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 (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 51 min ago

Senate confirms William Barr as attorney general

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 14:45

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2019 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- William Barr was confirmed as United States attorney general on Thursday by a 54-45 vote in the Senate.

 

Barr, a practicing Catholic, previously served as  attorney general under President George H. W. Bush from November of 1991 until January of 1993. He has since been employed in private legal practice.

 

President Donald Trump announced Barr’s nomination for the roll on Dec. 7 to replace Jeff Sessions, who resigned from the post following the November 2018 midterm elections.

 

Matt Whitlock has served as acting attorney general during the confirmation process.

 

When Barr was first confirmed as attorney general in 1991, he was approved by unanimous voice vote. That was not the case in 2019.

 

Barr’s nomination advanced out of committee on a 12-10 party-line vote.

 

A practicing Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus, Barr said in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not believe his faith would hinder his ability to serve as an effective attorney general.

 

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Barr about his religious faith, and questioned whether or not he thought this “disqualified” him from the position. Kennedy said that “some of (his) colleagues think it might,” referencing questioning by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) attacking a Catholic judicial nominee for his membership in the Knights of Columbus.

 

Barr told Kennedy that he planned to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” if he were to be confirmed as attorney general.

 

Other recent candidates before the Senate Judiciary Committee have faced questions about their religious beliefs, concepts of sin, and membership in charitable and fraternal organizations.

 

Prior to the full confirmation vote on the floor of the Senate, several senators, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), announced that they intended to vote against his confirmation.

 

Paul cited his opposition to Barr’s views on surveillance as reasons for voting against him. Paul was the sole Republican senator to vote against Barr on Thursday.

 

“He's been the chief advocate for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens,” Paul told POLITICO, adding that he believed the Fourth Amendment protects privacy rights.

 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), however, announced prior to the vote that he supported Barr’s confirmation “because he is well-qualified and I am confident that he will faithfully execute the duties of the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America.”

 

Manchin, along with Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) joined the rest of the Senate Republicans in voting in favor of Barr.

 

All other Democrats, as well as independent Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against confirmation.

Texas chapel fenced off from border wall funding

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A congressional budget compromise that would fund the construction of physical barriers along parts of the southern border of the United States includes an explicit provision that excludes La Lomita Park from the funding. The park is the site of a chapel at the center of a court case between the Diocese of Brownsville and the government.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, the text of which was released Feb. 13, would provide $1.3 billion in funding for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border but contains a list of five specific places where these funds cannot be used to build a wall, the third of which is the site of La Lomita Chapel. 

According to section 231 of the bill, “None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing [...] (3) within La Lomita Historical park.” 

The bill is slated to be considered by the House of Representatives on February 14.

La Lomita Park in Mission, TX, is home to La Lomita Chapel. Constructed in 1865 by missionaries, the chapel is located close to the U.S. border with Mexico. While there are no regularly scheduled religious services held at the chapel, it is used for weddings, funerals, and other cultural events. 

The chapel is maintained partly by the city of Mission, as it is located in a park, and is affiliated with Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, located a 10-minute drive away.

If the border wall were to be built as planned, the chapel would be on the southern side of the wall, limiting parishioner access to it from the north.

The Diocese of Brownsville, which includes Mission, filed suit against the federal government arguing that the construction of a border wall restricting access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

Last week, a District Court decision cleared the way for the land to be surveyed. 

On Feb. 6, Judge Randy Crane ruled that allowing the federal government to survey the land surrounding the chapel to determine if a wall could be built would not interfere with the exercise of religious freedom rights. 

An attorney representing the diocese told CNA that she was pleased La Lomita Park was included in the compromise bill, and that she hoped the bill would be passed by Congress.

“We are of course glad that the authors of this bill have recognized the significance of La Lomita Chapel to the Catholic community in the Rio Grande Valley, and we hope that Congress and the president pass the spending bill with these protections for La Lomita and other local landmarks,” Amy Marshak, an attorney at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), told CNA.

ICAP is representing the Diocese of Brownsville in its suit against the government.

It is not yet clear if the compromise bill will be accepted by President Donald Trump, who had requested $5.7 billion to build a wall along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump indicated Thursday that he was pleased with parts of the compromise, and congressional leaders have expressed cautious optimism that the president could sign the bill and avoid another partial government shutdown.

On Thursday afternoon, the president tweeted that he was reviewing the bill with his staff. 

In addition to funding the border wall, the bill also includes funds for international aid to Central America, and a reduction in the number of beds available to detain undocumented immigrants away from the border. 

Offices for the Diocese of Brownsville were closed on Thursday for an all-staff retreat. 

If passed, the Consolidated Appropriations Act would also prevent funds from going to construction of a border barrier within the National Butterfly Center or within the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge.

A bloody secret still haunts the diamond industry

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 05:26

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2019 / 03:26 am (CNA).- Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by a dark figure in your room. He presses a gun to your head and demands that you get up. You and your family are dragged out of bed and led to a mining field, where you are forced to dig for hours on end.

They may be the proverbial “girl’s best friend,” but diamonds are far from friendly for many of those involved in the mining process.

With abuses ranging from forced labor to the funding of child soldiers, many diamonds still carry the shadow of blood and conflict, even decades after the first attempts to address some of the more troubling practices in getting the stones from their rocky deposits to a glittering setting.

What – if anything – can Catholics do to counter the immense human cost still attached to some of these gems?

Plenty, according to Max Torres, director of management and professor at The Catholic University of America's business school.

“In this economy, the consumer is king,” he told CNA. “The day that consumers want to get worked up over diamonds, this will stop, whatever abuse it is we’re trying to eradicate, it will stop.”

While there are many steps in the process and levels of moral responsibility from consumers to the diamond exporters themselves, Torres maintained that ordinary people can still work to change large-scale moral problems in the industry.

“Do not underestimate the power of the consumer to move supply-chain decisions throughout the economy,” he stressed.

Clear stones; Blood-red controversies

Despite the 2006 hit film “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, many consumers are still unaware of the controversy surrounding the diamond industry. Meanwhile, the need for accountability and higher ethical standards is still sorely felt by many working to mine the precious gems.

In recent decades, the conversation surrounding diamond mining has focused on the so-called “blood diamonds” – those mined in conflict areas whose profits are used to fund the bloody war efforts.  Also called “conflict diamonds,” these previous stones are most associated with the illicit industries backing of civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Liberia.

These countries all now have, at least in theory, legitimate diamond mining industries subject to international standards.

The most well-known international standard, the Kimberley Process, was set up in 2003 following a United Nations resolution against the sale of blood diamonds, to ensure that any given shipment of diamonds does not finance rebel groups. Certified shipments of rough diamonds must be transported in tamper-resistant containers and must be accompanied by a government certificate verifying their compliance.

But many advocates say the process is inadequate at addressing the problems underlying the diamond industry. For starters, there is no guarantee beside the exporting government’s assurance that a given shipment of diamonds is, in fact, conflict-free. Issues of corruption and bribery surrounding some governments’ certification, and a lack of transparency has led some key groups to pull out of the process altogether.

The 2003 National Geographic special “Diamonds of War” found that despite the early efforts of the Kimberley Process to regulate the industry, illegal transactions at the time were still rampant in some areas. A Sierra Leone official said that some 60 percent of the diamonds exported from the country were smuggled rather than going through officially regulated channels. One expert in the documentary estimated that 20-40 percent of the global rough diamond trade at the time was done illicitly.

Another complaint about the Kimberley Process is that while it works to combat funding of conflicts, it does not deal with other issues in the diamond industry, including forced labor and violence against workerssubstandard and exploitative working conditions, the use of child labor and environmental concerns.

These problems show that the current definition of “conflict-free” is “far too limited in scope,” said Jaimie Herrmann, director of marketing for Brilliant Earth, a San Francisco-based jeweler that focuses specifically on providing ethically-sourced diamonds, gemstones and metals.

What the Kimberley Process “doesn’t include is human rights abuses, violence, sexual abuses, and severe environmental degradation, as well as corruption,” Herrmann continued.

“For that reason, we go above and beyond the Kimberley Process’s definition of conflict free,” she said. Brilliant Earth gets its diamonds from select sources in Canada, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Russia. “We feel like those diamonds really do go above and beyond that guarantee and they are untainted by human rights abuses.”

The chance to establish a legitimate and ethical source of diamonds has also been an economic opportunity for some countries. In Botsawna, the government and DeBeers diamond company each own half of the Debswana mining company, and the nation has seen a rapidly growing economy and increasing economic freedom thanks in part to its booming mining industry and trusted industry standards.

Canada too has invested heavily in its mining infrastructure and increased production, quickly becoming a key diamond-producing country since the discovery of large diamond deposits in the 1990s.

Synthetic diamonds too offer promise for more ethically-produced diamonds, though currently the lab-produced stones comprise only two percent of the diamond gemstone market, with the remainder of the synthetic stones used in industrial settings.

The Ethics of Luxury and Necessity

Dr. Christopher Brugger, professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado, told CNA that in the diamond industry, as in any other work, Catholic social teaching instructs employers that “people come before profit.”

For businesses, he said, this means “pay employees a fair wage; respect the integrity of the marriages and families of employees; respect the faith of employees; permit labor to organize in socially constructive ways; work for fair access for all to goods and services necessary to living a dignified life.”

“Do producers who use their profits to fund conflicts or who use forced labor fulfill those duties?” he asked. “Emphatically no.”

Sustained abuses ranging from the funding of bloody conflicts to mining practices that exploit and demean workers not only fail to fulfill the moral duties of employers, Brugger said. The unjust practices also affirm that the high profits coupled with neglect for moral obligations have been “attracting scoundrels” to the industry.

But business leaders are not the only people with moral stakes in the diamond industry, he continued.

“It seems to me that morally conscientious people have an increasing responsibility to ‘shop ethically,’ i.e., to keep in mind where things come from, the conditions of those who supply things, the processes by which they are supplied,” Brugger suggested.

While it may not be possible to know the sourcing behind every product in every store, he said, it could be easier to find information on larger suppliers and specific industries.

Furthermore, he elaborated, there is a “greater responsibility on a person who is buying luxury items not to cooperate in the immoral actions of suppliers than there is on persons who are purchasing products for basic subsistence.”

“Ordinarily I do not need diamonds or chocolate,” Brugger said. “If we are dealing with luxuries, I think our obligations are still pretty strong to avoid purchasing from sources that do really bad things.”

“As one becomes aware of the ethical conditions surrounding an industry, one's duty to factor that knowledge into one's moral decision making becomes greater,” he added, noting that not everyone has the same access to the facts on abuses in a given industry.

“As knowledge of the ethical deficiencies become more widely known and the knowledge becomes easily available, our responsibility to use that knowledge in our shopping becomes greater,” he said. Knowledgeable customers should “inquire into the origins of the diamond they purchase; if shopkeepers are coy and not forthcoming about their sources, consumers ordinarily should look elsewhere.”

A Good Place to Start

Lack of information is “a big part of the problem,” according to Herrmann. She recommended that jewelers seek to trace the origin of their diamonds to countries and mines known for more ethical practices.

“Most jewelers know that their diamond is certified as conflict-free by the Kimberley Process, but do not know any more information about where their diamond is coming from,” she said.

Stephen Hilbert, a foreign policy adviser specializing in Africa and Global Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, seconded the suggestion that people looking at diamonds ask where they come from. He added that customers should also ask electronics dealers to check for conflict minerals, which face many of the same concerns as the diamond mining industry. 

“Dealers may not be able to tell you whether their devices have been checked, but at least this raises the profile of the issue and this may trickle up,” he told CNA.

Consumer instance could be the force that leads to tighter standards and improved processes aimed at preventing abuse.

Still, Torres insisted, “no process is perfect.”

The Kimberley Process is a reputable starting point that could “be broadened and be brought more into line with human rights,” he said, and asking about the origin of diamonds “seems to be a rather painless method of at least garnering some amount of accountability.”

But in the end, the moral issues surrounding the industry are fundamentally a problem of human sin, which no process or regulations can erase.

“The only thing that can ensure moral behavior is the heart is human beings,” Torres said. Ultimately, “Jesus Christ is the answer.”

This article was originally published on CNA July 5, 2015.

Lack of central authority poses challenges for Southern Baptists amid abuse scandal

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 20:01

Houston, Texas, Feb 13, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of months of sexual abuse reports and allegations within the Catholic Church, and just before a Vatican summit on the problem, two Texas newspapers published a three-part investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, uncovering at least 700 cases of child sexual abuse at the hands of church leaders and volunteers.

The joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed that since 1998, around 380 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders and volunteers have been accused of sexual misconduct – some resulting in lawsuits and convictions, others in personal confessions and resignations.

“They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions,” the Houston Chronicle reported. “About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.”

In many ways, the scandal resembles that of the Catholic Church abuse scandals - children robbed of innocence, pastors abusing their positions of trust and authority, negligence and lack of appropriate, timely action on the part of some leadership once they were informed of abuse, the shuffling of accused pastors from church to church.

But one thing makes the SBC scandal even more difficult to track, report, and handle than that of the Catholic Church: the lack of centralized leadership within the convention, making the enforcement of reforms nearly impossible.

"It's a perfect profession for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people that he's been called by God, and bingo, he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister," said Christa Brown, an activist who wrote about her own experience being molested by an SBC pastor.

"Then he can infiltrate the entirety of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches where he has more influence and power, and it all starts in some small church,” she told the Houston Chronicle.

"It's a porous sieve of a denomination," she added.

Linda Kay Klein is an author who researches and critiques purity culture in evangelical ecclesical communities, like the one in which she grew up. She also blamed the SBC’s lack of centralized authority as part of the problem controlling abuses within the denomination.

“Sexual abuse was never just a Catholic problem. But unlike the Catholic structure, evangelical churches like the one I grew up in and have spent the past 13 years researching are largely self-governing. This means we’ve mostly lacked the kind of bureaucratic record that might prove systemic abuse the way it’s been documented in Catholic dioceses,” she wrote in an essay for NBC News.

Furthermore, she said, purity culture can force victims of sexual abuse into silence, out of shame: “Meanwhile, when women and girls come forward as survivors, purity culture - which focuses largely on them - can be used against them,” she wrote.

“Many of my interviewees and I were taught that men are weak when faced with the temptation of the female flesh and it was therefore our responsibility to protect men from the threat that our bodies posed to them. We had to walk, talk and dress just right to ensure the alleged purity of our entire community, safeguarding against all sexual expression outside of marriage - the implication being that anything that did happen, even sexual violence, was our fault.”

In a post on his ministry website following the reports, J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that while the numbers of abuse victims are “grievously large….they cannot be the whole story.”

“If you have been victimized by a church leader, we are profoundly sorry. We, the church, have failed you,” he said.

“There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable,” he added in a blog post on the site. The post also included six steps for getting help in the case of sexual abuse, including an affirmation that abuse is not the victim’s fault, and links to abuse hotlines and Christian counseling websites.

Yet the SBC has rejected proposals for a sex offender registry that churches can reference before hiring leaders or volunteers, because, as church leaders told the Texas newspapers, enforcement would be impossible due to local church autonomy.

In an essay about the abuse scandal published on his website, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, proposed that SBC congregations undergo independent, third-party investigations.

“In light of this report and the nature of sexual abuse, an independent, third-party investigation is the only credible avenue for any organizations that face the kind of sinful patterns unearthed in this article by the Houston Chronicle,” he wrote. “No Christian body, church, or denomination can investigate itself on these terms because such an investigation requires a high level of thoroughness and trustworthiness. Only a third-party investigator can provide that kind of objective analysis.”

Mohler lamented that “the SBC ecclesial structure directly contrasts with the edifice of the Roman Catholic Church,” making reforms difficult to enforce. SBC churches are united only by “friendly cooperation with and contributing to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he noted.

“This report from the Houston Chronicle, however, magnifies the need for a mechanism that identifies convicted and documented sexual abusers who may be considered for positions of leadership within the churches,” he wrote.

Mohler recalled that in the past, the SBC has made reforms and “excised” churches that did not conform to those, and were thus no longer in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC. For example, he noted, churches that affirm homosexuality are now no longer considered in cooperation with the SBC, nor are churches with demonstrated racism.

In addition to using the civil safeguards already in place, such as reporting abuse accusations and referencing sex offender registries, Mohler suggested the SBC similarly “excise” those churches that tolerate and harbor abusers.

“Now, it might be that this crisis will foster a new criterion of vital importance for the churches of the SBC – a church that would willingly and knowingly harbor sexual abuse and sexual abusers should not be considered in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. This would not compromise church autonomy, he said, but would still allow the SBC to determine which churches are in cooperation with it.

Mohlen also condemned the “lackadaisical ordination” of ministers by local churches, and urged all churches to take responsibility for the men they make ministers.

“The trauma of this story bears tremendous anguish and heartbreak. The SBC and all who love this denomination must pray for faithfulness on this vital issue – our usefulness for the kingdom of Christ hinges on our response to this horrifying reality,” he added.

“To be sure, there must be heartbreak and concern – that is a place to start, but work must be done. A long road lies ahead. For the church, for the gospel, for the glory of God, we must meet this challenge with fullness of conviction and fidelity to Jesus Christ.”

Arizona lawmakers seek to declare porn a public health crisis

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 19:44

Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 13, 2019 / 05:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Arizona legislator has introduced a resolution that would declare pornography to be a public health crisis in the state.

Although the measure would not have legal consequences, it would declare pornography as perpetuating a “sexually toxic environment that damages all areas of our society.”

The resolution was introduced on Feb. 7 by Rep. Michelle Udall, (R-Mesa). Having passed through committee, the measure will next be voted on by the entire Arizona House.

“Like the tobacco industry, the pornography industry has created a public health crisis,” Udall told lawmakers, according to AZ Central. “Pornography is used pervasively, even by minors.”

Dan Oakes, an Arizona therapist who helps patients with porn addiction, testified in support of the resolution. He expressed hope that it would “open the door” to more laws with greater legal significance, AZ Central reported.

The proposed resolution highlights the risks of pornography, underlining its addictive effects, sexual consequences, and influence on youth.  

“Potential detrimental effects on pornography users include toxic sexual behaviors, emotional, mental and medical illnesses and difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships.”

The measure states that, because of the advancement in technology and the internet, children have been enabled to access X-rated material with ease. It also warns that porn can replace proper sex education, shaping young people’s understanding of what is normal in a disordered manner.

“Children are being exposed to pornography at an alarming rate, leading to low self-esteem, eating disorders and an increase in problematic sexual activity at ever-younger ages,” the resolution says.

“Pornography normalizes violence and the abuse of women and children by treating them as objects, increasing the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution and child pornography.”

Some Democratic representatives have pushed back against the bill, arguing that there is not enough proof to warrant pornography being labeled as a public health crisis, and suggesting that lawmakers instead focus on expanding sexual education programs.

“If we really want to look at this, we should start with education. It's embarrassing that we are one of the states that does not have medically accurate sex education. In testimony, they were trying to blame everything on pornography. That is a stretch,” said Democrat Rep. Pamela Hannley, according to CNN.

Pornography has already been declared a public health crisis in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia.

Michael Sheedy, executive director of Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA last year that the evidence increasingly shows the negative effects of pornography, especially for young people.

“Research has found a correlation between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function, and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior,” he said.

“It’s a recognition that children are especially at risk given changes in technology – having more access to pornography than ever before – and the effects on their development and their sexuality.”

 

Investigation finds Covington students did not instigate confrontation

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 17:08

Covington, Ky., Feb 13, 2019 / 03:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An independent investigation into the interaction last month between Covington high school students and a Native American man has exonerated the students, the Diocese of Covington has announced.

In a Feb. 11 message to Covington Catholic High School parents, posted on the diocesan website, Bishop Roger Foys said a third-party inquiry had determined that “our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial.”

“In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening,” he said. “Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory.”

The investigations’ report was released nearly a month after controversy first erupted following video emerging on Twitter showing a confrontation between a Native American elderly man with a drum – later identified as activist Nathan Phillips – and a group of students from Covington Catholic High School.

The incident took place as the students were waiting at the Lincoln Memorial to meet their bus on their way home from the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

A team of investigators, which Bishop Foys said “has no connection with Covington Catholic High School or the Diocese of Covington” reviewed 50 hours of internet activity, interviewed 43 students and 13 chaperones, and attempted repeatedly to contact Phillips through multiple venues, with no response. 

As the students arrived at the Lincoln Memorial, they encountered Black Hebrew Israelites, who were yelling offensive statements at anyone who walked by, the report found. “We see no evidence that students responded with any offensive or racist statements of their own.”

“Some of the students asked the chaperones if they could do their school cheers to help drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites,” the investigators said, however they added that they did not find evidence that any students chanted “Build the Wall.”

Phillips then approached the students, the report said. Most of the students thought he was coming to join in their cheers, and many said they were confused by what he was doing, but none felt threatened. 

“We found no evidence of offensive or racist statements by students to Mr. Phillips or members of his group. Some students performed a ‘tomahawk chop’ to the beat of Mr. Phillips’ drumming and some joined in Mr. Phillips’ chant.”

The investigators concluded that the statements they had obtained from students and chaperones were “remarkably consistent,” both with one another and the video footage reviewed. In contrast, they said, “Mr. Phillips’ public interviews contain some inconsistencies, and we have not been able to resolve them or verify his comments,” due to their inability to get in touch with him.

Controversy over the Jan. 18 encounter began after footage posted online showed one student, a junior at Covington, standing in close proximity to Phillips with an uncomfortable expression on his face while the students around him chant and do the “tomahawk chop.” 

As the video went viral, it was roundly condemned by media commenters and some Catholic leaders as racist and antagonistic on the part of the students. However, more footage was subsequently released, showing the Black Israelites, and also appearing to show Phillips approaching the students, which contradicted prior reports that the students had surrounded him.  

The Covington diocese and high school had initially responded to the incident by saying the students’ behavior was “opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

As additional information emerged, the Diocese of Covington removed its initial statement and released a new one on Monday, Jan. 22, announcing both the temporary closing of Covington Catholic High School and a third-party investigation into the events at the Lincoln Memorial.

In his Feb. 11 letter, Bishop Foys voiced hope that the students can now move forward with their lives and education. 

“These students had come to Washington, D.C. to support life. They marched peacefully with hundreds of thousands of others – young and old and in-between – to further the cause of life…Their stance there was surely a pro-life stance. I commend them.”

Catholic Charities ordered to vacate migrant respite center by Texas city

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 17:01

Brownsville, Texas, Feb 13, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- City commissioners in McAllen, Texas have ordered Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV) to vacate their migrant respite center within 90 days, after complaints from neighbors.

“I am disappointed with today’s decision but thankful for the continued support of the City of McAllen, the wonderful community, and Mayor Jim Darling,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, CCRGV director, in a Feb. 13 statement.

“We greatly appreciate the opportunity provided by the City to have time to move forward and find a new location. We will continue to work in partnership with the City of McAllen in efforts to treat immigrant families in a just and humane way and ensure they are in compliance with existing immigration laws.”

The 16,000-square-foot center, currently housed in a former nursing home, has been accommodating hundreds of migrants a day coming from across the U.S.-Mexico border since December 2018, when CCRGV relocated to the space from a smaller downtown building. The respite center, which is staffed by volunteers and mainly offers food, showers, and basic necessities, has changed locations several times since 2014.

The mayor and two city commissioners voted Feb. 11 to remove Catholic Charities from the current site; two commissioners voted against the proposal, and two commissioners were not present at the meeting, according to The Monitor.

Despite voting to move the center, Mayor Jim Darling the next day publicly committed to helping CCRGV find a new location for migrant respite operations in McAllen. A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Brownsville told CNA that CCRGV does not yet have concrete plans for a new location.

The Respite Center in McAllen in its various locations has helped close to 150,000 migrants since 2014, sometimes up to 300 a day, Pimentel has said. Most of the people the center helps are women and children who have been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a court date to consider their request for asylum.

City commissioners had reportedly received complaints from several residents living near the respite center, who described “their peaceful neighborhood being upended by constant traffic and strangers wandering the streets, likely coming from the respite center,” according to The Monitor.

The residents reportedly claimed to support the center’s mission to help migrants, but not in a residential area.

Sister Pimentel was invited to a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump Jan. 10, during the president’s visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen. At the time, Trump was visiting Texas in an effort to drum up support for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, amid a government shutdown that began over funding for the wall.

Pimentel later said she was disappointed that she didn’t get to speak to the president during the discussion.

A delegation of bishops, including Bishop Robert Brennan, auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, visited the border in July 2018 and toured the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen.

McCarrick labled ‘permanently removed from ministry’ in list of accused clergy

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 17:00

Newark, N.J., Feb 13, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Newark released a list of names of credibly accused clergy on Wednesday, including disgraced former archbishop of the diocese Theodore McCarrick. The archdiocese listed McCarrick as “permanently removed from ministry,” although a final verdict is still pending in his canonical process.

 

On Feb. 13, all the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey’ released lists of clergy who had “credibly” been accused of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940.

 

A total of 188 clerics, including deacons, were named. The Archdiocese of Newark had the most names, with 63, and another of McCarrick’s former dioceses, Metuchen, had the fewest with 11.

 

The lists were released following the launch of the Independent Victims Compensation Program, which seeks to compensate those who were abused by members of the clergy as minors. The IVCP was announced earlier this week.

 

In a statement published on the Archdiocese of Newark website, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said that the release of the list of names was part of “an effort to do what is right and just.”

 

“It is our sincerest hope that this disclosure will help bring healing to those whose lives have been so deeply violated,” said Tobin. “We also pray that this can serve as an initial step in our efforts to help restore trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church.”

 

In the Newark list, McCarrick is appears alongside other accused clerics but, unlike other entries, it does not say if there are one or more accusations or give his assignment history. The only details given are his years of birth and ordination, and his status as “permanently removed from ministry.”

 

His entry also includes the note saying “Archbishop Theodore McCarrick has been included on the list based on the findings of the Archdiocese of New York that allegations of abuse of a minor against then Father McCarrick were credible and substantiated.”

 

After serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of New York, McCarrick was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of that archdiocese in 1977. He was then installed as the first bishop of Metuchen in 1981.

 

McCarrick’s name does not appear on the list released by the Diocese of Metuchen, but its release Wednesday included a statement stating that he is “currently involved in a Church trial by the Holy See for the abuse of a minor when he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.”

 

The Archdiocese of Newark, along with the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton, paid a settlement in 2005 to a man who was abused by McCarrick while he was an adult seminarian.

 

A second settlement was paid in 2007 to another man who claimed he was abused by McCarrick while he was an adult in seminary.

 

Both of these settlements were kept confidential until McCarrick stepped down from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, following accusations he had abused two men as minors.

 

At the time of McCarrick’s first alleged abuse of minor, he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

 

A verdict following McCarrick’s canonical process for the abuse of minors is expected any day.

 

McCarrick was ordered by Pope Francis to live a life of prayer and penance during the proceedings. He is currently living in a friary in Kansas and is forbidden from celebrating Mass in public.

 

In a statement to CNA, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark said that the archdiocese had adopted a higher standard than the ordinary canonical definition of “credible,” which is not “manifestly false or frivolous.”

 

"For the Archdiocese of Newark, we defined a ‘credible allegation’ as one that, after review of reasonably available, relevant information  in consultation with the Archdiocesan Review Board or other professionals, there is reason to believe it is true,” said the spokesperson.

 

“An allegation is determined to be credible when: the accused clergy admits the allegation is true; the accused clergy is convicted by civil authorities in court; an independent review team concludes that the allegation is more likely true than not, based on evidence."

Vermont pushes new law as survey confirms late-term abortion opposition

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 16:00

Burlington, Vt., Feb 13, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A new poll, released Tuesday, reports that most Americans, including those identifying as pro-choice, are opposed to the late-term abortions. The poll comes amid attempts in several states to expand access to the practice, including at full term and during labor.

 

The YouGov/Americans United for Life survey found that 79 percent of respondents were opposed to third-trimester abortions, including 66 percent of Americans who described themselves as “pro-choice.”

 

The poll was conducted surveyed 1,145 American adults on Feb. 6 and 7. It was released Feb. 12, on the same day Vermont’s legislature considered H. 57, a bill that would expand the state’s already-permissive abortion laws.

 

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont’s only Roman Catholic diocese, told CNA that while he thinks every abortion bill goes too far, H. 57 is extreme “even for those in the middle” in terms of the abortion issue.

 

“You don’t have to be a believer, you don’t have to have a creed, you don’t have to even agree with the Church’s position on life in general to see that the appalling reality that right up to birth, a child can be killed. It’s infanticide. This bill legalizes infanticide,” Coyne said.

 

H. 57 would prohibit any new regulation that would impede “an individual’s right to choose” and would not allow anyone to be prosecuted for either performing an abortion or attempting to perform an abortion.

 

Vermont currently has no abortion statutes establishing a waiting period before, or requiring parental notification of an abortion. Americans United for Life ranked the state as third-worst for pro-life laws in its 2019 Life List.

 

The bill is widely expected to pass the legislature, where the Democratic Party has a veto-proof majority. The state’s governor, Phil Scott (R), is in favor of abortion rights.

 

Coyne said he is encouraging Catholics in Vermont to contact their representatives about their opposition to the bill and that “some inroads” had been made, with several legislators dropping their support of the bill.

 

The bishop said he hoped that if the bill were to be vetoed, there would be enough people in the legislature to prevent an override.

 

“This bill goes too far. It’s allowing for the killing of babies,” said Coyne, calling the measure “just morally and humanly wrong.”

 

Coyne told CNA that he thinks this bill is a response to concern that the Supreme Court may soon overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that found a right to legal abortion in the United States.

 

“I think this bill is being enacted out of fear,” he said. “I don’t think it’s being enacted out of trying to enact just laws that are for the common good of Vermont.”

 

The proposed legislation in Vermont is the latest in a series of moves at the state level.

 

The YouGov/AUL poll was conducted in the immediate wake the Reproductive Health Act, a sweeping new abortion law passed in New York, something AUL president and CEO Catherine Glenn Foster said was reflected in the results.

 

“This survey vividly reveals both the American people’s common-sense appreciation for the sanctity of life and the widespread horror, even among self-identified pro-choice Americans, of new laws like New York’s that effectively allow abortion up until the moment of delivery,” said Foster.

 

In addition to broad opposition to late-term abortions generally, higher percentages of both Americans and pro-choice Americans--80 and 68 percent, respectively -- said they are opposed to an abortion occuring the day before the child is born.

 

Last month in Virginia, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) sponsored the Repeal Act, which would have permitted the abortion of a child while a woman was in active labor. The bill was tabled and failed to advance out of a legislative committee after significant public outcry.

 

Prior to the bill’s tabling, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared on a radio show and endorsed parts of the bill. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said that if a baby were born alive after an attempted abortion, it would be given “comfort care” while the doctor discussed with the mother whether or not to pursue further medical action. These comments were met with outrage and accusations that the governor was describing infanticide.

 

The YouGov poll also found that Northam’s views were also beyond the mainstream. More than three-fourths of pro-choice Americans said that they were opposed to the idea of removing medical care from a viable infant after it was born.

 

The results show a much narrower divide on abortion in general; 53 percent of respondents said they were pro-choice, while 47 percent identified as pro-life.

 

The YouGov results on late-term abortion echo a January 2019 Marist/Knights of Columbus poll which found that of the 55 percent of Americans who identified as pro-choice, only 25 percent said that they thought abortion should be legal throughout a woman’s entire pregnancy.

How the Pittsburgh diocese is tackling addiction

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 15:34

Pittsburgh, Pa., Feb 13, 2019 / 01:34 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has launched a new addiction ministry to bring rehabilitation to addicts and families through a holistic approach, including spirituality and close relationships.

“We have a big opiate crisis in Pittsburgh, like every big city,” said Father Michael Decewicz, a recovering alcoholic and one of the leaders behind Addiction Recovery Ministry (ARM).

“How can we as Church respond in love to the addicted and the afflicted? This is our chance as Church, as people of God to reach out to those who are suffering addictions and afflicting their loved ones,” he told CNA.

ARM began Feb. 10 with a Mass of Healing from Addiction. An estimated 200 gathered at the liturgy, where addicts received Anointing of the sick.

Anointing of the sick “can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age,” according to the Code of Canon Law.

Father Decewicz noted to CNA the proximity of the program's initiation to the Feb. 11 feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. He said it correlates to the healing miracles of Lourdes, but also emphasized that addiction is a disease, not a moral choice.  

The ministry is funded by Pittsburgh’s On Mission for the Church Alive campaign, a movement in the diocese to condense unused or small parishes into multi-parish groups. Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said the program is an effort to strengthen ministries.  

Located at the John Paul I Center in Sharpsburg, the program will begin with three meetings a week of either Narcotics Anonymous or NARANON, a support group for friends and family of addicts suffering from an addiction to narcotics.

Decewicz said program will later add Alcoholics Anonymous and ALANON, the family support group for alcoholics, and eventually have a variety of all four of these meetings three times a day.

The program will also include monthly opportunities for education on the disease of addiction and spiritual nourishment, which may include “a talk on the spirituality of recovery and addiction,” said Decewicz.

He said this ministry is an opportunity for evangelization. The results might not be immediate, he said, but these are moments to plant the seeds of the faith and help people, who often have been wounded by organized religion, reconsider the Church.

“God calls us in our brokenness. We need to spread that message that God touches us in our brokenness and in our frailty. To bring a message of compassion and empathy….to affirm the dignity of every human being regardless of what they are suffering,” he said.

“For years AA has met in the basement of the church, it’s time to invite them upstairs,” he said.

Father Decewicz said a major component of the ministry will be the opportunities for one-on-one encounters. If people call the program, he said the organization will the return the call within 24 hours and connect the person to a recovering addict who can be a guide or a friend.  

Decewicz will be one of the individuals answering calls, helping direct people to the proper services, and discussing his or her experience. Another volunteer for the ministry is Carol Smith, a retired Program Manager for a women’s residential facility and a recovering addict of nearly 24 years.

“You need the right tools, the right people around you to support you,” she told CNA. “There is someone here who can help you, who can identify with you, and get [you] to a meeting.”

She stressed the healing potential of 12 steps programs and shared her own experience with addiction – getting into prescription drugs when she was about 12 and the damage that followed.

Smith was introduced to prescription painkillers because of a dental procedure. She fell in love with these opiates, she said, noting she began stealing drugs from her father’s drug store. After her little brother was born and she felt more estranged from her family, Smith began to spend more time with the wrong crowd, getting deeper into alcohol and other types of drugs.

Even as the drug habit progressed, she was able to function, receiving good grades throughout high school and getting accepted into the University of Pittsburgh. While maintaining an addiction to heroin, Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and later on worked for the government as a supervisor in the welfare department.

She said her life began to take a tragic turn after her husband died. She was forced to resign from her position because of a problem with theft, and eventually ended up in the hospital with sores on her legs from heroin abuse. From the hospital, she was taken to jail which then led to a work release program.

After prison, the addiction was still too much, and Smith again began shooting up heroin. “[Getting high,] that’s all I know how to do. I’ve been doing it for the past 40 years,” Smith told her supervisor when she was confronted about her relapse. But, instead of getting taken back to jail, Smith was taken to an eight week outpatient program, where she was introduced to NA.

“I started going to meetings every day and that’s when the bulb finally went off – you can get through a day without getting high, you can live without using.”

Smith explained the importance of faith in the 12 step program, calling it an opportunity for people to experience the love of God. She further added that evangelization efforts begin with people living this love.

“God is a part of it,” she said. “There’s a lot of people, especially people in addiction, they think that God’s given up on them and that he could never love them with the horrible things they’ve done.”

“The biggest thing is you let them know that God’s love them,” she said. “I think it is more about being an example if you are going to try and have other people come to God or look at him the way you do.”

Are millennial Christians really killing evangelization?

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 05:06

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2019 / 03:06 am (CNA).- Millennials are notoriously blamed for being killers of previously-thought-necessary industries and activities: Applebees. Napkins. Golf. Mayonnaise. Lunch. And so on.

For the ever-shrinking number of millennials who are practicing Christians, could evangelization be on the chopping block next?

Recent data from the Barna group, which researches the intersection of faith and culture, shows that of millennials practicing their Christian faith, almost half - 47 percent - believe it is at least somewhat wrong to “share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” This is significantly higher than the number of Gen X-ers (27 percent), and Boomers (19 percent), who said the same.

But while at a glance this statistic may be alarming, given the missionary mandate of the Church, there might be more behind it than just another hit on the millennial kill list.

Elizabeth Klein is an assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. One of the main goals of the institute is to prepare students to respond to the New Evangelization - a term popularized by Pope John Paul II that emphasizes a renewed call to share the Gospel with the world.

Klein said before sounding the alarm about the death of evangelization, the statistic should be read in light of the others also shared by Barna - that 96 percent of millennials believe “part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus,” that 94 percent said that “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus,” and that 73 percent said “I am gifted at sharing my faith with other people” - higher than every other generation included in the data.

And in 2013, 65 percent of millennial Christians said they had shared the Gospel with someone in the past year, compared to the national average of about half of Christians in general.

“I thought it was interesting that they didn't highlight that millennials in fact evangelize more than the older generations do,” Klein said of an article from Christianity Today on the data.

Furthermore, she said, the phrasing of the particular question about evangelization probably also affected the way millennials responded.

“I thought the phrasing of the specific question - it’s about people who already have a religious faith, so I thought that was a big factor,” Klein told CNA.

“I think millennials are more likely to see someone of a different faith as more of an ally maybe than in the past,” she said, “because we are in such a post-Christian, post-religious world that anyone else who is practicing a faith may be more likely to be seen as someone you have a lot in common with, rather than the chief object of evangelization for millennials,” which would probably be atheists or fallen away Catholics, she said.

Vince Sartori is a regional director with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which trains students and missionaries on college campuses to form disciples through friendships and Bible studies. Evangelizing in a millennial culture is at the heart of the group’s work.

Sartori, who served as a missionary on two different campuses before becoming a regional director, said he has noticed a hesitancy in millennials on campus to engage in evangelization.

“I think some of it comes down to a misunderstanding of evangelization versus proselytization,” Sartori told CNA.

Proselytization, Sartori said, happens when “the person is preaching or going out to be heard, not listening to someone but rather just trying to get a point across.”

Evangelization, on the other hand, is “about building trust, encountering a person, understanding a person, and introducing them to Jesus and proposing ideas, as opposed to just telling them something.”

Sartori said the way millennials answered this question also reflects the current political climate and a culture that prioritizes people’s comfort over everything else.

“In this culture of ‘if you disagree with me you hate me,’ I would say most millennials would say: ‘I’m not trying to convert anyone,’” Sartori said.

“But I would hope everyone is trying to convert someone, it’s just that there’s a right and true way, and then there’s a way that’s just kind of yelling at people, and that’s obviously not what I’m about and not what anyone would desire. And I think in general millennials are really sensitive to that.”

Klein also said that millennials are reacting to the polarization that characterizes the political and social media world of today.

“Actual authentic dialogue has in fact broken down, and I don't think that's a delusion of millennials; things are often so polarized that it is very difficult to have a dialogue which is perceived as open and a back and forth, and not somehow inauthentic or aggressive” she said.

“It’s not that they don't want to share their faith, but it seems that sharing via dialogue or speaking makes people uneasy, and I don't think that's inexplicable, that seems to make sense,” she said.

Part of the training of FOCUS missionaries is teaching them how to evangelize, Sartori said - which includes building friendships and trust with people before proposing that they consider going to church or learning more about Jesus.

“The three habits (taught to missionaries in training) are the things we emphasize that help us to go and do evangelization,” Sartoir said. “The first is divine intimacy (with God), the second is authentic friendship, and the third one is clarity and conviction for what we call spiritual multiplication. So this idea that you’re investing deeply in a few people, and sharing your faith in a way that they can then go and do that with others.”

“You’re listening, you’re building trust, you’re speaking in a way that they’re going to be able to hear you,” Sartori said, “but you’re also hearing where they’re coming from on things.”

Once a friendship is established, Sartori said one of the easiest ways to talk to someone about God is to ask them about the faith tradition they had while they were growing up.

“It’s the basic questions of like - did you ever go to church growing up? Something like that that’s less attacking than, say, ‘How do you feel about abortion?’ or something that’s more politicized or a hot topic,” Sartori said. “You want to do something that’s a softer, more inviting conversation, so you can just understand the person.”

After a conversation about faith has been opened, then it can be time to invite someone to events at a parish or into a Bible study, if the person is open to it.

“While there’s an urgency for someone to accept the Gospel as quickly as possible, we also want to propose it and not impose it, so we’re not going to rush into anything on that,” Sartori said.

Klein said millennials are also most likely to be tuned into the need for authentic witness - that someone must be living a personal life of holiness and friendship with God before they can propose it to someone else.

The article on the Barna research from Christianity Today ended with: “Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, ‘If we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character.’”

“This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix,’” it said, quoting Hannah Gronowski, the founder and CEO of Christian non-profit Generation Distinct.

But Klein said this kind of attitude is overly dismissive of the importance of personal holiness.

“Witnessing personal holiness - it's not like that's easy, its plenty important,” she said, especially with the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.

“I don't think that millennials are crazy to think that personal holiness is the most important thing right now, especially when dialogue has broken down and there has been a lot of - with the recent scandals - insane hypocrisy where people's lives are not matching what they're saying,” she said.  

“I think a big part of it is...holistic Catholic formation,” Klein added. “If you're not prepared to pursue wisdom and pursue personal holiness, you're not going to have that authentic witness and authentic life to share.”

While that doesn’t remove the necessity of evangelizing with words, Klein said, it does point to why millennial Christians may have answered that particular question the way they did, beyond a trend toward universalism and relativism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself recognizes the disconnect that may exist between a person’s holiness and the preaching of the Gospel: “On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the ‘discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.’ Only by taking the ‘way of penance and renewal,’ the ‘narrow way of the cross,’ can the People of God extend Christ's reign. For ‘just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.’” (CCC pp. 853).

“It’s very clear that the Church has a missionary mandate, but I think it nuances that very well and talks about the hypocrisy that has been found,” Klein said. “I think that tension is what millennials are most keyed into, that personal holiness comes first before you can even think about opening your mouth.”

An oft-quoted line, typically attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, speaks of the tension between personal holiness and evangelizing: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words,” the saying goes.

But if that quote really came from St. Francis of Assisi, Sartori said, it came from a saint who preached the Gospel so prolifically that he was known to preach it “to the birds.”

“He couldn’t stop preaching,” Sartori said, “so of all the people to have said that, St. Francis is one of the greatest examples of preaching (the Gospel).”

So while personal holiness is a must, he said, so is preaching the Gospel with words.

“To preach the Gospel is an integral part of being a Christian,” he said, “and we can’t separate that.”

 

New Jersey dioceses launch fund for abuse survivors

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 19:00

Newark, N.J., Feb 12, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The five Roman Catholic dioceses of New Jersey announced on Monday the creation of the Independent Victim Compensation Program (IVCP) for survivors of sexual abuse as minors by clerics in the state. The program will not handle claims of sexual abuse involving adults, including seminarians.

 

The IVCP will be administered by victims’ compensation experts Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, according to a statement from the IVCP that was emailed to CNA and posted on the websites of the New Jersey dioceses.

 

Feinberg and Biros were involved in the creation of compensation programs for abuse survivors in New York and Pennsylvania, as well as in the administration of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Fund.

 

“Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and the Bishops throughout New Jersey have united in going further than any other state in establishing such a compensation program,” said the statement.

 

While dioceses in other states such as New York and Pennsylvania have created programs to compensate abuse survivors, the IVCP is unique in being statewide program that involves every diocese agreeing to follow the same compensation protocol.

 

“The program provides victims with an attractive alternative to litigation,” said the statement, and will give abuse survivors a “speedy and transparent process to resolve their claims with a significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.”

 

After agreeing on and receiving a settlement, the abuse survivor will not be able to pursue additional legal action against the diocese. All settlements will be funded by the dioceses themselves.

 

The first phase of the program will give “priority” in compensation to those who have already filed a complaint about abuse committed by a member of the clergy.

 

The statement from the IVCP confirmed that abuse survivors who have not previously reported their abuse will be eligible to join phase II of the program. These claims will be reviewed by Feinberg and Biros, and survivors will be compensated if their claims are found eligible.

 

According to the IVCP, Feinberg and Biros will “act independently” in their administration when evaluating claims and deciding levels of compensation. The dioceses will not be able to appeal the decisions made by the administrators.

 

“[The participating dioceses] have assured us that we have complete discretion in deciding who is eligible to receive compensation and the amount to be paid to the individual victim,” Biros said in the statement.

 

The IVCP has been in the works since mid-November 2018. At that time, a statement was published by the Archdiocese of Newark announcing that some sort of compensation program would come together in the near future.

 

A draft of the IVCP protocol will be released on March 1, and a final version will be implemented after a 30-day comment period. After the final version is adopted, the IVCP will commence receiving claims.

 

All claims must be submitted before December 31, 2019.

 

The IVCP is limited to those who were abused as minors. According to (Amy Weiss, the PR lady for Feinberg and Biros? I don't know how to phrase this) there are no plans at this time to create a similar fund for those who were abused as adults, including by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

 

McCarrick, who resigned from the College of Cardinals in July after being credibly accused of abusing two minor boys, was the Bishop of Metuchen from 1981 until 1986 and the Archbishop of Newark from 1986 until 2000.

 

In 2005, the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton paid an $80,000 settlement to Robert Ciolek, who was abused by McCarrick while he was a seminarian. A $100,000 settlement was paid in 2007 to a man who says he too was abused by McCarrick when he was in seminary.

 

Both of these settlements were first disclosed after McCarrick was accused of abusing a minor.

Gallup diocese restores order of sacraments of initiation

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 18:01

Gallup, N.M., Feb 12, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop James Wall of Gallup has announced in a pastoral letter the restoration of the order of the sacraments of initiation in the mission diocese.

Once the new policy is implemented, children will receive Confirmation and First Holy Communion in the same Mass, at around the age of 7 or 8.

“Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation long after the reception of Holy Communion, tends to weaken the understanding of the bond and relationship that the Sacraments of Initiation have with one another,” Bishop Wall wrote in his Feb. 11 pastoral letter The Gift of the Father.

“Because the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation lead the faithful to the culmination of their initiation into the Christian Life in Holy Communion,  the practice of postponing the reception of Confirmation until the teenage years has not always been beneficial,” he noted.

The bishop added that “An alarming percentage of our Catholic children who were baptized and received First Holy Communion, do not continue their formation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, and in too many cases, never receive the Sacrament.  As your shepherd, I believe it is important for our children, before they reach their adolescent years, to receive the strength of this important Sacrament.”

The pastoral change in the Diocese of Gallup follows that of several other local Churches in the US.

Commending such a change in the Diocese of Manchester in 2017 as “a praiseworthy practice”, Rita Ferrone wrote in Commonweal that 11 dioceses were then practicing “restored order”.

Bishop Wall opened his letter reflecting on the relationship among the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion.

Baptism “immerses us into the Divine Trinity,” while the grace of Confirmation “confirms and strengthens the supernatural life we have received in Baptism and it also enables us with its grace to live in a more mature way our lives as Christians giving witness to Christ in all that we do.”

“At the same time, the Sacrament of Confirmation is ordered toward a deeper communion with the Lord and to His Church through this witness to Him, a communion which receives its greatest expression and grace in this life in the sacrament of Holy Communion.”

The bishop noted that he has chosen to restore the original order of the sacraments of initiation “after consultation with the Presbyteral Council and having prayerfully considered it.”

Wall then discussed the historical background of the temporal order of the sacraments of initiation, noting that in the first 500 years of the Church they “were received together,” and that afterwards Baptism came to be administered in infancy, Confirmation around the age of 7, and Communion around the beginning of adolescence, such that “the order of the sacraments was conserved but they were administered in separate celebrations throughout childhood.”

St. Pius X “decided that it was important for children at a younger age to receive Holy Communion,” and began administering First Communion around the age of 7.

“This positive change had the unintended consequence of moving the Sacrament of Confirmation to an older age, thus inverting the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation,” Wall stated.

He added that today a person baptized after reaching the age of reason normally “receives in the same celebration the three Sacraments of Initiation,” but that “up until now, a child who was baptized as an infant would receive Holy Communion at around the age of 8 and receive the sacrament of Confirmation at a later date, sometimes waiting until they are 15 or 16.”

The bishop also discussed the effects of Confirmation, which “ gives us an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which strengthens us,” and he cited Divinae consortium naturae, St. Paul VI's  1971 apostolic constitution on the sacrament.

Teaching about the sacraments, he said: “Although grace builds upon nature and much depends upon the disposition in faith, the piety and charity of the one who receives it, the sacraments work in us in a different way.  As long as the recipient does not have any impediment, the sacraments will produce in us their grace on their own.”

“This is important when we consider the age of the reception of the sacraments,” Wall said.

While Confirmation is sometimes called “the Sacrament of Christian maturity,” it “does not require the recipient to be physically mature in order to transmit its grace. On the contrary, the Sacrament brings the recipient into Christian maturity and is given the strength through the Sacrament to live one’s Christian life even in a heroic way.”

“Although the recipient of the Sacrament always must seek to remove obstacles to grace in his or her life and cooperate with the strength of the grace that is offered to the individual, the power of the sacraments to transform one’s life has been well established.”

Noting that “countless young children have shown the witness of heroic virtue,” Wall said that “it has become all the more important” for young Christians, given the challenges they face in today's world, “to receive the strength of the Sacrament of Confirmation as soon as possible to assist them.”

Citing St. Paul VI, Bishop Wall said that Confirmation's link with the Eucharist “will be emphasized by uniting the Sacrament of Confirmation with the reception of the First Holy Communion in the same celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass.”

The policy change in the Gallup diocese will be gradually implemented over the next three years, with a “progressive lowering of the age,” until preparation for the reception of Confirmation and First Communion will begin in third grade.

“There will always be the possibility of children older than 3rd grade seeking the Sacrament, especially those who move into our diocese from other areas, as well as adults who seek the reception of Confirmation,” he noted. “For this reason, there will have to be available an intergenerational model of catechesis or catechists prepared to take on classes of different age groups to prepare them for Confirmation.”

The sacraments, the bishop reflected, “are an introduction and aids to living an authentically Christlike life, to prepare ourselves for our passage into our longed-for eternal life.”

He called on parishes to meet the challenge of developing “creative programs to accompany, form and integrate young members of the parish – now fully initiated – into the life of the Church.”

With catechetical formation after third grade no longer tied to sacramental preparation, it will instead “help our young Catholics grow in their faith, discern their vocation and prepare for that Christian vocation as they approach adulthood.”

“As we implement these new policy changes we are attempting to face the great challenges of our time,” Wall concluded.

Thanking the pastors of the diocese for their faithful service, he asked them “to work closely with the families of your communities to help them accomplish their vocation as first catechists and witnesses of their faith.”

“The parish should become a community of communities where the family, the domestic Church, can find guidance in the Word of God, strength in the Sacraments and support in their daily struggles. Your assistance to the families of your parish to provide them with what they need to accompany their children in their pilgrimage of faith is invaluable.”

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Diocese of Gallup and our Mother, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, heroic witness to the faith, intercede for all of us, for you and your families, and may the Lord bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.”

New Mexico legislators seek to repeal state abortion ban

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 17:00

Santa Fe, N.M., Feb 12, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- New Mexico’s House of Representatives passed a bill that would decriminalize the state’s inactive ban on abortion.

The move is seen as a preemptive measure to legalize abortion in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 decision to legalize abortion nationwide.  

A 1969 state law in New Mexico made it is a felony for any doctor to perform abortions, except in instances of congenital abnormalities, rape, and a danger to the woman’s health.

If Roe vs. Wade were overturned, abortions would be banned completely in the New Mexico. Eight other states have laws that would also ban abortion and four additional states have “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if the Supreme Court decision was overturned.

The bill passed through the House 40-29 on Feb. 6. If the bill is approved by the Senate, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised to sign the measure into law.

The House, which is controlled by the Democratic Party, approved the bill mostly along party lines, but opposition to the legislation did gain bipartisan support.

According to the Associated Press, the Democratic representatives who opposed the bill included, Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, Anthony Allison of Fruitland, Candie Sweetser of Deming, Wonda Johnson of Church Rock, and Patricio Ruiloba of Albuquerque.

Before the bill’s approval, Las Cruces Sun News reported on a few testimonies that were given to the House on Jan. 26. Opponents to the bill emphasized the lack of abortion restrictions currently in New Mexico and expressed concern that the repeal would weaken safeguards.

"We are now known as a late-term abortion state, which I'm very ashamed of," said Pauline Anaya, an educator and therapist in Albuquerque.

"I just have a deep concern that we are taking the only explicit protection we have for individuals," said Rep. Gregg Schmedes, a Tijeras Republican and surgeon.

The makeup of the Supreme Court has changed significantly since President Trump promised to appoint pro-life Justices. Trump nominated Justices Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.  

Advocates for the bill have expressed concern about a possible repeal of Roe vs. Wade. Representative Joanne Ferrary, co-sponsor of the bill, said the bill was a necessary protection to ensure abortion services are safe and legal.

"It is time to remove this archaic law from New Mexico's books," she said, according to Las Cruces Sun News. "With the threat of a Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe, we need to pass this bill to protect health care providers and keep abortion safe and legal.”  

In a Jan. 7 statement, Bishop James Wall of Gallup opposed House Bill 51 and encouraged lawmakers to focus on policies that support human prosperity at all stages of life.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” he said.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living.”

 

Border security compromise may prevent new shutdown

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Feb 12, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Congressional leaders hope to have avoided a further partial government shutdown after reaching an agreement on a budget that includes over a billion dollars in funding for new barriers along the United States’ border with Mexico.

The deal, announced February 11, comes ahead of a looming Friday deadline to reach an agreement on the budget or else face a further round of partial federal shutdowns. The deal still has to be approved by President Donald Trump, who has previously requested about $5.7 billion to fund the construction of a wall along parts of the southern border.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said that he expects the president to approve of the compromise. The final text has yet to be released, but could come as soon as Wednesday.

The compromise agreement reportedly provides $1.3 billion in funding for border barrier construction along 55 miles of the Rio Grande Valley. The deal is also set to include a gradual reduction of the number of beds used to detain undocumented immigrants in areas not located near the U.S. border, something pushed by Congressional Democrats throughout budget negotiations.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims that the majority of undocumented immigrants detained have previous criminal records.

Shelby told reporters that “hard negotiations” had gone in forging an agreement, and that he was confident there would be a successful resolution.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly called for Congress to find a solution that provides both border security as well as protections for undocumented migrants and immigrants.

In a January 10 statement calling for an end to the recent partial government shutdown Bishop Joseph Vasquez of Austin, chair of the USCCB’s migration committee, said that “secure borders and humane treatment of those fleeing persecution and seeking a better life are not mutually exclusive.”

Vasquez said that the U.S. must move to achieve these goals “without instilling fear or sowing hatred,” and said that he would “continue to advocate for immigration reform to advance the common good and address these issues.”

“We urge lawmakers to look beyond rhetoric and remember the human dignity that God our Father has given each of us simply because we are all His children,” he said.

Some border bishops have been vehemently opposed to the construction of walls in their dioceses. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, TX, filed suit against the federal government over their request to survey the land surrounding a small chapel located near the Rio Grande. If the border wall were to be built, the chapel would be located on the southern side of the wall and would not be accessible to most of the people who use it.

A judge recently ruled that the government would not be impeding the exercise of religious freedom if it were to survey the land around the chapel to determine if a wall could be built.

NY archdiocese responds to Cardinal Spellman groping allegation

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 21:00

New York City, N.Y., Feb 11, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New York has said it had only recently learned of an allegation that the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman groped a visiting West Point cadet in the 1960s, but says it will take the accusation seriously and has invited the accuser to contact the archdiocese.
 
“This is the first time we have learned of this allegation, and take what the writer says seriously, as we do all allegations of abuse or inappropriate conduct,” Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA Feb. 11. “We have never had a substantiated allegation of abuse against Cardinal Spellman, who died in 1967.”
 
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a longtime journalist and writer, made the claim about the former Archbishop of New York in a Feb. 9 essay at Salon.
 
According to Truscott, the alleged incident took place in 1967 in Spellman’s private quarters behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Truscott said he was a junior at West Point who had sought to interview Spellman for the cadet magazine, The Pointer.
 
In Truscott’s account, apparently written decades after the fact, he was in a sitting room with the 77-year-old Spellman, his monsignor assistant, and two other West Point cadets, including the magazine’s photographer. Even before the interview began, Spellman placed his hand on the cadet’s thigh and attempted to grope him, Truscott said.
 
According to Truscott, the monsignor intervened, chastised the cardinal, and placed the cardinal’s hand back in the lap. Truscott said this happened several times during the interview.

Truscott wrote that the cardinal gave him a small gift after each attempted incident of groping. “He did it over and over again, and I just kept asking questions and recording his answers like nothing happened. I left the cardinal’s residence that day carrying a couple of tie clasps, three key chains, and a couple of gold-plated tie tacks,” the essay claimed.
Truscott said he was shocked the incident happened in front of others and was sure he would not be believed if reported. He claimed the photographer had taken photos of the incidents and he and the other two cadets treated it as a joke after it was over.
 
Truscott said he now wishes he hadn’t laughed off the experience and wishes he had reported it instead, given revelations about sex abuse in the Church.
 
“I wasn’t an innocent victim. I was an adult, a cadet at West Point, and I knew better,” said Truscott.
 
Zwilling said the archdiocese encourages reports about alleged misconduct.
 
“We would welcome Mr. Truscott in contacting the archdiocese, and reporting his allegation to our Safe Environment Director and/or the Victim Assistance Coordinator, so that we might offer whatever assistance might be needed,” Zwilling said.
 
While Truscott was not a minor at the time of the alleged incident, the New York legislature recently passed legislation extending the period for child victims of sex abuse to bring civil charges until the age of 55. Criminal prosecutions can be brought before the victim turns 28.
 
The legislation also creates a one-year window for victims of any age to come forward.
 
Cardinal Spellman was one of the most deeply influential churchmen of the United States.
 
Originally a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, he worked in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in the 1920s and 1930s and smuggled Pope Pius XI’s anti-fascist encyclical “Non Abbiamo Bisogno” to Paris for its 1931 release. He served as an Auxiliary Bishop of Boston from 1932-39, and was named Archbishop of New York by Pope Pius XII, a role that included oversight of the military vicariate of the armed forces during the Second World War and beyond.
 
He was a staunch anti-communist close to controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. He has been the subject of rumors about sexual misconduct, though not necessarily abuse.
 
The cardinal’s lengthy FBI file, as published in a somewhat redacted and possibly incomplete form at the FBI website, includes many interactions with the bureau and with Hoover; his public statements and speeches; and information about Vietnam War protests targeting the cardinal. At one point a Jan. 20, 1954 memorandum to Hoover described Spellman an FBI contact who “can be of assistance in furnishing information concerning prominent Catholic priests and laymen” and who has “on several occasions made available information in connection with research matters.”
 
The released files include a December 1954 request from Spellman’s office to the FBI to investigate an anonymous tip that a communist-linked publisher aimed to print a book vilifying the cardinal and the Catholic Church, apparently claiming the cardinal had a scandalous relationship with a woman.
 
FBI agents found no proof that such a book was forthcoming.
 
The publisher of a Spellman biography released in 1984 removed a passage citing several people who claimed he had a homosexual relationship; none of them had direct proof, the New York Times reported.


 

 

Assisted suicide bill advances in New Jersey

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 18:00

Trenton, N.J., Feb 11, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- New Jersey may become the next state to approve of physician-assisted suicide after the president of the state’s Senate replaced two members of a committee who had previously voted against a bill that would have legalized it in the state.

 

The New Jersey senate legislative committee voted 6-3 on Feb. 7 to advance a bill that would permit doctors to prescribe a lethal doses to patients with terminal illnesses. Two people who voted on the bill--Senate President Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who co-sponsored the legislation--were not originally members of the committee.

 

Sweeney nominated himself and Scutari to replace Senators Fred Madden (D-Gloucester) and Ronlad Rice (D-Essex), both of whom had previously voted against physician-assisted suicide in 2016. To become law, the bill must now clear the full assembly and Senate.

 

The Catholic Church is opposed to physician-assisted suicide, as well as all other forms of suicide.

 

Those opposed to assisted suicide point out that it has the potential for abuse and that many recipients of it are not actually terminally ill.

 

“Like other states that have confused liberty with license, New Jersey is considering a law that would promote physician-prescribed death. The proposal violates the sacred oath of the medical profession, recognized even by pre-Christian cultures, to heal the sick and preserve life,” Dr. Edward J. Furton, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

 

Furton explained to CNA that the majority of patients who pursue physician-assisted suicide do so due to fears of “being a burden on others” or because they “suffer from despair, loneliness, or feelings of unwantedness.”

 

“Very few choose this route because of severe pain,” he told CNA. While Furton agreed that those in severe pain should be given assistance and treatment, he did not think it was appropriate or proper to “abandon them to hopelessness” and promote the idea of suicide.

 

“Physicians should have no part in this reversal of the traditional aims of their profession, preserving health and life,” he added.
 

The New Jersey law would be limited to adults. Two physicians would have to agree that the patient seeking to die has less than six months to live. In order to receive the lethal dose, the patient would have to submit three requests (with one in writing) to a doctor. The written request must be witnessed by two people, and one of the two people cannot be a family member, physician, or someone who is named as a beneficiary of the patient.

 

The patient would then have to self-administer the medication.

 

Six states, as well as the District of Columbia, have approved physician-assisted suicide, and its status is unclear in the state of Montana. Oregon was the first state to pass an assisted-suicide law, doing so in 1994. Washington followed suit in 2008.

 

Several states, including Massachusetts, have attempted and failed to pass physician-assisted suicide measures either by referendum or through the legislative process.

 

Since the District of Columbia approved physician-assisted suicide in 2017, there have been no reported cases of terminally ill patients utilizing the law.

Prosecutor drops abortion charge against alleged murderer after NY abortion law

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 17:22

New York City, N.Y., Feb 11, 2019 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The district attorney for Queens County, New York, has reportedly dropped an unlawful abortion charge against a man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, citing a new state law that removed abortion from the criminal code.

Anthony Hobson is accused of killing his girlfriend Jennifer Irigoyen, who was 14 weeks pregnant, Feb. 3. He allegedly dragged her into the stairwell of an apartment building and stabbed her multiple times in the abdomen – she later died in hospital.

Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown announced in a Feb. 8 statement that Hobson would be charged with second-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, and fourth degree criminal possession of a weapon. He could face 25 years to life in prison.

Brown’s office cited the Reproductive Health Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Jan. 22, as the reason for dropping the abortion charge, according to the New York Times. A district attorney spokeswoman told the New York Post that the abortion charge was dropped because it was “repealed by the legislature, and this is the law as it exists today.”

The Reproductive Health Act changed New York law to allow health care professionals such as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to perform abortions, and now permits late-term abortion at any time throughout pregnancy in case of fetal inviability or “when necessary to protect a patient's life or health.”

One of the Democratic sponsors of the RHA, writing in a Times Union op-ed, claimed that physical assault resulting in the loss of pregnancy would now qualify as first-degree assault, which as a class B felony carries a penalty of 5-25 years.

Unlawful abortion, which is now repealed, would have been a class D felony, carrying with it a 2-7 year sentence.

In June 2018 a New York man was charged with attempted murder, abortion, and assault after the attempted murder of his 26-week pregnant fiancée. It is as yet unclear whether the Reproductive Health Act will affect that case.

In a Jan. 28 op-ed for the New York Daily News, Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University in the Bronx and a board member for Democrats for Life of America, predicted that the removal of abortion from the criminal code altogether would eliminate the potential to charge men who attack pregnant women with the crime of killing unborn children.

“Intellectually honest people know that when a pregnant woman is killed, something different has happened than when a woman who is not pregnant is killed. Both situations are incredibly tragic, but in the former situation, two human beings are killed, not one,” Camosy said.

Catholic convert, anti-war Congressman Walter Jones dies at 76

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 12:45

Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2019 / 10:45 am (CNA).- Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who represented North Carolina for 12 terms in the House of Representatives, passed away on Sunday - his 76th birthday.

 

“Congressman Jones will long be remembered for his honesty, faith and integrity,” said a statement from his office announcing his passing.

 

“He was never afraid to take a principled stand. He was known for his independence, and widely admired across the political spectrum. Some may not have agreed with him, but all recognized that he did what he thought was right.”

 

Jones, who was raised Southern Baptist but converted to Catholicism in his early 30s, was first elected to Congress in 1994.

 

After winning election for the twelfth time in November 2018, he requested a leave from Congress due to illness in December. He was sworn in to the 116th Congress from his house in Farmville, North Carolina.

 

In late January, his wife announced that Jones was in hospice care after suffering a broken hip.

 

Throughout his time in Congress, Jones was known for being a political maverick. Initially a strong supporter of the Iraq War-- famously suggesting that french fries be re-named “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria after the French refused to support the invasion--he changed his views after attending a funeral for a service member who was killed by a grenade.

 

Jones spent the remainder of his time in Congress critical of efforts to send troops overseas, and fighting to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He accused then-President George W. Bush for deceiving Congress to drum up support for overseas intervention.

 

As an attempt to atone for his vote in favor of the war, Jones sent letters to the families of nearly every soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Outside of his office, he posted pictures and bios of the more than 550 deceased troops that were sent to war from Camp Lejeune, located in his district.

 

In 2017, he told NPR that he had signed over 12,000 letters to the families of deceased troops, and “that was for me asking God to forgive me for my mistake.” In a 2015 interview, he said he would “go to [his] grave” regretting his vote to start the Iraq War.

 

Jones is survived by his wife, Jo Annee, who he married in 1966, and his daughter, Ashley.

Mentors are key in program to get civilly married couples back to Church

Sun, 02/10/2019 - 18:45

Lafayette, La., Feb 10, 2019 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- When Mary Rose Verret first welcomed Douglas and Elizabeth into her home, Douglas’ boots squished with the sewage he worked with, and Elizabeth smelled of french fries from her fast food job. Douglas was also just a few years of out jail.

Burnt out after years of ministry, Mary Rose didn’t think she would have anything in common with this couple, whom her pastor had asked Mary Rose and her husband, Ryan, to mentor through a process to convalidate their marriage in the Church.

“It was a difficult, complex situation that on paper didn’t look like it was going to go well,” Mary Rose recalled. Often, she saw couples like Douglas and Elizabeth disappear from the Church as soon as their marriage was blessed.

But when Douglas opened up about how he found Jesus in prison, and about their desire for a sacramental marriage in the Church, Mary Rose was humbled.

“On my end, working with this couple, I thought I was going to teach and I was going to form, and Ryan and I thought we were going to give everything to them,” she told CNA.

“But when we started listening to them and the husband’s experience of getting to know Jesus at a bible study while he was in jail, and the relationship he had with Jesus, and how he wanted to make things right with God, and how he wanted to have a marriage in the Church and he wanted Jesus to be part of their marriage, it was very humbling...and it really changed the way Ryan and I lived our ministry and lived our faith and lived our marriage,” she said.

The Verrets founded Witness to Love, a Catholic marriage prep renewal ministry, several years ago with the intent to give newly-engaged couples an older mentor couple of their choosing in the Church that could walk with them through marriage preparation and beyond.

Now, they are launching a Witness to Love track specifically for couples who are seeking to have their civil marriages blessed by, or convalidated in, the Catholic Church.

“We saw that with Witness to Love, in the parish where we started this, engaged couples were benefitting so much, but we were seeing couples who were having their marriage blessed who didn't go through Witness to Love, they met with Father a few times...they were getting divorced quickly, some of them even a month after having their marriage blessed,” she said.

Couples seeking to convalidate their marriage in the Church make up a significant percentage of sacramental marriages in the Church each year - roughly 20 percent, Mary Rose said. In 2017, the total number of sacramental marriages in the U.S. was 144,000 - meaning approximately 28,800 of them were convalidations.

In response to this growing need, the Verrets tweaked their marriage prep program to offer a track specifically fitted to couples seeking convalidations in the Church. They interviewed couples seeking convalidations and looked at best practices throughout the country for bringing them into the Church. Many couples seeking convalidation would do so around the time their children needed sacraments - baptism or communion or confirmation. It was a time they could reconnect with the Church and felt they needed to “get right with God,” Mary Rose said.

But old approaches of bringing these couples into the Church weren’t working - couples would fail to connect with the Church community and drop off, or even divorce, shortly after they received the sacrament. That’s where Mary Rose thought the Witness to Love mentorship model could work.

What’s different?

What sets Witness to Love apart in marriage convalidation preparation “is every other mentor model out there says: the Church is going to choose and train and assign mentor couples to you. You don't know them, you didn't pick them, you don't know how old they are or their background,” she said.

“And we're telling this to a generation that doesn't trust the Church, many of whom have been abused, have a pornography addiction, haven't been to church in 15 or more years. And we're asking them to talk to complete strangers, who are like uber Catholics, about their faith life and sex life and we wonder why it doesn't work out.”

The choice in mentor couples provides the “skin in the game” for the marriage prep couple and the room for the Holy Spirit to work, Mary Rose said.

Beyond that, the program is tweaked to match the language that civilly married couples use, and to emphasize how the grace of the sacrament builds on the natural goods of a civil marriage.

“There are two ways of looking at marriage. One is just on the natural level - you're living together, balancing a checkbook, you have kids, you share groceries - you know, life,” Mary Rose said. “And there's a lot of natural goodness there, but there's also a lot of natural challenges and we have fallen nature. So the grace of the sacrament helps you get through some of those things, love through things, grow through things, work through things, offer things up, pray for your spouse,” she said.

“The reason that we have the grace of the sacrament is that it’s impossible, on a human level, to love completely, totally, freely and fruitfully. It is impossible,” she noted.

“With the grace of the sacrament, you just have to ask God everyday to please help me keep my wedding vows,” she said, which also differ in wording and intent between civil and sacramental marriages.

Often, couples who have convalidated their marriages become the best witnesses of the grace of the sacrament of marriage, Mary Rose noted, because they know what it’s like to live without it.

“When they have their marriage blessed, if they are formed, then it's a whole different experience, because if they just have one or two quick meetings and then never really understand this grace they receive, they can't really tap into it.”

Going through the process

Meghan Reily and her husband Brendon were high school sweethearts who met in middle school, dated through college and got married civilly in 2016 - Meghan was Catholic, Brendon was not.

Once Meghan discovered that her marital situation was keeping her from the sacraments, she talked to Brendon about having their marriage blessed in the Church.

“After much discussion and prayer, we decided to go through the process. I think that shows a true testament to Brendon’s character,” Meghan told CNA.
 
“I could tell that this was something that was important to her and for the Church,” Brendon added, though he admitted to being “a little apprehensive at first.”

“Opening up about your relationship is something that is very personal to me,” he said. But going through this, I have never felt closer to Meghan than I do now. Same with our mentor couple. I’ve known them for several years, but I feel like they are family now too. They will always be someone who we can call on for anything.”

For their mentor couple, the Reily’s chose a couple that Meghan had known since childhood.

“We were in the same parish and I grew up with their daughter. We became best friends and her family was like a second family to me. Since I was always so close to them, Brendon got to get to know them when we were dating,” Meghan said.

“When asked who to choose as a mentor couple, it was a no-brainer for us. Their love for God and putting Him right at the center of their family is exactly the type of environment we want to have for our family.”

Meghan said the mentorship and the program of Witness to Love brought a “self-awareness” to their marriage that they hadn’t had before. It gave them tools to know and love their spouse better, and to work on virtues together.

“It was both challenging and rewarding. It in a way forced you to have those difficult conversations you don’t necessarily want to have,” she said.

“While we have been civilly married for two years, we are nowhere close to having it all figured out! The workbook provided great tools to give you insight on how you are wired and how your spouse is wired so you can better understand each other and how to handle situations, or discover what things you need to work on that you didn’t think was even an issue,” she added.

Brendon said the program changed their relationship by emphasizing that “it takes three to get married” - the couple and God.

“We are much more open in sharing what’s on our hearts so that we can pray for each other and build each other up,” he said.  

Much of the content of Witness to Love is virtue-based. It encourages couples to examine different virtues - love, honor, courage, respect, humility, and so on - and how those virtues can best be lived out in a marriage.

“By learning the virtues, you are growing closer to God and understanding fully how much He loves you and how you need to love your spouse in return, because God loves your spouse that much and He put you together by His grace,” Meghan said. “Doing that, well, that’s what gets you closer to Heaven - knowing how to love and accept someone for all of who they are.”

Meghan and Brendon’s marriage will be blessed in the Church this March. Meghan said she would “absolutely” recommend the Witness to Love mentorship program to other couples in similar situations.

“It’s definitely something I’ll want to reference going forward in our marriage,” she said.

Responding to the needs of the Church

When Bishop Joseph Strickland was first made bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas in 2012, strengthening marriage and family life was one of his top priorities.

“I wanted to really focus on marriage formation because in some ways I think we find ourselves needing to rebuild Christian society, and the stronger the marriages are, the stronger the families will be, the stronger (the faith of) the children will be, and I think that's where we can begin of a joyful revolution of deeper faith,” Strickland told CNA.

About a year ago, the Diocese of Tyler began using Witness to Love’s marriage prep program - “I liked the solid theology on marriage and the beautiful presentation of what the sacrament of marriage is about for us as Catholics,” Strickland said.

Located in a minority-Catholic area, Strickland said he sees the need for good convalidation formation continuing to grow, as more couples delay marriage, or decide to come back to the Church later in life.

“There are so many couples that need convalidation, and we’re really encouraging and wanting to support those couples,” he said.

Having worked on a marriage tribunal for years, Strickland said what appealed to him about Witness to Love, besides being theologically sound, was that it didn’t feel as “bureaucratic” as some other marriage and convalidation programs.

“You’re having to talk about this very personal information with a priest that you don’t know, maybe you don’t feel you’re that comfortable with them, maybe you’re not Catholic or haven’t been practicing your Catholic faith for a long time,” he said.

“So I think to have the mentor couple, who would be someone who is faithfully living their Catholic faith, to help them feel like they’re welcome and to navigate any issues they might have...would be important especially for couples who may have been married civilly for quite some time and have had a number of kids and are having to negotiate some significant complexities.”

Mary Rose said the mentor couple relationship is so key to Witness to Love because it works both ways - the convalidating couple receives formation, but the mentoring couple is also challenged to examine their marriage and “step it up”, so to speak, in order to be a good example. She said some mentor couples have told her that being asked to mentor another couple is what saved their own marriage.

“It’s kind of a dead end if you don’t open at least a crack for the Holy Spirit, and in Witness to Love that risk has always been allowing the couples to choose their own mentor,” she said.

“But it’s that invitation, that personal relationship - it’s a two-for-one evangelization effort that has made all the difference and transformed parish communities, because instead of a couple coming through the Church and never seeing them again, their mentor’s marriage is renewed, the community is renewed.”  

Pages