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NY archdiocese defends right to make hiring decisions

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 22:40

New York City, N.Y., Mar 9, 2017 / 08:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of New York argued before a federal circuit court this week that it should have the freedom to make employment decisions about Catholic school principals without government intervention.

“It is important that church-sponsored schools like St. Anthony’s be able to ensure that each student receives the best education in math, science, art as well as the Catholic faith,” Mercedes Lopez Blanco of the Archdiocese of New York stated on Tuesday.

“To do that, we must have the freedom to choose leaders – without government interference – who are dedicated to our mission.”

Blanco made her statement after oral arguments took place in Fratello v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York on Tuesday. That case involves a lawsuit filed by a Catholic school principal whose contract with the archdiocese was not renewed, and who says the decision was made on the grounds of unlawful gender discrimination.  

The archdiocese, represented by Becket Fund, says that they decided not to renew the contract of former principal of St. Anthony School Joanne Fratello because of her insubordination to the pastor of the parish and the archdiocese. The archdiocese says it has First Amendment protections in its hiring decisions of Catholic school principals, because it falls under the “ministerial exemption.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the archdiocese, argues that it is an important case for the religious freedom of all faiths against government coercion.

St. Anthony School is part of the Archdiocese of New York, which had a contract with Fratello. The principal at St. Anthony’s is responsible not only for the education of the students but for leading the student body in prayer every day, hiring teachers based on their use of religion in the school curricula, and for inviting students and parents to attend Mass.

Fratello claims that her contract was not renewed because of sex-based discrimination, and that she was not hired by the archdiocese in a ministerial capacity but in a “lay” capacity.

This, her lawyer argued, made her case different from the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor case, where the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of churches’ employment decisions of ministers, saying the government could not interfere with those decisions.

In that decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a Lutheran church had the right to make employment decisions in its school that was directly connected to the church, as the grade school teacher who was fired had served in a ministerial capacity and had the title “minister of religion.”

The federal government, specifically the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, could not intervene in such decisions out of concern for discrimination, the Court said in that 9-0 decision.

In Fratello’s case, the principal’s record was “replete” with religious duties including leading students in prayer each day, Rassbach said. Furthermore, the archdiocese has made it clear that the duty of a principal at St. Anthony’s is ministerial by nature.

That Fratello was hired in a “lay” capacity did not mean that her job was a secular one, he emphasized. Rather, it meant that she was not part of a religious order, where her contract would not have included a salary.

Because she was a lay Catholic and her contract included a salary, Fratello was hired on a “lay” contract even though her job would be ministerial. A diocesan priest would have received a similar contract, Rassbach noted.

And Fratello emphasized her religious credentials when she applied to be the principal at St. Anthony’s, Rassbach said. She praised herself as an “excellent religious leader.”

Fratello’s lawyer, Michael Diederich, has written openly of his disdain for the Church. He wrote a scathing reply to a “friend of the court” brief filed by the Orthodox Church of America on behalf of the archdiocese, where he expressed contempt for “organized religion” as a threat to “enlightened rationality.”

Fratello should have been kept in her position by the archdiocese because as a secular employee, she could protect students against religious indoctrination, he argued.

He said that “our American democracy” would be “undermined if religious groups can propagandize and indoctrinate school children without the constraint of a loyal American citizen and educator (e.g., a lay school teacher or principal) insisting that secular curriculum be properly taught.”

Diederich disparaged “organized religion” in the U.S., and warned that the Roman Catholic Church is “the most powerful church on Earth,” and that by the archdiocese getting the Orthodox Church to file a brief the Roman Catholic Church “has sounded the alarm to enlist the support for organized religion in an effort to gain even more power and influence that organized religion already has in civil society.”

America’s founders, “people of the Age of Enlightenment – would not approve of judicial advancement of religion,” he continued. According to Diederich, the founders believed “that organized religion and religious dogma are dangerous to a society, and what a society needs is enlightened rationality.”

And he hypothesized about the Orthodox Church indoctrinating children with “Stalinist beliefs” if its school teachers operate in a ministerial capacity.


Muhammad Ali's family speaks up on religious freedom after airport detainment

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 18:45

Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2017 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- Family members of boxing great Muhammed Ali say they were detained at an airport for their religion and have linked the incident President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which they are challenging on religious freedom grounds.

“There shouldn't be a travel ban,” said Khalilah Camacho Ali, the boxer’s former wife. “If I don't speak up now, they're going to keep harassing us.”

She said Muhammed Ali’s family has been fighting for religious rights “for a very long time,” adding “We are going to continue to fight for religious justice.”

Muhammed Ali, Jr. and his mother Khalilah Camacho Ali, were detained and questioned Feb. 7 at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as they returned from a Black History Month event in Jamaica, the Associated Press reports. They said they were asked if they were Muslim and a family spokesman charged they were flagged for their Arabic-sounding names.

While Ali's former wife could produce a photo of herself with her famous ex-husband, her son could not. They were separated and he was detained by immigration officials for about two hours, the family spokesman said, according to the Washington Post.

Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia and has a U.S. passport.

Customs officials, however, rejected claims it had discriminated on the basis of religion or ethnicity. “We accomplish our mission with vigilance and in accordance with the law,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Feb. 26, adding “We treat all travelers with respect and sensitivity.”

Khalilah Camacho Ali said the incident at the Florida airport has affected her.

“I'm paranoid. I'm just waiting for somebody to mess with me. That's not a good feeling when you have to travel,” she said.

The ban on new visas for travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries and temporarily halted the United States' refugee program was revised after facing court challenges. The latest version will take effect March 16 and has removed Iraq from the list of countries, which originally numbered seven.

Ali Jr. and Khalilah Camacho Ali visited Washington, D.C. on Thursday to meet with lawmakers and discuss their experience. Democratic members of the House Subcommittee on border security invited them to a forum on the topic.

They have launched a campaign against the travel restrictions with support of former boxing stars Evander Holyfield, Larry Holmes and Roberto Duran.

They are framing the effort as a conflict with the president, using the hashtag “#AlivsTrump.”

The three-time boxing heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali also advocated for civil rights. He converted to Islam in 1964 and refused to join the military draft, citing conscientious objections as a Muslim. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and convicted of draft evasion, though the Supreme Court would rule in his favor.

He died in 2016.

Can we delete death? Transhumanism's lofty goal meets a Catholic response

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie – being able to “upload” our minds to computers to live on after we die, to freeze our bodies only to bring them back in the future, or to pop pills to enhance our mood and intelligence.

While these may seem like impossible notions, these are the kinds of things the transhumanism and posthumanism movements are hoping for and working toward.

However, as with most technological advancements, these proposals have bioethicists and theologians questioning: just because we can, does that mean we should?

Transhumanism is a loosely-defined cultural, intellectual and technical movement that describes itself as seeking to “to overcome fundamental human limitations” including death, aging, and natural physical, mental and psychological limitations, says humanity+, a transhumanist online community.

The movement overlaps greatly with posthumanism, which posits that a new, biologically superior race is on the horizon, and could replace the human race as we know it. Posthumanists support technologies such as cryogenic freezing, mood-and-intelligence-enhancing drugs, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, bionics and “uploading” a mind to an artificial intelligence.

These movements stem from the idea that human limitations are just “technical problems” that need to be overcome, said history professor Yuval Noah Harari in a 2015 interview in “Edge,” a non-profit website devoted to the advancement of technology.

“Once you really solve a problem like direct brain-computer interface ... when brains and computers can interact directly, to take just one example, that's it, that's the end of history, that's the end of biology as we know it,” he said. “Nobody has a clue what will happen once you solve this.”

But is human nature a problem to be solved? Will treading into this territory completely change the way man relates to God, to their own bodies, and to one another? These are the questions many bioethicists are grappling with as they consider the morality of such technologies.

For Catholics, escaping suffering and trials by escaping human nature itself is a morally unacceptable option, according to Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., Director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“Catholics cannot accept a vision of man which presupposes an outright ‘unacceptability’ of his basic human nature, nor a vision that labors to replace it with an alternate bodily structure that is engineered to be ‘post-human,’” Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA.

Instead, the “integral vision of man” accepts that man is incarnate – that humans have a body –and that “we are meant to embrace and grow through the limitations of our human nature,” he said.

“Even if our nature were to be radically re-engineered and modified,” he elaborated, “our innermost self would retain fundamental shards of incompleteness.”

The human experience is a struggle between a longing for the infinite, and learning to accept and embrace human’s finite nature, Fr. Pacholczyk explained. This longing would still exist even if technology were to significantly advance man’s material reality, because the longing for the infinite transcends the material world, he added.

Christ’s life provides the road map to transcendence – rather than transhumanism – for man’s life, “achieved through repentance, discipleship, self-denial, committed love, and generous self-giving,” said Fr. Pacholczyk. The infinite that man longs for “is effected from above through grace, rather than through the mere machinations of human cleverness or willfulness.”

Only by accepting their nature can humans re-orient themselves to “the only authentic source of redemption compatible with his essence,” which is Jesus, he added.  

Peter Lawler, a bioethicist and government professor at Berry College, said while he did not think transhumanism is possible, the movement’s ideology alone can impact society.  

The mindset of detaching humanity from biology contributes to a “paranoia about existence” which sees the natural world as the enemy of man, and views the body as a mere machine rather than as an integral part of a person, Lawler said.

“We’re living longer than ever,” he said. Improvements in healthcare, life expectancy and other technologies have changed the way people think about many things such as sexual morality, desired family size, and the integration of elderly people into society.

Charles Rubin, a professor of political science at Dusquenes University and author on the transhumanist movement, also takes issue with the transhumanist or posthumanist ideology. The idea of “a superior version” of human beings implies that humans are poorly-designed “creatures of evolutionary chance,” Rubin said.

“They have the very ‘thin’ understanding of what it means to be human that is in many ways characteristic of our contemporary thin ideas about self-hood,” he said. The movement also makes the assumption that “material circumstances can solve all our problems.”

“Building as they do on a thin sense of self, they risk encouraging those tendencies of contemporary thought that treat human beings instrumentally or that otherwise diminish human dignity.”

But it’s not all necessarily bad.

Some technologies that improve and even extend human life can be beneficial, so long as they don’t violate morality, Lawler noted.

“The consistent pro-life position is that we are for life,” he said, referencing Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (Charity in Truth).

“Technology is highly attractive because it draws us out of our physical limitations and broadens our horizon,” the Pope wrote.

Still, he cautioned, technological advancements can never trump the good of the human person – they must always be done in an ethically responsible way.

“Human freedom is authentic only when it responds to the fascination of technology with decisions that are the fruit of moral responsibility,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote.

While extending life can be acceptable, the promises of transhumanism should be critiqued, Rubin said.

What should be combated, he continued, is those who “dogmatically assert the benefits of a longer life without having ever having asked seriously the question of what constitutes a good human life.”


This article was originally published on CNA April 9, 2015.

Where it's OK to eat corned beef on St. Patrick's Day this Lent

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 17:02

Denver, Colo., Mar 9, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- If you’re an Irish Catholic (or any Catholic) living in the United States, you will need to check with your local diocese before indulging in corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day this year.

The popular feast day, whose traditional fare is the salty, stringy red meat, poses a predicament for Catholics this year as it falls on a Friday in Lent, when the faithful are required to abstain from meat.

The last time this conundrum cropped up was in 2006, when roughly half of the United States’ 179 Roman Catholic dioceses granted some form of dispensation to the faithful on the memorial of the patron saint of Ireland. (Ironically, corned beef is generally not eaten in Ireland on St. Patrick’s day - it’s usually lamb or bacon.)

This year, more than 80 dioceses have announced some form of dispensation on St. Patrick’s Day. However, Catholics should check with their local diocese before partaking in the celebratory meats.

“In some places, abstinence from meat is dispensed on St. Patrick’s Day, but those who consume meat that day are required to abstain the next day,” said J.D. Flynn, a canon lawyer and Special Assistant to Bishop James Conley in Lincoln, Neb.


“In some places, a dispensation has been granted for parish or diocesan events. So it would be important to know what the bishop has determined in the place where you are.”


In many cases of dispensation this year, the bishops have requested that the faithful offer up some alternative penance or perform an additional act of charity in lieu of their abstinence from meat. Some dioceses have additional stipulations.

Many Archdioceses have already announced that they will be granting a general dispensation, including Atlanta, Georgia, Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Francisco, California; Washington, D.C. and the Military Services, USA.

The following Archdioceses and Dioceses have dispensations, but with additional stipulations:


In some places, like the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, the faithful are required to transfer their day of abstinence to the next day if they choose to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day.


In other Archdioceses, including Detroit, Michigan and Portland, Oregon, as well as the Dioceses of Trenton, N.J.,  Salt Lake City, Utah, and Grand Island, Nebraska, the archbishops and bishops have stipulated that the faithful must ask a priest’s permission if they want a dispensation. These priests can either dispense or commute the required abstinence from meat “for a just cause.”


In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, dispensations are being granted on a case by case basis for certain parish or diocesan groups or events that have successfully petitioned the bishop.


Many Dioceses have also publicly granted a dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day, including Bridgeport, Connecticut; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Dallas, Texas; Jefferson City, Missouri; Oakland, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Providence, Rhode Island; Savannah, Georgia; Worcester, Massachusetts, and Venice, Florida.

Only two dioceses, the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado and the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, have publicly announced that they will not be granting any dispensations for the day.

So, technically, could a Catholic in Denver with a hankering for meat on St. Patrick’s Day drive south for an hour and dine on corned beef once they are in the Diocese of Colorado Springs?

“Generally speaking dispensations, like other kinds of administrative acts, are territorial in the Church, they determine the obligations of those in a territory. There are many exceptions to this, but this is the general principle,” Flynn said.

“In this case, a traveller who is in a place where a law has been dispensed is not bound to observe the law. It doesn’t matter why the person goes to a diocese, just that they’re there. A person should take a look at what the dispensation really says, though,” he added.

What about extremely proud Irish grandmothers (my own) who declare a dispensation for themselves and all their Irish kin, regardless of where they reside?

“Your grandma was, with all due respect to her Irish brilliance, mistaken,” Flynn said.

The Archdioceses and Dioceses listed here are not comprehensive. Catholics wanting to eat meat on St. Patrick’s day should check with their local diocese regarding whether or not they are dispensed, and under what conditions.


Arizona State University to hold first Pregnant on Campus Week

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 16:56

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 9, 2017 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Students for Life Group at Arizona State University is planning the nation’s first Pregnant on Campus Week to offer resources, support and information for parents on campus this March 13-16.

“Pregnant and parenting students should never feel forced to choose between their children and their education,” said Beth Rahal, national director of the Pregnant on Campus Initiative.

She applauded the initiative’s student leaders for supporting their peers in difficult and vulnerable moments, and for “empowering women to succeed as parents, as students, and as valuable members of our communities.”

Pregnant on Campus Week will include table displays at Hayden Lawn, a central part of Arizona State University’s campus, offering information on resources for pregnant and parenting students.

These resources include breastfeeding rooms on campus and childcare options, as well as information about Title IX rights. The university’s Family Resources department will also be available to discuss school aid for students with families.

Additionally, a donation area will be set up for a baby shower drive to support pregnant moms on campus. Attendees will be able to write letter of encouragement to pregnant peers, learn more about fetal development, and utilize social media frames showing their support for parenting students.

Mariah Martinez, chair of the ASU Pregnant on Campus Initiative, explained in a press release the motto for the week: Fearlessly pursuing family and education.

“Our initiative exists to be a light of hope, empowerment, community, and resources for those students who find themselves pregnant and about to be a parent while completing their degree,” she said.

“Whether informing them about their Title IX rights, pointing them to local pregnancy resource centers for low-cost prenatal care, informing them on the resources ASU already offers, or simply being there for emotional support, the Pregnant on Campus Initiative recognizes that pregnancy while going to school is a real occurrence, and we want to celebrate both.”

The Pregnant on Campus Initiative is a project of Students for Life of America, a pro-life organization with over 1,100 high school and college groups. Pregnant on Campus offers resources for pregnant and parenting students at more than 500 schools.


Holy-wood: How one priest supports 'truth, beauty and goodness' in film

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 16:36

Hollywood, Calif., Mar 9, 2017 / 02:36 pm (CNA).- The path to priesthood doesn’t often include stops on the sets of soap operas. But for Father Don Woznicki, a stint as a production assistant for the NBC soap “Sunset Beach” in 1998 (the same year he entered the Mundelein Seminary to begin his formation as a priest) was a pivotal part of his exploration of his “calling within a calling” – his deep-seated desire to evangelize through the entertainment industry.

“While I was in my pretheological studies at Loyola University in Chicago, I sensed the Holy Spirit moving me to somehow be involved in an outreach ministry as a priest to Hollywood,” recalled Father Woznicki. “I always loved entertainment, and it was at that point in my life, as I discerned the priesthood, that I had a deep conviction that somehow the Church needs to be more present because of that influence it can have on people and cultures.”

As the South Bend, Indiana-born Father Woznicki assumed an associate pastor role at a Chicago-area parish, he (with the permission of then-Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George) proceeded to trek to Los Angeles three or four times a year, for one week at a time during his spring and summer breaks, to continue his PA job with “Sunset Beach,” work with Act One (a mentorship program for aspiring Christian screenwriters) and soak up as much additional exposure to the entertainment industry that he could get.

Twenty years and a handful of IMDB credits later, Father Woznicki is now not only the pastor at Christ the King Church in Hollywood (where he began serving last July), but also the director of New Ethos, an advocacy effort that strives to drum up support throughout the Catholic community for films that, as St. Pope John Paul II (who was an actor in his youth) once put it, “bring us to a personal encounter with truth, goodness and beauty.”

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“There is great power in film and television, because much of our senses are acted upon through visuals (cinematography, special effects, movement), hearing (screenplay, musical score, sound) and a personal connection with the actors,” explained Father Woznicki. “Our celebration of the Mass and sacraments carry through its beauty the ultimate power to act on our senses, to have a personal encounter with our Lord and Savior and transform our minds and hearts. When one encounters an overarching spirit of the true, good and beautiful in entertainment, one also is encountering Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.”

And while many on the outside looking in have a preconceived notion of Hollywood being a spiritual wasteland, Father Woznicki has found that Hollywood is, in fact, inhabited by its fair share of faith-filled industry professionals who, though they may not agree with all of the Church’s teachings, have an “attraction to, and appreciation for, the Church’s age-old and sophisticated approach to the arts through the holy Mass, in sacred art and in the various other traditional and progressive mystical expressions of faith.”

In order to support filmmakers and screenwriters who share his passion for truthful, beautiful storytelling, Father Woznicki and his core team of film reviewers collaborate with studio marketing executives in a number of capacities to galvanize support throughout the Catholic community for films that fit the bill. His ultimate goal is for New Ethos to become an esteemed, respected voice for the films it wants to promote, and has not only a hand in production and development, but also “a place at the table of major studios and independent production companies to have a meaningful influence on developing entertainment.”

To this end, New Ethos is in the planning stages of working with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to coordinate a two-day retreat at the Vatican for accomplished industry artists and establishing a “New Ethos Film Festival,” a Sundance-esque event to be held annually in Los Angeles. For the time being, however, New Ethos’ primary efforts involve recognizing quality films and awarding them the New Ethos “Logo of Excellence,” which promoters can in turn use for marketing purposes.

New Ethos’ two most prestigious awards, the “New Ethos Excellence Award” and the “New Ethos Selection” are awarded to films that excel in the categories of religion, values and art. Father Woznicki hopes that, by recognizing films that succeed as much in their efforts to explore universal human truths and propel the craft of filmmaking forward as they do in telling stories concerning matters of faith, that New Ethos will help shake the filmgoing public’s tendency to equate “Catholic” with “G-rated” and/or “hokey.”

“New Ethos is not about just supporting films and entertainment media because a Catholic made it,” stated Father Woznicki. “Would you get on an airplane just because you heard a Catholic made it? Quality is the rule. Christ is constantly calling us to conversion, hope and to be transformed into his image, and the reality is that a vast majority of us are works in progress, made holy in Christ’s mercy, but with many rough and hard edges to be smoothed out.

“New Ethos films are not about promoting sanitized Christian propaganda, rather to that conversion, hope and transformation,” he continued.

Just as we are all works in progress, so is New Ethos in its early stages. But Father Woznicki firmly believes that New Ethos’ earnest intention to focus on promoting the best attributes of Hollywood, the goodness waiting to emerge in films hidden beneath the slog, will lead to a flourishing, symbiotic relationship between New Ethos and the entertainment industry.

“The mission’s philosophy was founded on transforming Hollywood not through a self-righteous ‘Hollywood takeover’ to form a ‘Catholic Hollywood,’ but rather encouraging and supporting and uplifting the true, good and beautiful in secular Hollywood productions, where much of God’s talent operates,” said Father Woznicki.

“[It’s not] about going to Hollywood yielding a stick to point out where they are leading our children into hell,” he continued. “Rather, [it’s] to form positive collaborative relationships, where the Church lets Hollywood be who they are: the most talented and creative storytellers in the world, which the Church needs, while Hollywood can use the Church not only for its large market potential, but also to tap into the Church’s wisdom to help guide the art-making process. It’s is a win-win mission!”


This article originally appeared in Angelus News. Reprinted with permission.


What the US bishops want to see in health care reform

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 17:29

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA).- As Congress considers a new health care law, the U.S. bishops are calling for a plan that does not fund abortion, but respects conscience rights, while also ensuring universal access to affordable health care.

“The Bishops of the United States continue to reject the inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit,” four committee chairs for the U.S. bishops’ conference said in a letter to Congress this week, while adding that “all people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care.”

The bishops’ letter, sent to all members of Congress on Tuesday, was signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the bishops’ religious liberty committee; Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee; and Bishop Frank Dewayne of Venice, chair of the bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee.

In the letter, the bishops responded to House Republicans’ recently unveiled plan to take the place of the Affordable Care Act.

Entitled the American Health Care Act, the proposed plan would scrap the old individual and employer mandates and expand the available tax credits available to purchase health insurance.

However, those who drop their plans and delay too long in buying a new one could see a penalty of up to 30 percent of their new plan’s premiums for having a gap in coverage. Critics charge that this could unfairly penalize those who choose to go without health insurance, or even deter them from buying a new plan when they get sick.

The bill would also double the amount that could be contributed to health savings accounts, or tax-free accounts to save money for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

At a Tuesday press conference introducing the plan, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said that the bill is only the first phase of a three-part program that includes deregulation of the health care market and additional reforms, giving consumers the “freedom to buy” the health coverage they want.

Abortion controversy

Pro-life groups have hinged their support of a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act on whether any taxpayer subsidies or tax credits would fund abortions.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, told EWTN News Nightly’s Jason Calvi that he expected Senate staffers to work to ensure no abortion coverage is funded in the law through subsidies or tax credits.

In addition, the proposed bill would defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest performer of abortions, for one year, around $400 million.

Abortion funding has long been a controversial subject in health care. The Hyde Amendment – a policy passed yearly by Congress as part of appropriations bills – prohibits federal funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

This policy “must extend to any relevant health care plan,” the bishops insisted on Wednesday. No federal subsidies for health insurance coverage – or even tax credits for coverage – should pay for any “health care plans that cover abortion,” they stated.

While President Barack Obama signed an executive order stating that an enforcement mechanism must be found to ensure no abortion funding under the Affordable Care Act, a 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office found that this might not have been the case.

The report found that 15 insurers and one state exchange were not itemizing abortion coverage in health plans offered on the exchanges and did not indicate that such abortion coverage was billed separately. Thus, federal subsidies could very well have paid for abortion coverage.

Also, in five states, all the health plans offered on the exchanges covered abortions, offering no alternative to those conscientiously objecting to paying for abortion coverage in their plans.

The U.S. bishops’ conference had originally opposed the Affordable Care Act because they believed the executive order would not be enough to prevent abortion funding. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, then-president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, had stated of the bill that “there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion.”

Changes in coverage

Universal access to health care, including for those immigrants left out of coverage under the Affordable Care Act, must also be part of new legislation, the bishops insisted.

“Any modification of the Medicaid system as part of health care reform should prioritize improvement and access to quality care over cost savings,” they added.

Some of the biggest changes under the proposed bill would be to federal subsidies, ending the expansion of federal Medicaid grants to states after several years, and determining Medicaid grants to states based on their numbers of Medicaid patients.

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion had helped those caring for elderly parents and drug addicts, argued Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee. This would be cut in the new health care bill.

The Medicaid expansions provided many low-income Americans with coverage and these expansions should not be erased, the U.S. bishops said, noting that “those who are essentially the working poor or who find themselves one crisis away from falling into deep poverty” were covered “for the first time” under the Medicaid expansion.

If the expansion is rolled back, these families should be exempt from premiums “through some other means,” they said.

Furthermore, the bishops advocated for health-sharing ministries, saying, “Those who choose to participate in alternative approaches like health sharing ministries should retain the ability to do so and be further supported.”

Louis Brown, director of one such Catholic ministry, called CMF Curo, stressed that health-sharing ministries must have “equal access to health savings accounts” so participants can save like everyone else for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Other concerns in health care

A number of policies in the Affordable Care Act remain in the bill, or will be phased out over the period of several years. Young adults are still allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26, and insurers are still prohibited from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.

Brown told CNA that the plan “is a first step to restoring an American health care system where the dignity of the person is at the center, not the mandates of the government.”

Under the current system, he said, “the federal government was dictating so much of what the market looks like, and it wasn’t doing a good job of that,” thus driving up health insurance premiums even more in some areas.

The average “benchmark silver” premiums were reportedly set to rise 22 percent in 2017, it was predicted in October. Although federal subsidies would offset cost increases for eligible Americans, others saw their premiums rise but were not eligible for these subsidies.

Also, in more than 1,000 counties, there was only one insurer offering plans on the exchanges, and in some counties all insurers had pulled out of the exchange.

There were also serious religious freedom concerns with the health care system, in part because of government mandates like the birth control mandate.

The Affordable Care Act had mandated preventative coverage in employee health plans, which the Department of Health and Human Services later interpreted to include employer coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause early abortions.

And the recent transgender mandate that doctors perform gender-transition procedures if asked to do so, despite any concerns they might have about the patient’s health, was another example of this, said Brown.

“Too much of the Affordable Care Act was used as a vehicle to undermine the right of conscience and religious freedom in health care,” he said.

The bishops also pushed for the conscience rights of health care professionals in their letter. The bishops’ conference has previously pushed for the passage of the Conscience Protection Act, which would establish federal protections for doctors or hospitals conscientiously objecting to performing abortions.

“Such protections should extend to all stakeholders, including insurers, purchasers, sponsors, and providers and should cover any regulatory mandates,” the bishops said in their letter.


This Catholic school made $24 million by investing in Snapchat

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 08:06

Mountain View, Calif., Mar 8, 2017 / 06:06 am (Church Pop).- St. Francis Catholic High School in Mountain View, California recently revealed that it invested just $15,000 in a very early seed round of funding for Snapchat (now known as Snap) back in 2012.

Snap just went public with an IPO, and the school sold some of their shares for a whopping $24 million.

They only sold two-thirds of their shares, saving one-third in hopes that the share price will continue to rise.

The school president said the money would be used to carry out their strategic plan, which includes expanding financial aid and growing their science and technology programs.

So why was the school investing in Snapchat in the first place? The school has a special growth fund that they’ve used to make investments since the 1990s as a way of generating additional income. In 2012, a father of two girls at the school who ran a venture capital firm recommended the school make the investment in the fledgling start-up.


This article originally appeared on Not for redistribution.

This fleet of food trucks serves up respect for Austin's homeless

Tue, 03/07/2017 - 04:50

Austin, Texas, Mar 7, 2017 / 02:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Austin, Texas, like any hipster city worth its organic, non-GMO salt, is known for its food trucks.

There are about 1,000 food trucks that roam the streets of the Texas capital, offering barbecue, breakfast tacos, and gourmet grilled cheese to the masses of Pabst Blue Ribbon-swilling millennials who have recently flocked to the city.

But among them, and before them, there was Alan Graham and Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

Mobile Loaves and Fishes is a Christian non-profit founded by Graham and five other men that delivers about 1,200 meals and essentials from 12 food trucks to homeless people on the streets of Austin every night.

The ministry also recently started a village called Community First!, a place where the formerly homeless, volunteers and those desiring a simpler life live together in a village of tiny homes and recreational vehicles in what Graham calls “an RV park on steroids.”

In his newly released book Welcome Homeless, Graham recalls the story and the people behind his ministries, in his raw, straight-shooting, and often humorous voice.    

In October 1996, Graham, a convert to Catholicism, had gone tentatively on a men’s retreat. At first, he was counting down the hours until the “hugs and hand-holding” were over. The retreat was too emotional for his then-very intellectual faith.

But by the end, he experienced a profound change of heart and adopted a philosophy of “just say yes.”

Several yesses and a couple of years later, Graham and his wife, Tricia, found themselves having coffee with a friend who was telling them about an initiative in Corpus Christi, Texas, where multiple churches would pool their resources to provide food for the homeless on cold winter nights.

An entrepreneur at heart, Graham immediately envisioned a catering truck that could deliver meals to the homeless (this was before the food truck boom; at the time ,Graham called them “roach coaches”).

“I woke up the next morning knowing we could franchise it, and bring it to every church, every city, and every state to feed the homeless,” he recalls in his book. “This is how entrepreneurs think: one truck becomes a thousand.”

Through his church group, he recruited six more men to join him and invest in a food truck for the homeless (they started calling themselves “The Six Pack”). One of these men turned out to be an especially key player: Houston Flake.  

Socks and popsicles

Houston, who met Graham through the men’s group at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, was poorly educated and illiterate, but understood the Gospel like no one Graham had ever met.

Houston had experienced chronic homelessness throughout his life, and became a key tour guide for Graham and his crew, who were “clueless” about life on the streets as they began their ministry.

During one meeting, the group had discussed how great it would be if they could get phone cards (pre-cellphone times) to hand out to the homeless whom they would meet.

“Houston looked at us and said, ‘That is the dumbest idea on the face of the planet. They don’t need phone cards. No one wants to talk to them. They don’t want to talk to anybody. You need to put socks on that truck,’” Graham recalled.

To this day, socks are the most desired item on the trucks.

Houston also took Graham out to his “conference room” - to meet some of the homeless who were his friends. It changed Graham’s whole perspective on the population he was about to serve.

Not long after Mobile Loaves and Fishes began, Houston was diagnosed with bladder cancer and given mere weeks to live.

For his dying wish, Houston didn’t want to travel or eat a fancy steak dinner – he wanted to deliver 400 popsicles to homeless children on a hot summer day, a treat those kids rarely experienced.

“He wanted them to choose: Pink? Red? Blue? Purple? Green? He wanted to give that which they did not need but might want. He wanted to give them abundance in fruity, tasty, frozen form,” Graham wrote.  

That philosophy carried over to the food trucks. The people they serve are given options - PB&J, ham and cheese, tacos? Milk, coffee, orange juice? Oranges or apples? It’s a shift from the scarcity mentality found in soup kitchens founded in the Great Depression, to an abundance mentality that is possible in the most abundant country in the world, Graham explained. They are “the little bitty choices that people who live a life in extreme poverty don’t get to make often.”

The solution to homelessness is not just housing

Since the first truck run, the ministry quickly grew. Hungry people would chase down the food trucks as they saw them making their way through the streets of Austin.

The ministry has now expanded to the cities of San Antonio, Texas; Providence, Rhode Island; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. To date, Mobile Loaves & Fishes has served over 4 million meals, and with more than 18,000 volunteers, it is the largest prepared feeding program to the homeless and working poor in Austin.

But it didn’t stop there. A little over 5 years into the ministry, Graham envisioned an “RV park on steroids”, with the philosophy of “housing first”, which holds that the homeless need housing before they can solve any of their other problems.

However, Graham knew that mere houses were not enough. What these people need and desire, like everyone, is to be known and loved – they needed community. He envisioned a place where people lived life together, knew and cared for each other, sharing kitchens and gardens and conversation.

“It developed from this idea back in 2004, where we went out and bought a gently used RV and lifted one guy off the streets into a privately owned RV park,” he said.

Because of zoning laws and other issues, it took awhile to get the idea off the ground, but the Community First! Village project was finally able to break ground in 2014.

Today, 110 people, most of them formerly homeless, call the village home. Soon, there will be enough housing for 250 people. There are brightly colored tiny homes that would give HG-TV a run for their money, as well as recreational vehicles and “canvas-sided” homes (sturdy tents with concrete foundations).

The homes provide the basics – they are essentially bedrooms – while everything else is communal. There is a communal kitchen and garden and bonfire, and places everywhere to sit and have a conversation.


  Our @mobileloaves_genesisgardens chicken coop was definitely a top destination for everyone visiting #CommunityFirstVillage today. We loved having y'all out here, and the chickens definitely loved all the attention! ???? #divas

A post shared by Mobile Loaves & Fishes (@mobileloaves) on Apr 2, 2016 at 2:21pm PDT


“It’s all centered on Genesis 2:15,” Graham said. “Just after God created the Garden of Eden, he took the man, and centered him in the garden to cultivate and care for it. And so the foundation for our entire philosophy of the community is centered on God’s original plan for us, to be settled, to be at peace with each other, to live in community, to be cultivating with the gifts that he has given us, and to serve him by caring for each other.”

What needs to change

The solution to homelessness, Graham said, is not going to be found in new government policies or agencies, but rather in Christians and other people who choose to take care of each other.

“I believe it’s like the old African adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” Graham said. “We have to step in, the village should step in and care for its own. What we’re doing right now is abdicating that responsibility to our government, which … tries to resolve this issue transactionally, but I believe it’s a relationship issue. Our Kingdom desire is to be wanted by each other, not ‘if you buy me a house I’m going to be happy.’ That’s not where our happiness comes from.”

One of the foundational goals of the ministry is to change the stereotypes that people have about the homeless, so that they are seen as brothers and sisters rather than as other, Graham added.

He recommended that anyone who wants to help the homeless start building relationships with them –  say hello, ask their name, shake their hand, give them a sandwich or a gift card to Chick-fil-A. And then find an organization to volunteer with in your city.

“There’s a giant stereotype around the homeless, and we’re very good as Americans at stereotyping, and so the homeless population (is projected) to be drug addicts, mentally ill, criminals; they’re usually depicted as unkempt or that they don’t pay attention to hygiene, so we develop these preconceived notions that won’t even allow us to roll down our windows anymore to say ‘Hello’ or ‘God Bless,’” he said.

“Those things just aren't true,” Graham said.

“We have five major corporate goals, and goal number one is to transform the paradigm of how people view the stereotype of the homeless. When we change that paradigm, it changes our culture so as to be able to go and love on our brothers and sisters.”

That’s one of his hopes for the book, and the reason he made sure to tell the stories of so many homeless men and women who have directly touched his life.

“What we want to do is spread the kingdom message of a better way to love on our neighbors, so I’m hoping the book will go broad and deep, and people will be inspired to go out there and begin doing what it is that we’re doing, that’s what I hope.”

Because “what’s happening here in Austin, Texas is nothing short of a miracle.”

Minnesota diocese, facing abuse lawsuits, files for bankruptcy

Tue, 03/07/2017 - 02:02

Minneapolis, Minn., Mar 7, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Facing over one hundred lawsuits concerning sex abuse claims dating back to the 1950s, the Diocese of New Ulm has filed for bankruptcy and plans a reorganization.

“I have come to the conclusion that financial reorganization is the fairest way to compensate victims and survivors of sexual abuse while continuing the good work of the Church in our communities,” Bishop John LeVoir of New Ulm said March 3.

“Filing for financial reorganization is not an effort to avoid responsibility. But rather, it is the only way the diocese can assure that available assets are fairly utilized to resolve all the pending sexual abuse claims against it,” the bishop said.

“If we were to resolve the cases on a piecemeal basis, available diocesan assets could be exhausted in the first few cases, leaving nothing for the remaining claimants.”

There are a total of 101 lawsuits against the New Ulm diocese and some of its 75 parishes. The diocese, located in south-central Minnesota, serves about 60,000 Catholics.

Most of the lawsuits concern incidents that allegedly took place from the 1950s through the 1970s. The suits were filed under a Minnesota law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for cases of sexual abuse of children. The diocese said no priests accused of abuse are presently in public ministry.

Bishop LeVoir acknowledged concerns about the reorganization. He said parishes, schools and other Catholic organizations are not part of the reorganization.

The bishop described the reorganization as “a step towards the future... a future that I pray brings healing for victims and survivors as well as renewed hope for parishioners and our communities.”

He again voiced his “deepest apologies” to those sexually abused by clergy.

“It takes great courage to come forward to share your experiences. You deserve not only our compassion but also fair compensation to help you in your healing,” Bishop LeVoir said.

He added that abuse victims are in the diocese’s daily prayers.

The bishop cited “great strides” in efforts to provide safe environment for children, noting the diocese’s training for young people, volunteers and employees.

“We must remain faithful to Jesus Christ and diligent in this work, so that this tragic chapter in our Church’s history is never repeated,” he said. “Guided by our faith in the Lord, let us move forward together as a church family, never forgetting the past but always hopeful for the future.”

He prayed that God’s grace may bring “hope, healing and peace.”

The New Ulm diocese is the third in Minnesota to file for bankruptcy. Fourteen U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

Minnesota is one of four states to approve a temporary legal window to allow the filing of historic sex abuse claims.

Don't shut US doors to refugees, bishops plead

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 17:50

Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2017 / 03:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With people fleeing humanitarian crises around the world, President Donald Trump’s new executive order halting refugee admissions is wrong, Catholic bishop and aid groups maintain.

“We remain deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban. While we note the Administration's efforts to modify the Executive Order in light of various legal concerns, the revised Order still leaves many innocent lives at risk,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin stated March 6. Bishop Vasquez chairs the U.S. bishops' committee on migration.

“The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” he said.

“However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.”

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, said that “with the most refugees in the world since World War II, now is not the time for the world’s leader in refugee resettlement to back down.”

Trump issued a revised executive order on immigration and refugee admissions on Monday, revoking his old order that was blocked by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A 120-day ban on all refugee admissions remains in the revised executive order, and Trump capped the total number of refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017. In contrast, the Obama administration accepted 85,000 refugees in FY 2016, including more than 12,000 from Syria.

35,000 refugees have already been accepted this fiscal year, O’Keefe noted, which means that under the new policy very few refugees will be accepted from March through September.

“Resettling only 50,000 refugees a year, down from 110,000, does not reflect the need, our compassion, and our capacity as a nation,” Bishop Vasquez stated. “We have the ability to continue to assist the most vulnerable among us without sacrificing our values as Americans or the safety and security of our nation.”

There are several humanitarian crises around the world, O'Keefe said. The Syrian civil war, raging since 2011, has already displaced over 11 million and created almost 5 million refugees, but there are also large conflicts in Iraq, Nigeria, and Ukraine. Four famines in Africa and the Middle East are also worsening, he said.

With all this, “the U.S. needs to be increasing our humanitarian assistance and helping people where they are, as well as taking more of the most vulnerable people who are fleeing violence as refugees, and we can safely take.”

Although the order says that the 120-day ban on refugee resettlement gives the administration time to review the security of the program, the process is already secure, O’Keefe insisted.

“Refugees, though, are already subjected to extreme vetting to get here,” he said, adding that the process often takes at least two years and involves the work of 13 federal agencies.

The indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, featured in the first executive order, is not in the new one. Neither is the prioritization for refugee admissions for those of minority religions who suffer religious persecution.

O’Keefe praised the omission of both policies.

“Being a Syrian doesn’t predispose one to any of the things that our vetting system would look out for,” he said of there being no indefinite ban on Syrian refugee resettlement.

Also, religious-based persecution is already one of five criteria of vulnerability for those refugees who are being vetted for admission to the U.S., he noted, adding that some “local church leaders” have said that a special designation “wouldn’t be helpful” and “actually exposes them to greater danger.”

However, some have been pushing for a special refugee status for persecuted religious minorities, especially those in Syria.

Persecuted Christian minorities, including genocide victims, must have a “fair outcome” when looking to resettle elsewhere, Andrew Walther, vice president of communications and strategic planning at the Knights of Columbus, explained to CNA.

“As part of the review of the refugee admissions procedure, the UNHCR referral process for refugees should be closely scrutinized, and the serious inequities in the number of Syrian refugees admitted from communities targeted for genocide should be rectified,” he said. Refugees must first register with the UNHCR to be eligible for resettlement.

Yet although Christians make up only a small percentage of the Syrian population, the percentage of Christian refugees from Syria who are resettled in the U.S. is even smaller, Walther noted.

“The Obama administration policy was to prioritize these groups, but despite this they remain severely underrepresented in U.S. refugee admissions, so it’s clear that a fair outcome is even more important than a stated priority,” he said.

Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan of Antioch has warned that Christians hoping to be resettled in the U.S. or Canada have never even had the chance.

“I personally heard on several occasions  from  many of our Christian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, that their applications for refugee visas, either to the USA or Canada,  are without any response, if not refused by the consulates of the USA and Canada,” he stated.

Elsewhere in the executive order, a ban on entry by most foreign nationals into the U.S. from six countries is still in effect. The countries are Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, while Iraq, which was formerly on the list, is now omitted.

Exceptions to the visa ban include refugees already admitted to the U.S., lawful permanent residents, those who received visas before 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 27 – the date of the original executive order – and those travelling on diplomatic visas.

Yemen and Somalia have “developing famines” and their own conflicts, so “it strikes us as cruel, actually, to restrict the number of people who can come,” O’Keefe said.

Catholic Charities, USA, whose affiliates partner with the government to help resettle refugees in the U.S., spoke out strongly against the temporary refugee ban.

“At the heart of the work of Catholic Charities is the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable among us,” Sister Donna Markham O.P., president of Catholic Charities, USA, stated on Monday.

“Today’s executive order not only hinders that work, but also effectively abandons, for four months, the thousands of endangered refugees fleeing violence, starvation and persecution,” she said.

The group “is leading an ambitious $8 million campaign to support the work of local Catholic Charities agencies in caring for refugees.”

Thousands pray for 13-year-old struck by falling tree in California

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 17:39

Orange, Calif., Mar 6, 2017 / 03:39 pm (National Catholic Register).- On Friday, Feb. 17, a rainstorm was raging in Orange County, California. During a lull in the storm, at around 5:00 p.m., Teresa Johnston left to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog.

“She was always like that—making or doing things for our neighbors. She would pick flowers from one neighbor’s garden, and she would give them to another neighbor who was sad, had a trauma, or was sick. That’s why they called Teresa the ‘neighborhood’s sunshine,’” said Teresa’s father, Dr. Roch Johnston, D.C.

When Teresa failed to return home around an hour later, her parents, Roch and Vera, became worried. “She was always like clockwork: leave our house, go to the neighbors, walk the dog for 30 minutes, and be back 40 minutes after she left our house,” says Roch.

After calling the owner of the dog that she was supposed to have been walking, the Johnstons learned that their daughter had never arrived to get the dog. “That’s when our radars went up. Our first concern was that she had been abducted,” he says.

Frantically, the Johnstons searched their neighborhood for Teresa. “One of my sons and I ran through all of the different paths and trails where she walks, and we climbed over the very tree that struck her,” says the father of seven.

Transported to the Hospital

What the Johnstons hadn’t known was that their daughter was already at the hospital. Teresa had walked only a few minutes away from their home when the 60-foot tree struck her.  According to a Los Angeles Times article, a neighbor, who had heard the tree fall, came to Teresa’s rescue. While waiting in the rain for emergency response to arrive, the neighbor covered the unconscious girl with a blanket and held an umbrella over her. Firefighters removed Teresa from the scene without having to dig her out or to move any tree branches. Teresa was being transported to the hospital before her family even had an inkling that anything was wrong.

Unsettling Diagnosis

During their hunt for Teresa, Roch flagged down a policeman, who quickly verified that Teresa had been found, but he didn’t tell the Johnstons about the condition of their daughter. “We saw her in the emergency room just before they transferred her to CCU,” he recalls. “I felt faint when I saw her, and when they read the diagnosis, I almost passed out.”

The Johnstons learned that Teresa suffered multiple cranial facial fractures. On their YouCaring page, Misha Johnston, Teresa’s older sister, writes, “The base of her ocular orbit is fractured with possible damage to the optic nerve. There are fractures of her maxillary bone, her zygomatic arch, her mandible, her hard pallet, her clavicle, and possible compressions of her T6, T7, and T8. Also, there is intracranial bleeding in her right frontal lobe and right occipital lobe.”

The outlook looked bleak for Teresa, and she appeared to be declining because of swelling on her brain. The Monday after the accident, doctors took Teresa off the medical coma drugs, so she could undergo a five-hour surgery, which involved removing part of her skull to alleviate intracranial pressure due to excess blood. During the operation, doctors feared that she might have had a stroke—if this was the case, then it was likely that Teresa would never wake up from her deep comatose state.

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

Most of us have stories proving how God has protected us in our moment of need, so it can be easy to think that prayer will keep us immune from accidents and tragedies. Fr. Alan Benander, O. Praem, Dean of St. Michael’s Prep in Silverado, California, has kept many vigil hours at Teresa’s bedside. Her parents are Third Order Norbertines, so they are particularly close to Norbertine community of St. Michael’s. He told NCR, “Prayer does not make us immune from accidents and tragedies simply because sometimes it is not part of the Will of God that we avoid a given evil. God allows such evils to occur to us in order to bring about a greater good (e.g., the salvation of more souls).”

Fr. Benander continues, “Thus, for example, Our Lord Himself […] asked that the 'chalice of suffering' be removed from Him (though adding, importantly, 'not my will, but Thine be done'). However, this chalice was not removed simply because that was not part of the Divine Will; the Divine Will allowed Christ to suffer in order that a greater good might be obtained, namely, the eventual glorification of Christ, in his Sacred Humanity, in the Resurrection and Ascension, and the redemption of the entire human race.”

Tragedy Becomes Catalyst for Conversions

Within hours after Teresa’s injury, thousands of people all over the of the world—including in Australia, Norway, France, England, Scotland, Czech Republic, Israel, Jordan and Brazil—began praying for the young girl, who is known for her smile and generosity. As messages started pouring in, the Johnstons learned that their daughter’s accident has been the catalyst for conversions. “I have family members who were away from the church for years and have gone to confession. One of my daughter’s teachers sent me a letter saying she had stopped praying because she felt separated from God. Now she’s back praying on her knees for Teresa.”

He continues, “Another lady told us that she got on her knees immediately and started praying for our daughter. She thought of another friend that has cancer and then another friend. Teresa’s accident is causing people to pray for others not just our daughter.”

The consistent presence of the Norbertine Fathers at the hospital has also impacted strangers. “Not only has Teresa been able to receive the graces of priestly blessings and the Sacraments, but, also, other persons, both Catholic and non-Catholic (i.e., other patients, visitors, even hospital staff and media), have had opportunity to receive the Sacraments, blessings, and prayers from us priests, and simply an opportunity to talk to a priest about God and the Catholic Faith,” Fr. Benander explains.

Because the Norbertine priests were there visiting Teresa, they had the opportunity to administer the last Sacraments to dying people in the hospital and console their families. “All these graces have been given to souls there precisely because of the situation involving Teresa,” Fr. Benander says.  

Teresa’s mother, Vera Johnston, writes on their YouCaring page, “There have been so many visible touches from above with His grace that bring us peace and consolation through this all. Our little queen is enthroned in the hospital bed, and God is using her now to shower His graces upon us all.”

Asking for the Intercession of Blessed James Kern

The family is asking that people pray for the intercession of Bl. James Kern, so that Teresa may have a complete healing. “At first, I didn’t want to leave anyone out, I wanted to pray to all of the saints for their intercession, but one of the Norbertine priests said that’s the wrong way to think about it. Whenever you pray for the intercession of any particular saint, all of the saints join in especially when this could be a miracle that could raise the canonization process,” Roch explains.

Bl. James Francis Kern (1897-1924) entered the Norbertine Order because he wanted to be a victim soul and to make reparation for a schism.

In 1916, while serving in the Army during World War I, he received a bullet wound in his lung that doctors thought would be fatal. He surprised them by living. Though he was still unwell, he went on to join the seminary of the Archdiocese of Vienna. “About this time, a sad event occurred in the Czech Republic. A group of Catholics separated themselves from Rome and founded the schismatic Czech National Church. Isidore Bogdan Zahradnik, a Norbertine canon of Strahov and a doctor of philosophy, also fell away and became a leader of the schism. […] James was deeply shocked by all this and decided to offer himself in atonement for Isidore,” according to, a Norbertine website.

In 1924, Fr. James Kern ultimately died due to his war injuries. On June 21, 1998, he was beatified by Pope John Paul. He only needs one more miracle to further his cause for canonization.

Eyes Open

As the Johnstons, and tens of thousands of other people, continue to invoke Bl. James Kern, Teresa's condition has taken a turn for the better.

As of February 27th, Teresa’s sister Misha writes, “Teresa opened her eyes today—she is waking up!  And she was moving her legs and arms around a bit (and getting annoyed at the nurse shining lights in her eyes, hitting the flashlight away with her hand)! I spoke to her a bit (telling her the whole world loves her and is praying for her), not sure if she understood any of that, but she is waking up!  Thanks be to God!”

To help pay for Teresa’s medical expenses, visit her YouCaring page. As of Feb. 28, 1,154 donors have donated more than $95,000. 


This article was originally published by the National Catholic Register.

Supreme Court sends transgender student case back to lower court

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 12:43

Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2017 / 10:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court will not hear the case of a transgender student’s demand to access public school single-sex bathrooms, instead sending it back to the lower courts for reconsideration.

Announced Monday, the decision to send the case back to a lower court was based on the Trump administration’s recent announcement that it was withdrawing the Obama-era guidance which had stated that students should have access to the facilities of their self-perceived gender identification.

“The first duty of school districts is to protect the bodily privacy rights of all of the students who attend their schools and to respect the rights of parents who understandably don’t want their children exposed in intimate changing areas like locker rooms and showers,” Kerri Kupec, legal counsel for the group Alliance Defending Freedom, stated in response to the Court’s decision.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled last April that Gavin Grimm, a transgender student in Virginia’s Gloucester County School District, must be allowed access to public school single-sex male facilities. Grimm was born a girl but currently identifies as a boy, receiving hormone therapy and a name change.

The school district board had decided to allow Gavin access to a unisex bathroom facility at school, after proposing that students in the district had to use locker room and restroom facilities according to their birth gender.  

Grimm’s lawyers rejected this policy, saying it would “make him feel even more stigmatized” and that “being required to use separate restrooms sets him apart from his peers, and serves as a daily reminder that the school views him as ‘different.’”

The case was about how transgender persons can “participate in public life” through access to public facilities, Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, stated in a Feb. 23 conference call with reporters.

Grimm asked for an injunction on the policy, but that was denied by a district court. The Fourth Circuit overruled that decision and sent it back to the lower court, which eventually ruled in Grimm’s favor. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in October to hear the case.

The Obama administration last year stated that public schools should allow transgender students access to single-sex facilities – like locker rooms and restrooms – of their current gender identity.

However, after a federal court ruled against this guidance, the administration of President Donald Trump refused to challenge that decision, and eventually withdrew the guidance. Based on this action, the Supreme Court sent Grimm’s case back to the Fourth Circuit for reconsideration.

“The Fourth Circuit Court, which will now rehear the case, should allow local schools to find solutions that benefit everyone's safety and privacy,” said Ryan Anderson, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Kupec praised the Trump administration for rejecting “the faulty directive.”

Furthermore, she added, federal Title IX law doesn’t mandate such access to single-sex facilities for transgender students, as the Fourth Circuit had previously decided. Rather, it “protects boys’ and girls’ privacy in locker rooms, showers, and restrooms.”

“School officials should be free to protect their students’ privacy, safety, and dignity without federal government interference,” she said.