CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

Faith leaders call for an end to solitary confinement

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 18:00

Albany, N.Y., May 8, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- New York’s faith leaders gathered in protest of solitary confinement this week, pushing for a bill that seeks more humane ways to treat prisoners.
“We believe solitary confinement is a form of torture, and it has been vastly overused historically in New York State. Even with some recent reforms, not enough has been done,” Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNA.

Thirty-five faith leaders and 30 others rallied in support of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Confinement Act in the New York Capitol Building in Albany on May 7.
Attendees included representatives from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, T'ruah the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and New York State Council of Churches - a coalition of numerous denominations.

The New York State Catholic Conference was not present at the event, but it expressed strong support for the HALT bill, which has not yet been debated on the Senate or House floor. The conference issued a memorandum in support of the act in January.

The bill seeks to “limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement, end the segregated confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement, improve conditions of confinement, and create more humane and effective alternatives to such confinement,” according to the statement.

If passed, the law would restrict solitary confinement to 15 days or less. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has denounced solitary confinement that exceeds more than 15 days as a form of torture.

On any given day, there are an estimated 3,000 inmates in solitary confinement in New York’s state prisons. Prisoners in solitary confinement are isolated in 6-by-10 foot cells for 23 hours at a time.
After a 2016 settlement in a lawsuit challenging New York’s widespread use of solitary confinement as a punishment, the state reformed its prison system to limit the solitary confinement of pregnant women, youth and the disabled.
Solitary confinement can have serious consequences for prisoners’ psychological health, leading to an increase in depression or even suicide, Poust told CNA.
“It’s not necessary in modern society and modern prison systems to take this action. We are asking the state to look at its historic overuse of this policy and to present these prisoner with more humane conditions,” he said.

Poust drew attention to the care of the imprisoned prescribed by the Old and New Testaments. He said it is the responsibility of Christians to express solidarity with incarcerated people.

“Prisoners don’t lose their innate human dignity when they are sentenced. While there are many prisoners who present a danger to society and must be incarcerated, the idea that they should be treated as less than human is anathema to what we as a society should be striving for,” he said.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany has said that solitary confinement deteriorates mental illness, trauma, and recidivism, side effects that Americans cannot ignore.
“Social science has affirmed that solitary confinement works against the purpose of rehabilitation and restorative justice. It also works against the purpose of improving public safety, both inside our prisons and jails and in our communities,” he wrote in a 2016 op-ed article in Times Union.
Pope Francis, an advocate care of the most vulnerable and on the peripheries of society, has spoken out on the topic. In 2014, he said solitary confinement was a form of torture and drew attention to its negative effects.

“The lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering, such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency,” Pope Francis said.

Judge rules against Virginia law banning abortions by non-doctors

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 17:58

Richmond, Va., May 8, 2019 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Richmond, Virginia has ruled against state medical regulations requiring first-trimester abortions be performed only by physicians.

“After a careful review of the experts' opinions from both sides, a consensus appears to have evolved that first trimester abortions, which typically require only medication, do not require the onsite presence of a licensed physician and is consequently unduly burdensome,” wrote U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson on May 6.

Nearly a dozen lawsuits filed in states across the U.S. are seeking to allow medical professionals other than doctors - such as nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants - to perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood affiliates and abortion rights lobbying groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed 11 lawsuits across the United States since 2016, beginning after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down health and safety regulations on abortion providers in Texas.

The judge has yet to set a date for when the Virginia ruling will take effect. Pro-life advocates decried the decision, saying the ruling demostrated a disregard for the safety of women who choose to have abortions.

“Laws requiring that ‘physicians only’ perform abortions exist in 40 states. The court decision today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is directly contrary to controlling U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” said Olivia Gans Turner, president of Virginia’s National Right to Life state affiliate.

“In their unceasing quest to promote no-limits destruction of unborn children regardless of stage of development or ability to feel pain, abortion advocates are more extreme even than the Roe v. Wade decision they claim to defend.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group, is challenging similar laws in Mississippi, Arizona, Kansas, Montana and Louisiana, the Washington Post reports.

A trial is set for May 20 on Virginia state requirements that all second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital; that patients wait 24 hours after getting an ultrasound to undergo an abortion; as well as licensing standards for clinics, the Post reports.

The Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood in Sept. 2017 filed a lawsuit in federal court, taking issue with a state law that only permits doctors to perform abortions. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has also introduced legislation that would allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives to perform abortions.

Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, told CNA in 2017 that requiring only doctors to perform abortions “establishes a high standard of safety for patient care.” Allowing non-doctors to perform abortions would “further isolate abortions from other gynecological care,” he told CNA.

According to Forsythe, the number of doctors who perform abortions has continued to shrink.

“Doctors don’t want to get into the business,” he said. “The abortion industry and population controllers have been desperately looking to increase the number of abortionists.”

Suzanne Lafreniere, director of public policy for Diocese of Portland in Maine, described the lawsuit as “a desperate attempt to increase abortions in the state of Maine.”

She said that the number of surgical abortions has been declining in Maine, and that the abortion lobby is doing “everything it can to increase its business, to be perfectly honest.”

Yesterday, the Maine House of Representatives passed a bill that would require Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurance companies to pay for elective abortions. The bill now moves to the state Senate. Fifteen other states already spend public money on abortion— Maine’s Medicaid already covers abortions in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s life.

Last month, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a ruling allowing a nurse practitioner and a nurse midwife to continue to perform abortions in the early stages of pregnancy, until the court makes a final decision on whether a state law excluding nurses from performing abortions is constitutional.

Bid to end death penalty in Louisiana fails

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 13:00

Baton Rouge, La., May 8, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A proposal to allow voters to decide if capital punishment should remain legal in Louisiana has been defeated in the state senate.

Senate Bill 112 would have added a question to the next state-wide ballot proposing a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty. It was defeated Monday by a vote of 25-13 against, having needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

The measure narrowly passed out of legislative committee on April 30. Speaking during the senate debate, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Dan Claitor, (R-Baton Rouge) said that respect for all human life was paramount.

"It's a morally wrong thing to do, and at the end of the day, it cheapens life," Claitor said.

The senator, a former prosecutor, argued that execution did not work as an effective deterrent, was often flawed in its application, and had resulted in miscarriages of justice.

Claitor was supported by a minority of senators across party lines.

Sen. JP Morrell (D-New Orleans) spoke during the committee debate about the high percentage of exonerations of death row inmates which suggested the potential for mistaken executions.

"It's indisputable that we had people on death row who were [then] found innocent," Morrell said in support of Claitor's bill.

State representative Terry Landry (D-New Iberia) has proposed a similar measure in the House. A former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police and a former supported of capital punishment, he said that his beliefs had evolved and that he “now believe[s] the death penalty is wrong."

The measure was supported by the Catholic bishops of the state. Speaking on behalf of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, executive director Rob Tasman said that "justice can never be wrought by killing a human being."

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, he ordered a revision of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the death penalty “inadmissible” and urging its elimination.

Opponents of the measure said that Claitor’s argument about deterrence was irrelevant.

"Nowhere does [the law] say we shall 'deter,' said Sen. Bodi White (R-Baton Rouge). "It says 'shall be punished' and that's what this does."

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux of the 21st district told News Star that deterrence was not a relevant factor in cases where he sought the death penalty.  

"What we consider is the victims and what victims consider as justice" he said.

The last execution to take place in Louisiana was in 2010.

Although there are currently 72 inmates on death row in the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards has imposed a moratorium on any further executions until July of this year because of the unavailability of the drugs used in lethal injections.

CRS: Situation in Gaza still dire, despite ceasefire

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 12:55

Washington D.C., May 8, 2019 / 10:55 am (CNA).- Although a ceasefire has calmed a violent situation in Gaza, one Catholic aid agency warned that the people living there remain extremely vulnerable due to drastic cuts in U.S. humanitarian assistance.

“Gaza is on the edge of a complete economic collapse,” said Hilary DuBose, country representative for Catholic Relief Services in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.

“Any additional pressure could be disastrous for the people who live there, and restoration of humanitarian aid is urgently needed,” she said.

A ceasefire called on Monday brought an end to a particularly violent weekend in Gaza, during which about 30 people were killed. Some 700 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel over the weekend.

While the majority of the rocket fire was intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” system, at least one managed to reach Israel, where four people were killed.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked with fighter jets in response, and killed at least 27. Included in that total were eight members of the Quds Brigade, the militant wing of the Islamic Jihad.

At least two pregnant women were also killed, although it is unclear if their deaths were the result of Israeli airstrikes or from a rocket misfire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame for the casualties at Hamas, the governing party of the Gaza Strip. The United States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

According to CNN, the weekend’s attacks were the first major increase in violence since Israel’s election last month.

In a May 8 press release, Catholic Relief Services said it was grateful for the ceasefire, but fears that “if fighting resumes and escalates, the already dire humanitarian situation will push Gaza to the brink.”

The agency said cuts in funding to the region have left families there struggling to find food, clean water, and medicine.

Early last year, the Trump administration announced that it was withholding $65 million that had been designated for UN relief efforts for Palestinian refugees. Officials said the foreign assistance would be frozen until the administration could determine whether United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East had made unspecified reforms.

That review does not have a clear timeline for completion, Catholic Relief Services said. But in the meantime, the people of Gaza are suffering.

“Those funding cuts impact every aspect of their lives,” DuBose said. “They are struggling to find work, feed their families, and get the health care they need.”

After a decade of conflict, and with unemployment rates at more than 50%, protests have become common in the region, and tensions are high.

“Another war would just be too much for many people to bear,” DuBose said, noting that in some places, the people are still trying to rebuild from previous conflicts.

As the House Appropriations Committee prepares to consider foreign assistance funding for Fiscal Year 2020, Catholic Relief Services is asking Congress to renew funding for families in the region.

Last month, Catholic Relief Services was one of 18 organizations that welcomed the introduction of a Senate resolution calling for the humanitarian aid already approved by Congress to be distributed to residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

“The vulnerable people we serve can’t wait any longer,” the agency said.

Why these men walked 24 miles to the ‘Rome of the Midwest’

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 05:37

St. Louis, Mo., May 8, 2019 / 03:37 am (CNA).- It can be hard to find time for silent reflection in today’s bustling modern society. But a group of men this past weekend found peace and silence in an unlikely place – on the sidewalks and shoulders of busy roads leading into the heart of a Midwestern metropolis.

The annual Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage, held this year May 4-5 in St. Louis, Missouri, brought together men ranging from their 20s to their 60s who were looking for both a physical challenge and spiritual rejuvenation.

Along the way, the pilgrims would encounter four Catholic churches dedicated to St. Joseph – appropriate, considering the Church celebrated the feast of St. Joseph the Worker the previous Wednesday.

The challenge

The idea was to start at a parish in Manchester, a western St. Louis suburb, and trek 24 miles along sidewalks, paths, through parks, and occasionally on road shoulders all the way to downtown St. Louis.

The men – around 20 total – gathered at St. Joseph Church and began their walk around 10 a.m. Saturday. They stopped for lunch in a park, and again for Mass at the Carmel of St. Joseph, a monastery of discalced Carmelite nuns, around 3:30 p.m.

In addition to carrying a yellow and white Vatican flag, the men took turns carrying a large wooden cross along with them.

“The experience of having carried a cross, basically a nailed together 2x4 cross that I'm sure doesn't weigh as much as Christ's cross, but carrying that a mile and a half was a very challenging and yet rewarding experience,” said Patrick Swackhammer, 45.

After Mass at the monastery, the group continued for several more miles before reaching the place of the night’s rest – St. Joseph’s in Clayton, Missouri. Total distance walked the first day: approximately 14 miles.

The men had dinner, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a holy hour including a Latin rosary, followed by fellowship and a few beers before settling into their sleeping bags on the tile floor of the church basement for the night.


“This was kind of my crazy idea several years ago,” said Gabe Jones, 30, one of the two main organizers of the pilgrimage.

Jones said he had been on pilgrimages and men’s retreats in the past that usually involved an invitation for men to drive to and meet at a sacred destination, rather than walking to it. To him, driving straight to a pilgrimage site defeated the purpose; it removed the physical hardship involved in actually getting to the site.

“A pilgrimage is: you walk, and you walk, and you walk, and you walk, and you get to this beautiful church, and you fall on your knees when you get there. That's a pilgrimage,” he said.

The United States does not have the same kind of culture of pilgrimage that Europe has, he said, partly because the U.S. as a country is much younger than the European continent, and thus is built primarily around the automobile.

Jones said the idea for the St. Joseph pilgrimage started as “just a bunch of guys getting together.”

The first year, 2015, a handful of guys expressed interest in the challenge, but nearly all of them canceled before it began or dropped out along the way for various reasons – a tweaked back, other plans for the weekend, a torn ACL – until, by the end, the only two pilgrims left were Jones and the priest that had come with him.

Jones said he was disappointed in the turnout the first year, but came to understand that the idea of walking 24 miles over a weekend and being away from your family is perhaps a bigger ask than he thought.

“What I learned from that first year is that material success and immediately seeing the fruits of our labor are not the most important thing,” Jones said.

“Just do the thing that you're called to do, and if it's the right thing then there will be good fruit. And it may not be right away, heck, it may not be in your lifetime. But just stick to it, and if God's calling you to that, do it.”

The next year, 2016, they had more like 40 guys sign up, with around 38 walking at any one time, Jones said. The pilgrims were coming from a whole range of places, physically and spiritually.

But the feeling of being the same boat and taking on the same physical challenge fostered a sense of brotherhood among the men.

“As a convert to the Catholic faith, the concept of a pilgrimage is something new, it's something I had to embrace along with embracing all the other unique aspects of the Catholic faith,” second-year participant Russell Yount reflected.

“But it's an idea that resonates with me, of having a goal and pursuing it.”

The importance of silence

Walking twenty-plus miles through an urban jungle may not sound like the most peaceful way to spend a weekend. But the organizers made sure that despite the constant hum of traffic next to the marching group of men, there were times when quiet contemplation was encouraged.

During some stretches of the route, the men were encouraged to socialize and get to know one another. During other sections, the organizers led rosaries via megaphone.

At other points, the men were encouraged simply to walk in silence, their quiet reverie interrupted only occasionally by drivers in passing cars pipping their horns in support.

“It's a good visible witness as we walk through the city,” co-organizer Chris Horan said.

“To people who aren't Catholic, people who are Catholic, to just plant seeds and show them that Catholicism is not dead, it's growing and growing, and maybe is more alive than ever.”

The homilist at Mass on Saturday pointed to St. Joseph as a model of silent masculinity.

“Given that [St. Joseph] said absolutely nothing in scripture...when he would have spoken, he was obedient, he was prayerful, and he's just the perfect model of silence, I think,” Horan said.

“And especially for men who are flooded with junk in the culture, it can be hard for us to keep St. Joseph in mind. But if we do that then it's only going to bring us grace...that's the main model for us as husbands, fathers, brothers, and even those called to the priesthood.”

Fr. Gustavo Serpa, a member of the Miles Christi religious order based in Detroit, was the official chaplain for the pilgrimage, giving several talks over the course of the weekend.

Horan said he appreciated Father Gustavo’s presence on the pilgrimage.

“I think his youth, his love of the Church, his love of St. Joseph have helped get us through and been a good example and model for us,” Horan commented.

Many of the participants pointed to the silence aspect as one of the most helpful parts of the pilgrimage, and one that helped them to bond with their fellow men.

“You can hear the cars going by, the footsteps on the pavement, and sometimes even voices. But it gives you an opportunity when you're not required to be speaking or doing things - it lets your mind and your soul kind of settle down and be quiet with Christ for a little while,” Bill Hennessy, 55, reflected.

Cory Ross, a 30-year-old stay at home dad, was similarly inspired by the call to silence in his everyday life.

“Silence is one of those things that we can hold as an important practice in our daily lives,” he said. “And Father kind of talked about how it helps us grow in virtue and reflect upon our lives and purpose and things of that nature. It has been really profitable.”

For Yount, a weightlifter, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to take on a physical challenge while also developing the virtues he has come to value as a convert to the Catholic faith. He said he got to tell his conversion story at his home parish soon after last year's Joseph Challenge.

“I think of things in terms of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and then the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity,” Yount explained.

So, he says, he always approaches anything he does with the question: “How does each thing that I'm doing here help to build one of those virtues?” In terms of the St. Joseph Challenge, he said, he’ll be pondering what virtues are in play; certainly fortitude and prudence.

Rome of the Midwest

Apart from being a physical challenge and an opportunity for silent retreat, the pilgrimage offered a unique opportunity for the men to experience the Catholic culture of the city.

“It's a city that I had always just kind of driven through before, but I have a totally different understanding of St. Louis now, having walked through it,” Yount said.

Much of the city’s robust Catholic culture originates in the mid-19th century, when a massive influx of foreign immigrants - many from Germany, Ireland, and Italy- arrived in the area, complementing the dominant French heritage in the city at that time.

Today, there are around 180 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and so many beautiful Catholic churches that the city has been unofficially dubbed the “Rome of the Midwest.”

“Having walked all the way from Manchester to downtown, and realizing just how Catholic the city is. How strong the Catholic heritage of St. Louis is – I had no idea,” Yount said. “But now I know, and I tell people all the time: if you're ever in St. Louis, there are these places that you don't want to miss that are of importance to us as Catholics.”

Push to the finish

Bright and early Sunday morning, the men packed their belongings, and set off on the final day of the pilgrimage. Today would involve about 10 more miles before they reached their destination: The Shrine of St. Joseph, downtown.

Eventually, to the pilgrims’ delight, the shining curves of the St. Louis Arch, located on the riverfront in the heart of downtown, came into view. Soon the shrine itself was in view, and the group was all smiles as they finally approached the impressive edifice – just in time for the regularly scheduled 11 a.m. Sunday Mass.

Many of the men’s wives and families were there to meet them at the end of their pilgrimage. They knelt in front of the shrine and prayed a litany to St. Joseph as they concluded their journey.

“If you want something more physical – physical suffering, physical sacrifice, as opposed to just spiritual sacrifice – come out and join us next year. You're only going to get grace from it, meeting like-minded Catholic men, and you're going to grow, God willing, in greater devotion to St. Joseph,” Horan said.

“You'll experience beautiful liturgies, and you'll take what you experience from this back home to your wives, your kids.”

The spiritual experience isn’t all the men will bring back with them.

“Of course, I'll be taking the blisters and the aches and pains back, too,” Swackhammer added.

All in all, it was a fitting introduction to the concept of pilgrimage, something many of the men had not encountered before.

“You may have to start small, but I think we make everything too stress-free and too easy, which also leads to distraction, and comfort, and not a lot of difference from our day to day lives,” Hennessy reflected.

“And being on foot, with being disconnected from our creature comforts for a few hours, a few days, it makes it much much easier to focus on what you're supposed to be focused on, which is basically getting to heaven.”

All photos credit: Jonah McKeown / CNA.

College student cited for assault after punching pro-life activist

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 19:38

Chapel Hill, N.C., May 7, 2019 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- A college student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was arrested for assault after reportedly attacking the staff member of a pro-life group called “Created Equal” during an April 2 demonstration.

A video posted online appears to show the student attacking the staff member after confirming that the graphic images of abortion on display on the campus belonged to his group.

The video was taken by another member of “Created Equal.” It appears to show the woman asking the staffer “Did you put these (signs) up?” and punching the staff member multiple times in the face and stomach when he confirms that he did.

Created Equal describes itself as “a national anti-abortion organization that focuses on training students to be pre-born defenders by using a traveling photo exhibit to show as many students as possible what abortion does to preborn children.”

The group focuses on college campuses in order to “create debate on campus to influence America’s future decision-makers and leaders.”

The two members of Created Equal who were present for the UNC incident can be heard on the video saying “Ma’am, don’t do that” before calling the police. After the physical assault, the woman appears to yell at the staff member that he is a “(expletive) terrible person,” and that the signs are “wrong” and “triggering.”

When the police arrived, they confirmed the alleged attack with the young man who filmed the incident. The police said in the video that they were giving the student who threw the punches an arrest by citation for assault, which they said was a misdemeanor.

Mark Harrington, president of Created Equal, said in a statement following the incident that his group will continue to “return hate with love.”

"Pro-abortion activists are losing the argument, and instead of seeking debate they are escalating the violence on peaceful preborn defenders on college campuses,” he said. “We will never cave to acts of violence or intimidation. We will return hate with love for mothers and their babies."

The UNC incident is the latest in a series of attacks and harassment of pro-life demonstrators in the U.S. and Canada.

On May 2, Pennsylvania lawmaker Brian Sims livestreamed himself harassing an elderly woman who was praying a rosary outside of a Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood.

On March 2 of this year, an 85 year-old pro-life demonstrator was thrown to the ground and kicked outside a Planned Parenthood facility in San Francisco.

In October 2018, a Canadian man was arrested for roundhouse kicking a female pro-life demonstrator at a pro-life rally that took place in Toronto in late September 2018.

In a statement following the UNC incident, Created Equal said it is “currently engaged in several open cases with prosecutors” that include cases of stolen or damaged property of the group or physical assault of its members.

Pa. legislator acknowledges aggression toward woman praying at Planned Parenthood

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 17:06

Harrisburg, Pa., May 7, 2019 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- Brian Sims, a Pennsylvania state legislator who confronted a woman praying outside Planned Parenthood last week, said in a video posted to social media Tuesday that he was aggressive, and he reiterated his intention of “pushing back” against those who pray or protest outside abortion clinics.

Sims had livestreamed a video May 2 in which he can be seen approaching a woman outside of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The woman, by herself, can be seen praying the rosary across the street from the Planned Parenthood.

He aggressively questioned her for several minutes, and addressing livestream viewers he solicited the woman's name and address, saying, “we’ll protest outside of her home. Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

The lawmaker posted a video May 7 discussing the prior week's video.


I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 7, 2019


“I've lived across the street or next door to this particular Planned Parenthood … for the last 15 years,” he said. “I've seen men and women and teens try to go there for routine healthcare … and, yes, for abortions.”

“I've also spent the last seven years serving as a volunteer patient escort at this Planned Parenthood, and I have seen first hand the insults, the slurs, the attacks, and the racism that those protesters aim at mostly young girls … and last week was no different.”

“What I should have shown you in that video was protestors gathered together to pray at, not to silently pray for, people coming in and out of Planned Parenthood as they intercepted them and harassed them,” he stated.

“In my years with Planned Parenthood I've seen women and girls circle that block, two, three, four times before finally driving away because they know they weren't going to get in because of those protesters.”

Sims said that “as a Planned Parenthood volunteer and as a supporter, I fully understand, respect, and appreciate the non-engagement policy that they have, and I would never want to do anything that interfered with the care that they're providing to their patients. As an activist and an advocate I know why pushing back against harassment and discrimination are a must, even when they're uncomfortable.”

“But last week, I wasn't a patient escort, I was a neighbor and a concerned citizen, and I was aggressive. I know that two wrongs don't make a right, and I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Sims did not apologize to the woman he confronted in the video.

In a tweet accompanying the video, Sims wrote, “I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Sims has represented District 182, a heavily-Democratic area of Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. Sims is an LGBT activist and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

He has been seen in other videos approaching people outside the same Planned Parenthood location as in his May 2 post. Many of those he approached, whom he characterized as “white people” and “psuedo-Christian protestors who have been out here shaming young girls for being here”, appear to be teenagers.

Sims have been the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office. He is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

A consortium of pro-life groups will hold a rally at the same Planned Parenthood location May 10. They have invited Sims to attend.

Dubuque archbishop hospitalized after heart attack

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 15:20

Dubuque, Iowa, May 7, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa was hospitalized on Friday due to a heart attack. The archbishop was taken to Mercy Hospital on the evening of May 3.

He had two stents installed in his heart, ABC affiliate KCRG-TV9 reported.

Father Nils Hernandez, pastor of Trinity Cluster, a grouping of parishes in Monona, Iowa, said the archbishop is doing well but called for prayers.

“The Archbishop is in good spirits and feeling better. He will be in the hospital for a few days,” said Nils on Facebook, relaying an email from the diocese. “Please keep him in your prayers for a full recovery.”

Fr. Noah Diehm, pastor of St. John Baptist de La Salle, also encouraged for prayers on social media.

“May the Lord give him the graces he needs to recover quickly and to continue to labor faithfully in His vineyard,” said Diehm.

Jackels served as Bishop of Wichita for eight years prior to his appointment to the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 2013.

Georgia heartbeat bill signed into law

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 14:15

Atlanta, Ga., May 7, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has approved a controversial law that bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The law will come in to force January 1, but is expected to be the subject of immediate legal challenge from abortion activists.

The Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act will limit abortion in the state of Georgia to about the first six weeks of gestation. Presently, abortion is legal in the state until the 20th week of a pregnancy.

“We stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves. The LIFE Act is very simple, but also very powerful,” said Kemp prior to signing the bill.

The bill is “a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, that all life is worthy of protection,” he said.

Francis J. Mulcahy, the executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, said in a statement provided to CNA that the bishops were fully behind the bill and are pleased that Kemp signed it into law.

“The Catholic Bishops of Georgia supported this bill and commend Governor Kemp for signing it,” said Mulcahy. The bishops said this law is a step forward compared to the present situation in the state, and “will bring protection of unborn human life to a point closer to conception than current law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has previously promised to fight the LIFE Act in court if the governor signed it into law. Other states have seen similar legislation struck down as unconstitutional by the courts following expensive legal battles.

Given the expensive legal processes which have followed the passage of heartbeat bills, many pro-life advocates, including some bishops, have witheld support from the measures, advocating instead for so-called “trigger laws” which would ban abortion in the event that Roe v Wade is overturned.  

Kemp acknowledged the imminent legal battle, saying that he knew many people did not agree with the law.

 “I realize that some may challenge it in the court of law. But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy,” he said.

While the Georgia law is not the first such measure to be passed at the state level, it drew national attention following public opposition by actress Alyssa Milano.

Milano, who appeared on the television show “Who’s the Boss?” and in the direct-to-video movie “Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure,” had threatened to organize a state-wide boycott by the film and television industry should Kemp sign the bill.

Georgia has a favorable state tax structure for TV and film production, and now attracts a larger share of the industry than Hollywood.

“We’ve always found (Georgia) to be populated with friendly and caring people,” said Milano in March. “We’ve found the hotels in which we stay and restaurants in which we dine while filming there to be comfortable and of a high quality. We’ve been glad to bring billions of dollars in revenue to support Georgia’s schools, parks, and communities.”

“But we cannot in good conscience continue to recommend our industry remain in Georgia if H.B. 481 becomes law,” she added.

Thus far, a boycott has failed to materialize, and many television shows and movies are still scheduled to be shot in Georgia in the coming months. A similar boycott was threatened following the election of Kemp but failed to materialize.

Brian Sims, doxing state rep, was subject of ethics investigation

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 11:15

Harrisburg, Pa., May 7, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- The lawmaker who confronted a woman praying outside Planned Parenthood May 2 was the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office.

The state’s ethics commission opened an investigation into state Rep. Brian Sims following a 2017 complaint that he had violated Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act. Sims is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

Sims has confirmed that he is under investigation, but says the complaint is a political “hit” and the “cost of politics in a city like Philadelphia.”

The lawmaker, who has filmed himself offering money to social media users to identify and “dox” women and teenagers, said in June 2017 that: “This was done to hit me where I’m strongest – and I think I’m strongest in my ethics.”

Media outlets in Pennsylvania first reported the investigation May 2017, following the leak of a letter from the ethics commission, in which executive director Robert Caruso said that a “full investigation” had been launched following a complaint against Sims.

The ethics commission has not reported whether the investigation has concluded.

Sims allegedly failed to report thousands of dollars worth of travel expenses, which he later reimbursed out of his official campaign funds, following a series of high-profile speaking engagements and trips overseas, made in connection with charitable fundraising.

A 2016 investigation by City&State Pennsylvania found that despite a rule prohibiting legislators from accepting honoraria, including speaking fees, Sims earned more than $40,000 from such activity following his election in 2012.

Sims has repeatedly insisted that the events were given in connection with his national role as an LGBT activist, and were not connected to his legislative work.

According to the City&State report, Sims was billed as a state representative in advance of a 2015 engagement to speak about LGBT issues to employees at Microsoft corporate headquarters in Seattle, suggesting a conflict with Pennsylvania ethics law.

Sims also failed to declare travel and accommodation he received from Microsoft in connection with the event. Though he initially suggested that the event had been arranged spontaneously while he was on a trip to California visiting friends, Sims made the trip in the company of a professional political consultant retained by Sims in 2013. City&State also found the event had been promoted by Sims months before it took place.

According to media reports, the ethics investigation into Sims’ conduct includes a 2015 engagement at Penn State University at which he was again billed as “Rep. Brian Sims” and promoted as speaking “about his career as a legislator and on current legislation before the House.”

The state representative has also come under scrutiny for an apparent pattern of behavior concerning the reimbursement of travel expenses using campaign funds.

In 2015, Sims joined six other Pennsylvania lawmakers on a trip to Israel organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. While all six of the other legislators declared $2,500 in reimbursements for travel and expenses from the JFGP to the state ethics board. Sims did not record any amount, and later saying that he “did not realize that Federation had subsidized my travel to the extent that they had” and had reimbursed the cost using campaign funds eight months later.

The City&State report identified several other instances where Sims appeared to fail to declare receipt of free travel, only to reimburse the expenses from campaign funds months later.

Speaking to City&State, Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said of Sims’ behavior “there’s a pattern here that raises questions,” and that “the questions merit an investigation by the ethics committee.”

“These delayed payments or reimbursements certainly raise questions about the origin of the money that paid for these trips in the first place,” said McGehee. “You can’t simply make things right by paying for it all with campaign funds later.”

Sims has defended his record as a “committed progressive” and said that his commitment to transparency is demonstrated by his record as “an avid social media user.”

Catholic conference supports Iowa budget cuts to abortion providers

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 01:01

Des Moines, Iowa, May 6, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- A budget bill became law in Iowa last week, adding restrictions to grants for abortion providers and Medicaid for gender reassignment surgery.

Tom Chapman, executive director for the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA the budget was a step in the right direction.

“There is no obligation to fund abortion providers,” said Chapman. “We’ve been working on that part of the issue for many years so we are very pleased to see that.”

Governor Kim Reynolds signed the Health and Human Services budget bill into law May 3 after it passed through the Senate and House in April. According to the Des Moines Register, the state will fund $1.9 million in health programs, including aid for veterans, elderly people, and children.

The law will also remove a five-year waiting period before pregnant women are covered by Medicaid. These women have to be lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States in order to qualify.

The budget will not provide grants to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, to administer sexual education. Des Moines Register reported that it will cease $260,000 from being sent to sex information programs of Planned Parenthood. The law will continue to fund the sexual education of numerous other organizations.

According to the NBC 13, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Executive Director Erin Davison-Rippey claimed that the organization provided the same services as other groups: “We’re delivering the same services that other providers are delivering. These are all age appropriate, medically accurate sex education that is generally provided in school settings to young people, sometimes community settings as well depending on the grant.”

Republican Representative Joel Fry argued that the budget is consistent with public opinion: “We have consistently heard from Iowans that they do not want their hard-earned tax dollars used by organizations whose primary business model is providing abortions.”

Chapman told CNA that funding abortion clinics for these services is unnecessary because other organizations who do not provide abortions administer the same things. He said the new restriction allows for a more objective approach to sex-education.

“I think it presents and opportunity to provide services more objectively if you are separating it from the abortion issue,” he said. “It represents the interests of parents who want to help direct that education,” he further added.

The law would also allow for areas of local government to opt out of Medicaid and other state funds to be used for sex reassignment surgery. Under the bill, the state is not required to fund any “cosmetic, reconstructive, or plastic surgery procedure related to transsexualism, hermaphroditism, gender identity disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder.”

Chapman said that while all people deserve compassion, the Church is clear about the definition of sexual identity. He also said there is no requirement on the government's behalf to fund gender reassignment surgery.

“From the Catholic Church perspective, we believe that there really is no separation from the self and the body. You know, we are one integrated unit as men and women,” he said.

“We have to treat everyone with compassion and proper medical care. I think this is something we have to keep in mind as people are treated. At the same time, I think certainly from the governors perspective and the legislators perspective there is no obligation for the government to pay for those surgeries,” he added.

After harassing woman outside Planned Parenthood, Penn. lawmaker says Christians are 'Bible Bullies'

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 23:33

Philadelphia, Pa., May 6, 2019 / 09:33 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania lawmaker has said that pro-life activists and Christians are bullies, after he faced criticism for a video he livestreamed, in which he angrily confronted a woman praying outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood.

“Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values,” Pennsylvania state representative tweeted May 5, after the pro-life group Live Action criticized a video Sims livestreamed May 2.


Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values. #BeReal

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 5, 2019



In the May 2 video, which Sims livestreamed on Twitter and the Periscope app, the lawmaker can be seen approaching a woman outside of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The woman, by herself, can be seen praying the rosary across the street from the Planned Parenthood.


Push back against Planned Parenthood protestors, PLEASE! They prey on young women, they use white privilege, & shame. They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition. Push back, please! #YouAreStrongEnough

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 2, 2019


While Sims solicits donations for Planned Parenthood, he refers repeatedly to the woman as an “old white lady.”

As he approaches her, he says “I have a couple questions for you, ma’am. How many children have you clothed today? How many children have you put shoes on their feet today? Have you fed any children today, or have you say stood out in front of a Planned Parenthood, shaming people for something that they have a Constitutional right to do?”

“You can pray at home,” Sims tells the woman.

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims can be heard saying.

“You’re allowed to be out here,” Sims says to the woman, who can be seen continuing to pray the rosary. “That doesn’t mean you have a moral right to be out here. Shame on you. What you’re doing here is disgusting. This is wrong. You have no business being out here.”

Sims can be seen continuing to speak to the woman for several minutes, while she continues to pray and does not engage him. He repeats the phrase “shame on you,” while calling her an “old, white, lady,” repeatedly.

Later, Sims asks the woman to “talk about your Christian faith. About how your Christian faith believes in shaming people. About your Christian faith believes in telling people that you know what’s right for their bodies. About how your Christian faith believes that you know what’s right for their families.

Several minutes into the video, Sims can be seen obstructing the woman’s path with his camera. “Get out of my way,” the woman says. “Get your camera out of my face.”

“No,” the lawmaker tells her.

He then says to the livestream audience: “If you know who this woman is, and you can give me her address, we’ll protest outside of her home. Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

As the nearly nine-minute video continues, Sims continues to berate the woman, and her religious faith, after she asks him to leave her alone. He calls her prayer “a racist act of judgment.”

“This Planned Parenthood has done more for civil rights in America than this person will ever do for anyone’s rights,” Sims says, while continuing to solicit funds for Planned Parenthood.

“Hasn’t fed a child today. Hasn’t put shoes on a child today. I’m sorry, ma’am, how many Catholic Churches are you protesting, out of 400 priests in Pennsylvania indicted for child molestation. I don’t remember seeing at those protests. I was at them. Instead you’re dragging people for their Constitutional rights. Shame on you,” Sims says to the woman.

“Shame on you.”

400 priests in Pennsylvania have not been indicted for child molestation. Sims seemed to be referring to a July report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, which noted 300 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct during a period of seven decades.

The woman is apparently not the only one to be the subject of videos livestreamed by Sims. In an undated video tweeted by Live Action May 6, Sims can be seen approaching five people, most of whom appear to be teenagers, outside of the same Planned Parenthood. He characterizes them as “white people,” and “psuedo-Christian protestors who have been out here shaming young girls for being here.”

Sims says in that livestream video that he will give $100 to anyone who can identify the names and addresses of the young people.


UPDATE: Watch PA Rep @BrianSimsPA offer up $100 for the identities & addresses of 3 TEENAGERS who are fighting for the lives of preborn children.

This is despicable.

— Live Action (@LiveAction) May 6, 2019



“We’re actually just praying for the babies, and we believe that women deserve more,” one of them can be heard saying.

Sims, 40, has represented the 182nd district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. A Democrat, Sims worked as a legal advocate for same-sex marriage and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Shortly before posting his livestream interrogation of the woman, Sims tweeted “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Law enforcement officials have not yet said whether Sims will face charges for his engagement with the woman.


Civil appeals court dismisses legal challenge, says Sheen's body can go to Peoria

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 19:01

Albany, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The New York Court of Appeals has dismissed an appeal of an earlier judgement allowing Venerable Fulton Sheen’s remains to be moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria, in accordance with his family’s wishes.

The May 2 dismissal of the Archdiocese of New York’s appeal could pave the way for the Illinois-born archbishop’s beatification.

“After almost three years of litigation, the New York Archdiocese’ legal arguments have now been rejected at all three levels of the New York state court system,” the Diocese of Peoria said May 6.

“Although the New York Archdiocese may technically have legal options remaining, they are contrary to the wishes of Archbishop Sheen and his family, and would serve no genuine purpose except to delay the eventual transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains,” it added.

Archbishop Sheen served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living.” He authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure among Catholics in the U.S. until his death.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002 after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

However, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

The New York archdiocese, however, has said that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is at rest there.

In March 2019, the New York appeals court unanimously ruled that Sheen’s remains be transferred to Peoria.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

However, Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.

An initial court ruling had sided with Cunningham, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling, saying it had failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, a witness for the New York archdiocese.

Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Cooke had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The appeals court ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.

In June 2018, the Superior Court of New York ruled in favor of Cunningham’s request that Sheen’s body be moved to Peoria. The Archdiocese of New York then announced that the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were appealing the decision.

Now, a New York appellate court has again sided with Cunningham, ruling 5-0 that Peoria may have the body. The court found that Sheen lived his life with heaven and sainthood as his ultimate goals, which should be considered in the present dispute.

The Diocese of Peoria voiced hope that the beatification efforts for Sheen may now move forward, with Sheen’s body in Peoria. In a March statement, the diocese said that the courts have had ample opportunity to consider the arguments raised by New York, but have ultimately found them unavailing.

Both the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York have repeatedly voiced prayers that the beatification cause may move forward in a timely manner.

Archbishop Sheen’s intercession is credited with the miraculous recovery of a pronounced stillborn American baby from the Peoria area. In June 2014, a panel of theologians that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that the baby’s recovery was miraculous – a key step necessary before someone is beatified.

The baby, later named James Fulton Engstrom, was born in September 2010 showing no signs of life. As medical professionals tried to revive him, his parents prayed for his recovery through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

What does the Catholic Church teach about vaccines?

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 18:28

Washington D.C., May 6, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- More than 760 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year, the CDC says. Currently, 23 states have been affected, with 60 new cases reported in the last week. The majority of cases have been concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, with outbreaks in New Jersey, Washington, and California as well.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But experts say a decline in vaccination rates has left some communities particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, among them communities with religious objections to vaccinations.

As the U.S. continues to faces its worst measles outbreak in a quarter-century, the national debate about vaccines has been reignited, and with it, questions about whether Catholics can and should vaccinate.

One reason that some people decline the measles vaccine in particular has to do with the fact that it was developed from cell lines descending from aborted fetal tissue.

The vaccines for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), hepatitis A, and chicken pox are the only remaining vaccines that were developed in these cell lines, and for which there are no alternatives on the market.

But this does not mean that Catholics are prohibited from receiving these vaccines, explained Dr. Jozef Zalot, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a non-profit research and educational institute committed to applying the moral teachings of the Catholic Church to ethical issues arising in healthcare and the life sciences.

Zalot pointed to a 2005 document from the Pontifical Academy for Life which considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared in cell lines descended from aborted fetuses. The Vatican group concluded that it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

This conclusion, Zalot said, is based on a framework for evaluating ethical dilemmas, “when you’re in a situation where you want to do good, but in doing so, there’s some level of cooperation in an immoral act.”

Moral theologians weigh the level and type of cooperation in the evil act – in this case two abortions performed in 1960s from which the cells lines were developed – as well as the good of public health that comes from vaccinating.

“One is morally free to use the vaccine, despite its historical association with abortion, if there is a proportionately serious reason for doing so,” the NCBC says in its Frequently Asked Questions about vaccines, drawing from the conclusions of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“In practice, the risks to personal and public health could permit its use. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

No additional abortions are performed to maintain the vaccines, and no cells from the abortion victims are contained in the vaccines themselves, the NCBC notes.

Other concerns regarding vaccines involve side effects. Internet groups have voiced concerns that vaccines could be linked to negative outcomes including autoimmune disorders, autism, and learning disabilities.

However, the science does not substantiate claims that vaccines pose a significant threat, according to Dr. Paul Cieslak, an infectious disease specialist with the Oregon Health Authority.

Speaking as a Catholic physician and father of six children – all of whom are vaccinated – Cieslak told CNA that while all medications, including vaccines, have the potential for side effects, vaccines are largely safe.

To be approved by the FDA, he said, vaccines undergo clinical trials with hundreds or thousands of people. Once they are licensed for use in the general population, there are additional systems set up to look for possible side effects.

“When you give vaccines to millions of people, some of them are going to develop a disease or get sick [in a way] that’s completely unrelated to the vaccination,” he said, so further examination is necessary to determine whether the vaccine caused the adverse event.

If something concerning surfaces in the reporting system, known as VAERS, it is referred to the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a group of healthcare organizations around the country. They monitor data on patients coming in with certain symptoms and problems, to see if these symptoms are more likely to arise in patients who have recently been vaccinated.

“Those systems give a lot of reassurance that the vaccines are safe,” he said, noting that 15 articles were published last year “looking into various suspicions that were raised, and basically weren’t finding anything.”

Cieslak said that parents making the decision of whether to vaccinate their children should keep the common good in mind.

“I would argue that there is a rationale rooted in social justice that people should get their children vaccinated for the greater good. The Church does tell us that we are our brother’s keeper, and we can protect other people.”

In particular, those who cannot receive vaccines – children who are too young to receive them, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems – benefit from what is called “herd immunity.” If enough of a community is vaccinated, it becomes much more difficult for a disease to spread through a population. This protects those who are most vulnerable to the disease and its complications.

In a 2017 document on vaccines, the Pontifical Academy for Life noted a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others…,especially the safety more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”

Still, some parents maintain religious or philosophical objections to vaccinating. All 50 states currently allow exemptions to vaccine requirements for those with certain medical conditions – such as life-threatening allergies to a vaccine or a chronically compromised immune system. All but a few states allow exemptions for philosophical and religious objections as well.

In the wake of the ongoing measles outbreak, several states have proposed tightening or removing these exemptions. And at least five Democratic presidential hopefuls - Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Eric Swalwell, and Tim Ryan – have indicated that they would favor removing religious and personal belief exemptions from vaccine requirements.

The removal of vaccine exemptions is extremely concerning to people like Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group that works to “prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education.”

“Vaccines are pharmaceutical products that carry a risk of harm and failure,” Fisher told CNA. “People should not be forced by law to violate their conscience when making decisions about vaccination for themselves or their minor children.”

“Every person is different, born with different genes and a unique microbiome and epigenetic history. We do not all respond the same way to pharmaceutical products and doctors cannot reliably predict who will be harmed by vaccines,” she continued. “One-size-fits-all vaccine policies discriminate against those who are biologically vulnerable to suffering vaccine reactions.”

Zalot agreed that requiring people to inject a foreign substance into their children’s bodies without exemptions is troubling.

“That would raise a lot of concerns for me, to make a blanket statement that a parent has no conscience rights, or parental rights in terms of vaccinating or not vaccinating,” he said, clarifying that he was speaking for himself and not the NCBC.

This becomes tricky when objections are based on arguments that lack scientific backing, he said.

“It really is a balancing act,” he said. “It’s very difficult to make a blanket statement. You have to really look at the individual situation and make a judgment from there.”

Zalot also stressed, however, that parents who do not vaccinate must realize that there may be consequences of that choice – for example, they may not be able to attend certain schools that require students to be vaccinated.

“A parent could exercise a conscientious right not to vaccinate, but at the same time, they have to accept the consequences of that.”

Times Square ultrasound draws thousands

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 17:00

New York City, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A live, 4D-ultrasound of a 36-week gestation baby was broadcast in Times Square on Saturday, as part of Focus on the Family’s “Alive in New York” celebration.

“Alive in New York” was conducted in partnership with the pro-life organizations And Then There Were None and Save the Storks. The event drew a crowd estimated in the thousands, and it is believed to be the largest pro-life demonstration in New York state history.

In addition to the ultrasound, the event included musical performances and speeches from pro-life advocates.

Times Square, widely seen as the center of the nation’s largest city, was chose as a venue in response to New York state’s passage of the Reproductive Health Act earlier this year. That law deriminalized abortion, while removing almost all restrictions on the procedure in New York.

“Our nation, and our society, is at a crossroads. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. Now is the moment to unite with one voice to proclaim the sanctity of life. The truth will be visible to all in Times Square – at The Crossroads of the World,” said Focus on the Family in a statement released prior to the event.

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left the abortion industry to form And Then There Were None, was given an ultrasound as part of the event. Johnson is 36 weeks pregnant with her eighth child.

During the ultrasound, Johnson exclaimed to the crowd “This right here is a baby. It’s not a cat, it’s not a parasite. This is a human being with a heartbeat, with its own DNA that is separate from my body.”

Johnson is also the subject of the new film “Unplanned,” which depicts her story and ideological conversion into the pro-life movement. In the film, she is motivated to leave the abortion industry after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion of a second-trimester pregnancy.

New York’s bishops were extremely critical of the Reproductive Health Act as it made its way through the state legislature.

“Words are insufficient to describe the profound sadness we feel at the contemplated passage of New York State’s new proposed abortion policy. We mourn the unborn infants who will lose their lives, and the many mothers and fathers who will suffer remorse and heartbreak as a result,” the bishops of New York state said Jan. 17.

“The so-called 'Reproductive Health Act' will expand our state’s already radically permissive law, by empowering more health practitioners to provide abortion and removing all state restrictions on late-term procedures. With an abortion rate that is already double the national average, New York law is moving in the wrong direction.”

The bishops recalled their pledge “to offer the resources and services of our charitable agencies and health services to any woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, to support her in bearing her infant, raising her family or placing her child for adoption. There are life-affirming choices available, and we aim to make them more widely known and accessible.”

Tenn. bishops urge governor to stop executions

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 15:57

Nashville, Tenn., May 6, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Tennessee have requested that the new governor halt four executions planned for this year, reiterating the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who does not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote April 23 to Governor Bill Lee.

The letter was published May 3, and was signed by Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis.

The letter welcomed Lee's Republican administration and asked him to reconsider a recent plan from the state to fast-track death sentences.

The bishops said the death penalty is both unneccesary and faulty, stating that “nationally, we have seen many people released from death row after they have been found to have been innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person.”

The bishops added that “Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society,”

“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” they said. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions.”

Lee’s administration has inherited a two year plan by former Governor Bill Haslam to fast-track the execution of nine men on death row, as the state's supply of lethal injection drugs is in flux.

The first scheduled execution is that of Donnie Johnson on May 16. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Connie, in 1984. The bishops noted that “even their daughter has spoken against his execution.”

Tennessee has also scheduled the executions of Stephen West Aug. 15, Charles Wright Oct. 10, and Lee Hall Dec. 5.

The bishops drew attention to St. John Paul II's role in commuting the death sentence of Darrell Mease in Missouri in 1999: “At that time, the pope called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary.”

St. John Paul II “said that it is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society,” they said.

The statement encouraged Lee to converse with the bishops and investigate the Church’s teaching on capital punishment. The bishops said they would happily provide further information on the subject and go over any questions the governor may have.

Nebraska dioceses: Privacy law impedes providing AG with some records

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 12:50

Lincoln, Neb., May 6, 2019 / 10:50 am (CNA).- At a hearing in Lincoln on Thursday, the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln explained that they have not provided the state attorney general with some records because of privacy laws.

The Nebraska attorney general's office issued subpoenas in February to some 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

While the vast majority of requested records have been submitted, psychiatric evaluations, medical records, and confidential settlement agreements have not.

“Those are the only things we have not turned over,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said at a May 2 hearing in Lancaster County District Court, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The pscyh evals and medical records are protected by federal privacy laws, he said: “If the court would order us to turn those records over, we would be happy to do so. But we won’t violate federal privacy laws.”

Similarly, settlements include confidentiality clauses agreed to by abuse victims: “That victim expects us to honor that confidentiality agreement, and that’s what we’re going to do, unless ordered otherwise by a court,” McNeil stated.

In 2018 the attorney general's office asked that the state's three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses indicated their cooperation with that request.

This March, the Omaha archdiocese and the Lincoln diocese applied for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope and to set deadlines that can be reasonably met.

At the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post acknowledged that many of the requested records are being submitted.

But he complained of the omissions, and said some records were redacted, with some names being substituted by initials.

McNeil explained that the Omaha archdiocese had not redacted the records and that initials were regularly used in correspondence, in part to preserve victims' privacy.

In March, the archdiocese said it had submitted more than 11,500 pages of records to the attorney general's office.

The Lincoln diocese said in February that it has “voluntarily cooperated with the investigation since it was announced last September, and pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators.”

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island, the third diocese in the state, said Feb. 26 that “while we don’t believe subpoenas were necessary, we will continue to share information with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to bring this investigation to a conclusion. The Diocese is committed to the protection of children and safety of all, and to that end, has cooperated with the Nebraska Attorney’s Office in a voluntary review of files.”

The inquiry in Nebraska follows new or revisited allegations of sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct committed by priests in the Lincoln diocese as far back as the 1980s. Several priests have resigned as pastors, while alleged misconduct of a former vocations director for the diocese, who died in 2008, also became a matter of public attention.

The Lincoln diocese announced last month that it is adopting new, comprehensive safe environment policies and that it will investigate the alleged misconduct by Msgr Leonard Kalin, the former vocations director.

The diocese also released a list of diocesan priests against whom substantiated allegations of childhood sexual abuse have been reported.

Scientists join call for moratorium on embryonic gene editing

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 17:01

Milwaukee, Wis., May 4, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A group of 62 doctors, scientists, and bioethicists have issued an open letter urging a global moratorium on experiments that alter human genes that can be passed on to subsequent generations, a practice known as “germline editing.”

“Although we recognize the great scientific advancement represented by gene editing technologies and their potential value for an improved understanding and possible treatment of human disease, we strongly believe the editing of human embryos that results in births carries serious problems for which there are no scientific, ethical, or societal consensuses,” the letter from the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy reads.

The organization sent the letter April 24 to US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

“As a result, we contend that such human genetic manipulation should be considered unacceptable and support a binding global moratorium until serious scientific, societal, and ethical concerns are fully addressed,” it reads.

In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while somatic cell gene therapy is in principle morally licit, “because the risks connected to [germline cell therapy] are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny.”

The instruction also warned against a “eugenic mentality” that aims to improve the gene pool, adding that there could be social stigmas and privileges applied to people with certain genetic qualities, when “such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human.”

The April letter is not the first time prominent scientists have addressed the issue of germline editing; in 2015, a group of five scientists published an op-ed in the journal Nature warning that “heritable human genetic modifications pose serious risks, and the therapeutic benefits are tenuous.”

In March of this year, a different group of 18 scientists took to the pages of Nature to call for a global moratorium on the practice of editing human DNA to create genetically modified babies, until the international community can develop a “framework” for how to proceed in an ethical manner.

At least four scientists have signed their names on both the March and April letters.

The two recent calls for a germline editing moratorium come in the wake of ethical questions surrounding the purported actions a Chinese biophysicist who claims he created the first genetically modified babies late last year.

The biophysicist, He Jiankui, says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

“The alterations induced by Dr. He in these two girls would be expected to have been introduced into human germline cells, which would make the changes heritable and therefore passed on to future generations,” the letter asserts.

“Dr. He proceeded without clear medical need, in a surreptitious manner lacking any meaningful public or scientific community discussion or consensus, and without any regulatory approval.”

He says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

In a December 2018 letter signed by 150 Chinese scientists, He was condemned for ignoring ethical guidelines. The letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” and said, “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

In the April letter, the scientists drew attention to scientific questions surrounding germline editing that, in their view, must be addressed before scientists proceed. These include how artificial changes to an embryo’s genes “might interact with existing human genetic diversity when these new alterations are passed on to future generations.”

Clinical germline editing is currently banned in the United States and in 30 or so other countries throughout the world, including China.

“Before this status quo is revisited, it is vital that extensive discussions and engagement take place among all major stakeholders, including members of the scientific, medical, patient, caregiver, policy, legal, ethical, and faith communities,” the letter reads.

These stakeholders must be consulted before any more germline editing takes place, they say, and “effective and easily accessible mechanisms” must be developed “for reporting potential violations.”

The scientists in the April letter noted the potential for gene editing in somatic cells which do not result in births or the passing on of manipulated traits.

“In somatic cells, certain types of gene editing will likely have important scientific and medical applications, including their use to treat patients living with genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia, beta-thalassemia, blindness, muscular dystrophies, and hemophilia, as well as cancer and many other diseases,” the scientists wrote.

Azar has not yet issued a response to the April letter.

CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in early 2017. He explained that somatic cell gene editing may be morally legitimate when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.”

He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

Calif. attorney general investigating LA archdiocese sex abuse files

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:45

Los Angeles, Calif., May 3, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- The California Attorney’s General’s Office this week wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, announcing that it will be conducting an investigation of its handling of sexual abuse allegations involving minors, starting with accusations made as early as 1996.

The letter was dated Thursday, and addressed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to Archbishop Jose Gomez. It was obtained and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

In the Angelus News, the diocesan paper for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, archdiocesan spokesperson Carolina Guevara said that “the Archdiocese has not officially received the letter from the Attorney General, however, we will be responding cooperatively as we have with the past three Grand Jury investigations of the Archdiocese.”

The investigation comes shortly after the archdiocese paid its largest abuse settlement to an individual to date - $8 million to a female teenager, who was sexually abused and abducted by a teacher at her Catholic high school in 2016.

Becerra’s investigation will include accusations made against clergy as well as those made against members of religious orders and against employees and volunteers for the archdiocese, the letter indicated. It will be a “review of your archdiocese’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving children, including whether your archdiocese has adequately reported allegations of sexual misconduct, as required under California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act,” the letter to Gomez stated, according to the L.A. Times.

The review will look at past actions that the archdiocese took against those accused of abuse, including cases properly reported to authorities, as well as actions taken against those who failed to properly report abuse. The letter asked the archdiocese to preserve for review all documents relating to allegations of sexual abuse against clergy or employees, including any secret archives, legal documents, personnel files and internal review board files.

The investigation is similar to those being conducted in other states, including Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The L.A. Times noted that it is unclear if Becerra’s investigation will include any other Catholic dioceses in the state.

The investigation is the latest of several moves on the part of the state and the archdiocese to improve transparency and reporting on cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

In November 2018, Becerra announced the creation of an online reporting form for easier reporting of accusations of abuse against California clergy.

“To date, the Office of the Attorney General has not informed the Archdiocese of any reports made to their online reporting form concerning the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Guevara told Angelus News.

In December 2018, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles updated its list of priests credibly accused of abuse of minors, which had last been updated in 2008. That same month, former Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar resigned after a previous accusation of sexual abuse was found to be credible.

The archdiocese emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation in their latest statement.

In a statement published by Angelus News, it said, “The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is committed to transparency and has established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victim-survivors in our parishes, schools and ministries.”

“The Archdiocese has also already cooperated with two state and one federal investigation and continues to fully cooperate with all civil authorities. Allegations of abuse involving minors whether by a member of the clergy or a layperson are reported to law enforcement, public announcements are made at the places where the person has served, and if found credible the person is permanently removed from any capacity according to the Archdiocese’s Zero Tolerance policy,” it stated.

“The Archdiocese does not tolerate anyone who does harm to a child or vulnerable person and remains committed and vigilant in ensuring that parishes, schools and ministries are safe places for everyone in our community,” it added.

Forgiving the unforgivable: Exhibit highlights stories of abuse survivors

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., May 3, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic University of America hosted a recent special exhibit to share the stories of survivors of clerical sexual abuse and how they have coped with the trauma of their experiences. Nine people are profiled by undergraduate students.

The exhibit was on display from late April until May 1.

The Hope and Healing Story Gallery was supported by The Catholic Project, an initiative of the Catholic University of America focused on renewal and healing within the Church; Spirit Fire, a Christian restorative justice organization; and the Catholic University of America’s PEERS students group, which serves to teach students about substance abuse, mental health awareness, sexual assault and violence education and prevention.

“The idea for this exhibit came about in the midst of the conversations about what renewal in the Church looks like,” reads the story gallery’s introduction. “We realized that we couldn’t continue to talk about healing and renewal without hearing from those who experienced sexual abuse. We needed to hear their stories.”

The profiles were written by seven undergraduate students at the Catholic University of America. Among the survivors who stories were told was Michael, who lives in Lake Forest, IL.

Michael was abused by a priest from the age of 12 to 16, and he did not speak of what had happened until nearly 30 years later. He then reported his abuser to the Archdiocese of Chicago and began therapy sessions.

Michael was instrumental in creating the Healing Garden at the Archdiocese of Chicago, which is a “neutral, sacred place” for survivors of abuse. The Healing Garden plays hosts to events for abuse survivors and their families each year.

In his profile, Michael spoke of his belief that repeated annual events are more effective for survivors than the “one-and-done” healing services.

“The one-and-done Mass doesn’t do it, coming together every year does,” he said. And while he is an abuse survivor, he does not consider his experience as the main part of his story. Rather, he said “My story is what I’ve done since that time” in working to help other survivors like himself.

“The acts of abuse, imposed upon me and other children, are my abuser’s story,” he said.

Another profiled survivor is Miguel, from Katy, Texas. He has relied on the example of the saints in his journey of healing from abuse. He is the founder of the St. Maria Goretti Network, works to help victim survivors with their own emotional recovery and ability to forgive their abusers.

Along with St. Maria Goretti, Miguel said that he was inspired by St. Josphine Bakhita, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, two saints that experienced grave injustices during their lives. St. Josephine Bakhita was a victim of human trafficking and was sold as a slave, and St. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz.

“Maria, Josephine, and Maximilian showed me how to forgive the unforgivable,” said Miguel.