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New Jersey bishops finalizing plans to compensate sex abuse victims

Sat, 12/15/2018 - 19:42

Newark, N.J., Dec 15, 2018 / 05:42 pm (CNA).- In the wake of sex abuse allegations against a former cardinal, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey have announced the creation of a fund to compensate victims of clergy sex abuse, while details of similar funds in Pennsylvania are also being finalized.

The New Jersey program aims to compensate “eligible victims of child sexual abuse including those whose financial claims are legally barred by New Jersey's statute of limitations,” the New Jersey Catholic Conference said in a Dec. 14 statement. “This program follows the many initiatives adopted by the Catholic dioceses in New Jersey since 2002 to implement safeguards and procedures to provide safe environments for children and to provide assistance to victims.”

Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille Biros will design, implement and administer the statewide compensation program. Feinberg is an attorney and mediator who headed the September 11 victims’ compensation fund.
 
He and Biros have adminsitered sex abuse victims compensation programs for many diocese in New York and Pennsylvania. New Jersey’s bishops described them as “respected internationally.”

The program will accept submissions of individual claims of sexual abuse of a minor, evaluate the claims, and settle them. It will be independent of any participating diocese. Program administrators will have “complete autonomy” to determine if a claim is eligible and what amount to compensate a victim.

The Catholic Church in New Jersey has already paid out $50 million in settlements to abuse victims, mostly involving claims where lawsuits are barred by the statute of limitations on civil actions, the Catholic bishops of the state said.

“This will give victims a formal voice and allow them to be heard by an independent panel,” the Newark archdiocese said last month in an announcement that the program was under development.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said last month that “the program also will assure that victims who have not received any financial compensation will be paid, regardless of whether their claims meet the time requirements of the statute of limitations.”

Tobin added that New Jersey’s dioceses will “undertake a complete review of their files” and release the names of all priests and deacons who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. The list is expected to be released in early 2019.

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

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington, headed the Newark archdiocese from 1986 to 2000 and was the first Bishop of Metuchen when it was founded in 1982.

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

Cardinal Tobin told journalist Mike Kelly he had heard rumors of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct soon after he became Archbishop of Newark in 2017, but did not investigate because he found the rumors unbelievable.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, a grand jury report published in August claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests. It presented a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations, either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

The accusations concerned incidents that are often decades old. Most of the priests accused of abuse have died.

Seven of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania have said they will create compensation funds for victims of clergy sex abuse. The Altoona-Johnstown diocese started its own victim assistance program in 1999.

Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, Pa. announced details of a victims’ compensation fund on Friday, the Erie Times-News reports. That fund will also be administered by Feinberg and Biros, who are administering other funds in Pennsylvania.

“It is my sincere hope that the establishment of the Diocese of Erie’s Survivors’ Reparation Fund will provide some measure of justice, closure and validation for the terrible acts that victims endured,” Persico said. “Although money will never fully heal the deep wounds felt by survivors, this fund is a crucial step in the diocese’s ongoing reconciliation and reform efforts.”

Victims could have access to the fund by mid-February, with a claims period open for six months.

Known victims of abuse, whether by diocesan clergy, lay employees or diocesan volunteers, will be notified by letter.

Those victims not known to the diocese may submit a form on the Diocese of Erie’s website. Those who claim abuse will be asked to submit documents backing their claim.

Both minors and vulnerable adults will be eligible for the first phase of compensation, but not those who were victimized by members of religious orders.

The fund administrators will determine compensation based on many factors including the severity and duration of abuse; the age of the victim at the time of abuse; whether the diocese failed to act on prior knowledge of the accused abuser; when the abuse was reported; and the credibility of the claim.

Victims who accept compensation will be required to waive any rights they have against the diocese related to sex abuse allegations.

Persico emphasized that victims who accept compensation will not be obligated to refrain from public comment or public disclosure of abuse.

The estates of deceased victims and victims of non-diocesan personnel could be compensated in a second phase, depending on future contributions from insurance companies and religious orders.

Persico has said he favors such a compensation fund rather than a two-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to sue in cases where the statute of limitations for civil action has expired. Such legislation is stalled in the Pennsylvania legislature.

The diocese has argued that even if the statutes of limitations is lifted, the first claimants could receive significant judgments that leave little compensation for the majority of other victims.

Persico has backed an end to the abolition of statute of limitation for criminal penalties for sex abuse.

Pennsylvania AG files challenge to new federal religious freedom rules

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 23:01

Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 14, 2018 / 09:01 pm (CNA).- New rules are set to ensure strong religious exemptions to federal mandates requiring employer health care plans to provide birth control coverage, but Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s legal challenge could derail them.

“Families rely on the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee to afford care,” Shapiro said Dec. 14. “Congress hasn’t changed the law, and the president can’t simply ignore it with an illegal rule.”

He filed an amended complaint Friday challenging the Trump administration’s final religious exemption rules, set to take effect Jan. 14, 2019. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined the complaint, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Shapiro’s complaint makes several claims, including charges that the new rules violate the separation of church and state and allow employers to discriminate on the basis of sex.

On Nov. 7, the Trump administration released two updated rules concerning conscience protections for organizations and individuals in relation to the Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called contraception mandate.

The rules allow colleges, universities, and health insurance companies to decline to cover contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortion, whether for religious or non-religious moral objections.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the new rules as “common-sense regulations that allow those with sincerely held religious or moral convictions opposing abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception to exclude such drugs and devices from their health plans.”

Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket religious liberty legal group, praised the new rules, saying they signaled the end of a “long, unnecessary culture war.” Rienzi’s legal group represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have challenged mandates requiring them to provide such coverage to employees.

“All that is left is for state governments to admit that there are many ways to deliver these services without nuns, and the Little Sisters can return to serving the elderly poor in peace,” Rienzi said last month.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently being sued by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania and California, which challenge their religious exemptions allowing them to decline to provide the coverage to which they object.

The U.S. Supreme Court had barred enforcement of the mandate on closely held private companies in its 2014 case involving Hobby Lobby, which is owned by an Evangelical Christian family that objected to some of the mandated drugs.

In May 2016, the Supreme Court voided the federal circuit court decisions involving other plaintiffs challenging the mandate and sent these cases back to their respective federal courts. The court directed the lower courts to give all parties time to come to an agreement that satisfied their needs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor case, Zubik v. Burwell, is named for Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who is a plaintiff.

Bishop Zubik came under fire for his diocese’s handling of sex abuse cases after Shapiro’s office in August released a grand jury report on six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, citing allegations of abuse over a span of decades.

The Trump administration’s 2017 religious exemptions to the HHS rule were still being litigated in court. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel on Thursday lifted a district court’s preliminary nationwide injunction against the 2017 religious exemptions, but allowed the injunction to stand in the five states that have filed legal challenges.

The majority decision by Ninth Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace acknowledged that free exercise of religion and conscience are “undoubtedly, fundamentally important.”

“Protecting religious liberty and conscience is obviously in the public interest. However, balancing the equities is not an exact science,” the decision continued. The majority said the appellate court lacked sufficient basis “to second-guess the district court and to conclude that its decision was illogical, implausible, or without support in the record.”

The decision faulted federal officials for not satisfying the rules of the Administrative Procedure Act, including requirements for public comment on new rules.

A nationwide injunction against the 2017 rules was still in effect in Pennsylvania, however.

Last month the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a 2014 District Court decision against EWTN Global Catholic Network, the parent company of Catholic News Agency, in its lawsuit against the mandate.

Under the terms of the settlement with Department of Health and Human Services, EWTN will not be required to provide contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients through its employee health care plan.

Minn. archbishop announces moves to end culture fostering clergy abuse

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 22:01

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 14, 2018 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announced Friday several changes meant “to change the culture that fostered the clergy abuse crisis.”

Among these are the creation of a new position within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to ensure that “the voice of survivors of clergy sexual abuse will be regularly heard within Archdiocesan leadership,” Hebda wrote in a Dec. 14 letter.

“To strengthen that voice, I want to say again today that any survivor who at any time entered into a settlement agreement containing a confidentiality provision is released from that provision,” he added.

“I also reiterate my pledge to meet with any survivors who would like to do so.”

Hebda wrote that he plans to make himself available to survivors of abuse all Friday afternoons in February, March, and April, as well as other times and places. Planning for spiritual outreach in 2019 is also underway, he said.

Hebda reiterated that he strongly favors a “lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop.”

Hebda’s predecessor, Archbishop John Nienstedt, was the subject of a misconduct allegation involving adult males in 2014. Nienstedt delegated the investigation to his senior auxiliary bishop, who submitted the investigative materials to then-Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò after seeking the counsel of two law firms. In addition, the allegations against Nienstedt were provided to the county attorney’s office.

However, the situation remains “unresolved for the accusers, for Archbishop Nienstedt and for the public” because Hebda said as far as he knows, the Vatican’s effort into the investigation ended when Archbishop Nienstedt resigned his office in June 2015.

Archbishop Viganò has since denied that he ordered the Vatican’s investigation of Nienstedt to be halted.

Hebda wrote of the investigation: “I share the frustration that is felt by them, and believe this situation highlights the need for a better-defined process and independent mechanism to resolve allegations made against bishops.”

An additional allegation emerged that then-bishop of New Ulm Nienstedt, at a 2005 World Youth Day event in Germany, had invited minors to his hotel room, proceeded to undress and had invited them to do the same – an account which Nienstedt denies. Hebda said he transmitted information about this allegation to the nuncio in 2016.

“I have been asked repeatedly whether there are any restrictions on Archbishop Nienstedt’s ministry,” Hebda wrote.

“My answer has always been that although I do not know of any, I am the wrong person to ask: Bishops report to the Holy Father, not to each other. I have no general juridical authority over Archbishop Nienstedt or any other bishop outside the Archdiocese.”

However, Hebda did offer clarification that Nienstedt, like any priest facing misconduct allegations, “would not be free to exercise public ministry in this Archdiocese until all open allegations are resolved.”

Hebda said he would continue to advocate for an independent review board, and would commit to transmitting the entire 2014 archdiocesan investigation to whatever national or regional review board is created.

“In order to fully address bishop accountability, the Church needs a national or regional board empowered to act, much as our well-respected Ministerial Review Board has been empowered to address allegations involving our priests and deacons,” the archbishop wrote.

“The Church cannot fulfill its mission without public trust.”

Six lay men installed as acolytes in Spokane

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 21:01

Spokane, Wash., Dec 14, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane installed six laymen who are not in formation for holy orders as acolytes Wednesday.

“The men were chosen for their dedication to the cathedral family, and their service at the Altar reflects their commitment to service in the wider community,” Fr. Darrin Connall, vicar general and rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes,  said Dec. 12.

The six men insalled as acolytes are Dave Gibb, Gene DiRe, Justin Bullock, Dennis Johnson, Thomas Lavagetto, and Rick Sparrow.

The installation of acolytes is effected by the bishop praying over the candidates, and then giving each the Eucharistic vessels.

The ministry of acolyte is most often conferred upon men in who are in formation for the diaconate or priesthood, but the Code of Canon Law does provide that “Lay men who possess the age and qualifications … can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.”

Becoming an acolyte does not grant one the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

In the dioceses of the US, the qualifications to be installed as a lector or acolyte are having completed one's 21st year, and possessing the skills necessary for an effective service at the altar, being a fully initiated member of the Church, being free of any canonical penalty, and living a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken.

Lay persons who are not installed acolytes can supply certain of their duties, when the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking.

However, installed acolytes are permitted to purify the Eucharistic vessels, which task cannot be supplied by another lay person.

The installation of lay men not in formation for holy orders as acolytes is not common among dioceses in the US, though the Diocese of Lincoln is among those which do so.

Bishop Daly, 58, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1987. He was consecrated a bishop in 2011, serving as auxiliary bishop of San Jose until he became Bishop of Spokane in 2015.

Gun deaths in US reach record-high

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 20:44

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 06:44 pm (CNA).- The number of gun deaths in the United States reached almost 40,000 last year, the highest number since firearm deaths were first recorded in mortality data nearly 40 years ago.

According to an analysis from CNN, 39,773 people died by guns last year.

The analysis, using CDC data, found that nearly 24,000 people died from suicide by guns in 2017. This number is the highest in 18 years, and a more than 7,000 death increase from 1999.

“In 2017, nearly 109 people died every single day from gun violence,” said Adelyn Allchin, director of public health research for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

“Gun violence has been part of our day-to-day lives for far too long. It is way past time that elected leaders at every level of government work together to make gun violence rare and abnormal.”

The U.S. bishops have long called for more restrictive gun legislation.

In their 2000 statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration,” on crime and criminal justice, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supported certain gun laws in the name of safety.

“As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns,” the bishops stated.

In April of 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook school shooting, then-chair of the domestic justice and human development committee Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton wrote members of Congress.

Among the policies Bishop Blaire cited for support were “universal background checks for all gun purchases,” restrictions on civilian purchases of “high-capacity ammunition magazines,” and an “assault weapons” ban. He cited Pope Francis’ call “to ‘change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace’.”

A similar statement encouraging public debate on gun control was released last year after mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas,

Earlier this year, after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people, the heads of the bishops’ committees on domestic justice and Catholic Education released another statement on gun laws.

“Once again, we are confronted with grave evil, the murder of our dear children and those who teach them. Our prayers continue for those who have died, and those suffering with injuries and unimaginable grief. We also continue our decades-long advocacy for common-sense gun measures as part of a comprehensive approach to the reduction of violence in society and the protection of life,” they said.

Last month, after a shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago left four dead, including the gunman, the president of the U.S. bishop’s conference again reiterated the call for “reasonable gun measures.”

“In our desire to help promote a culture of life, we bishops will continue to ask that public policies be supported to enact reasonable gun measures to help curb this pervasive plague of gun violence,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Nov. 20.

Catholic groups support prison reform bill

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic groups expressed optimism at a criminal justice reform bill, as the “First Step Act”  legislation makes its way through the U.S. Senate.

The full title of the bill is “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act.”

The bill, which has received bipartisan support, including from President Donald Trump and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), aims to reform the country’s prison system and better assist with integrating former prisoners into society after they have served their sentence.

Among other things, the bill will increase credits for good behavior and for participating in “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming”and other “productive programming.”

A total of $250 million would be authorized for the creation of educational, vocational and other skill-building programs for those in prison. Nonprofit organizations, including faith-based groups, would be permitted to assist with the creation and implementation of these programs.

These provisions would only apply to prisoners who were incarcerated for certain crimes. Those in prison for violent offenses, such as assault of a spouse, arson, or sex trafficking, are not eligible to receive these earned time credits.

The First Step Act would also ban the practice controversial practice of shackling pregnant women, and require that feminine hygiene products be provided to female prisoners free-of-cost. The bill also mandates that prisoners be held no more than 500 driving miles away from their families, because evidence suggests that increased time with loved ones assists with societal reintegration.

Under the bill, prisoners deemed to be “low” or “minimum” risk would be instead be held in either a halfway house or home confinement. The minimum age for “compassionate release” would be lowered from 65 to 60.

Two Catholic organizations told CNA that they are optimistic about the bill and that they feel as though it is a way to improve the country’s criminal justice system.

“The First Step Act is exactly what it sounds like: an important first step by the federal government as part of our ongoing national conversation about draconian punishments, disparate sentencing, and collateral consequences,” Griffin Hardy, a spokesperson for anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, told CNA.

While Hardy acknowledged that there is still much work that can be done in terms of easing re-entry for those who were incarcerated, “it’s even more important to remember that passage of this bill would mean that real people get to return home to their families.”

“You just can’t overstate that,” he added.

Hardy’s comments were echoed by the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), an organization that promotes restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.

CMN “considers the First Step Act an important piece of legislation deserving of the collective attention of U.S. Catholics and all Americans,” a spokesperson for the organization told CNA in a statement.

“The timing of the bill coincides with the recent release of the Catholic bishops pastoral letter against racism, which highlights the ways in which racial prejudice has become enshrined in our social structures, especially prisons,” they added.

This bill is a “modest but critical foundation” for confronting these issues, and “creates an opportunity for faithful Catholics to respond to the bishops’ call to ‘shape policies and institutions for the good of all.’”

 

 

New Mexico upholds textbook lending for private schools

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 18:05

Santa Fe, N.M., Dec 14, 2018 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to uphold a book-lending program that gives school children at public and private schools equal access to state-approved textbooks.

The Becket law group, which represented the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, called the decision a victory for low-income students and against religious discrimination.

“In shutting the book on religious discrimination, the New Mexico Supreme Court has opened access to quality textbooks for all students,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement on the ruling.

“All kids deserve an education free from discrimination,” he added.

When it comes to public education, New Mexico consistently ranks poorly in comparison to other states. A 2017 report from Education Weekly ranked them second-to-last among the 50 states for quality of public education. A U.S. News report from the same year put them in last place.

Becket said in their statement that stopping the textbook loan program had most disadvantaged minority and low-income students living in rural areas.

In its Thursday, the state Supreme Court sided with Becket, and ruled that the textbook program “furthers New Mexico’s legitimate public interest in promoting education and eliminating illiteracy.”

In 2011, two parents challenged the 80-year-old textbook lending program. They claimed that New Mexico’s state constitution bars education funds from being used “for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.” This language is commonly known as a “Blaine Amendment.”

A 2015 New Mexico Supreme Court decision, Moses v. Ruszkowski, sided with the plaintiffs and ended nonpublic school students’ participation in the program.

In May, Becket challenged the ruling’s reliance on the Blaine Amendment, saying that the 19th century law was “originally designed to disadvantage New Mexico’s native Catholic citizens” and “was all about anti-Catholic animus.”

Becket appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which urged the Supreme Court of New Mexico to reconsider it in light of a ruling on a similar case in 2017, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which granted public funds to help update a Lutheran school playground.

In their Thursday statement, Becket added that the Blaine Amendment has historically been used for discrimination in everything from trying “to stop children with disabilities from attending schools that best meet their needs, to prevent schools from making their playgrounds safer, to stop food kitchens from helping the poor, and to close service providers that help former prisoners successfully reintegrate into society.”

Becket said that the state Supreme Court acknowledged on Thursday the Blaine Amendments’ “malicious history, noting that ‘New Mexico was caught up in the nationwide movement to eliminate Catholic influence from the school system.’”

“New Mexico’s kids are better off today because the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected 19th Century religious discrimination,” John Foreman, state director of the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, said in a statement on the ruling.

The court’s ruling has effectively reinstated the textbook lending program.

 

House passes farm bill and controversial rule on Yemen debate

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An agriculture bill supported by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.

The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.

The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.

SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20 hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits. The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59, but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.

In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia's intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

This effectively limits the Senate's Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi Arabia to a symbolic gesture.

This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and 87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.

The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.

“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA.

“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.  

The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to serve more people.”

The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.

The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.

“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”

 

 

Trial begins for priest accused of assaulting San Diego seminarian

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 19:00

San Diego, Calif., Dec 13, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A trial began Tuesday for the San Diego priest accused of sexually assaulting a seminarian in February. The alleged victim testified Wednesday that the priest groped him in a restaurant bathroom.

The seminarian told the court that he and another seminarian had drinks with Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo at a bar and restaurant on Feb. 3, after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where Castillo served as parochial vicar. He said they had several drinks, and that the priest encouraged him to drink to excess.

The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight. While he was in the restroom, Castillo allegedly approached him from behind and groped his genitals, twice.

The seminarian said he told the priest to “get away.”

“I walked out of the stall, and I look at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘Oh my God, what has happened to me?’” the seminarian said, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

The alleged assault was reported to police and diocesan authorities almost immediately, sources say.

During his opening statement Dec. 12, Castillo’s attorney told a jury that there is no evidence for the seminarian’s claim.

"This is the uncorroborated word of a person who was throwing-up drunk."

"This is a 'he said/he said' where both he’s are drunk and there is no corroborating evidence," the attorney said.
 
Castillo, 35, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. He was charged in May with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery.

The seminarian told the court that he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, an attorney and former Judge Advocate General. He entered the seminary after retiring from the Navy.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, told CNA in September that Castillo no longer has priestly faculties in the diocese.

Castillo was listed as a parish priest in the St. Patrick’s bulletin until late March, six weeks after the alleged assault, although Eckery told the San Diego Union Tribune that the priest was removed from his assignment on Feb. 4, the same day the diocese was made aware of the allegation.

Although Castillo was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time he was removed from the parish, the diocese did not disclose the circumstances of his departure to parishioners, or make any statement at the time Castillo was charged with sexual battery.

Eckery told CNA in September that the diocese did not disclose to Castillo’s parish the allegation of sexual assault because “it would be wrong for us to influence the case.”

“We need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear,” he added.

The diocese would not explain the priest’s removal from ministry to the parish where he served, Eckery told CNA, without trying first to determine if an act of sexual misconduct took place, and whether any sexual act was “non-consensual.”

Castillo was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

A spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office told CNA in September that if he is convicted, Castillo could face up to six months of incarceration, and be listed on California’s sex offender registry.

 

Ohio 'heartbeat abortion' ban advances toward governor's veto decision

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 18:40

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 13, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Ohio Senate has passed a modified bill to ban abortions when the unborn child has a detectable heartbeat, and backers could have enough votes to override a promised veto from Gov. John Kasich.

The 18-13 vote on House Bill 258 came Oct. 12, with four Republicans voting against the bill. Though 20 votes are required to override a veto, two absent Republicans’ votes could still help the bill become law.

An override vote would have to take place during the week of Christmas before the official end of the legislative session Dec. 31. Senate president Larry Obhof did not seem enthusiastic about the possibility of a Christmas week vote, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Kasich, a Republican, has a strong pro-life record, signing into law at least 18 abortion regulations or restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban. The heartbeat bill is the only one he has vetoed, doing so in 2016, when legislators did not have the votes to override him.

Kasich is about to leave office in January for Governor-elect Mark DeWine, a Republican who supports the legislation.

The Ohio Senate passed an amendment clarifying that the bill would not require the use of a transvaginal ultrasound to detect a heartbeat, which would extend the period of pregnancy before a heartbeat can be detected. It removed language that would have allowed the state to suspend a doctor’s medical license before a crime related to abortion is proved in court.

The law allows exceptions to prevent a woman’s death or bodily impairment, or in cases of medical emergency.

Republican votes in committee and on the Senate floor rejected several Democratic amendments, including one that would have added exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

The House of Representatives passed the bill last month by a vote of 60-38, exactly the number of votes needed to override. Once the House agrees to the Senate’s changes to the bill, the governor would have ten days from a bill’s passage to veto it, excluding Sundays.

During 2016 debates over the bill, some pro-life critics voiced concern it could result in a counterproductive Supreme Court decision that would strengthen legal abortion in the U.S. It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, even if a legal challenge is made and progresses to the high court.

While groups like Ohio Right to Life have remained neutral on the bill due to constitutional concerns, backers of the legislation have said it is specially designed to pass Supreme Court scrutiny.

The Ohio Catholic Conference on Nov. 15 said it supports “the life-affirming intent of this legislation,” but stopped short of endorsement. The conference said it will continue to assist efforts to resolve “differences related to specific language and strategies.”

“In the end, the Catholic Conference of Ohio desires passage of legislation that can withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save lives,” the Catholic conference said.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who is a past leader of Ohio Right to Life, said Dec. 12 that women who had testified against the bill spoke about their abortions with “tears in their eyes, pain in their heart,” the Columbus Dispatch reports.

“I have never had a woman cry when she said she chose life. Not once. Not a single time,” she said. “Because in our hearts we know this is a human life.”

Bill opponents like Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, charged that the bill sends the message that women “don’t have the capacity to make decisions themselves.” Women would still have abortions, in “a cruel and very dangerous way,” she said.

The bill’s text makes clear that a pregnant woman who undergoes an abortion is not considered in violation of the law. Rather, it allows her to take civil action against the abortion doctor involved if it is proven he or she broke the law, on grounds related to the “wrongful death of the unborn child.”

A doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the law would commit a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, the New York Times reports. The bill requires state inspections of abortion facilities to ensure their compliance with reporting requirements. It also establishes more ways to promote adoption.

The legislature is expected to pass a bill to ban the dilation and extraction abortion procedure, typically used between 13 and 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Ohio law currently bars abortion 20 weeks or more after conception, based on when an unborn child can feel pain. Pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is considering a legal challenge to that law.

Bill recognizing 'reproductive rights' as human rights introduced in US House

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 16:21

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill was introduced Monday in the US House of Representatives to require that the State Department include “reproductive rights” in its annual human rights report.

The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act of 2018 was introduced Dec. 10 by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The Trump administration's State Department included statistics on “coercion in population control” rather than “reproductive rights” in its 2017 annual human rights report.

The State Department's decision was applauded by pro-life leaders.

“‘Reproductive rights’ has long been a euphemism for destroying human life in the womb,” said Lila Rose, founder and president of the pro-life group Live Action, said when the report was released in April.

“A phrase that sounds like empowerment is a really only code for the subjugation of preborn children,” Rose added.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told CNA at the time that abortion is an “inappropriate indicator of human rights.”

The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act is a direct response to the State Department's decision.

A statement from Clark's office said that “removing women’s right from the annual report in 2017 was a dramatic and dangerous shift in U.S. efforts to protect the international rights of women.”

The State Department began including “reproductive rights” in its human rights report in 2011.

Clark commented that “documenting and reporting human rights violations is a major part of eradicating their existence. This bill would ensure that our State Department maintains its vital role as an international watchdog and protector of women’s rights no matter the ideology of our White House.”

Rep. Nita Lowey, a co-sponsor of the bill, characterized the State Department's decision as the US “turn[ing] its back on the countless women around the world who are deprived of basic reproductive rights.”

Another cosponsor, Rep. Lois Frankel, asserted: “Women’s rights are human rights. There is no greater right for women than to be in charge of their own bodies.”

Among the 45 organizations which have endorsed the bill are the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Psychological Association, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated that “when women’s rights are limited and they are unable to access basic health care like contraception, safe abortion, and maternal health care, their ability to achieve economic, social, and political empowerment is fundamentally hindered.”

The State Department's report currently includes a section on “Coercion in Population Control”, under a larger section titled “Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons”. The new section appears under the subsection for “women” and features reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization procedures, and “other coercive population control methods.” There are also links to maternal mortality figures as well as the prevalence of contraceptives in a country.

Michigan lawmakers approve ban on telemedicine abortion pill prescriptions

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 13:14

Detroit, Mich., Dec 13, 2018 / 11:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Michigan has passed a bill that would continue to prohibit doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs through a teleconference call, permanently extending a ban that first took effect in 2012.  

The Detroit Free Press reports that the bill passed the legislature in the early hours of the morning Dec. 13 by a vote of 62-47, with one Republican joining all the Democrats in voting against.

The pro-life group Right to Life Michigan praised the decision to continue to disallow so-called “webcam abortions,” which they say the abortion industry uses as a cost-saving measure despite at least 22 women having died from the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

“The law poses a burden on the abortion industry, particularly Planned Parenthood,” the group wrote in a Dec. 13 blog post.

“They already utilize the abortion pill as a cost-saving measure over a surgical abortion. There are not many abortionists, due to the unattractive nature of the profession's involvement in taking human life...How much more money could the abortion industry save if the abortionist can be 500 miles away, dispensing abortion pills with the push of a button after a quick video conference?”

Michigan lawmakers had passed legislation in 2012 that allowed doctors to teleconference with patients on a wide variety of medical issues— a service particularly useful for rural patients who have limited access to hospitals and specialized doctors.

At the time, lawmakers banned the prescription of the abortion inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol via teleconference, in accordance with guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.

Michigan’s ban would have expired Dec. 31, but the new bill, if it becomes law, will make the ban permanent.

The FDA’s guidelines regarding mifepristone, which was first approved for use in 2000, state that the abortion drug “may only be dispensed in clinics, medical offices, and hospitals by or under the supervision of a certified healthcare provider.” The FDA warns consumers not to buy mifepristone over the internet due to safety concerns.

The action to permanently extend the ban is one of many “lame duck” actions that the outgoing Republican-controlled legislature is undertaking in Michigan before a new group of lawmakers begin their terms on Jan. 1.

The bill now awaits a signature from outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder.  

 

For homeless students in New York City, challenges abound

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 05:21

New York City, N.Y., Dec 13, 2018 / 03:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As rent prices increase in New York City, so does its homeless population, affecting not only adults throughout the city but children as well.  

Roughly 1 out of 10 public school students in New York City are homeless, and these children often face significant challenges in completing their education.

According to a report from the state Education Department’s Student Information Repository System, a record high of 114, 659 students in the city’s public schools are homeless. The number has increased by 66 percent since 2010.

Brett Hartford, outreach director for New York City Relief, pointed to two major factors contributing to an increase in homelessness. First, the cheap areas of rent have turned into trendy spots, and rent prices have become astronomical. Second, he said, a rent voucher system was dropped by city about 10 years ago.

Under the policy, vouchers were given to individuals who had some source of income but did not have enough to cover rent. Subsidizing homes would then give these people a place to stay in exchange for the voucher, which the city would reimburse.

When the city no longer honored the vouchers, the subsidizing organizations stopped getting paid and lost out on millions. Although the system has been reinstituted since, he said, those companies no longer trust the vouchers will be honored and very few accept them.

Hartford told CNA that the city has laws to help individuals who have been evicted from their homes, but these policies often create situations that can be disruptive for schooling.

If families do not have anywhere to stay, the government will temporarily place them somewhere in New York City, he said, explaining that families may be moved across the city, sometimes a two-hour train ride away from their previous life.

This puts immense wear-and-tear on families, who may have difficulty traveling to work and school, he said.

Furthermore, the housing in which families are placed is often not ideal, with shared bathrooms and no secure place to lock up personal items. Once a family is assigned somewhere, Hartford said, they cannot apply for another location until a year later.

Amy Lacey, director of emergency services for Albany Catholic Charities, described to CNA the challenges facing homeless students.

When someone does not have a stable place to live, she explained, survival becomes the only goal.

“When an individual is homeless, that is the primary concern. It’s not whether the child gets up and goes to school, it’s let me make sure I have a roof over my head,” she said.

“They need to know that each day they are going to have a place to come home to, have a place to lay their head, have a place to come back to where someone is going to care for them.”

Lacey also said access to bus routes or public transportation may not always be an option, especially for chronically homeless families.

“Sometimes we have people who come into shelter who are not even at their own school district anymore.”

According to the New York Times, homeless children on average miss about 30 days of school a year. Of those living in the NYC shelters during the 2015-16 school year, only 12 percent passed the math exam for the state and 15 percent passed English.

Catholic Charities helps with the physical needs of homeless people in the Albany area – offering shelter, food, hygiene products and baby supplies – but also works through case managers to discuss education with parents.

“Having that case management for every homeless case is very important,” Lacey said. “That is someone who can sit down with a parent, sit down with a child, and say ‘where are your struggles right now?’”

“We deal with families who often time have multiple children and sometimes it is the responsibility of the oldest child to care for the youngest children,” she said, noting school for those children may be placed on the back burner. “So it is helping to change that mindset.”

She said the greatest need of young homeless people is someone to guide them and show concern. This begins with personal relationships, she said, adding that it is time and interest that truly help children improve and develop.

“What is really needed is individuals need to be able to step into the young person’s life, whether that is a guidance counselor, a teacher, a mentor, to let that child know that they are valuable, that they are worthy, and that they are intelligent.”

US State Department: Pakistan's religious freedom record a 'particular concern'

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 21:01

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Religious freedom problems in Pakistan have led the US Department of State to designate the country as of “particular concern,” with nine others, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Tuesday.

“I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue,” Pompeo said Dec. 11.

In addition to Pakistan, Pompeo listed Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. This means he believes they have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom.” The designation took place Nov. 28, Pompeo said.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom makes recommendations to the State Department about the list. Its April 2018 report examined religious freedom threats in Pakistan and around the world.

In December 2017, Islamic State group-affiliated suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, killing nine people. The run-up to the national elections in July 2018 exacerbated religious tensions in the country. According to the USCIRF report, approximately 40 people sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were awaiting the death penalty or serving life sentences.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said Tuesday. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”

“Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity,” he continued. “These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies.”

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

In April, USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark told CNA he was particularly concerned about Pakistan.

“Matters concerning Pakistan are very sensitive on account of the fact that they are a partner of ours in combating terrorism around the world in the war in Afghanistan and so on,” Mark said. “But, given the rise of extremism in Pakistan... we really do think that pressure should be kept up, notwithstanding the cooperation that our two countries need.”

“Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” said Mark.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother and field laborer, was among those facing blasphemy prosecution, spending eight years in prison despite her protestations of innocence. The Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy charges in late October. The acquittal prompted protests and death threats. Her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.

Bibi’s family has sought asylum for her in the U.S., the U.K., or other countries in Europe. Italy has offered to help her find asylum.

Mark said conditions in Pakistan are bad at the legal level, such as the second-class citizenship treatment of the Ahmadi religious minority. There is also a growing “culture of impunity” in society, with vigilante mobs attacking people on the basis of blasphemy accusations.

Pompeo placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on the special watch list for having engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” In January the State Department had named Uzbekistan a country of particular concern.

The special watch list is a new designation, created by Congress’ 2016 amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act. Pakistan was first named to the watch list in December 2017.

Another list, entities of particular concern, includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, the Islamic State Group, the Islamic State Group in Khorasan, and the Taliban.

Pompeo noted his work as Secretary of State in hosting the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, which brought together 85 governments and 400 NGOs that aimed to advance religious freedom.

“The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world,” Pompeo said.

Priest who survived major plane crash credits Our Lady of Guadalupe

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 18:58

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2018 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This year, for Father Esequiel Sanchez, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings up terrifying memories - and a huge reason to be thankful.

Sanchez was one of 103 passengers aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed and burned in a field shortly after takeoff on July 31 of this year.

While there were some injuries, no one died.

“I personally attributed that to the intercession of Our Lady, and so did the other passengers, I think most of us...saw it as miraculous,” Sanchez told CNA.

Shortly after takeoff in Durango, the plane caught strong winds, causing the left wing to hit the ground and the plane to lose both of its engines.

As the craft was hurtling toward the ground, Sanchez said he thought he would either die, be paralyzed, or be burned by subsequent explosions. All he walked away with was a broken arm.

But his fear in the moment didn’t stop his priestly training from kicking in - he immediately started to pray out loud.

“They say police officers and firefighters and soldiers will tell you that when you get into a crisis situation, your training kicks in. I think that’s happened to me too,” he said.

“I prayed ‘God come to our assistance, Blessed Mother come to help us,’ and then I began to absolve everybody on the plane. I immediately said: ‘I absolve everyone on this plane, may the Lord have mercy,’” he recalled.

“I thought it was just going to be it, because it was happening so fast. You don’t (crash) a 100-ton airplane at 150 miles per hour and think you’re gonna be ok. But happily we were.”

When the plane crash-landed, emergency crews helped evacuate everyone before the plane exploded into flames.

Sanchez’ first thought was for the victims.

“I just couldn’t imagine finding someone’s mother who died and I survived. So for me to I wanted to tell them that I tried to get to them, so my primary concern was getting to the victims as best I could, and start ministering to them. When that’s what you’re concerned about, that’s what you’re going to go after.”

Some survivors had worse injuries - a little girl with burn injuries was taken to a hospital, others had neck and back injuries.

The plane “completely disintegrated,” Sanchez said, so the lack of deaths or worse injuries is miraculous.

Besides being a plane crash survivor, Sanchez is also the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

The shrine is the site of a massive celebration for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year on Dec. 12. The event attracts more than 200,000 pilgrims annually, many whom walk for hours or even days on foot to get there.  

For Sanchez, and for some other Durango plane crash survivors who have made the trek to the shrine this year, the Feast Day has taken on new significance.

“So for me, on Our Lady of Guadalupe today, and all those memories...I’m a pilgrim just like them, I come to give her thanks,” he said.

“Some of the survivors came and did the same thing, they came to give thanks to Our Lady.”

Besides being grateful for his survival and lack of serious injury, Sanchez said one of the greatest blessings since the event has been the “outpouring of everyone from the city of Chicago and beyond.”

“Everyone found out about the story and they prayed for us, there’s no place I can go without  people saying we prayed for you,” he said.

“So when you get that kind of generosity, my only response other than to say thank you is: I am so looking forward to becoming a better priest and a better minister, and I do things with a lot more joy,” he said.

Sanchez said he loves his ministry as the rector at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that every year it brings him hope to see the numerous pilgrims on Dec. 12, many of whom come with their whole families.

“I find no more effective image or evangelizing tool than Our Lady of Guadalupe and her message,” he said.

And whether you’re a pilgrim hurtling through the air in a near-death experience plane crash, or an undocumented immigrant trekking to the Shrine to beg her help: “She’s a source of hope.”

 

Nashville's sole remaining abortion clinic suspends abortion provision

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 18:38

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 12, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Tennessee has seen an increase in pro-life legislation in recent years, the only abortion clinic in Nashville temporarily ceased its abortion services last week.

According to the Associated Press, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Tereva Parham, confirmed Dec. 10 that abortion provision had been suspended the week prior.

The time-frame of the suspension has not been provided.

Parham said the clinic is “undergoing a period of quality improvement” and added that part of the reason for the suspension is a lack of abortion providers.

The Planned Parenthood clinic is still offering other services, but has been referring patients who request abortion to clinics in Knoxville and Memphis, both of which are about 200 miles away.

Nashville previously had two abortion providers, but The Women's Center closed in August when its building was sold. The organization said it would be looking for a new location, but it has not yet reopened.

Tennessee has enacted a number of abortion regulations in recent years.

In 2014, voters approved an amendment which categorically excludes abortion rights from the state’s constitution.

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives or state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother,” the amendment reads.

Legislators passed a 48-hour waiting period and in-person informed consent counseling for women seeking to procure abortion in 2015, which are currently being challenged in federal court.

In 2017, the state banned abortion of viable unborn children after 20 weeks.

The state also requires hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors, and parental consent for teen abortions.

And in May, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law calling for the erection of a privately funded monument to unborn children on the grounds of the state capitol.

Haslam also signed a law seeking federal approval to prohibit the state's Medicaid program from payments for non-abortion services to any provider of more than 50 abortions in a year.

About 9,700 abortions were procured in Tennessee in 2016.

In New York, public school officials to evaluate private schools

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 15:01

Albany, N.Y., Dec 12, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leaders of New York state’s more than 500 Catholic schools are planning to boycott a new state review system, whereby public school officials would evaluate religious schools to determine whether they offer a “substantially equivalent” education to public schools.

“The parents who choose our schools can have great confidence in the academic rigor of our schools,” James Cultrara, executive secretary of the New York Council of Catholic School Superintendents, was quoted as saying in Times Union.

“We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”

The rebuke to the state comes after New York’s education commissioner released guidelines Nov. 20 “to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under law,” i.e. exposure to the same basic courses such as English, civics, and mathematics that public school students take.

The state’s action follows a New York City investigation into some Orthodox Jewish schools that a group of graduates say have been deficient in terms of teaching students “secular” topics other than the Jewish religion.

Under the new guidelines, local public school superintendents or their designees would be required to visit all nonpublic schools by the end of the 2020-2021, and every five years after that, to evaluate the schools. The local school board would approve the findings with a vote.

The Catholic superintendents body said in a letter to the State Education Department that they do not oppose school inspections from state officials, but conflicts of interest could arise if public school officials, who are essentially “competing” for the same body of students, are given the power to evaluate private schools.

“A review by local public school officials and a vote at a public meeting of a locally elected public school board, as is called for in the guidance, practically guarantees inconsistency and subjectivity,” reads part of the letter, which was obtained by Times Union.

“The Council of Catholic School Superintendents is committed to maintaining high-quality Catholic schools and working with you on designing an objective review and determination process to support the education of children in our schools.”

The superintendents have rejected the state’s guidelines and directed all of the state’s Catholic schools not to participate in “any review carried out by local public school officials.”

As of Dec. 12 the State Education Department has not commented on the issue.

The new guidelines mainly impact Catholic elementary schools, as nonpublic high schools in the state generally fall under the purview of the Board of Regents.

Jewish schools, which have a significant presence in New York City, could feel strong effects from the new guidelines as well.

New York City is home to 1.1 million Jews, around 32% percent of whom identify as Orthodox, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Strongly Orthodox Jewish private schools, known as yeshivot, educate an estimated 57,000 students in New York City alone, The New York Times reports. A group of graduates say that it has been “commonplace for decades” that students who graduate from yeshivot receive little instruction beyond studying Jewish texts, and “can barely read and write in English and have not been taught that dinosaurs once roamed Earth or that the Civil War occurred.”

The administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio opened an investigation into the lack of secular education at yeshivot in 2015. Prominent rabbis and other Jewish leaders have resisted critics of yeshivot, citing religious freedom concerns.

Trump signs law to aid Christians in Iraq, Syria

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 18:01

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which seeks to ensure US aid reaches Christian and Yazidi genocide victims.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27, and in the Senate Oct. 11.

This bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and the lead Democratic sponsor was Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). This was Smith’s second attempt at getting the bill signed into law, and altogether it took 17 months for this bill to be passed.  

Trump was joined at the Dec. 11 signing by Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, Smith, Eshoo, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and many others.

Trump said it was a “great honor” to sign H.R. 390 into law, and remarked that his administration has had great success in fighting Islamic State. The group has lost nearly all of its territory since its peak in 2015.

“This bill continues my administration's efforts to direct US assistance for persecuted communities including through faith-based programs,” he said.

The signing of the legislation is a symbol of the US speaking “with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” Anderson said in a statement provided by the Knights of Columbus, which were heavily involved with the process of writing the bill and assisting the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus have donated more than $20 million to help Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria with food, housing, and other needs. The Knights also spent $2 million to rebuild an Iraqi town that had been destroyed by Islamic State.

H.R. 390 provides funding to various entities, including faith-based and religious organizations, that are helping with recovery and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria in religious and ethnic minority communities, including Christians and Yazidis.

The bill also instructs the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the region and for the administration to identify signs of potential violent action against minority groups in the country.

Another part of the law encourages foreign governments to identify those who belong to Islamic State in security databases and security screenings to aid with their prosecution. The bill provides support for groups that are investigating members of Islamic State who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region.

Since Islamic State took control of the region, the country’s Christian population has dwindled to only a few thousand families. Many of these people fled to nearby Turkey and Lebanon out of concern for their safety. Although the situation has drastically improved since nearly all of Islamic State's territory has been regained, Christians are reluctant to return to the region due to a lack of economic opportunities and continued concerns for safety.

Archbishop Gomez: Church needs to 'return to Guadalupe'

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 17:06

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2018 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles wrote this week that Our Lady of Guadalupe, a messenger of reform and renewal, has important lessons for contemporary Catholics.

“In the Church today we face new challenges to our fidelity to Jesus Christ, both personally and institutionally,” wrote Archbishop Jose Gomez in a Dec. 10 column in Angelus.
 
“In this moment, I am more and more convinced that we need to ‘return to Guadalupe,’ to the original vision, the original path that Christ wanted for us in this country and throughout our continent. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the messenger who is sent to lead us to renewal and reform in our time.”

The archbishop noted that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared “at a time of confusion and discord — and a time of immense cruelty and suffering, corruption, and infidelity.”

She appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, a poor indigenous man, on a hill near what is now Mexico City. She identified herself as the Mother of the True God.

She instructed Juan Diego to have the local bishop build a church on the site, and famously left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a cactus-cloth tunic. The image has survived to this day. Several million pilgrims journey each year to see that tilma.

Gomez wrote that the apparition occurred less than two decades after the start of the Protestant Reformation, at a time when the Church in Europe was “confronting decadence and corruption and the need for renewal and reformation.”

There were debates among theologians in the so-called Old World about whether indigenous peoples in the Americas were even people with souls, the archbishop wrote.

At the same time, the economy of the New World was being developed on the backs of slaves, and “the greed and ambition of Spanish colonizers led to unspeakable horrors” and the destruction of many native peoples and their ways of life.

Gomez noted that Mary appeared as a “mestizo,” a brown-skinned mixture of European and indigenous peoples, and spoke to Juan Diego in his own indigenous language.

“She reminds us that beyond the color of our skin or the countries where we come from, we are all brothers and sisters,” the Archbishop reflected.

“We are — every one of us, without exception — children of one heavenly Father and we have the Mother of God as our mother...a profound icon of the unity of humanity and the Church’s mission to create one family of God out of all the world’s nations and races, peoples, and languages.”

Today, as in Juan Diego’s time, there are new forms of inhumanity and cruelty, Gomez wrote. “Selfishness and greed” lead to injustices like abortion and the persecution of religious minorities.

The archbishop recalled the words Mary spoke to Juan Diego: “Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear. ... Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?”

In her role as our mother, Mary “guides us along the pathways that lead us to her Son,” Gomez wrote.

“In leading the mission to the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe was showing us the vision of a way forward — to a new humanity, a new Church, a new world.”

“Authentic reform and renewal are always based on a return to the origins — to the purity of first beginnings. That is what distinguishes reform and renewal from revolution, which always seeks to destroy the old in order to build the new.”

“In these troubling times, we need to go always forward with joy and confidence. May we lay our fears and hopes at the feet of the Virgin. And may we contemplate these times we are living in under the gaze of her loving eyes,” Gomez concluded.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

What is a lay 'Parish Life Coordinator'? A CNA Explainer

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Last week the Diocese of Bridgeport announced the appointment of a lay “parish life coordinator” in the parish of St. Anthony of Padua.

Dr. Eleanor Sauers has been placed in charge of the day-to-day administration of the parish, following the untimely death of the parish’s former pastor, Fr. John Baran.

The appointment has led some to ask: What is a parish life coordinator? What does such a lay person do?

In Bridgeport the arrangement, announced in a letter from Bishop Frank Caggiano, will see Sauers “work with the parish community to develop and foster its pastoral vision and mission.”

It is the first appointment of its kind in Bridgeport, though similar appointments have been common in other American dioceses for some years.

When such an appointment is made, it can strike some parishioners as a novelty. In fact, the possibility of lay “parish life coordinators” exists in the Code of Canon Law, and has been an option available to bishops since in 1983.

Canon 517 of the Code of Canon Law gives the diocesan bishop options for dealing with circumstances in which it is not possible to assign to a parish a priest who is able to serve as its resident and full-time pastor.

The first option offered by the canon is for a parish, or several parishes, to be given into the care of a team of priests, with one of them serving as the “moderator,” of leader of the team, responsible for coordinating the pastoral care of the people.  

The second option the canon presents is for a deacon “or some other person who is not a priest” to be given “a share” in the “exercise of the pastoral care of the parish.” This is only to be done, according to canon law, because of a shortage of priests; it is a remedy for exceptional circumstances and not something the Church allows to be done for its own sake.

In addition to the sacramental life which is the heart of their existence, modern Western parishes are busy places, often requiring leadership and coordination on the ground.

There are clear advantages to placing a lay person in charge of the day-to-day coordination of the parish’s activity, rather than a team of priests who could be spread across a number of other parishes and have many other demands on their attention.

Overseeing finances, religious education programs, the maintenance of buildings and other facilities, even a school in some places, is a complex set of responsibilities - one that, in the judgment of some bishops, cannot be overseen effectively by even a well-intentioned and well-organized team of non-resident priests.  

In the case of the parish of St. Anthony of Padua, this would seem to be the role Caggiano has in mind, noting in his letter to parishioners that Sauers will “oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish.”

She will also be “working with a team of priests who will provide the sacramental ministries at St. Anthony,” while having decision-making authority in the parish itself.

Arrangements like these often leave some Catholics with the impression that the priests are working “for” or “under” a lay person (which would be a novelty in a parish setting, but not unusual in other ecclesiastical settings). However, there is a distinction in canon law, and in the teaching of the Church, between collaboration and a hierarchical relationship.

Finding the right balance in ecclesial collaboration is important. Bishops are enjoined to promote and authentic expression of the gifts of all members of the Church, and to avoid any blurring of roles and responsibilities, that might obscure the unique dignity of the different members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

St. John Paul II issued in 1997 an authoritative instruction on lay and clerical collaboration, Ecclesiae de mysterio.

The pope instructed that arrangements like the one at St. Anthony of Padua should only be made in “exceptional cases” and because of a shortage of priests. The possibility of such arrangements is not, St. John Paul said, to be used for “convenience or ambiguous ‘advancement of the laity.’”

The faithful have the right, expressed in c. 213, to receive the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and other means of obtaining sanctity from the pastors of the Church - that is from the priests and bishops. When lay parish life coordinators are appointed, they are not given charge of the spiritual care of the community: the “care of souls” is explicitly reserved to the clergy.

For that reason, while canon 517 creates the possibility for a lay person to be given “a share” in the running  of a parish, it also requires that there be a priest designated responsible for the pastoral care of the the people. Whenever a deacon or lay person is appointed to such a role, “the bishop is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a pastor [parish priest], will direct the pastoral care” of the people, canon law explains.

This condition, Ecclesiae de mysterio affirms, must be followed with “strict adherence” in order to safeguard both the care of the faithful of the parish, and the distinction of the roles between a lay collaborator and a priest.

“Directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone,” the instruction explains.

In Ecclesiae de mysterio, St. John Paul taught that the impetus of Vatican Council II “opens vast horizons, some of which have yet to be explored, for the lay faithful.”

As the Church responds to the changing landscape of society in different parts of the world, new ways for the laity to work together with the clergy will continue to emerge.

St. John Paul II taught that as those new modes of collaboration are developed, it is important for bishops to promote the role of lay people in the Church, while ensuring among Catholics “the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion.”

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