calling to be here.”

Effort to legalize assisted suicide resurfaces in Maryland

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 02:07

Annapolis, Md., Jan 30, 2020 / 12:07 am (CNA).- Lawmakers in Maryland are again seeking to introduce a bill to legalize assisted suicide, after similar efforts have failed four years in a row. The legislation has drawn strong opposition from critics who argue it fails to uphold human dignity and will put the lives of the vulnerable at risk.

Despite being heavily amended in 2019, the assisted suicide bill failed by one vote to pass in the Senate, marking the closest the legislative effort has come to passing in the state.

However, advocates of the bill believe changes in the legislative body may be enough to approve the legislation this time around. Delegate Shane M. Pendergrass (D-Howard), lead House sponsor of the bill, says the effort has 53 co-sponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate.

Senator Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery), the lead Senate sponsor of the bill this year, is planning to work to sway lawmakers who may be unsure about their vote on the issue, the Washington Post reports.

Senator William Smith Jr., (D-Montgomery), who last year served as the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, is now the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He said that he still supports the legislation, but believes it is two votes short of the support necessary to pass the Senate.

“We’re not interested in a moral victory in getting it out of committee and onto the Senate floor,” Smith said, according to the Washington Post. “We’re interested in passing a good piece of legislation. So if it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, I’m not going to move it out of committee.”

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) has indicated that he is open to considering signing the bill if it comes to his desk.

The bill is based on an Oregon law that allows physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or fewer to live, the Washington Post reports.

In the U.S., 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.

Critics of assisted suicide bills argue that they lack sufficient safeguards to protect against coercion and leave sick and elderly patients vulnerable to pressure and exploitation. They also argue that legalizing the practice could contribute to the nation’s ongoing suicide epidemic by normalizing suicide as a response to pain and suffering.

Catholic leaders have spoken out against assisted suicide as a grave offense against the right to life, saying that suicide fosters a throw-away culture.

Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, a nonpartisan coalition of doctors, mental health professionals, disability rights advocates, and religious leaders, opposed the bill in a Jan. 28 statement.

The group noted that the American Medical Association voted last year to renew its opposition to assisted suicide, on the grounds that the practice is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

Dr. Joseph Marine, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the coalition, warned that the Maryland medical community has “widespread concern” about the implications of legalizing assisted suicide.

“Last year, state lawmakers attempted to present fixes for assisted suicide policy but failed to contend with this practice being inherently unethical, dangerous, and harmful to the communities where it is practiced,” he said.

“The dangers are no longer merely possible, they are real. There is evidence that insurance companies are already declining coverage of life-extending treatments for patients in states where PAS is legal and are instead approving coverage for these cheaper drug overdoses that end a patient’s life.”

Critics also warned that the legislation could have devastating effects on the state by introducing highly addictive and often abused opioids into the community.

“In states where physician-assisted suicide is legal we continue to see reports of large numbers of patients who receive yet never take the lethal dose,” said Christine Sybert, clinical pharmacist at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore and a member of Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide.

“We now know that as many as one third of prescription drug overdoses are suicides, and we continue to see the overall suicide rate rise in states like Oregon where this practice is legal. The lack of controls for large doses of lethal drugs is a grave danger to Maryland.”

US censures 13 former Salvadoran soldiers for 1989 killing of Jesuits

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The US Department of State announced Wednesday the designation of 13 former Salvadoran military officials for their involvement in the November 1989 extrajudicial killing of six Jesuit priests and two others.

The 13 former soldiers will be ineligible for entry into the US.

“The United States supports the ongoing accountability, reconciliation, and peace efforts in El Salvador,” Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, said Jan. 29. “We value our ongoing working relationship with the Salvadoran Armed Forces, but will continue to use all available tools and authorities, as appropriate, to address human rights violations and abuses around the world no matter when they occurred or who perpetrated them.”

“Today’s actions underscore our support for human rights and our commitment to promoting accountability for perpetrators and encouraging reconciliation and a just and lasting peace.”

The Salvadoran Civil War was fought from 1979 to 1992 between the country's right-wing military government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a left-wing revolutionary group.

The Jesuits in El Salvador were active proponents of peace talks and negotiation between the government and the FMLN.

On Nov. 16, 1989 a unit of the Salvadoran Army dragged from their beds six Jesuits at the Central American University in San Salvador and shot them. The priests' cook-housekeeper and her daughter were also shot.

It is believed that the Jesuits were ordered to be executed for their apparent support of the FMLN, who had recently launched an offensive.

The priests killed were Ignacio Ellacuría, rector of UCA; Ignacio Martín-Baró; Segundo Montes; Amando López; Joaquín López y López; and Juan Ramón Moreno Pardo. All were Spaniards except for López y López, a Salvadoran.

The priest's housekeeper Elba Ramos and her 15-year-old daughter Celina were also killed.

The soldiers left a message at the site of the killings meant to implicate the FMLN.

The extrajudicial killings garnered international attention, and increased pressure for a peace settlement.

Pompeo said Jan. 29 that the US “condemns all human rights abuses that took place on both sides of the brutal civil war in El Salvador, including those committed by governmental and non-governmental parties.”

The US was a supporter of the Salvadoran government during the war. The Atlacatl Battalion, which killed Fr. Ellacuría and his companions, was trained by American advisers.

The State Department said Jan. 29 it had credible information that the 13 former Salvadoran military personnel “were involved in the planning and execution of the extrajudicial killings” of November 1989.

It listed Juan Rafael Bustillo, Juan Orlando Zepeda, Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, Francisco Elena Fuentes, Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos, José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra, Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, Carlos Camilo Hernández Barahona, Oscar Mariano Amaya Grimaldi, Antonio Ramiro Avalos Vargas, Angel Pérez Vásquez, and José Alberto Sierra Ascencio, who it said ranged in rank from general to private.

The 13 were designated under the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act 2019, which bars them and their immediately family members from entering the US.

Montano was a colonel, and deputy minister for public security at the time of the killings. He was extradited from the US to Spain in 2017 to stand trial over the murders. He had been in US custody for six years, after being arrested for charges of immigration fraud.

In May 2019, Spanish prosecutors asked that Montano be given 150 years imprisonment for his role in the “terrorist assassinations”, saying he participated in the decision, design, and execution of the murders.

They believe that Montano was a witness when the head of the army's joint chiefs of staff René Emilio Ponce (who died in 2011) ordered Colonel Benavides, the head of the Salvadoran military academy, to assassinate Fr. Ellacuría, leaving no witnesses.

Benavides and Lieutenant Mendoza were convicted of the killings by a Salvadoran court, but were released in 1993 after an amnesty law was passed covering all crimes committed during the civil war.

That amnesty law was struck down by the Salvadoran Supreme Court in 2016, and Benavides returned to prison, with the court declining to extradite him to Spain. The following year the Society of Jesus and the UCA asked that Benavides' sentence be commuted.

Spanish prosecutors have also asked for five years imprisonment for Mendoza.

Zepeda, the deputy defense minister, had claimed the priests were complicit in the murder of the Salvadoran attorney general, saying that “the enemy is among us. They must be identified and denounced. Therefore, therefore, we will make the final decision to resolve this situation.”

Bishops oppose 'public charge' rule change as Supreme Court lifts injunction

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have spoken out against a Supreme Court decision permitting a new “public charge” rule to go into effect. A statement released Wednesday said the new rule limits access to public benefits for poor immigrants and is antithetical to Catholic teachings to love and serve the needy. 

On Jan. 28, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote to allow the Trump administration’s “public charge” to go into effect, even as various lawsuits over the legality of the rule are still being decided. The decision overturned a nation-wide injunction by a federal court in New York which is hearing several consolidated suits against the change. 

In August 2019, the Trump administration announced changes to how a person is determined to be a “public charge,” someone who is primarily dependent on government assistance. An immigrant who is found to be a public charge can be denied permanent residency.

“Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision allowing the Administration to move forward with implementing its new changes to the ‘public charge’ while lawsuits are still pending is very concerning, as it will have an immediate and negative impact upon immigrant and newcomer families,” said a statement signed by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington. 

Coakley chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Dorsonville leads the Committee on Migration. 

Previously, only cash benefits, such as the Temporary Aid for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security, counted towards determining if someone is a public charge. Under the previous rules, fewer than 1% of residency applicants were disqualified on public charge grounds.

Under the new rules, noncash benefits providing for basic needs, such as housing or food, count towards a person becoming a public charge. These include most forms of Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers. An immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months in a 36-month period could be designated a public charge. Use of two kinds of benefits in a single month would count as two months.

As of Tuesday, the rule can go into effect in 49 states. The Supreme Court decision left intact a state-wide injunction against the rule change in Illinois, issued by a federal appeals court hearing that state’s suit against the rule in a separate case. 

Coakley and Dorsonville cited their experience working with the poor and vulnerable in their  opposition to the policy going into effect. The bishops said that many immigrants used different medical and social service programs, and that these are “vital to public health and welfare.”

The bishops said that “misinformation” about the public charge rule had already spread throughout immigrant communities, and that they fear the decision will further deter poor families from getting the help they need.  

The decision could “further deter families eligible for assistance from coming forward to access the services they need, such as nutrition assistance and housing,” they said, warning that the decision will have “devastating consequences for immigrant communities.” 

In the statement, the bishops reiterated their opposition to the rule change, calling it contrary to the social mission of the Church. 

“The Church upholds the dignity of all human life, and the Gospel compels us to serve those who are in need, regardless of their circumstances,” said the bishops. 

“Preventing anyone from having access to life-saving services is contrary to our belief that all life is sacred from its beginning to its end.”

The bishops said that they “remain hopeful” that the public charge rule will eventually be deemed illegal following one of the several suits still being litigated in federal courts. Tuesday’s decision did not resolve those suits, but only struck down a preliminary injunction blocking the policy from going into effect while the cases are pending.

In the meantime, the bishops said they will continue to work to protect immigrant families. 

“The Church will redouble public education efforts to ensure that immigrant families, and our direct services networks which assist them, are educated about this rule and its impacts. We remain steadfast in Pope Francis’s call to welcome, protect, promote and integrate our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Barron floats 'online mandatum' for Catholic teachers

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 18:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 29, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Barron has said that bishops should consider an official designation for Catholic teachers on social media. Barron is himself well known for his work promoting Catholic teaching online.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register last week, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles said he believes it is within the scope of a diocesan bishop’s authority to apply a vetting and recognition process for online teachers of the faith, similar to the mechanism Pope St. John Paul II developed in the 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae for colleges and universities. 

“There are, to be blunt, a disconcerting number of such people on social media who are trading in hateful, divisive speech, often deeply at odds with the theology of the Church and who are, sadly, having a powerful impact on the people of God,” he said to the Register in a feature on social media that was published Jan. 24. 

The bishops, said Barron, are "the shepherds of the Church, those entrusted with supervising the teaching office," and they "can and should point out when people on social media are harming the Body of Christ."

In order to combat online misinformation online from people claiming to represent what the Church teaches, Barron told the Register that perhaps he and his brother bishops could “introduce something like a mandatum for those who claim to teach the Catholic faith online, whereby a bishop affirms that the person is teaching within the full communion of the Church.”

While some websites denounced Barron’s suggestion as an attempt to “police” Catholics on social media, the bishop’s proposal was narrowly drawn to apply to those presenting themselves as teachers or Catholic theologians on social media.

Canon 812 of the Code of Canon Law states that “those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.” This mandate, called a mandatum in Latin, is technically required to teach Catholic theology at a college or university, but not all schools require their professors to possess a mandatum. 

College professors teaching mathematics, science, literature, or other subjects unrelated to theology, are not required to seek a mandatum. An online mandatum would also seem, according to Barron’s proposal, to only apply to those who present themselves as theologians or who claim to be presenting authoritative Catholic theology.

Barron himself is known for his frequent and innovative use of the internet and social media to spread the word of God. Barron has an active YouTube presence, and has participated in several “As Me Anything” sessions on Reddit. He also maintains an Twitter and Facebook presence. 

In a November 2019 presentation to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Barron encouraged other U.S. bishops to realize the potential for social media to evangelize the “nones”--people, often younger people, who do not have a religion. 

Barron said in his presentation that priests, bishops, and parishes must embrace a “creative use of new media,” namely, social media platforms such as Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

The bishop called social media the “prime tool” to reach religiously unaffiliated young people, and said that the Church should work to make itself easy to find online, where increasingly numbers of people were seeking answers in their lives.

Virginia lawmakers repeal abortion restrictions

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 17:43

Richmond, Va., Jan 29, 2020 / 03:43 pm (CNA).- Virginia’s legislature has voted to repeal restrictions on abortions in the state. The state’s governor is expected to sign the repeal into law soon. 

The state’s House of Delegates voted 52-45 Tuesday to repeal abortion restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before abortion, ultrasound requirements, and standards requiring some abortion clinics to meet hospital construction codes.

The state Senate approved similar legislation Wednesday, though differences in the legislation must be ironed out before a bill goes to Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam for signature. The state Senate split its vote 20-20, and Virginia’s Lt Gov. Justin Fairfax cast the tie-breaking vote.

The legislation permits nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to perform abortions, which must now be performed by physicians.

Under current state law, women are obliged to wait for 24-hours to undergo an abortion following their request for the procedure. Women seeking an abortion are also required to undergo an ultrasound and counseling services. Those laws were passed by legislators in 2012.

Democratic lawmakers in the state say the 2012 laws are an unnecessary burden to women, and have hailed the decision to repeal as a benefit for women’s health.

“These restrictions are only aimed to limit a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortion care, and it’s time to finally roll back these outdated laws that are not based on health and are not based on safety,” Del. Patrick Hope said this week.

“This bill goes back to the basic principle that this is between a woman and [her] doctor,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said Monday.

Republican delegates mostly disagreed. During the hearing, GOP legislators expressed concern that removing safeguards and regulations on abortion would be detrimental to women.

Pro-life groups have also decried the General Assembly’s recent decision. Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, described the repeal as tragic.

“This week will be remembered as a tragic one for the well-being of all women in Virginia as well as their unborn children.  The action of the General Assembly only serves to protect abortionists who once more will be able to hide the truth from the women that come to them,” said Turner, according to a recent statement.

Jeff Caruso, head of the Virginia Catholic Conference, also expressed disappointment in the decision and urged Virginia residents to contact their local legislators.  

“It is deeply disappointing and dismaying that both the House and the Senate have passed legislation that strips away longstanding protections for the unborn. We urge all pro-life Virginians to continue contacting their legislators to voice their strong opposition as each bill crosses over to the other chamber for consideration,” Caruso told CNA in an email.

“And we need people from across our Commonwealth to attend the Virginia March for Life on February 13 and take a strong stand for life.” he added.


How Thomas Aquinas understood the Passion and the Trinity

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 17:01

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 29, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Countering a common charge of contemporary theologians, Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., said Tuesday that St. Thomas Aquinas' account of the Passion is profoundly Trinitarian.

“St. Thomas’s understanding of the entirety of Christ’s life, and above all his passion and glorification, is deeply Trinitarian and offers valuable insights into these central mysteries of the faith,” Fr. Dominic said Jan. 28 during his lecture for St. Thomas Day at the Santa Paula, Calif., campus of Thomas Aquinas College.

“Indeed, especially in his Scripture commentaries, St. Thomas paints this crowning moment of Christ’s earthly life in vibrant, interpersonal Trinitarian color.”

The college celebrates the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas with Mass, a lecture, and leisure.

Fr. Dominic is director of the Thomistic Institute, and an assistant professor of systematic theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Before joining the Order of Preachers, he earned a JD at Yale Law School and practiced constitutional law for the US Department of Justice.

His lecture addressed Aquinas' treatment of Christ's Passion and the Trinity, noting that contemporary theologians commonly charge that the dumb ox did not sufficiently discuss the Trinity while speaking of the Passion.

“My goal is to bring to light Aquinas’s rich account of the cross of Christ as a Trinitarian mystery by which the Son saves us according to a Trinitarian pattern,” Fr. Dominic said.

The priest placed the Trinitarian aspects of the Passion within the context of the divine missions, saying that Christ's Passion is the center of the dispensation of salvation: “Through his passion, Christ manifests the Father, opens the way of our return to him, and, ascending into heaven body and soul, becomes the firstborn of the dead to enter into the Father’s glory.”

Fr. Dominic said that for St. Thomas, the Passion both manifests the mystery of the Trinity and draws us into that same mystery: “The resurrected Christ breathes forth the Holy Spirit in full to the Church, so that we too can share in the divine glory that the Son and Holy Spirit possessed with the Father before the foundation of the world.”

He added that the ultimate cause of the Passion, for Thomas, “is found precisely in the processions of the divine persons at the heart of the Triune mystery, the pattern according to which human beings come from God and that marks out the path of their return.”

The priest outlined six ways in which St. Thomas discusses the relation of the Passion to the Trinity: the Father's love at its origin; the relation of the Father's love to Christ's death; the Spirit and Christ's charity; Christ's obedience to the Father; Christ's cry to the Father from the cross; and the Passion as glorification.

Fr. Dominic noted that in commenting on John 3:16, Thomas referred the verse to the cross, saying it “involves the greatest love because of who is loving – the Father – and who is given to the world: the Son in person, in his divine mission, which culminates in him being 'handed over for us all' in his passion,” which “ produces the greatest possible fruit: the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

He continued to discuss the Father's love, saying that for Aquinas, the Father “does not will Christ’s death or suffering as such; he wills that Christ would have such a perfect charity for us that he would even expose himself to death for our sake.”

“Note the Trinitarian theology that informs Aquinas’s text,” Fr. Dominic said. “The Father is the ultimate origin of Christ’s will to take up the cross, both as God and as man. In generating the Son, the Father gives him 'from all eternity the will of assuming flesh and suffering for us,' and inspires the Son with perfect charity, so that he is willing to suffer and die for our sake.”

Discussing Thomas' Commentary on Romans, the priest said that “Aquinas’s choice of words evokes the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit, since Christ’s human charity is the effect of the Holy Spirit’s proper and personal presence.  By tracing this charity back to the Father, Aquinas is also underlining that every effect of the Spirit’s presence in Christ’s humanity is therefore also from the Father.”

Paying attention to the human nature of Christ, St. Thomas taught that the gifts of the Holy Spirit “ensure that Christ as man wills what God wills according to the mode in which God wills it” and that “the Holy Spirit’s impulse activates Christ’s human will from within, to perform a supremely free human act.”

Continuing to discuss Christ's humanity, Fr. Dominic said that “the incarnation reveals and makes present in a new way the eternal procession of the Son (who then sends the Holy Spirit). Christ’s humanity is marked, to the depths of its being, with the Son’s filial mode; in all that Christ is and does, he is from the Father and is oriented to the Father.”

Because the Son has nothing he has not received from the Father, “the divine will to save us through the cross is found first in the Father, and because the Father inspires Christ as man with charity by giving him the Holy Spirit.”

“To St. Thomas’s mind, the Father’s command neither constrains Christ nor negates his human will, but is rather the Father’s plan for our salvation, which the Son embraces with the perfect charity given him in the Holy Spirit’s invisible mission,” Fr. Dominic stated.

Thus for Aquinas, the cross reveals to the world the love of the divine persons for one another.

Fr. Dominic said that Christ's cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” is regarded by St. Thomas “ as revealing a deep mystery to us, one bracketed by two Christological errors,” either that “the Word, as Word, is abandoned by God” or that it is “spoken by a man who could be separated from God.”

“Aquinas’s solution is that the person of the Word says this as man,” the priest explained. “That is, the subject who speaks is the incarnate Son; he speaks in his human nature, with reference to his humanity’s relation to the Father, not to the Word’s relation to the Father in the divinity.”

Referring to Thomas' commentary on the Psalms, Fr. Dominic said the cry refers to Christ's suffering in the passion, which is permitted by the Father, and it does not have reference “to any separation from God.”

“For Aquinas, then, Christ’s cry from the cross is a revelation and an instruction,” he stated. “It manifests the depth of the mystery of the incarnation, the reality of Christ’s suffering as man, the magnitude of his love for us and for the Father, and, finally, his human confidence in and obedience to the Father.”

Turning finally to Christ's petition about glorification during his prayer for his disciples in John 17, Fr. Dominic said that “for St. Thomas, this petition englobes both the passion itself and the exaltation of Christ in the resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, and it is marked with major Trinitarian themes.”

Christ is glorified by the Father, and the cross is glorious “because it is the culminating moment of Christ’s own self-revelation and self-manifestation: of his loving obedience” and “of his identity as the Son who is from the Father and thus, as man, is ordered entirely to the Father.”

“Perhaps the most fundamental dimension of the cross’s glory for Aquinas is that it reveals the Triune God,” Fr. Dominic concluded.

The Passion and the Resurrection demonstrate Jesus' glory, which reveals that he is the Son. This in turn implies the Holy Spirit, “whose interior illumination causes others to recognize Christ – and especially Christ crucified and raised – as the divine Son.”

Moreover, the Passion and Resurrection reveal the Father, because it is only in his relation to the Father that the Son is the Son.

“Finally, Aquinas concludes by tracing this glorification back to the Father as its origin,” said. Fr. Dominic. “Christ Jesus is made glorious by the Father who has sent him in the glory of the Son, a glory that is from the Father.”

Can a dorm for single moms and retired nuns bring new life to this Catholic college?

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 15:00

Milwaukee, Wis., Jan 29, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A Wisconsin Catholic women’s college has just announced plans to build housing welcoming both single mothers and retired nuns living in a residential community.

The project is a collaboration between Mount Mary University, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who founded the college over a hundred years ago, and Milwaukee Catholic Home.

Mount Mary President Christine Pharr told CNA that the project will be a “big win-win” for students, single mothers, religious sisters, and campus life. She said the project will empower women of all ages.

Founded in 1913, Mount Mary University is a small, private Catholic college with about 1,200 undergraduates, all of whom are women, and 500 postgraduates, including both men and women.

The school will break ground on the project this summer and plans to complete the initiative by November 2021. The $45 million dollar project will consist of four buildings.

Within three of the buildings, there will be 90 apartments for sisters and other senior citizens, 24 dorm rooms for enrolled single mothers, and 52 assisted living units.

Those buildings will surround a “town center” that features a small clinic, dining services, a hair and nail salon, exercise facilities, and a chapel.

“It'll have a beautiful two-story chapel in it, and many of the artifacts and the stained glass windows from the current convent will be brought over to this new venture to make sure that the heritage of the sisters is preserved as we go forward,” Pharr said.

One of the dorms will also offer on-site child care with space for 120 children. Pharr said about 10 percent of students at the college are single mothers.

While Pharr was vice-president of College of St Mary in Omaha, Nebraska, she witnessed the success of the college’s single mother dorm. Although she did not supervise the program, she said, she was able to become familiar with its operations and engage closely with the students.

Pharr emphasized the importance of providing mothers with the proper resources to overcome the barriers that prevent them from pursuing higher education. She pointed to statistics that show a growing trend of single mothers in higher education, but with much lower graduation rates than women without children.

“If you're looking at data over maybe the last 15, 20 years, the number of single mothers returning to college has increased significantly nationally. About 11% of college students are single mothers in the state,” she said.

“There's about 32,000 single mothers who are college students, and yet their graduation rates are less than half of women without children. The obstacles that they face are rather significant: affordable housing, quality childcare, transportation, [and] just plain financing that can allow them the resources to go to a university and get an education.”

Pharr said that through grant programs, the university has been able to provide academic tutoring, counseling, advising, emergency loans, and food assistance to single mothers.

“This is important because it provides a place for single mothers to get an education in a safe environment. As a small Catholic institution, we provide tremendous resources to our students,” she said.

“I think at this institution, the potential to provide an environment where these women can be successful when they might not be living out in the community commuting, trying to address all of those other issues.”

Pharr said the housing project has been in the development over the past couple years as a response to the order’s declining number of nuns and an increase in retired sisters. When the project was initially under development, she said the order was looking at opening the space to non-religious elderly people.

Pharr had the idea to include single mothers.

Many of the nuns who will live on campus now live in convents elsewhere. Since many sisters had been involved with the school, Pharr said they are excited to come back to campus. She noted the importance the nuns’ presence will have on student life, bringing a light to the mothers, students, and to the sisters themselves.

“I think having the sisters in proximity to students and children will allow them to really stay young and be excited about the kinds of things they see happening on campus. It'll be a short walk over to seminars. They can take classes; they can participate in events on campus much easier,” Pharr said.

The campus is planning for both serendipitous and planned interactions among the students, families, and nuns, Pharr said. The sisters, besides running into students on campus more, will be able to share meals in the dining room with both students and children. She also said the clinic and day-care center will become a learning opportunity.

“We also have what we call planned interactions. So in other words, intergenerational learning opportunities. We hope that the early childhood education center [will] be a lab school, which will allow for our education majors to actually learn and participate in early childhood education.”

“In addition, we have programs in occupational therapy and nursing and social work and numerous others where we will have onsite clinical opportunities and internships so that the students can learn and be in direct connection with the sisters and the seniors.”

Pharr emphasized the value of the project - which will help mothers, campus life, and the nuns - noting that the project is deeply tied to the beliefs of the sisters.

“This is a great mission fit. The School Sisters of Notre Dame, part of their charism has always been to care for the needs of women and children. Mount Mary, in a similar manner, our vision statement says that we educate women to transform the world,” Pharr told CNA.

“To me, this is just one more way in which we can continue to empower women at all ages, whether they're sisters, whether they're seniors, whether they're children or students.”


While #GirlDad trends, US sex-selective abortion is on the rise

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 14:01

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- In the wake of basketball star and father-of-four-daughters Kobe Bryant’s death, #GirlDad has gone viral on social media with fathers sharing the unique joy of raising daughters. However, in many parts of the world, fewer girls are born than boys today because of sex-selective abortion.

Demographics experts say that “large-scale female feticide” has also occurred in the U.S. in the last decade, in a new analysis published Jan. 27.

“These new data are worrisome, if not alarming—for they demonstrate that large-scale female feticide has been taking place among certain U.S. sub-populations over the past decade,” researchers Nicholas Eberstadt and Evan Abramsky found when they looked at U.S. birth statistics.

“The ‘global war against baby girls’ has opened a front in the United States of America,” they said.

The phenomenon of mass female feticide in Asia over the last 40 years has been driven by easily available or unconditional abortion access, cultural preferences for boys, and inexpensive prenatal gender determination technology, Eberstadt explains.

While the natural biological sex ratio at birth hovers around 103-105 boys born for every 100 baby girls, in China and India the ratios hit 115 and 111 respectively in 2017.

With the sex ratio skewed in the two most populous countries in the world, sex-selective abortion accounts for millions of “missing baby girls” each year.

Eberstadt and Abramsky’s 2020 analysis also found unnatural imbalances in sex ratios at birth in the U.S. among foreign-born mothers from China and India.

Among foreign-born Chinese mothers, more than 110 boys were born for every 100 girls in the U.S. between 2014-2018. For the third child born, this figure jumps to 122.8 for Chinese foreign-born mothers and 115.3 for Indian foreign-born mothers.

The researchers conclude this can be understood as approximately 8,400 “missing” births of newborn girls in the U.S. from Chinese and Indian mothers between 2014-2018, while the exact number of sex-selective abortions that occurred among those sub-population groups is unclear.

Eberstadt and Abramsky said that they found “some measure of reassurance” in that there was  no conclusive evidence that the same sex ratio at birth (SRB) exists among Asian-Americans born in the U.S.

The abnormal trend only applies to foreign-born mothers from China and India, countries with “mass female feticide.”

This week over 100,000 people have posted photos of fathers and daughters on Instagram with #girldad in tribute to Kobe Bryant, who was the father of four girls. Bryant and his eldest daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter accident Jan. 26, along with seven others.

The trend was sparked by ESPN analyst Elle Duncan, who shared a memory of a conversation with Bryant.

She said that she had asked Kobe Bryant if he wanted more children, even if there was a chance of having another girl, and said Bryant replied, without hesitation, “I would have 5 more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”


"I would have 5 more girls if I could. I'm a girl dad."@elleduncanESPN's story about how much Kobe loved his daughters is something special.

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 28, 2020  

Following the episode of Sports Center, professional athletes posted photos of themselves and their daughters online with #GirlDad, fathers across the globe followed suit.

“This is trending nationwide because there’s no greater or more significant relationship than that of a dad and his daughter(s),” Duncan wrote on Twitter Jan. 28 with a post that linked to the thousands of family photos shared with her in the past few days.


Please if you’re feeling any kind of way, scroll through this feed and look at all these PROUD #girldad ‘s .. this is trending nationwide because there’s no greater or more significant relationship than that of a dad and his daughter(s) .. i hope it eases your blues. ??

— Elle Duncan (@elleduncanESPN) January 28, 2020  

Colo. suit: Law still threatens wedding professionals who oppose gay marriage 

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:57

Denver, Colo., Jan 29, 2020 / 10:57 am (CNA).- A Colorado web designer is challenging a state law she says could be enforced against her if she doesn’t create material that promotes same-sex weddings.

“The government shouldn’t threaten a web designer with fines to force her to publish websites that violate her beliefs,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs said Jan. 22.

“As Colorado itself admits, Lorie works with all people; she just doesn’t promote all messages. The state must protect, not threaten, the freedom of online speakers and other artists to choose which messages to express through their own projects.”

The religious freedom legal group in September 2016 filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lorie Smith, a web designer who operates the design studio 303 Creative. In September 2019 a federal district court order finalized a ruling dismissing the lawsuit, but the attorneys are appealing.

The case is not a response to government action. Rather, it is a pre-enforcement challenge intended to prevent the use of the law that Smith’s attorneys say affects creative professionals who have religious or moral concerns about creating content that violates their beliefs.

Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act bars creative professionals from expressing views about marriage that suggest someone is “unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable.” They may not express views that suggest the designer won’t create particular works because of those beliefs, Alliance Defending Freedom said.

Smith’s attorneys say the law violates the U.S. Constitution, including the free speech and free press provisions of the First Amendment. They say courts have questioned the constitutionality of similar laws in Minnesota and Arizona.

On Jan. 22 they filed their brief to appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Failure to secure a court ruling against the law, they say, would force Smith to live under threat of prosecution if she declines to design and publish websites that promote messages or causes that conflict with her beliefs.

“The district court shouldn’t have ‘assumed’ Lorie’s decision to act consistently with her conscience was illegal without any analysis of that question, especially when other courts have upheld free speech rights in similar contexts,” said Scruggs.

The legal brief says Smith “gladly serves everyone no matter who they are” but “she cannot create all content requested—including content that demeans, incites violence, or promotes any conception of marriage other than between one man and one woman.”

The brief says that Colorado officials concede that Smith serves people regardless of status, does not discriminate against LGBT persons, and only refers customers to other businesses on the basis of a requested message.

The brief charges that the state anti-discrimination law would “force Lorie to create websites celebrating same-sex weddings” and to “ban Lorie from posting a statement explaining the content she can create.”

“This attack on Lorie’s faith and editorial freedom targets ‘the fundamental First Amendment rule’—that ‘a speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of (her) own message’,” the brief continued.

At issue is the same law that brought Lakewood, Colo. baker Jack Philips and his business Masterpiece Cakeshop to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2012, Philips declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. His prospective customers filed a complaint, and Philips went before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The civil rights commission ordered Phillips and his staff to undergo anti-discrimination training and to submit quarterly reports on how he is changing company policies. He had to cease making wedding cakes to continue operating his business according to his conscience while not running afoul of the law.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado commission had violated Phillips' rights.

The 7-2 opinion said the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”

The high court also cited inconsistent treatment of complaints by Colorado authorities. When a man complained that other bakeries refused to create cakes with an anti-gay marriage message, religious imagery and loosely paraphrased Bible passages, state authorities rejected the complaints.

Phillips was then caught up in a controversy when a prospective customer asked him to make a cake to celebrate a gender transition, and he declined citing his religious beliefs. The customer complained to state officials that this constituted discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but this was rejected.


Bill to ban transgender surgery for minors advances in South Dakota

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 02:26

Pierre, S.D., Jan 29, 2020 / 12:26 am (CNA).- A bill aiming to ban sex-reassignment surgery and puberty-blocking medication for minors in South Dakota cleared a House committee Jan. 22, and is set to be debated in the House of Representatives.

HB 1057 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for doctors to dispense puberty-blocking drugs to those under the age of 16 for the purpose of changing or affirming the perception of their sex, and lists a number of surgical procedures including castration, vasectomy, and hysterectomy that doctors would not be allowed to perform on minors.

The bill was set to be debated in the House on Monday, but the House deferred the debate to another day.

The South Dakota Catholic Conference announced its support for the measure Jan. 16.

“HB 1057 would protect boys and girls from harmful medicalization with unknown, potentially life-long consequences,” the conference wrote Jan. 16.

“With deep compassion for the experience of suffering that marks those with gender dysphoria, the Church firmly insists on the dignity of all human persons as created and loved by God, and further expresses special affection for the marginalized and suffering.”

“HB 1057 would ensure children, especially those experiencing distress concerning their sex, are given the chance to develop and grow in understanding the gift of their created nature without pressures towards harmful medicalization,” the conference concluded.

The Republican-sponsored bill is likely to advance in South Dakota as both the House and the Senate hold Republican supermajorities.

The provisions of the bill do not apply to “the good faith medical decision of a parent or guardian of a minor born with a medically-verifiable genetic disorder of sex development.”

The South Dakota bill comes in the wake of an October 2019 decision by a federal judge to strike down an Obama-era requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon request.

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 who objected to the procedures to violate their religious beliefs or the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to the patient.

Similar bills to the one proposed in South Dakota are under consideration in other states, including ones introduced during the 2020 session in Florida and Colorado that, like the South Dakota bill, would impose criminal penalties for transgender surgery performed on minor.

In other states, like Illinois, Oklahoma and South Carolina, bills are under consideration that provide for the loss of a doctor’s medical license if they perform transgender surgery on a minor.

A bill under consideration in Missouri, HB 1721, would revoke a doctor’s medical license if they administer gender-reassignment treatment, and parents who consent to such treatment would be reported to child-welfare officials for child abuse, the AP reports.

State lawmakers in Kentucky and Texas also have announced plans to file similar bills, the Washington Post reports.

A state representative in Georgia during November 2019 proposed a law that would make it a felony for medical professionals to attempt to change a minor’s gender either through surgery or medication.


KC priest Harkins remembered as a 'good man and a good priest'

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 23:31

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 28, 2020 / 09:31 pm (CNA).- Catholics in Missouri and across the country remembered Fr. Evan Harkins Tuesday as a good priest, and urged prayer for the repose of his soul.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph announced the priest’s death on Jan. 28.

Harkins “had apparently taken his own life,” the diocese said in a statement.

“In the face of this devastatingly tragic news, we ask that you pray for Fr. Harkins, his family, and the parish and school communities that he served as well as all of our priests,” the statement added.

Harkins was ordained a priest in 2010, and was serving as pastor of St. James Catholic Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He also oversaw the nearby St. Patrick Catholic Church as parochial administrator. He was, according to his LinkedIn profile, studying at the Catholic University of America for a degree in canon law.

Harkins was ordained a priest at 24 years old, nearly three months shy of the required canonical age of 25, with a dispensation from his bishop. Before his ordination, he told the Catholic Key that he first began thinking about becoming a priest at eight years old.

His parents supported his vocation. The oldest of five children, Harkins attended a seminary high school. He then enrolled at Conception Seminary College in Missouri, followed by major seminary at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.

In 2010, Harkins described to the Catholic Key his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Through her intercession I grew in holiness. A priest stands in the person of Christ, absolving sin, and in the person of Christ saying ‘This is my body.’ Therefore we should be as Christ-like as possible, and part of that is drawing close to His mother, Our Lady,” he said.

Harkins also told the Catholic Key about his enthusiasm for the priesthood.

A priest “brings the channels of Christ’s grace to the sacraments: New life through baptism; absolution through the sacrament of Penance, His love for us and His grace through the Eucharist. A priest is a bridge connecting people to God in a sacramental way, and he extends Christ’s love for His Church, in a human way.”

“I see a lot of pain and sadness in the world. You can see in people’s eyes. Satan makes people unsure of who they are. To me being ordained a priest is to be sent out in to the world to give God to people and His gifts of joy and truth. I think that’s awesome; there is nothing beyond that I could want,” Harkins added.

Priests in Missouri and other parts of the country remembered Harkins on social media.

Fr. Joseph Kelly of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau wrote on Facebook that Harkins “was a few years ahead of me at Kenrick, and I always remember him as humble, quiet, prayerful, always joyful, and had a great love for the traditional liturgy.”

Kelly requested prayers for the repose of Harkins’ soul, and “for all those struggling with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, that they may know there is always hope even in the midst of the greatest darkness.”

Fr. Adam Prichard of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois requested prayers for Harkin’s soul, for his family, and for his parishioners.

“He was a good man and a good priest,” Prichard wrote.


Please pray for the repose of the souls of Fr. Evan Harkins, for his family, and his parishioners. He was a good man and a good priest.

— Fr. Adam Prichard (@FrAdamPrichard) January 28, 2020  

Fr. Cassidy Stinson of the Diocese of Richmond asked on Twitter that Catholics pray for all priests.

“I know from experience that it can be very hard to seek help and support  when you’re the one called upon to support everyone else,” Stinson wrote.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Evan Harkins, who took his own life this morning.

I know from experience that it can be very hard to seek help and support when you’re the one called upon to support everyone else.

Pray for your priests.

Love your priests.

— Fr. Cassidy Stinson (@TheHappyPriest) January 28, 2020  

Fr. James Clark of Memphis wrote that he and Evans “were good friends in seminary.  I never would have expected such a thing.  May God give him eternal life and console his beautiful family. You are a priest forever, Fr. Evan.”

Heartbroken to hear of the death of Fr. Evan Harkins. We were good friends in seminary. I never would have expected such a thing. May God give him eternal life and console his beautiful family. You are a priest forever, Fr. Evan.

— Fr James Clark (@FatherJcl) January 29, 2020  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law,” but adds that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives,” the Catechism adds.

Funeral announcements for Harkins have not yet been announced.

Transport Secretary vows to stamp out 'modern slavery' of human trafficking

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, has announced several new initiatives aimed at combatting human trafficking, vowing to stamp out use of American transport routes for “this modern form of slavery.”

“It is shocking to learn that in this day and age, something so horrible as human trafficking exists, and there are so many people who don’t believe it,” Chao said Jan. 28. 

“But it is happening, and it’s happening in the United States, in our cities, in our suburbs, in our rural areas.” said Chao at the agency’s “Putting the Brakes on Human Trafficking” summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

“Our purpose today is to make a difference, and that’s to make the transportation sector a more effective force against the evil that is human trafficking. Because America’s roadways, railways, airways, and waterways are being used to facilitate this modern form of slavery,” Chao stated.

Chao was joined by members of Congress, officials from multiple states, law enforcement personnel, and leaders of the transportation industry on Tuesday at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C.

USDOT launched its new “100 Pledges in 100 Days” initiative to increase the number of transportation companies promising to train their employees to recognize suspected cases of human trafficking.

Chao called on leaders of transportation companies—in the airline, shipping, trucking, and locomotive industries—to take the “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking Pledge” to train their employees.

Currently, there are commitments to train more than one million employees to fight human trafficking, according to USDOT, and Chao listed anti-trafficking initiatives already underway at the agency, with the strategies of “detection, deterrence, and disruption.” More than 53,000 agency employees have received mandatory counter-trafficking training, including special instructions for bus and truck inspectors, she said.

The agency is also partnering with the Department of Homeland Security on the Blue Lightning initiative for the airline industry, providing anti-trafficking training for more than 100,000 airline employees.

The Department also announced an annual $50,000 award for individuals or organizations for “innovative” solutions for combating trafficking, as well as $5.4 million in grant selections

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has authored five laws combatting human trafficking, also spoke at the event. 

Smith drafted the International Megan’s Law, named for 7 year-old Megan Kanka of Hamilton, New Jersey, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a repeated sex offender in 1994. The law requires convicted child sex offenders to register with the U.S. government before travelling abroad. The government in turn notifies their destination countries, which can refuse to accept the offender.

“Human trafficking is a barbaric human rights abuse that thrives on greed, secrecy, a perverted sense of entitlement to exploit the vulnerable and an unimaginable disregard for the victims,” Rep. Smith said.

Supreme Court allows ‘public burden’ rule for migrants, but Catholic leaders object

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 15:15

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2020 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- A Trump administration rule defining more low-income immigrants as a public burden may go into effect, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week. Catholic leaders decried the ruling, saying it will harm families’ ability to secure basic services and that it represents a radical departure from American traditions.

“We implore the administration to reconsider this harsh and unnecessary policy and rescind it in its entirety,” Sister Donna Markham O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said Jan. 27. “By allowing this harmful policy to go into effect, the administration imposes a chilling effect on access to basic services, creating fear among eligible individuals threatening family unity and stability.”

“We will be judged on how we treat the hungry, the homeless and the stranger among us and this decision signals a watershed change of course from the best moments of our American heritage of welcoming immigrants and refugees,” Markham said.

The rule change expands the criteria under which immigrants would be ineligible for a green card, encompassing those who use public benefits on a more temporary basis than the previous standards.

Catholic Charities USA said the rule harms families, targets legal immigrants, and could prevent families from securing basic nutrition and housing assistance.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration in a 5-4 vote on Jan. 27 to overturn a nationwide injunction against the rule. The justices did not comment on the merits of the case. However, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a concurring opinion objecting to the use of nationwide injunctions.

The decision means the new rule can go to effect in every state except for Illinois, a separate case. The rule will still face legal challenge in several courts across the country.

Immigrant advocates and several states had challenged the rule, saying it would impose costs on the states and penalize immigrants who rely on temporary government assistance. They objected that it limited access to green cards for low-income immigrants seeking legal entry to the U.S. or seeking to remain legally.

The concept of a “public charge” dates back to at least 1882, when federal lawmakers wanted to ensure that immigrants were independent and would not burden public services.

Since 1996, government regulations had defined a public charge as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning this assistance supplies more than half their income through cash benefits, such as the Temporary Aid for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security, CNN reports.

Previously, fewer than 1% of applicants were disqualified on public charge grounds.

Under the Trump administration rules announced in August 2019, “noncash benefits providing for basic needs such as housing or food” count towards consideration of whether a person would be a public charge. These include most forms of Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.

An immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months in a 36-month period could be designated a public charge. Use of two kinds of benefits in a single month would count as two months, the New York Times reports.

Lawyers for the private groups challenging the rule cited Department of Homeland Security estimates that the rule will cause hundreds of thousands of households to forgo benefits for which they are eligible “out of fear and confusion about the consequences for their immigration status of accepting such benefits.” The Department of Homeland Security warned of increased malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women and their infants and children; increased prevalence of communicable disease; and increased poverty and housing instability, the lawyers said in their brief.

New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, whose state was among the plaintiffs to the legal challenge, said the new rule would “radically disrupt over a century of settled immigration policy and public-benefits programs.” The established consensus was that the phrase “public charge” was limited to mean “individuals who are primarily dependent on the government for long-term subsistence,” she argued.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, who defended the rule, asked the Supreme Court to lift the lower court injunctions. He argued that the new rule was a permissible interpretation of the concept “public charge.” It is a lawful goal to discourage immigrants seeking green cards from using public benefits, and enjoinment of the rule would cause “long-term harm” to the government, he said.

Francisco said if any resident aliens not subject to the rule disenroll from benefits for fear they would endanger their immigration status, then “such disenrollment is unwarranted, easily corrected and temporary.”

Susan Welber, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, opposed the new policy. She told CNN the policy aimed to exclude “as unworthy and unwelcome anyone who is predicted to receive even a small amount of food, health or housing assistance at any point.”

“We are very disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision, and the irreparable consequences it will have for immigrants and their families across the nation, but we continue to believe that our legal claims are very strong that we will ultimately prevail in stopping this rule permanently,” she said.

In September 2018, when the initial changes to the rule were proposed, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the rule will be “very harmful to families” and cause fear among immigrant families who are “already struggling to fulfill the American Dream.” The proposed rule “further compounds strict eligibility guidelines already in place preventing many immigrants from receiving federal aid,” they said.


Judge allows student group’s abortion lawsuit to progress against Notre Dame

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 02:59

South Bend, Ind., Jan 28, 2020 / 12:59 am (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame’s refusal to pay for drugs that can cause early abortions will face further litigation in court, after a federal judge in Indiana allowed a lawsuit to challenge an agreement between the university and the Trump administration.

“Notre Dame stands on firm legal and moral ground in refusing to subsidize the limited number of contraceptive products that can act as abortifacients and harm an unborn child,” Paul Browne, vice president of public affairs and communications at the University of Notre Dame, said in a Jan. 20 letter to the editor of the Notre Dame Observer, a student-run newspaper.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon rejected the university’s motions to dismiss the case on Jan. 16. A pretrial conference is scheduled for early March, the South Bend Tribune reports.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2018, charges that the Catholic university’s failure to provide abortifacient drugs violates a federal requirement dating back to 2012 holding that employer health plans must provide contraceptive coverage.

The lawsuit comes from a group of students allied with national pro-abortion rights NGOs.

Browne told the South Bend Tribune the university’s position is “grounded in the autonomy of litigants, including the government, to settle claims.” He added “we are confident that Notre Dame will prevail.”

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three unnamed students and the group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a 501c4 non-profit not affiliated with or funded by the Catholic university.

“No one at Notre Dame — and no one anywhere —should have to choose between what is right for their body and life and what they can afford,” said the group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

In February 2018, University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced that while the insurance plan at the university will not provide abortifacients, the school will fund the use of “simple contraceptives.”

Irish 4 Reproductive Health still objected, contending that the policies follow a February 2018 “secretive deal with the Trump-Pence administration to impose unnecessary and burdensome costs on us and restrict our reproductive healthcare options to methods deemed acceptable by Fr. Jenkins’s coterie of advisors.”

The group of Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students describes itself as an advocate for “reproductive justice.”

“We work to expand access to sexual health resources and information at the University of Notre Dame as well as in our surrounding community. Our feminism is intersectional and sex-positive,” it says on its Facebook page.

The group says the majority of its funding comes from individual donors but it also reports receiving grants from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest performer of abortions, and Catholics for Choice, whose claims to be a Catholic organization have been rejected by the U.S. bishops.

Irish 4 Reproductive Justice works with South Bend-area pro-abortion rights and feminist groups as well as the National Women’s Law Center, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The latter two groups are assisting in the lawsuit, as is the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Fried Frank and Macey Swanson law firms.

Americans United named Irish 4 Reproductive Health as its 2020 Students of the Year.

Named alongside Notre Dame in the lawsuit are the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor.

“The Supreme Court should affirm that it is unconstitutional for the Trump administration to misuse religious freedom to block employees’ and students’ access to birth control,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Jan. 17.

Laser cited similar court decisions in Pennsylvania and California.

The 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, she said, “guarantees employees and students the right to contraceptive coverage.”

The 2010 health care legislation required employer-provided health insurance plans are required to cover certain “preventative services.” Guidance issued under the Obama administration in January 2012 defined these services to include all FDA-approved sterilization procedures and contraceptive methods, including abortifacient birth control pills and IUDs.

Initially, there were no religious exemptions for those opposed to the distribution of contraceptives. The eventual exemption was so narrow in scope it excluded religious orders such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and non-profits like the EWTN Global Catholic Network.

In 2015,  the Supreme Court ruled against the mandate as it applied to Christian-owned business Hobby Lobby and similar “closely held for-profits.”

The Trump administration established new rules in October 2017 allowing companies with religious or moral objections to contraception to opt out of the mandate. Federal judges blocked the rules in December 2017, resulting in new rules in November 2018.

Judges in California and Pennsylvania issued injunctions against these new rules in January 2019, again halting the Little Sisters of the Poor’s legal case. On Jan. 17, 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court said it would again hear the Little Sisters of the Poor’s case.

Americans United, one supporter of the lawsuit against Notre Dame, is historically an anti-Catholic group. Formerly known as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church & State, it was founded in 1947 with financial backing and other support from prominent Scottish Rite Masons, Southern Jurisdiction, Phillip Hamburger reports in his 2002 book “Separation of Church and State,” published by Harvard University Press.

In a Feb. 7, 2018 statement, Notre Dame’s president Father Jenkins acknowledged that the use of contraception is indeed “contrary to Catholic teaching.” Attempting to justify the health plan policy, he said that offering contraception in the school health plan was a way to “respect” other religious traditions and conscientious decisions—particularly decisions made by those in the university’s community who rely on access to contraception through the insurance plan.

This step came as a surprise to many, since the university was one of the institutions which sued the United States over the mandate. Prior to the mandate, Notre Dame did not provide contraception coverage in its insurance plans, except when prescribed to treat a medical condition.

Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley criticized the new university policy in a February 2018 Public Discourse essay “Notre Dame Swallows the Pill.” He said the policy was “a giant leap into immorality” that made the university “sole funder and proprietor of a contraception giveaway.”

Bradley cited Notre Dame’s previous claims that justified its lawsuit on the grounds of fidelity to Catholic teaching. In his words, the university argued that “to remain faithful to its beliefs, it could not be involved in any way whatsoever with a process designed to provide contraceptives to its employees, its students, or their dependents.”

Bradley said the allowance for contraception will cause incalculable harm to “so many persons’ minds, bodies and souls.”

“Our moral duty to respect others’ choices does not have anything to do with giving them the means to do evil,” he said.


TX judges increasingly denied abortion to minors without parental consent from 2016

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 20:18

Austin, Texas, Jan 27, 2020 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- A study of statistics from Texas suggests that since 2016, judges in the state were less likely to grant permission to minors to procure abortion without their parents’ consent than in previous years.

Thirty-seven states, including Texas, require minors to obtain parental consent before procuring an abortion. In those states, minors can also seek the approval of a judge, in what is known as a “judicial bypass.”

From 2000 to 2015, Texas’ laws mandated that a minor seeking an abortion without parental consent must demonstrate to a judge that they were mature and well-informed, that notifying a parent would not be in their best interest, and that notifying a parent might lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

According to a study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, between 2001 and 2015 the number of times a judge in Texas denied a minor an abortion ranged from zero to six per year, which in turn represented between 0% and 6.2% of the total requests judges received that year. The rate of denial was 2.8% in 2015.

In 2016, the year that Texas implemented a law changing regulations for minors requesting permission for abortions from judges, the number of denials rose to 23, which represented about 10.3% of the total requests that judges received that year. The number of denials dipped to 10 in 2017 (3.1%) and then rose slightly to 12 in 2018 (5.1%).

The data for 2016-18 came from the Texas Office of Court Administration, while that from 2001-15 were based on reports from Jane's Due Process, a group that provides legal representation to minors seeking to procure abortion without their parents' consent.

Reuters reported that one of the changes implemented in 2016 was the removal of the criterion related to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse if the minor tells the parent they are having an abortion. Another change implemented after 2016 required girls to file their petitions in the county they live in, and to include their name, address, and date of birth, Reuters reported.

The study's lead author, Amanda Stevenson, said that the purpose of the judicial bypass process “is to protect minors from a veto of their abortion decision. We find sometimes the process doesn’t protect them from being vetoed. It’s just the judge instead of the parent.”

Texas’ requirements regarding judicial consent for minors to obtain an abortion recieved national attention when a 17-year-old from Central America, known as Jane Doe, obtained state permission in September 2017.

The minor had been in federal custody in a Texas shelter operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement – an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department of Health and Human Services objected to transporting the minor to abortion appointments.

The government argued that since she is a minor in their custody, it has the right to determine what is in the best interest of the teen, and also stated that it has an interest in not creating incentives for minors to cross international borders in order to obtain abortions.

On Oct. 20, 2017, a three-judge appellate panel ruled that Doe would not be allowed immediately to obtain the abortion. This overruled a Texas district court’s ruling that Doe should be allowed to access an abortion immediately.

However, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision five days later, ordering instead that an adult custodian be found for the teenager, which would remove her from federal custody. The teen subsequently procured the abortion.

Other states attempting to pass “parental notification laws,” such as Indiana, have been blocked by the courts.

Indiana law requires any Indiana minor seeking an abortion to provide the courts with written consent from a parent, but the state allows a minor to petition a court for approval to have an abortion without parental consent.

A 2017 law would have allowed judges to notify parents that their daughters are seeking to have an abortion without consent.

In 2017, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevents judges from notifying parents when minors seek abortions, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction during August 2019 by a vote of 2-1.

Also in 2017, a federal judge struck down an Alabama law requiring more scrutiny for minors who seek an abortion without parental consent, saying that the law violates the minor’s confidentiality by possibly bringing other people from her life into the process.

Efforts are currently underway to remove the longstanding requirement for teens to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion in Massachusetts, a rule that can only be bypassed if the minor is granted permission for the abortion by a state judge. The bill, which state Sen. Harriet Chandler introduced during January 2020, also seeks to establish a state right to an abortion, which would stand even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

Legislators back 'School Choice Week' as Supreme Court considers key case

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Political leaders have come out in support of School Choice Week, as the Supreme Court considers a crucial case on the right of parents to public assistance if they choose religious schools.

National School Choice Week is Jan. 26 through Feb. 1. “School choice” is a policy to provide families, particularly low-income families, the option of using public funds such as tax credits, public scholarships or vouchers, to help pay for the cost of sending their children to private schools or charter schools.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has promoted school choice over the years, in line with Church teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ education committee, Bishop Michael Barber, S.J. of Oakland, outlined the conference’s stances on school choice in a March, 2019 letter to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Education Freedom Scholarships.

“In addition to parents having the duty to educate their children, the Catholic Church also teaches that parents should have access to government resources to successfully meet the education needs of their children,” Bishop Barber wrote.

Byrne quoted Pope St. Paul VI’s declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum Educationis: “The public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”

Barber also praised Congress in December for reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which allows for education vouchers.

“The Catholic Church has consistently taught that children have the universal right to an education, and that parents have the right and responsibility to serve as the primary educators of their children,” Barber stated, “The Church also teaches that the state has a fundamental obligation to support parents in fulfilling such a right.”

President Trump, in a proclamation for School Choice Week issued last Friday, said that “[e]ach child is a gift from God who has boundless potential and deserves a fair shot at the American Dream.” The president said that “children and their families must be free to pursue an educational environment that matches their individual learning style, develops their unique talents, and prepares them with the knowledge and character needed for fulfilling and productive lives.” 

The USCCB has also weighed in on a recent school choice case, Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, currently before the Supreme Court.

A clause in Montana’s state constitution that dates back to 1889, and which was included again in the state’s 1972 constitution, bars public funding of religious schools.

A state scholarship program funded by donations—through which donors could claim tax credits dollar-for-dollar—was created to help low-income parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The state supreme court ruled that the program violated the state constitution and struck it down, saying that it could not be remedied.

Bishop Barber, along with USCCB religious freedom chair Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, stated that “Our country’s tradition of non-establishment of religion does not mean that governments can deny otherwise available benefits on the basis of religious status.”

Legislators have also drawn attention to School Choice Week. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) sponsored the Senate resolution designating the week of Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, 2020 as School Choice Week. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Education Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) were original cosponsors of the resolution.

“I firmly believe that a child’s zip code should not affect his or her access to quality education nor should it affect the child’s future, which is why I proudly support National School Choice Week,” Sen. Scott stated. 

“I have long believed that parents should have an informed and meaningful choice in their children’s education,” said Senator Feinstein.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla,) office tweeted on Monday that he “proudly supports the right of every parent to decide what educational option is best for their child, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic background.”

“Parents should be the ultimate decision makers on where their children go to school,” Sen. Cruz tweeted, adding that “poor and working class parents often have no choice about what schools their children can attend.”

The Joint Economic Committee in the Senate, which runs the Social Capital Project, stated Monday that “Public education aspired to be the common ground on which sectarianism could be put aside to focus on values we all share.” 

“This model is breaking down,” the committee said, “evidenced by parents frustrated at their inability to influence the content or context of their child’s educational experience.”