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Report: 'Aggressive nationalism' fueling threats to religious minorities

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 14:12

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2018 / 12:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- “Aggressive nationalism” is a principal driver of violence and intimidation targeting religious minorities in certain parts of the world, according to the international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The charity last week accused a “religiously illiterate West” of ignoring the plight of religious minorities primarily in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, saying that “most Western governments” have failed to provide adequate aid to those persecuted and to migrants.  

ACN’s Nov. 22 report, Religious Freedom in the World 2018, is based on a 25-month review of all 196 of the world’s nations. The report highlights 38 nations with significant religious freedom violations, and in more than half of those countries, conditions for religious minorities have deteriorated since 2016.

“Pope Francis, as well as his immediate predecessors, have all stressed that religious freedom is a fundamental human right rooted in the dignity of man,” Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN, said in a statement.

“It is the purpose of this report to draw worldwide attention to this intrinsic link between religious freedom and human dignity.”

The report states that more than 60 percent of the world’s population lives in a country where “the right to religious freedom is obstructed or denied outright.” This includes nearly 330 million Christians who live in countries where they face religious persecution of some kind.  

Religious freedom violations perpetrated by state actors and authoritarian regimes, the report notes, resulted in more countries showing a decline in religious liberty this year compared to 2016. ACN calls this phenomenon “ultra-nationalism.”

“Violent and systematic intimidation of religious minority groups has led to them being branded as disloyal aliens and threatening to the state,” the report reads.

One such country is China, where the increasingly authoritarian Communist government has recently been cracking down on religious minorities, despite a provisional September deal with the Vatican on the appointment of Catholic bishops.

In other countries, such as Russia and Kyrgyzstan, worsening intolerance toward religious minorities meant the countries were placed in ACN’s “Discrimination” category for the first time.

For other countries, including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Eritrea, “the situation [for religious minorities] was already so bad, it could scarcely get any worse,” the report reads.

Islamic extremism, fueled by conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam, accounted for the persecution faced by minorities in 22 of the 38 countries highlighted. Though Islamist violence has lessened in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, the authors of the report assert that media reports have focused mainly on the Islamist threat from ISIS and its affiliates, while ignoring the spread of Islamist groups elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. At the same time, the report argues that Islamophobia in the West has increased, partly because of terrorist attacks and the ongoing migrant crisis.

“There are some like the Rohingya Muslims, whose plight has received due attention in the West, but so many others—such as Christians in Nigeria, Ahmadis in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran—feel abandoned by the West where religious freedom has slipped down the human rights priority rankings,” the report reads.

Sexual abuse of women by extremist groups in Africa, the Middle East and parts of India was an issue of particular importance highlighted by the report.

ACN, founded in 1947, has been a papal charity since 2011 and serves Christians in 150 countries worldwide.

New documentary shows individual, societal threat of pornography

Sun, 11/25/2018 - 18:46

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2018 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- The non-profit group Fight the New Drug has released a three-part documentary to raise a greater awareness of the damage caused by pornography.

The film, “Brain, Heart, World,” was released Nov. 12. Each episode is about 30 minutes long and explores a different realm in which pornography causes harm.

Currently in a soft release, the film is expected to be promoted more starting early next year.

Clay Olsen, president and co-founder of Fight the New Drug, expressed hope that the film would be able to influence a wider audience than the reach of seminars and presentations.

“We started Fight the New Drug 10 years ago and the intention has always been to bring education and awareness to the younger generation, to help them make more educated decisions on the topic, knowing that this was an issue that was impacting a generation like no other generation in human history,” he told CNA.

“We believe that this [movie] format will be able to reach individuals more quickly and in the medium in which they are more accustomed to learning.”

Olsen said the documentary looks at three major areas in which pornography causes harm - the mind, human relationships, and society.

“[Episode] one focuses on the brain, educates individuals on the potential harmful impact of pornography to individuals and neurologically. Episode two is on the heart and impact to relationships, connections, and love. [The last episode,] the world, explores the larger societal impact of pornography and what we can do to combat it collectively.”

He said the movie has been viewed by family members at home, students at universities, parishioners at churches, and members of other organizations. The initial feedback from viewers of different religions, political parties, ages, and cultures, has been “phenomenal,” he said.

So far, various themes from the film have resonated with viewers. Some people, he said, were surprised by to the last episode, which showed the dark reality of pornography’s role in human trafficking. Many people do not realize the extent of pornography’s grip on the modern culture, he explained.

“It really has more to do with where they are at in their life and their interests and maybe personal experiences that have made them more curious about a particular topic. That’s really what we were hoping for – that each episode would be able to connect with different people for different reasons.”

Olsen said the movie – and the organization as a whole – are less about fighting against something and more about fighting to build something. He said the necessary reaction to pornography needs to be a collective push for a healthier life.

“We must engage, we must step in and help raise the collective awareness of our communities and our culture so we can create a groundswell of momentum toward more healthy living, healthy relationships, and healthy society,” he said.

“Rather than fighting against pornography, Fight the New Drug and this documentary is far more about fighting for real love, real connection, and real relationships.”

Bishop Morlino of Madison dies at age 71

Sun, 11/25/2018 - 10:23

Madison, Wis., Nov 25, 2018 / 08:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison died the evening of Saturday, Nov. 24, at St. Mary Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, the diocese has announced. He was 71.

On Friday, the Diocese of Madison issued a statement saying that Morlino had suffered a “cardiac event” while undergoing scheduled medical tests on Wednesday. At the time, he was initially reported to be “resting.” On Saturday, Vicar General, Msgr. James Bartylla released an urgent prayer request saying that things had taken a turn and “it is likely that our hope lays in a miracle at this point.”

Six hours after the Diocese of Madison published Bartylla’s prayer request, the diocesan Facebook page posted that Morlino had died.

“The all-night prayer vigil for Bishop Robert Morlino, at Holy Name Heights (702 S. High Point Rd, Madison) continues, now for the repose of his soul, ending with benediction and Sunday morning Mass, said for his intention, at 8:00 AM,” said the diocese on Facebook.

“Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.”

A more formal statement was released hours later.

Morlino was installed as the fourth bishop of Madison Aug. 1, 2003. Prior to his time in Madison, Morlino was Bishop of Helena.

A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Morlino was initially ordained a Jesuit priest in 1974. During his time as a Jesuit, he taught philosophy at several universities, including Loyola College in Baltimore, Boston College, and the University of Notre Dame. In 1983, he became a priest of the Diocese of Kalamazoo. He was consecrated as a bishop in 1999. At the time of his consecration, he was preparing to become a full-time professor of theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

In the statement announcing his death, the Diocese of Madison outlined Morlino’s three priorities as bishop. These were to “increase the number and quality of men ordained to the diocesan priesthood,” to increase a sense of reverence throughout the diocese, and “to challenge Catholic institutions in the diocese to live out their professed faith in Jesus Christ” with their ministry in the secular realm.

“All objective indicators point to the fact that Bishop Morlino accomplished what he set out to do in the diocese,” said the diocese. Morlino ordained 40 men during his 15 years as bishop, and there are another 24 seminarians in formation within the diocese. Additionally, there were “significant inroads toward encouraging the Catholic institutions in his care to live out their mission with greater fidelity.”

In August of this year, Morlino released a pastoral letter saying the “homosexual subculture” within the Church was “wreaking great devastation.” He also called for additional Masses of reparation and fasting, and promised to respond firmly to any allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the clergy or seminarians.

Funeral arrangements for the bishop have not yet been finalized.

Regis University defends campus 'drag show' despite archbishop's complaint

Fri, 11/23/2018 - 14:00

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Officials at a Catholic university defended a campus “drag show” and classroom measures designed to support the gender identity preferences of students, even after their local bishop said the university’s plan is at odds with Catholic teaching.

“I do not intend to change my position of support for our faculty and students,” Denver’s Regis University provost Janet Houser wrote in a Nov. 16 email to faculty. Houser’s email referenced complaints from Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila to university administrators, and a response from the university’s president.

On Oct. 29, Houser and the university’s Queer Resource Alliance sent a letter to faculty members suggesting they attend an on-campus “Drag Show featuring student performers,” along with other campus events commemorating the “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” on Nov. 15.

Houser’s October letter also encouraged professors to “assign readings by queer, and especially transgender, authors,” and “add your preferred gender pronouns to your email signature (for example, "she/her/hers").”

Faculty members were encouraged to refer to students by their preferred names and gender pronouns, and to indicate their intention to do so on course syllabi.

In a Nov. 13 open letter published on his archdiocesan website, Aquila wrote that “this guidance is not in conformity with the Catholic faith, despite the attempts made to justify it as rooted in Jesuit values.”

“On the contrary, Pope Francis has repeatedly decried the promotion of gender fluidity as a type of ideological colonization,” Aquila wrote.

“Why is Regis University promoting and teaching an ideology that is contrary to what we know from the Scriptures?” the archbishop asked.

Two days later, Regis University president Fr. John Fitzgibbons, SJ, wrote to Aquila, saying that “no student or staff member who, in conscience before God, identifies as lesbian, gay, or transgender, should ever be made to feel unsafe or unwelcome in our company.”

“While a ‘Drag Show’ might appear out of place on a Jesuit, Catholic campus, once again, such events, like the Queer Resource Alliance, open a safe space, a merciful space, if you will, for LGBTQ students to show their care and support for one another.”

Citing Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a “field hospital,” Fitzgibbons said that “our LGBTQ students often come to use as the most deeply wounded of society’s citizens.”

“For us, to accompany LGBTQ persons with the mercy of Christ means allowing them the dignity of telling their stories and naming their experiences in terms that ring true for them, even while critically examining those terms in light of Catholic teaching.”

Citing the work of Fr. James Martin, SJ, Fitzgibbons wrote that “Regis University, like other Catholic universities, thus serves the Church by maintaining a holy balance between supporting LGBTQ students and doing so critically.”

The priest noted a number of programs at the university that “include sustained discussions of human sexuality, with Catholic teaching holding a prominent place in the dialogue.”

“I do not say that we embody our Jesuit, Catholic values perfectly, without error or room for improvement,“ Fitzgibbons’ letter concluded, adding that the university is committed to Catholic teaching and the formation of students.

“Our fidelity is not to ideologies, it is to persons and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver told CNA that the archdiocese has “received messages from Regis faculty, students, alumni and parents thanking Archbishop Aquila for his response to this situation.”

He added that the university and the archdiocese are working to schedule a meeting between Aquila and Fitzgibbons.

The archdiocese is ”looking into what our other options are to address this situation, but are hopeful that we can have productive dialogue with Fr. Fitzgibbons first,” he said.  

 

'13 Reasons Why' could influence suicidal teens, says study

Fri, 11/23/2018 - 06:00

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A new study from the University of Michigan warns that the popular--and controversial--Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” could influence teens who are considering suicide.

The show, which is an adaptation of the 2007 Jay Asher young adult novel of the same name, tells the story of 17-year-old Hannah Baker and the aftermath of her suicide. Baker left behind a series of audiotapes she had recorded prior to her death implicating people she said were the reasons why she chose to end her life.

When the show was released on Netflix last year, it was criticized for its on-screen depiction of suicide and the overall tone of the series. Catholic leaders urgeded “extreme caution” regarding the show, and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a nonprofit that aims to prevent suicide, said that they feared the show may do “more harm than good.”

The show’s second season, which was released in May, was shown with a disclaimer that instructed younger viewers to watch the show with an adult and to seek help if they had suicidal thoughts.

Now, a recently-published study supports some of these fears. The study “13 Reasons Why: Viewing Patterns and Perceived Impact Among Youths at Risk of Suicide,” published Nov. 21 in Psychiatry Online, surveyed 87 suicidal teenagers aged 13 to 17 who were taken to the emergency department.

As part of the survey, teens were asked 44 questions related to the show, including who they watched it with and how they were influenced by its story. If a person reported that they had not previously heard of the show, they were not asked any more questions in order to avoid drawing attention to the series.

Of the 87 people surveyed, 43 of them said that they had watched at least one episode of the show. Of those who had watched the show, 21 of them said that they believed it heightened their suicide risk.

While the lead author of the study Victor Hong, M.D. admits that these findings do not definitively prove anything about a risk of suicide, “it confirms that we should definitely be concerned about its impact on impressionable and vulnerable youth,” he said.

“Few believe this type of media exposure will take kids who are not depressed and make them suicidal,” said Hong. Instead, “the concern is about how this may negatively impact youth who are already teetering on the edge.”

Although Netflix encouraged teens to watch the show with an adult, the University of Michigan study showed that very few parents had actually watched the show, and some did not know their children were watching. The study showed that 84 percent of those who watched the show had watched it  alone, and they were more likely to discuss the program with their peers, instead of their parents.

Teens who strongly identified with the character of Baker were more likely to say that the show increased their risk of attempting suicide.

 

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask for help from someone you can trust and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours everyday). To find Catholic counseling in your area, contact your local priest, diocese or local branch of Catholic Charities.
 

 

Embryonic IQ tests could ‘screen’ for less intelligent children, firm says

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 10:30

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2018 / 08:30 am (CNA).- A company claims to have developed a new test that will permit parents to test and screen embryos for intelligence during the process of in vitro fertilization. The development could lead to increased commodification of human life, a Catholic University of America professor has said.

 

The firm, Genomic Prediction, claims to have developed a means of screening embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) for a multitude of traits, including inheritable diseases and propensity for intelligence.

 

Genomic Prediction says its tests will be able to scan embryos for a multitude of conditions.  The tests will identify what the firm describes as “genetic outliers,” and parents will be given the choice of selecting between embryos based upon predictions that some embryos will have a lower-than-average IQ.

 

While the test has yet to be used, New Scientist reports that the firm has begun discussions with IVF clinics in the United States to make it available to prospective parents.

 

Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology at The Catholic University of America told CNA that the trend toward “designer babies” adding that a fear of “imperfect” offspring is leading to children being treated as goods, rather than people.

 

The test would be able to screen embryos for a potential “mental disability,” Genomic Prediction says.

 

While screening embryos for a certain sex, blood type or inheritable disease has existed for some time, screening for potential “mental disability” is new. Embryonic genetic testing is already often used as a pretense for the abortion of some embryos, or the destruction of some embryos created during the in vitro fertilization process.

 

“The problems with this are obvious,” said Capizzi. These kinds of tests “treat human beings as things to be produced, sold or bought.”

 

Although those behind test say they do not specifically seek to identify embryos that contain genes linked to higher intelligence, Genomic Prediction co-founder Stephen Hsu said that he believes there will be a demand for this service in the future.

 

“I think people are going to demand that. If we don’t do it, some other company will,” said Hsu in New Scientist.

 

Currently, something called a “polygenic risk score” can be calculated for adults. This score is calculated after an examination of a person’s genes to identify increased risks for heart disease, dementia, or breast cancer. Until now, this has not been available for embryos.

 

Capizzi warned that a mentality of parents wanting a supposedly genetically perfect “designer” child will have dire effects on how people view others.

 

“The logic of this leads to parents demanding refunds or exchanges of their children when they don’t turn out as promised,” Capizzi said.

 

“Not only, in other words, will the commodification of human beings in this way lead to throwing away unwanted embryos, it will lead to the abandonment of unwanted young people.”

Dinners, deliveries and drives: how some Catholics serve up Thanksgiving for the poor

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 05:00

Denver, Colo., Nov 22, 2018 / 03:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While many will gather for Thanksgiving this year around tables filled with food and family, the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul has set out to make sure that the poor and homeless will also experience a holiday filled with community.

“Society members work with people in poverty and the homeless 365 days a year. Our parish-based Conferences operate food pantries, dining facilities, and shelters year-round to help people in need with food and shelter,” said Dave Barringer, the National CEO of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

“In addition to our year-round efforts, many St. Vincent de Paul Conferences and Councils do extra work around Thanksgiving,” Barringer told CNA in a 2017 interview.

The Society’s many councils and conferences across the country annually host or partake in local efforts to serve the poor and homeless for Thanksgiving, Barringer said.

For example, the Society’s Baton Rouge Council in Louisiana annually hosts a Thanksgiving meal for the community’s poor and homeless. They usually feed more than 600 people at the St. Vincent de Paul location, and last year, they also teamed up with the city’s Holiday Helpers to feed an additional 1,000 people.

“That is such a fantastic tradition for our community,” said Michael Acaldo, who works for the Baton Rouge Council, according to local news. “Over 1,000 people are served there. We serve over 600. When you put the two together, it’s a magnificent example of our community in action.”

In Arizona, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Phoenix Council also helps with the community’s annual turkey drive, in what locals calls “Turkey Tuesday.”

Every Tuesday before Thanksgiving, locals bring turkeys to designated grocery stores to donate them to those in need. In 2016, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul received more than 26,000 donated turkeys.

Last year, a St. Vincent de Paul Conference in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley, Pennsylvania delivered 100 Thanksgiving dinners to families in need around the area, including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy.

“People need an extra hand all year round – it is important to be there. But it’s common knowledge that people suffer around the holidays. Picture being alone this time of year. If we can help, we want to,” said John Nard, the president of the local Conference, according to local news.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic organization whose mission is to “end poverty through systemic change.” They offer tangible assistance to those in need through the councils and conferences found across the country, and are dependent on the support of the individuals involved with each conference.

Although feeding the hungry during the holidays is necessary, one of the main goals of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is to address the needs of the poor every day of the year.

“The holidays are a time when interest in caring for people in poverty is especially high. It is also a good time to invite people to carry on in that spirit of generosity and put their faith in action by helping people in need throughout the year,” Barringer said.

“People are hungry every day of the year.”

 

An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Nov. 19, 2017.

Cupich denies working with Wuerl on ‘metropolitan model’ plan for sex abuse inquiries

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 23:07

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2018 / 09:07 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has denied collaborating with Cardinal Donald Wuerl on a proposal for handling misconduct complaints against bishops. The plan was formally presented during the U.S. bishops’ conference General Assembly in Baltimore last week, as an alternative to draft measures that had previously presented by conference leadership.

CNA reported Nov. 16 that Cupich’s proposal, which would see metropolitan archbishops and their diocesan review boards handle allegations of misconduct against the bishops of their provinces, was developed through collaboration between Wuerl and Cupich.

Cupich told news site Crux on Nov. 18 that “the allegation is false.”

“At no time prior to the Baltimore meeting did the two of us collaborate in developing, nor even talk about, an alternative plan,” he told Crux.

Sources in Washington, DC, and Rome told CNA that the two cardinals, who are the only American members of the Congregation for Bishops, had worked together on the idea over a period of weeks. Wuerl first publicly raised the plan in August.

It was the Congregation for Bishops that issued a surprise, last-minute directive Nov. 12 preventing the U.S. bishops’ conference from voting to adopt any new measures in response to the sexual abuse crisis that has arisen in recent month in the U.S. Church.

Sources in the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA Nov. 16 that Wuerl and Cupich had first informed the Congregation for Bishops several weeks before the U.S. bishops’ meeting about their idea for the “metropolitan model” to handle complaints against a bishop, further suggesting that the cardinals had continued to discuss the plan with congregation officials at some points prior to the bishops’ meeting.

According to Crux, a spokesman for Wuerl “denied that any such advance cooperation took place.” Crux also reported that a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington said that, although Cardinal Wuerl had spoken about the idea “in general terms” earlier this summer, “nothing was ever formalized, presented, or discussed with anyone.”

Regarding the report by CNA that the two cardinals collaborated on the idea, and that the matter had been raised at the congregation, Crux reported that “both Cupich and a spokesman for Wuerl insist that’s false.”

Crux clarified its report Nov. 21, noting that “the Wuerl spokesperson said his denial applies to the immediate period before the Baltimore meeting, adding ‘I have no idea’ if Wuerl and Cupich had ever previously discussed possible responses to the abuse crisis.”

Crux said its report was “updated after the spokesperson for Wuerl quoted above clarified the scope of his comment.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago told CNA that Cupich did not discuss the proposed “metropolitan model” with Wuerl at any time before the USCCB meeting in Baltimore. The spokesperson added CNA that Cupich did not ever discuss the “metropolitan model” at the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, or with any member or official of that congregation.

Federal judge rejects ban on female genital mutilation

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 16:56

Detroit, Mich., Nov 21, 2018 / 02:56 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Detroit ruled Tuesday that a law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United States is unconstitutional as it is currently written. This ruling dismisses six charges of FGM against a Michigan doctor in the first court case challenging the FGM ban in the U.S.

Female genital mutilation, or the cutting or removal of a female’s clitoris and labia, had officially been banned in the United States since 1997 under the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was arrested in 2017 and was accused of cutting the genitals of at least six girls at a clinic in the Detroit area, Fox 2 Detroit reports. The defense argued that the doctor was not cutting, but “scraping” the genitalia.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that congress does not have the authority to make FGM illegal because the ban fell under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Since the FGM is not “commercial or economic in nature,” Friedman wrote, the clause is not applicable in this case.

The three adults charged in the case— Nagarwala, another doctor and his wife— are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small Indian Shiite Muslim sect located in a suburb of Detroit.

Nagarwala’s lawyers cited religious freedom to defend her actions, saying she and the other doctor were being “persecuted for practicing their religion by a culture and society that doesn't understand their beliefs and is misinterpreting what they did.”

Until modern times, the cutting or removal of female genitalia was considered a “cure” for various ills - hysteria, excessive sexual desire, lesbianism, etc. and was covered by some insurance providers well into the 1970s.

Now, FGM is widely understood by the United Nations and numerous other international human rights groups as a “harmful traditional practice.” The procedure has no health benefits for women, multiple health risks, and is considered a human rights violation. Some of those health risks include severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, an estimated 500,000 girls under the age of 13 have had the cutting procedure or are at risk of receiving it. The practice is found in some Christian communities as well as Muslim— many religious leaders, including Pope Francis, have spoken out against FGM.

Nagarwala still faces conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and obstruction charges, according to Fox 2.

 

Trump defends relationship with Saudi Arabia after journalist's murder

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 12:20

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2018 / 10:20 am (CNA).- Citing low oil prices, U.S. President Donald Trump has said that he will continue to support Saudi Arabia after the death and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist last month.

“The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone,” the president said in a statement Tuesday. “We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.”

However, he stressed the economic impact of maintaining a strong relationship with the Saudi government.

“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States.”

Trump’s comments come in response to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Born in Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi had moved to the U.S. last year and was a frequent critic of the Saudi regime. He was killed and his body dismembered at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last month.

The Saudi government has denied involvement in the killing, but the denial has been disputed.

“The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi…according to people familiar with the matter,” the Washington Post reported last week.

Trump noted that Saudi Crown Prince has denied his involvement in the assassination, saying, “we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder.”

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

“In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Trump continued. He cited their reliability as “a great ally in our very important fight against Iran” as well as their responsiveness “to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.”

“The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region,” Trump said.

On Wednesday, Trump thanked Saudi Arabia for drops in oil prices.

“Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82,” he said on Twitter. “Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!”

For years, Saudi Arabia has been ranked among the world’s worst human rights violators. In its 2017 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the U.S. State Department pointed to the country’s unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, political prisoners, human trafficking, and restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, movement and religion.

Last year, Aid to the Church in Need ranked Saudi Arabia as “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has repeatedly named Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), a label that identifies foreign governments which engage in or tolerate “systemic, ongoing, and egregious” religious freedom violations.

Saudi Arabia is currently involved in what has become a nearly four-year proxy war in Yemen. The conflict began when the Shiite Muslim Houthi tribe took control of a key territory and chased the president from the capital city. Saudi Arabia and some Arab allies intervened on behalf of the opposing faction, while Iran has backed the Houthi rebels.

At least 6,500 civilians have been killed in the conflict, as have over 10,000 combatants. More than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes. The number of people facing pre-famine conditions could reach 14 million, the U.N. has estimated.

Mass starvation in Yemen is a possible threat, as a military engagement in the major port city of Hodeidah could block food and other humanitarian aid for millions of people. Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, has said that starvation is a weapon of war and the famine is “wholly man-made.”

“Mass starvation is a deadly byproduct of actions taken by warring parties and the Western nations propping them up,” Egeland said in an Oct. 15 statement.

The U.S. government is providing some forms of military support to Saudi Arabian forces in the conflict and U.S.-supplied weapons have been traced to incidents that have killed civilians. An Aug. 9 aerial bombing of a school bus killed dozens of children with a bomb manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, CNN reported.

Then-President Barack Obama had banned the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia, citing human rights concerns, but the Trump administration overturned the ban in March 2017.

 

Cardinal DiNardo denies priests named in report ‘credibly accused’

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 11:16

Houston, Texas, Nov 21, 2018 / 09:16 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, has denied that he allowed two priests to remain in active ministry despite credible allegations of sexual abuse against them.

 

CBS News aired a report Nov. 20, citing accusations against two Houston priests, Fr. Terence Brinkman and Fr. John Keller, who are presently in active ministry within the archdiocese.

 

During the meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference held in Baltimore last week, CBS asked DiNardo if he was aware that “you have two priests with credible sexual abuse allegations currently in active ministry in your diocese?”

 

DiNardo, who serves as president of the U.S. bishops' conference, asked which priests were being referenced. On hearing the names of Brinkman and Keller, he immediately responded that neither was a credible allegation.

 

“That’s not a credible one,” DiNardo said of the accusation against Keller. Regarding the allegation against Brinkman the cardinal replied that “[the accusation against] Terry was never credible.”

 

Under the Dallas Charter and Essential Norms governing how U.S. dioceses are to handle sexual abuse allegations against priests, a “credible” accusation is any allegation which has the semblance of truth or not found to be manifestly false or frivolous.

 

Since 2002, all accusations of sexual abuse against a priest in an American diocese are examined by an independent, lay-led diocesan review board which determines if they are “credible.”

 

Citing court documents, the report says that Fr. Brinkman was accused of sexually abusing a minor, but that a civil case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said that the accuser had offered a physical description “that does not match Fr. Brinkman."

 

The website Bishop-Accountability lists the accusation as having been made in a civil suit filed in July 2010, and concerns alleged events in the mid 1970s. The CBS report made no reference to these dates but did display the same image of Fr. Brinkman that appears on Bishop-Accountability.

 

Fr. Thomas Keller is accused by Mr. John LaBonte of giving him alcohol and fondling him in his bed during an overnight trip. LaBonte was 16 at the time of the alleged incident.

 

LaBonte told CBS that he presented his allegation to the then-Diocese of Galveston-Houston in 2002, at the height of the last sexual abuse crisis in the Church in the United States.

 

Citing a letter received he in 2003, LaBonte says the diocese confirmed that Keller behaved in a manner “inappropriate for a priest” and was receiving “therapy” but that they "could not conclude” that that the incident "constituted sexual abuse."

 

Both Keller and Brinkman remain in active ministry. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston could not be reached for comment.

 

DiNardo has committed to release a list of all clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston by the end of January 2019. That list will include accusations dating back seven decades.

Federal judge sides with asylum-seeking migrants, blocks Trump order

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 18:22

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2018 / 04:22 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration’s new rules limiting asylum for undocumented immigrants was wrong, says a federal judge who ruled they can still claim asylum even if they do not cross the border at an official point of entry.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar said that President Donald Trump’s Nov. 9 proclamation violates  immigration law that clearly makes such migrants eligible to seek asylum.

“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” said Tigar, who temporarily blocked President Trump’s proclamation from taking effect at least until a Dec. 19 hearing.

Tigar, a President Barack Obama nominee, said the ban on asylum “irreconcilably conflicts” with immigration laws and with the “expressed intent of Congress.” He said the ban would put potential asylum seekers at “increased risk of violence and other harms at the border.”

Trump administration leaders defended the proclamation, claiming it was “lawful and tailored” and aimed at “controlling immigration in the national interest.”

The order cited the same powers in a Trump administration travel ban that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As the Supreme Court affirmed this summer, Congress has given the President broad authority to limit or even stop the entry of aliens into this country,” Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldeman and Department of Justice spokesman Steven Stafford said in a statement.

“Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year,” they added, characterizing asylum as a “discretionary benefit” given by the executive branch only under certain legal conditions. They said they would continue to defend the executive branch’s “legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.”

Trump’s order drew criticism from Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and other Catholic leaders. They made a Nov. 14 joint statement responding to the proclamation.

“While our teaching acknowledges the right of each nation to regulate its borders, we find this action deeply concerning,” they said. “It will restrict and slow access to protection for hundreds of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, potentially leaving them in unsafe conditions in Mexico or in indefinite detention situations at the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“We reiterate that it is not a crime to seek asylum and this right to seek refuge is codified in our laws and in our values,” said the Catholic leaders.

Bishop Vasquez was joined in the statement by Sister Donna Markham, O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network; and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

The Catholic leaders urged the Trump administration to seek “other solutions that will strengthen the integrity of the existing immigration system, while assuring access to protection for vulnerable children and families.”

They said the Catholic Church will continue to “serve, accompany and assist” all those who flee persecution, “regardless of where they seek such protection and where they are from.”

President Trump’s order was part of a response to the several migrant caravans reported to be headed to the U.S. from Central America. It was intended to last for 90 days unless Mexico agrees to allow U.S. immigration officials to deport to Mexico those Central Americans who have entered the U.S. at the southern border.

“We need people in our country, but they have to come in legally,” he said Nov. 9

According to DHS estimates, about 70,000 people a year claim asylum after crossing the border without documentation.

Recently media attention and immigration restriction advocates have focused on caravans of refugees and immigrants, sometimes growing or shrinking as they progress towards the U.S. border on a journey that can be dangerous.

The latest caravan of about 3,000 people has arrived in Tijuana, across the U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego. U.S. Border and Custom Protection officials said they closed northbound traffic at the San Ysidro crossing for several hours on Monday to install movable barriers in response to reports that there was a plan to rush the crossing. There was no rush, the Associated Press reports.

On Nov. 9 President Trump had said that the situation of people crossing the southern border has changed in recent decades. About two decades ago, the average person caught crossing the southern border was a single adult who was immediately returned to Mexico, and did not try to claim asylum or express fear about going back to their country of origin.

He claimed there has been a “massive increase” in fear-of-persecution or torture claims. While the “vast majority” satisfy the first asylum step of appearing to have a credible fear, only a “fraction” are ruled to qualify for asylum.

There are about 1.1. million asylum cases pending in immigration courts, and about 20 percent of applications for asylum are approved, the Associated Press reports.

Other officials who defended the new policy have said it would encourage migrants to pass through official border crossings where their asylum claims can find a fast hearing. The border is close to 2,000 miles long.

Between the active date of President Trump’s order and the court ruling, DHS had referred over 100 people who had sought asylum without going to an official crossing to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The president has advocated revoking the right to citizenship of babies who are born in the U.S. to non-U.S. citizens. His family separation policy came under strong criticism and was changed.

His travel ban on foreigners from several predominantly Muslim countries was blocked in federal court before the U.S. Supreme Court let it stand.

Most of his immigration actions have come through regulatory change and presidential orders, rather than through new legislation passed by Congress.

Winona-Rochester diocese to file for bankruptcy amid abuse lawsuits

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 17:53

Winona, Minn., Nov 20, 2018 / 03:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Winona-Rochester will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it was announced Sunday. Bishop John Quinn wrote a letter explaining the decision, which was distributed in bulletins throughout the diocese.

In a recorded video statement posted on the diocesan website, Quinn said he was sorry, and that on behalf of his brother priests, he “offer(s) an apology to these survivors and acknowledge their pain and suffering,” and pledged to “remain vigilant” to prevent abuse in the future. He also said it was important to create an “environment of healing” for both abuse survivors and their families.

Quinn explained that due to the 121 claims of child sexual abuse by priests within the diocese, and after praying for guidance as to how to best heal the pain of these survivors, the diocese would file for bankruptcy. A total of 17 priests in the diocese have been accused of sexual abuse.

This move is the “most just and equitable way to hold ourselves accountable, to bring healing and justice to the survivors, and to find a path forward for our diocesan community,” said Quinn.

“By proactively taking this step, we will begin to bring healing and justice to survivors, holding ourselves accountable for the abuse that occurred in the past,” said the bishop. The diocese will continue to work with survivors and their legal counsel.

Filing for bankruptcy will allow the diocese to reorganize their finances, and continue to provide social service work. Quinn said there was “no way to predict” how long this was going to take, but he promised complete transparency and will continue to provide updates throughout the process.

He did, however, say that he does not anticipate a day-to-day change for members of the diocese, and that no parishes or parish schools will be closing due to the bankruptcy filing. This is because they are separate legal entities, he explained.

Survivors of clerical sexual abuse in the diocese will be compensated, said Quinn, by a combination of insurance, savings, money from the sale of assets, and other sources.

“I am committed to keeping our children, and vulnerable adults, safe from sexual abuse,” said Quinn.

“I want to assure you: all clergy against whom credible accusations have been previously made are either deceased, or have been removed from ministry, laicized, and no longer function in any priestly capacity in the diocese.”

Quinn explained that since 2002, the diocese has implemented a program in order to ensure the safety of children in the diocese. As part of this program, every member of the clergy, as well as diocesan employees and volunteers, undergoes a background check.

“I pray for God’s grace during this difficult period, as well as for guidance and strength from the Holy Spirit,” said Quinn.

“I believe that we will walk together toward healing, reaffirming our dedication to carrying out ministries across southern Minnesota. I also ask for your continued prayers and support as we work together to offer healing to those who have suffered unconscionable abuse and to forge a path forward for all of us.”

Quinn also said that he welcomed suggestions from members of the public on how the diocese could work to become a safer environment.

Gunman kills one at Catholic store in Missouri

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 16:56

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 20, 2018 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A gunman remains on the loose after shooting a woman and sexually assaulting another at the Catholic Supply of St. Louis retail store in Ballwin, Mo. on Monday afternoon. Ballwin is a suburb of St. Louis.

The woman killed was identified on Tuesday as Jamie Schmidt, from the nearby town of House Springs. Schmidt was a customer in the store at the time of the attack. She was shot in the head by the assailant, and died after being transported to the hospital in critical condition. She was 53.

Schmidt is survived by her husband and three children.

In an emotional tribute posted on Facebook, her husband Gregg Schmidt remembered his wife’s singing voice and encouraged everyone to share feelings of love at every opportunity.

"Folks, I had my own Mother of Dragons but she was taken from us today,” said Schmidt.

“I still don't know how to feel yet. I do know one thing for sure. Hug your friends and family and tell them you love them every time you get the chance. I didn't get to say goodbye and that hurts pretty bad. She was my angel, my partner, my best friend and the love of my life. I'm sorry if you never got to hear her sing recently because it gave me chills. I probably won't be on Facebook much for awhile but know that I love you all in some way or another,” said Schmidt.

The suspect is described as a white male, between the ages of 45 and 50, 5’7, with a heavyset build. He is not believed to have known Schmidt, and police think the attack was random.

Catholic Supply of St. Louis released a statement saying that they were “shocked and saddened” by the “senseless tragedy” that occurred at the chain’s West County location Nov. 19. They asked for prayers for the victims and their families.

Catholic Supply of St. Louis’ three locations were closed on Tuesday and will reopen Wednesday, said the statement.

“We are cooperating fully with the ongoing police investigation, and we will share details as appropriate. We appreciate your patience, grace and prayers during this difficult time.”

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis also weighed in with a statement, saying that the archdiocese’s hearts went out to the victims of the “horrific tragedy” at the store.

“We join with civil authorities asking for the community's assistance in apprehending the culprit of this crime,” said Carlson in the statement released to Facebook.

Carlson also instructed parishes throughout the archdiocese to offer prayers for those affected by the shooting and for an end to violence.

As a precaution, two area schools canceled classes on Tuesday due to security fears stemming from the shooting.

Cardinal DiNardo calls for 'reasonable' gun control after Chicago hospital shooting

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 14:29

Chicago, Ill., Nov 20, 2018 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago left four dead, including the gunman, on Monday afternoon, the president of the U.S. bishop’s conference offered prayers for the victims and called for reasonable gun restrictions.

“Yesterday, at a place which should be a center of healing, a police officer, a doctor and a pharmaceutical resident lost their lives in a senseless act of gun violence,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in a Nov. 20 statement.

“We entrust to Almighty God the victims and their loved ones and for [sic] the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe. May her love and compassion embrace and bring comfort to those who sorrow,” he said.

According to reports, the shooting is being investigated as a domestic dispute. Dr. Tamara O'Neal, one of the victims, had been engaged to gunman Juan Lopez until September.

The other victims of the shooting were Dayna Less, 25, a pharmacy resident and recent graduate of Purdue University, and police officer Samuel Jimenez, 28, who was responding to the shooting.

Lopez was found dead with gunshot wounds to the head; it is unclear if they were self-inflicted or if they were sustained while he exchanged gunfire with police.

Lopez had worked for Chicago Housing Authority, which said in a statement after the shooting that Lopez had cleared background checks and did not have a history of complaints against him during his employment there.

In his statement, DiNardo said the shooting yet again called into question how someone “capable of such violence was able to obtain a firearm to carry out this heinous act.”

“In our desire to help promote a culture of life, we bishops will continue to ask that public policies be supported to enact reasonable gun measures to help curb this pervasive plague of gun violence. Our prayers are with the staff of Mercy Hospital and the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago as they continue God’s healing work.”

A look at 25 years of RFRA

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 05:14

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2018 / 03:14 am (CNA).- Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

While the law is well-known within legal circles, many Americans may not realize that RFRA is one of the primary legislative pillars upon which religious freedom arguments have rested in the last quarter century.

What exactly is RFRA? What does it say, how did it come to be passed, and what are the primary challenges that it faces today?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act clarifies the standards that should be used in judging religious freedom disputes involving the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. That clause says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

But what are the limits to what may be carried out in the name of free exercise of religion? What is to stop an individual or group from carrying out acts of rape, theft, or human sacrifice, and claiming that they are exercising their protected religious beliefs in doing so?

RFRA helps answer that question. It says that the federal government may not “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion, unless there is a “compelling government interest” in doing so, and it is carried out in the “least-restrictive” manner possible.

Over the last 25 years, courts have used these standards to evaluate various religious freedom claims that conflict with established laws. In one case, courts upheld the right of an Arkansas inmate to grow a beard as required by his Muslim faith. In another, a Native American feather dancer was allowed to use eagle feathers in a religious ceremony.

In a high-profile 2014 case, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and similar employers could not be forced to comply with the federal contraception mandate against their religious beliefs. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the federal government had failed to prove that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of advancing its goal of providing free birth control to women.

RFRA was initially passed in response to two high profile cases involving American Indians. In one case, the Supreme Court ruled against the use of an illegal hallucinogen – peyote – in a Native American religious service. In the other, the court upheld the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts to build a road through land considered sacred by several tribes.

At the time of its passage, RFRA enjoyed wide bipartisan support and was not considered controversial. Introduced by Democrats Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy, it passed unanimously in the House and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law Nov. 16, 1993.

In recent years, however, RFRA has drawn criticism, particularly as it relates to same-sex marriage and the provision of free contraception. These clashes with claims of women’s rights and LGBT rights have led some people to question RFRA, or call for it to be limited or repealed.  

The National LGBT Bar Association has warned of the “dangerous results” of RFRA. In recent years, Democrats in the House and Senate have made several failed attempts to introduce legislation that would limit RFRA in cases where religious freedom comes into conflict with other civil rights. Chai Feldblum, appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under both Obama and Trump, has said that when religious liberty conflicts with sexual rights, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”

RFRA applies only to the federal government, although in recent years, similar laws have increasingly been proposed or passed in many state legislatures as well. State RFRAs have also faced heated objections. Most notably, then-governor of Indiana Mike Pence faced threat of boycotts from CEOs, celebrities, major sports events and leaders of some city and state governments in 2015 over a state RFRA law that mirrored the federal legislation.

Despite these criticisms, however, RFRA remains today as an established law with a solid precedent in the court system.

Last year, the Trump administration affirmed the significance of RFRA in its government-wide religious freedom legal guidance, issued to govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work.

The guidance said that RFRA “applies to all sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and the government does not have the authority to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious conviction.

What’s in store for RFRA over the next 25 years? The answer is uncertain. If its opponents have their way, RFRA could see significant restrictions at both the state and federal levels. For now, however, the law remains as a key standard for judging free exercise claims, with the current administration insisting that RFRA continue to be taken seriously and interpreted robustly.

 

After years of controversy, HHS reconsiders fetal tissue funding

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 02:06

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2018 / 12:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Health researchers need alternatives to using fetal tissue, Department of Health and Human Services leaders have said after several years of controversy and investigations into whether fetal tissue procured from aborted babies was sold illegally.

HHS Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the Freedom Caucus, saying HHS did too little to find alternatives under previous administrations and there need to be “adequate alternatives” to scientific research involving human fetal tissue.

The letter, which a source shared with the news site Politico, said HHS is “fully committed to prioritizing, expanding, and accelerating efforts to develop and implement the use of these alternatives.” He described HHS as “pro-life and pro-science” under President Donald Trump.

The letter appears to back “scientifically validated and reproducible” models as among possible alternatives.

Scientists who back fetal tissue research say there are few alternatives. They argue the tissue would otherwise be discarded, and there are already ethical safeguards in place. They say fetal tissue research has been instrumental in developing vaccines and understanding phenomena like how the Zika virus affects the brains of unborn children. They say fetal tissue aids Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease research, as well as research in childhood developmental disorders.

A 1993 federal law allows the use of fetal tissue from elective abortions that would otherwise be discarded. However, the sale of such tissue is also barred by law.

Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List told Politico her group would continue to advocate defunding fetal tissue research “as soon as possible.” She said her group is hopeful “that HHS will reach a new policy consensus that better reflects the administration’s pro-life position.”

Caitlin Oakley, an HHS spokesperson, said the agency has not made an official decision on whether to fund more fetal tissue research.

“We continue to go through a thoughtful, deliberative process given the scientific ethical and moral considerations involved,” she told Politico. “When we receive inquiries from members of Congress, we respond.”

A series of undercover investigations from journalists with the Center for Medical Progress, first released in 2015, appear to show several leaders in the abortion industry involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The investigation has had legal consequences for some procurers of fetal tissue.

DV Biologics and DaVinci Biosciences, two bioscience companies, admitted fault, ceased California operations and agreed to meet the terms of a legal settlement close to $7.8 million in value for violating state and federal laws against the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

Following two investigations, Congressional committees have made criminal referrals for both Planned Parenthood and Advanced Bioscience Resources, a non-profit company, for alleged involvement in illegal fetal tissue sales. There is an active Department of Justice investigation based on the criminal referrals.

There are also criminal charges against the Center for Medical Progress investigators, as well as civil lawsuits. These allegations include claims that the videos were filmed illegally in violation of privacy laws.

Federal funding for fetal tissue is now under review. As part of the review process, senior officials at HHS held an off-the record, invitation-only listening session on Nov. 16 with leaders in medical research fields.

Participants included leaders with the American Society for Cell Biology, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the Society for Neuroscience and the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The inquiry has prompted opposition from pro-abortion rights groups.

Mary Alice Carter, director of Equity Forward, which backs fetal tissue research and monitors pro-life groups, charged that HHS secretary Alex Azar “continually kowtows to anti-abortion groups while ignoring the scientific and medical communities,” Science magazine reports.

The National Institutes of Health gave out about $103 million in 2018 for research involving fetal tissue.

In July 2018 the Food and Drug Administration gave a $15,900 contract to Advanced Bioscience Resources for “fresh human fetal tissue,” which would be transplanted into mice in order to create human-like immune systems for research purposes. It is the eighth contract between the FDA and the company since 2012, and seven of the contracts appear to relate to the same or similar programs.

HHS cancelled the contract after receiving protests and criticism from several Members of Congress, who said they were alarmed that the tissue procurement contracts continued despite the “serious unresolved questions” uncovered by House and Senate investigations.

In 2010 a federal judge ruled that federally funded human embryonic stem cell research was against the law. That ruling resulted in a 19-day halt on related in-house National Institutes of Health projects, but NIH funds that had already been given to external researchers were not affected, the magazine Science reports.
 

New Mexico legislators want to repeal state's abortion ban

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 17:29

Santa Fe, N.M., Nov 19, 2018 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of New Mexican legislators seeks to overturn a state law that would make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade were overturned, part of a developing trend among the handful of states with laws that criminalize abortion.

Currently, New Mexico law states it is a felony for an abortionist to perform an abortion, with exceptions for rape, birth defects, and to preserve the health of the mother. This law, which dates to the 1960s, has not been enforced since 1973, when the Supreme Court found a right to an abortion throughout a woman’s pregnancy.

Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D-Las Cruces) intends to introduce a bill in the next legislative session that would remove this law from the books. This proposed bill is supported by the state’s governor-elect, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), as well as the state’s House Speaker and Senate majority leader. The legislative leaders have tabbed the bill as a “high priority” for the upcoming session of the legislature.

Lujan Grisham said that she believes the law criminalizing abortion to be “antiquated” and one that would “punish women.” She has pledged to sign the bill if it were passed through the legislature.

Similar efforts to repeal this law, under outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez (R), failed.

As of now, nine states, including New Mexico, have laws that would ban abortion. Four additional states – Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota – have what are known as “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if the Roe decision were overturned.

With the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, expectations that the decision might be overturned have been heightened. Those who are in favor of abortion rights are moving to change various laws that would be enforced if abortion were once again left to the states to decide.

Until July, Massachusetts had a 19th-century law on the books that made the act of “procuring a miscarriage” illegal. Similar to New Mexico’s law, this has not been enforced since 1973. That law was repealed with the passage of the “Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women Act,” which was commonly known as the “NASTY Women Act.”

On the other end of the abortion law spectrum, the Ohio House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would make abortion illegal after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The fetal heartbeat can be detected at around six weeks gestation, before some women even are aware they are pregnant.

Previously, this bill has been vetoed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), although Kasich has signed many more abortion restrictions into law.

A request to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe for comment on the bill was not responded to in time for publication.

NJ dioceses to form compensation program for child victims of clerical abuse

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 17:16

Newark, N.J., Nov 19, 2018 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Newark announced Monday that New Jersey’s five dioceses will together form a Victim Compensation and Counseling Program in the coming year, and will release the names of all priests in the state who have been accused of sexual misconduct against minors.

Although the precise details of this program have not yet been finalized, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said in a statement published on the archdiocese’s webpage Nov. 19, they will be soon and information will be released at that time.

This program will assist dioceses with resources in order to provide compensation for those who were victimized as children by clergy or employees of Catholic dioceses in New Jersey, who are unable to file civil suits due to the state’s statute of limitations.

“This will give victims a formal voice and allow them to be heard by an independent panel,” said the statement. Cardinal Tobin added, “the Program also will assure that victims who have not received any financial compensation will be paid, regardless of whether their claims meet the time requirements of the statute of limitations.”

The Catholic Church in New Jersey has already paid out more than $50 million in financial settlements to those who were sexually abused as children by members of the clergy or diocesan employees in the state.

In addition to financial compensation, this new program will establish “permanent funding” for counseling for abuse survivors. This counseling “so often is needed to help in the healing of those who have been harmed.”

This past September, New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the creation of a task force in the state to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse and cover up.

“No person is above the law and no institution is immune from accountability,” said Grewal in September.

“We will devote whatever resources are necessary to uncover the truth and bring justice to victims.”

Ahead of the release of this report, and in coordination with the task force, Cardinal Tobin said that New Jersey’s dioceses will “undertake a complete review of their files” and release the names of all priests and deacons who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. This list is expected to be released in early 2019.

“It is hoped that these steps will aid in the process of healing for victims, who are deserving of our support and prayers,” said the statement.

Notably, the statement did not include any information about compensation or counseling for adults who were victimized by members of the clergy in New Jersey, instead focusing on those who were abused as minors.

In the early 2000s, the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen paid settlements to men who allege they were abused by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick when they were adults studying in seminary. These settlements were not public knowledge until the summer of 2018, after two men came forward to say that they had been molested by McCarrick as minors.

Shortly after McCarrick’s second survivor came forward, McCarrick stepped down from the College of Cardinals. McCarrick has since been sentenced to a life of prayer and penance until a canonical trial can be conducted. He is currently residing at a friary in Kansas.

Legatus will not collect 2019 tithe to Holy See

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 13:28

Washington D.C., Nov 19, 2018 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A U.S.-based organization of Catholic business executives has decided not to collect from its members the portion of their dues that would constitute its 2019 donation to the Holy See.

Legatus, an organization of Catholic business leaders, had announced in September that it was placing its annual donation to the Holy See in escrow until it can receive clarification on questions of financial accountability.

Thomas Monaghan, chairman of Legatus, wrote its member Nov. 16 asking them to continue to pray “for the Church and all of our leaders,” as “it is evident that it is going to take time for the current crisis in the Church to be addressed to the point where the Board believes the reinstatement of our annual tithe would be prudent.”

For that reason, he said, the board of governors has decided “to forego collecting the annual tithe represented in your 2019 dues.”

“ For those who have already submitted their dues, the National Office will refund the appropriate amount earmarked for the Holy See contribution in a timely fashion,” he said. “For those who have not yet remitted your dues, new invoices will be sent.”

Monaghan noted that the tithe to the Holy See “has been an importance part of Legatus membership” and the board therefore intends “to reinstate this practice once we have sufficient communication regarding the specific accountability related to the use of these funds.”

“The Board will revisit this topic by the fall of 2019 in order to chart a plan related to the 2020 dues,” he stated.

“Legatus continues to pledge its devotion to and solidarity with Holy Mother Church; this is a time when we need to live the mission of Legatus more than ever,” Monaghan wrote.

He concluded his letter urging members to “continue to pray for healing and courage for the Church.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Legatus' 2018 tithe to the Holy See would have been about $820,000.

When announcing the decision in September to withhold the tithe, Monaghan said that members had raised questions “specifically pertaining to how it is being used, and what financial accountability exists within the Vatican for such charitable contributions.”

“The Board has begun a dialogue along these lines, and in the meantime has decided to place the Holy See annual tithe in escrow, pending further determination,” he said.

Questions of Vatican financial accountability had been raised earlier this year by the Papal Foundation, a U.S.–based organization that offers grants to support the global work of the Holy Father.

In February, some members of the organization sharply criticized a request from the Holy See for $25 million for a Church-owned hospital that has been plagued by fraud and embezzlement scandals. Grants from the Papal Foundation are normally no more than $200,000 and generally go toward initiatives to help the poor in developing nations.

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