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Philly Catholic Social Services hopes to continue working with city

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 18:00

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 16, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the City of Philadelphia announced it has stopped using Catholic Social Services’ foster care program because it does not place children with same-sex couples, the archdiocese has said it hopes to resume a partnership with the city.

On March 15, Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced a resolution authorizing the city’s Public Health and Human Services to investigate the city’s partnership with organizations that do not place foster children with LGBTQ people, calling it discriminatory.

Due to the resolution, the city’s Department of Human Services ceased new foster care child intakes with Catholic Social Services and with another faith-based agency, Bethany Christian Services. Earlier this month, Philadelphia officials issued a public service announcement expressing the city’s urgent need for 300 foster families.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia's chief communications officer, Kenneth Gavin, told CNA that Catholic Social Services hopes the foster care partnership with the city will resume.

“Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) recognizes the vital importance of the foster care program in our city and is proud to provide safe and nurturing foster environments to young people in need,” said Gavin. “We hope to continue our productive relationship with the City of Philadelphia to serve those among us in need.”

“CSS is, at its core, an institution founded on faith based-principles. The Catholic Church does not endorse same-sex unions based upon deeply held religious beliefs and principles. As such, CSS would not be able to consider foster care placement within the context of a same-sex union,” Gavin said.

Catholic Social Services provides foster care services to any young person in need of assistance regardless of background and without making inquiry as to their sexual identity or orientation, according to Gavin. “That’s important to note as it is also a deeply held religious belief for us to provide care for all those in need with dignity, charity, and respect,” he explained.

“Given its affiliation with the Archdiocese, CSS cannot provide services in any manner or setting that would violate its institutional integrity, core values, and Catholic beliefs. That fact is a well-established and long-known one in our relationship with DHS,” continued Gavin.

In a CSS annual report released in 2016, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia remarked that “I’ve been blessed on numerous occasions to witness firsthand how Catholic Social Services (CSS) promotes the dignity of the persons they serve, particularly the weak and vulnerable.”

“The long history of CSS foster care and adoption services is replete with stories of their paving the way for new parents to open the doors of their hearts to children,” Chaput continued.

Catholic Social Services will continue to care for the 241 children that it has currently placed in foster arrangements due to child referrals from the city.

Pro-life leaders deliver letter to Irish prime minister: Choose Life

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 04:26

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2018 / 02:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of 17 American pro-life leaders delivered a letter to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday urging him against repealing the country’s 8th Amendment.

Ireland’s 8th Amendment recognizes the right to life of both a mother and an unborn child. This means that abortion is illegal in the country with extremely limited exceptions. Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 to possibly repeal this amendment and bring legal abortion to the country up until the 12th week of pregnancy. Past attempts at repeal have failed.

One of Varadkar’s first acts on his first day as prime minister was to start the process for the repeal vote.

Varadkar is in Washington, D.C. and visited the White House as part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. Abortion was not discussed during the visit.

Pro-life leaders from groups around the country joined together to sign and deliver a letter defending the 8th Amendment and calling on Ireland to lead the way in respecting women and their babies.

Co-signers of the letter included Lila Rose of Live Action, Jeanne Mancini of the March for Life, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List.

The letter calls Ireland one of the safest places in the world for pregnant women, noting that it has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates - without relying on abortion. Additionally, the letter says that over 100,000 lives have been saved as a result of the 8th Amendment.

The repeal of the amendment, the pro-life leaders assert, would be a disaster for Ireland. While Varadkar has said that he supports abortion in limited circumstances, the letter--citing the United States’ example of the Roe v. Wade decision--warned that this could lead to widespread abortion throughout the country.

“Since then, millions of women have been negatively affected by abortion, some have even died, and we are missing over 55 million children in America today simply because of a law that was initially said to permit abortion only in certain cases.”

Further, the Roe v. Wade decision has impeded even “common sense” pro-life laws, including a 20-week ban, the pro-life leaders said.

It referred to Ireland as a “beacon of hope for the entire world” and as a leader in “demonstrating life-affirming laws and medical treatment.” These policies should be praised, not repealed, they said.

“You (Varadkar) have the power to continue Ireland’s excellence in life-affirming laws and healthcare.”

“Ireland has been a beacon of hope for America, that one day we too could have life-affirming laws that promote excellent healthcare for women and their children,” the co-signers said.

Haspel CIA nomination raises questions about ‘enhanced interrogation’ and torture

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where US intelligence targets were reportedly subject to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

As Haspel prepares to face Senate questions about her work with the agency, a national debate over whether “enhanced interrogation” techniques amount to torture has reignited.

It is not clear whether Haspel directly participated in the "enhanced interrogation" of intelligence targets. But at the Cat’s Eye, the code-name for the CIA compound Haspel took over in 2002, al-Qaida suspects were subjected to new interrogation techniques implemented shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. These methods of “enhanced interrogation” included sleep deprivation, humiliation, painful stress positions, and simulated drowning, known as “waterboarding” in an effort to obtain information about terrorist organizations.

Haspel is also suspected of pushing to destroy videotape evidence of "enhanced interrogations" conducted by CIA operatives.

In the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Pope St. John Paul II taught that torture is “intrinsically evil.”  What does that say about the morality of waterboarding or other methods of “enhanced interrogation?”

“When an interrogator in some other way imposes physical or psychological pain, at least significant pain, until the one being interrogated ‘breaks’ and talks, then I think this is clearly torture and morally evil,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a moral theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

“I think that this would clearly encompass some things that the US did in the early or mid 2000s, most especially waterboarding, but very likely some of our other ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques also,” Miller said.

Miller clarified that even if these interrogation techniques were not defined precisely as “torture,” the Church would still object to them due to its firm defence of the dignity of each human person created in the image of God.

The theologian referenced Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world: “Whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself...all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed.”
He noted that “attempts to coerce the will itself,” are condemned in the passage, one that Saint John Paul II repeatedly quoted.

“If one is inflicting physical or psychological distress in order to – and to a degree that one thinks will likely succeed in – getting someone to answer questions that he/she would not otherwise agree to answer, then one is engaging in an attempt to coerce the will – whether or not the distress being inflicted rises to the level of torture. And this is intrinsically evil – contrary to both justice and charity,” said Miller.

An intrinsic evil is an evil that is wrong in the chosen act itself, independent of one’s intentions or the surrounding circumstances, Miller explained.

“Returning to Gaudium et Spes,” continued Miller, the “general principle underlying its condemnation of various evil acts is ‘reverence for man,’ grounded in the need to see every human person as one’s brother or sister, with whom one has been offered a communion that is a participation in the Trinitarian communion.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference has condemned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques for years, particularly after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released part of its 2014 report on CIA’s use of interrogation in the years following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“The acts of torture described in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong,” stated Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who was chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee at the time.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on October 2017, Bishop Cantú affirmed American bishops’ support for “legislation to make torture, which some euphemistically refer to as ‘enhanced interrogation,’ illegal.”

President Barack Obama prohibited the CIA and military from using waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques when he took office in 2009. During a debate during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said that he supported reinstituting the use of waterboarding “and more.”

“Current U.S. law is clear in banning enhanced interrogation techniques. Any nominee for Director of the CIA must pledge without reservation to uphold this prohibition, which has helped us to regain our position of leadership in the struggle for universal human rights—the struggle upon which this country was founded, and which remains its highest aspiration," said Senator John McCain in a statement released shortly after Trump announced Haspel as his pick for CIA Director on March 13.

“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process,” continued McCain.

“The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” said McCain, who was himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War.

“In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, our government squandered precious moral authority in a futile effort to produce intelligence by means of torture. We are still dealing with the consequences of that desperately misguided decision,” McCain added.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against any type of torture in a 2007 address, “I reiterate that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.”

John Paul II presented an even more vivid condemnation in a speech in 1982, “With regard to torture, the Christian is confronted from his childhood with the reading of the passion of Christ. The memory of Jesus stripped naked, hit, mocked while suffering his agony, should always make him refuse to see similar treatment applied to one of his brothers in humanity.”

If confirmed, Haspel will be the first female director in CIA history. At 61, she has had an extensive career within the spy agency, which she has worked for since 1985.

US bishops voice support for First Amendment Defense Act

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 17:55

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2018 / 03:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have voiced their strong support for a bill protecting individuals and institutions from discrimination by the federal government based on their beliefs about marriage, regardless of what those beliefs are.

"We welcome and applaud the recent reintroduction of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA),” wrote Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln in a March 14 statement. Archbishop Kurtz chairs the US bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, while Bishop Conley is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

“In a pluralistic society, faith-based charitable agencies and schools should not be excluded from participation in public life by loss of licenses, accreditation, or tax-exempt status because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government's view,” explained the bishops.

“FADA is a modest and important measure that protects the rights of faith-based organizations and people of all faiths and of no faith who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

The bill, which was introduced March 8 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), provides legal protections for individuals or institutions facing federal discrimination based on their definition of marriage or beliefs about premarital sex.

“What an individual or organization believes about the traditional definition of marriage is not – and should never be – a part of the government’s decision-making process when distributing licenses, accreditations, or grants,” said Senator Lee. “And the First Amendment Defense Act simply ensures that this will always be true in America – that federal bureaucrats will never have the authority to require those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage to choose between their living in accordance with those beliefs and maintaining their occupation or their tax status.”

FADA equally protects those with differing views of marriage. For example, “All Federal definitions of marriage are protected under FADA. FADA would protect a liberal institution that promoted gay marriage, just as it would protect a conservative institution that wanted to promote traditional marriage,” according to Senator Lee’s website.

The bill was previously introduced in the Senate in 2015, but did not make it out of committee. However, the current bill no longer includes protections for federal employees and publicly traded for-profit companies.

The 2015 version of the bill would have protected only those who believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.

Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Conley wrote a letter to Lee March 12 expressing their gratitude and support for the bill.

“In a climate of increasing intolerance, these protections are urgently needed,” wrote the bishops, “Persons who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman are increasingly having their religious freedoms jeopardized and even forfeited.”

“The teaching of the Catholic Church about marriage is based on both faith and reason. Using right reason, one can know that given the nature of the human person, created as male and female, marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The leadership of our Church will continue to promote and protect the natural truth of marriage as foundational to the common good,” the bishops concluded.

FADA currently has 22 co-sponsors, including Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jim Risch (R-ID), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), Ben Sasse (R-NE), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Thune (R-SD), Rand Paul (R-KY), David Perdue (R-GA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Boozman (R-AR), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).

How some Catholic schools approached the National School Walkout over guns

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 17:09

Denver, Colo., Mar 14, 2018 / 03:09 pm (CNA).- On Wednesday, thousands of students throughout the United States walked out of classrooms as part of National School Walkout, a demonstration calling for safer schools and increased gun control, in the wake of the February high school shooting that left 17 Florida students dead.

Many of the walkouts were planned to last 17 minutes, in honor of each of the students who were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14. Many Catholic schools used the day as a chance to call their students to prayer, either in addition to or instead of a walkout.

Schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans were asked to hold 17 minutes of prayer in solidarity with shooting victims and the walkouts. The prayer services included the rosary, as well as the archdiocesan prayer against violence, murder and racism, which is recited regularly at Masses in the region.

“We didn’t hear of any schools or students participating (in the walk-out), but we were hearing from our school communities, ‘What could we do, what could we offer in support of lessening gun violence?’” Dr. RaeNell Houston, superintendent of Catholic Schools in New Orleans, told the Clarion Herald.

“Our children deserve to be safe in our school communities,” Houston added. “But we felt intentional, dedicated prayer would yield more fruitful results than a walkout. I am a witness to how God answers prayer. And we felt our time was best utilized and our statement would be bold if we dedicated that 17 minutes of prayer on behalf of the Florida victims and our country and for the safety of our children.”

Cardinal Ritter College Prep, a Catholic urban high school in St. Louis, participated in an organized school event.
Students left campus at 9:30 am and walked to nearby St. Francis Xavier Church on the campus of St. Louis University. Ronnie Robinson, the father of a recent graduate, was invited to participate in the march. Robinson and his family have lost two sons to gun violence in recent years.

After a period of prayer and silence, students returned to their classrooms to discuss the events of the day, to review the school’s active shooter policy, and to resume classes.

Elias Mendoza, principal of St. Francis Catholic High School in Sacramento, California sent a memo to parents in early March, in anticipation of the walkouts, noting that school officials recognized both the students concerns and as well as their own obligation as school employees to remain politically neutral.

Instead of a walkout, St. Francis offered a prayer service for peace and healing, noting safety concerns regarding students leaving campus in the middle of the school day.

“Together with students and school leaders, we’re working to provide students with an alternative avenue to express their viewpoints in a constructive and meaningful way, while remaining on campus, where safety measures are in place to ensure supervision and security,” Mendoza said in his letter.

“At St. Francis, we care about our (students), our families, and the faith-based community we represent.  Moving forward, I ask for your prayers and partnership in doing all that we can to reassure our students and to make them strong resilient young women,” he concluded.

The Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey said on Twitter that several of the schools participated in the national walk out, and held prayer services afterward.



Today, #Catholic Schools throughout the Archdiocese of Newark took a stand against gun violence by participating in the #NationalWalkoutDay. Several schools, including St. Mary of the Assumption and Saint Dominic Academy, held prayer services following the #Walkout. #Enough

— Newark Archdiocese (@NwkArchdiocese) March 14, 2018



Sister Brittany Harrison, FMA, is the Theology Department Chair at Mary Help of Christians Academy in New Jersey.

In an interview about the walkouts with Relevant Radio, Harrison said that she was inspired by the students throughout the country who were “deciding to rise up, make their voices heard, and make social change.”

“As a Salesian, that’s what I believe in, the power of young people. So to see them doing that is just an incredible thing for me,” she said.  

Harrison said that while the official walkout, sponsored by the organizers of the national Women’s March, was focused on gun control legislation, her students wanted to make their event less political and more focused on school safety in general.

Rather than the walkout, the school held a prayer service and also gave students time to write government officials about the changes they’d like to see.

“As Catholics we can really model what it is to affect social change, and our young people really want to do that,” she said.

The Diocese of Peoria, Illinois encouraged its students to take part in some kind of alternative, prayerful show of solidarity rather than the walkout, citing concerns about some of the sponsors of the national walk-out as well as safety concerns.

“Unfortunately, some of the sponsors of the National School Walkout advocate for positions that are contrary to the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life in all of its stages,” the Office of Catholic Schools stated in a letter to diocesan Catholic school officials.  

“Due to this fact, as well as concerns for student safety on this day of national attention, our schools are directed to not permit students to stage a walkout.”

Instead, the letter suggested that diocesan schools hold Masses or prayer services for the victims.

Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit held memorial services for the victims of the Parkland shooting, including posters with pictures and brief biographies of the victims.


Students and faculty at @Shrine_Schools gathered this morning for a memorial service in honor of the victims of the #ParklandSchoolShooting #NationalWalkoutDay

— Detroit Archdiocese (@DetroitCatholic) March 14, 2018



Queen of Angels elementary school in the Archdiocese of Atlanta said on Twitter that they were hosting a “walk in” rather than a walkout, and used the day as a time to encourage their students to focus on ways they could be kinder and more inclusive.



#WalkIn-Today at 10 AM while students across the nation #walkout in protest of gun violence, QA students will spend 17 minutes reaching out to others that we don't spend enough time getting to know, and praying that all young people feel included in their communities.

— QA Catholic School (@QASchool) March 14, 2018



In Erie, Pennsylvania, two Catholic schools - Cathedral Preparatory School and Villa Maria Academy - held school-wide Masses and prayer services for the victims and for peace. Father Scott Jabo, president of the schools, told Fox News that the schools considered how they could approach the walkout day differently as a Catholic school.

“By praying for the victims, we could bring a great focus to the victims in this situation, and by unified prayer, we could have a powerful impact,” Jabo said.

He added that at the prayer service, the names and a short biography of each of the 17 Parkland victims would be read aloud, “to make it real that these are real people who died.”

“(We’re) doing something that was a Catholic school we can and should do and that is pray, and unleash that power of prayer,” he said.


Minnesota archbishop: Catholics belong in the public sphere

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 18:24

Minneapolis, Minn., Mar 13, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said it is the duty of the laity to represent the Catholic faith in the public arena, especially pointing to the current debate surrounding immigration.

“Within the Church, it is the laity who are called upon to ‘especially assist with their Christian wisdom’ the shaping of the temporal order in order to both further the common good and prepare the way for the Gospel,” said Archbishop Hebda, citing the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” from the Second Vatican Council.

The archbishop’s call to action in a March 8 column for The Catholic Spirit comes in preparation for the second of three “Capitol 101” workshops, focusing on educating and encouraging the Minnesota faithful to better participate in the legislative process.

The first session was held by the Minnesota Catholic Conference on Feb. 26, and follow up sessions will be held March 16 and April 17. At the workshops, attendees are able to meet Minnesota Senators and Representatives and learn about relevant policies and the legislative process.

Outside of the event, the Minnesota Catholic Conference has encouraged Catholics to offer an hour of adoration or a rosary for lawmakers and ask for the intercession of Saint Thomas More, patron of statesmen.

The first workshop coincided with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s National Catholic Call-In Day in Support of Dreamers, which took place on Feb. 23.

The Call-In Day encouraged Catholics to contact their representatives in Washington, D.C., asking them to work toward a fair and compassionate solution for Dreamers – immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

A program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) had offered protection for these individuals, but the policy is set to expire. The U.S. bishops have called for a solution that protects Dreamers from deportation and provides a path to citizenship.

“Many of the Dreamers, through no fault of their own, had been brought here as infants or toddlers; the United States is accordingly the only home that they have known, and the prospect of deportation to an unknown country is devastating,” said Archbishop Hebda.

While political philosophies and perspectives differ, he said, it is always the obligation of Catholics to aid the process of peace.

He quoted the U.S. bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which says, “Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.”

Noting that America’s Founding Fathers sought to protect the practice of faith in public life, the archbishop rejected the argument by some that separation of church and state means that religion should be excluded from the public square.

“They misread our Constitution as requiring a division between personal belief and public action, or between moral principles and political choices.”

Archbishop Hebda expressed gratitude for the success of first “Capitol 101” workshop and encouraged participation in the next two workshops, noting it is a responsibility of every Catholic to pray for the vulnerable and build a just community.

“All of us share the responsibility of striving to build a just community in which the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended. Let us pray for one another in undertaking this important work.”


George Weigel: Virtue, cultural renewal necessary for democracy

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 18:07

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2018 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As populists across the U.S. and Europe express discontent with the current state of democracy, George Weigel has pointed to the importance of family and civil society in encouraging and cultivating the virtuous citizenry necessary for democratic renewal.

“Democracy is not a machine that can run by itself,” said George Weigel in the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s 17th annual William E. Simon Lecture held March 6 in Washington, D.C.

“The vitality of the public moral culture is crucial to the democratic project because it takes a certain kind of people, living certain virtues, to make free politics and free economics work so that the net result is genuine human flourishing.”

“The ‘culture of Me’ is incapable of defending the claim that the democratic project, for all its discontents and flaws, is nonetheless morally superior to the various authoritarianisms on offer in the 21st-century world, because it is itself committed to the authoritarianism of the imperial autonomous Self,” warned Weigel, who cited the continued influence of the 1960’s “unbridled self-absorption” and rejection of traditional virtues on today’s public culture.

Two elements of modern American culture that hinder democracy are moral relativism, the idea that “your truth” can be different than “my truth,” and expressive individualism, a certain self-centered notion that “the good” is defined by what an individual wills or wants.

Weigel pointed out that “a truth-starved and morally anorexic culture is incapable of sustaining free politics and free economics because it cannot answer the questions, why be civil and tolerant and why accept the electoral choice of the majority?”

A self-absorbed “culture of Me” is also linked to consumerism, in which “human worth is measured by what a person has rather than who a person is,” said Weigel.

The foundation for rebuilding a virtuous moral culture are the family, religious communities, and civil associations, according to Weigel, who stressed, “the family is of immense importance, because stable families are the first schools of freedom rightly understood as freedom for excellence, freedom for nobility, and freedom for solidarity.”

“The deconstruction of the family by the sexual revolution is closely correlated to many phenomena that now threaten the democratic project, from crime and substance abuse to aggressive forms of identity politics that seek to shut down public debate,” continued Weigel, pointing to the research of Mary Eberstadt.

“Americans must once again affirm that there are self-evident truths that can be known by reason; that knowing these truths teaches us both our obligations and the limits of the legitimate role of the state in our lives; and that affirming these truths is what makes an 'American', irrespective of anyone’s grandparents’ country-of-origin,” he continued.

Weigel says he has hope for a renewal of virtue in America’s democracy, but “both conservatives and progressives in these United States need a thorough examination of conscience about their respective responsibilities for our current democratic discontents, which are no longer just a matter of frustration with Washington political dysfunction.”

“Statesmanship requires a firm commitment to certain built-in truths about human beings and their communities, and the skills taught by the virtue of prudence in making those truths live in our common life. So let us measure ourselves, and those who would lead us, by those truths and by that virtue.”

Botched execution shows death penalty must end, Catholic group says

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 17:34

Montgomery, Ala., Mar 13, 2018 / 03:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As a death row inmate in Alabama sues the state over a botched execution last month, a Catholic advocacy group said the case emphasize inherent flaws in capital punishment itself.

“The events surrounding this execution attempt highlight the brokenness of the death penalty,” said Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end the death penalty. “The horrific violence that Doyle Lee Hamm experienced should serve as a poignant reminder of the need to end the death penalty once and for all.”

Doyle Lee Hamm, who was sentenced to death in 1987 after being convicted of murder and robbery, was scheduled to be executed on Feb. 22. Hamm, who is 61 years old, has spent about half of his life on death row.

Hamm is asking for his death sentenced to be vacated and to not be given another execution date. His lawyers are arguing that executing him now would be a violation of double jeopardy laws and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

On his execution date, Hamm was strapped to a gurney for two and a half hours as prison medical officials were unable to find a suitable vein for the lethal injection. Hamm’s lawyers say they found 11 puncture wounds, including six in his groin area, following the execution attempt. The execution was halted shortly before midnight, when the death warrant was due to expire.

Hamm’s lawyer has indicated that they are looking to settle “in the near future.” Otherwise, the case would go to court in late October. It is uncertain if the settlement will include a prohibition on another execution date.

Previously, Hamm’s lawyers argued that his lymphatic cancer, as well as past intravenous drug use, had rendered his veins unusable for a lethal injection, and that attempting to do so would be “cruel and unusual punishment.” They, along with Hamm, had requested an “oral lethal injection” instead. This request was denied. Alabama uses lethal injection as its method of execution unless the electric chair is requested.

Catholic Mobilizing Network said in a statement to Catholic News Agency that there was “no justification for Alabama allowing this cruel and unnecessary execution attempt of Doyle Lee Hamm to take place,” and that the death penalty itself is broken and flawed.

Catholic Mobilizing Network’s sentiment was echoed by Griffin Hardy, communications manager for Sr. Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty activist. Hardy described the execution attempt as completely unnecessary “barbarism,” and said that Alabama was being “reckless and inhumane” in their effort to execute a cancer patient.

“We hope that Alabama will abandon any future efforts to kill Mr. Hamm and reinstate his cancelled cancer treatments immediately,” said Hardy.

Alabama has executed 61 people since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. The most recent execution was in October 2017. There are 182 people currently on death row in Alabama.


Commentary: Praying for Francis

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 02:28

Lincoln, Neb., Mar 13, 2018 / 12:28 am (CNA).- Five years ago, I stood in the refectory of St. John Vianney Seminary of Denver, with colleagues, friends, and a few hundred seminarians, watching on television as a much larger crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. When Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, appeared on a balcony above the square, we erupted into cheers, and then we fell silent as the pope asked the world to pray for him, and offered us his blessing.

From there, we went to “Francis-fest,” a rally at the state capitol organized by friends, and then to Mass, where we prayed for Francis, as he had asked. We kept the party going at a nearby Argentine restaurant, eating chimichurri pizza and toasting our new pope.

From the beginning, the pope has inspired me and my family. When his simplicity of life and love for the poor became obvious, our family decided to donate to the poor some things we loved, in his honor. We tried to give from our need, as he seemed to do, instead of from our excess. His emphasis on “accompaniment” has transformed our approach to evangelization, and his thought on "ideological colonization" and the "existential peripheries" has called me to greater solidarity with marginalized people and communities.

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis, and talk with him for a few minutes. I was awestruck by the experience of standing before St. Peter’s successor – touched by the continuity of the papacy and the Lord’s guidance and protection of his Church. And I was struck by the pope’s pastoral attention: in broken Spanish, I asked him to pray for our family, and thanked him for his love for disabled people. When our short conversation ended, I knew that he had heard and understood me, and I was moved.

The pope has also confounded me. I’ve struggled to understand his theology and approach to canon law. I’ve not always seen the continuity between his perspective and the doctrine of the Church. And I’ve lamented the division, and scandal, that some issues during his papacy have caused. I’ve tried, as the Church calls me, to be humble, to be faithful, to discern carefully how God is calling me to serve the Church, and to trust.

The pope has challenged me to think carefully about what the papacy is, and what it isn’t, and about how the Holy Spirit works through and for the Church. His papacy has called me, and many of us, to spiritual maturity, to a deeper faith, and to trust in the Lord’s Providence.

I sometimes wonder how history will remember the papacy of Pope Francis. Of course, only time will tell.

But history will certainly remember that Francis is the 265th successor to St. Peter, the 266th Vicar of Christ. The papacy is a gift to the Church – a witness of our unity, our continuity with those who have come before us, and a sign that the Lord – who promised that the keys of hell would not prevail against the Church – keeps his promises. History will remember that Francis has continued the chain of leadership begun with Peter, called by Christ to be head of the Church. It will remember that Pope Francis worked to respond to that call – to teach, govern, and sanctify the Body of Christ.

On the anniversary of his papacy, our family will celebrate with empanadas and Argentine wine. We’ll toast Pope Francis and his ministry. We’ll take a few minutes to examine our lives, and to consider how we can better love, as he does, those on the margins, the “existential peripheries.” We’ll thank God for the gift of the papacy. And just as he asked us to, we’ll pray for our pope. I hope that you will too.

JD Flynn is editor-in-chief of CNA.

St Louis program trains priests in business, finances

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 23:08

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 12, 2018 / 09:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While the intellectual formation of pastors is dominated by philosophy and theology, their pastoral duties also require something beyond the intellectual and spiritual aspects – a business component.

The Pastoral Leadership Institute has developed a curriculum to train priests in business and an administration skills, enabling pastors to better understand the financial properties of a parish.

Seminaries “have so much other stuff to cover, that they’re required by the diocese to cover, that they frankly don’t have time to cover this very important topic,” said Charles Zech, an economics professors at Villanova University, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Zech, who has studied parochial finances, has noted that there is often little oversight, which lends an opportunity to both embezzlement and error.

“The diocese should be doing ongoing education for both the clergy and the laity not only to prevent embezzlement, but just to prevent people from making honest mistakes,” he said.

The curriculum was developed by the archdiocese’s director of shared accounting, Jerry Amsler, with the help of an assistant professor at Saint Louis University, Neil Jenson.

According to an article by St. Louis Post-Dispatch, priests used to wait 15 years before they become the pastor of a parish, but because of a shortage in priests, men are having to take on the role much sooner.

The program gives pastors practical tutorials to quickly learn the business aspect of parish life. Custom made for priests, the program consists of five online sessions, three in-person sessions, and assignments based on the priest’s own parish financial records.

Currently, the program only includes a financial training, but it looks to expand into marketing, human resources, and other parish operations as well.

Additionally, Amsler expressed hope that more instructors would be hired and the program would be made available to more priest throughout the nation. The program is now paid by the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but he will be presenting the program to the U.S. Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference in September.

Controversial LGBT event drops 'Catholic' label after bishop's statement

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:55

Cincinnati, Ohio, Mar 12, 2018 / 03:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An event hosted by the University of Cincinnati on faith and the LGBT community has dropped ‘Catholicism’ from its label after the local bishop sent an email to all diocesan priests and deacons, reiterating that the event did not have diocesan approval.

The event was originally titled: “Building Bridges: A Dialogue on Faith, Catholicism, and the LGBTQ Community.”

“To be very clear, despite its billing, the event is in no way sponsored by, sanctioned by, or associated with the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati told his priests in a March 9 email.

“In fact, one of the scheduled speakers has been ordered to not speak on behalf of the Catholic Church in the United States due to the grave error of her teaching,” he noted.

That speaker is Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, who co-founded New Ways Ministry, an LGBT outreach ministry that has been rejected as theologically unsound by Church authorities.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after receiving numerous complaints, conducted an investigation into Gramick’s teachings and work, and in 1999 found them to be “doctrinally unacceptable because they do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church in this area.”  

The other speakers for the event include Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of the controversial book “Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity,” and Jamie Manson, a columnist and editor at the National Catholic Reporter.

The event, a day-long symposium “continuing interfaith dialogues examining the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality,” is being hosted by the University of Cincinnati’s LGBTQ Center and God Space.

In his email, Archbishop Schnurr reiterated that the event had not received any approval from and was not associated with the Archdiocese or the Catholic Church at large.

“The Code of Canon Law (Can. 216) states in part that ‘no undertaking shall assume the name Catholic unless the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority is given.’ My permission was not sought in this case, nor would it have been given,” he said. By Monday, the event dropped the label of “Catholicism” and is now labeled: “Building Bridges: A Dialogue on Faith and the LGBTQ Community.”

Jennifer Schack, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, told CNA that since the event is “not sanctioned by or associated with the Catholic Church, at this time we view this as a non-event.”

Child sex abuse bill unfairly shields public institutions, Atlanta archbishop warns

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 16:26

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 12, 2018 / 02:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of Atlanta released a statement Friday announcing his opposition to a bill in the Georgia legislature that would discriminate between government and private entities in past cases of sex abuse.

House Bill 605, which is currently under session at the Georgia General Assembly, would extend the time limits for child abuse victims to sue their perpetrators, changing the age from 23 to 38, and potentially longer.

“In our Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Office of Child and Youth Protection helps us carry on our ‘Promise to Protect and Pledge to Heal’ by creating and maintaining safe environments and walking alongside survivors of sexual abuse on their journey to healing,” said Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta in a March 9 letter.

“With this commitment to safety and healing in mind, I write to inform you of an extraordinarily unfair bill currently pending in our state legislature,” Archbishop Gregory continued, referencing House Bill 605.

“All governmental agencies – park districts, public school districts, care facilities, and so forth – are inexplicably immune from the potential devastating effects of these lawsuits,” he wrote. “Churches, religious and private schools, non-profits and businesses are affected.”

The measure was introduced by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) who said the bill would support victims who have a hard time exposing abuse, often waiting until later in their lives to come forward.

The bill is currently in the State Judiciary Committee. It passed the House of Representatives in a 170-0 vote.

While supporting action against abusers, Gregory pointed to a number of injustices that the bill could enforce, saying that if the legislation is passed, the Church could potentially be hindered in carrying out its mission in the state.

Gregory said that the bill would allow lawsuits against churches and priests dating back decades – as early as the 1940s – even in cases where the accused are deceased, making their cases “difficult if not impossible to defend, and risking grave injustice.”

“We have always fully supported criminal prosecution of and lawsuits against any individual abuser of children, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred,” George remarked, noting the archdiocese’s efforts in fighting against sex abuse within the church.

“For the past two decades the Catholic Church in Georgia has had what may be the strongest safe environment program, non-profit or otherwise in the state. Our Church and our schools have strict zero tolerance policies regarding sexual abuse of any vulnerable person,” he continued.

However, Gregory remarked that the limitations of the “extraordinarily unfair bill currently pending in our state legislature” would be detrimental to innocent parties and the Church.

The Georgia archbishop asked those in his archdiocese to contact their state senator and other officials to object to the bill, saying that the measure would cause more harm than good.

“HB 605 does not protect anyone,” George said.

“Rather, innocent people and the organizations to which they belong will be radically impacted based on allegations against individuals who may no longer be alive and cannot speak for themselves.”

Nun involved in Katy Perry real estate dispute dies in court

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 16:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 12, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, 89, was one of five remaining members of her religious community, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles.

She died suddenly on March 9, after collapsing during court proceedings for a legal dispute involving Katy Perry and some real estate formerly owned by the sisters.

In a statement following her death, Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said he was sad to hear of the sister’s death and that he had offered a Mass for the repose of her soul.

“Sister Catherine Rose served the Church with dedication and love for many years and today we remember her life with gratitude,” he said.

“We extend our prayers today to the Immaculate Heart of Mary community and to all her friends and loved ones. On behalf of the entire family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I pray that God grant her eternal rest and let his perpetual light shine upon her,” he added.

Holzman had recently been involved in a legal dispute over a vacant convent used by the order, which singer Katy Perry had offered to buy from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for more than $14 million in 2015. According to the archdiocese, this deal stipulated that Perry find a replacement for a priest’s retreat house that was also part of the property.

Church regulations require Vatican approval for the sale of high-value properties, and the order has been in a dispute with the archdiocese over who has the canonical and legal right to orchestrate a sale of the property.

Holzman and another sister of the order opposed the sale of the property to Perry, due to the content of some of the pop star’s songs. In a separate transaction, and without the canonically-required approval of the Vatican or the archdiocese, the sisters sold the vacant convent property to real estate developer Dana Hollister for $44,000 and a promissory note totaling $15.5 million, without any guarantee for the rest of the payment.  

Last year, a jury found Hollister guilty of malice and fraud for intentionally interfering with the sale of the property to Perry. A court ordered Hollister to pay back $15 million in legal fees to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and to Perry’s company, The Bird Nest, LLC.

Holzman died while attending Hollister’s bankruptcy hearing.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Adrian Marquez Alarcon told CNA that while Sister Holzman and Sister Rita Callanan have been vocal about the case and opposed the sale to Katy Perry, the two sisters were never legally involved in the real estate dispute.

Alarcon said that the archdiocese, joined by Perry, took legal action in 2015 to protect the sisters from the illegal and invalid sale to Hollister. She also noted that as recently as December, the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura affirmed that the archdiocese was the proper legal owner of the vacant convent property.

Alarcon also added that the archdiocese has promised to take care of the IHM sisters regardless of what happens with the property.

Post-judgement court proceedings involving Hollister and the archdiocese are temporarily on hold following Holzman’s death.


Smartphones are driving a rise in teen sexting

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Mar 12, 2018 / 03:04 am (CNA).- Teen sex may be down, but widespread access to smartphones is driving an increase in teen sexting, recent research has found.

According to an analysis of studies by JAMA Pediatrics, as many as one in seven teens, or about 15 percent, are sending sexually explicit text messages, while one in four teens (25 percent) have reported receiving sexts.

The analysis was compiled from the findings of 39 international studies dated between 2009 and 2016, with a combined total of 110,380 young participants with an average of 15 years of age.

“Sexting over the last decade has been on the rise, which is consistent with the rapid growth in the availability and ownership of smartphones,” noted Sheri Madigan and Jeff Temple in an article about the study. “Teen sex, on the other hand, has been on the decline over the last decade.”

The authors of the study define sexting as the “sharing of sexually explicit images and videos through the internet or via electronic devices such as smartphones.”

Most teen sexting does occur on smartphones, the study noted, which aligns with the increased access that teens have to the devices. In 2015, Pew Research Center found that the majority of teens had access to a smartphone - 73 percent - while 15 percent only had access to a basic phone, and 12 percent did not have access to a cell phone.

The research also showed that older teens were more likely to be sexting, and that boys and girls participated equally in the sending and receiving of texts.

Despite equal participation, another recent study from JAMA Pediatrics also found that girls report feeling more pressure to sext, and may have more sexual partners compared to girls who do not sext. Another recent study found that many girls who sext or are asked to sext react with confusion, but also believe that these requests are normal and struggle to turn them down.

Madigan and Temple recommend that parents have ongoing, “proactive” conversations with their children about “digital citizenship” and the consequences of sexting. However, they say that preaching abstinence regarding sexting “does not work.”

In contrast, Alysse ElHage with the Institute for Family Studies suggested in a blog post that perhaps a better message for parents to send their teens is that sexting is still only done by a minority of teens, and should not be accepted as normal behavior.

“Not only does [Madigan and Temple’s] response seem to disregard research linking teen sexting to other risky sexual behaviors, it also presents sexting as common teenage behavior, even though the present study indicates that only a minority of teens are sending and receiving sexually explicit images,” ElHage wrote.

“Although the increase in the prevalence of teen sexting is worrisome, it is still not the norm. Given that young people face tremendous peer pressure to sext because ‘everyone is doing it,’ perhaps a better message is that the majority of their peers are not sexting,” she emphasized.

“Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center says that our education efforts need to emphasize ‘the abnormality’ of sexting behavior along with the dangers: ‘[R]emind the youth in your life that most teens are not asking for nude photos (or sending them),’ Patchin advises. ‘That is the norm, and one we should continue to encourage.’”


What a new TV show gets wrong about 'Living Biblically'

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 04:02

Denver, Colo., Mar 12, 2018 / 02:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- These biblical commandments probably sound familiar: Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

These might not: Do not shave your beard with a razor. Do not wear garments of mixed fibers. Stone adulterers.

In a new T.V. show on CBS, main character Chip Curry, a film critic for a New York paper and soon-to-be father, sets out to improve his moral life by following every law in the Bible - all 613 of them - as literally as he possibly can, with the help of his ‘God squad’, which includes a rabbi and a Catholic priest.

The premise of the show is based on the 2007 New York Times bestseller A Year of Living Biblically, in which author A.J. Jacobs describes his real-life journey of taking the Bible as literally as possible for a year.

While the results in the show and the book are largely comical and portrayed in good humor (at one point a pebble is chucked at a cheating spouse), following every law ever given by God to the letter is nearly impossible, and not what Catholics are called to do, biblical scholar Andre Villeneuve told CNA.

“Good luck if you really want to try to live the Old Testament completely literally,” Villeneuve, who has a doctorate in biblical studies and teaches at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo., told CNA.

“It would mean you would have to stone your son if he’s rebellious and doesn’t listen to you. You would have to stone adulterers. You would have to check every time you approach a woman that she’s not on her period because you’re not allowed to touch her,” he said, “a lot of these things that have to do with purity which are really frankly awkward and would be really problematic, if not impossible, to observe.”

The problem with such literal fundamentalism, he said, is that it doesn’t read and interpret the Bible in light of salvation history and in light of the intent of the laws given by God.

“The 613 commandments in the Old Testament, in the Hebrew Bible, they were given to Jews to begin with, so it's ridiculous for anyone, whether a Catholic or Christian, to say they’re going to live by all of these commandments, because they were never given to Gentiles,” he said.

Some of these commandments still stand, however – most notably, the 10 Commandments. When Christ came and established a new covenant, the apostles decided which laws were still meant to be followed by Christians, and which laws pertained only to Jews, Villeneuve said.

“What the (apostles) did is...they saw the law as divided into three categories – the moral laws, the ceremonial laws, and the judicial laws,” he said. “So what has been considered to be universal and perennial and never to be changed are the moral laws, which are the 10 Commandments and their interpretation.”

The ceremonial laws related to Jewish worship, or the judicial laws related to matters such as what kind of compensation you can expect if your neighbor’s animal comes onto your property, are not binding for Christians.

Catholics can distinguish what laws of the Bible to follow and what it means to follow them by reading the Catechism and following the teachings and traditions of the Church, Villeneuve noted.

“The easy answer … is that today we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the third part is called Life in Christ, or the Moral Law. That’s where you can see the Catholic interpretation of the Ten Commandments in light of jesus’ teaching, and the apostles and the teachings of the Church,” he said. “It’s essentially extracting what is universal about the commandments without taking up all the specific commandments that were given to Jews in their times and culture.”

Even the Jews do not follow and interpret all of the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible exactly literally, Villeneuve noted.

As an example, he pointed out that the law “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” may seem cruel at face value, but it was never interpreted literally, even by the Jewish people.

“It doesn’t mean literally gouging out an eye, it means what is an eye worth as far as livelihood, quality of life … and therefore your neighbor should compensate you by so much, by paying you back,” he said. “It’s read and interpreted in a way that’s not literal.”

“The bottom line is that the fundamentalist reading of scripture doesn’t work; even the Jews don’t live that way,” Villeneuve added.

“We don’t read scripture in a vacuum, we don’t believe in ‘sola scriptura’ (the Protestant doctrine of ‘scripture alone’), but it’s always read in light of Christian tradition and the teachings of the Church and the magisterium.”

Capuchins raise funds for victims of Papua New Guinea earthquake

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Mar 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Papua New Guinea begins to recover from a major earthquake, the Capuchin Province of St. Conrad is raising funds in an effort to help those affected by the devastation.

Capuchins have served as missionaries in the country since 1955, and several of the missionaries currently in Papua New Guinea belong to the St. Conrad province, based in Denver, Colo.

“Sadly, dozens of our people lost their lives, mainly caused by landslides. Four young girls were crushed by a falling wall as they slept in their home in Mendi town. Also in Mendi, a young couple and their first-born child were killed by a landslide,” reported Bishop Don Lippert of Mendi, himself a Capuchin.

“Telephone and internet communications are severely limited and in many places access to water and electricity has been interrupted. Many roads have been blocked by major landslides,” Bishop Lippert continued.

He added that “Reports from the remote parishes paint a grim picture of major loss of infrastructure. The diocese's network of schools and health centers has sustained serious damages throughout the rural, mountainous area.”

Capuchin missionaries to Papua New Guinea built some of the country's first schools, hospitals, and medical clinics.

On Feb. 26, the Papua New Guinea highlands were struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, causing over 100 deaths and countless more injuries. The epicenter of the quake was in Enga province, in the vicinity of Wabag.

Days later, on March 6, Papua New Guinea was again hit by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock, leaving the country without electricity and access to communication systems. Over a dozen more deaths occurred during the aftershock, raising the initial death toll to approximately 117.

The Papua New Guinea Red Cross estimated that upwards of 143,000 people have been affected by the earthquake, leaving as many as 17,000 displaced from their homes. Many people are relying on air-drops for their food and water supply.

The earthquake has also damaged much of the islands’ infrastructure through landslides

The governor of the Southern Highlands Province, William Powi, said that the local government has reached its limit for relief efforts, saying, “it is beyond the capacity of the provincial government to cope with the magnitude of destruction and devastation,” according to the New York Times.

Although the islands have a long journey ahead in rebuilding their devastated communities, the Capuchins hope that their funding campaign will give the islands the aid they need.

Pope Francis recently expressed his concern over the situation, invoking “divine blessings of strength and consolation” to those affected by the disaster.

House of Representatives passes bill targeting sex traffickers

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 06:00

Washington D.C., Mar 10, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The House of Representatives passed a bill this week that aims to combat online trafficking, targeting the sites that host ads relating to sex work. The bill has received a mixed reception, however, with some arguing it may be ineffective at achieving its goal.

The “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” would allow survivors of human trafficking to sue websites like Backpage, where people post advertisements for prostitution. Some of these ads, supporters of the bill claim, are actually for people who are victims of traffickers.  

This new bill would amend the Communications Decency Act to allow lawsuits against websites like Backpage if they are found to be in violation of sex trafficking laws.

Knowingly promoting sex trafficking is currently a crime. Previously, however, the Communications Decency Act would have shielded the sites against these suits as websites were not considered to be liable for content posted by their users.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan Congressional group. It passed Tuesday by a vote of 388-25.

While the bill has clear bipartisan support, as well as support from some facets of the tech industry, the Department of Justice and a vocal minority of representatives from both parties have raised concerns that the legislation is unconstitutional and will be ineffective in actually fighting sex trafficking.

In a letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen A. Boyd, the DOJ wrote that the bill’s requirements that prosecutors provide proof that a website benefited from sex trafficking, as well as evidence that the website knew the ad was for a minor or for someone who was coerced or otherwise forced into sex work, would make prosecution of the crime more difficult.

“While well intentioned, this new language would impact prosecutions by effectively creating additional elements that prosecutors must prove at trial," said Boyd.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), the chairman of the House Liberty Caucus, said on Twitter that a provision in the bill that would allow for companies to be held liable for posts made before the law was passed rendered the bill unconstitutional.

“The Constitution reads: ‘No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.’ Congress just passed this ex post facto law by a vote of 388-25,” said Amash, explaining that he voted against the bill.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The Constitution reads: “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” (Art. I, §9)<br><br>Congress just passed this ex post facto law by a vote of 388-25. (I voted no, of course.) <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Justin Amash (@justinamash) <a href="">February 27, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Amash’s concerns were echoed by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who said in a statement on his website that he felt as though the bill went too far and would hinder efforts to fight sex trafficking online.

“There are laws already on the books that have been successfully used by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to send executives of websites that promote prostitution to federal prison,” said Scott.

“Further, the bill will apply not only to online advertisers of sex trafficking, which Congress already criminalized in 2015 when we passed the SAVE Act (see 18 U.S.C. 1591),  and punishes conduct that is much less serious than what is ordinarily viewed as 'sex trafficking.'”

Wagner disputes these claims in a statement, saying the bill will be a tool to put more people in jail for sex trafficking, and will deter websites from posting these kinds of ads.

“FOSTA will produce more prosecutions of bad actor websites, more convictions, and put more predators behind bars. It will give victims a pathway to justice and provide a meaningful criminal deterrent, so that fewer businesses will ever enter the sex trade, and fewer victims will ever be sold,” she said.

Grace Williams, president of the group Children of the Immaculate Heart, which serves those affected by human trafficking, believes that the bill could be beneficial.

In an interview with CNA, Williams said that the evolving nature of human trafficking – and its new reliance on various social media apps and websites – makes it tricky for authorities to arrest those who are responsible.

“[T]he problem is all of these platforms are making it a lot easier to reach victims and making it a lot harder for law enforcement to track down and prosecute because there's no image trail, no paper trail,” said Williams.

She said the bill appears to "give attorneys more means to to be able to pursue legal action" for these sites.

More importantly, Williams thinks the law will send an important message to websites.

“[W]e're sending a message to online forums, and various websites that using people for sex is not okay, and especially when their liberty is compromised or not even present.”

Mississippi governor: stronger abortion ban protects unborn children

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 17:10

Jackson, Miss., Mar 9, 2018 / 03:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Mississippi legislature has passed one of the strongest restrictions on abortion in the U.S., barring most abortions 15 weeks into pregnancy.

“As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child,” Gov. Phil Bryant said on Twitter March 6. “House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal.”

The Senate voted to pass the bill by a 35-14 vote.

The bill had been modified to remove criminal penalties involving jail time. Physicians who violate the law will lose their state medical licenses and receive a civil penalty of up to $500, National Public Radio reports.

The amended bill passed the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 75-34. An earlier version of the bill passed the House by a Feb. 2 vote of 79-31, with some Democratic support.

In a Feb. 8 message, Bishops Joseph Kopacz of Jackson and Louis Kihneman of Biloxi said the state’s legislature is “to be commended for voting to protect unborn human life.”

State records indicate about 200 abortions a year are performed on women 15 to 20 weeks pregnant, backers of the bill have said. Their bill allows exceptions for when a woman’s life is in danger or when an unborn child has a severe abnormality.

State Rep. Becky Currie, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill is appropriate because most women discover they are pregnant months before the pregnancy reaches 15 weeks.

The passage of the bill drew other praise.

“Mississippians are committed to protecting the lives of unborn children, and this law will be a major step in accomplishing that goal,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said, according to the Clarion Ledger. “I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child.”

Both Mississippi and North Carolina currently bar abortion at 20 weeks into pregnancy, measured from a woman’s last menstrual period. Other states start from a date two weeks later.

The state’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, does not perform abortions as late as 20 weeks and so it did not challenge the existing law, clinic owner Diane Derzis told the Associated Press. The clinic does perform abortions three weeks past the legislation’s ban limit. If the bill becomes law, it will refer women seeking these abortions to out-of-state clinics.

Derzis told the Clarion Ledger she was not surprised by the Senate vote, adding that Bryant “has never seen an abortion bill he didn't like.”

“We will be planning to sue,” she said, adding that pro-life groups are passing abortion restrictions in hopes of national changes through a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

According to Derzis, she and her allies are in “a very fragile place right now.”

“Roe is clearly in danger and that's what they're preparing for … They hope by the time they get to the Supreme Court they will have changed the Supreme Court,” she said.

It is unclear whether such abortion limits will pass scrutiny in federal court.

In their Feb. 8 message, Mississippi’s Catholic bishops lamented the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would bar abortion 20 weeks after fertilization.

“We Catholic Bishops of Mississippi wish to reaffirm the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death. With Pope St. John Paul II, we recognize abortion as ‘a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders’,” the bishops said, citing St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae.

Legislators “have a duty to make courageous choices in support of life, especially through legislative measures,” they said.

“We ask continued prayer for a culture of life to prevail in our society, and we urge those who voted against this legislation – especially those who are Catholic – to reconsider.”

Father Neuhaus remembered as civil rights, pro-life advocate

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 13:45

Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2018 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a room full of Lutheran and Catholic intellectuals on Wednesday, one women stood up and shared a story about a civil rights advocate whom she met in New York City in the late 1960s. At a time when many in her civil rights community were beginning to get caught up in abortion advocacy, this man took the time to sit down with her to help her to understand the theological basis for defending the human dignity of both minorities and the unborn.

That man was Richard John Neuhaus, who went on to become a priest and a leading Catholic voice in American politics.

This was one among the many personal stories shared at a March 7 symposium celebrating the gift of a collection of Father Neuhaus’ letters, publications, and photographs to the American Catholic History Research Center archives at Catholic University of America.

George Weigel, Rusty Reno, Hadley Arkes, Robert Wilken, and Gil Meilaender were among the contributors who spoke of Neuhaus’ impact on politics, religion, and culture in America.

"Richard went from activist pastor in Bedford-Stuyvesant ... to an enormously influential participant in and chaplain to an intellectual movement that reshaped American public life," said George Weigel.

His best known book, The Naked Public Square, critiqued an understanding of the First Amendment that calls for a secular American politics. Neuhaus clarified that politics is the product of culture and religion is at the heart of culture.

Neuhaus founded the Institute of Religion and Public Life and its magazine, First Things, shortly before his conversion to Catholicism in 1990.

He had been a Lutheran pastor before he was received into the Church and was later ordained a priest by Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York from 1984 to 2000.

“Catholicism was a natural landing point for his thinking,” commented Rusty Reno, the current First Things editor.

He had "a way of seeing everything in the light of the Christian faith, everything drawn into that faith and illumined by it,” reflected Valparaiso professor Gil Meilaender.

Several panelists noted the significance that Neuhaus was an intellectual trained in seminary rather than academia. Neuhaus did not have a PhD. He was “trained to proclaim Christ crucified first,” said Reno.

The letters in the archive provide insights into Neuhaus’ strong personality and capacity for deep friendship.

“He took friendship with a dead seriousness. He knew that friends had to be cultivated and he worked at it,” remembered Robert Wilken, whose friendship with Neuhaus lasted over 50 years.

In 1961 Neuhaus wrote Wilken a 21-page letter telling him all about his life and ministry as a hospital chaplain and Lutheran pastor at an inner-city black parish in Brooklyn.

"Pray for me, Robert, and I'll remember you always … I just saw a ‘baby boy Washington’ enter life with a cry. He does not yet know how much he will have to cry. His mother is unmarried and does not want him. He will be turned over to the city for a life of not being wanted. This is true than one third of all the hundreds of babies delivered here. I don't think his prospects are very good for finding love, happiness, joy, purpose ... I am not depressed -- only filled with wonder. Wonder at the glory and tragedy of life in this city. In a little while I will drive home and can count on being struck again by the New York skyline -- a never failing object of adoration. The city and the potential of the civilization it represents -- to this I am religiously committed. And to the ways of the God who brought it into being. ‘What is man, that you keep him in mind?’ Little baby boy Washington -- fear not, He has redeemed you. He has called you by the name you do not yet have, you are His! I cannot guarantee you that this is true. It may be a pious illusion. But it is better than what is called the truth by mean, but just must be illusion. You are not alone."

Neuhaus died of cancer in 2009 at age 72. Meilaender reflected at the symposium, “Richard used all the time he had been given and that’s the secret of his life.”

The Richard John Neuhaus Papers are available for public viewing at the Catholic University of America archives from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday.

Commentary: Quitting old paths - The Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 12:46

Denver, Colo., Mar 9, 2018 / 10:46 am (CNA).- The Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac once noted a correspondence between the Reformation's criticism of Mary and its criticisms of the Church. That correlation is in some sense logical - you can't have Mary without the Church, nor the Church without Mary. They exist in such an intimate and mutual relationship that one cannot be fully understood without the other. And we see clearly enough in our present day what happens when they are separated: Mary, elevated in excess, loses her humanity and begins to appear as a quasi-fourth-person of the Trinity; and the Church, reduced in excess, loses her divine foundation and appears as an exclusively male-run institution.

This is far from the vision of the early Church, where Mary and the Church were viewed together in a single reality - the New Eve. Jesus Christ, the New Adam and the true spiritual father of mankind, fittingly chose a New Eve to be his helpmate and the true spiritual mother of mankind. This New Eve has two forms: the personal form of Mary and the collective form of the Church. But Mary precedes, being the Church in seed-form before Pentecost.  She alone was given the singular grace of her Immaculate Conception in order to take on the unique role as the Mother of God. She stands at the foot of the Cross as the Church, but also more than the Church; for she personally participates in her Son's redemption and his foundation of the Church.

At Pentecost, Mary's mediating maternity becomes the heart of the Church, permeating it with an all-encompassing Marian character. Mary is the Church's mother, and in her, the Church is mother. For this reason, we can marvelously say - through Mary's divine motherhood, the Church gives birth to Christ sacramentally in the Eucharist and spiritually in souls!

This beautiful vision of Mary and the Church was largely lost to modern man until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). There, the treatise of Mary was placed within that of the Church, restoring the ancient relationship (cf. Lumen gentium, Ch. 8). But with that came a tragic turn. After the council, Mary’s identity seemed to dissolved into the Church, and Mariology went into a kind of post-conciliar winter.  The modern Catholic sentiment towards Mary changed - now, some thought, we were "rid" of the shame of our bizarre medieval fixation. Now, some claimed she was finally "one of us" - relatable, authentic, truly in the Church.  

But Pope Paul VI, with prophetic intuition, saw through those theological illusions and countered them by declaring that "the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of the Church" (Paul VI, Address at the conclusion of the third session of Vatican II, 21 November 1964). If Mary is the Mother of Christ, and the Church is the Body of Christ, then Mary is the Mother of the Church. He knew, as did his successors, that the defense of Mary's dignity is intimately tied to the preservation of the faith's integrity.  

Last Saturday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had decreed a new liturgical memorial. Beginning this year, on the Monday after Pentecost, the Church will universally celebrate Mary as the Mother of the Church. By this, the Church is not merely encouraging Marian piety. The Church is inviting us to see more deeply the Marian character of the Church's maternity.

St. Leo the Great formulated this fifteen centuries ago on Christmas: the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body (Sermon 26, De Nativitate). Meditating on the unique Christian mystery of the Incarnation reveals the pattern of all divinization - re-birth in the order of grace. And birth always requires a mother. To celebrate liturgically Mary as the Mother of the Church is to weave into an organic unity the cross, the Eucharist and maternity. Only through them, St. Leo said, does one "quit the old paths of his original nature and pass into a new man.”

And in our age of self-reliance and neo-pelagianism, perhaps we would do well to quit another old path: that of Marian minimalism, and pass into the newness of this feast, celebrating with joy and filial love, Mary, Mother of the Church.


Father John Nepil is a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the editorial perspective of Catholic News Agency.