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How Ashley Stricklin found the Catholic Church at her Baptish college

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 08:50

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2019 / 06:50 am (CNA).- Ashley Stricklin says she had a typical Texan upbringing. She was raised a Southern Baptist in a town outside of Dallas, with a family who was active in her church. Her father was a deacon in their Baptist church, and she accepted Jesus into her heart when she was nine.

Although Stricklin lived near a Catholic church, she had never been inside it, nor did she really know any Catholics--that is, until she went off to Baylor University, one of the largest Baptist-affiliated universities in the world. There, she met faithful Catholics, and embarked on a long, and at times even secretive, journey into the Catholic Church.

The Catholics Stricklin met at Baylor were “always so joyful,” which prompted her to begin to wonder what exactly was so different between the Catholic faith and the faith she was raised in. Despite her faithful Baptist upbringing, Stricklin said that she always felt as though “something was missing,” in her life, but could not quite put her finger on it.

Her new Catholic friends invited her to Eucharistic adoration, which was the first time Stricklin had ever seen the Blessed Sacrament--and she began to see exactly what she had been missing.

After that, everything changed, and she says she “started her journey” toward Catholicism. Three years later, that journey would reach a milestone, when she was received into the Church on April 28, 2019--Divine Mercy Sunday.

Stricklin received her first communion and confirmation at St. Peter’s Student Center, which is a campus ministry of the Diocese of Austin for students of Baylor University and nearby colleges.

Like many new Catholics, there were significant hurdles that Stricklin had to overcome before being received into the Church--both in the doctrinal sense and in the personal. For Stricklin, it was easy for her to come to accept teachings she had previously believed were wrong, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Mary’s role as mediatrix of grace.

“I actually did a Marian consecration before I was confirmed,” said Stricklin. “And so it just went full circle for me.”

It was the reaction of her Baptist parents, however, that proved to be one of Stricklin’s biggest anxieties before entering the Church. Although Stricklin knew from early on in college that she wanted to become Catholic, she delayed entering the Church until her senior year, because she was afraid of how they would react.

“I definitely thought my parents were going to disown me,” Stricklin said. “That’s why I waited until I was a senior, because I didn’t think my parents would continue to pay for college.”

In the meantime, Stricklin read book after book about Catholicism, nearly exhausting the Baylor library’s section on Catholicism. She read everything from “Rome Sweet Home” to the “Summa Theologica,” eventually concentrating on conversion stories and books about the Eucharist.

Still, she kept all of her religious curiosity and plans a secret from her parents--for three years.

“I would hide my books,” she said. “I cleaned my (web) browsers, which was really not a good idea looking back now.”

Fearful still of her parents’ rejection, Stricklin waited until just two months before her First Communion and Confirmation to tell them what she was planning on doing. To her astonishment, while they were certainly taken aback, they neither abandoned her nor cut her off.

“I told my mom in February and she thought I was joking, like she just thought it was a joke,” she said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Oh no, mom, it's not a joke.’”

Despite her fears, Stricklin’s mother attended her First Communion, and her father is supportive of her religious journey, both of which were pleasant surprises. Her grandparents, however, still do not know she has converted.

Stricklin chose St. John Paul II as her confirmation saint, something that she was hesitant to do as she thought it would reveal that she was a convert. Eventually, she realized this was silly, and went with him anyways. She said she chose St. John Paul II due to both her interest in Eastern Europe, and because she found his papacy and writings to be “truly inspiring.”

Stricklin is now a student at Creighton University School of Law, where will graduate in 2022. About seven months into her new journey as a fully-initiated Catholic, Stricklin remains intrigued and fulfilled by the Eucharist, and she continues to delve more into her faith.

After initially being intrigued by the Eucharist at her first-ever adoration, Stricklin says now that she considers the sacrament to be “such a joy” and that she eagerly looks forward to receiving it. And despite her initial troubles, fears, and everything else associated with the process of converting to Catholicism, she says things have been smooth sailing.

“It's been an interesting journey, and each day I just continue to strive for sainthood and just keep trying to increase and my relationships with God, so, yeah, it's been good,” she said. “It's been a cool journey so far.”

This story is part of a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith.

Proposed changes to US Commission on International Religious Freedom draw fire

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2019 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- With the current authorization for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expiring this year, proposed changes to the independent panel have sparked controversy.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government commission established in 1998 under the International Religious Freedom Act. It works to monitor the state of religious freedom abroad and make recommendations to Congress, the president and the Secretary of State about policies to advance religious freedom.

USCRIF must be periodically reauthorized by Congress. Its current authorization expires this year.

A bill to reauthorize the commission for four years, with an additional $1 million for the group’s annual budget, was introduced in September. It proposed a single three-year term limit for commissioners, as well as requirements for the group to report regularly to Congress, a change that is described as working toward transparency and accountability.

However, the bill has been met with pushback from current commissioners, who say it would compromise their mission.

Last week, commissioner Kristina Arriaga announced her resignation. Arriaga had served since 2016 and was set to be on the commission until May 2020.

Arriaga told The Christian Post the proposed legislation “would gut USCIRF by changing its mission and burdening commissioners with the very kind of innovation-killing bureaucracy they were designed to fight.”

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, she voiced concern over what she saw as Congressional moves that would impede the group’s ability to function.

“Believing that a bureaucracy can’t be defeated by creating another bureaucracy, Congress ensured the nine USCIRF commissioners were unpaid, independent volunteer voices selected from both political parties,” she said, stressing the independent nature of the commission and its ability to take “direct action” as key factors enabling it to be successful in carrying out its work.

However, she warned, the new legislative proposal would alter the role of USCIRF to include monitoring the “abuse of religion to justify human rights violations.”

“This creates an opening for the commission to enter ideological fights over, for example, sex segregation at religious services, circumcision or same-sex relationships,” Arriaga said. “Part of the reason for USCIRF’s success is avoiding these divisive theological fights and focusing on clear-cut cases of religious freedom.”

She also criticized proposals to create new reporting requirements and to restrict the ways in which USCIRF commissioners use their title when speaking in a personal capacity.

The bill has been pulled amid the controversy, and lawmakers must now work to craft new legislation extending the mandate of USCIRF if the body is to remain in existence.

In a Nov. 15 tweet, Senator Marco Rubio defended the legislation, saying that if it were up to him, he would approve a simple extension of USCRIF’s mandate. But the changes are necessary as part of a compromise to win Democratic support, he said, noting that unless Congress acts to reauthorize the commission, it will disappear.

Commissioner Nadine Maenza stressed that the independent nature of the group over the years has allowed it the freedom to criticize policies enacted by all administrations, without devolving into partisan squabbles.

“We’ve lasted for 20 years because there’s no daylight between Republicans and Democrats on our mission and mandate,” Maenza said, according to the New York Times. “The minute there is, and one side can be pitted against the other side ... the loser will be religious freedom.”

Pa. Catholic conference: Gov. Wolf failed to protect 'humanity's most vulnerable lives' with Down syndrome abortion veto

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 18:00

Harrisburg, Pa., Nov 22, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf this week vetoed a bill that would have banned the abortion of children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. The state Catholic conference condemned the decision. 

“Gov. Wolf’s veto will prevent all children with Down’s syndrome from going on to live happy and fulfilled lives,” executive director Eric Failing said in a Nov. 21 statement.

“Had Gov. Wolf signed this legislation, he would’ve ensured the protection of humanity’s most vulnerable lives,” he said in Nov. 21 statement.

Wolf vetoed the bill on Thursday, stating that the legislation would have hindered the medical decisions between a woman and her doctor.

“This legislation is a restriction on women and medical professionals and interferes with women’s health care and the crucial decision-making between patients and their physicians,” Wolf said in an online statement.

“Physicians and their patients must be able to make choices about medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care,” he further added.

Under the current Pennsylvania law, abortion is permissible for any reason, besides gender selection, until the 24th week of pregnancy. If the bill passed this week had been signed into law, it would have prohibited abortions chosen after a diagnosis of Down syndrome, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies.

Even though the bill was vetoed, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference applauded the efforts of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who supported the effort.

The bill had passed through the Pennsylvania Senate, 27-22, on Wednesday. It passed through the state’s House of Representatives 117-76, in May.

“We thank all legislators who came together in a bi-partisan fashion to support this common-sense legislation, and PCC looks forward to working with them again to protect the sanctity of life,” Failing said.

Up to 75% of babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome in the U.S. have been aborted in recent decades, according to research conducted between 1995 and 2011.

Opponents of the bill have claimed the legislation would violate women's reproductive rights.

According to Penn Live, Sen. Maria Collett said the bill would not help people with disabilities. She said legislators should instead focus on laws that benefit the caregivers and those already born with disabilities.

“This bill does nothing to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome,” said Collett. “Instead, it uses them to advance a political agenda.”

Sen. Scott Martin disagreed, saying abortion of children diagnosed with Down syndrome is “not health care” but an act of “eugenics.”

“These are parents who actually want to have children, who are presented as if this child will actually be a burden, who cannot live a productive life. ... These children have the ability to live long, productive lives, even past the age of 60,” he said, during floor debate on the bill.


Catholic politician kicked out of UK party over religious beliefs

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 15:00

London, England, Nov 22, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A former member of parliament has spoken out after being deselected as a candidate for the U.K.’s Liberal Democrat Party because of his Catholic faith and views on same-sex marriage and abortion. 

Robert Flello sat as a Labour Party MP in the House of Commons for over a decade, representing Stoke-on-Trent from 2005 until 2017. In 2019, he switched parties to the Liberal Democrats and was selected as their candidate for his former constituency. Flello, a practicing Catholic, was informed on Nov. 12--just 36 hours after his selection as a candidate--that he had been de-selected and would not be permitted to represent the Lib Dems in the election. 

Flello is now calling for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom to “start speaking out” and defend its social teaching, and for Catholics in the U.K. to question their local candidates about their thoughts on religious freedom. 

“However they try to dress it up, the simple fact is that you can’t be a practicing Catholic and a Lib Dem Candidate,” wrote Flello in an op-ed published on Nov. 20 in the Catholic Herald magazine. He said that “someone, somewhere” objected to him within the party and officials “got worried and pulled the plug.” 

“We need Catholics to start contacting political parties to challenge discrimination and anti-religious prejudice,” said Flello. “I’m not going to keep quiet on this and nor, I hope, will others.”

Flello said that he has always been transparent about his opposition to same-sex marriage and aborting children after a diagnosis with Down syndrome, and that this had previously not been an issue. 

“[During the candidate vetting progress] I made clear my views on same-sex marriage during the interview, in the part helpfully titled ‘Having the courage to make and defend unpopular decisions and seeking out opportunities to publicise and defend beliefs’,” said Flello, adding that “maybe I should have written instead about the Lib Dem opposition to state interference and closing down of free speech.”

Another issue the Lib Dems raised with Flello were his tweets critical of a “buffer zones” which local authorites and courts have placed around abortion clinics, preventing prayer vigils and pro-life demonstrations. 

Flello rejected the Lib Dems’ claim that they were unaware of his political views, noting his parliamentary voting record and had tweets about the issues. 

In 2013, Flello defied the Labour Party whip by voting against same-sex marriage. In that same vote, Flello noted, the Lib Dems did not instruct their candidates to vote either for or against the bill. 

“How times change,” he said. 

“The Lib Dems are, of course, claiming they have no issue with my religious views and very helpfully they have told me I am free to have some of my views,” said Flello. 

Flello said that, despite the de-selection, he was happy to place his religious beliefs above his political aspirations, citing St. Thomas More - a former MP who was martyred by King Henry VIII for refusing to break with the Catholic Church.

“To paraphrase one of my favorite quotations, I am politics’ good servant, but God’s first,” said Flello. 

Flello’s de-selection is the latest in a line of British politicians being penalized for their religious beliefs. 

MP Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian, was forced to step down as the leader of the Lib Dems in 2017, after coming under fire for his views against homosexulaity and sin. Farron said he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.” Farron had led the party for two years before his resignation. 

“A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment,” said Farron upon his resignation. He said he thought it was impossible to both lead a progressive political party and be faithful to the Bible. 

Conservative MP and practicing Catholic Jacob Rees-Mogg was appointed Leader of the House of Commons by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July of 2019. Prior to this, Rees-Mogg was criticized as a “thoroughly modern bigot” for holding views against same-sex marriage and abortion. 

Catholic politician kicked out of UK party over religious beliefs

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 15:00

London, England, Nov 22, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A former member of parliament has spoken out after being deselected as a candidate for the U.K.’s Liberal Democrat Party because of his Catholic faith and views on same-sex marriage and abortion. 

Robert Flello sat as a Labour Party MP in the House of Commons for over a decade, representing Stoke-on-Trent from 2005 until 2017. In 2019, he switched parties to the Liberal Democrats and was selected as their candidate for his former constituency. Flello, a practicing Catholic, was informed on Nov. 12--just 36 hours after his selection as a candidate--that he had been de-selected and would not be permitted to represent the Lib Dems in the election. 

Flello is now calling for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom to “start speaking out” and defend its social teaching, and for Catholics in the U.K. to question their local candidates about their thoughts on religious freedom. 

“However they try to dress it up, the simple fact is that you can’t be a practicing Catholic and a Lib Dem Candidate,” wrote Flello in an op-ed published on Nov. 20 in the Catholic Herald magazine. He said that “someone, somewhere” objected to him within the party and officials “got worried and pulled the plug.” 

“We need Catholics to start contacting political parties to challenge discrimination and anti-religious prejudice,” said Flello. “I’m not going to keep quiet on this and nor, I hope, will others.”

Flello said that he has always been transparent about his opposition to same-sex marriage and aborting children after a diagnosis with Down syndrome, and that this had previously not been an issue. 

“[During the candidate vetting progress] I made clear my views on same-sex marriage during the interview, in the part helpfully titled ‘Having the courage to make and defend unpopular decisions and seeking out opportunities to publicise and defend beliefs’,” said Flello, adding that “maybe I should have written instead about the Lib Dem opposition to state interference and closing down of free speech.”

Another issue the Lib Dems raised with Flello were his tweets critical of a “buffer zones” which local authorites and courts have placed around abortion clinics, preventing prayer vigils and pro-life demonstrations. 

Flello rejected the Lib Dems’ claim that they were unaware of his political views, noting his parliamentary voting record and had tweets about the issues. 

In 2013, Flello defied the Labour Party whip by voting against same-sex marriage. In that same vote, Flello noted, the Lib Dems did not instruct their candidates to vote either for or against the bill. 

“How times change,” he said. 

“The Lib Dems are, of course, claiming they have no issue with my religious views and very helpfully they have told me I am free to have some of my views,” said Flello. 

Flello said that, despite the de-selection, he was happy to place his religious beliefs above his political aspirations, citing St. Thomas More - a former MP who was martyred by King Henry VIII for refusing to break with the Catholic Church.

“To paraphrase one of my favorite quotations, I am politics’ good servant, but God’s first,” said Flello. 

Flello’s de-selection is the latest in a line of British politicians being penalized for their religious beliefs. 

MP Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian, was forced to step down as the leader of the Lib Dems in 2017, after coming under fire for his views against homosexulaity and sin. Farron said he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.” Farron had led the party for two years before his resignation. 

“A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment,” said Farron upon his resignation. He said he thought it was impossible to both lead a progressive political party and be faithful to the Bible. 

Conservative MP and practicing Catholic Jacob Rees-Mogg was appointed Leader of the House of Commons by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July of 2019. Prior to this, Rees-Mogg was criticized as a “thoroughly modern bigot” for holding views against same-sex marriage and abortion. 

Trump asked to oppose funding amendment undermining Mexico City Policy

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 14:19

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2019 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- A group of pro-life leaders, including the US bishops’ pro-life chair, wrote Thursday to President Donald Trump urging him to tell Congress that an amendment funding overseas abortion providers is unacceptable.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) inserted an amendment to the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriations bill that would increase family planning funding that could go to abortion promoters, would reinstate funding of the UN’s Population Fund, and would provide a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era non-discrimination rule that could essentially “blacklist” pro-life groups from being eligible for U.S. foreign assistance.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and 17 other pro-life leaders wrote to Trump Nov. 21 saying, “We strongly urge you to communicate to Congress that the Shaheen amendment is a poison pill that violates the Budget Agreement, and that you will oppose it as part of any final appropriations package.”

The amendment “must be removed before final passage of the SFOPS bill,” they said.

Shaheen’s amendment could undercut the Mexico City Policy, which bars U.S. funding of foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning. The Trump administration reinstated this policy and expanded upon it, applying the funding prohibition not just to family planning funding, but to $8.8 billion of global health assistance.

The senator’s proposed increase in international family planning funding of $57.55 million could also benefit certain domestic groups which promote abortion.

Shaheen’s amendment would also set up an enforcement mechanism of the 2016 Obama administration “Non-Discrimination Against End-Users of Supplies or Services” rule. This rule essentially required contractors with USAID not to “discriminate” against aid beneficiaries on the basis of sex, “including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy.” 

The enforcement mechanism for the rule targets pro-life and Christian groups “by adding new reporting requirements that are intended to effectively ‘name and shame’ faith or community-based partners, particularly pro-life and pro-family partners,” the letter notes.

“The resulting blacklist is designed to drive qualified faith-based providers away from providing foreign assistance,” said the pro-life coalition.

They added that the amendment “condones a flawed regulation” from the Obama administration “that targets pro-life and pro-family organizations.”

According to the pro-life leaders’ letter, Shaheen’s amendment also “directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a one-sided evaluation targeting the pro-life policies” of the Trump administration.

“In addition to undermining important pro-life actions and policies of your Administration, we believe that the Shaheen amendment, creating new policy, expressly violates the Bipartisan Budget Agreement for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021,” the letter says.

That budget agreement says that “there will be no poison pills, additional new riders,... or other changes in policy or conventions that allow for higher spending levels, or any nonappropriations measures unless agreed to on a bipartisan basis by the four leaders with the approval of the President.”

Congress was to have had until Nov. 21 to pass appropriations bills funding government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, but yesterday Trump signed a continuing resolution extending the deadline to Dec. 20.

Last month Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action and one of the letter’s signatories, told CNA that just such a continuing resolution -- which gives a short-term extension of status quo funding -- would be the best case scenario for pro-lifers as the funding deadline neared, as no new problems could be added to the legislation.

Boston seminary report: 'isolated incidents' but no 'culture of abuse'

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 14:05

Boston, Mass., Nov 22, 2019 / 12:05 pm (CNA).- An independent investigation into the Archdiocese of Boston’s St. John’s Seminary has found incidents of sexual misconduct but no seminary-wide culture of abuse.  

“Contrary to some of the reporting surrounding 2018 social media postings, the Seminary is not a den of sexual misconduct fueled by excessive drinking. Instead, our investigation disclosed only isolated incidents of sexual conduct and alcohol use that are inappropriate in a seminary setting,” says a report by the Boston law firm Yurko, Salvesen & Remz, P.C., released on Friday.

The report identified flawed “leadership and oversight” of the seminary’s rector, vice rector, and certain faculty members which contributed to both specific incidents and some cultural problems, and recommended a revision of the seminary’s alcohol policy and the establishment of an anonymous hotline to report abuse. The seminary has been under interim leadership since the investigation was announced last year.

The results of the independent investigation into the Archdiocese of Boston’s St. John’s Seminary were published Friday, Nov. 22, more than a year after Cardinal Sean O’Malley first called for an inquiry in August 2018. The investigation was to review the abuse allegations, the culture of the seminary, and any signs of “sexual harassment or other forms of intimidation or discrimination.”

O’Malley said in a statement that he is “grateful for the thoughtful and comprehensive efforts” of the review team, and for their “candor.”

“The inquiry has presented issues that require remedial action and oversight for ongoing compliance,” O’Malley said on Friday. But the cardinal said he is “confident that the facts brought forth by this report and the actions being taken to address those issues unite us in the commitment to ensure that St. John’s Seminary maintains a standard of excellence for the formation of men discerning the vocation of a life of service to the Church.”

“With the help of God and vigilant attention to best practices, we will continue to provide superior seminary formation.”

O’Malley announced the investigation last year, after two seminarians took to social media to make allegations of a culture of heavy drinking and sexual misconduct at St. John’s. O’Malley placed the seminary’s rector, Monsignor James Moroney, on leave to allow for an inquiry.

In October 2018, the archdiocese announced it was expanding the investigation to include two other seminaries, Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Seminary. The cardinal also hired an outside law firm—Yurko, Salvesen and Remz—to take over and conduct the investigations, as the original team, comprised of bishops and an advisor to the U.S. bishops on child protection, had ties to St. John’s Seminary.

Friday’s report, which only concerns St. John’s Seminary, confirmed separate incidents of sexual misconduct at the seminary and an alcohol culture that could encourage immoderate drinking, as well as a lack of proper oversight by the rector, Monsignor Moroney.

The report did not find evidence of a deep culture of sexual misconduct or alcohol abuse, as had been alleged, though it did confirm specific allegations made in social media posts by two former seminarians. Those incidents included the expulsion of two seminarians in 2014 for sexual misconduct, and six seminarians receiving “lewd and anonymous texts” in 2015.

Leadership’s poor response to the 2015 sexting incident was in part caused by to the rector’s distance from the daily life at the seminary due to obligations and his work to raise money and enrollment, the report found.

Cardinal O’Malley reportedly knew about Monsignor Moroney’s absence from the seminary and its negative consequences, as well as his poor stewardship of the seminary’s finances that earned him the nickname “Diamond Jim” among some seminarians for his generosity.

However, the cardinal trusted Moroney to resolve the problems, the report said.

The vice rector, Fr. Christopher O’Connor, who was in charge of seminary student discipline, was found to be at times “bullying or intimidating” in carrying out his duties.

Another faculty member was respected as a “world-class theologian” but “is unquestionably a ‘divisive’ and a ‘toxic’ presence in the Seminary,” the report said. He reportedly used “gratuitous and offensive” language when discussing sexual morality in classes and some Hispanic seminarians claimed he “is biased against them and disparages them.”

The seminary’s alcohol policies, while in need of reform, did not create a culture of drunkenness, the report found.  

A “bachelor party” detailed in the allegations by the former seminarians “was not the bacchanalian affair” as commonly perceived but was still “ill-advised” and featured immoderate drinking by seminarians and by a faculty member.

However, since “the use of alcohol is connected directly or indirectly to most misconduct that takes place at the Seminary” and some seminarians did “have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol,” the firm recommended a change in alcohol policy to aid the “human formation” of seminarians.

Other recommendations of the report include the establishment of a confidential reporting hotline for abuse or misconduct allegations, training to enable seminarians to recognize instances of “grooming,” and a review of alcohol policies.

The firm said its investigation was comprised of interviews with around 80 people, “including current and former seminarians, current and former faculty members, current and former staff, priests in the Boston diocese as well as a number in other dioceses, Msgr. James Moroney, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and many others who reached out to us.”

The firm also noted the cooperation of the seminary and the archdiocese in the investigation, and that it was able to freely access seminary records.

The reported did record what it termed “isolated” incidents of misconduct.

The seminary respond in a “timely” fashion to allegations of grooming made by a seminarian against a faculty member in 2014, the report said.

In another case, the seminary learned in 2015 that a professor at its Theological Institute for the New Evangelization “engaged in inappropriate conduct with an adult female student in 2011 and 2012,” and cut ties with that professor.

In two separate instances, in 2016 and 2018, seminarians were dismissed for using dating apps.

Two seminarians were found to have engaged in an e-mail and texting relationship with a 15 year-old female student at a Catholic high school, a relationship which continued with one of the seminarians despite the girl’s parents bringing up the matter to the seminarian and then to a seminary faculty member. Despite this, the seminary administration was reportedly not made aware of the situation.

The seminarian was eventually ordained, but claimed to the firm in the report that his texts were not romantic but supportive, although conceding that communicating with a teenager via e-mail and texting was overall “misguided.”

The seminary was made aware of a seminarian sending texts to a woman outside the seminary requesting she send him pictures of herself; after consultations the seminarian stayed at the seminary but received formation on chastity, and subsequently left before the year was over.

One of the former seminarians who made the social media posts that instigated the investigation claimed to have observed two seminarians cuddling together in the common room, but the report found that he was the only person interviewed to have made that claim.

What is Advent, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 13:30

Denver, Colo., Nov 22, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Advent starts this year on Sunday, Dec. 1. Most Catholics, even those who don’t often go to Mass, know that Advent involves a wreath with some candles, possibly a “calendar” of hidden chocolates, and untangling strings of Christmas lights.

But Advent is more than that. Here are a few points that might help you have a great Advent this year:

What is Advent?

The people of Israel waited generations for the promised Messiah to arrive. Their poetry, their songs and stories, and their religious worship focused on an awaited savior, whom God had promised, over and over, would come to them to set them free from captivity, and to lead them to the fulfillment of all that God had chosen for them.

Israel longed for a Messiah, and John the Baptist, who came before Jesus, promised that the Messiah was coming, and could be found in Jesus Christ, God’s son, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Advent is a season in the Church’s life intended to renew the experience of waiting, and longing, for the Messiah. Though Christ has already come into the world, the Church invites us to renew our desire for the Lord more deeply into our lives, and to renew our desire for Christ’s triumphant second coming into the world.

Advent is the time in which we prepare for Christmas, the memorial of Jesus Christ being born into the world. Preparations are practical, like decorating a tree or stringing lights, but they’re also intended to be spiritual.

During Advent, we’re invited to enter more frequently into silence, into prayer and reflection, into Scripture, and into the sacramental life of the Church, all to prepare for celebrating Christmas.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the goal of Advent is to make present for ourselves and our families the “ancient expectancy of the sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming.”


Cool. So, it’s like 4 weeks long?

Advent is a slightly different length each year. It starts four Sundays before Christmas. But because Christmas is on a fixed date, and could fall on different days of the week, Advent can be as short as four weeks and a day, or as long as five weeks. Christmas is on a Wednesday in 2019, so Advent will be 4 weeks and two days long.


Ok, my priest keeps talking about Advent being the “new year.” But Advent is before Christmas. What’s the deal?

The Church’s feasts and celebrations run on a year-long cycle, which we call the “liturgical year,” because it’s a year of liturgy. The “liturgical year” starts on the first Sunday of Advent. So it’s a new liturgical year when Advent starts. But the Church also uses the ordinary calendar, so it would probably be a bit weird to have a “New Year’s Eve” party the night before Advent starts.

Still, though, Catholicism has a lot of weird feasts, so if you have a “New Liturgical Eve” party, invite me.


And, Advent wreaths. Where do they come from? Is it true that they’re just pagan wreaths borrowed by the Church?

The Catholic Church has been using advent wreaths since the Middle Ages. Lighting candles as we prepare for Christmas reminds us that Christ is the light of the world. And the evergreen boughs remind us of new and eternal life in Christ, the eternal son of the Father. 

It is definitely true that Germanic people were lighting up candle wreaths in wintertime long before the Gospel arrive in their homeland. Because, well, candle wreaths in winter are beautiful and warm. That a Christian symbol emerged from that tradition is an indication that the Gospel can be expressed through the language, customs, and symbols of cultures that come to believe that Christ Jesus is Lord.


One candle is pink. Why?

There are four candles on the Advent wreath. Three are purple, and they are first lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent. The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, which we call Gaudete Sunday. On that Sunday, in addition to the pink candle, the priest wears a pink vestment, which he might refer to as rose. But rose, from this writer's perspective, is a shade of pink.

Gaudete is a word that means “Rejoice!” and we rejoice on Gaudete Sunday, because we are halfway through Advent. Some people have the custom of throwing “Gaudete” parties, and this is also a traditional day on which Christmas carolers begin caroling door-to-door.

The three purple candles are sometimes said to represent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the three spiritual disciplines that are key to a fruitful Advent.


I like the Advent calendars that have chocolate in them. Do you know where they come from?

No. But I like them too. The chocolate is usually pretty waxy, but still. I think the idea is to build up anticipation by having only one little treat each day. But sometimes I eat them all in the first week. Oops.


Is it wrong to sing Christmas songs during Advent?

Wrong? No, not immoral or anything. Liturgically inappropriate? Totally. Plus, there are a lot of great Advent hymns and songs: “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “O Come Divine Messiah,” “Come Thou Fount,” “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding”

Wouldn’t you rather sing those than Rudolph? Or the theologically insufferable “Mary, Did you know?”


When should we put up our tree?

Look, when to put up the tree is a decision that families should decide on their own, through time-honored holiday traditions like, say, arguing about when to put up the tree. I’m not getting in the middle of that.

Some people put up their tree and decorate it on the first Sunday of Advent, to make a big transformation in their home and get them into “preparing for Christmas mode.” That seems cool.

Some people put up the tree on the first Sunday of Advent, put on lights the next Sunday, ornaments the next, and decorate it more and more as they get closer to Christmas. That seems cool.

Some people put up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, as a kind of rejoicing, and decorate it in the weeks between Gaudate and Christmas. That seems cool

Basically, as you can tell, I’m not going to take a side on that question.


What does the word Advent mean?

Oh right. I forgot to mention that, I'm glad you asked. Advent comes from the Latin ad+venire, which means, essentially “To come to,” or “to come toward.” Ad+venire is the root of the Latin “Adventus” which means “arrival.”

So Advent is the season of arrival: The arrival of Christ in our hearts, in the world, and into God’s extraordinary plan for our salvation.




Ban on elderly nun’s habit in retirement home went too far, French mayor says

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 12:35

Dijon, France, Nov 22, 2019 / 10:35 am (CNA).- An elderly nun in France has received an apology from a French mayor after retirement home staff wrongly rejected her, citing a strict ban on religious garb and “ostentatious” signs of religion.

The rules would have barred the nun from wearing her religious habit and veil at the publicly funded home.

Alain Chrétien, the mayor of Vesoul in the Haute-Saône region, apologized to the nun and offered to help her find public housing.

“This error of judgment is very regrettable,” he said, according to the New York Times.

The mayor said that the retirement home’s staff had made a “big blunder.” He said state employees are sometimes “paralyzed” by issues of secularism, and worried that “everyone has their own definition” of the term.

The unnamed nun, who is over 70 years old, had decided to relocate from her convent in southwestern France to Haute-Saône, her native region.

She applied to a publicly-funded retirement home in Vesoul, about 55 miles northeast of Dijon. She sought a self-contained apartment with a communal eating area.

The home accepted her application in July but the local authorities said she could not wear her habit and veil.

She declined to reside in the home under those conditions. The local parish helped her rent an apartment.

In a letter to the nun, the retirement home said: “Within our homes, our residents may have preferences and beliefs and these should be respected … with regard to secularism, all ostentatious signs of belonging to a religious community cannot be accepted in order to guarantee everyone’s tranquility,” according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

“Religion is a private matter and must remain so,” it added. The home told her she could wear a cross so long as it was discreet.

The local parish priest cited her case in his monthly newsletter, lamenting that the elderly sister now had to make her own meals and did not have the care of a retirement home. He said the facility’s actions seemed “anti-Christian.”

“(O)ur ears are being filled with principles of secularism that are not understood,” said Father Florent Belin. “Old demons, mismanaged fears are blocking situations.”

Laïcité, the French version of secularism, has been enforced by law since 1905.

While originally intended to regulate Catholicism in public life and establish strict state secularism, its principles in recent decades have been applied to Muslim women who wear hijabs or other religious garb in public.

In October, controversy erupted after a mother wearing a headscarf accompanied students on a school trip to a regional parliament. She was confronted by a member of the far-right National Rally party, who insisted she remove her headscarf. The confrontation has split opinion in government and in parliament, The Guardian reports.

Nicolas Cadène, a member of the Observatory of Secularism, which helps the French government apply secularist laws, said the rules on religious garb are supposed to apply only to state employees and public servants during work hours.

The nun’s treatment was an example of “a wrong interpretation of laïcité,” he told the New York Times.

Cadène said debates about Muslims in French life have caused confusion about the law and have led to a stricter form of secularism. Targeting specific religions “always winds up extending to other religions and beliefs,” he said, calling this “a real danger.”

Father Belin contrasted the controversy over the treatment of the Muslim woman and the treatment of the nun.

“What is secularism? Surely it’s allowing everyone to live their faith without disturbing anyone else,” the priest said. “I don’t think a nun’s veil is disturbing because it’s not a sign of submission but of devotion.”

Other countries in Europe have drawn criticism for their approach to religion.

In neighboring Belgium, a ban on kosher and halal slaughter of animals took effect Jan. 1.

Backers of the ban said it follows European Union rules and other regulations requiring that animals be made insensible to pain before slaughter.

Such bans particularly affect Jews and Muslims who follow their religion’s dietary rules.

Critics said the ban was intended to stigmatize some religious groups and could have been enacted without violating freedom of religion.

Notre Dame conference to focus on call to lay leadership

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 02:39

South Bend, Ind., Nov 22, 2019 / 12:39 am (CNA).- A professor at the University of Notre Dame has offered his reflections on lay leadership in the Church, in preparation for a conference on the subject, which will be held at the university next year.

Leadership in the Church should not be understood merely as the hierarchy, insisted John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life and a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Rather, he said, all members of the Church, especially the laity, are called to be leaders in the New Evangelization.

This idea of lay leadership will be a major theme at the “Called & Co-Responsible” conference taking place at the University of Notre Dame March 4-6. The conference will analyze the call for lay leadership issued by popes over the last 65 years, ranging from Pope Paul VI in Vatican II to Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium.

“Our conference hopes to make this ‘co-responsible’ form of leadership visible as such, and at the same time to make the theology that empowers it visible as such as well,” said Cavadini.

“Lay people do not have a responsibility for mission that is limited to participating in a governance structure already fully intact, in which they are then slotted into subordinate roles,” he said. “It means that lay leadership is not limited to (though it certainly includes) ‘lay ecclesial ministry,’ which is a subordinate participation in the ministry specific to the ordained.”

He pointed to an address from Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke at the 6th Ordinary Assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action in 2012. The pope made an important distinction between the role of the laity as “co-responsible” for the Church’s mission rather than merely “collaborators” of the clergy, he said.

Benedict XVI defined the mission of the Church as “guiding people to the encounter with Christ” and “proclaiming his message of salvation,” Cavadini said, and this is a mission that belongs to all Catholics.

“This great challenge is not presented to only a few in the Church - it is not directed to the hierarchy alone - but instead is the challenge properly belonging to all the faithful,” Cavadini said.

He also pointed to the words of Pope Francis, who has stressed the importance of formation for the laity in order for them to be equipped to fulfill their responsibilities.

“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority - ordained ministers - are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church,” Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium.

“At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities.”

The “Called & Co-Responsible,” conference will delve into these questions about leadership in the Church and formation of the laity. It will consider structures for consolidating lay leadership, the difference between governance and management, what it looks like for clergy to empower the laity for leadership, and how to ensure this leadership is ordered toward the sacramental life of the Church.

“Actually, we believe the answer is just under our nose!” Cavadini said. “It is already visible in the concrete and fully ‘co-responsible’ leadership of lay people and of clergy, already striving, almost instinctively, towards this new conception of leadership that Benedict introduced and Francis has developed.”

“We want to make this striving more visible and to reflect upon it consciously,” he said.

China pressures Trump to veto bill of solidarity with Hong Kong protesters

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 19:19

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- After the US Congress passed a bill Wednesday showing solidarity with Hong Kong protesters, China threatened President Trump if he would not veto the legislation.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang demanded Nov. 20 that Trump veto the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “before it’s too late,” adding that "If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” according to al-Jazeera.

The bill was passed in the House by a vote of 417 to one.

The act shows solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong, a special administrative region on China’s coast that for a century was a British colony, until its return to China in 1997.

The agreement of Hong Kong’s return was that the region would retain its own economy and legislature, although there have been ongoing concerns about Beijing’s efforts to influence and exert pressure on Hong Kong.

Massive protests in Hong Kong began in June over an extradition bill, but have morphed into larger actions against police brutality and in favor of democracy and greater freedoms.

The legislation passed by Congress on Wednesday directs sanctions against human rights abusers in Hong Kong. It would ensure that nonviolent protesters who have been arrested or detained would not have that record held against them as a primary reason for denial of entry into the U.S.

It also seeks to hold the island’s government accountable for any U.S. technology that is transferred into the Chinese mainland for mass surveillance or policing activities by the central government.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored the final bill S. 1838 in collaboration with the House, that passed both chambers.

Both the Chinese central government and Hong Kong’s government “continue to violate the basic rights of the Hong Kong people,” Rubio stated on Wednesday, and “the United States must make clear that we continue to stand with Hong Kongers fighting for their long-cherished freedoms.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) cosponsored the bill, saying it provides “additional tools to back up our long-time commitment to Hong Kong with action.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, authored the companion bill to Rubio’s legislation that passed the House in October. He first introduced the legislation in 2014 amid growing concerns over the increasing influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong.

On the Hosue floor before the vote on Wednesday, Smith noted recent abuses such as “the kidnapping of booksellers, the disqualification of elected lawmakers, and the political prosecutions of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Benny Tai and others.”
“Today, Hong Kong is burning,” Smith said, warning that “the brutal government crackdown on democracy activists has escalated” and that Chinese president Xi Jinping has threatened “crushed bodies and shattered bones.”

“And the Hong Kong government prefers bullets and batons over peaceful and political dialogue that would address the Hong Kong people’s rightful grievances,” Smith said.

Around 1 million took to the streets of Hong Kong in protest of the extradition bill in June; the bill would allow extradition of alleged criminals into mainland China for trial.

Although the bill was soon suspended, and then finally removed from consideration in October, the protests—largely non-violent at the outset—have continued with some outbursts of violence against both police and protesters.

Crackdowns by police that have fueled serious concerns about brutality. Authorities have used rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and even live rounds in several instances as one protester was shot by police at point-blank range in a video taken Nov. 10.

Some protesters have resorted to violence against police or against other protesters, as evidenced in video showing protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police and in one instance a masked protester setting a man on fire.

Two protesters have died in November, one falling from a parking garage during a clash between police and protesters, and another hit by a hard object from other protesters.

Some Catholics have participated in the protests as a means to fight for religious freedom. They have also expressed fears that the extradition bill could have been used by the central government to further control religion; some Catholics have been subject to a travel ban to the mainland by the central government, which is reportedly wary of mainland Catholics working with Hong Kong activists to fight for greater religious freedom on the mainland.

Local bishops have asked for an “independent commission of inquiry” to investigate police abuses and for the extradition bill to be pulled. The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Ha Chi-shing, has also called for Catholics to pray the rosary and fast on Fridays for peace and reconciliation.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was the lone “No” vote on the Hong Kong bill, saying on Fox Business on Wednesday that its use of sanctions against human rights abusers would “escalate” U.S.-China tensions. “You don’t pull a gun unless you’re ready to shoot it,” he said.

Federal executions put on hold while court case moves forward

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 18:01

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction halting federal executions in the U.S., saying that a challenge to the proposed execution method should be given time to receive a court ruling.

The Trump administration had announced over the summer that it was planning to resume federal executions, after a 16-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty for federal prisoners.

Attorney General William Barr ordered executions to be scheduled for five inmates on death row. Four of those inmates challenged the lethal injection protocol that was scheduled to be used. The fifth inmate had his execution halted separately in October.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the District of Columbia said Nov. 20 that the four death row inmates must have a chance to argue their case in court.

The challenge involves the use of a three-drug cocktail, which sedates, paralyzes, and stops the heart of the person upon whom it is used.

The drugs have been controversial. In several botched executions, prisoners took as long as two hours to die, and appeared to be in excruciating pain, leading to questions about whether the paralyzing drug simply gave the appearance of a peaceful death rather than actually ensuring one. Critics have argued that the execution method constitutes a form of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the constitution.

After a series of rulings against the three-drug protocol, which was used commonly in state executions, the Obama administration in 2003 placed the federal use of the death penalty on hiatus, while the Justice Department revised execution protocols.

In resuming federal executions, Attorney General Barr announced that the adoption of a single drug protocol. However, Judge Chutkan pointed to a stipulation in the Federal Death Penalty Act requiring federal executions to be conducted “in the manner prescribed by the state of conviction.” Two of the men sentenced to die had been convicted in states using the three-drug protocol.

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible,” citing the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, the unchanging dignity of the person, and the importance of leaving open the possibility of conversion.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 62 federal inmates on death row.

Archbishop Gomez: The Church belongs to Christ

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 13:39

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 21, 2019 / 11:39 am (CNA).- Following his election as president of the US bishops' conference, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles has noted that what is of importance is not his own vision for the Church, but that of Christ.

“In interviews this week, I am getting asked a lot about my 'vision' for the Church. It is a good, sincere question. But I’m not sure it is the right question,” he wrote in a Nov. 19 column at Angelus News.

“The Church does not belong to any archbishop, even the president of the bishops’ conference. The Church does not belong to any of us. She belongs to Jesus, the Church is his Body and Bride.”

Archbishop Gomez said that the Church's mission and identity given her by Christ is “to tell the world about his life and what he has done for us, and to help them know that Jesus is the way that leads to the truth about their lives, to the love and happiness that they long for.”

The baptized “are called to be people who evangelize, disciples who are missionaries … this is the true nature of the Church. And our mission is urgent.”

The archbishop noted that our culture is confused “about the meaning of human life and freedom,” and that “there are many competing narratives now about how to find happiness and what is essential in life.”

The Church, he said, has a duty “to reach out to those who are no longer practicing any religion and also to those who come to church regularly but may not be sure what it means to be Catholic, or what the Church teaches and why.”

Archbishop Gomez called for the Church “to find new ways to propose Jesus Christ as the answer to the questions that every person holds in their hearts and minds. We need to call every man and woman to experience the full beauty of the gospel, the joy and newness of life that we have in Jesus Christ. We need to call them to find their home in the Church, in the saving mysteries of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.”

“So, my 'vision' is that we work together — priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated men and women, lay people in every walk of life — all of us seeking to do God’s will, spreading the good news of Jesus and his salvation and calling everyone to holiness.”

This is possible only by God's grace and “in union with Christ’s vicar on Earth,” he recalled.

Pope Francis “is leading us and calling all of us in the Church to rediscover this idea: that God has created us, and in baptism has given us a part to play in his plan of salvation — to be missionary disciples.”

Archbishop Gomez said he is honored and humbled by the support and confidence indicated by his Nov. 12 election as USCCB president.

He said the election “is a reflection of the growing diversity of the Church in this country, and I also think it is a reflection of what we are doing here in Los Angeles.”

“Certainly, the bishops recognize the presence and importance of Latinos in the Church and in our nation,” he added.

The universality of the Church is seen “in the amazing diversity of the local Church here in Los Angeles,” the archbishop stated. “But more and more, the face of the Church is changing in dioceses across the country.”

He said this is beautiful, reflecting that “Christ intends his Church to be a home for all people, God’s family on earth, with children of God from every race and culture, every nationality and language all following him and living as brothers and sisters.”

“This is the only reason the Church exists: for this great mission of calling the family of God into being, building God’s kingdom on Earth.”

Archbishop Gomez solicited prayers as he takes on the responsibility of USCCB president, and entrusted his time in the role “to the maternal care of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

“May she intercede for us and inspire every Catholic to follow Jesus with deep love and a true desire to share his message of salvation with the people of our time,” Archbishop Gomez concluded.

Democratic candidates: Protecting abortion is ‘what we do and what we stand for’

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 12:37

Atlanta, Ga., Nov 21, 2019 / 10:37 am (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidates struggled to respond when asked if pro-life politicians have a place in the party during a debate on Wednesday night. The candidates did, however, did pledge their support for abortion and exhorted voters to do the same.

“I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), said at Wednesday night’s debate hosted by NBC News in Atlanta.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) challenged men to support abortion as a pro-woman issue. “Well let me just tell you that if there’s ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidates faced off in the fifth debate in advance of the 2020 elections, in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday night. They were questioned by moderators from MSNBC and NBC News on health care, immigration, voting laws, climate change, and other issues.

Towards the end of the debate, moderator and MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow brought up the topic of abortion.

Maddow asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) if, in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court and the states have the authority to outlaw abortion, she would “intervene as president” to preserve abortion access in states where it “disappears.”

“Well, of course,” Klobuchar replied, calling for a codification of Roe into law at the federal level. Several candidates, including Warren and fellow frontrunner Joe Biden, have called for federal legislation on abortion rights in their campaign platform to prevent states from limiting the practice it in the event of a furture Supreme Court decision.

Maddow then asked if there is “room” in the Democratic Party for pro-life candidates, citing the re-election of Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards this past weekend; Edwards is outspoken in support of the pro-life cause and signed a “heartbeat” bill into law that banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six to eight weeks in a pregnancy.

“Is there room in the Democratic Party for someone like him?” Maddow asked Warren. “Someone who can win in a deep red state, but who does not support abortion rights?”

Warren said that “abortion rights are human rights” but did not specifically address the matter of pro-life candidates in the party. She did say that the party is “fundamentally” about preserving abortion access.

“Protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” Warren said.

Maddow followed up by asking “Is there room for [Edwards] in the Democratic Party with those politics?”

Warren answered, “I have made clear what I think the Democratic Party stands for.” She added that “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party. I’m not here to try to build fences.”

“I want to be an America where everybody has a chance,” Warren said of abortion access.

In addition to calling for legislative codefication of Roe, Warren also called for federal laws to overturn state regulations of abortion such as “geographical, physical, and procedural restrictions and requirements” and “restrictions on medication abortion.” 

She has also supported taxpayer funding of elective abortions, coverage of abortion and contraceptives in health plans and in Medicare-for-All, services to educate and inform women about abortion access, and protections against workplace discrimination of abortion.

During the debate, the president of the organization Democrats for Life of America, Kristen Day, tweeted that in “talking to dems on the ground” in Atlanta, she was “surprised about how many people do not know that their candidate supports late-term abortion.”

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List tweeted that “79% of Americans OPPOSE late-term abortion” and that the “candidates’ abortion extremism is a major political vulnerability in November 2020.”

While late-term abortions were not a specific topic of discussion at Wednesday’s debate, candidates did not elaborate on any proposed limits to abortion access.

Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) said that the matter of state abortion laws “is a voting issue” and “a voter suppression issue,” claiming that Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 race against current governor Brian Kemp because of “voter suppression, particularly of African-American communities.”

“The ‘heartbeat’ bill here, opposed by over 70% of Georgians, is the result of voter suppression,” Booker said of Georgia’s “heartbeat” law that outlawed abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Gov. Kemp signed the bill into law in May, but the law was temporarily prevented from going into effect by a federal judge.

Booker implied that Gov. Kemp used the law as a weapon against the African-American community in Georgia. “When you have undemocratic means, when you suppress peoples’ votes to get elected, those are the very people you’re going to come after when you’re in office,” Booker said of the “heartbeat” bill.

Day tweeted in response that “If Stacey Abrams had taken a moderate position on abortion, she would have won,” referring to the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.

“The only Democratic Governor in the south is a pro-life Democrat. Abortion extremism & an abortion litmus test suppresses votes,” Day tweeted, referring to John Bel Edwards in Louisiana.

Edwards won his race with a high turnout of the African-American vote.

In an interview with local NPR affiliate WRKF, Edwards’ campaign consultant Greg Rigamer said that the African-American turnout in the election was higher in number than in the previous gubernatorial race, although representing a smaller share of the overall vote. Edwards, he said, “got literally-- unequivocally-- over 98% of the African American votes.”

Pro-life stem cell research finds success—and seeks more support

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 05:03

Iowa City, Nov 21, 2019 / 03:03 am (CNA).- A Catholic medical research institute has claimed some successes in providing alternatives to research that harvest cells from human embryos--but it says such research needs more resources to compete.

“There aren’t very many research organizations that we have seen that have taken a pro-life stand that we have, namely we won’t either support embryonic stem cell research or participate in it,” Jay Kamath, president of the Iowa-based John Paul II Medical Research Institute, told CNA Nov. 7.

The research institute, now based in the Iowa City suburb of Coralville, was founded in 2006. It has a research staff of about 12.

In recent years, the institute has pioneered a new technique to create adult stem cells, and its products have helped explore treatments for at least one rare disease. The organization hopes to build on these successes and demonstrate the effectiveness of ethical stem cell research.

Stem cell research today relies on cells taken from either human embryos or mature tissue. Stem cells harvested from embryos have a high degree of potential because they are capable of developing into any other tissue type in the body. However, they require the destruction of a human life at an early embryonic stage, making them ethically controversial. In addition, these cells can show instability and have a propensity for developing tumors. Critics note that despite significant federal funding, embryonic stem cells have failed to deliver cures for any diseases thus far.

Research on adult stem cells is more limited because these cells have less capacity to develop into various types of tissue. However, this research does not destroy a human life, because it is taken from developed tissue rather than a human embryo.

In recent years, the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells has brought hope to researchers looking for additional options. These cells have the ability to become any type of cell but are created from adult stem cells, avoiding the ethical concerns posed by embryonic stem cell use.

Still, funding for embryonic stem cell research continues, Kamath said, contrary to what some people believe.

“The reality is that embryonic stem cell research is still being well-funded and still continues,” he said. “It is something that the large number of medical research organizations either participate in directly or support participation in. The National Institutes for Health and the like are funding this kind of research.”

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute hopes to be a leading figure in offering alternatives to embryonic research. Since the institute’s founding in 2016, it has seen a number of significant accomplishments.

“We’ve been able to differentiate these stem cells into every type of tissue that’s available in the human body,” Kamath said. “We have a huge repository of stem cells.”

While induced pluripotent stem cells are often created through the use of viruses or a type of tumor-creating gene called oncogenes, Kamath said, the John Paul II Institute has developed new, different methods.

Dr. Alan Moy, M.D., co-founder of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, has co-authored papers on the virus- and oncogene-free process for creating stem cells in two different papers: one in Regenerative Medicine dated Nov. 28, 2018 and one in Future Science OA, dated May 12, 2017.

Research at the John Paul II Institute has also helped two sisters who suffer from Niemann-Pick disease type C, a rare disorder that affects the body’s ability to transport cholesterol and other fatty substances within the cells. The disorder can cause dementia-like problems at an early age, and can kill if left untreated.

Researchers harvested stem cells through a biopsy of the patients and used these cells to test a drug called cyclodextrin, in participation with a National Institutes of Health lab.

“We were one of the first to collaborate and show that this drug is effective in a laboratory setting through our clinical research,” Kamath said. Researchers were able to advance the drug to a small-scale clinical trial. That trial has grown and is “helping these children fight off this disease.”

The institute’s researchers presently are developing two separate adult stem cell lines, from placenta and cord blood. The cell lines are in a process called “immortalization” – a technical term for the state in which cells grow indefinitely in artificial cell culture conditions.

Human embryonic kidney cell line, numbered HEK-293, is widely used in medical research for gene therapy, vaccine production, pharmaceutical applications for drug discovery, protein development, and medical manufacturing.

Kamath hopes the institute’s two cell lines can advance some research “to displace or replace the human embryonic kidney cell line in drug development or vaccine development.”

He said the research institute aims to use adult stem cells to build a “platform” to research various types of diseases: cancer; neurological diseases, like Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple sclerosis; chronic diseases such as pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes; and rare diseases that number in the thousands but affect few people in number.

The institute encourages people with rare diseases to sign up for its patient registry so that it can potentially help the latter if any relevant research moves towards clinical use.

Looking to the future, Kamath said securing continued funding and raising awareness about the ethical research at the institute is an ongoing obstacle.

In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, asking people do dump ice water buckets on their heads and challenge others to do the same, while encouraging donations to the ALS Association, which funds efforts to cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Catholic commentators, including several bishops, noted that the ALS Association at the time was willing to use embryonic stem cells, and they referred potential donors to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute instead.

Still, the institute says, more support is needed.

Moy, the medical research institute’s founder, warned that there is little evidence that the pharmaceutical industry is interested in creating new ethical cell lines.

“This is going to create a moral and financial challenge for Catholic health care workers, Catholic medical researchers, Catholic hospitals, and a moral and health care challenge for Catholic patients and pro-life individuals who will someday need these advanced medicines that need to be free of cells that are created from abortion,” Moy said in an Oct. 19 YouTube video published by the institute.

“It’s our goal to someday validate that these cell lines can achieve and exceed the performance of aborted fetal cells currently used in biomanufacturing,” Moy said.

Kamath warned that if alternatives are not developed, Catholic hospitals could face compromising choices in what treatments they offer. If they offer such treatments, Catholic patients might be unwilling to undergo them. If they do not offer such treatments, he told CNA, Catholic hospitals could be perceived as failing to offer standard care.

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute’s Campaign for Cures seeks to raise $300,000 by the close of 2019. It is currently about one-third of the way to the goal.

The institute’s website is

Knights of Columbus give hundreds of new coats to Denver’s homeless before snowfall

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 18:15

Denver, Colo., Nov 20, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- It was a pleasant November morning in downtown Denver when volunteers with the Knights of Columbus set up tents for distributing new puffy winter coats, as well as snacks, socks and water, to homeless people.

But while roughly 150 people waited in line for the giveaway to start Nov. 20, the temperature outside crept down. The coats were coming just in time; a forecasted snowfall seemed likely as the afternoon approached.

Serena waited in line with a friend. She was looking forward to a new coat, she said, because her old one was getting too small.

“I’m very grateful to be able to receive a coat today,” Serena told CNA. 

Ted, who was at the front of the line in a worn red Marlboro coat, found out about the coat drive at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in downtown Denver, which distributes food to the homeless.

“It means a lot to me. My coat’s dirty, I need a new coat. And it’s going to snow tonight,” he said. 

Ted was eyeing the more colorful coats that were laid out on white plastic tables in the tent, waiting to be tried on and given away. He might take the blue and orange one, he said, because those are the colors of the Broncos, Denver’s NFL team.

Tracey sported a pink hat and yellow sunglasses while she waited in line for her coat. She said was excited to see some of her friends from Christ in the City, a Catholic mission for the homeless, at the event.

The giveaway was held in Lincoln Memorial Park in front of the state capitol building at the same time as Christ in the City’s weekly Lunch in the Park, an event that is just as it sounds. Hundreds of people got in line for lunch and then a coat, or first got a coat and then some lunch.

The coat giveaway for homeless people in Denver was a pilot event for the Knights, who are looking at replicating the event in other cities.

The project is similar to the Knights of Columbus’ Coats for Kids project, a national coat giveaway for children that the Knights have sponsored in the United States and Canada since 2009.

“We just felt that we needed to expand this program to the homeless. We’ve listened to Pope Francis and his word about taking care of the homeless, and we felt that this was one way that we can give the gift of warmth to people in need,” Knights of Columbus Supreme Secretary Michael O’Connor told CNA.

“We’re going to be getting bad weather tonight, there are two inches of snow predicted for tonight, so it’s the perfect time to be giving people new coats,” he said.

The giveaway also came just three days after the World Day for the Poor, which Pope Francis celebrated in Rome by having a meal with 1,500 homeless people.

“We’re just bringing the World Day of the Poor to Denver three days later,” O’Connor said. “So it’s in line with the mission of the Catholic Church, and we believe that we need to take care of those in need.”

O’Connor was one of several Knights who came from the organization’s national office in New Haven, Connecticut for the event.

The Supreme Council paid for and shipped more than 600 new winter coats and other supplies to Denver for the event, where they coordinated with local Council #539, located roughly two blocks away from the park where the giveaway was held.

“We have a lot of history in Denver,” O’Connor said. “The first council in the west was in Denver, it’s over 119 years old, it’s located 2 blocks from here. So for us, it seemed natural to have this event in conjunction with that council.”

Denver is also rich in resources for the homeless. Organizers with the Knights told CNA that they coordinated with Christ in the City because of the mission’s extensive experience working with the homeless and putting on events in the city park.

Sean Pott, a Denver native who now works in the national office in the department of Fraternal Mission, said he had the idea to do an event for the homeless in Denver because of the resources available there. Pott chatted with those in line for coats as they waited for the event to officially start.

“Sean had the idea to reach out on another level,” Andy Wheaton, a managing general agent in the insurance program of the Knights of Columbus, told CNA.

“It’s faith in action, and Christ in the City has been doing this a long time, and Sean (knows) the missionaries so he coordinated with them,” Wheaton added. “We’re using their rules and how they do everything.”

Wheaton said the missionaries held a training for the Knights last night about best practices when working with the homeless, including safety tips and easy topics for conversation.

Wheaton, who is local to Denver, said he was excited to see the collaboration with Christ in the City, a mission familiar to his family, and to be able to partake in the charitable event.

“Even though I work for them, I joined the Knights for this reason,” Wheaton said.


Support for religious freedom still strong despite culture wars

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 17:10

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2019 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- A new report by a leading legal group claims that, despite deep division and polarization in the U.S., there is still a national consensus for a broad interpretation of religious freedom.

“The central finding from this first year’s Index is that religious freedom has survived the culture wars,” the Religious Freedom Index released by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on Wednesday states.

Becket hosted the launch of the index on Wednesday, as a comprehensive study of American perspectives and views on religious freedom.

The index scores the views of Americans on six facets of religious freedom—religious pluralism, religious sharing, religion and policy, religion in action, religion in society, and church and state.

Data for the study was gathered by polling of a representative sample of Americans from around the country, conducted by Heart & Mind strategies.

Mark Rienzi, president and senior counsel at Becket, called the index “a new tool for understanding Americans’ sentiments towards our first freedom.”

The index’s three main findings are that Americans still support “a broad interpretation of religious freedom” despite the culture wars, are wary of governments penalizing people for the free exercise of religion, and support “accommodation" for minority religions.

The report found strong opposition to government taking adverse action against people or organizations for their free exercise of religion. Seventy-four percent of respondents answered that individuals and groups should not be penalized for saying that marriage is between one man and one woman; seven in ten answered that government should not interfere in the employment decisions of religious organizations.

Nearly three-in-four respondents, 74%, supported workplace accommodations for practice of minority religions, and 63% still supported such accommodations “when it creates an imposition or inconvenience for others.”

Certain racial minorities—African-Americans and Hispanics—were more likely to view religion as “part of the solution” in society, Montse Alvarado, Becket’s vice president and executive director, noted in a panel discussion following the release of the index.

Tim Carney, commentary editor for the Washington Examiner and author of the book “Alienated America,” pointed out that it can be “tricky” to explain the differing, seemingly contradictory, beliefs on the role of religion in society—often held by the same person.

For instance, he said, many Americans say there should be a “wall of separation” between church and state, yet also believe the government should be helping the poor.

However, the organizations with the best track record of serving the marginalized are often religious organizations, which brings up the question of government support of religious organizations.

While the “abstract” of such funding “bothers a lot of people,” he said, when the particulars of a situation are explained—the use of government funding for a church’s soup kitchen or a religious group that helps trafficking victims—people are usually more amenable to it.

Another common debate today over religious freedom, Carney said, is the freedom of churches and religious organizations to publicly hold beliefs deemed by some to be controversial and/or discriminatory.

For instance, failed Democratic presidential candidate Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke said in an October townhall that churches should face the removal of their tax exempt status if they teach that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Catholic adoption agencies have already closed their doors in some states, Carney said, and under such a mentality “you’re seeing the church retreat from the public square.” In these cases, the poor suffer, he said, but it also “reduces the appeal of the church” if its members or clergy are not seen in the public square.

For one of the questions of the importance of religion in the life of respondents, 43% answered that religion was “extremely” or “very” important, and 27% said it was “somewhat” important. 30% answered that it was either “not very” or “not at all” important.

Nearly six in ten respondents said it was “absolutely essential” or “very important” to act to protect religious freedom.

A majority (57%), given two different scenarios of a business owner or private organization “holding unpopular views” believed by some to be discriminatory, said that their belief was “somewhat” or “exactly like” that the owner or organization should be allowed to have their belief without losing their job or business.

Third judge finds against conscience protection rule for medical workers

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 16:00

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 20, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A third federal judge has struck down the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for medical professionals who object to abortions because of their religious beliefs. 

U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled on Tuesday, Nov. 19, that the Department of Health and Human Services rule, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority,” was too broad and would have permitted medical professionals that were not doctors or nurses, such as ambulance drivers and receptionists, to refuse to do their jobs if they involved abortion.

Alsup, ruling for the District Court for Nothern California, is the third judge to block the rule. In early November, federal judges in Washington state and New York also moved to strike the rule. 

"An ambulance driver would be free, on religious or moral grounds, to eject a patient en route to a hospital upon learning that the patient needed an emergency abortion,” said Alsup in his ruling. Alsup sits on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Presently, there are certain legal protections for medical professionals and conscience rights. Conscience rights campaigners say that these laws are not always followed or enforced, and the new rule was designed to clarify rights and entitlements available to those who have had their consciences violated. 

In 2011, HHS issued a rule which “provided inadequate enforcement of conscience rights,” according to the Trump administration. That rule was based on three laws. The 2019 rule was based on more than two dozen statutory provisions that protect conscience rights.

In response to the 2019 rule, a coalition of 19 states, the District of Columbia, local governments, and pro-abortion groups including Planned Parenthood’s national federation and Northern New England affiliate, all sued the administration.

“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life,” said Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino. “Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it’s the law.”

“Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” he added.

Tuesday’s ruling was in response to three lawsuits that were filed by the city of San Francisco, the state of California, and Santa Clara County, along with doctors and clinic workers. Prior to the ruling, San Francisco had already pledged not to protect conscience rights if the rule were to have gone into effect. 

California filed suit against the Trump administration three weeks after the rule was announced in May. In a statement announcing the suit, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the conscience rule was dangerous to American lives and that “a war is being waged on access to health care across our country.” 

After Tuesday’s decision, Becerra referred to the conscience protection rule as President Trump’s “heartless, unlawful attempt to restrict the healthcare rights of women, LGBTQ individuals, and countless others.” 

Becerra was joined in the suit by the attorneys general from several other states. According to a statement released by the city, San Francisico could lose up to $1 billion in federal funding if the rule comes into effect since the city does not intend to comply with the conscience protection laws.

The state of California could have lost nearly $78 billion in federal funding for not complying with the rule. 

The rule was due to go into effect on Nov. 22 and the administration is expected to appeal the decision. 

Greensburg adoption, foster program shuts down amid legal battle

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 20:35

Greensburg, Pa., Nov 19, 2019 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- Catholic adoption and foster care agencies in Pennsylvania are continuing to close their doors as Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) continues a legal battle with the city of Philadelphia over the agency’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples.

The Diocese of Greensburg announced Oct. 1 that it had closed its adoption and foster care program, which had been operating since 1954. The Greensburg program also provided adoption services for the Pittsburgh diocese.

“Due to a purely political attack on our ability to perform our adoption work, while at the same time being permitted to exercise our religious freedom, we have been frozen out of the major source of contracts related to these two fields of work,” said Monsignor Raymond Riffle, managing director of Catholic Charities of Greensburg.

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ approximately 30 contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS), that had been working with foster children since its founding.

Run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, CSS has noted that no same-sex couple has ever sought certification through the agency and been denied. If such a couple were to do so, the agency says it “would refer the couple to one of 29 other agencies in Philadelphia—several within blocks of Catholic’s headquarters.”

Referrals are common, the agency notes, and are routinely carried out for reasons including geographic proximity, a specific agency’s medical or behavioral expertise, language needs, or a specialization in pregnant youth or other types of foster situations.

CSS is now suing the city of Philadelphia, arguing that the city’s decision to stop foster referrals violates their religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers representing CSS noted that earlier this year, the city of Philadelphia put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents, due to a shortage of beds for children in the foster care system.

CSS has served approximately 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and been in operation in the city for more than a century.

In April, the Third Circut Court of Appeals ruled that city contractors— including CSS— in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide to hear the case as soon as Nov. 22, though it previously declined to review it.

Local media report that the Greensburg diocese, along with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services of the Diocese of Erie, sought a religious exemption from the state policy in 2018 but were denied.

According to TribLive, Greensburg Catholic Charities facilitated 167 adoption and foster care placements for both dioceses through its state contract, and also handled 158 adoption and foster care cases outside the state system, through a Harrisburg-based program known as Women in Need.

Adoption and foster care agencies have had to close in recent years for similar reasons in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C.

In Buffalo, New York, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

TribLive reports that as of now, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg is still an adoption provider for the state, along with St. Joseph’s Center of Scranton.

The Supreme Court was asked to take up the case in July, after declining to hear the case last year.

Andrea Picciotti Bayer, legal advisor for the Catholic Association, told CNA that it is possible that the court could make a decision on whether to hear the case Nov. 22, though it’s a “total long shot.”

“The State of Pennsylvania has now joined the city of Philadelphia in demanding that faith-based agencies choose between meeting...the needs of vulnerable children and violating their deeply held religious beliefs on marriage and family,” she commented.

“Our hope is that the Supreme Court will review the case brought by Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia and find that the Constitution does not allow such invidiousness against faith-based organizations, so that champions of children like CSS can continue finding loving homes for needy kids in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching,” she said.

Federal judge allows Christian school's suit to go forward in voucher case

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 19:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 19, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A federal district court judge on Thursday denied Maryland's motion to dismiss a suit by a Christian school against the state superindentent of schools. The school complains it was barred from a voucher program because of its religious beliefs.

Bethel Ministries, an ecclesial community that runs Bethel Christian Academy, filed a suit in June against the Maryland Department of Education.

The education department last year disqualified the academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today voucher program, which benefits low-income students.

The department had previously requested to see the student handbooks of schools in the program. Bethel’s handbook includes a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

In making its decision, the Department of Education cited a state law forbidding BOOST schools from discriminating in the admissions process on sexual orientation.

“Bethel has plausibly alleged that Defendants violated several of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in the course of deeming the school ineligible for BOOST,” Stephanie Gallagher, a judge of the US District Court for the District of Maryland, wrote in her Nov. 14 ruling allowing Bethel's suit to go forward.

“Bethel has consistently maintained that the school does not discriminate in student admissions on the basis of sexual orientation,” she noted, adding that in correspondence with the BOOST advisory board, Bethel explained “that it does not consider sexual orientation or sexual attraction when evaluating applications for admission.”

“In fact, Defendants have not identified any student that Bethel has discriminated against in admissions on the basis of sexual orientation. As such, Bethel alleged in its complaint – which this Court accepts as true at this stage – that it 'has not, and will not, discriminate against a student in admissions based on an applicant’s sexual orientation.'”

Gallagher wrote that Bethel “has plausibly alleged” that the education department “infringed upon several of its constitutional rights. Namely, Bethel has presented a plausible case that the Advisory Board’s determination of ineligibility was motivated by the school’s religious affiliation.”

“Bethel has plausibly alleged that Defendants deemed it ineligible for BOOST not because of evidence of discrimination in admissions, but because of [its] Christian identity. In other words, it is plausible that the Advisory Board, in determining that Bethel violated the nondiscrimination provision, unjustly conflated the school’s religious beliefs with discriminatory behavior.”

The judge concluded that “in ruling on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, this Court must take as true that Bethel has not discriminated in admissions on the basis of sexual orientation, and thus, must reasonably infer that Bethel has complied with the nondiscrimination provision enforced by Defendants.”

Bethel families were notified that they could no longer use the voucher at the academy just a few weeks before the start of the 2018-2019 school year. At least six students were forced to leave the school because of the disqualification and its resulting lack of funding. One in five students at Bethel relies on some kind of financial aid.

In revoking Bethel's eligibility, the Department of Education also told the school that it must repay $102,600 it had already received from the voucher program.

Christiana Holcomb, a legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said after Gallagher's ruling that “we're pleased that the court has rejected Maryland’s attempt to shut down this case. Bethel Christian Academy offers an academically rigorous and caring Christian education in a diverse environment, but Maryland has refused to play by its own rules, expelled Bethel from a neutral government voucher program without just cause.”

“Maryland’s families deserve better; that’s why we’re grateful Bethel’s lawsuit can move forward,” she added.

Gallagher was appointed to the Maryland district court by President Donald Trump, and had been nominated to the same position by Barack Obama.