CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 38 min ago

Lawsuit charges Bishop Trautman, Buffalo diocese with abuse cover-up in 1980s

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 20:01

Buffalo, N.Y., Jan 3, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo and retired Bishop Donald Trautman claim they covered up a New York priest’s sex abuse of a 10-year-old boy in the mid-1980s, though the bishop has previously denied accusations he has ever covered up abuse.

Trautman, now 83, retired as Bishop of Erie in 2012. He served in various roles in the Buffalo diocese under Bishop Edward Head, including chancellor and vicar general. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the diocese in 1985. He had been Bishop of Erie since 1990.

Trautman told the Erie Times-News Jan. 2 that he had not been served with the lawsuit.

As regards the alleged abuser, Fr. Gerard A. Smyczynski, the former bishop said, “I don’t recall the case at all,” adding, “I don’t recall the name.”

In June 2019, he told the Buffalo News he didn’t cover up any sexual abuse as chancellor of the Buffalo diocese.

The plaintiff in the case was born in 1974. The lawsuit said the plaintiff was abused multiple times by Smyczynski for about a year, starting when he was a ten-year-old student and altar boy. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff met the priest at Infant of Prague Catholic Church and school in Cheektowaga, New York.

The lawsuit alleges that Trautman knew of the priest’s abuse and failed to investigate and report it. It alleges that he and the diocese “participated in covering up such heinous acts by moving errant priests and clergy members from assignment to assignment, thereby putting children in harm’s way.”

Smyczynski lost his faculties in 1985. His name is on the Buffalo diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy, the Buffalo diocese said in a Jan. 2 statement. The priest died in 1999.

The lawsuit further accuses Trautman of expediting an annulment for a member of the plaintiff’s family “with the hope of ensuring their silence about the abuses perpetrated by Fr. Smyczynski and covering up those abuses.” It claims he continued the alleged cover-up while in the Diocese of Erie.

The lawsuit was filed by Danielle George of Phillips & Paolicelli law firm in New York City and Paul K. Barr of Fanizzi & Barr in Niagara Falls.

Barr said Trautman made a “paltry” settlement with the plaintiff that “amounts to hush money.” The sum was four figures and allegedly an inducement not to share their story. He alleged that this allowed the priest to abuse at least one other child.

He accused Trautman of hastening the annulment of the plaintiff’s parents.

CNA contacted Bishop Trautman for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

The two dioceses named in the suit have also responded.

“The diocese has not yet received the complaint - nor any information regarding the lawsuit,” the Buffalo diocese told CNA Jan. 3. “As soon as the diocese receives the complaint, and the name of the person making the complaint, it will follow established protocols which involve a thorough investigation and will then take all appropriate action.”

The diocese said it is “assessing the appropriate level of additional detail relating to those credibly accused that may be provided as part of the diocese’s ongoing reporting, which may contribute to the healing of survivors, who continue to be our first priority.”

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany now serves as apostolic administrator of Buffalo, following the resignation last year of Bishop Richard Malone, who was accused of covering up sexual abuse. Although he denied these accusations in November 2018, in April 2019 he apologized for his handling of some cases. In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and Bishop Malone, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

The Buffalo diocese said Jan. 2 it “strongly encourages” all allegations of sexual abuse of clergy and diocesan employees to be reported to law enforcement first.

“The diocese has in place rigorous protocols for reporting as well, in addition to a third-party reporting system … which allows for allegations to be reported anonymously,” said the Buffalo diocese, which noted that its own review board advises on actions that may be necessary under canon law when allegations are determined to be credible.

The Erie diocese said Jan. 2 it learned it had been named in the lawsuit about alleged activities in the Diocese of Buffalo before Trautman was named Bishop of Erie.

“Bishop Lawrence Persico has seen a copy of the suit, but the diocese has not been served,” the Erie diocese said. “As with any litigation, Bishop Persico will cooperate, but will not comment during the legal process.”

The lawsuit’s claims about the Erie diocese do not include improper handling of abuse. Rather, it claims that the diocese is implicated in the alleged cover-up because Trautman was its bishop and he “perpetrated” a policy to cover up abuse, the Erie Times-News reports.

It alleges that both dioceses had a “cover-up” policy which “resulted in the sexual assault of untold numbers of children, and put numerous other children at risk of sexual assault.”

It charges that Trautman “took his playbook of covering up clergy abuse from Buffalo, New York, to Erie, Pennsylvania… where he continued to carry out the aforesaid cover up for decades.”

The lawsuit was announced at a press conference organized by Buffalo resident James Faluszczak, an advocate for sex abuse victims and a former priest of the Erie diocese. He has said a priest abused him when he was a teenager.

The lawsuit takes advantage of a new one-year legal window for sex abuse victims to sue regardless of statutes of limitations, the result of recent legislation in the New York legislature. A similar Pennsylvania bill failed to pass the General Assembly.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro criticized Trautman at an August 2018 press conference releasing his grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. He alleged that the bishop failed aggressively to pursue an abuser. He has charged that the Erie diocese under Trautman curbed its investigation of sex abuse claims to wait out the statute of limitations.

Trautman in his responses to the attorney general said the claims were “baseless.” He said he did not condone or enable such abuse during his tenure leading the Diocese of Erie, and he stressed his support for abuse victims and said the report does not fully or accurately assess his record. He cited a Pennsylvania Supreme Court finding that the grand jury process suffers “limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities” and lacked “basic fairness.”

Shapiro’s report, released in August 2018, claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests in Pennsylvania. It presented a devastating portrait of alleged efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations—either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Trautman had caused controversy by criticizing the report.

“We should not be so naive as to accept every government report every attorney general report as being totally accurate or honest and I wouldn’t cite the Philadelphia Inquirer or Boston Globe as sources of confident information,” he said at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general assembly in fall 2018.

Bishop Persico, his successor in Erie, has been publicly supportive of abuse victims. He said Trautman spoke as a retired bishop, adding, “he doesn’t represent the diocese so what he’s doing is giving his opinion.”

However, the attorney general report has come under criticism from longtime Catholic commentator Peter Steinfels. In a lengthy essay published in January 2019 by the magazine Commonweal, Steinfels argued that many of the report’s charges are “grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust.” He said the report deserved more thorough scrutiny and said its “sensational charges” have been too easily accepted.

During a 2018 debate among the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Trautman opposed the idea of a third-party reporting system that would allow allegations of sexual abuse by bishops or mishandling of abuse complaints by bishops to be delivered to the nuncio, the pope’s representative in the U.S.

Trautman said he thought such a system was “dangerous and unjust” because it would bring to the U.S. nuncio accusations that were “not investigated, not substantiated, not proven. That’s unjust.”

Fort Worth bishop helps family seek care in Catholic hospital for gravely ill Tinslee Lewis

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 19:12

Fort Worth, Texas, Jan 3, 2020 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- After a Texas judge on Thursday allowed a hospital to stop medical treatment for Tinslee Lewis, a terminally ill child in Fort Worth, the local bishop offered to help her family seek care in a Catholic healthcare facility.

Lewis was born prematurely Feb. 1, 2019, and has since been in the cardiac intensive care unit at Cook Children's Medical Center. She has Ebstein's anomaly, a congenital heart defect; chronic lung disease; and severe chronic high blood pressure, according to the AP. She has been on a ventilator since July, and also requires cardiac support, painkillers, sedation, and medical paralysis. She currently has severe sepsis.

The hospital said that Lewis' healthcare providers agreed by August that continued care was futile, and had begun discussing with her family the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment by September. The hospital's ethics committee decided unanimously Oct. 30 that further treatment was medically inappropriate.

The hospital intended to stop Lewis' treatment Nov. 10, after disagreeing with the decision of her mother, Trinity, regarding her treatment. The girl's doctors believe her condition to be fatal and that she is in pain.

The Texas Advanced Directives Act includes a '10-day rule' that says when the attending physician has decided and an ethics or medical committee has affirmed that a life-sustaining treatment is medically inappropriate, but the patient or their responsible continues to request the treatment, the attending physician and the health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment after the 10th day after the decision is provided to the patient or their responsible.

The rule says the physician is to make a reasonable effort to transfer the patient in such a case to a physician who is willing to comply with the directive. TADA was adopted in 1999, without a dissenting vote, and was amended in 2003 and 2015. The 2015 amendment was adopted unanimously in the House vote, and by a voice vote in the Senate.

A Tarrant County judge had issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the removal of life-sustaining treatment Nov. 10, but the hospital “filed a motion questioning his impartiality and saying he had bypassed case-assignment rules to designate himself as the presiding judge,” the AP reported.

The case was then transferred to Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice of the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals, who held a hearing in December.

At that time, Marion said she would allow more time for an alternative facility to be found for Lewis' care. And Cook Children's said at that time that it would take no action to withdraw life sustaining treatment from Lewis for seven days from the court's decision, to allow plaintiffs to file a notice of appeal and a motion for emergency relief with an appeals court.

Dr. Jay Duncan, a physician attending Lewis, said at the hearing that until July, there had been hope she might be able to go home, but it became clear that surgical and clinical options had been exhausted and her treatment was no longer beneficial.

Marion ruled Jan. 2 to deny the application for a temporary injunction to require indefinite medical interventions for Lewis.

The decision “restores the ability of the Cook Children’s medical staff to make the most compassionate and medically appropriate decisions for Tinslee,” Cook Children's said.

“Our medical judgment is that Tinslee should be allowed to pass naturally and peacefully rather than artificially kept alive by painful treatments. Even with the most extraordinary measures the medical team is taking, Tinslee continues to suffer,” the hospital said.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth has offered to assist Lewis' family “in seeking compassionate and appropriate care for her in a Catholic health care facility.”

He said Jan. 2 that “healthcare decisions involving the vulnerable and severely ill are best made in the patient’s interests by family and healthcare providers and not by judges, by politicians, or lobbyists.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of Fort Worth told CNA Jan. 3 that the bishop's offer of assistance had been passed to the Lewis family by Cook Children's, and that “a representative of the family has contacted the Diocese.”

For its part, the hospital said it “has been devoted to this precious baby her entire life, providing compassionate, round-the-clock, intensive care and attention since she arrived at our hospital 11months ago. Her body is tired. She is suffering. It’s time to end this cycle because, tragically, none of these efforts will ever make her better.”

The hospital also noted that it had contacted “more than 20, well-respected healthcare facilities and specialists over the course of several months, but even the highest level of medical expertise cannot correct conditions as severe as Tinslee’s.”

Trinity Lewis stated, “I am heartbroken over today’s decision because the judge basically said Tinslee’s life is NOT worth living. I feel frustrated because anyone in that courtroom would want more time just like I do if Tinslee were their baby. I hope that we can keep fighting through an appeal to protect Tinslee. She deserves the right to live.”

Trinity Lewis had also asked that the '10-day rule' be found unconstitutional by the court.

She is being supported by Texas Right to Life, which said that “the ruling not only disregarded the Constitution, but also sentenced an innocent 11-month-old baby to death like a criminal. The 10-Day Rule has robbed countless patients of their Right to Life and right to due process. We pray the appellate court will identify how the law violates Baby Tinslee’s due process rights, revoke her death sentence, and strike down the deadly 10-Day Rule.”

Not all pro-life groups agree with Texas Right to Life's assessment.

Texas Alliance for Life, another pro-life organization, noted that the case centers on the dispute resolution process in TADA.

“We don’t see how [Marion] could have ruled any other way. As we have stated previously, Texas Alliance for Life supports TADA. It is good public policy, it is constitutional, and it provides a balance between the patient’s autonomy and the physician’s conscience protection rights to do no harm.”

Texas Alliance for Life, along with the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and several other pro-life groups, disability advocates, and medical groups, submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case Dec. 11 stating that TADA  “helps achieve their essential objectives” and arguing for its constitutionality.

The brief noted that the Texas bishops' conference “generally supports the framework” of the act “as a balanced dispute resolution process that respects patient dignity and healthcare provider conscience,” while also supporting “continued legislative improvements to the act.”

The brief concludes by saying that “through the Texas Advanced Directives Act, the Legislature has provided families and physicians with a framework for resolving difficult end-of-life decisions. This design includes a safe harbor encouraging physicians and medical institutions to provide multiple layers of review, culminating in a period of time for families to secure a transfer to another medical facility, during which life-sustaining intervention will continue to be provided. The amici believe that the framework created by TADA is essential and constitutional.”

Disagreement over end-of-life reform is among the three criteria on the basis of which the Texas bishops' conference urged parishes in March 2018 not to participate in the activities of Texas Right to Life.

The bishops said they “have been compelled to publicly correct Texas Right to Life’s misstatements on end-of-life care and advance directives, in which Texas Right to Life implied that the legislation the bishops were supporting allowed euthanasia and death panels rather than the reality that the legislation reflected the long-standing Church teaching requiring a balance of patient autonomy and the physician conscience protection.”

In its Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, the US bishops' conference notes regarding the seriously ill and dying that “we have a duty to preserve our life and to use it for the glory of God, but the duty to preserve life is not absolute, for we may reject life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome.”

The directives state that “a person has a moral obligation to use ordinary or proportionate means of preserving his or her life. Proportionate means are those that in the judgment of the patient offer a reasonable hope of benefit and do not entail an excessive burden or impose excessive expense on the family or the community,” and that “a person may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life.”

“Disproportionate means are those that in the patient’s judgment do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton released a joint statement Jan. 2, after the temporary injunction was denied, saying that “the state will continue to support Ms. Lewis’s exhaustion of all legal options to ensure that Tinslee is given every chance at life.”

“The Attorney General’s office is involved in the ongoing litigation, fighting to see that due process and the right to life are fully respected by Texas law. The Attorney General’s office will be supporting an appeal of this case to the Second Court of Appeals. The State of Texas is fully prepared to continue its support of Ms. Lewis in the Supreme Court if necessary. We are working diligently to do all we can to ensure that Tinslee and her family are provided the care and support that they seek.”


Portland bishop says religious prejudice 'cannot be tolerated'

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 19:05

Portland, Maine, Jan 3, 2020 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- At Mass on Wednesday, Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland urged Catholics not to tolerate “any kind” of religious prejudice, following a spate of violent attacks against Jews and Christians in the U.S. during December.

"We need to work to overcome any form of religious prejudice,” Deely said Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

“Unfortunately, it marks this century for us. We have seen too many shootings and attacks on religious houses and communities. As Christians, we cannot tolerate any kind of religious prejudice,” he added.

The bishop mentioned the recent attacks against Jewish people in New York during the week of Hanukkah, including the knife attack in a rabbi’s home that injured five people. He also mentioned the shooting at Christian church in Texas on Dec. 29. According to police, the shooter opened fire during a Sunday morning service and killed two people before members of the congregation shot and killed him.

“It is the implicit permission of society for that kind of prejudice which gives rise to these kinds of attacks. Often, the people who perpetrate the attacks are mentally disturbed, but they find their ideas in places where such hatred is fostered,” the bishop said.

Deely encouraged his congregation to do a personal examination of any possible religious or racial prejudices they might be holding onto, to ensure that they are not contributing to the problem. He added that religious freedom is one of the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens.

“We should be able, as religious people, to worship and practice our faith publicly in our society. That is a guarantee of the First Amendment,” he said.

Deely encouraged those in attendance to look to Mary as their model for prayer, peace, and following the will of God.

“At the beginning of a new year, we can learn from Mary. She asks herself how God is acting in her life. In her reflection, in her prayer, she holds the things that happen to her, and she looks at the way in which God directs her life through those events,” he said.

“Mary knew in her heart that only in reflection, in prayer, in conversation with the God who had asked her to be the mother of his child would she be able to carry on her mission, to be faithful to what she had been called.”

Deely said that Catholics are called to imitate Mary, who perfectly followed the example of her son.

"We follow him by humbling ourselves, as he did in his coming among us in his human nature, seeking the good in those around us, being open to the humanity of each person, and trying to help where we can to make the lives of others better."

Are targeted drone strikes allowed under 'just war theory'?

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian official on Friday has ignited discussion of the Catholic Church’s teaching on just war theory. One theologian talked to CNA about the morality of targeting military leaders.

Early on Friday morning at a Baghdad airport, Iran’s head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, was killed by drone strikes, for which the U.S. later claimed responsibility. Soleimani’s forces are listed by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization. Also killed in the strikes was Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, known for helping fight against ISIS.

The strikes are the latest episode in a series of interactions between the U.S. and Iran in the region, that are causing concern of an intensifying conflict. After an American contractor was killed by a rocket barrage in Iraq last week, the U.S. retaliated against Iranian-backed Shiite militias it said was responsible for the attack. The U.S. counterattack killed 25 Iraqis.  

On Tuesday the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was stormed by a crowd of thousands of protesters. Suleimani was alleged to have been behind the attacks.

After the drone strikes on Friday morning, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani threatened retaliation in a statement on Friday on Twitter. According to U.S. defense officials, 3,000 American troops were being deployed to the Middle East on Friday, the AP reported.

In a statement released late Thursday night in Washington, the Pentagon said the strikes were ordered by President Trump as a “decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad,” as Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” President Trump stated on Friday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on CNN Friday morning, said that Soleimani posed an “imminent” threat to American lives and was plotting attacks “not just in Iraq” but “throughout the region, but wouldn’t give further details, noting that “I’m not going to say anything more about the nature of the attack.”

The U.S. has defended the drone strike as a legitimate removal of a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. military personnel in past years, and the more recent attacks of U.S. bases in Iraq by Iranian-backed forces.

Dr. Kevin Miller, a moral theologian at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, spoke with CNA about the application of Catholic just war theory to the strike.

Catholic teaching on the use of lethal force “doesn’t rule this sort of thing out,” he said of “targeted killing of military leaders.” If Soleimani was behind attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, as alleged, then “you’re talking about an attempted attack on American civilian lives,” Miller said.

However, Miller cautioned, prudence must be considered with such a use of force, namely the possibility of greater evils replacing the threat that Soleimani allegedly posed to civilians. If another official were to take his place and carry on with similar threats to civilians, or if Soleimani’s death caused a “power vacuum” with mob rule in the streets, then the situation could be “worse rather than better.”

And given Iran’s proxy wars in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, “if this causes, on balance, an escalation of that war—even if it maybe for the moment puts an end to attempted attacks on our embassy—if this, on balance, causes an escalation of the situation, a worsening of this proxy war that’s going on, I don’t see how that makes the situation, on balance, better rather than worse,” Miller told CNA.

“I think this is one of those situations in which you really have to make sure that you’re not falling into that trap of saying ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ without really thinking the matter through,” he said.

The question of legality also surfaced on Friday. Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions and director of Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University, tweeted on Friday that “Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.”

When such force is used, she said, it can only be done in cases of an “immanent threat to life”—one which carries a “very narrow” standard for cases of “anticipatory self-defence.”

“This test is unlikely to be met in these particular cases,” she tweeted.

The threat of a regional conflict to vulnerable religious minorities in Iraq prompted concern from Christian aid and advocacy groups.

“Heightened tensions bring increased possibility of counterattacks on religious minorities,” said Toufic Baaklini, president of the group In Defense of Christians, in a statement on Friday.

“We can count on more instability, and instability is not the friend of Christians and other minorities,” said Michael La Civita of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a pontifical aid organization.

US bishops declare solidarity with immigrants, refugees

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 12:43

Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2020 / 10:43 am (CNA).- Anticipating its observance of National Migration Week, the US bishops' conference said Thursday that it stands in solidarity with immigrant and refugees.

National Migration Week is observed this year Jan. 5-11, with the theme “Promoting a Church and a World for All.”

“As a founding principle of our country, we have always welcomed immigrant and refugee populations, and through the social services and good works of the Church, we have accompanied our brothers and sisters in integrating to daily American life,” Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chair of the US bishops' Comittee on Migration, said Jan. 2.

“National Migration Week is an opportunity for the Church to prayerfully unite and live out the Holy Father’s vision to welcome immigrants and refugees into our communities and to provide opportunities that will help them and all people of good will to thrive,” he added.

According to the USCCB, “For nearly a half-century, National Migration Week has been observed in the United States to highlight the situation of immigrants and refugees and unite in prayer to accompany them.”

The conference noted that globally, more than 70 million people have been forcibly displaced by political instability, violence, and economic hardship.

Report: Over past decade, 170,000 children had rights 'gravely violated'

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 02:33

New York City, N.Y., Jan 3, 2020 / 12:33 am (CNA).- The past decade saw troubling levels of violence against children, with some 45 children seeing their rights “gravely violated” each day during the 2010s, a new report from the United Nations said.

In total, more than 170,000 children were affected by conflict throughout the past decade, said a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report detailing the major atrocities against children around the world.

These violations included the killing, maiming, abduction, sexual assault, and forced military service of children. The regions highlighted in the UNICEF report were the Middle East and Africa, although children around the world were at risk.

“Conflicts around the world are lasting longer, causing more bloodshed and claiming more young lives” than in previous times, said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF. The organization announced the creation of a special fund to address the “historic” numbers of children in need.

In January 2019, more than 30 children were killed in Syria as a result of the ongoing civil war. The situation in Syria is “one of the gravest crises of our time,” said UNICEF. The organization also noted that thousands of children have been displaced due to the war.

“The hostilities damaged or caused the closure of critical basic services including schools, and health and water facilities,” said UNICEF. “Many of those displaced, especially children, are also in desperate need of psychological support after witnessing shelling, fighting and explosions in their home communities.”

The first nine months last year were particularly devastating for Afghani children, said UNICEF. Approximately nine children were “killed or maimed” each day.

“Even by Afghanistan’s grim standards, 2019 has been particularly deadly for children,” said Fore.

In February 2019, there were attacks on Ebola treatment centers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the midst of one of the largest-ever outbreaks of the disease. Ebola, which kills about two out of every three people infected, particularly impacts children as they are at risk of losing their parents or being forced to spend time in isolation due to fear of the virus spreading.

Schools were frequent targets of violence in 2019, said the report. In April, 14 children were killed in a bombing attack in Sana’a, Yemen, while class was in session. About 2 million of Yemen’s children are not even enrolled in a school due to poverty, violence, or other reasons. A quarter of these children left school since the country’s civil war began in 2015. In Cameroon, violence has led to over 800,000 school-aged children being kept out of school. Cameroon’s civil unrest expanded to eight regions of the country last year.

Over in eastern Ukraine, which is in a sustained conflict with Russia, there were 36 attacks on schools in 2019.

UNICEF also continued to decry the use of children as soldiers. In June, three children were used as “human bombs” in northeast Nigeria in an attack that killed 30 people, the organization noted.


Indiana AG says aborted babies at doctor’s home cannot be identified, pledges ‘dignified burial’ 

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 19:09

South Bend, Ind., Jan 2, 2020 / 05:09 pm (CNA).- After an Indiana abortion doctor hoarded more than 2,400 sets of unborn babies’ remains dating back nearly 20 years, the state’s attorney general has pledged to secure them a decent burial. He said the case shows the need for strong laws regulating the bodies of aborted babies.

“The troubling discovery of 2,411 fetal remains from Indiana abortion clinics was a shock to our state and our nation alike, and my office is proud to lead the investigation of this horrific situation to bring answers and closure to all those impacted,” Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in the December 2019 preliminary report put out by his office.

“My office continues to work diligently on the investigation of the circumstances leading to this discovery, and I intend to provide for a dignified burial of these remains in accordance with Indiana law so these remains may finally rest in peace,” said Hill.

The report said that the preliminary investigation found that the late Indiana abortionist Dr. Ulrich Klopfer failed to properly dispose of fetal remains as required by Indiana law.

Days after the 79-year-old’s death on Sept. 3, 2019, relatives alerted local Will County, Illinois authorities to the discovery of fetal remains at his Illinois residence. Authorities found medically-preserved fetal remains of 2,246 babies at his home, along with patient records.

Another 165 sets of fetal remains were discovered in October 2019 in a car at a Chicago-area business where Klopfer kept several cars. The trunk of the vehicle had five plastic bags and one box that contained fetal remains.

Klopfer had performed obstetrics, gynecological services, and surgical and medical abortions at clinics in Fort Wayne, Gary, and South Bend, Indiana. He was estimated to have aborted more than 30,000 children over a span of four decades. Investigators now believe the thousands of sets of remains come from abortions performed at the three Indiana clinics. Some remains also come from abortions performed in 2003, and not only from 2000 to 2002 as previously thought, the Associated Press reports.

The report from the Indiana attorney general’s office said “it is not possible to make an independent verification of the identities of the individual fetal remains.” A final report will be released in the upcoming months.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend has offered to have the fetal remains buried at a Catholic cemetery in his diocese.

In his report, Hill said the case “exemplifies the need for strong laws to ensure the dignified disposition of fetal remains.” He cited a 2016 law passed by the Indiana legislature and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019.

The attorney general’s office has created a phone number and email address for anyone with possible connections to the fetal remains who may have questions.

Thousands of patient records were abandoned at Klopfer’s abortion clinics and other properties. These records will be maintained and kept secure “until such a time as they can be disposed of properly,” the Indiana Attorney General’s office said. The investigation found Klopfer failed to properly dispose of patient health records and to notify patients regarding their records from his medical practice.

Klopfer’s medical license was suspended by the state of Indiana in 2015 and indefinitely in 2016, after numerous complaints were made against him. He admitted to performing abortions on two 13-year-old girls and failed to report the cases to the state in a timely manner. His Fort Wayne clinic was reported by the state’s medical board to be “rundown,” and he charged adult patients extra for pain medication.

He also admitted to performing an abortion on a 10-year-old girl in Illinois, who had been raped by her uncle, and not reporting her case to authorities.

U.S. Sens. Young and Braun have petitioned the office of U.S. Attorney General William Barr for assistance in the current multi-state investigation into Klopfer. Their petition was joined by 65 Members in the House of Representatives.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, said that he found the discovery to be “extremely disturbing” and he supported an investigation. He also said that he hopes it is not used to further restrict abortion rights.

“I hope that it doesn’t get caught up in politics at a time when women need access to healthcare,” he added.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) has introduced the federal Dignity for Aborted Children Act, which he said would prevent similar cases by requiring that the remains of aborted children be given proper burial and respect.

The legislation’s multiple co-sponsors, who are all Republican, include Indiana’s other U.S. Sen. Todd Young.


207 Senators and Congressmen say Roe vs. Wade is 'unworkable'

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Jan 2, 2020 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Ahead of a Supreme Court hearing, more than 200 members of Congress have signed on to support Louisiana’s abortion regulations, and have asked the Court to address Roe’s “unworkable” finding of a “right to abortion.”

39 senators and 168 members of the House representing 38 states signed on to an amicus brief filed on Thursday by Americans United for Life, in the case of Gee v. June Medical Services, LLC. The brief argues that Louisiana’s safety regulations on abortion clinics are constitutional.

In the brief, the lawmakers “strongly urge the Court to uphold the decision” that kept in place Louisiana’s abortion regulations.

Furthermore, they argue that the Court’s current abortion jurisprudence, such as the Casey decision, which forbade states from putting “undue burdens” on abortion access, reveals that the “right to abortion” outlined in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is “unworkable.”

The Court, the lawmakers say, should “again take up the issue of whether Roe and Casey should be reconsidered and, if appropriate, overruled.”

Louisiana’s law, the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, was sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Katrina Jackson and signed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) in 2014. It was immediately challenged in court.

The act requires abortion clinics, where surgical abortions are performed, to have the same safety standards as those of other ambulatory surgical centers. Abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital licensed by the state health department and with the ability to provide necessary “surgical and diagnostic” care.

Louisiana’s current governor John Bel Edwards (D) has supported the law. Earlier this year, he signed a ban on abortions conducted after a baby’s heartbeat is detected in utero, before he was re-elected in November.

The abortion regulation was permanently barred by a district court, but that decision was reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in January. The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the law from going into effect in February, before deciding in October that it would consider a challenge to the law.

The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case June Medical Services, LLC, an abortion clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The amicus brief by members was led by Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.).

“I’m proud to lead the fight in Congress defending Louisiana’s pro-life law that will soon come before the U.S. Supreme Court,” Scalise stated in a press release on Thursday.

“Innocent life must be protected at every stage, and I urge the Supreme Court to uphold this law which ensures the health and safety regulations meant to protect Louisianans from the very abortionists who don't want high standards,” Scalise stated.

The brief comes a month after national medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, filed an amicus brief against Louisiana’s law at the Court.

The law, the organizations said, is similar to Texas’ law that was struck down by the Court in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, as an “undue burden” on a woman’s access to abortion. The Texas law required clinics to have the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and required admitting privileges for abortionists.

However, supporters of Louisiana’s law say it significantly differs from Texas’ law that did not survive the Supreme Court.

As cited in the amicus brief on Thursday, the Fifth Circuit court ruled that Louisiana’s law not only presented evidence of health benefits, but did not treat abortion clinics inequitably in singling them out for adverse action. Rather, the court said, the law tried to align the clinics’ surgical abortion standards with those of ambulatory surgical centers.

In its ruling that kept the law in place, the Fifth Circuit stated that “the facts in the instant case are remarkably different from those that occasioned the invalidation of the Texas statute,” the amicus brief noted.

The “history” of health violations of Louisiana abortion clinics shows “an inherent conflict of interest between abortion providers and their patients regarding state health and safety regulations,” the amicus brief argued.


Chaput to FOCUS leadership conference: We need Christian friends 

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 17:45

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 2, 2020 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- Christian friendships are necessary for living a life of faith, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia told college students in a homily Thursday.

Chaput was preaching Jan. 2 during a morning Mass for SLS20, the biennial Student Leadership Summit hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The conference, the theme of which is “You Were Made For Mission,” is being held Dec. 30-Jan. 4 at the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona.

The archbishop opened his homily by sharing a story about three peers and schoolmates in Athens, Greece in the 4th century: Basil, Gregory, and John. “They wanted an education, and they wanted to be prepared for the future, much like most of you here today,” Chaput said.

“All of them came from good Christian families,” he added. “One of them was son of a bishop, one was the grandson of Emperor Constantine, the third had a grandfather who was a Christian martyr - all had interesting and important backgrounds.” Two of those three men went on to become great saints, Chaput noted: St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory the Theologian. John, however, became the emperor of Rome and became known to the world as Julian the Apostate, due to his rejection of Christianity. “What is the difference between the two who remained faithful to Jesus, and the one who betrayed and walked away?” Chaput asked.

In answering this question, Chaput turned to the writings of St. Basil and St. Gregory. “I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together,” St. Gregory wrote of his friend St. Basil.
“When in the course of our friendship we acknowledged that relationship and recognized that our mission was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other,” St. Gregory noted. “We shared the same lodging, the same desires, the same goal.”

St. Gregory wrote that the only rivalry that existed between the two friends was “in yielding to the other, for we each looked at the others’ success as our own, our single object and ambition was virtue. We followed the guidance of God’s law, and spurred each other on to virtue.” He said that the greatest title that he and Basil strove for was to “to be called Christians.”

St. Gregory and St. Basil, therefore, differed from Julian the Apostate in their Christian friendship, Chaput noted.

Chaput urged the college students at Mass to be like St. Gregory and St. Basil in rejecting the lies of the world and embracing true Christian friendship as a necessary key to living a Christian life.

St. Basil wrote of his own youth prior to his conversion, saying: “I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, (attending) to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly I awoke, as out of a deep sleep, and I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel and recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.”

“So the world tells us lies, and we’re going to have to decide today on whether we believe those lies,” Chaput said.

Chaput noted that among the purposes of the ministry of FOCUS is to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and to foster Christian friendship among Catholic college students, like the friendship St. Gregory and St. Basil enjoyed together. “Together in FOCUS, students discover the Lord in both intellectual pursuits, in friendship, in bible studies, and in discipleship,” he said.

“And without that interaction, without that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that’s such an essential part of the FOCUS ministry, the grace that the Lord offers us through FOCUS doesn’t really take place.”

Chaput’s remarks came on the fourth day of the FOCUS leadership conference. More than 4,000 people are in attendance at the conference, among them FOCUS missionaries, and students from the campuses at which FOCUS ministers. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers was in attendance at the conference, and greeted attendees Jan. 1.

“The only goal worth seeking is the Lord Jesus Christ,” Chaput told the conference.

“May the Lord bring an awareness of his love for you, and help you, with the assistance of one another, to commit yourself more deeply to the Lord.”

Abuse lawsuit window opens in California

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 12:00

Sacramento, Calif., Jan 2, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A three-year window opened in California Wednesday, allowing lawsuits over childhood sexual abuse that would normally be impeded by the state’s statute of limitations.

The window was created when California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB 218 into law in October. In addition to the window, the bill also permanently adjusted the state’s statute of limitations for civil suits regarding childhood sexual abuse.

Previously, a person had until the age of 26, or three years after discovering damages from sexual abuse, to file a claim. The state now allows plaintiffs to file lawsuits until the age of 40, or five years after discovering damage.

The California Catholic Conference said in a statement released at the bill’s signing that the state’s bishops hoped AB 218 would be a positive step for increased healing of all survivors of child sexual abuse.

“Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction,” said Andy Rivas, executive director of the conference, in October.

Rivas called the history of sexual abuse in the Church as a “legacy of shame” and that “we are aware nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was  taken from them.”

In 2003, California had a similar window that allowed survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file claims. At that time, the Church paid more than $1.2 billion to survivors of childhood abuse.

No details have yet been made available regarding the number of suits that were filed on the opening day of the window. At the time the bill was signed, one attorney said that he had approximately 100 people who were ready to file lawsuits against various institutions in California, including schools, dioceses, foster homes, and the Boy Scouts.

In New York, approximately 400 lawsuits were filed on the first day of a window allowing a one-year suspension of the statute of limitations. These claims included a RICO suit against the Diocese of Buffalo and the Northeast Province of Jesuits, who are based in New York.

Other states have also expanded or changed the statute of limitations related to child sexual abuse. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a law in May that raised the age limit to file a claim from 20 to 55, or seven years after the discovery of damages, whichever is later.


Should Catholics care about poetry?

Wed, 01/01/2020 - 17:51

Denver, Colo., Jan 1, 2020 / 03:51 pm (CNA).- Do you remember the last poem you read, or heard?

Statistics suggest it has probably been since high school that the average American took the time (or was forced by a teacher) to read a piece of poetry. The rise of the internet and the correlating decline in the number of people who say they’ve read a poem in the past year has fueled an ongoing debate among those who still care: is poetry dead? Whether it is dead, or dying, or not, should Catholics care?

“Yes, emphatically they should,” said Joseph Pearce, the director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute in Denver, and editor of The Austin Review and of the Faith & Culture website.

“Up until relatively recently in the history of Christendom, poetry was the main form of literature that people enjoyed and read,” Pearce said. “The best-selling works of literature up until Shakespeare’s time were you can’t talk about the legacy or the heritage of Christian literature and leave poetry out of the equation without doing violence to what Christian literature is.”

What happened to poetry?

Poetry used to be memorized in schools and was a central, normal part of people’s literary lives - something they would just “bump into” on a regular basis.

“I can remember growing up...we would get Reader's Digest at home and it would have poetry in it, so would the newspapers, and The Christian Science Monitor...there were a lot of places where you would just bump into it,” said Tim Bete, who serves as poetry editor for the website Integrated Catholic Life (ICL). ICL is a website that provides articles, spiritual reflections, blogs and resources that strive to help Catholics better live lives of faith, according to its description.

So what, exactly, has contributed to its decline?

Pearce blames the so-called “death” of poetry on the “rather pathetic culture in which we find ourselves,” with decreased standards of literacy and decreased attention spans brought on by technology.

“The thing about our modern culture is that most of us spend most of our time wasting it in the dust storm and the desert of modern secular social media,” he added.

Dana Gioia is a Catholic by faith and a poet by trade, and has served as the Poet Laureate of California since 2015.

Gioia spent much of his career as a poet in the secular world, but told CNA that he has become an increasingly vocal Catholic, as it has become harder to be a Catholic in the world of poetry and literature.

The decline of Catholic poetry in the United States, for example, is in part because of Catholicism’s “very complicated position” in American literature since the beginning of the country, he said.

“Catholics were initially banned from coming to the U.S., and then they enjoyed very little rights where they were allowed at all for a long time,” he told CNA. “And there persisted to be - persists to this day - a kind of anti-Catholic prejudice in the U.S. for a variety of religious, cultural, economic and political reasons.”

“American Catholics largely represent poor, immigrant communities from Europe, Latin America and Asia, and to this day if you go to most Catholic Churches you are sitting among the poor,” he added.

For these reasons, there was no “significant” Catholic American poetry (that is still being read today) until the 20th century, Gioia said. Then suddenly, around the 1950s, there is an explosion of Catholic literature in the United States, he said.

Writers such as Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walker Percy, William Tate and Brother Antonitus were leading the way (many of them converts from Protestantism), Gioia said, and Catholicism was being taken seriously for the first time in American cultural life.

“You have a huge list of these really significant thinkers who reshaped American intellectual life...a moment in the 1950s when Catholicism is part of the conversation of American literature,” he said.

But by the early 2000s, that was already gone.

“By 2000 it had fallen apart. In 2010, Catholics are marginalized in American literary lives,” he said.

The reasons for this were several, Gioia suggested: firstly, as Catholics became accepted into American society, they became increasingly secularized. Secondly, the world of art became increasingly anti-Christian, and finally, Vatican II caused “schisms” in the Catholic Church in America, turning her focus to internal debate rather than to an external, unified identity.

“I’m the uncomfortable truth-teller in the room,” Gioia added as an aside. “The contemporary Catholic Church in America, and everywhere, lost its connection with art and beauty.”

“For centuries, millennia really, the Church was a patron of the arts, and understood that beauty was an essential medium for its message,” he said.

“Now the Church is so caught up with practical necessities, that it considers beauty an unaffordable luxury. But beauty is not a luxury, it is a central and essential element of the Catholic faith. And we know this, because if we have anything at all to say about creation, it is that it is beautiful - nature is beautiful, the world is beautiful, our bodies are beautiful. So we’ve lost this essential connection because we’re so busy funding the parish school, keeping the homeless center running, and paying the mortgage on the church - all good things, but useless if the message of the Church is not heard among its own congregations and secondly in the modern world,” he said.

It’s a problem that has been identified by many in the Catholic Church who are concerned with the New Evangelization - Fyodor Dostoevsky’s maxim “beauty will save the world” has become the battle cry of many Catholics who want to reconnect the Church and the arts.

But “healthy” Catholic culture has two cultural conversations going at once, Gioia said - one internally, and one that reaches out to the world - “and both of those conversations have become greatly diminished in the last half-century.”

What poetry has to say to Catholics

The thing about being Catholic, Bete noted, is that if you’re going to Mass and reading the Bible, you are probably are more immersed in poetry than you realize.

“About 30% of all scripture is poetry,” Bete said. “Even (Catholics) that say oh, I never read poetry, well, if you're praying the Divine Office (a Catholic form of prayer centered on the Psalms), it's almost all poetry.”

“We're hearing poetry preached at Mass every week,” he added, and so becoming familiar with all kinds of poetry “helps you understand scripture better because it gets you in tune and trains you to think about metaphor.”

“So much of (scripture) is poetry but I think we kind of race through it sometimes and we don't really kind of appreciate it for being poetry,” he said.

“In my mind, one of the reasons that there's so much poetry in there is it's so difficult to define who God is, and God is so much greater than any author can put down on paper, but provides a different type of truth.”

Bete added that poetry is often the fruit of silence and prayer, and vice versa - one can lead into the other. An example of this in scripture, he said, is the Canticle of Mary, when the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary is visiting her cousin Elizabeth and bursts into poetic song about how God has blessed her by calling her to be the mother of Jesus.

“When Mary really has to explain to Elizabeth what is going on, what does she do? She speaks in poetry. It's very powerful...and so one of my hopes is that if people read current poetry, it trains them to look at things differently and will translate back to scripture and really help to bring the scripture alive for them,” Bete said.

Pearce said another reason Catholics should engage with poetry is because God himself is a poet.

“The word ‘poet’ comes from the word ‘poesis’ which means to make or to create,” he said.

“So when we are being poets in that broader sense of the word of being’s God’s creative presence in us, so we’re actually partaking in the divine when we write poetry or read it and appreciate it.”

Many great works of literature, from Beowulf to The Divine Comedy to The Canterbury Tales and the works of Shakespeare, are works of Christian and Catholic poetry, Pearce said.

Many saints, too, have written great works of poetry, Pearce said, such as St. Patrick’s breastplate poem or St. Francis of Assissi’s Canticle of Brother Sun.

Bete, a secular Carmelite, said he loves to read poetry by Carmelite saints - “it's actually hard to find one who was not a poet,” he said.

“Elizabeth of the Trinity, Therese the Little Flower, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, they all wrote poetry,” Bete said, including some that was prayerful and some that was more lighthearted.

“Almost always it came out of their prayer life,” Bete added. “I think it has to do with the closer that you get to God, especially if you're a writer, I think it just comes out.”

“I would say poetry is like going to Mass or saying your prayers,” Pearce said. “The writing of it and the reading of it is time taken and not time wasted, its something which is worth doing in its own right, as is prayer.”

Poetry 101: How can Catholics start a poetry habit?

Pearce has made it easy for Catholics who are looking for an introduction to Catholic poetry, with his book “Poems Every Catholic Should Know.”

“That book is very popular, and I think it’s popular because people are very aware that they don’t know poetry very well, because they haven’t really been taught it, and they are perhaps intimidated by it or they have misconceptions about it,” he said.

“So they see a book called ‘Poems Every Catholic Should Know’ and they think well, I should at least own one book of poetry and perhaps this is it,” he added.

The book goes through 1,000 years of Christian poetry, from the year 1,000-2,000, Pearce said, from both well-known and lesser-known poets, and it includes short biographies of each poet and how they fit into the broader context of the Christian poetry and literary world.

“A personal favorite of mine is a 20th century war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who was a convert to the Catholic faith, so we published some of his post-conversion poetry in the book which I’m very fond of,” Pearce noted.

It was because of the sharp decline in the reading and writing of poetry that Bete pitched the idea for Integrated Catholic Life to start publishing poetry, to provide a new opportunity for visitors to the site to once again “bump into” poetry.

“The response has been great,” he said. “I think it just goes to show that when people, and they see something that is of interest to them,” they respond, he said. “It doesn't take a huge time commitment. It's not like reading War and Peace or anything.”

Bete said he thinks it’s important for Catholics to come up with new and creative ways to reintroduce people to Catholic poetry.

“On Instagram where you're seeing some of these Instagram poets who are up and coming, and I haven't seen any Catholic ones yet, but I think what they're doing is they're putting poetry where people already are,” Bete said.

Another innovative concept that brings poetry to the people is the “Raining Poetry” project in Boston, Bete said, which paints poetry on the sidewalk with clear paint so that it only shows up when it rains.

“And I love that as a concept. Where are people, and then how do we find ways to get poetry in front of them? And I don't think we've been very good or innovative at that.”

Gioia said the most important thing Catholic creatives can do is to create communities for Catholic artists.

“This country is full of Catholic writers and artists who feel isolated,” Gioia said. “If we can create communities for them, they will understand their own art and its possibilities much better. We are stronger together than we are alone.”

Pearce, Bete and Gioia all said they have been heartened by what seems to be the start of a Catholic cultural revival, in which Catholics are talking more about the need for the Church to reconnect with beauty and the arts and to create great Catholic art again.

“I find this very encouraging,” Pearce said. “One of the things I’m doing with ‘Faith and Culture’ at the Augustine Institute and with the magazine The Austin to try to engage this new Catholic revival in the arts that we see going on. Certainly there’s a Catholic literary revival going on, so there’s an increase not just in the quantity, but more importantly in the quality with Catholic literature written today in the 21st century.”

Gioia said that while he’s encouraged by these movements, he would also caution against the notion of “homemade” culture.

“I worry that they sometimes have a kind of homemade version of culture that needs a shot of energy and perspective you only get by studying masterpieces, especially contemporary masterpieces,” he said. “Any serious writer must engage with the broader literary culture.”

“So I think one of the things to do is we need to identify the very best contemporary writers. What that doesn’t mean is saying here’s a list of 65 writers. It’s - who are the three or four best fiction writers? Who are the three or four best poets?”

“If we had a (Catholic literary) community, we’d invite everyone in, because that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “But when we write about literature we have to be ruthlessly discriminating, because the best work is what will speak most loudly. That’s what a critic does, that’s what an editor does, that’s what an anthologist does. Right now we do not have enough anthologies, or magazines; we do not have enough Catholic writers conferences. We need to build the infrastructure.”

Gioia started the first Catholic Imagination Conference for this reason - to bring together serious Catholic writers as a community.

“Four hundred people came, and they looked around and they were astonished and heartened by how many serious writers they saw in the same room,” he said. “Each one is bigger than the one before, and some of the people who came to the first conference created magazines, book clubs, discussion groups, and so once again, we’re stronger as a community than we are separately.”

The third such conference was held at Loyola University this past fall.

Ultimately, Gioia said, while he is concerned about the state of Catholic poetry and literature in the U.S., he has hope.

“I believe that our Church and our tradition embodies in it a great central truth of existence. And so if you believe that, how could you not be optimistic?”


This article was originally published on CNA April 25, 2019.

Cardinal Mueller: Church crisis comes from abandoning God, adapting to culture

Wed, 01/01/2020 - 11:27

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 1, 2020 / 09:27 am (CNA).- The crisis facing the Catholic Church today has arisen from an attempt – even by some within the Church - to align with the culture and abandon the teachings of the faith, said Cardinal Gerhard Mueller Jan. 1.

“The crisis in the Church is man-made and has arisen because we have cozily adapted ourselves to the spirit of a life without God,” the cardinal told thousands of Catholics gathered in Phoenix for the 2020 Student Leadership Summit hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

“The poison paralyzing the Church is the opinion that we should adapt to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, and not the spirit of God, that we should relativize God’s commandments and reinterpret the doctrine of the revealed faith,” he said.

He cautioned that even a number of people in the Church are “longing” for a kind of Catholicism without dogmas, without sacraments, and without an infallible magisterium.

Mueller, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, celebrated Mass Jan. 1 for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In his homily, he reflected on the human desire to embrace substitute gratifications when God is set aside.

“But the one who believes needs no ideology,” he said. The one who hopes will not reach for drugs. The one who loves is not after the lust of this world, which passes along with the world. The one who loves God and his neighbor, finds happiness in the sacrifice of self-giving.”

“We will be happy and free when in the spirit of love we embrace the form of life to which God has called each one of us personally: in the sacrament of marriage, in celibate priesthood, or in religious life according to the three evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience and chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” he continued.

Mueller stressed that thanksgiving is a key part of the Christian life. At the start of the new year, he encouraged Catholics to voice gratitude for all of creation, for sending Christ into the world as our savior, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Catholic Church, the gift of family, and all the other blessings that can be easily taken for granted.

“As Christians, we have a musical awareness of life: In our hearts resounds the song of thanksgiving of being redeemed. Its melody is love, and its harmony is joy in God,” he said.

Rather than placing hope in fate, he said, the Christian recognizes that suffering is inevitable, but can still find joy in Christ, who also suffered and opened for us the door to eternal life.

In these challenging times, however, scandals in the Church and a crisis among traditionally Christian societies in the West have led many to anxiously wonder whether the rock on which Christ built his Church is crumbling, the cardinal said.

“For some, the Catholic Church is lagging behind by 200 years compared to where the world is today. Is there any truth to this accusation?”

Calls for modernization demand that the Church reject what it holds to be true, for the sake of building a “new religion of world unity,” Mueller warned.

“In order to be admitted to this meta-religion, the only price the Church would have to pay is giving up her truth claim. No big deal, it seems, as the relativism dominant in our world anyway rejects the idea that we could actually know the truth, and presents itself as guarantor of peace between all world views and world religions.”

The post-Christian society welcomes these efforts to reconstruct the Church “as a convenient civil religion,” the cardinal said.

The antidote to secularization within the Church is a life of faith, lived in the enduring truth of Christ, Mueller told those present.

God, who is eternal, cannot be changed by the whims of society, he stressed.

“In the concrete human being Jesus of Nazareth, God’s universal truth is concretely present here and now – in historical time and space,” Mueller said. “Jesus Christ is not the representation of some supratemporal truth: He is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ in person.”

How going online might help you stop watching porn

Wed, 01/01/2020 - 09:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 1, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Watching online videos leads many men to pornography addiction. But now one set of online videos aims to lead them out.

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

The program aims to help men with practical approaches that address the root causes of pornography addiction.

“There are very specific things that you have to do in order to be mildly successful in overcoming porn and there are things that if you do then you are bound to fail,” Fradd told CNA.

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

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

The 21-day program allows men to participate anonymously, and will be offered four times a year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The program costs participants $49. Fradd said he aims to work with men who cannot afford the program in order to ensure they can enroll.

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

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

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


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 27, 2019.


Diocese of Providence challenges RI statute of limitations expansion

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 19:19

Providence, R.I., Dec 31, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Providence has challenged a new Rhode Island law that greatly expands the time window for filing childhood sexual abuse lawsuits.

In July, a bill was signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) extending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases from seven to 35 years in Rhode Island. The 35-year window would commence from the victim’s 18th birthday. The law also includes a “seven year discovery” provision allowing victims to file lawsuits up to seven years after they have re-discovered childhood abuse as an adult, such as through therapy sessions.

Several months later, in September, a lawsuit was filed by Philip Edwardo against the Diocese of Providence alleging that he was abused by a diocesan priest, Phillip Magaldi, hundreds of times in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to the Providence Journal, lawyers for the diocese have argued that the extension of the statute of limitations is invalid as previous abuse cases had already expired under the old law.

According to state court public records, Edwardo’s complaint was filed on September 30 and a memorandum in support of motion to dismiss the case was filed on December 19. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for April 15, 2020.

The diocese did not initially respond to CNA’s request for comment on Tuesday.

The complaint named Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, previous bishop Louis Gelineau, the diocese, and St. Anthony’s parish in Providence as defendants. Magaldi was pastor of St. Anthony’s at the time Edwardo said he was abused.

Magaldi is named on the diocese’s list of credibly accused priests; according to the diocese, he was stationed at St. Anthony’s parish in Providence from 1976 to 1988, and then served in San Antonio, Texas, and the diocese of Fort Worth before he was removed from ministry in May of 1992. He died in 2008.

Rhode Island is one of seven states to have extended the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases. Eight states have instituted “look back” windows on cases of sexual abuse, allowing victims to file lawsuits long after the state statute of limitations had expired.

According to Edwardo’s complaint, he alleged that Fr. Magaldi groomed him and then sexually assaulted him at St. Anthony’s while he was a child parishioner and altar boy.

Edwardo would serve Masses at the parish on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Magaldi let him stay overnight at the rectory in a spare bedroom, as a retreat from a “difficult” situation at home, the complaint alleged.

On a trip to a nearby spa, Magaldi first allegedly assaulted Edwardo in 1979 when he was 12 years old, and then began plying him with alcohol and abusing him in subsequent encounters. Edwardo said he was abused by Magaldi “between 100 and 300 times” from the ages of 12 and 17, during the years 1979 to 1983.

When he finally told Magaldi he would no longer tolerate the abuse, Magaldi lied to Edwardo’s father that he had been stealing from the church, and Edwardo reluctantly went along with the lie, the complaint said.

Edwardo said he did not publicly speak about the abuse until 2007 in marriage counseling; he said he also went to the diocese with the allegations at that time.


Texas bishops offer condolences, prayers after shooting at Christian church

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 14:49

Fort Worth, Texas, Dec 31, 2019 / 12:49 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders in Texas offered prayers following a deadly shooting at a Christian church on Sunday morning.

“On behalf of the Catholic Community of the Diocese of Dallas, we extend heartfelt prayers for those affected by the shootings at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, TX,” said Bishop Edward Burns on Twitter.

“As people of faith, we know that sin, evil, suffering, and death will not have the last word,” he added.

Shortly before 11 a.m. on Sunday, a gunman opened fire at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a few miles west of Fort Worth.

According to police, the gunman killed two people before members of the congregation shot and killed him.

Texas governor Greg Abbott credited the quick action of the congregants in ending the attack, which lasted just a few seconds.

In a statement following the shooting, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth called for prayers.

“I ask all priests, deacons, religious women and men, seminarians, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth to please pray with me for those who were affected by the hateful act of violence in the sanctuary of a community of brother and sister Christians at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement.”

Olson also pointed to efforts within the Diocese of Fort Worth to increase security measures in recent months. These efforts include training ushers, greeters and other parish team members to identify suspicious behavior, medical equipment and training requirements for all churches, and armed volunteers selected by church pastors.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio also responded to the shooting.

“My heart goes out to the victims killed and wounded in the shooting this morning at Westway Church of Christ near Fort Worth,” he said in a statement. “My prayers are with all who were traumatized by this senseless tragedy.”

“That this act of violence occurred in a house of worship unfortunately no longer shocks our senses,” the archbishop continued. “At this time of bitter division and polarization, we must unite in common purpose and commitment to save our society. We can do no less.”

Marriage enrichment initiative geared toward military couples

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 13:05

Washington D.C., Dec 31, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- A global marriage ministry is launching a new initiative to provide resources, encouragement and enrichment opportunities for military couples in Canada and the United States.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 26, 2019.

CNA's favorite books in 2019

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 12:15

Denver, Colo., Dec 31, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Here are a few of the best books we read in 2019, from some of the journalists at Catholic News Agency:

Hannah Brockhaus, Senior Rome Correspondent:

The Enchanted April,” by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

Four unacquainted English women, discontented with their very different lives, spend a month's holiday together in Italy. In the process, they find joy and come to love each other and themselves better. I enjoyed this novel for its subtle humor, lovely descriptions of place and internal thought, positive story, and overall charm.

Carl Bunderson, Managing Editor:

Real Presences” by George Steiner.

A refreshing look at language and art that presents their fundamental grounding in the transcendent, and encourages a return to 'the sources'.

Grace: Commentary on the Summa theologica of St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 109-14,” by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

A fascinating study of grace, and an inspiration to pray for the gift of perseverance and efficacious grace.

Middlemarch,” by George Eliot.

A detailed picture of 19th century life in an English village that gives a striking look at the need to discern marriage well, and the disaster of failing to do so; a cautionary tale. Slow to start, perhaps, but well worth continuing.

Ed Condon, DC Editor:

My Father Left Me Ireland,” by Michael Brendan Dougherty.

A deeply personal and thoughtful reflection on identity, nationality, and especially family and parenthood. It reads like a ground-view experience of the themes laid out by JPII in "Memory and Identity."

Christine Rousselle, DC Correspondent:

Do-It-Yourself Stitch People: 2nd Edition

After breaking my elbow in Lourdes, I needed a new hobby as my two main ones (Irish dancing and cooking) were unsafe or impossible during the recovery period, and cross-stitching filled this void quite nicely. I fell in love with crafting, and it was so nice to have a creative outlet once again. This book has simple--and adorable--patterns to create individualized portraits of people, pets, and more, and they're so fun to make.

A Testimonial to Grace," Cardinal Avery Dulles.

This book shook me to my core, and it was one of the best, and brutally honest, conversion stories I've ever read. I fell headfirst into Dulles' writing after this, and he was truly a remarkable man.

Kevin Jones, Senior Staff Writer:

I too would name “My Father Left Me Ireland.” Dougherty nails the difficulties of trying to embrace Irish culture and history as an Irish-American in the 90s when so many Irish themselves were running away from their past. and their American cousins were falling into superficial half-remembered fantasy.

Dougherty talks candidly about the struggles and misunderstandings of growing up with an absent father. The sacrifices of his parents are sometimes not clear until decades later.

Matt Hadro, Senior DC Correspondent:

The passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ,”  Archbishop Alban Goodier.

Best Lenten reading I’ve had.

Mary Farrow, features writer:

"Somehow I Manage" by Michael G. Scott. Unpublished working manuscript. Taught me how to manage an office.


My favorites were both classics and novels, so lots of people have probably read them, but:

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. A haunting look at what happens when we let sin rule our lives and pride get in the way of doing anything about it.

Also "Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather. A historical fiction based on real priests/bishops including Colorado's Bishop Machebeuf about the grit and guts and sacrifice it took to found Catholicism in the west.

I would also put in a plug for "The Day the World Came to Town" by Jim DeFede.

DeFede, a journalist, documents what happened to Gander, Newfoundland and the surrounding small communities when 38 planes were rerouted there on 9/11 and passengers were stranded for a week while U.S. airspace remained closed. It's a testament to the goodness of people and a small-town community in dark times and a fascinating, lesser-known part of the story of 9/11.

Courtney Mares, Rome Correspondent:

Three to Get Married,” by not-so-soon-to-be-Blessed Fulton Sheen.

Peter Zelasko, social media manager:

"Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI" by David Grann.

I don't normally read true crime, but this was a fascinating look at the history of both the Osage Nation and the FBI during this strange time period. It's a stark reminder of how sin can corrupt and the struggle against evil is ongoing.

I'm also intrigued by "Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday" by Carrie Gress, Megan Schrieber, and Noelle Mering. "Haven't flipped through this new coffee table book, but I like the idea of finding and bringing joy into our homes and families. It's on my wife's Christmas list this year."

Michelle La Rosa, Deputy Editor-in-Chief:

The Remains of the Day,” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

This novel follows the reflections of a butler looking back over his career during the decline of the British aristocracy. The questions it raises about memory, duty, and loyalty in politics are remarkably pertinent today, 30 years after the novel was written.

The Moon is Down,” by John Steinbeck.

This short propaganda novel is among Steinbeck’s lesser-known works, but was influential to the resistance movements of World War II. Depicting the interaction between occupying forces and the citizens of an invaded territory, the book met with poor reception in the U.S., where it was viewed to portray Nazi-like characters as too human. But it resonated strongly with the experience of people in Nazi-occupied Europe, where tens of thousands of copies were clandestinely produced and distributed, despite it being banned.

Alejandro Bermudez, Executive Director, ACI Group:

Chris Arnade’s “Dignity” was the best thing I read this year. It was absolutely cathartic to me. Many years ago, on my way to Mount Rushmore during the Thanksgiving weekend, I stopped at a large gas station in middle-of-nowhere South Dakota. Inside, I saw a very large family of white and Indian members celebrating Thanksgiving with burgers and fries. The patriarch of the family led everyone in prayer before the humble feast started. It was very clear to me that this scene was both ignored by American elites and at the same time was essential to understanding American identity. This was the real America.

Arnade portrays that hidden country with contagious respect and sympathy. But most importantly, with no preaching, he brings home a hard truth: if this “second row” America is not integrated into the future of the country, something really, really bad will happen soon. And the elites will be responsible for it.

JD Flynn, editor-in-chief

Many of the books mentioned by others also stand out to me. But here are a few others I read and loved in 2019:

The Sword of Honor Trilogy, by Evelyn Waugh.
"The Blood of the Lamb," by Peter De Vries.
"Wise Blood," by Flannery O'Connor.
"Back to Blood," by Tom Wolfe.

"Storyworthy," by Matthew Dicks.
"The Irony of Modern Catholic History," by George Weigel.
"Primal Screams," by Mary Eberstadt.
"John Henry Newman: A Biography," by Ian Ker.




Discerning in, and discerning out: What happens when seminarians leave?

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 09:15

Denver, Colo., Dec 31, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- Catholic journalists know that discernment stories are popular because they give readers hope. And they often follow a pattern: They usually include a “God moment” in which the subject, through a dramatic circumstance, hears the word of God and finds with sparkling clarity the call to become a cleric or religious. They end with ordination or follow final vows.

Jacob Hubbard’s discernment story isn’t like that.

Hubbard had multiple “God moments,” and he entered seminary because of them. But in seminary Hubbard realized that ordination wasn’t his calling. In November 2018, he discerned out of seminary.

“By our baptism, we're all called to be priests, prophets, and kings,” Hubbard told CNA. “So although I won't be an ordained priest, I'll be living out my calling by being the priest of my family- the bridge between them and God, offering them Christ as much as I possibly can and relying on His Strength to do so.”

It could be easy to see Hubbard’s discernment out of seminary as a failure. In fact, many seminarians who discern out of seminary face a kind of stigma from their friends and family, and even from themselves.

But that stigma is based on a misunderstanding of seminary’s purpose, Hubbard told CNA.

As Hubbard said, “The stigma today is that when people see seminarians, they don't see them as discerning individuals, they see them as mini-priests.”

Seminary is a “house of discernment,” he said, “not a house of mini-priests,” adding that if a man leaves seminary, it’s often a positive sign of his ongoing vocational discernment.

Fr. Phillip Brown, President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, agreed.

“As a seminary faculty and as a rector, when a seminarian discerns out, and we're satisfied that it was an authentic, good, discernment, we don't consider that a failure. We consider that a success,” Brown explained.

“What I say to the seminarians is that in the end, the objective here is not to become a priest, but to be what God has made you to be,” Fr. Brown said.

Discerning with openness to God’s call

According to Fr. James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, only about 30% of men who originally enter seminary are ordained.

“It's not a failure,” Fr. Wehner said. “We think it's a very healthy process of discernment where he and the Church recognize that he's not called to priesthood.”

“But we want to give the guys an opportunity to discern and to form, and if they're not called, they will leave here stronger, healthier, Christian men because they were totally open to the formation experience, so it's a win-win situation.”

Even if a man leaves before ordination, Hubbard told CNA, “you can walk out a better man if you do seminary right. You could really figure out the areas you have believed lies your entire life. And then you can accept God's love there instead.”

The difficulties and the fruits of seminary life

There are many gifts that come with entering seminary, but they come alongside trials, Hubbard said.

When he entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, Hubbard found himself face-to-face with a slew of challenges.

A strict schedule and constant obligations kept him busy, even without the additional work a full-time student must face at the school next door, the University of Dallas.

“You need structure to build your life on, and that structure needs to include self-love, so doing things that you personally love, and then of course prayer where you receive love from God,” he said regarding structure.

The routine of seminary taught Hubbard that “it's impossible to earn God's love by your own measures. But the routine can open you up to being able to receive it more.”

Hubbard said he had long considered the priesthood, with encouragement from his family, and reflected on it while journaling about his prayer life while in high school, and through retreats and mission trips.

After several invitations to visitation weekends at HTS, he attended one, and after a “God moment,” he chose to apply to the seminary, entering as a sophomore in college.

Discerning out of seminary

During Hubbard’s time in seminary, he worked hard to be engaged in the community and to take the opportunities presented to him.

The summer before his senior year, his pastoral assignment was as a counselor at The Pines Catholic Camp, a summer camp in East Texas. There, Hubbard worked closely with other counselors to teach and take care of children at the camp.

Hubbard told CNA that he was struck by some of the beautiful and inspiring marriages he saw the camp directors have, and the happiness he saw that came from their relationships with their wives and children.

That summer he also participated in Trinity Cor, “a two-week backpacking journey to discover your heart,” Hubbard explained. “To really find your manly heart and discover your masculinity, and it was awesome.”

“Coming back from that, I was really feeling like I had more grasp at my heart, and really had the question of discernment lodged in me from The Pines because I saw beautiful relationships there. That experience of The Pines mixed with deepening the discovery of my heart through Trinity-Core began the questioning of my discernment,” Hubbard said.

He sought out counsel about his questions, and trusting his spiritual director to keep his best interests in mind, opened up to him about everything.

One of the biggest moments for Hubbard was when his spiritual director asked Hubbard to consider marriage.

His spiritual director asked Hubbard to imagine himself, in prayer, as a priest coming home from a good day of Confessions and Mass, and then to imagine, in prayer, being married and coming home to a wife and children.

“I felt so much more deeply my heart belonged with a family,” Hubbard explained. “There's no way to really articulate it, except that I just felt myself more present, more human there. Even just painting the picture almost brought me to tears.”

Hubbard left seminary in November of his senior year.

“And I have not regretted it since,” he said. “It's been a beautiful journey. Seminary was a necessary step, and so I know that God has just continued to lead me along a path which I hope one day, He will use to help heal those hurting around me. I want to still give of myself to those around me."

Does “discerning out” mean failure?

Although seminary was helpful for Hubbard in his discernment both for the priesthood and for the married life, he found that a lot of people misunderstood the reasons he had left, and some saw it as a failure on his part.

“I think that a lot of people have the misconception that when you step out of seminary it's a failure of sorts. Their reactions are, ‘Oh, I'm sorry,’ or things like that. The negative stigma of discerning out needs to be eradicated so that seminarians who are torn don't have that fear that when they leave, their friends, their families, their priests back home will be disappointed.”

“The stigma holds seminarians back from being able to healthily discern. I think that's something pretty unaddressed in today's world: the very healthy and good option of discerning out. People see it as something entirely negative, and they shouldn't,” Hubbard continued.

After explaining his decision to his friends, they understood and supported him, he told CNA, but the initial uncomfortable or negative feelings still felt like a stigma, or at least a misunderstanding, about what he considered to be a healthy discernment.

“And I experienced that a bit with some of my friends and family, but I also had overwhelming support, especially from my father, and so it was okay,” he said. “I definitely felt supported in my decision.”

Discerning into seminary at 18, his father told Hubbard that he “was proud of Hubbard no matter what.” At the time, Hubbard wondered why his dad didn’t seem more enthused about his entrance to seminary.

“But that consistency was something that was actually beautiful in the long run, and that's what I think parents should strive for when their kids enter seminary,” he told CNA.

“That's the exact same thing he said to me when I discerned out of seminary, and I knew that he supported me on either side and trusted my judgement, so it was incredible. It really was,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard’s father, Brad, told CNA that his first and foremost step is to pray for his children, and says that he wanted to make sure his son was happy with the formation he was receiving while in seminary.

“For me, it's just the importance of leaving the discernment to God. As a parent, I'm there to support and especially pray, and then God's will be done in regards to that.”

Hubbard’s Future

Last May, Hubbard graduated from the University of Dallas with a degree in philosophy, and he now plans to attend the Augustine Institute for a graduate degree in theology.

He believes he has had many blessings throughout his time in seminary and now working, and wants to have the opportunity to impact people through an occupation in ministry after he graduates.

Hubbard finds that despite the magnitude of the decision, he does not question his choice. He told CNA that his relationship with God has grown since his departure from seminary.

And in the pursuit of marriage, Hubbard has felt more confirmed in his choice.

“If everything else were to fall apart in my life, if I questioned every other piece of discernment, that is what I could hold onto and know for a fact that I made the right decision because I have so deeply encountered God's love incarnationally in a way that I could not have in seminary,” he said.

This article was originally published on CNA July 23, 2019.

High school founded by former NFL star aims to make virtuous students

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 05:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Dec 31, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Not everyone who goes to high school will go to college, the founders of a new Minnesota high school say, but everyone should be prepared for leadership, service, and virtuous lives.

Preparation for a good life, no matter what comes after graduation, is the goal of Unity High School, set to open this fall in Burnsville, Minnesota.

Matt Birk, a retired football player who played with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, and Tom Bengtson, the owner of a small publishing company, are the founders of the school.

“At Unity, we are sure a lot of kids will go into college, some will go into the workforce, some will go into the military, some will discern religious vocations, and we think there is equal dignity in all of those things,” Birk told CNA.

“We are college prep but we are not only college prep. Not everybody is a candidate for college, people choose different paths and we believe that there is equal dignity in any of these paths. We are happy to prepare kids for post high school life regardless of what it looks like,” Bengtson added.

Birk has been involved with education programs in underprivileged communities since 2002, when he was playing professional football. As a father of eight, he said he knows that not all kids thrive in a competitive academic environment, noting that a “high-stakes” test-taking culture is not for everyone.

“If you look back at the genesis of the American education system, I think the original charter says the goal of education is to teach knowledge and develop character. As the U.S. keeps falling on the global list of test scores, we just keep focusing more and more on the testing,” he said.

“Character has been pushed out of mainstream education because it is all about the test now,” he added.

Birk said that because public school funding is tied to test scores, education models focus on test-taking skills, instead of adapting to the needs of each learner.

Birk added that while not every student will go on to college, every person can be formed for success.

“If we are only doing it to show how well we can take a test, what’s the point?” he asked.

“If you go to an Ivy League schools is that a guarantee to a great life? No, no it’s not. I would say the most important thing to me … is that they would have a firm foundation in their Catholic faith, that would be number one, and then, number two, I would say to be equipped with some skills to be able to help them with whatever path they choose.”

Birk added that digital technology has been detrimental to some areas of ingenuity - communication, teamwork, and social and emotional intelligence. As a result of increased technology and media influence, he said students are suffering more narcissism and depression, while developing less empathy and abilities to handle anxiety.

Unity aims to address these issues as it grows. The Fall 2019 semester was the inaugural semester for the school, which is located at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Burnsville. To start out, the school will only teach high school freshmen, but it plans to add a new grade each year, until the first incoming class graduate as seniors.

The school's leaders acknowledged that it is starting small, and said they hope to discuss recognition from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis down the road.

Unity will focus on practical opportunities for students to develop skills in academics, character, leadership, and service.

Birk said the school will “be vigorously Catholic,” including opportunities for students to engage with an instructor who can foster “interior life and their personal relationship with Jesus.”

The former NFL center's own faith is central to his life, he said. He is especially active in pro-life work. In 2013, after Birk's team won Super Bowl XLVII, he declined to attend a reception at the Obama White House.

“I have great respect for the office of the presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, 'God bless Planned Parenthood.' Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. I am Catholic, I am active in the pro-life movement and I just felt like I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't endorse that in any way,” Birk said.

He said he hopes Unity High School will form students who are committed to faithful Catholicism.

“We really want the faith to be alive, to really be a part of the kids’ lives, not just taking a religion class,” said Birk.

Citing the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, Birk said the Catholic faith has a great framework for building character. To foster character development, students will be involved with regular service projects, like monthly outings to nursing homes, where the teens can get to know the people they are serving.

A major component of the school will be its “Real World Wednesdays.” On those days, the students will take “life skills” classes and character development, including opportunities to listen to guest speakers and attend field trips and service projects.

The teens will learn entrepreneurship, leadership, interview techniques, resumes, and financial literacy skills. The students will also be exposed to trades, through courses and workshops in auto maintenance, metal or wood shop, or home economics.

The school will also partner with an organization called Pursuit Academy, which teaches ethical enterprise, encouraging students to become entrepreneurs, to plan and manage their future goals, and to be leaders in their communities. Among other things, the teens will learn about engaging with peer pressure, managing risk, and public speaking.

Birk said a focus of the “Real World Wednesdays” will be developing what he calls “the-other-people-matter” mindset.

By identifying the good in themselves and in other people, students will establish better relationships in the community and a better relationship with God, he said.

Developing leadership skills and character “might not necessarily help them get an A on a test or score higher on their SAT, but they are going to be equipped with skills that they can use in their lives, whether it is in the careers or their marriages or as parents or as communities members.”

“Let’s get them some of that stuff,” he added.

In light of the school’s emphasis on both academic and practical skills, Unity has chosen two patron saints: John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These saints are not only modern figures for students to model after but fantastic examples of the school’s goals, Bengtson said.

“John Paul II had all this rich philosophy of the dignity of the human person, which we will be teaching at Unity High School, including Theology of the Body,” Bengtson said.

“Then you got someone like Mother Teresa who took that theology and put it into practice - reached out to the poorest of the poor and saw dignity in folks who were in extremely dire circumstances.”

“In my mind, I seem them as both the hands and the heart at work together,” he added.  

Bengtson said the school is convenient financially and geographically. Tuition will be $6,500 for the first year, which is half or even a third of the prices at other Catholic schools, Bengtson said. He also said the school will fill a neighborhood need in the southern metro area of the Twin Cities.  

“It’s a large geographic area with 10 Catholic grade schools, through eighth grade, who collectively are graduating 300 students per year. Most of those students will go into public schools,” he said.

“About 75 students will stay in the Catholic school system and they have to travel quite a distance to Catholic high school.”

The lower price does mean there will be tradeoffs, Bengtson said, noting that the school will have to improvise for a gymnasium, science lab, and auditorium at first. However, the school will have a thoroughly Catholic culture, he said, with Mass three times a week and a holy hour once a week, which is not offered at all Catholic schools.

Birk expressed enthusiasm for the new venture.

“We are still very much like a typical school in a lot of ways, but we are tweaking the model. I don’t know where this goes, but hopefully it will show people that there is a better way to do it.”


This article was originally published on CNA May 11, 2019.

'Made for Mission': Student Leadership Summit kicks off in Phoenix

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 20:00

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 30, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Thousands of Catholics from across the nation are gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, this week for SLS20, the biennial Student Leadership Summit hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). 

The conference, which is being held under the theme “You Were Made For Mission,” opened on Dec. 30 at the Phoenix Convention Center, beginning with a Mass and keynote addresses from author and musician Emily Wilson, and Fr. Mike Schmitz. Fr. Schmitz is chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and leads the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth.  

Over the next four days some 9,000 Catholics will attend keynote talks and small-group sessions about missionary discipleship. There will also be daily opportunities for Mass, adoration and confession. 

Though SLS20 is organized by FOCUS, the four-day event is not exclusive to college students. It includes programming to help post-college attendees and even campus ministry professionals become better missionaries in their families, parishes, and workplaces. 

“Attending SLS two years ago served as a catalyst for how my husband and I view our role as missionary disciples - more specifically, how we enter into the mission field of parenting our children and in helping them develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Marilee Nordhus, of Wichita, Kansas.

Marilee attended SLS18 in Chicago and is now in Phoenix for SLS20. 

“We are forever grateful to FOCUS as they simplified what I used to think was a daunting task,” she said. “Today’s young people need courageous adults who love Jesus and find strength in Him as we help change culture.”

Keynote speakers for SLS20 include Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, M.I.C., Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V., Fr. Agustino Torres, C.F.R., Helen Alvaré, Curtis Martin, Damon Owens, Dr. Jonathan Reyes and Dr. Edward Sri.

SLS20 takes place across the New Year holiday, and includes a New Year’s Eve party for attendees. Entertainment for that party, and throughout the event, includes artists like Ndolo, Jeremy Camp, and Matt Maher. 

All Masses and evening keynote addresses will be live-streamed on the FOCUSCatholic Facebook page.