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Redefining marriage doesn't redefine birth certificates, court says

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 07:54

Little Rock, Ark., Dec 13, 2016 / 05:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Children’s birth certificates must be linked to biological parentage, the Arkansas Supreme Court has said in a ruling that involved the federal redefinition of marriage to recognize same-sex unions.

“It does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths,” Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Judge Jo Hart wrote in the Dec. 8 decision.

The four-member majority ruling reverses a December 2015 ruling of Little Rock Circuit Judge Tim Fox who said that the state requirement to identify both a biological mother and a biological father of a child infringed on the constitutional due process rights of adoptive same-sex couples, Arkansas News reports.

Three female couples in same-sex civil marriages brought the case. Some of the women had conceived using anonymous sperm donors. Insurers denied health insurance to the biological mothers’ children because of requirements that the parent-child relationship be proven by listing a parent on the child’s birth certificate.

“The purpose of the statutes is to truthfully record the nexus of the biological mother and the biological father to the child,” Judge Hart said.

Identifying a biological parent is also an “important governmental objective” to track public health trends and to assist the child in finding genetic information for medical purposes, the judge said.

In a dissent from the majority decision, Arkansas Associate Justice Paul Danielson said the ruling was “simply and demonstrably wrong.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that recognized gay marriage, he said, required that a parent’s name be listed on birth certificates “even when biological ties do not exist” as having a parent’s name listed on a birth certificate is a constitutionally guaranteed benefit associated with marriage.

He said state law requires the husband of the mother to be listed on a birth certificate, which should mean the legal parent-child relationship is based on marriage and not biology.


New Catholic thriller takes on proof of soul in DNA

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 01:02

Westchester, N.Y., Dec 12, 2016 / 11:02 pm (CNA).- What if proof for God's existence – and our very souls – could be found within our DNA?

Published in September of this year by Howard Books, Bruce Buff's novel “The Soul of the Matter” is the first in his three-part fictional series that grapples with faith and reason. In an interview with CNA, Buff discussed his reasons and inspirations behind this unique thriller. He reflected on how his faith has affected this novel, the importance behind faith and reason, and the influences which have gone into the creation of his new book.

Below is the full text of the interview:

CNA: What is your faith background, and how does it inform the novel?

Buff: I'm a practicing Catholic whose initial faith formation – grammar school religious ed and two years of Catholic high school – was enough to teach me the basics though without a lot of understanding. I had this view that if I was generally good to others, that was enough. Then my faith changed and deepened dramatically starting in the summer 1994 when I picked up my father-in-law’s copy of C.S. Lewis's “The Problem of Pain.” Reading that was extraordinary, and started a search that continues today. After reading Peter Kreeft’s “Making Sense Out of Suffering,” I saw that he was teaching at BC. Since I was working in eastern Connecticut, I was able to take Kreeft's night course, “The Three Greatest Men Who Lived: Socrates, Buddha and Jesus.” For me, nothing has been the same since. Themes and questions that Lewis and Kreeft discuss, about the seeming incompatibility of a loving, all powerful God with widespread and horrific suffering, and what that means God wants from us, are raised in “The Soul of the Matter” series.

CNA: What does this have to say about the relation between faith and reason, and religion and science?

Buff: That science, properly understood, points clearly to God's existence and our spiritual nature, that rather than being an exception, the supernatural is all around us. Consequently, faith and reason, religion and science, based on a good understanding of God will agree. Now of course there can appear to be significant differences between religion and science, such as the Biblical description of the origin of both the universe and humanity. I think there are good answers to this and other apparent differences but I’ll leave that to others to discuss.

CNA: Who do you hope to reach with this novel?

Buff: Anyone who likes thought-provoking thrillers. Beyond that, I want to reach people open to the idea that God exists. For those who share my Judeo-Christian beliefs, I hope my book helps strengthens some aspect of their thinking about science and faith. For others, I'd like them to understand that every moment of their life is their soul in action, that we are here by intent, and that God’s apparent, but not actual, absence means some important things about Him and His expectations for us that are worth further exploration.

CNA: How did you develop the science behind the book?

Buff: November 1999, sitting in my father-in-law’s office, working on my computer, the question of what connects bits inside a computer into words, or how pixels on the screen are transformed into images in our minds, popped into my mind and got me off and running on consciousness. Eventually, I concluded that if physics exists as scientists believe it does, then the material world alone cannot be the source of perceptions, awareness, cognitive thinking, and feeling. Therefore we have immaterial minds and every moment of our lives is our souls in action. I then realized that the immaterial mind challenges the Darwinian view of a completely naturalistic, unguided process as the complete explanation for human origin. In looking for a plausible sounding way, strictly for purposes of the story, that something could be encoded in DNA, I soon realized that there isn’t enough DNA to direct human development, turn a fertilized egg into an adult human, unless complex processing greatly expands the 3 billion DNA “letters” into a much larger set of information.

CNA: Where did you get the idea for the novel?

Buff: In 1986 or so, I saw a magazine cover that said that all humans have an identical 20 percent of DNA in common. I then thought that the idea that information could be deliberately hidden in DNA, and what that would be, could make for an interesting thriller. It was strictly fictional.

CNA: Which character do you feel like best expresses the message of the book?

Buff: Dan Lawson. He starts off with traditional religious training, becomes a person of today’s secular world, finds himself struggling with his state of mind and happiness, which causes him to choose between an exploration for ultimate truth or acceptance of despair.

CNA: Which authors are some of your major influences?

Buff: C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, Walker Percy, Michael Crichton, and the Bible. I only began studying the latter in recent years, unfortunately. I’ve learned that a good companion guide is invaluable to help with context and meaning. Otherwise, it’s easy to misinterpret.

CNA: What influences did you draw the characters from?

Buff: I wanted them to reflect different worldviews and use their respective journeys and interactions as a way to explore ideas while hoping that readers will care about them. I imagined Dan as someone who has many gifts, everything has always come easy to him, and he’s tried to live the modern version of happiness. In one sense, he was headed towards what many now would consider the “ideal” life. His anger about some of the things he’s experienced has also shaped him sharply. Stephen started from the same place as Dan but is not angry, more open to self-examination, and choose a life that was a hybrid of the traditional and modern worldviews. Consequently, he was at different place. Trish is someone who seems like a naturally good person, who’s never thought about religion, but now is being exposed to ideas that are challenging her as well. Some readers have commented that there is more to Trish than meets the eye and that might be true.

CNA: Does “The Commission” or the “bad guy” Sarastro reflect a certain evil in the world today?

Buff: Absolutely. They are the logical extension of today’s predominant view that science, meaning the material world, is the sole explanation for everything. Once you buy into that, and deny God in the process, anything becomes possible. It’s ironic how much internal inconsistency there is with atheistic beliefs and behaviors. Of course Christians do a poor job of being Christians but that is consistent with being fallen creatures in need of redemption and grace. Few atheists recognize the contradictions inherent in their beliefs because, although they deny its existence and origin, they still possess the nature God gave them.

Our Lady of Guadalupe shows us how to treat immigrants, archbishop says

Mon, 12/12/2016 - 21:12

Detroit, Mich., Dec 12, 2016 / 07:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Our Lady of Guadalupe is a model for how Catholics should treat immigrants, said Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit. He called for family unity and a recognition of the good that migrants and refugees bring to society.

“As disciples of Jesus Christ and sons and daughters of Our Lady of Guadalupe, our local Church bears Our Lady’s message of hope to the needy and listens to the cry of the afraid. Under her protection, know that we stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters,” he said Dec. 9.

“In these days it is particularly right to turn our thoughts and prayers to the migrants and refugees, those who find themselves on the margins of our community,” the archbishop added.

U.S. immigration policy is entering a new phase with the election of President-elect Donald Trump after a contentious campaign. The U.S. bishops’ conference has long backed comprehensive immigration reform, but the Republican president-elect campaigned on a strong immigration restrictionist platform.

Many Catholic bishops have spoken out to reassure immigrants of the Church’s support for them. The Archbishop of Detroit was among them.

While public officials’ duty includes protecting national borders and enforcing laws, “it cannot end there,” the archbishop said. This duty must include ensuring the dignity of human persons, protecting families, and showing “a generosity commensurate with the blessings our nation has received.”

“Therefore, our immigration system must treat migrants and refugees with the same dignity as native-born citizens,” he continued. “It must recognize the fundamental wrong of separating families, particularly when children are involved. And it must not be blind to the rich contribution made – in the past and in the present – by men and women who have come to this country as migrants or refugees.”

Archbishop Vigneron said the Detroit metro community is “much richer” from the contributions of people from Mexico, El Salvador, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, China, Korea, Ukraine, Poland, Cameroon and Nigeria.

The archbishop’s statement aimed to mark the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as the Dec. 9 feast of St. Juan Diego, the indigenous Catholic convert who saw the famous Marian apparition in early colonial Mexico.

For Archbishop Vigneron, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “powerful witness to the tender mercy of God.”

“Under the mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we, the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit, commit ourselves to bring compassion and companionship to those who struggle, who are afraid or desperate,” he said. “Having experienced God's love for us in giving us Mary as our Mother, how can we be deaf to their cries?”


Wave of abortion lawsuits may signal panic amid political shift

Sun, 12/11/2016 - 08:43

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2016 / 06:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a changed political landscape, pro-abortion rights groups have filed lawsuits against three states’ abortion laws.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s reproductive freedom project, told the British newspaper The Independent that the lawsuits were just the “first wave” in their efforts.

But to Marjorie Dannenfelser of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, the lawsuits were a sign of panic among abortion advocates.

“They lost big at the ballot box, so now they’re looking to the courts to undo the will of state legislatures,” said Dannenfelser, who advised the Trump campaign. “They realize the sense of urgency to head to the courts now knowing that the judicial landscape will change under a pro-life President Trump.”

Planned Parenthood chief medical officer Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley claimed recent political developments combine to make “the biggest threat we’ve seen” in the abortion provider’s history.

The lawsuits were filed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Attorneys from the latter two groups told a Nov. 30 press conference that the lawsuits aim to follow up on a 2016 Supreme Court case that struck down abortion restrictions in Texas.

The Missouri lawsuit challenges rules similar to the rejected Texas law that required abortion clinics to meet physical standards for surgical abortion clinics and to have doctors with admitting privileges in nearby hospitals.

Only one licensed abortion clinic remains in Missouri, in St. Louis, the Associated Press said, crediting the law for some abortion clinic closures.

In Alaska, the pro-abortion rights groups challenged 40-year-old regulations barring abortion in outpatient health centers after the first trimester of pregnancy. They said the rules compel women who want to procure abortions to travel out of state. Planned Parenthood said it sends about 30 of such women out of state each year.

In North Carolina, the law allows doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks into pregnancy only in cases of immediate medical emergencies. The ACLU objected that this bars abortions for women in high-risk pregnancies from having abortions until death or major health damage is imminent.

As Republicans take control of the House, Senate and presidency, Planned Parenthood could face a renewed push against its more than $500 million in annual federal funding. There are also discussions over whether to make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds being used directly for most abortions.


Legal group: Federal law can't require sterilizations at Catholic hospitals

Sat, 12/10/2016 - 18:09

Flint, Mich., Dec 10, 2016 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Hospitals run according to Catholic ethics shouldn’t be coerced into performing sterilizations, a legal group has said after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal complaint against a Michigan medical center.

“No one should be forced to perform or participate in a procedure when doing so would violate their conscience,” said Ken Connelly, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is especially true of medical workers and health care systems who are in the profession largely because of – and as an extension of – their faith.”

“Furthermore, no law requires religious hospitals and medical personnel to sterilize women, and, in fact, federal law specifically prohibits the government from engaging in any such coercion,” Connelly continued.

The legal group said federal officials should disregard a complaint filed against Genesys Regional Medical Center in the Flint suburb of Grand Blanc, Mich.

The complaint dates back to the hospital’s decision in September 2015 when a woman named Jessica Mann gave birth to her third child at the medical center. She had sought an exemption to its policy to for a post-partum tubal ligation. Her doctors recommended the procedure due to a potentially life-threatening brain tumor, the Michigan news site reports.

The medical center declined the request. Its parent company is Ascension Health, which requires its hospitals to follow the ethical and religious directives of the U.S. bishops’ conference, which recognize intentional direct sterilization as unethical and contrary to Catholic teaching.

Mann had the procedure at a different hospital. The ACLU filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights charging that the decision to not perform a sterilization violated anti-discrimination laws and “caused her significant harm.”

In a statement Mann said the hospital’s policy distracted her from preparations for the arrival of the baby and meant she had to search for a new doctor.

“I don’t want other women to be turned away from hospitals that let their religious views trump their patients’ serious medical needs,” she said.

A Nov. 21 letter from Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys said Catholic health care institutions are motivated a “ministry of healing and compassion” rooted in Church teaching which prefers aiding those at the margins. Federal action that would challenge the roots of Catholic health care could make the benefits of Catholic health care itself disappear, the legal group warned.

Further, any federal action would be barred under the federal Church Amendment and the reiteration of conscience protections in the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, defended the complaint.

“Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but those beliefs do not give anyone the right to discriminate against another person,” she said.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys countered in their letter: “It is not an act of discrimination to decline, for conscience reasons, to perform a medical procedure – indeed, if that were the case conscience protections would not exist.”

Many states still execute inmates with severe mental illnesses

Sat, 12/10/2016 - 06:05

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2016 / 04:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 10 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in two separate cases that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to juveniles or the intellectually disabled.

But today, over a decade later, many states still execute inmates with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

And Catholic advocates say the rules need to change.

“As Catholics we are called to uphold the dignity of all life, and supporting a Severe Mental Illness exemption bill is a vital part of our call to live where justice and mercy meet,” said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. The group advocates for an end to the use of capital punishment.
The death penalty for the severely mentally ill “does not further the retributive goals of the punishment, as this population simply does not have the requisite moral culpability,” a new report by the American Bar Association on the death penalty stated.

“Their illnesses can impair the ability to interpret reality accurately, comprehend fully the consequences of their actions, and control their actions.”

Two years ago, a federal court halted at the last minute the execution of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia. Advocates are citing his case in favor of a death penalty ban for the severely mentally ill.

Scott Pinetti, the man at the center of the Texas case, killed his in-laws in 1992 and was sentenced to death in 1995.

Before his crime, he had been hospitalized 14 times in 11 years for symptoms of mental illness. Pinetti was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and suffered from hallucinations. At his trial, he dressed in a purple cowboy outfit and attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. Yet he testified in court against the wishes of his attorney, and the jury sentenced him to death.

A federal appeals court granted a temporary halt to his scheduled execution in 2014, just hours before it was to take place. Texas’ Catholic bishops approved of the move and restated their opposition to his execution.

“The Texas Bishops have long taught about the immorality of the death penalty and were particularly vocal seeking mercy for Panetti, who has been diagnosed by several doctors as suffering from severe mental illness,” they stated, adding that “the death penalty in his case would violate the constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Yet despite prohibitions on the execution of juveniles and persons with Intellectual Disability (formerly referred to as mental retardation), decided by the Supreme Court in 2002 and 2005 respectively, many states that use the death penalty have no specific prohibition on the its use on persons who had severe mental illness at the time of their crime.

Thus, controversial executions of people with evidence of mental illness continue. For instance, in 2015 Georgia executed Andrew Brannan, a Vietnam War veteran whose lawyers said was ruled 100 percent disabled with PTSD by the Department of Veterans Affairs and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder before he shot and killed a police officer.

A coalition of groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and other religious and mental health groups have been pushing for this legal protection.

Several states, including Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and North Carolina, are “expected to consider severe mental illness exemptions” to their death penalty law next year, said Hilarie Bass, president-elect of the American Bar Association. These legislative proposals are bipartisan, she added, speaking at a keynote luncheon on severe mental illness and the death penalty at Georgetown University.

Getting into the details

What might this prohibition look like and why is it so important to this coalition?

In its new report, the American Bar Association quoted from the American Psychological Association’s definition to clarify what mentally ill person might be exempt from the death penalty.

Someone with “severe mental illness” would have a specific diagnosis like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, would have had it for at least a year, and would have “comparatively severe impairment in major areas of functioning.”

Before a capital murder trial, the judge would need testimony “from a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist who would reevaluate the defendant and his or her health history,” Bass explained. Witnesses familiar with the defendant could give testimony for or against their claim of severe mental illness.

It would have to be clear that the judgment of the defendant would have been impaired at the time of their crime, and not just in the present moment.

And these exemptions “would not create a total defense for murder, or mean that the defendant would not be punished if found guilty,” Bass insisted, as someone committing a capital crime could still receive a life sentence without parole.

Severe mental illness like schizophrenia can clearly impair someone’s judgment to the extent that their guilt for a capital crime is reduced as it is for juvenile offenders and the Intellectually Disabled, Bass argued.

In those cases, she said, “our society considers both groups less morally culpable than the worst of the worst,” and “less able to appreciate the consequences of their actions, less able to participate fully in their defense, and more likely to be wrongfully convicted.”

Yet the same applies for persons with severe mental illness, she said. Someone could competently plot a crime yet be delusional while doing so – which was the case of Russell Weston, who drove from Illinois to Washington, D.C. and shot two Capitol Hill police officers in 1998.

According to the Washington Post, Weston afterward told a court-appointed psychologist that he had come to the Capitol seeking “the ruby satellite” which would protect citizens from diseases spread by cannibalism. He had also previously stayed 53 days in a mental hospital.

Calls for greater action

There are some ways that a defendant with mental illness can currently escape a death sentence. Juries can consider their mental health, they can plead insanity, they could be judged incompetent to stand trial, or be judged incompetent at the time of their execution.

However, these aren’t reliable methods of ensuring a just sentence, Bass said.

For one, a defendant with severe mental illness could be seriously impaired in court. “It can strongly affect defendants’ decision-making about their defense, leading them to refuse to cooperate with their attorneys or reject the presentation of any mitigating evidence related to their illness,” the American Bar Association noted in its report.

However, mental illness can also be an aggravating factor for the jury in someone’s sentence, “and it is worsened when a defendant has a bizarre or flat affect in the courtroom,” the report said. Juries can also “view people with mental illness as intrinsically dangerous,” thus bringing “a significant risk” that a death sentence may be imposed because of – not simply in spite of – a defendant’s mental illness.

The delusion that can haunt a person with severe mental illness is all the more reason why they should receive treatment – not the death penalty, advocates insist.

The U.S. bishops have advocated for the overall repeal of the death penalty, but also emphasized what they called particular abuses of it, in their 2000 statement on criminal justice reform, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration.”

“While government has an obligation to protect the community from those who become aggressive or violent because of mental illness, it also has a responsibility to see that the offender receives the proper treatment for his or her illness,” the bishops stated.

Mentally ill inmates need treatment for their condition and not just punishment, they said. “Far too often mental illness goes undiagnosed, and many in our prison system would do better in other settings more equipped to handle their particular needs.”

And one of the bishops’ recommendations was to push for a death penalty ban for the mentally ill: “In states that sanction the death penalty, join organizations that work to curtail its use (e.g., prohibit the execution of teenagers or the mentally ill) and those that call for its abolition.”

Catholic Mobilizing Network agrees that treatment and rehabilitation can be more effective ways of dealing with crime in cases where criminals are severely mentally ill.

Another reason why a death penalty exemption must be considered for them, the network added, is because such persons are overrepresented in the prison population and on death row. According to one estimate, around 20 percent of those on death row suffer from severe mental illness.

Ultimately, protecting those with serious mental disorders from the death penalty is part of Catholic practice, Clifton stressed, and “a vital part of our Church’s pro-life mission.”


Bishop Conley reassures clergy over 'Amoris laetitia'

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 19:15

Lincoln, Neb., Dec 9, 2016 / 05:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Clarity and renewal can be the fruit of disputes and disagreements, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln said to his priests on Monday, reassuring them in the face of confusion regarding Amoris laetitia.

Amoris Laetitia will continue to be discussed among the Church's bishops and the Holy Father, in order to bring clarity and understanding to difficult questions,” Bishop Conley wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to the priests and seminarians of his diocese.

“I appreciate that public disagreement in the Church can become a source of discouragement. The history of the Church has included great theological disputes, which have been the source of division but, ultimately, have led to clarity, and to renewal.”

He reflected that “the Church is the Bride of Christ, and is protected and guided by the Holy Spirit … We can have confidence in the enduring grace of God to lead us, as it has done in many moments of difficulty or disagreement in the Church's history. The lessons of history are that we need not be dismayed or anxious by the challenges of our own time.”

Pope Francis' March 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family has been met with a varied reception and interpretation within the Church.

Its eighth chapter, on accompanying, discerning, and integrating fragility deals with, among other things, the pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried, who have not been admitted to Communion unless they commit to living in continence with their partner, forgoing the acts proper to married couples.

Yet ambiguous language in that chapter has led to uncertainties about this practice and about the teaching and status of the apostolic exhortation. Some have maintained it is incompatible with Church teaching, and others that it has not changed the Church's discipline. Still others read Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice, or even as a progression in continuity with St. John Paul II.

In June, a letter signed by 45 theologians identified 19 propositions in Amoris laetitia “whose vagueness or ambiguity permit interpretations that are contrary to faith or morals, or that suggest a claim that is contrary to faith and morals without actually stating it.” And in November, a letter sent by four cardinals to Pope Francis was made public, which had requested that he “resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity” regarding his exhortation.

Bishop Conley's letter to his clergy is a pastoral response to the situation, and begins by acknowledging that “in recent weeks, some of you have asked me about media reports of controversy and disagreement about the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.”

“Disagreement and conflict in the Church can be unsettling,” he wrote. “Yet moments of sincere disagreement provide the occasion for the Holy Spirit to bring deeper clarity to our understanding and proclamation of the faith. The questions being posed to the Holy Father are intended to help achieve clarity.”

He added that discussion on Amoris laetitia “is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the Church's teaching on the sacraments, the nature of mercy, the process of evangelization and conversion, and the pastoral mission of solidarity and accompaniment. I know that many of you have questions about the meaning of Amoris Laetitia, and its impact on our pastoral ministry. I am writing to address those questions.”

The bishop acknowledged that the exhortation does contain “insightful reflections on family life in the modern world, and on the meaning of mercy and charity in pastoral ministry … the Holy Father calls us to discern the hearts of those entrusted to our care, and to facilitate meaningful encounters with Jesus Christ, who loves us, and who calls us to love, uniquely, exclusively, and irrevocably.”

He also stated that Amoris laetitia “also includes some passages which have proven challenging to interpret and understand, especially regarding the pastoral care of Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried, or cohabiting.”

Bishop Conley affirmed that the exhortation “does not repudiate the indissolubility of marriage, or the Church's moral teachings regarding divorce,” and neither does it “change the Church's understanding that conscience must be formed according to truth, and that a well-formed conscience cannot guide us in a manner contrary to divine revelation.”

“Sexual relationships outside the bonds of marriage constitute circumstances of grave sin,” Bishop Conley taught. “The Lord calls those who are divorced and civilly remarried, or who are cohabiting, to continence … like every person who is conscious of grave sin, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who engage in ongoing sexual relationships may not approach Holy Communion.”

He said that “faithful pastoral care requires that we encourage Catholics to live according to the Gospel's teaching, and accompany them as they grow in understanding and acceptance of the Lord's call … the goal of our pastoral ministry is the salvation of souls – holiness – which is borne of cooperation with grace, and obedience to truth.”

The bishop indicated that he had provided the priests with the pastoral guidelines of several diocese, among them those of the Philadelphia archdiocese, the Phoenix diocese, and the province of Alberta.

“I have provided these particular documents because they reflect the most faithful interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, and covey the intepretation that is to be considered normative in the Diocese of Lincoln,” Bishop Conley wrote.

Concluding, the bishop wrote, “I ask each one of you to continue praying for the Holy Father, who is Christ's vicar on earth. I ask you to pray for the Church's bishops, unworthy successors of the apostles. And I encourage you to continue to lead the Church in fidelity, in charity, in hope, and in peace.”

Texas law will make it easier to retrieve miscarried babies for burial

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 13:54

Austin, Texas, Dec 9, 2016 / 11:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A regulation in Texas going into effect this month gives mothers and families the right to know about their child’s burial, and gives unborn babies who die the opportunity for a respectful burial – regardless of the circumstances of their death.

Kristi Hamrick, spokesperson for Americans United for Life, who helped create the model legislation for the new Texas regulations, told CNA the legislation both prevents unborn infants who died through abortion as being treated as waste, as well as helping families who lost a child through miscarriage or stillbirth to retrieve their infant's body for burial.

“This effort empowers women and informs them of their options,” she told CNA. “It does not require anything of the mothers, but it does require that the facility handle the bodies of unborn infants with the same respect we show the remains of other people who die in a medical setting.”

The new regulations, proposed earlier this year by the  Texas Department of State Health Services, will go into effect Dec. 19. Similar laws have been passed in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio.

The rules require that medical facilities care for remains of unborn babies with recognizable body parts who do not survive until birth. The remains of the unborn infant must now be cremated or buried, as opposed to being treated as medical waste.

The parents of the deceased unborn child must also be given the opportunity to take care of arrangements themselves – though if she does not wish to do so, a woman may consent to relinquish control of the remains to the medical facility. “No woman is required to take the body of the infant with them or to have it released to her,”  Hamrick stressed.

The new regulations do not apply to unborn persons who are passed at home.  

These new regulations stand in sharp contrast to how the remains of miscarried and aborted infants are currently treated.   

“Currently, facilities dispose of the infants, often without input from the mother,” Hamrick stated. This often makes retrieval of the baby’s body intensely difficult, particularly for families who miscarry or have a stillborn child.

“We’ve seen families who lose a child to miscarriage go through intense efforts to have the body released to them for burial,” she continued.  Hamrick noted that the new regulations actually give mothers more options than they currently have for how to treat the remains of their child, in most cases.

Jaqueline Harvey, a policy analyst and mother who attended the hearings for the regulation in Austin, Texas, says she sees a need for the new rules and thinks, at least in her case, they might encourage women to make safer medical decisions.

Harvey pointed to her own decision not to have a Dilation and Cuterage (D&C) procedure earlier this year after a miscarriage.

While the procedure would have been safer, she said she chose the more risky route of passing the baby at home because she knew her baby’s remains would be sent to pathology with the D&C procedure: “After that point you cannot retrieve the child,” she explained.

She said she also feared for what might happen to her child after it went to pathology. “The present rule in Texas is an absence of rules,” Harvey explained. “It’s much easier for them to just put the baby down the garbage disposal.”

While she respects and understands mothers who do have D&C procedures after miscarriage and realizes that her choice was risky, she said she made the decision she did in order to honor her son.

“I made the decision to give birth at home because I wanted his body to be intact,” Harvey said. “I felt like I owed it to him.”

Harvey said that while she realizes “that not everyone has the same conviction I do,” she thinks the new regulations can bring relief to families in situations like hers, as well as to the broader community.

“I think people would want to know how unborn children are treated, whether they are wanted or not.”

Sofia Vergara is being sued by her own frozen embryos

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 05:02

New York City, N.Y., Dec 9, 2016 / 03:02 am (CNA).- Emma and Isabella are suing their mother, Sofia Vergara, according to court documents obtained by the New York Post.

Emma and Isabella are Vergara’s frozen embryos.

Vergara is a Colombian-born actress perhaps best known for her role as the quirky but loving Gloria Delgado-Pritchett from the ABC series “Modern Family”. In 2013, she created and froze embryos with then-fiancé Nick Loeb, a businessman, in a California clinic through in-vitro fertilization.

Reportedly, a contractual agreement struck between Vegara, then 40, and Loeb, then 37, stipulated that nothing could be done with the embryos without the consent of the other. The contract did not specify what would happen should the couple separate.

The recent lawsuit, filed in Louisiana, argues that the embryos are being denied their inheritance of a trust in the state of Louisiana by not being allowed to be born. The state of Louisiana legally recognizes a fertilized egg as a "juridical person".

Reportedly, the lawsuit was brought forth on behalf of the unborn embryos. It does not name Loeb directly, but rather a trustee as the plaintiff.

The suit asks that Loeb receive full custody of the embryos so that they may be brought to term and allowed to receive their inheritance, which would cover health care and education expenses, among other things.

It is not the first time the couple has sparred over the fate of their embryos.

In August 2014, Loeb unsuccessfully sued for full custody of the embryos under a pseudonym, hoping to keep the case private.

As the story broke, Loeb took to the New York Times op-ed pages to argue that his two frozen children had a right to live.

Loeb wanted custody of the embryos in order to implant them in a surrogate mother. Vergara, a Catholic, has said that while she does not want to destroy the embryos, she wants them to remain frozen indefinitely, which Loeb wrote would be “tantamount to killing them.”

According to court documents, the IVF process prompted the following text exchange:

Loeb: "Now what. You can't keep 4 frozen lives forever or kill them, we will go to hell."

Vergara: "We r going to hell regardless."

The Catholic Church is against the freezing of embryos, primarily because it requires the creation of embryos outside of the human person and because it puts the lives of those embryos at risk.

“Every human embryo is a human being with intrinsic worth like all other human beings. To freeze a human being, and thereby risk their life, is to treat a human being like a mere thing, to use him or her as a means,” Christopher Kaczor, a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, told The Tidings in 2015.

The recent lawsuit has again brought into question at what point a fertilized embryo is considered a human being. The news also comes after Ohio legislators approved a bill which would ban abortions after the detection of a heartbeat in a fetus. The bill allows exceptions if the mother’s life is deemed to be in danger.

If signed by Governor John Kasich, the law could mean no abortions as early as six weeks after conception.


Democrats, pro-lifers spar over Planned Parenthood investigation

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2016 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following Democratic claims that a House panel investigating Planned Parenthood has found no wrongdoing, pro-life leaders have fired back that this assertion is unfounded.

“The panel minority is making some very strong assertions in the summary of their report, and in the conclusion of their report. But those assertions are nowhere backed up by any kind of quality evidence within the body of the report,” David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress stated to CNA.

On Monday, Democratic members of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a House panel charged with investigating the fetal tissue trade, released a 112-page report on the panel.

“Fifteen months and more than $1.5 million taxpayer dollars later, the American people deserve an accurate accounting of what the Select Panel has learned,” they stated.

Among other claims, they said that Planned Parenthood, the abortion provider at the center of the fetal tissue trade controversy, and their partnering tissue procurement companies, had not been found guilty of illegal profits in the transactions.

The Select Investigative Panel was created after a series of undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress exposed Planned Parenthood’s role in the trade of fetal tissue from aborted babies. Planned Parenthood doctors were shown on camera discussing prices for body parts of aborted babies with actors posing as representatives of a fetal tissue procurement company.

The group alleged that Planned Parenthood affiliates were profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted babies. Federal law allows for “reasonable” compensation in the transfer of tissue of aborted babies, with the mother’s consent. The compensation is to cover operating and transfer costs, but must not be for “valuable consideration.”

Planned Parenthood’s transaction model involves “minimizing” their “cost while maximizing the fees and profits it can receive for high-quality body parts,” the Center for Medical Progress has alleged.

The group also claimed that tissue procurement companies were profiting from the transactions. For instance, they said, according to IRS documents the non-profit Advanced Bioscience Research netted $1-1.5 million per year in fetal tissue transactions. The company StemExpress “charges $595 per fetal tissue specimen and had a yearly revenue of $2.2 million in 2014,” CMP claimed.

Last October the Select Investigative Panel was created to “gather information” on abortion clinics and tissue procurement companies and their roles in the trade.

More funding for the panel was approved last week by the House.

“For most of us, it is nothing short of an outrage that Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics supplement their budgets by selling human fetal tissue from aborted babies,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chair, stated Dec. 1.

“The work of our Panel is specifically focused on protecting the integrity of research, scientific advancements, and voluntary organ donation in America,” she continued. “Evidence we have uncovered reveals that the unethical and potentially unlawful practices of some bad actors may be putting important research at risk.”

Democrats on Monday slammed the panel and its tactics, however, saying the panel had not “found wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.”

In particular, they said the panel’s work was adversely affecting the amount of fetal tissue procured for medical research that is “indispensable…in advancing our understanding and treatment of a staggering array of conditions” like Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, and Zika fever.

A panel spokesman told CNA that “our Panel was tasked with investigating the facts and completing a report by the end of the 114th Congress, which we plan to release in the coming weeks. After a year of diligent work, we look forward to sharing our findings with the American people.”

When the bill funding the panel was being considered by the House, Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) said on the House Floor last week that “since the panel’s investigation, we have uncovered alarming revelations,” and added that “because of this, there have been criminal and regulatory referrals” bringing about “numerous investigations around the nation.”

The panel referred Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to the Texas attorney general for a criminal investigation after it “learned that Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast violated both Texas Law and US Law when it sold baby body parts to the University of Texas.”

Also, the panel said it had “discovered that the University of New Mexico was violating their state’s Anatomical Gift Act by receiving tissue from a late-term abortion clinic,” and the matter had been “referred to the Attorney General of New Mexico.”

A “forensic accounting analysis” had found that StemExpress – the California-based tissue procurement company featured in the undercover videos that procured fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood clinics – had profited from the fetal tissue trade. The Department of Justice and the local district attorney are investigating the matter.

The panel also asked the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate their finding that “StemExpress and certain abortion clinics were violating the HIPAA privacy rights of vulnerable women for the sole purpose of increasing the harvesting of fetal tissue to make money.”

There are several other examples the panel has given of abortion clinics, tissue procurement companies, and other entities allegedly breaking state or federal law in the fetal tissue trade.

“The minority report claims that they have proven not only that Planned Parenthood didn’t profit, but they’ve proven that Planned Parenthood lost money off of the transfer of fetal tissue. You won’t find a single shred of evidence, no documents, no testimony, nothing in the entire report that backs up that conclusion,” Daleiden said.

Rather, they relied “a statement from someone who wasn’t even connected to Planned Parenthood from over a year ago” for that “assertion,” he added.

“The bottom line is that this is not an actual report from the panel minority, this is not an actual analysis of the evidence,” he said.

“This is a propaganda piece that’s meant to try and do some very desperate eleventh hour public relations on the part of Planned Parenthood before the really, really damning evidence that I think we can expect to see in the numerous criminal referrals that the panel majority has made to different law enforcement agencies, and of course the final end-of-the-year reports from the panel are revealed for all the world to see.”

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph. D., director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, has also written about the serious ethical and moral concerns with fetal tissue procurement from aborted babies, in a 2015 column “Consenting to the Unconscionable.”

The use of human tissue in medical research can be morally acceptable in certain circumstances, he said, but may never be procured from an aborted baby, even with good intentions like using the tissue for medical research.

“Sometimes these tissues and organs can be obtained after routine surgeries like gall bladder removal from adults or foreskin removal during the circumcision of newborns,” he noted, and “the use of such tissues and organs can be morally acceptable if the patient (or the parents of the newborn) provide informed consent.”

Also, in cases of “a natural miscarriage,” he said, “the use of cells and tissues from fetuses can also be morally acceptable” when the consent to do so is given by the parent of the dead baby.

However, using fetal tissue of aborted babies “raises significant moral concerns,” he added.

Although the law allows for fetal tissue procurement from aborted babies done with the consent of the mother, this “consent” is essentially “void,” Fr. Tad explained, “because she [the mother] would have already categorically demonstrated that she does not have the best interests of her child in mind, having arranged for the taking of that child’s life.”

And the use of remains of aborted babies for research is “unconscionable,” he added, because “in the absence of proper informed consent, taking organs or tissues from the corpse would represent a further violation of the integrity of the child’s body and constitute a failure to respect the remains of the dead.”

“Thus, the tissues and organs of the directly aborted child should not be utilized for research, transplantation or the development of therapies, but instead should be given a proper and respectful burial,” he added.

Democrats on the panel also claimed that Planned Parenthood clinics “lose money” in fetal tissue transactions. Planned Parenthood has claimed that any compensation incurred from the transactions covers operating, storage, and transfer costs from giving the tissue to harvesters, who then sell it to researchers.

However, former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson testified before the Texas Senate Health and Human Services committee last year that in her experience with Planned Parenthood, her clinic profited from such transactions.

According to her former clinic’s studies, they “generally” received a compensation of $200 per baby that they sent to tissue procurement companies, Johnson said.

“I can assure you that there is no additional charge for collection, preservation, or storage of fetal tissue. The only additional expense would be shipping, and that’s between five to ten dollars per specimen. Not $200. That is sheer profit for Planned Parenthood.”

Pearl Harbor priest identified 75 years later

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 17:28

Dubuque, Iowa, Dec 8, 2016 / 03:28 pm (National Catholic Register).- When Archbishop Michael Jackels lifted the chalice during the consecration at a memorial Mass on Oct. 8 in Dubuque, Iowa, many hearts were filled with emotion.

It was the first time this chalice had been used since the 7 a.m. Mass aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma docked in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The chalice belonged to Navy chaplain Father Aloysius Schmitt. The Mass at Christ the King Chapel at Loras College was being held in memory of this heroic chaplain, who died saving others during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

After 75 years, his remains were finally identified this year and brought back to Iowa for burial in Christ the King Chapel.

“It was an amazing gift to receive from that chalice,” said concelebrant Father Daniel Mode, director of plans and operations for the Chief of Chaplains Office of the Navy. “That chalice was found 16-18 months later, when they raised the Oklahoma from Pearl Harbor.”

Father Mode, the author of The Grunt Padre about Servant of God Father Vincent Robert Capodanno, spotted the sacred vessel in the case at Christ the King Chapel displaying Father Schmitt’s effects before the memorial Mass and asked if it could be used.

“That actually set the tone for the service,” said Father Schmitt’s grandnephew Steve Sloan. After the Mass, the casket with Father Schmitt’s remains was taken outside for full military honors and then interred in the chapel, which was built in 1946-47 and dedicated to him. No one has ever forgotten what their graduate and Iowa’s native son did that Dec. 7 so long ago.

75 Years Ago

Father Schmitt had just finished celebrating the 7 a.m. Mass when the first wave of Japanese planes swooped into the harbor at 7:48 a.m. They hit the Oklahoma with eight torpedoes, then later a ninth. The commanding officer reported the initial five explosions happened within about 70 seconds — and within eight to 10 minutes, the ship rapidly rolled over about 135 degrees.

During those frantic minutes, as men scrambled to escape the capsizing ship, 32-year-old Father Schmitt began pushing men through a small porthole to safety. One was sailor Bob Burns.

Interviewed years ago for a documentary called For God and Country, Burns vividly remembered that Father Schmitt “recognized my voice and said, ‘Over here!’ There were two gentleman topside pulling, and he was pushing people through — he pushed me out.” Burns had served at Mass that morning.

“He was one of the finest men I had ever known,” Burns said of the chaplain. “It was an honor knowing him.”

Once Chaplain Schmitt got the 12 out safely, the dozen men tried pulling him through the porthole. He was partly through when he heard men behind him and insisted the freed men push him back into the ship so that he could help the trapped men.

He never got out.

The heroic priest was among 429 sailors and Marines who died aboard the Oklahoma — one of the two ships losing the most men at Pearl Harbor. He was also the first Catholic chaplain — in fact, the first of any chaplain — to die in World War II.

Now, in time for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he came home to where he grew up and where he has never been forgotten.

Hometown Priest

On Oct. 5, Father Schmitt’s flag-draped coffin arrived for a memorial Mass at his home parish, St. Luke Church in St. Lucas, a two-hour drive from Dubuque.

Born on Dec. 4, 1909, he grew up the youngest of 10 children in a farm family in the rural community and attended Catholic schools. After graduating from Loras College, then called Columbia College, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 1935. In 1939, his archbishop permitted him to enlist as a Navy chaplain.

Father Schmitt’s nephew Del Schmitt, now 82 years old, was only 5 the last time he saw his uncle. “It was hard on my dad and the family,” he said, when they learned of the death of “Father Al,” as he was affectionately known. “People that knew him said he was a great guy. Everybody liked him. Now, there’s satisfaction they did bring him back.”

Schmitt and his brother and sister presented “the gifts for the Mass,” he said of the special Mass.

Another lifelong St. Luke parishioner, Leander Stammeyer, led the Rosary at the Oct. 8 Mass and also prayed an Our Father and Hail Mary in German “to show how he [Father Al] learned the Rosary at his mother’s knee.”

Stammeyer, a spry 95-year-old, remembers Father Schmitt well. “I served at his first Mass when he was ordained,” he said. “I played checkers with him when I was a little boy, and he was 10 years older than me.”

During vacations from school, Stammeyer stayed with his grandmother in St. Lucas, and Father Al was home from college. His grandmother told him to play checkers with Father Al in the evening. They would play for at least two hours.

“I always looked up to him. He gave a good example,” Stammeyer recalled. Stammeyer himself went to seminary in Milwaukee before going “into the service because Uncle Sam called me.” He entered the Navy in 1942.

All of these years later, Stammeyer still has vivid memories of Father Al. “He was a kind of a mentor, as far as I was concerned,” he said. “I looked up to him. He had a real smile on his face and was a real friend to all people.”

Another Generation

Sloan, himself a graduate of Loras, never met his great-uncle, but heard much about him from the family.

“I was fortunate enough to know the sister that was closest to him age-wise — Sister Germaine Schmitt — who was a Franciscan sister and would spend holidays with us growing up,” Sloan explained. “Not a holiday passed when we didn’t have a discussion about Father Al in our household. It was a common discussion.”

Sloan recalled how Sister Germaine would always say, “We knew what he did, but when he left that porthole and said, ‘I’m going to check on some other men and bless them,’ we don’t know what happened to him.”

Sloan added, “I look forward to the day when I have the opportunity to talk to Father Al and ask him what really did happen that day.”

Finally an Identification

Work on the ship after the attack uncovered the remains of the 429 killed on the Oklahoma, but only a small number could be identified. Attempts over the years failed to identify about 388 men. They were reburied in Honolulu in 1950. Then came DNA identification and the U.S. Department of Defense’s determination to return as many as possible to their families.

Sloan explained that a forensic genealogist working for the department used mitochondrial DNA, a stronger form from the female side of the family tree, for the identification. In September, military representatives came to Iowa to tell relatives that they identified Father Schmitt’s remains. The Sloans were overjoyed.

This was not the first time the Navy had come to town. In 1944, the Navy presented the Archdiocese of Dubuque with a 24-inch-tall crucifix made from the Oklahoma’s teakwood deck, with the corpus of Christ shaped from the ship’s metal in honor of Chaplain Schmitt.

The Witness, the Catholic weekly in Dubuque, carried a Dec. 14, 1944, front-page article on the presentation by the chief of chaplains, 8th Naval district, who recalled Father Al’s “zeal in the service of others, coupled with a sincere and winning personality.” Mentioning his college motto — Pro Deo et Patria (“For God and Country”) — he added, “When he realized the hour had come for him to follow in the footsteps of his Master, he might well hold his head high, as he went forward a worthy bearer of the motto of the alma mater.”

Continuous Remembrance

When Christ the King Chapel was dedicated in Father Schmitt’s honor in 1947, both Cardinal Samuel Stritch of Chicago and Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during World War II, were there.

A display added in the chapel contains several of Father Schmitt’s personal effects that were recovered from the Oklahoma, plus other items like his medals and a rosary made from the ship’s wood. The personal items include his chalice and prayer book; the ribbon, still in place, held in place prayers for the following day, Dec. 8, which would have been the sixth anniversary of his ordination.

As a Loras undergraduate walking into the chapel, Father Kyle Digmann always saw those mementos. Today, he is pastor of Christ Our Hope Cluster of parishes, which includes St. Luke’s. “Everybody knows about Father S. He is part of the history around here.”

And that history was made more poignant with the memorial Mass.

“It was indeed an honor to represent the chaplain corps at that funeral,” Father Mode said while looking at a photo of himself by Father Al’s casket.

“It truly made me realize the sacrifice that he made 75 years ago never dissipated. It’s linked to Christ’s sacrifice; it’s eternal. Even 75 years later, it has the same awe. That was an amazing witness, not only to what Chaplain Schmitt was, but the essence of what sacrifice is.”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, concelebrated the memorial Mass. He told the Register that Father Schmitt’s witness continues to reverberate: “The burial of the earthly remains of Father Al Schmitt, whose heroism is so typical of Catholic chaplains’ commitment to be men for others, reminds us of his valor immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Just like the Lord, whom he loved and served, Father Schmitt gave up his life, so that others might live. I pray that his selflessness might inspire all people to imitate his concern for others and his commitment to life.”


Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register.

Lawsuit defends filmmakers in following conscience on marriage

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 14:28

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 8, 2016 / 12:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Owners of a video production company have filed suit against a Minnesota law they say could punish them if they decline to film a same-sex “wedding” ceremony or to state their objections in promotional materials.

“Filmmakers shouldn’t be threatened with fines and jail simply for disagreeing with the government,” said attorney Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group supporting them. “Every American – including creative professionals – should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of punishment.”

Carl and Angel Larsen run the St. Cloud, Minn. video production company Telescope Media Group. They said they aim to enter the wedding business but want to be clear on their website and other promotional materials that their company “cannot make films promoting any conception of marriage that contradicts its religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, including films celebrating same-sex marriages.”

They said current law would compel them to produce videos “promoting a conception of marriage that directly contradicts their religious beliefs.”

Minnesota law bars the denial of wedding services like cake decorating, wedding planning, or other commercial activities by “individuals, nonprofits or the secular business activities of religious entities,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says.

Penalties for violating the law include payment of a civil fine, triple compensatory damages, punitive damages up to $25,000, a criminal penalty of up to $1,000 and a possible 90 days in jail.

State officials can use “testers” who pose as potential customers to investigate discrimination complaints. The tactic in 2014 resulted in a settlement with a venue that was accused of refusing to host a same-sex wedding.

Defenders of the couple characterized the matter as a question of artistic freedom.

“The Larsens can’t publicly depict stories about the exclusive benefits of marriages between one man and one woman because Minnesota officials have categorically stated that conducting business in this way would violate the law,” charged Caleb Dalton, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

“The problem with this is that the government must allow artists the freedom to make personal decisions about what content they will create and what content they won’t create.”

The Larsens’ lawsuit says they would also decline to convey messages promoting racism or racial division, sexual immorality, the degradation of women or the destruction of unborn children.


Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish now a diocesan shrine in Denver

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 02:51

Denver, Colo., Dec 8, 2016 / 12:51 am (CNA).- Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Denver, Colorado was named a diocesan shrine by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila last month.

According to the archdiocesan decree, promulgated Nov. 10, the designation was made “because of its service to the Hispanic population and with the purpose of promoting their salvation through the rich liturgical and devotional life that it offers to all the faithful.”

From now on, it will be known as the Parish-Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As defined by Canon Law, a shrine is “a church or other sacred place to which numerous members of the faithful make pilgrimage for a special reason of piety,” in this case, devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Father Benito Hernández, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, told El Pueblo Catolico that for the faithful of the parish and for the Hispanic community in general, this is a “special gift from Our Lord and from our Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who has been kind enough to honor this place of worship as a shrine. We would like to give him infinite thanks for this.”

“For us Mexicans,” he said, “as the song, the Himno Guadalupano says, “To be ‘Guadalupan is essential,’ so we feel very – extremely – blessed and happy.”

On Sunday, Dec. 11 at 11: 30, a special Mass will be celebrated in which the decree from Archbishop Aquila will be read. Mass will be followed by the traditional procession and the other festivities for Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the eve of her feast day.

During the Year of Mercy, Our Lady of Guadalupe parish was decreed a place of pilgrimage, such that those who visited the parish were able, with the necessary requirements, to gain a plenary indulgence.

According to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “the term shrine signifies a church or other sacred place to which the faithful make pilgrimages for a particular pious reason with the approval of the local ordinary.”

“A prior condition for the canonical recognition of a diocesan, national or international shrine is the respective approval of the diocesan bishop, the Conference of Bishops, or the Holy See. Canonical approval is an official recognition of a sacred place and for the specific purpose of receiving the pilgrimages of the people of God which go there to worship the Father, profess the faith, and to be reconciled with God, the Church and one’s neighbor, and to implore the intercession of the Mother of God or one of the Saints.”


Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic.

Ohio lawmakers revive 'heartbeat abortion' ban

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:15

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 7, 2016 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Citing the prospect of a more favorable Supreme Court, Ohio legislators have passed a ban on abortions once an unborn child’s heartbeat can be detected.

The bill was previously defeated twice in the Republican-controlled legislature. However, State Senate President Keith Faber said the bill was revived given the prospect that President-elect Donald Trump will appoint justices more likely to uphold restrictions on abortion.

“I think it has a better chance than it did before,” he said of the bill’s Supreme Court prospects, the Associated Press reports.

The ban on abortions after the baby’s heart begins to beat would apply as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The bill allows exceptions if the mother’s life is deemed to be in danger.

Janet Porter, president of bill supporter Faith2Action, praised the passage of the bill.

“We live in a State whose motto is with God all things are possible. That’s what just happened today,” she said, voicing hope that Gov. John Kasich will sign the bill into law.

Porter was optimistic the bill would survive legal challenges.

“I think we have a brand new day here in America and we’re going to see a brand new Supreme Court with pro-life justices,” she said. “By the time this law gets to the Supreme Court, I’m confident it will be upheld.”

Pro-abortion rights groups said they would challenge the bill, citing successful legal challenges to a North Dakota law.


Catholic colleges to undocumented students: You're still welcome

Tue, 12/06/2016 - 02:32

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2016 / 12:32 am (CNA).- More than 100 presidents of Catholic colleges and universities have reaffirmed their support for undocumented students in light of questions about the future of U.S. immigration policy.

“Many of us count among our students young men and women who are undocumented, their families having fled violence and instability,” said the statement released by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

“We are committed to educating these young people, brought to the United States by their parents, who come to our universities to build for themselves and us a brighter future.”

The statement’s dozens of signatories include the president of Catholic University of America, the only pontifical college in the United States; the presidents of University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University; and the president of the Chicago-based DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the U.S.

These schools’ undocumented students meet the qualifications of the Obama administration’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

The policy aimed to allow some children of undocumented immigrants – that is, children who were born in the U.S. and have met certain conditions – to stay for up to two years without deportation.

In June 2016, in a split 4-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a hold delaying the policy from taking effect. It is also in doubt whether this policy will continue under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

The Catholic university presidents and other leaders voiced hope that the students qualified under the policy will be able to continue their studies uninterrupted and that many more students in such a situation will be “welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses.”

These students “seek to contribute to American society, to the life and mission of the Church, and to their own formation and growth,” they said.

“Undocumented students need assistance in confronting legal and financial uncertainty and in managing the accompanying anxieties,” said the Catholic higher education leaders.

“We pledge to support these students – through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics, and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal.”

Their statement cited Catholic higher education’s centuries-old presence in American life and its traditions of educating students from a diversity of backgrounds, including “those on society’s margins, especially immigrants and underprivileged populations.”

Pope Francis also made relevant comments at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall during his September 2015 visit to the U.S., the statement noted. Addressing Hispanics and representatives of immigrants in the audience, he said:

“Many of you have emigrated (I greet you warmly!) to this country at great personal cost, in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to this nation.”



How the new bishop of Arlington hopes to heal division in society

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 18:35

Arlington, Va., Dec 5, 2016 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Gospel is the answer to a wounded society, the new bishop of Arlington said in the wake of the presidential election.

“We’ll continue to preach the Gospel,” Bishop Michael Burbidge told CNA at a Dec. 5 press conference when he was asked what he would do as bishop to promote unity in society and in the Church after a tumultuous and divisive election cycle.

“Reminding us that we are all created in God’s image and likeness,” he continued. “We are all united as brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Burbidge will officially be installed as the new Bishop of Arlington, Va. in a Dec. 6 Mass at St. Thomas More Cathedral, with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who serves as the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore both present.

Formerly the bishop of Raleigh for 10 years, Bishop Burbidge was born in Philadelphia and served as Honorary Prelate to Pope St. John Paul II before his ordination as auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia in 2002. His motto which he chose as bishop in Philadelphia was “walk humbly with your God.”

He was also the rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary until 2004, and has continued to have an influence on vocations after that, having served on the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and advising the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.

Bishop Burbidge insisted that listening will be a key part of his first days as bishop, especially to rebuild unity within society and the Church.

“We are a part of the human family, and share the common responsibility to build up the common good,” he said.

“And we can only do that when we respect and listen to one another, even when we disagree, even when we have different perspectives, that we do not label, we do not dismiss one another, but truly listen and respectfully engage each other.”

When asked about his “vision for the pro-life cause,” Bishop Burbidge answered that “we are united in protecting, at all times, the sacredness of life and the dignity of every human person without exception.”

Speaking to the Latino community in the diocese, he said that “they should be reassured that the bishops of the country are working behind the scenes and in the public arena to do everything to make sure the dignity of all human persons is being respected.”

He also outlined how he would engage and dialogue with local, state, and national public officials. The Arlington diocese spans 21 counties, has a population of 400,000, and sits just across the river from the nation’s capital.

“As a bishop, I am mandated to bring the Gospel into the public arena,” he said, noting that such engagement might not always be public, but “many times privately and personally, where you can – where we have a true dialogue.”


Disappointment as Senate Republicans drop religious freedom amendment

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 17:46

Washington D.C., Dec 5, 2016 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- Senate Republicans agreed to remove a religious liberty amendment from a defense bill earlier this week, after a fierce campaign was waged against it by secular groups.

“The leadership of the 115th Congress must double down against, not concede to, ridiculous, fact-free accusations meant to derail legitimate lawmaking,” Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated in response to the news that the Russell Amendment was pulled from the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

Back in 2014, President Obama signed an anti-discrimination executive order that prohibited any federal contractor from making employment decisions based on someone’s sexual orientation. There were no religious exemptions.

Thus, any religious group or charity contracting with the government might have to recognize same-sex marriages, for example.

In response, the Russell Amendment, named for the sponsor Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) established protections for religious groups against this order.

For instance, under the proposed amendment the government would not be able to cancel a contract with a Christian group just because they only hired persons who lived in accordance with their church’s teaching.

However, Senate Democrats threatened to hold up the $618.7 defense authorizations bill unless the amendment was removed. Secular advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union also pushed for its demise.

The ACLU led a social media campaign against the amendment, #RejectRussell. The group also delivered over 340,000 petitions to Congress asking that the amendment be removed from the bill.

Rep. Russell told WORLD magazine that he was still “confident we will see this brought to a complete resolution in the near term,” and that he had seen “positive signs” on the matter from the incoming administration of President-elect Trump.

The Russell protections didn’t just affect groups. Military chaplains who use contractors to obtain supplies for their religious mission would have benefitted from it, explained Mike Berry, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, in an op-ed for The Hill.

Chaplains using contractors who conflict with their religious beliefs could face backlash from their “endorsing body,” he wrote. “Any chaplain who runs afoul of the tenets and teachings of their endorser is likely to forfeit their endorsement, meaning they can no longer serve as a chaplain.”

The poor and the vulnerable will suffer without the contribution of certain contractors and their religious mission, the Becket Fund insisted.

“Now, because Congress ducked this important issue, more service providers will be unable to continue offering their critical services, services that are sometimes only offered by religious groups,”  Arriaga said.

“It is the refugees, homeless, trafficking victims, veterans, and other vulnerable populations who will suffer the most from Congress’s choice to prioritize political expediency over principled governance.”