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St. Katharine Drexel's tomb at Philadelphia cathedral named an archdiocesan shrine

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 05:06

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 1, 2019 / 03:06 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced that the recently constructed tomb of St. Katharine Drexel at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul has been declared an archdiocesan shrine.

“We are the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and the Archdiocese Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel,” the cathedral’s rector and pastor, Father Dennis Gill, explained. 

“The tomb [had] already taken on a level of importance in the life of our local Church being here at the cathedral,” he told CNA.

Drexel’s sacred remains were transferred to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia last year. Previously, her body was buried at the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Motherhouse and Shrine in Bensalem, Pa. That shrine closed at the end of 2017, about 18 months after the sisters announced that they intended to sell the property. The smaller number of sisters found it difficult to maintain the relatively large property.

Drexel and her family had attended Mass at the Cathedral Basilica when she was a child.

A solemn celebration for the tomb’s installation was held in November and led by Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Gill said the Cathedral quickly saw an increase of pilgrims seeking to visit and pray at the saint’s tomb. The priest then suggested the idea to the archbishop, who welcomed the decision and granted the decree on Feb. 19.

“We noticed very quickly that people where coming in larger numbers with each week to come and visit the tomb and pray,” he said.

“Once it was established that the tomb had become a place of significant pilgrimage, visitation, and prayer, that was sufficient enough to warrant the title of archdiocesan shrine.”

The site is now a shrine at the archdiocesan level, but Gill hopes it will be soon considered a national shrine. He said this title has steeper qualifications – including a program of devotion to the saint and catechesis about the saint – and must be petitioned by a bishop to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Gill said the shrine has already achieved nearly all of the requirements for designation as a national shrine. He expressed hope that a petition for this title will be submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the coming months.

The shrine is important to the community’s faith, he said, because it recognizes someone who grappled with the faith and chose Christ. He said the shrine is a light, proving to pilgrims that this Christian obedience is possible, no matter the generation.

“I think what it does is it makes available to people someone who lived the Catholic faith in a very sincere way, and [it] is an inspiration” he said. “I feel like it’s this real bright spot.”

Drexel was canonized in 2000 and is only the second saint to have been born in America. Having come from a wealthy a family in Philadelphia, she gave up her life of privilege to serve the needs of racial minorities.  

During a trip to Rome when she was 20, she was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII. There, she explained that missionary priests were needed to evangelize and serve those in need. The Pope then asked her to become a missionary herself, which solidified her own desire to join religious life.

She entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in 1889 with the idea of beginning her own congregation to specifically attend to the needs of the Native American and African American communities. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891.

More than 30 mission foundations were established and 400 sisters served across 17 states by 1940.

Drexel’s order opened 50 schools for African American children, 12 schools for Native American children, and over 140 missions for these populations.

Her order founded what would eventually become Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically black Catholic university in the United States. Today, a school named after her stands on the site of the original college.

She died in 1955 at the age of 96, and the canonization process began 11 years later.

At the tomb’s installation last year, Archbishop Charles Chaput highlighted the saintly qualities of Drexel. He said her life teaches Catholics many things, especially a dedication to compassion and charity, even at a young age.

“Katharine Drexel teaches us that holiness, which means total generosity of one’s life, is for the young and not just the old,” he said. 

“[She] is a model for young adults of our time…Would that they would follow her example of commitment to justice, would that they wanted to follow in her footsteps of holiness.”

 

Vandalism at Brooklyn parish being investigated as hate crime

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 02:15

New York City, N.Y., Mar 1, 2019 / 12:15 am (CNA).- New York police officials have declared an act of vandalism against a statue at a local Catholic church last week to be a hate crime.

The incident occurred at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“At approximately 12 p.m. noon on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt entered the Church, removed the statue of Our Lady of Cisne and threw it in the trash across the street, causing damage to the statue,” the Diocese of Brooklyn said in a statement.

A parish staff member retrieved the statue, and the police were notified.

The police department has released a surveillance video showing the vandal taking the statue. Police are still looking for the suspect. The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force is heading the investigation, the diocese said.

Our Lady of Cisne is the patroness of Loja, Ecuador. The Virgin Mary is depicted holding the baby Jesus. Many Ecuadorean immigrants in the United States have a strong devotion to Our Lady of Cisne.

Last week’s incident was the second act of vandalism at the church over the past month, the diocese said.

“The Diocese of Brooklyn strongly condemns this incident of religious hatred and is fully cooperating with the New York City Police Department’s investigation,” said parish administrator Father Willy Kingsley Ndi.

He said in a statement that the act of vandalism “has not deterred, but only strengthened, the resolve and faith of the parishioners.”

 

As LGBT push fails, Methodists reaffirm marriage, sexuality teachings

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 21:34

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 28, 2019 / 07:34 pm (CNA).- A major gathering of the United Methodist Church has reaffirmed its teaching on homosexuality, rejecting same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals, prompting predictions that some American congregations who reject this teaching will leave the denomination.

The international gathering, called a Special Session of the General Conference of the UMC, drew over 800 ministers and lay leader delegates to St. Louis Feb. 22-26.

The debate drew out different approaches to the authority of Scripture, marriage, and sexuality, but ultimately left the ecclesial community's official teaching unchanged.

Scott Jones of the Methodists’ Texas Conference said the decision resolves a longstanding debate and is consistent with the ecclesial community's teachings on human sexuality, which it has listed in its Book of Discipline since 1972.

That teaching states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination.

“We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons to our churches and affirm their sacred worth,” said Jones, according to the United Methodist News Service. “I pray we, as a denomination, can now move forward, working with each other in the spirit of Christian love and joining together as one. We are stronger together in serving God’s mission as a diverse body of Christ.”

The United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant ecclesial community in the U.S., where it has about 6 million members. Almost one-third of its membership is from Africa. Non-U.S. speakers from countries like Liberia and Russia were among the strongest backers of the successful proposal called the Traditional Plan.

“The progressive groups are loud, but they don’t have the numbers,” said Jerry Kulah, head of the UMC Africa Initiative, who said he was sorry so much time and money was spent debating homosexuality.

A pro-LGBT vote would have made the ecclesial community a “laughingstock” in Africa, he said, according to the Washington Post. “I’m happy to go back to old ladies and old men in villages who received the Bible from missionaries and let them know that the Bible hasn’t changed.”

UMC rules have officially barred same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. However, many American congregations perform same-sex ceremonies and ordain sexually active LGBT people as clergy.

The approved plan strengthened some disciplinary action against ministers who reject it. A minister who attempts to perform a same-sex wedding faces a minimum one-year suspension without pay for the first offense, and permanent removal for the second offense.

The plan now goes to the ecclesial community's top court, the Judicial Council, to address constitutional issues. The delegates also adopted a minority report on how congregations may disaffiliate from the community.

A different proposal, the One Church Plan, was recommended by the denomination’s Council of Bishops. That plan would have allowed local congregations, conferences and clergy to make their own decisions about whether to conduct same-sex marriages and ordain LGBT pastors.

This plan was rejected with opposition from 53 percent of delegates, after failing a previous day’s committee vote.

An alternative “Simple Plan” would have removed all teaching regarding sexual relations limited to husband and wife. This would have removed teachings against premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual behavior. About 60 percent of delegates rejected this plan.

Some foes of the Traditional Plan attempted various delaying tactics, including amendments stating that according to the Bible any candidate for pastor or bishop who is divorced or remarried is as ineligible as a practicing homosexual.

One critic, Rev. Dr. Mark Holland, executive director of the group Mainstream UMC, lamented the decision, saying “No way around it, this hurts. My heart breaks for all the LGBTQ persons in our connection.”

In a statement on his group’s website, Holland said the plan’s felt like the ecclesial community had “shattered” and “spilled.” He contended that the general conference is a “charade” that is “completely controlled by a well-funded, well-staffed, U.S. based advocacy group.”

“Our church was hijacked from the inside out,” he said, charging that the Traditional Plan was “gutted” and its unconstitutional parts were not fixed. Describing the exit plan as “fatally flawed and unconstitutional,” predicting it would be “dead on arrival” at the judicial council in April.

“They have a symbolic victory only. We are essentially at status quo,” he said.

John Lomperis, United Methodist Director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, backed the Traditional Plan. Writing at the blog Juicy Ecumenism, he said the conference showed “the very deep divides in our denomination.”

“There was plenty of loud, angry protesting. So much hurt all around. It was a rather stressful day,” he said.

In his view, the failure of the One Church Plan was a “dramatic rebuke” of the leadership efforts of the UMC leaders and if it could not be passed at this general conference it is difficult to see how it could pass in the future, when American delegate numbers will likely decrease and overseas delegates increase.  

The Reconciling Ministries Network called the passage of the Traditional Plan “deeply unjust and painful.” It attributed its passage to “the efforts of organized opponents to gospel inclusion who have funded and promoted the demise of Christian witness across denominations who have dared to call out a white nationalist strain of Christianity.”

“For decades, they sought the decline of biblical justice-rooted Christian traditions and have built the infrastructure and narrative that has now risen to power in The United Methodist Church.”

The network said the 1972 teaching is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and has been “so harmful to so many lives.” It said harm is done when “LGBTIQA+ lives” are not affirmed.”

The network dates back to 1982, when its founders sought to encourage congregations to affirm gays and lesbians. It claims 900 “Reconciling Communities” and over 35,000 members.

The future of some American Methodist schools of higher education is also in doubt. Jan Love, a dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, said Feb. 26 she and the other heads of the 13 official United Methodist theological schools believe “unequivocally” that the Traditional Plan threatened the future of the UMC in the U.S.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a group within the UMC, backed the successful Traditional Plan but still might leave, association head Keith Boyette told The Atlantic.

LGBT advocacy within Christian denominations and Churches has external support. The Arcus Foundation has long backed LGBT advocates within Christian denominations and Churches.

A $150,000 grant to Church Properties Reimagined, Inc. in 2018 backed the Inclusive Coalition’s Project advocacy to “influence pro-LGBT Church policy,” while a 2017 grant of $30,000 aimed “to bring together moderate and progressive church leaders to develop shared strategies on LGBT issues” ahead of the 2019 special session of the general conference.

The foundation’s Spring 2018 grant announcement said the group’s grant aimed to deepen support for LGBT inclusion as an official UMC policy. The group has “recruited a group of well-connected individuals to provide leadership to the project.”

Since 2011 the Arcus Foundation has given $1.9 million in various grants to the group Reconciling Ministries Network for LGBT advocacy within the UMC.

Specifically, a 2017 grant of $220,000 backed “work to win over religious leaders in the Southern United States, Liberia, and Cote D’Ivoire, three crucial conservative strongholds within United Methodism.” A 2014 grant backed “clergy who engage in acts of ecclesial disobedience in the name of LGBTQ justice and work with coalitions for policy change” within the UMC.

The Arcus Foundation also funds dissenting Catholic groups like Catholics for Choice, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition. Some of this work has targeted Catholic Church synods.

CNA contacted the Arcus Foundation, Reconciling Ministries Network, and Church Properties Reimagined but did not receive a response by deadline.

Omaha, Lincoln dioceses push back on subpoenas for child sex abuse records

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 19:07

Omaha, Neb., Feb 28, 2019 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln intend to ask a Nebraska court to suspend subpoenas compelling the Catholic institutions of the state to provide all records related to child sex abuse, CNA learned on Thursday.

The state attorney general's office issued subpoenas Feb. 26 to more than 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

Last year, the office had requested that the state's three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses have indicated their cooperation with that request.

An official of the Omaha archdiocese told CNA Feb. 28 that that archdiocese, along with the Lincoln diocese, are preparing to apply for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope.

The attorney's general office announced Tuesday that “The Nebraska Department of Justice has appreciated the voluntary cooperation demonstrated by the churches. However, the Department believes that subpoenas are necessary in order to ensure all reports of impropriety have been submitted to the appropriate authorities.”

“It is our goal that all reports of abuse are subject to complete law enforcement review and investigation as warranted.”

The subpoenas, issued to institutions such as parishes and schools, as well as the dioceses, “request all records or information related to any child sexual assault or abuse that has occurred by those employed or associated with each church or institution, whether previously reported or not.”

Each of the state's dioceses have indicated their cooperation with a request made by the attorney general in September 2018 voluntarily to provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct since 1978.

The Archdiocese of Omaha announced Nov. 30 that it had submitted to the attorney general “documents pertaining to church personnel accused of criminal sexual misconduct since 1978.” The documents included information on alleged abuse or misconduct with minors that dated back as far was 1956, but was not reported to the archdiocese until 1978.

In the Omaha archdiocese, documentation regarded 38 clerics with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of or misconduct with minors since 1978. Of these, four were deacons, and 34 had offended before 2002. Information about the offenders was also made public, and the release noted that seven deceased priests were accused, but the claims could not be substantiated, and five former seminarians were dismissed for substantiated claims of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The Diocese of Lincoln stated Feb. 26 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.”

It added that it was reviewing the subpoena it had received.

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island said Feb. 26 that his diocese had received the subpoenas, noting that they are “a commonly used legal tool to define the parameters of the inquiry.”

“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,” Bishop Hanefeldt continued. “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 Diocese of Grand Island had also noted in November that it was completing a review of clergy files regarding sexual abuse of minors.

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.

Sex abuse in the Church has been a matter of national attention since last summer.

In mid-August the Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report following an 18-month investigation into the files of six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses. The report included allegations against 300 priests of abusing over 1,000 victims over a 70-year period.

And in June, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. He was laicized in January after being convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on charges of sexual abuse of minors and adults and solicitation in the confessional.

 

 

J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest.

Bishop Olmsted finds roots of abuse scandal in poor priestly formation

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 19:01

Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 28, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- In face of the sex abuse scandals in the Church, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix issued a column this month asking the question: “What went wrong in priestly formation?”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted highlighted in his Feb. 17 column at The Catholic Sun three factors that contributed to the clerical sexual abuse scandal: the sexual revolution, weak seminaries, and clericalism.

He said the sexual revolution, which in the 1960s challenged the ethics of sexual behaviors in the West, had sought to promote a false idea of “free love.” With the surge of an overly sexualized culture, he said, the movement created long-lasting problems.  

“This revolution promised ‘free love,’ happiness and liberation from purported encumbrances of religion and tradition, particularly the Commandments,” he said.

“Sadly, the over-focus on sexual pleasure, the reducing and labeling of persons to their attractions (LGBTQ, etc.) and the viewing of persons as objects for pleasure have led to unprecedented numbers of infidelity, divorce, loneliness and abuse in the greater culture.”

He said the crisis was worsened by inadequate responses from the Church, citing silence and “harsh moralizing.” This only strangled the message of God’s love and distorted a full understanding of the human person, he said.

However, the bishop said there were also appropriate responses, including St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. He said this answer promoted a greater comprehension of true love alongside responsibility.

“Related to the general confusion about human love caused by the sexual revolution, we also suffered from an insufficient understanding of priestly celibacy,” Bishop Olmsted noted, adding that Pope Francis has affirmed the value of celibacy for the priesthood.

“Indeed, in a world that believes that sexual pleasures must have free reign, even at the cost of innocent unborn children, there is need for those men and women who proclaim by their lives that ultimate love and fulfillment come from God and that self-mastery is certainly possible with God’s grace. Chaste celibacy, received as a gift of God and formed through spiritual and human direction, is a needed response to a false idea of 'free love.'”

Amid the confusion caused by the sexual revolution “Church leaders faild to adequately screen applicants” to seminary, he said. “It was often assumed that the human and the spiritual qualities of the man were present and sufficient. This was a poor assumption, and it led to too little consideration of a man’s human virtues and of his relationship with Jesus Christ. As a result, some candidates unfit for ministry were accepted.”

Dissent from orthodoxy was present in many seminaries in the 1970s and '80s, he said, especially regarding sexual ethics.

“For example, the masculine spousal dimension in which a priest is called to love as Christ loved His Bride the Church (Cf. Eph 5) was not taught much at all. As a result, the priesthood was too frequently seen, not as a life of masculine love, but merely pertaining to certain ministerial functions. It was erroneously thought among some that the nature of the priesthood itself would change.”

Bishop Olmsted added that “some seminaries became places with not only men who lacked a true calling from Jesus to the priesthood but even where a homosexual subculture sprang up.”

“It is difficult to deny this problem considering the high percentage of abuse cases that occurred between men and post-pubescent boys.”

“On several occasions, our Holy Father has stated that clericalism played a part in the current scandals as priests and bishops sought to cover up abuses,” the bishop noted. He added that “disproportionate esteem for priests by the faithful, at times, was (and still can be) problematic.”

He said the priest, like any man, is a sinner in need of redemption, but the state is one of service.

“One should enter the priesthood through a calling from Jesus to share in His mission. That mission is to proclaim Christ Crucified and Risen from the dead,” he recalled.

“Especially in this country, Church leaders have been slow to embrace this mission and settled for simply maintaining her membership rather than boldly evangelizing the culture.”

The bishop noted that “instead of being Catholic out of conviction and a deep relationship with Jesus, the faith has become for too many something merely cultural,” and he recalled Archbishop José Gomez' statement that Christ “did not come to suffer and die so that He could make ‘cultural Catholics'”.

“Cultural Catholicism”, Bishop Olmsted said, “lacks true conviction to follow Jesus when His teachings differ from ways of the culture.”

He said that many of the concerns in priestly formation “are now being addressed well,” and recalled that St. John Paul II was “convinced that the answer to these scandals is great fidelity.”

“Like other times of storms in the Church, Jesus continues to renew His Mystical Body through holiness,” Bishop Olmsted concluded. “You and I are called to be saints.”

Missouri lawmakers closer to passing expansive pro-life bill

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 17:09

Jefferson City, Mo., Feb 28, 2019 / 03:09 pm (CNA).- The Missouri House of Representatives voted 117-39 Wednesday to send the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act to the Senate.

The bill approved by the House Feb. 27 would ban most abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.

State Representative Nick Schroer, the bill's sponsor, told CNA in an interview that his bill started out as a simple "Heartbeat Bill" that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. He said courts have thrown out similar bills in the past in other states, including last month in Iowa. Still, he expressed confidence about this bill’s chances.

"The climate has changed to encourage bills like this to be refiled," Schroer said. "And we've seen that throughout the nation, with strong pro-life bills being filed."

For this reason, Schroer, a Catholic and an attorney by trade, said he worked with fellow lawyers to craft the bill so that it would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

"We looked at a bunch of case law and worked with attorneys on this," Schroer said.

"What we tried to do is craft legislation which, number one, would save as many lives as possible; number two, continue to help promote the betterment of the health, the well-being of the mother and everyone involved; but number three, if this were to go into the courts, which we are fairly confident that [Democrats] are drafting their petition right now, we wanted something that is going to withstand judicial scrutiny and be upheld in our courts."

State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman's amendment to the bill modified it to include either heartbeat or brain function, roughly at the eight-week period, which would prevent abortions if either can be detected in the fetus. Schroer said if for some reason the district court throws out that provision, then the bill would still include a 14 week ban. He said roughly two-thirds of abortions in Missouri take place before 10 weeks.

If the court were to throw out the 14 week ban, then the bill would still be able to prevent abortions at 18 weeks, Schroer said, because at that stage a doctor must certify that the baby has not reached the stage where they can feel pain. If that provision is then thrown out, then abortions would still be banned at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Other provisions included in the bill would change the law on parental notification to require that both parents be notified about a minor seeking an abortion. In addition, another provision would prohibit certain "selective" abortions relating to a diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or even the race or sex of a baby.

"For me as a Catholic, for me being pro-life, this is common sense to me," Schroer said.

In terms of the bill's next steps, Schroer says he is confident about its chances in the state Senate. The Democratic minority has the power to filibuster the bill, he said, which they are likely to do, but the Republican supermajority could invoke the so-called "nuclear option" to counter a filibuster.

"I think [the nuclear option] should be administered when we have lifesaving measures on the table like this," Schroer said.

He said he has seen some support among Missouri lawmakers for abortion legislation, similar to what has been passed or proposed in New York and Virginia, radically to expand access to abortion.

"The majority of people in Missouri have made their voice heard loud and clear when it comes to pro-life issues by electing these pro-life legislators that I serve with," Schroer said.

"For those that aren't pro-life or have no opinion...life is the most important aspect of what we do down here in Jefferson City. Everything we do impacts life in some way. shape, or form. For this bill, which protects life at the very early stages, I think that should be important to anyone."

Rep. Steve Butz, a Democrat from St. Louis, was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying that the bill would not eliminate abortion in Missouri because women could simply cross the border into Illinois. Planned Parenthood of Illinois recently said they have no plans to drop any of its services in the state, after the Trump administration implemented a new rule to place restrictions on the use of Title X funds.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that since peaking at more than 20,000 per year in the 1980s, in 2017 the annual number of abortions in Missouri had dropped to fewer than 7,000. Missouri is down to one abortion provider in the state, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia is still blocked from performing abortions, with a U.S. District judge last week refusing to allow abortions to resume at that clinic. Abortions ended there during October 2018 after the facility failed to adhere to state rules, and its state license to perform abortions expired Oct. 3.

Missouri passed regulations in 2017 which granted the state attorney general more power to prosecute violations, and required stricter health codes and proper fetal tissue disposal. The new rules also required that doctors have surgical and admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. The local hospital in Columbia has since 2015 refused to grant admitting privileges to Planned Parenthood.

The effort to restrict the practice of abortion in largely Republican-led Missouri come amid pushes in other states, such as New York and Vermont, to pass laws expanding abortion access, amid prospects that the Supreme Court may soon overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.

Circuit Court nominee passed by Senate Judiciary Committee

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Feb 28, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Neomi Rao was given and affirmative vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. She is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Dictrict of Columbia.

 

Rao cleared the committee on a party-line vote of 12 to 10. Her nomination will now head to the full Senate.

 

Earlier in the week, Rao’s nomination seemed to face an uncertain future as questions about her suitability arose on both sides of the aisle and it was not clear if she could garner enough support from committee members.

 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), a freshman senator from Missouri, raised concerns about Roa’s judicial philosophy, particularly her views on judicial activism and substantive due process. But on Thursday morning, Hawley issued a statement saying he had met one-on-one with Rao on Wednesday, and said that he was no longer opposed to her advancing to the full Senate.

 

“In our discussion, Ms. Rao said she would interpret the Constitution according to its text, structure and history, not according to changing social and political understandings,” said Hawley.

 

“She said the text of the Constitution is fixed and the meaning must follow that fixed text,” he added, and that “she rejected the idea of ‘common law constitutionalism.’”

 

Hawley also said he was pleased that Rao told him she did not think there was textual support for substantive due process in the Constitution.

 

Concerns about Rao's commitment to an originalist approach to the Consitution also reflected anxieties of pro-life campaigners who had concerns she may be philosophically sympathetic to a consitutional right to abortion, rather than merely committed to defering to it as established precedent.

 

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) was also concerned with Rao, particularly her college newspaper op-eds concerning sexual assault and women. In some of the writing’s Rao made observations about the context in which assaults could take place which some observers said came close to victim-blaming.

 

Ernst, herself a survivor of sexual assault, said that she found the writings to be “abhorrent,” but also said she had since been satisfied about Rao’s suitability and agreed to vote her through to a final confirmation vote in the Senate.

 

During Rao’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is now running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, quizzed her about her views on morality, gay marriage, and sin.

 

Booker asked Rao to comment about whether she believed marriage only could exist between a man and a woman, or if two she thought men in a sexual relationship was immoral. Rao declined insisted that it was not her place asa  judicial candidate or judge to opinion on the nature of sin, and said she would follow precedent if she were confirmed to the bench.

 

Currently, Rao is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and has taught law at George Mason University. She previously served in the White House counsel’s office under president George H.W. Bush and as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

The final confirmation vote is expected in March.

Illinois Planned Parenthood announces new program to replace Title X funds

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 15:30

Chicago, Ill., Feb 28, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Ahead of a loss in federal funding, Planned Parenthood of Illinois have said they have no plans to drop any of its services in the state. The funding loss is expected to follow the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule, which places new restrictions on the use of Title X funds.

The Protect Life Rule was finalized on Feb. 22 and will come into effect in April. The policy forbids Title X family planning funds to be channeled to clinics that perform abortions, prohibits fund recipients from referring patients for abortions, and barrs funded programs from co-locating with abortion clinics.

The rule has been severely criticized by abortion providers and advocates, who have called it a “gag rule.”

Nine Democratic governors, including Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, co-signed a letter addressed to the Department of Health and Human Services demanding that the rule be rescinded. The letter also threatened legal action if the rule remained in place.

Pro-life advocates have welcomed the new measure. Marjorie Dannefelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the move, saying that it was targeted at abortion provision alone and would not reduce other family planning services by “a single dime.”

“The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, which violently ends the lives of more than 332,000 unborn babies a year and receives almost $60 million a year in Title X taxpayer dollars,” she said in a statement.

Under the current arrangement, family planning centers that received Title X funds can co-locate with an abortion clinic, and fund recipients were required to offer the option of referral for an abortion.

Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide currently receive about $60 million in federal funds annually from this program, more than 10 percent of the half-billion dollars in total federal funding it receives per year.

Over the last six months, Planned Parenthood of Illinois received about $2.5 million in Title X funds--about 40 percent of the total Title X funds distributed in the state--despite operating only 17 of the more than 70 clinics that received funds. In 2017, about 112,000 people in Illinois acquired birth control through Title X.

“We will not violate our own medical ethics, and because of what the gag rule does, which blocks patients from getting accurate information about their care, we won’t accept the money,” Julie Lynn, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

Lynn make it clear that Planned Parenthood of Illinois would adjust to ensure that their patients were still able to receive contraception, and forgo Title X funds.

Six days after the Protect Life Rule was finalized, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced a new initiative, dubbed “Access Birth Control” (ABC), that would distribute contraception pills or devices, including IUDs, condoms, and Depo-Provera shots, free of charge to eligible persons.

It was not immediately clear as to how the new initiative is to be funded.

On its website, Planned Parenthood of Illinois said that the program will run through January of 2021, the end of President Donald Trump’s first presidential term, in apparent expectation of a victory for an opposition candidate more favorable to abortion.

In addition to the nine state governors, the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights have also indicated that they plan to sue the administration over the new rule.

The current policies were put in place during the Clinton administration in 1992, but the Supreme Court had previously upheld similar Title X rules in 1991.

Naumann praises federal rule that will strip $60m from Planned Parenthood

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference pro-life committee praised Wednesday a new federal rule that will prohibit abortion clinics from receiving federal funding aimed at subsidizing some medical services for low-income women and families. The rule is expected to strip Planned Parenthood of about $60 million in federal funds.

“I applaud the Trump Administration for reaffirming that abortion is not family planning. Abortion ends the lives of families’ most vulnerable members, as well as damaging the spiritual, mental and physical health of mothers,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann in a Feb. 27 statement.

“Although the USCCB continues to have strong objections to government promotion and funding of contraceptives, we have long supported enforcement of the abortion funding restrictions in Title X, and we are pleased to see that the Administration has taken seriously its obligation to enforce those restrictions.” The “Protect Life Rule,” amending rules for federal Title X funds, was announced in a  Feb. 22 press release from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations. While the program has not directly funded abortion, critics have complained that abortion providers who received Title X funding did not adequately distinguish between  

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.  

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

“We are also grateful that this rule eliminates the requirement that doctors in Title X clinics refer and counsel for abortion, which previously ensured that all Title X clinics and staff had a close connection with abortion,” Naumann said.

Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City, was elected to chair the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee in November 2017.

 

Texas archbishop: The border 'emergency' is not what you think

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 19:34

El Paso, Texas, Feb 27, 2019 / 05:34 pm (CNA).- The reputed migration emergency is ultimately not about people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, but about caring for the disadvantaged and the difficulties migrants and asylum seekers face in their efforts to reach safety, Archbishop Gustavo-Siller of San Antonio has said.

The archbishop, speaking at a Feb. 27 press conference in El Paso, cited claims that the U.S. is in a national emergency due to border crossings from undocumented immigrants.

“Well, we were at the border yesterday,” he said. “The emergency is not here.”

“The emergency is what people are going through to try to come here to have peace, to have understanding, to have respect and to have a genuine welcome,” said the archbishop. “All the rhetoric that has been building up about how bad the other people are, has built up to this ‘national emergency’, which is a lie.”

While not mentioning President Donald Trump, the archbishop spoke weeks after the president declared a national emergency as part of his efforts to secure funding for a southern border fence. He said there is a “border security and humanitarian crisis” there, claiming that the border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illegal drugs.

The Trump administration has strengthened U.S. deportation efforts and worked to prevent people from claiming asylum from entering the country, citing the low rate of successful asylum claims. The administration’s efforts have faced judicial obstacles.

About 70,000 people a year claim asylum after crossing the border without documentation. There are about 1.1 million asylum cases pending in immigration courts, and about 20 percent of applications for asylum are approved, the Associated Press has reported.

For Archbishop Gustavo-Siller, leaders need to unmask the situation at the border and present the truth the way they see it. He rejected the use of the rhetoric of a national emergency to keep people out, emphasizing that people can request political asylum as an international right.

In his experience, the U.S. side of the border does not suffer from an emergency. Rather, there is “loving care” and people who come forward, well organized to meet the needs of border crossers.

When 200 people recently entered the U.S. in search of need, he said, people were ready to serve them.

“The emergency is how we are going to take care of those who are discriminated against, and those who are disadvantaged,” said the archbishop.

The group of bishops known as the Tex-Mex Bishops Conference come from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. They have regularly met for 25 years. Migration was a significant focus at the latest gathering in El Paso. Besides their regular meeting, they met in a partnership with the Hope Border Institute, immigration advocates, other advocacy groups, and other faith leaders.

As of Wednesday, they had almost finished a document intended to show solidarity with migrants.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso said every bishop from both sides of the border had attended parts of the latest meeting. He also explained the unique life of the Church and of the community on the border.

“Every border community, contrary to some expectations, is a community that extends across the border, and it goes both ways,” he said. “In fact, the very lifeblood of our communities is our connection with our neighbors, with our family across the border.

Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute, said the Tex-Mex bishops’ gatherings over the decades shows their longstanding commitment “to our border communities, and those who live in them and those who travel through them: asylum seekers and migrants.”

The current gathering differed from others because of the additional actions with faith leaders of different traditions.

“Everyone is concerned about what is going on right now. Right now is a dramatic moment for our country,” Corbett said. Leaders of faith are “here to say we stand in solidarity with the migrants.”

Corbett cited the recent deaths of two Guatemalan migrant children in the custody of U.S. officials.

“We’re here to say ‘no more.’ Migrants deserve much better and our border communities deserve much better,” he said. “We say no to the construction of the wall, we say no to the symbol of hate and division that it is. We say no to the ‘turnbacks’, the illegal stopping of asylum seekers at ports of entry.”

Such a policy if implemented would be a “disaster,” resulting in “refugee camps on the other side of the border.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville stressed the need to speak with, listen to, and see with open eyes “the experience of the immigrant.” These are “people the world often does not have time to talk to.”

“We create policies without talking to people who are affected by them,” he said.

“It’s so important for us as pastors to be in contact with the very concrete experiences of families,” he continued. “It is the work of the church to be hospitable,” he continued.

Caring for these migrants also has a spiritual aspect, Bishop Flores said.

“Pope Francis insists to us that we must attend also to the spiritual need of the poor,” he said, adding that the worst form of discrimination is “not to announce the good news to the poor.” This is part of evangelizing, and the start of evangelizing is “the act of human contact and respect.”

The bishops also gathered with advocacy groups and the Catholic faithful for interreligious prayer and witness and a show of solidarity on the U.S.-Mexico border at the Anapra Fence the afternoon of Feb. 26.

Participants in the week’s events included Bishop Jose Guadalupe Torres Campos of Juarez, the Mexican bishops’ national representative on migration programs; Father Robert Stark, a regional coordinator of the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section; staff representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and leaders with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Charities.

Supreme Court hears arguments in ‘Peace Cross’ case

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association, which will determine whether a cross-shaped monument honoring those killed in WWI is a violation of the First Amendment.

 

The Bladensburg Peace Cross is a 40-foot stone cross erected in 1925 in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has performed regular maintenance around the monument since 1961, as it is located on a median in the middle of a public road. This, the American Humanist Association has argued, is entangling government unnecessarily with religion.

 

Atheist and secular campaigners have contend that because of the cruciform shape of the monument, its display and maintenance on public land constitutes a public affirmation of religion.

 

Under questioning by the justices, the Supreme Court heard Wednesday that there was a legitimate, historical context to the monument, and that the cross shape was commonly used at the time to honor those killed in wars.

 

A lawyer representing the park commission pointed out that the court had previously ruled that in certain cases religious symbols may be appropriate to for public display, depending on context.

 

Members of the court appeared to acknowledge that attitudes have changed since the Bladensburg Peace Cross was first erected.

 

“History counts,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, who suggested that while a similar monument would not be appropriate in the modern context, that did not mean that all past monuments should be taken down.

 

Justice Elena Kagan agreed that for many people, a cross is a “very natural way” for people to mourn those who have died, and that it carries a different meaning in the context of World War I.

 

There are numerous other cross-shaped monuments on public land, including at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

The American Humanist Association and a small number of Prince George’s County residents filed suit against the park and planning commission and the American Legion in 2014, and argued that a cross-shaped monument on public land was a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

 

The two cases were consolidated into one when the Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear the case.

 

The lawsuit was originally brought in 2014 and rejected by the District Court, which held that it was “uncontroverted” that the maintenance and display of the memorial was not “driven by a religious purpose whatsoever.”

 

In 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the monument was unconstitutional. In November of 2018, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

 

The monument’s construction was funded by mothers of the dead servicemen as well as the American Legion. The cross contains a plaque bearing the names of 49 Prince George’s County men who were killed in the war.

 

The American Legion’s logo is featured prominently on the cross, along with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “devotion” and “wisdom.”

 

Aside from the shape, there are no explicit references to any Judeo-Christian religion, such as Bible verses or other inscriptions, on the monument.

 

The American Legion hosts secular and patriotic events around the monument, but religious ceremonies have not been held at the peace cross in nearly nine decades.

 

A decision in the case is expected by June.

Virginia bishops speak out over 'appalling' Senate abortion vote

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 14:00

Richmond, Va., Feb 27, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Virginia’s two bishops issued a joint statement saying they were “dismayed and outraged” that the state’s two senators voted against passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act on Monday evening.

 

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond said in the statement issued February 25 that is was “appalling” and “beyond comprehension” that the bill could not find unanimous support in the Senate.

 

“It is a matter of common sense and basic human decency to require, as S. 311 would have, that any health care practitioner present when a child is born alive following an abortion give the same degree of care to preserve the life and health of the child as would be given to any other newborn,” the bishops said.

 

Virginia is represented in the Senate by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA). Both of whom voted against invoking cloture during the debate of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, effectivity sustaining a filibuster.

 

Kaine, a self-described “traditional Catholic” and the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president, has regularly supported legislation that would protect a woman’s right to abortion since his election to the Senate in 2012.

 

Early in his political career, Kaine was considered to be a pro-life Democrat, but his position on the issue has shifted as his career in politics has advanced. In 2016, NARAL and Planned Parenthood Action Fund each awarded Kaine a 100 percent rating in their Senatorial scorecards for his support of abortion.

 

Kaine has since described himself as being personally pro-life, but that he believes women should have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Warner is a Presbyterian.

 

Virginia’s bishops as of now have not issued any sort of statement barring Kaine from receiving communion due to his votes in the Senate.

 

Last year, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, said that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) would not be able to receive the sacrament after the senator voted against a bill that would have banned abortion after the twentieth week of pregnancy.

 

Kaine also voted against that bill in 2018.

How going online might help you stop watching porn

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 27, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Watching online videos leads many men to pornography addiction. But now one set of online videos aims to lead them out.

STRIVE is video series developed by Matt Fradd, author of “The Porn Myth,” in collaboration with Cardinal Studios, a Catholic media apostolate. The series, along with online discussion and accountability groups, aims to help men address pornography addictions through an intensive three-week experience.

The program aims to help men with practical approaches that address the root causes of pornography addiction.
 
“There are very specific things that you have to do in order to be mildly successful in overcoming porn and there are things that if you do then you are bound to fail,” Fradd told CNA.

Fradd said the program emphasizes “virtual accountability” between men participating in the program. He said communal responsibility is critical to successful recovery from pornography addiction.

“We want thousands of men doing it together. This isn’t isolated experience where you just go on a bunch of videos. It’s actually a journey with literally thousands of men, who you communicate with on a daily basis.”

The 21-day program allows men to participate anonymously, and will be offered four times a year, with an initial session beginning March 27.

During the three weeks, participants will watch videos, discuss them online, and take up penitential and sacrificial challenges to help combat pornography addiction.

A live-streamed video from Fradd will be released every seven days. Each week he will emphasize a particular theme: beginning to face pornography addiction, perseverance through dependency, and the means to succeed in the long run.

The men will also engage in daily challenges. Fradd said. Among them is a “sobriety plan,” a diagram of three concentric circles. He said the inner circle will include undesirable behaviors, like masturbation or pornography; the middle circle will contain near occasions of sin, like browsing the internet or moments of rejection; and the third circle will note healthy actions, like exercise or good sleep.

Fradd said the program aims to focus on more than spiritual practices, offering concrete solutions that can prevent a relapse into pornography use. He said spiritual exercises are beneficial, but true recovery from porn addiction needs to be encountered with practical and focused tools.

“Giving someone solely spiritual solutions to something that isn’t solely spiritual isn’t terribly helpful. It would be like encountering a person exhibiting signs of clinical depression and then telling them to [only] pray hard,” he further added.

Having spoken to thousands of men struggling with pornography, Fradd said his experience teaches him that community is an essential part of rehabilitation. Besides the group discussions, Fradd will personally communicate with men and respond to their questions during the program.

After the 21 days are over, men will be invited to join small groups of three to continue in accountability relationships.

“This is not something that you can do in isolation, hence the community aspect of the course. You must be accountable to somebody. There has to be somebody in your life that knows when you fall, that knows when you succeed.”

The program costs participants $49, but until March 27 it will be offered for $39.

Fradd said he aims to work with men who cannot afford the program in order to ensure they can enroll.

Pornography is a serious issue preventing men from living fully, Fradd said.

He said over the last 40 years, neurological, psychological, and sociological studies have documented the harms of pornography. Among other harms, he said, studies have linked pornography to erectile dysfunction and neurological damage.

The studies “are saying that pornography is detrimental to the health of the consumer, to our relationships, and to society as a whole. We could say that science is catching up to the truth the Church has always taught about the sacredness of sexuality, about why trivializing it can only lead to sadness and unhappiness,” Fradd said.

 

Brownback says Pakistan willing to improve religious freedom record

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 19:17

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2019 / 05:17 pm (CNA).- The U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has applauded Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for showing a willingness to improve in the area of religious liberty, while recognizing that significant steps forward are still needed.

Ambassador Sam Brownback told the Associated Press that he met with Pakistan’s foreign minister on a tour of the Middle East last week, discussing U.S. concerns about religious freedom in the nation.

“They’ve had a lot of difficulties as a nation on this topic on religious freedom so what I was there for was to talk about changing,” Brownback said.

He said the foreign minister intends to designate an official to take the lead on the concerns raised by the United States, and that the nation shows a “desire to change” for the better.

The ambassador met Feb. 22-23 with Pakistani government and religious leaders to discuss the promotion of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and respect, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan.

“During these meetings, Ambassador Brownback emphasized the importance the United States places on religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and respect,” the embassy said.

“Ambassador Brownback discussed ways the United States could partner with Pakistan in promoting international religious freedom and inter-faith dialogue, seeking opportunities to protect persecuted Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths in South and Central Asia and throughout the world.”

In December 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named Pakistan as one of 10 “Countries of Particular Concern,” a designation given to states that engage in or tolerate egregious, ongoing religious freedom violations.  

That designation marked the first year that Pakistan had been placed on the list. The previous year, it had been placed on a “Special Watch List.” Being named a “Country of Particular Concern” can open the door to economic sanctions, although the U.S. has not taken this step against Pakistan.

Religious freedom advocates have increasingly drawn attention to the situation in Pakistan, where national blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges after being accused of making disparaging remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammad after an argument stemming from a cup of water. Amid strong international pressure, the Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her late last year.

Brownback also commented on what he saw as hopeful signs from several other nations that have been listed as Countries of Particular Concern for years. But promising words must be followed up by actions, he stressed, saying, according to the Associated Press, “[W]hat I really think we need to do is to start people on a process and on an engagement moving forward.”

The ambassador applauded the United Arab Emirates for hosting Pope Francis earlier this year, the first visit by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula. The nation also hosted the First Regional Conference of the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom: Interfaith Tolerance Education to Combat Extremism, at which Brownback delivered a keynote address.

However, he also cautioned that the country’s ban on conversion from Islam and death penalty sentences for apostasy remain obstacles to religious liberty.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, which has been designated by the U.S. as a Country of Particular Concern for the last 15 years, Brownback also saw signs of hope. He praised the nation’s leaders, saying their language is “substantially different” than in the past.

However, the ambassador also recognized the assassination of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. Last November, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had determined Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the assassination. Brownback called the assassination “horrific” and said the country still has “a long way to go,” the Associated Press reported.

House Republicans seek new vote on Born-Alive Abortion bill

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Republicans in the House of Representatives are seeking a vote on a new version of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act following a Senate filibuster of the legislation on February 25.

 

The new iteration of the Born-Alive bill, H.R. 962, would require doctors and other medical professionals to give “appropriate care” to an infant born after an attempted abortion.

 

Health care providers that do not “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child” that they would give to a child born at the same gestational stage in other circumstances would face fines or up to five years in prison.

 

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), the bill’s lead sponsor, told a press conference Tuesday that the Senate result was painful to watch.

 

“I was horrified last night, I will tell you. I was in the Senate chamber, and watched Democrats in the U.S. Senate vote down the Born-Alive act, and frankly, embracing what I think we all have to call it, which is infanticide,” Wagner said.

 

Wagner was joined at the press conference by Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Roger Marshall (R-KS), as well as several representatives from pro-life organizations.

 

“The Constitution provides for every American to have to have the right to life, liberty, and equal protection under the law,” said Wagner. “I don’t believe that our Founding Fathers ever put an age limit on that equal protection under the law, or that life and liberty.”

 

Wagner pointed out that the 115th Congress passed the same bill with bipartisan support last year. She said the bill should be voted on by the current 116th Congress.

 

The Senate vote on Monday failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, but did have bipartisan support. Senators Robert Casey (D-PA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Doug Jones (D-AL) voted with Senate Republicans to make a 53-44 simple majority.

 

To bring H.R. 962 forward, Scalise has filed a discharge petition which would bring the bill out of committee to the floor of the House after 30 legislative days provided it receives 218 signatures of support, a majority of sitting members.

 

Scalise said it is important that all representatives place their views on the record, and he remains confident the bill will attract the necessary signatures.

 

“American families are shocked to hear that in many states, it is legal to kill a baby after it is born alive. Nowhere in America should that be legal,” said Scalise. “And yet, in almost half of the states in the country, a baby that is born alive doesn’t have the same legal protections as everyone else. That’s got to change.”

 

Smith told CNA following the press conference that there is a “trend of after-birth abortion” and that the abortion industry works to cover up “this heinous crime of killing babies after they are born.”

 

H.R. 962, he said, would encourage a culture of accountability now that doctors and clinic workers could face criminal charges and penalties if they were to cover up the live birth of an infant following an attempted abortion. A mother of the child is exempt from any prosecution.

 

“The clinic personnel will be on notice,” he told CNA. One of the provisions outlined in the bill allows for a mother to file civil action against an abortionist or clinic worker if her child were to be born alive after an abortion and then killed.

 

Smith suggested that Medicaid or other public programs could help pay for the medical costs associated with caring for an infant that survives an abortion.

After judicial setback, Iowa lawmakers pursue other pro-life goals

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 17:24

Des Moines, Iowa, Feb 26, 2019 / 03:24 pm (CNA).- An Iowa Supreme Court decision declaring abortion to be a fundamental right bars the way to appeal a ruling against a pro-life bill, Gov. Kim Reynolds has said, leaving some pro-life advocates focused on an amendment to the state constitution to bypass the court.

“This was an extremely difficult decision, however it is the right one for the pro-life movement and the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said Feb. 18 in explaining her reasons not to appeal a ruling against a bill to ban abortions when a baby’s heartbeat is detectable.

“After this decision and because of Planned Parenthood’s legal maneuverings, I see no path to successfully appeal the district court’s decision or to get this lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said the governor, according to Iowa Public Radio.

The Jan. 22 ruling from Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert blocked a 2018 law, signed by Reynolds, which would have required an ultrasound before an abortion to determine whether a fetal heartbeat can be detected - usually around the sixth week of pregnancy. The legislation made some exceptions for pregnancies conceived through rape or incest, as well as fetal abnormality, or if a doctor determines that a woman’s life is in danger.

Last year the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a 72-hour waiting period for abortion, on the grounds that “a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.” Huppert cited that ruling in his January 2019 decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has little jurisdiction over issues affecting the state constitution.

Under current law, abortion is legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy. The heartbeat-based law was among the strongest abortion regulations in the country.

Pro-life lawmakers in the legislature responded to the decision by backing a constitutional amendment saying there is no right to abortion in the state constitution. That proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 9, must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before going to a statewide vote.

Voters have passed similar amendments in Alabama and West Virginia.

The Iowa Catholic Conference testified in support of the amendment, saying it would make the state constitution “abortion-neutral.”

“Without this change, if or when Roe v. Wade is struck down or federal law is modified, abortion will remain a fundamental right in Iowa,” the conference said in its Feb. 10 newsletter. The state supreme court decision means strong scrutiny for “any regulation of abortion or efforts to restrict its public funding.”

At a Feb. 6 House hearing on the bill, Caitlyn Dixson, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, spoke in its favor.

“Iowa deserves to have laws that are able to change and evolve over time to reflect the thoughts of Iowans. The climate in Iowa today is pro-life,” she said, citing the legislative success of the heartbeat bill.

“It took an act of blatant judicial overreach to overturn the law, going directly against what Iowans want,” Dixson said.

She said the Iowa constitution itself recognizes “certain inalienable rights” including “enjoying and defending life.” She suggested that this contradicts the idea of “an unwritten ‘fundamental right to abortion’.”

Other legislative proposals in the state aim to restrict abortion provider funding and strengthen legal protections for the unborn.

One bill would increase the criminal penalty to life in prison for anyone convicted of intentional termination of a pregnancy, with the exception of an abortion. It would similarly call for life in prison for taking an action that one reasonably should have known would terminate a pregnancy, or terminating a pregnancy during the commission of a felony.

A different bill would deny state-administered federal funds to sex education programs run by any organization that performs abortions or regularly refers for abortion.

Both bills have passed out of subcommittee for further hearings.

A different proposed amendment declaring life begins at conception has passed out of a subcommittee Feb. 21 for consideration by a full Senate committee.

Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, the subcommittee head, said, “We're not going to stop. We will continue to fight for life.”

Such amendments have never successfully passed a statewide vote.

The heartbeat-based abortion ban did not take effect pending the legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic, which also performs abortions.

The bill also barred all persons from knowingly acquiring, providing, transferring, or using fetal remains in Iowa. This did not apply to medical diagnostic samples, or forensic investigations, or to fetal body parts donated for medical research after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Catholic bishops of the state had voiced qualified support for the bill’s “life-giving intent,” as well as its restrictions on fetal tissue and body parts.

Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa told CNA in May 2018 that Catholics might disagree about the strategy of supporting legislation that could be overturned by courts. He encouraged creative pro-life advocacy, saying Catholics should discern such questions carefully. He also encouraged Catholics to support the legislation if that is what their conscience tells them.

New marriage enrichment initiative aimed at military couples

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 05:05

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- A global marriage ministry is launching a new initiative to provide resources, encouragement and enrichment opportunities for military couples in Canada and the United States.

The project is part of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME), in conjunction with the North American Military Services Outreach (NAMSO).

Worldwide Marriage Encounter, which originated in the 1950s with Spanish priest Father Gabriel Calvo, is a marriage enrichment program that offers weekend retreats to help couples foster communication skills, inspire family life, and promote friendships with other Catholic couples.

The military initiative was announced on Feb. 19 by Dave and Lucy Snyder, who first attended a WWME marriage retreat in 1977. They have held a range of leadership positions at WWME’s local and regional levels and been on the national board for a number of years.

Now a retired member of the U.S. Army, Mr. Snyder told CNA that the program hopes to create bonds between military couples and shed light on the specific challenges they face.

Military couples may find themselves encountering obstacles that other marriages do not experience, and they need to know they are not alone, he said, pointing to the support of priests and other families in similar situations.

“There is a good way to make it through our lives together and still be happy and faithful in our commitment,” he said.

At the website www.foryourmilitarymarriage.com, military couples share their experiences through a blog; links offer resources, statistics and tips for building health relationships; and an online network connects Catholic military couples, offering fellowship and encouragement for one another, regardless of age or stage of married life.

This online experience is part of a bigger NAMSO program, which also includes one-day marriage retreats at the local parish or military base. These six-hour events enrich marriages through workshops and lectures dealing with communication, combined decision-making, prayer, and cooperative service to the Church, among other topics.

Also offered are “journey talks” – four-part programs that take people on a journey of self, as a couple, with God, and with others.

“This is what we call positive reinforcement strategy, whether it is in couple prayer or learning to be better listeners [or] learning how to serve our community as a couple,” Snyder said.

“It’s really a positive and uplifting program.”

A major component of the program is the building of relationships with other military couples.

“NAMSO's Marriage Enrichment program offers wisdom and insight from couples who have lived the military life and understand the unique challenges and circumstances that can put pressure on a military couple's relationship,” said a statement on the website.

Snyder stressed that military couples face unique circumstances, including long-distance relationships during deployment, ongoing relocation of families, and potential struggles after military tours that may involve PTSD or injuries.

Couples who have been through these experiences already are able provide valuable advice to younger couples, he noted.

“That’s why we use active and retired military,” because the shared experiences create an “awareness of the struggles that military couples go through,” he said.

“There is kind of kinship there that most, especially the retired ones, have gone through … and are much more aware of some of the pitfalls that can happen.”

Marriage is important for society, Snyder said, but today it faces many distractions. He expressed hope that the new website and the NAMSO retreats can reinforce family life and sustain the commitment of marriage for couples in the military.

“We want to ensure that couples have good strong goals for commitment in their marriage because of the importance of marriage in our Church and then in our society, as we want to raise good, healthy kids [and] provide role models to them of a good marital relationship,” he said.
 

 

In El Paso, Catholic bishops meet along the border to discuss migration

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 20:01

El Paso, Texas, Feb 25, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are meeting in El Paso with immigration advocates, interreligious groups, and other leaders to show solidarity with migrants and to strategize action on migration.

A group of bishops known as the Tex-Mex Bishops Conference are meeting in a partnership with the Hope Border Institute, immigration advocates, other advocacy groups, and interreligious groups to “strategize new ways to strengthen the collective impact of the faith community on issues of migration,” a Feb. 22 media advisory from the Hope Border Institute said.

The bishops will gather with advocacy groups and the Catholic faithful for interreligious prayer and witness and a show of solidarity on the U.S.-Mexico border at the Anapra Fence the afternoon of Feb. 26.

Participants include Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso; members of the “Tex-Mex” bishops along the U.S.-Mexico border; Father Robert Stark, a regional coordinator of the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section; representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute; and leaders with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Charities.

Organizers of the border fence gathering include the Hope Border Institute and the Corpus Christi Parish in the Ciudad Juarez neighborhood of Anapra, which borders the U.S. state of New Mexico.

The groups involved plan to release a joint statement “in solidarity with migrants” Feb. 27.

The Hope Border Institute is a community organization working in the region of El Paso, Texas; Cuidad Juarez, Mexico; and Las Cruces, N.M. It aims to bring Catholic social teaching perspectives to the region’s social situation. It works to deepen solidarity across borders and to transform the region through research, reflection, leadership development, advocacy, and other forms of action.

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA there are humanitarian challenges at the border but Catholic entities are “really stepping up to serve families and children who are coming.”

While Feasley is not among those attending the meeting, she said it is an important opportunity to visit an area where Catholic groups are working to “encounter, accompany and serve vulnerable immigrants who are coming.”

Catholic social teaching places great importance in recognizing “root causes” of migration as well as the right to migrate and the right not to migrate. A border visit is also a chance to hear the “human impact,” to see and hear firsthand from the people about why they are coming, and what obstacles they are facing.

The El Paso area is where two children died in U.S. officials’ custody, one in late December and another in early January, Feasley noted. She stressed the importance of the Church and its ministries being clear that it aims to serve immigrants and refugees in “a compassionate and humane manner.”

Feasley also noted that migration levels are “nothing like” those of the 1990s under President Bill Clinton and in the early 2000s under President George W. Bush, when they were very high.

The latest border meeting comes after several years of Catholic bishops’ work responding to the Trump administration’s policies and actions against undocumented migrants in the name of border security, following years in which the U.S. bishops gave mixed reviews to the Obama administration’s policy, which continued immigration raids and deportations while also giving some leeway for those brought to the U.S. as minors.

On Feb. 15 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they are “deeply concerned” by Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border, part of the president’s attempt to secure full funding to build a border wall.

They said the wall was a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

“We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls,” they said, in a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who heads the U.S. bishops’ migration committee.

In addition to humanitarian concerns, bishops have criticized the prospect of a wall interfering with daily Catholic life along the border. A wall in La Lomita Historical Park would significantly hinder access to a historic Catholic chapel owned by the Diocese of Brownsville.

Trump’s declaration said that the border situation “presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.” He contended that the southern border is “a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez rejected Trump’s evaluation of the border situation.

Born-Alive Abortion Survivors bill fails to beat Senate filibuster

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act has failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture and bring the legislation forward. The Senate voted of 53 to 44 to invoke cloture on Monday, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to halt a filibuster by Democratic senators.

 

The vote was almost entirely on party lines.

 

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), the legislation’s lead sponsor, submitted the bill in early February using the Rule 14 process, which means the bill was brought directly to the Senate floor. After an initial attempt to pass the bill via unanimous voice vote was foiled by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Feb. 4, the process shifted to a roll-call vote.

 

Speaking on the floor of the Senate Monday, Sasse urged members from both parties to consider how little the legislation actually aimed to ensure.

 

“I urge my colleagues to picture a baby that’s already been born, that’s outside the womb gasping for air. That’s the only thing that today’s vote is actually about. We’re talking about babies that have already been born. Nothing in this bill touches abortion access,” Sasse said.

 

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would have penalized doctors or other medical professionals who do not provide medical care to infants who are born alive following a botched abortion attempt. The bill does not restrict abortion rights.

 

Several Democratic senators spoke against the bill saying it would force doctors to provide care against the “reproductive rights” and “choices” of women.

 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) called the measure a “solution in search of a problem,” and that i could force doctors to provide “unnecessary” or even “harmful” care to patients. She was not clear if she was referring to the child or the mother as the “patient.”

 

Speaking after the vote, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said it was “unconscionable” that “protecting innocent, newborn abortion survivors is now a partisan issue.”

 

“Every infant that is born alive despite a botched abortion deserves the same proper medical care and treatment that doctors are required to give to other newborns,” Rubio said.

 

The Florida senator was an original co-sponsor of the bill.

 

Rubio said that the vote “made it crystal clear” that Democratic senators “support the legalization of infanticide” and “openly embraced the growing extremism” within their party.

 

Sasse told CNA on Feb. 1 that he did not think there was “any legitimate argument” that could be made against his legislation, and that he hoped that nobody in the Senate would oppose the bill.

 

The Nebraska senator brought the fast-track the legislation in response to comments by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that appeared to endorse neglecting infants who survived late-term abortions. Northam’s spokesperson later said that the governor was only referring to infants with “severe” birth defects or other disabilities.

 

Sasse said that objecting to his bill would be a sign of support for infanticide.

 

"(Members of the Senate) need to show what side they're on,” Sasse told CNA in February. “It's a pretty simple question: are you on the side of these vulnerable little babies, or are you on the side of Gov. Northam and his defense of infanticide?"

 

Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (WV), Bob Casey (PA) and Doug Jones (AL) all voted in favor of the bill, as did Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). The four senators are usually considered to be potential swing votes on abortion issues.

 

While uncommon, there have been many documented cases of infants surviving abortions. Former abortionist Kermit Gosnell is currently serving a life sentence after he was found to have murdered numerous infants who were born alive after surviving attempted late-term abortions.

Archbishop Gomez: 'Crisis of personal fidelity' at the heart of Church scandals

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 18:06

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 25, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles responded to the Vatican’s summit on abuse by stressing the need for a renewal of fidelity within the entire Catholic Church.

“This crisis in the Church is an issue of accountability and transparency. But most importantly, at its heart, this is a crisis of personal fidelity,” he said in a Feb. 24 statement. “It is a crisis of not following Jesus Christ and not living the way he teaches us to live.”

The archbishop, who serves as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released his statement following the conclusion of a four-day Vatican summit that brought together heads of bishops’ conferences from countries around the world to discuss sexual abuse and child protection.

The summit discussed responsibility, transparency, and accountability, with video testimonies from sex abuse victims, working group discussions, a penitential liturgy, and a closing Mass with final remarks from Pope Francis.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement that concrete follow-up measures in the United States will include an intensification of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Young People – known as the Dallas Charter – which currently governs how U.S. dioceses are to handle sexual abuse allegations against priests.

Gomez, who heads the largest archdiocese in the United States, said that he closely followed the Vatican summit and was “inspired by Pope Francis’ commitment to eliminate the evil of child abuse from the global Church and the wider global society.”

He pledged that he and his fellow bishops will be working in the coming months on the important task of “improving how we handle allegations against bishops and continuing to ensure that children are protected in our parishes, schools and other ministries.”

“Reform and renewal must begin with the bishops and clergy,” he said. “But all of us in the Church are called to a new conversion, to renewal of our hearts and minds — so that we live our faith with greater integrity, new devotion, and new excitement.”

Gomez noted that a relic of St. John Vianney is currently in the Los Angeles archdiocese, as part of a national tour. Praying in front of the heart of Vianney – known for his sanctity as a parish priest – the faithful are praying for a renewal of holiness, particularly among priests and seminarians, and for healing of all those who have been hurt by a member of the Church.

“Let us continue to pray and work for the healing of those who have been hurt,” the archbishop said. He called for the upcoming Lenten season to be a time of rededication, for the whole Church, “to leading truly Christian lives, returning to Jesus and opening our hearts to the holiness and love that he calls us to.”

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