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CA assisted suicide law remains in legal limbo

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 19:02

Sacramento, Calif., Nov 29, 2018 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- A California court of appeals overturned Tuesday a lower court’s ruling that had put the state’s assisted suicide law in jeopardy.

The 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside, California overturned the lower court because it said that plaintiffs to a lawsuit opposing the law did not have sufficient standing to sue. The court said that the plaintiffs, doctors opposed to assisted suicide, did not show they were harmed by the law.

Because of its procedural decision, the court did not rule on the lawsuit’s substantive challenges to the constitutionality of the state’s assisted suicide law.

The End of Life Option Act was passed in 2015 during a special legislative session focused on health care funding. Assisted suicide had failed to pass in committee during the 2015 regular legislative session in California.

Under the law, adults able to make medical decisions are allowed to receive lethal prescriptions if two doctors confirm the patient is likely to die within six months from a terminal illness.

Judge Daniel Ottolia of the Riverside County Superior Court ruled in May that the legalization of assisted suicide was unconstitutional because it was passed during a special session intended to address only funding shortages resulted from Medi-Cal.

A legal challenge was filed by a group of doctors.

In May, plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen Larson told the Sacramento Bee that “The act itself was rushed through the special session of the legislature, and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this.”

This week, the appeal court sent the case back to the level of the lower court, where it is likely to be refiled by the plaintiffs, after being amended to address issues including the legal liability of doctors involved with assisted suicide.

Because the law does not clearly state that a doctor is not legally responsible for participating in the death of a patient, it conflicts with other California laws, and ambiguities could create legal liability.

Matt Valliere of the Patients Rights Action Fund lamented the court’s decision, noting the law lacks concern for vulnerable patients, like Stephanie Packer, who suffers from the lung cancer, scleroderma.

“Assisted suicide is not health care and places countless Californians at risk of deadly harm. Terminally ill Californian Stephanie Packer has firsthand experience of how this law has eliminated choice. Sadly the Court’s ruling in this case ignores this fact and fails to protect vulnerable patients whose care has been compromised by this dangerous public policy.”

Packer told Angelus News that insurance companies would not fund potentially life-saving treatments, but instead offered her assisted suicide drugs.

“The bill’s proponents tout dignity, choice, compassion, and painlessness. I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Choice is really an illusion for a very few,” she said.

“For too many, assisted suicide will be the only affordable ‘treatment’ that is offered them.”

While advocates for assisted suicide have expressed disappointment that litigation may last for years to come, Justice Marsha Slough said that courts should resolve challenges to the law quickly, and find for its constitutionality.

“We have a responsibility to expeditiously disperse the uncertainty this litigation has created for countless patients, family members, and loved ones, as well as physicians and workers in the health care sector,” Slough wrote, according to the Associated Press.

A report from the California Department of Public Health said 374 terminally ill patients ended their lives by assisted suicide in 2017 – the first full year that the law has been in effect.

The California Catholic Conference reiterated its opposition to assisted suicide in the beginning of 2018, criticizing the lack of data collected and a lack of transparency in the law’s implementation.

“There is far too much still not known about how this law is put into practice – especially as it pertains to disabled, elderly and other populations,” the conference said Jan. 24.

“California is failing to properly investigate some very fundamental questions such as whether patients were coerced into the procedure or somehow influenced and, especially for Medi-Cal patients, whether they had the option of good, effective palliative care.”


Santa Fe archdiocese to file for bankruptcy

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 18:51

Santa Fe, N.M., Nov 29, 2018 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced Thursday it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

At a press conference Nov. 29, Archbishop John Wester said that filing for bankruptcy is an equitable way to meet its responsibility to sexual abuse victims.

Wester said there are between 35-40 active claims against the archdiocese, which is comprised of more than 300,000 Catholics in northwestern New Mexico.

The announcement came the day after New Mexico’s attorney general executed a search warrant on the archdiocesan chancery office in Albuquerque. The attorney general was seeking files related to two priests accused of sexual abuse, Marvin Archuleta and Sabine Griego.

Archuleta was named on a list published by the archdiocese last year of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. According to the Albuquerque Journal, a lawsuit settled in 1994 accused the priest of sexually abusing a teenage boy in 1994.

Griego was forbidden in 1993 from priestly ministry, and laicized by the Vatican in 2005 at the request of Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who then led the Sante Fe archdiocese. Griego is alleged to have abused at least 32 children, KOB News reported.

After Wednesday’s search of the archdiocesan chancery, the archdiocese said that it had provided documents related to the two men.

“The archdiocese’s staff has worked cooperatively with the Attorney General’s agents, who have been courteous and professional throughout this process, to provide the requested documents.”
“The archdiocese continues in its commitment to cooperate with and assist law enforcement in the pursuit of justice for all victims of the terrible crime of clergy child sexual abuse. We look forward to continued cooperation with the Attorney General and other law enforcement agencies in these efforts, while ensuring compliance with existing court orders to ensure the privacy of victims and innocent parties is protected,” the statement added.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe was not available for comment after its announcement Thursday.


‘We must not hide from suffering,’ Iraqi archbishop says on Red Wednesday

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Nov 29, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Landmarks from London to Sydney were illuminated with red light Wednesday, in tribute to the modern martyrs around the world who have offered their lives for Christ and the Church.

In Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics and Church leaders from four continents gathered inside the illuminated shrine to pray solemn vespers for the persecuted Church.


“For me, it's really a blessed moment where we have the whole Church praying for us persecuted churches around the world,” Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq told CNA at the event Nov. 28.


Red Wednesday shows “that we are one in Christ. If any part of the body of Christ is suffering, the whole body is suffering,” he continued.


The Iraqi archbishop also spoke of suffering in the context of the “purification” of the Catholic Church, describing not only the persecution of the faithful in his home country, but also touching on Catholics’ suffering due to the sex abuse crisis in the West.


“We feel the pain of the Church today because of the sins of its servants, and I believe that the Holy Spirit is working in the Church for its painful cleansing from within to become purified and to be the bride of Jesus Christ,” Warda said at the prayer vigil.


“Jesus gave up everything only to be holy to the Father,” he said. “Love, peace, and forgiveness will always remain and have the last word. He will achieve victory with his grace.”


“God gave us the grace to overcome ISIS,” Warda said.


Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio, and Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri, Nigeria were among the distinguished guests at the basilica event organized by Aid to the Church in Need.


“We must not hide from suffering when it comes. We must firmly address it in faith, love, and prayer,” Warda said.


The Iraqi bishop shared stories and statistics of the suffering that his people have endured. “Since 2003, 61 churches and shrines were burned, destroyed, or harmed. Over 55,000 homes seized, 150,000 Christians were displaced in 2015. Countless Christians have been kidnapped or murdered,” he said.


“The Church in Iraq is a martyr Church,” Warda said. “Our persecution continues to make us a church of peace and reconciliation, transforming us into an apostolic, missionary church.”


“Persecution brings us closer to Jesus … We are called upon to remain faithful to the Gospel” through “an invitation to the cross,” he continued.


Throughout the prayer vigil, the names of 20 martyrs killed between 2017 and 2018 were read aloud. Priests were among the martyrs from Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Venezuela, Madagascar, and Kenya.


Those gathered in the basilica prayed for Catholics who remain missing since being kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and Mali.


Specific attacks against large groups of Christians in Egypt, Pakistan, Central African Republic, and other countries were also remembered. On November 15, 42 people died in an attack on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Alindao, Central African Republic.


Aid to the Church in Need began the “Red Wednesday” initiative in an effort to draw attention to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world today. On Nov. 28, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Westminster Cathedral in London, and more than a dozen other  buildings were lit red for the evening.


Warda told CNA, “This is really a time for prayer, a time to be with the persecuted one. It gives the Church a mission today … to be with those who have been persecuted for their faith, been neglected, been marginalized, to feel their pain, even when we are in distance.”


“I take this message back home and will tell them that the whole Church is praying for you,” he continued. “It makes us more strong in knowing that we are persecuted, but not forgotten.”

Analysis: How sexual misconduct reforms might begin in U.S. dioceses

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 16:19

Washington D.C., Nov 29, 2018 / 02:19 pm (CNA).- Before it began, many U.S. bishops expected their November general assembly in Baltimore to produce something tangible - a new policy, structure, or system – that would help them reassure Catholics that they were responding to months of sexual abuse scandals breaking across the Church.
But after a last-minute Vatican’s decision to suspend a vote on draft measures until after a Rome meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences in February, it seems likely that no universal response to the crisis will emerge until at least the second half of 2019.
Some U.S. bishops have told CNA they now realize that if they want to initiate new reforms, they’ll have to do so in their own dioceses, using the ordinary prerogatives of a diocesan bishop.
As they wait for Rome to form its response to the crisis, there are several options available to bishops who are looking to improve diocesan mechanisms for handling clerical misconduct.

And as bishops begin to implement new policies at the diocesan level, their local action might provide useful examples for study and consideration ahead of the February meeting Rome.
The Promoter of Justice
One of the common threads across most proposals for responding to the abuse crisis is the call more independent, lay-led involvement in handling accusations of abuse or sexual misconduct.

Independent lay involvement is seen increasingly as a necessary aspect of transparent and accountable investigations. Bishops have suggested such involvement is the best defense against clericalism, and a defense against any the temptation for bishops to shirk from imposing justice on themselves or clerics they (rightly) view as their spiritual sons.
While U.S. dioceses already have independent lay review boards, concerns have been raised  about how such bodies fit within the Church’s structure and canonical processes,.
There is a fine line between independent accountability and “outsourcing” problems. The need to preserve canonical coherence in the handling of accusations is essential to a credible outcome.
One ready-made option for individual bishops to consider is the role of the promoter of justice. This is a position in canon law which functions as something akin to a public prosecutor or district attorney. Every diocese is to have one, and they are supposed to intervene in all cases concerning the public good.
In many dioceses, the promoter of justice is a priest who has to combine the role with other chancery or tribunal duties, leaving an important function as often little more than a name on paper. But this does not have to be the case.
Canon law provides that the promoter of justice can be either cleric or layman, with the only requirements for the role being an “unimpaired reputation,” a doctorate or license in canon law, and a proven “prudence and zeal for justice.”
Some observers have suggested that any diocesan bishop could, if he wished, appoint a lay expert in handling sexual abuse cases as his promoter of justice and empower that office with the independence and resources needed to deliver a truly credible, and canonically coherent response to allegations. This could include the use of experts in the fields of civil criminal law, psychology, and sexual abuse.
While cases of sexual abuse of minors are reserved to Rome, a sufficiently independent and well-resourced local promoter of justice could conduct the preliminary investigation into all accusations of sexual abuse – including against the local bishop – in a way which would be externally credible and canonically sound.
A serious and independent office of promoter of justice, run by a lay expert in canon law, could also help address the current confusion of terms which often clouds the handling of cases.  Canonical authorities in Rome and lay experts and civil lawyers in America often mean and understand very different things when using words like “credible” or “substantiated” to talk about accusations.
A well-resourced promoter of justice might also bring a renewed level of canonical formality and rigor to cases involving clerical misconduct with adults. To help this to happen, bishops could make use of another power available to them: they could make local laws.
Enhanced Local Law
While accusations of child sexual abuse have drawn the most attention, most of the allegations facing Archbishop Theodore McCarrick concern alleged sexual behavior with seminarians and priests.
While such behavior, either coercive or consensual, is certainly sinful, many have noted that there is no clear canonical crime with which to charge McCarrick, or other clerics similarly accused.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law contained a comprehensive list of illicit sexual behavior. Clerics who engaged in sexual activity, either with men or women, minors or adults, were subject to a range of penalties up to and including laicization.
The whole code was revised following Vatican Council II, and much of the Church’s long list of canonical crimes was simplified or removed from the new version, promulgated in 1983. Many were left with the impression that the Church was moving away from the idea penal law at all, seeing it as out of step with a modern, more pastoral approach.

However, the bishops charged with reforming the Church’s penal law had an entirely different motivation.
Universal penal law was not downscaled to create a disciplinary vacuum, but in order to clear space for individual bishops to pass local laws best suited to their own circumstances.
It is within the power of every bishop to pass particular canon law for his own diocese. Such legislation could be introduced relatively easily and could address illicit sexual behavior by clerics in the diocese with adults, consensual or otherwise. Such laws could also provide for aggravating factors, like public scandal caused and the abuse of pastoral or hierarchical relationships between parishioners, seminarians, priests, and bishops.
Bishops could also lay out clear and escalating penalties for priests who are unable or unwilling to live chastely. Depending on circumstances, an initial moral lapse by a priest could be met with a lesser punishment, enhanced supervision, and restricted ministry. Those who repeatedly offend could be subjected to increasingly punitive measures, including the possibility that a bishop might ask the Vatican to remove the priest from the clerical state altogether.
Misconduct and Mental Illness
With a clear canonical framework to work from, bishops could also bring a sense consistency and rigor to clerical disciplinary procedures often haphazardly applied.

Very often, the first instinct of a bishop when dealing with a priest who has engaged in sexual misconduct is to send him for psychological assessment and treatment.
While it is true that some priests can find themselves isolated in their ministry and living under enormous pressure, illicit sexual behavior – either with adults or minors – is not itself evidence of a mental disorder.

For years, some canonical experts have said that sending, for example, two priests found engaged in consensual homosexual acts for “a psychological assessment” is a step that begins a process from the presumption of moral irresponsibility, and therefore undermines the Church's penal law.

The current scandal might lead to a change in that practice.
Some bishops have also found that “medicalizing” canonically criminal behavior can tie their hands at the end of the process. If a priest who has committed a grave sexual offence is sent for treatment, the expectation is that he should be returned to ministry once therapists believe treatment has been effective - even if the bishop has his own doubts about the priest’s moral or personal aptitude for priestly ministry.

But in the wake of the McCarrick scandal and ensuing revelations, bishops may soon move away from the “therapeutic model,” and begin treating acts of grave immorality principally as matters of justice and mercy, punishment and reform. This move, if it happens, would leave them free to account for the damage to victims and to Church community caused by offending clerics, and allow them to make their own prudential judgment about a priest's future.
To many Catholics, the crisis facing the Church in the United States, while caused by sexual abuse, has developed into a crisis of leadership. Earlier this week, JD Flynn wrote about the danger of a “paralysis of analysis.”  Some bishops have said they are frustrated with the pace of global reforms; as they wait, they might decide that it is time to act for themselves.

Senate moves to end U.S. support in Yemeni conflict

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Nov 29, 2018 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday in favor of a procedural motion to advance a resolution that could end U.S. involvement in the conflict in Yemen. By a margin of nearly two-to-one, senators backed a motion to advance a resolution to invoke the War Powers Act and subject U.S. support for Saudi Arabia to congressional authorization.


The war in Yemen involves government forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates battling Houthi rebels supported by Iran. It has been termed the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world” by UNICEF.


The United States has been supplying logistical and intelligence support to Saudi forces participating in the fighting, including offering mid-air refueling for military planes engaged in regular bombing missions.


In addition to logistical support, the United States accounts for 60 percent of arms imports to Saudi Arabia.


At least 6,500 civilians have been killed by fighting over the last three years, as have over 10,000 combatants. In October, Stephen Anderson, the U.N.’s World Food Program Yemen country director, said that over 500,000 people have fled their homes because of fighting since June.


The war has also led to severe food shortages in Yemen, with Catholic aid agencies estimating that more than 17 million people – sixty percent of the population – are now affected by hunger. Tens of thousands believed to have died of starvation. The country has also seen outbreaks of cholera, which have also claimed thousands of lives.


A January report to the United Nations Security Council concluded that Saudi-backed blockades on humanitarian and commercial goods entering Yemen were “essentially using the threat of starvation as a bargaining tool.”


The 63-37 Senate vote on Nov. 29 means that the bipartisan motion will likely come up for further debate in the senate next week. The motion would invoke the War Powers Resolution, asserting congress’s right to authorize the commitment of American forces to overseas conflicts.


The 1973 Act says that the president, as commander-in-chief, can only deploy U.S. forces into “hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated” without congressional authorization in cases of national emergency created by an attack on the United States.


Such involvement includes the use of U.S. forces “to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged.”


While the United States has historically supported Saudi Arabia as a key strategic ally and a regional counter-balance to the institutionally anti-American Iranian regime, the escalating toll of the conflict has led to mounting criticism of U.S. involvement.


More recently, the apparent murder and dismemberment of dissident Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Many reports have suggests that Khashoggi’s death was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.


Several senators said that their vote in favor of Wednesday’s motion was directly tied to a lack of credible accounts of the Saudi regime’s involvement in Khashoggi’s death, and the Trump administration’s refusal to confront the Saudi’s over the matter.


In addition to all the Democrat senators, fourteen Republicans backed the motion, which had failed to pass the senate just nine months ago.


Senator Linsey Graham R-SC voted in favor of the motion, despite telling reporters he did not agree with it and believed the War Powers Act was “unconstitutional.”


Graham said he was “pissed” with the lack of answers about Khashoggi, and that “the way the administration has handled the [situation with] Saudi Arabia is just not acceptable."


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed senators on the situation before the vote, later telling press that "there is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

US Congress passes bill to relieve Christians, Yazidis in Iraq and Syria

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US House of Representatives passed Tuesday H.R. 390, a bill titled “Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act,” which seeks to assist with the rebuilding of the Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.

Having also passed the Senate, the bill now will go to President Donald Trump, who has indicated he is willing to sign it.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 47 members of Congress. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) was the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the bill. The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27.

H.R. 390 would provide funding to entities, including those who are faith-based, that are assisting with the humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery efforts in Iraq and Syria to religious and ethnic minorities in the area.

It would also direct the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the area, as well as identify potential warning signs of violence against religious or ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.

Additionally, the bill will support entities that are conducting criminal investigations into members of the Islamic State who committed “crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq,” and will encourage foreign governments to identify suspected Islamic State perpetrators in security databases and security screenings to assist with their capture and prosecution.

The Senate unanimously passed a slightly amended version of the bill Oct. 11.

“The fact that this bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously shows that the American response to genocide transcends partisanship and that there is enormous political will to protect and preserve religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians and Yazidis, who were targeted for extinction,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson upon the bill’s passage. Anderson testified at a congressional hearing about the bill.

“We thank Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill’s author, and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), its lead cosponsor, for their leadership in partnership with Knights of Columbus on this important bill,” he said.

Smith noted that “over-stretched groups on the ground” have been “fill[ing] the gap” in providing aid to survivors of Islamic State. He said that so far, Aid to the Church in Need has contributed more than $60 million, and the Knights of Columbus more than $20 million, to the region's response.

The bill took 17 months to pass, Smith told CNA, and was introduced three separate years. Smith was able to visit Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and he said he found the work the archbishop was doing there to be inspiring. The congressman said that it was important to include faith-based entities among those receiving funding under the bill.

Since Islamic State came to power in the region, the Christian and Yazidi populations have been decimated, Warda explained to CNA. And even though Islamic State is no longer in power and the area has been liberated, the region’s Christians are still struggling due to the conflict.

Many people have not been able to rebuild their homes, and a lack of job prospects cause
people to leave even though the situation is largely safe, said Warda. In order to provide long-term security for the region’s Christians, he said that there needs to be an emphasis on economic opportunities for young people.

“I'm a shepherd there. I have to really speak to my people there and tell them that it's safe. It's safe to be and to prosper at the same time,” he said. “So, providing jobs. Helping and really realizing some of the economical projects for the young people, to help them stay and prosper in the area."

Many of the area’s Christians fled to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. While Warda said that he would love to work on luring them back to Iraq, he conceded that this task is “really difficult.”

Another effort to ensure long-term safety for religious minorities will require a cultural shift, Warda explained. The deaths or displacement of Christians and Yazidis are considered “collateral damage” by the government, said Warda. This mentality resulted in “the majority of the persecution” faced by those groups.

He laid blame on the public school curriculum used in Iraq, which provides no information at all about religious minority groups in the country.

“There’s nothing about Christians,” he explained, noting that non-Muslims are described as infidels, and conspiracy theories about these groups abound.

Warda was particularly pleased with the inclusion of support for the criminal prosecution of Islamic State members who committed genocide. This, he said, will ensure that "history will not be written by people like ISIS. For the first time, the victims of this genocide will be able to tell their story and to provide history from their side."

The ability for these groups to have their stories heard will be a way to ensure that this genocide and displacement does not happen again.

"Unless you tell Muslims that there's something wrong in the way that you teach Islam, the history will repeat itself,” the bishop explained. Even though Islamic State was defeated, “the ideology is still there.”

“Writing the history from the side of the victims; it would help the other (side) to realize 'okay, never again,” he said.


US bishops ask Senate to pass prison reform bill

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a letter last week urging the Senate to pass the bipartisan First Step Act, which aims to “improve the lives of thousands of people impacted by our federal criminal justice system.”

The First Step Act, currently on the Senate calendar, would end the shackling of pregnant prisoners and would reduce and restrict enhanced sentencing for prior drug felonies.

The act would also establish a maximum geographical distance between prisoners and families, and would help those returning from prison to obtain government ID documents.

The Nov. 20 letter of support was signed by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Sister Donna Markham, President & CEO of Catholic Charities USA; and Ralph Middlecamp, President of the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

According to the Congressional Research Office, there has been an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners from 1980 to 2015.

“We work with millions of people on the margins each year, tens of thousands of whom are somehow involved in the criminal justice system, including victims of crime and persons returning from prison,” the letter reads.

“Many of our ministries are focused on helping returning citizens get training and employment so that, once they have served their time, they have the tools they need to make contributions to their families and their community going forward. We know that the system can do better in how it interacts with the root causes of crime, poverty, and lack of community safety.”

The authors praised the revised act, noting that it also allocates additional financial resources for rehabilitative programming when inmates leave prison.

“The criminal justice system has many problems, and this bill will not solve all of them,” the letter reads.

“It has taken many decades for mass incarceration and racial disparities to build up in the system, and it will take a long time for the reform that is needed to achieve a system that is truly just. This bill is a good first step in that direction.”

The letter was sent to Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), who is the sponsor of the First Step Act, and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Pro-life students ask Trump to defund Planned Parenthood

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students for Life has urged U.S. President Donald Trump to defund Planned Parenthood, and encouraged pro-life advocates to ask the administration to do so.

The pro-life organization issued a letter to President Trump Nov. 27 signed by the Kristan Hawkins, president for Students for Life of America.

In the message, Hawkins thanks Trump for pro-life measures he has undertaken, and invites him to pursue five steps to defund Planned Parenthood.

The letter challenged the president to keep his “promises and defund Planned Parenthood across the board, redirecting those resources to places and programs that actually serve the medical needs of women and their families.”

The five steps called the administration to refuse to sign any budget that does not defund abortion providers; to formalize the Protect Life rule for Title X regulations; to appoint pro-life judges; to stop funding fetal tissue research that pays for parts of aborted infants; and to sever the abortion providers’ connection to sex education.

The letter highlights the last stance, stating that Planned Parenthood uses sex education to fuel its own marketing schemes, “to instruct teens to buy their products and engage in behaviors they endorse, and then selling abortions to those same students when their advice and products fail.”

Hawkins emphasized Planned Parenthood’s role in providing abortion, noting the organization falsely promotes itself as a major supporter for women’s healthcare. She said the group’s marketing department has publicized that abortion is not its number one seller. This is not true, she said.

Comparing Planned Parenthood to other community health centers, Hawkins said Planned Parenthood provides fewer services, is inefficient in its spending, and serves millions fewer patients.

She said Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million a year from federal funding. This money should be distributed to programs and places which better serve women, she said.

Students for Life gave directions for citizens to help promote this cause as well. The organization urged people to tweet to President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and to call the White House switchboard.

At the end of her letter, Hawkins challenges Trump to focus funding on more pro-life health services, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers and Pregnancy Resource Centers.

“Please support serving the needs of mothers and their children, born and preborn, by ensuring that the places receiving federal dollars treat everyone as a patient deserving of life. Planned Parenthood must be defunded so that we can better service women and their preborn children’s lives.”

Why do Central Americans join ‘migrant caravans?’

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 14:41

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 28, 2018 / 12:41 pm (CNA).- Controversial “caravans” of Central American migrants have made headlines in recent weeks, and a quagmire at the U.S. southern border remains unresolved.

As policymakers and migrants consider their next steps, some have asked why migrants leave Central America to make a dangerous journey with an uncertain outcome.

Rick Jones, senior adviser on Migration and Public Policy for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Latin America, pointed to “three main reasons: violence, climate change and the lack of opportunities” in their countries of origin.

The first “migrant caravan” of 2018 left Oct. 13 from San Pedro Sula in Honduras. By the time they reached Mexico City in early November, they numbered more than 5,600 people. Other caravans followed in their steps.

“El Salvador and Honduras are among the five most violent countries in the world. In San Pedro Sula, for example, the homicide rate is 100 per 100,000 inhabitants,” Jones said.

For comparison, Jones said that in Los Angeles, “the homicide rate is 6 per 100,000 inhabitants.

“The difference in the levels of violence is overwhelming.”

Regarding climate change, Jones noted that “most rural people  in Central America plant corn and beans which require a certain level of rainfall. If there's too much water, they lose [their crop],  if there's no rain they lose [their crop]. And in Honduras, in the last five years they have had four years of drought, and this year 2018 they had drought followed by flooding. The people lost everything.”

“Finally, the people don't have many options for work. Most people in El Salvador, for example, work  ‘off the books’ and make two or three dollars a day. That's not enough to meet basic needs.”

Jones said that the migrants “suffer along the way” to the United States. “They walk between eight and nine hours a day and their feet blister, their shoes have holes in them. At this point, many are sick, with respiratory infections and even pneumonia due to the low temperatures in northern Mexico.”

“We're working with some sisters who are caring for them, but that's not enough,” he said.

Jones said that CRS works in Central America with rural people, business owners, and young people looking for employment. Programs look to improve circumstances before people feel the need to migrate toward an uncertain future.

“We have a program called ‘Young Builders’ where we help young people get jobs. And we've placed about 15,000 young people in jobs throughout the last ten years. But it's a drop in the ocean.  
There's more than a million youths who aren't studying or working.”

They also help rural people “have real alternatives to planting corn and beans.”

“In El Salvador we're supporting the reintroduction of the production of cocoa and that's generating income, and helps to better manage the water and the issue of the land,” he said.

With these kind of projects, he said, people can hope to earn income and an improve the quality of their lives within their native countries.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

District attorney searches Houston archdiocese

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 12:11

Houston, Texas, Nov 28, 2018 / 10:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Investigators have executed a search warrant on the chancery offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. A search warrant obtained by the district attorney’s office for Montgomery County was served Wednesday morning by officers from the Texas Rangers and Conroe Police Department.

According to local media reports, the district attorney’s office is seeking documents related to the case of Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who was arrested by Conroe police in September on four charges of indecency to children.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was unavailable to comment on the search, or to clarify whether it was limited to the case of La Rosa-Lopez.

The district attorney’s office has already conducted searches at two churches where La Rosa-Lopez had been previously assigned – St. John Fisher in Richmond and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe – as well as the Shalom Treatment Center in Splendora, where La Rosa-Lopez was sent for evaluation and treatment in the early 2000s.

While stationed at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez was accused in 2001 of kissing and inappropriately touching a 16 year-old girl. Following consideration of the allegation by both civil authorities and the archdiocesan review board in 2003, La Rosa-Lopez was allowed to return to ministry in 2004.

On Aug. 10, 2018, a 36-year-old man alleged to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abused him from 1998-2001, when he was a high school student and La Rosa-Lopez was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish.

The archdiocese said in a statement following La Rosa-Lopez’s arrest Sept. 11 that it had immediately reported the man's allegation to Child Protective Services.

In October, a third individual came forward with allegations that La Rosa-Lopez had sexually abused him on several occasions during the mid-1990s. According to reports, a lawyer for the third accuser said that the family of the alleged victim had reported La Rosa-Lopez at the time.

La Rosa-Lopez is currently released on bail and scheduled to return to court in January.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has found himself at the forefront of the American hierarchy’s response to the sexual abuse crisis. He chaired the U.S. bishops’ conference general assembly in early November, during which he announced that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops had instructed them to delay voting on a proposed code of episcopal conduct or on the creation of an independent commission for investigating allegations of misconduct against bishops.

Last week, DiNardo was the subject of a television report claiming he had knowingly left two priests in active ministry despite “credible accusations” of abuse having been made against them. Cardinal DiNardo denied that either case was “credible.”


CDC report says abortion rates continue to fall

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 11:44

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 09:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that abortion rates in 2015 reached their lowest level in 10 years, although limitations in data collection make it difficult to assess actual abortion numbers in the U.S.

The CDC has monitored the number of women who seek a legal abortion since 1969, and relies on voluntary reporting of abortion statistics from the areas being studied. The CDC’s analysis covered the years 2006-2015.

The analysis found a range of abortion rates in 2015 across different areas of the U.S. - from 2.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years in South Dakota, to 23.1 abortions per 1,000 women in New York.

A total of 638,169 abortions for 2015 were reported to CDC, leading to a ratio of 188 abortions per 1,000 live births. This is compared to over 1.4 million abortions in 1990.

The data suggested a decrease in the number of abortions among women 15-44 by 26 percent, and an overall decrease in the number of abortions per 1,000 live births by 19 percent, compared to 2006.

The majority of women who had abortions in 2015 were in their 20s. Nearly 60 percent of those who had abortions in 2015 were women who had given birth before, and nearly half had had abortions before.

The analysis notably does not include data on the number of abortions performed during 2006–2015 in the states of California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. The report notes its own limitations, stating that these three states “did not provide CDC data on a consistent annual basis.”  

“During the period covered by this report, the total annual number of abortions reported to CDC was 68%–71% of the number recorded by the [Planned Parenthood-aligned] Guttmacher Institute through a national census of abortion providers,” the report reads.

California is the most populous state in the U.S. and has almost no laws restricting abortion.

Tennessee diocese seeks to exhume remains of pastor on path to sainthood

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 05:37

Knoxville, Tenn., Nov 28, 2018 / 03:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Knoxville is seeking to unearth the remains of a Tennessee pastor whose canonization cause is currently open.

Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan was a diocesan priest who cared for the sick in Chattanooga, Tennessee, passing away at 33 years old from yellow fever.

The diocese is seeking permission to transfer the priest’s remains from Mt. Olivet Cemetery to the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.

A petition was filed earlier this month to ask a judge for permission to exhume the remains.

Nell Southerland, assistant attorney for Hamilton County, said the request will likely go unopposed but is unsure if Tennessee law gives judges the power to allow for exhumation without the permission of a known relative, the Times Free Press reported.

The diocese must confirm that Ryan was a real person and not a “pious legend.” However, there is strong evidence pointing to the priest’s existence, like letters between clergymen and newspaper clippings.

In the 1800s, the Ryan family immigrated to New York from County Tipperary, Ireland, where the surname Ryan is popular. According to the Times Free Press, this made it difficult to determine which Patrick Ryan was the priest, noting there are 25 identical names recorded.  

Ryan studied the priesthood at St. Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1869, he was ordained in Nashville. Later, he was sent to Chattanooga, where he opened the town’s oldest private school.

Having passed away in 1878, the priest was originally buried among his flock per his request. In 1886, he was transferred to Olivet Cemetery during a horse and buggy procession.

Fr. David Carter, Knoxville canon lawyer and pastor of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, said Ryan had offered his life to heroically serve people suffering from the yellow fever epidemic during the 19th century.

“Patrick Ryan was the pastor of the Catholic church here, and when the yellow fever came to town, instead of fleeing, he heroically administered to the people knowing its dangers,” he said, according to the Times Free Press.

At the U.S. bishops’ General Assembly in Baltimore in 2016, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville highlighted the Servant of God’s work.

“Even though it happened many years ago, Father Ryan’s work administering to the sick exemplifies charity and selflessness and remind us of how we should serve others.”

Free Catholic school tuition offered to kids displaced by Camp Fire

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 20:52

Sacramento, Calif., Nov 27, 2018 / 06:52 pm (CNA).- After 17 days of scorching more than 150,000 acres in northern California, the Camp Fire - one of the states deadliest and most destructive wildfires on record - has finally been contained.

The fire killed at least 88 people, but that number is expected to rise as nearly 300 people are still unaccounted for. It destroyed some 14,000 residencies and left the town of Paradise, in Butte County, essentially non-existent.

Paradise sits in the northern part of the Diocese of Sacramento. Before the fire was even fully contained, the department of schools for the diocese announced that it would be offering free tuition at its Catholic schools for any Butte County students displaced by the wildfire.

“Paradise it not that small of a city. It has - or had - nearly 30,000 inhabitants, so the fire left around 4,000 school kids displaced, without any schools to go back to,” Lincoln Snyder, executive director of schools for the Diocese of Sacramento, told CNA.

About 90 percent of Paradise is completely burned, and “what remains probably isn’t going to be usable for a long time,” he said.

After meeting with the school board and Bishop Jaime Soto, the diocese announced last week that any open spots in diocesan Catholic schools would be offered to displaced Camp Fire students at no cost to the families. Seats are available for students in preschool through high school.

Normally, tuition for a single student for the remainder of this school year would be about $5,000-$6,000. The free tuition is being funded through a diocesan fundraiser for displaced students, and will cover all school expenses including uniforms, backpacks, field trip money, hot lunches, and any other school-related costs.

“We are heartbroken over the devastation the Camp Fire has caused, and the number of families it has left displaced in its wake. We understand that it may be a long time before students can return to their schools and classrooms in the city of Paradise, and we would like to help by opening up our schools to Butte County students, grades Preschool – 12, who have been displaced by the fires,” Snyder said in a press release announcing the offer.

“Many families have lost nearly everything in this fire, and being back in a school can be a major stabilizing force in a child’s life. Some classes in some of our schools could accommodate more students, and we have thus decided to open those seats to affected families who find themselves near those schools,” he said.

“Though our schools are funded by tuition, we will enroll displaced Butte County students at no cost to the family for the remainder of the academic year.”

So far, Snyder told CNA that they have already been able to enroll several displaced students in Catholic schools, and that the diocese can accommodate dozens or even hundreds of displaced students, though the number of open seats per school varies.

“We’ve had several students apply and we’re making good on the offer, and we’re excited to be able to offer these open spots to the students who’ve been displaced,” he said.

Funds are being collected through a page on the diocesan website. The appeal for the campaign states that while the exact need is difficult to predict at the moment, the funds collected will go to helping these new students, as well as the students already in area Catholic schools who have lost their homes in the fire.

Chinese scientists, officials denounce gene-editing of embryos

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 19:21

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 05:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Chinese scientist’s claim to have created a gene-edited baby has been met with an outpouring of condemnation, with critics voicing alarm at what they described as a disregard for biomedical ethics.

Approximately 120 scientists released a letter condemning the research, Reuters reported. The Chinese-language letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” warning, “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

Earlier this week, Chinese researcher He Jiankui claimed that he had altered embryos for seven couples, resulting in one twin pregnancy so far. There is no independent confirmation of this claim, the Associated Press noted.

He says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection, by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

Shenzhen's Southern University of Science and Technology of China, where He is an associate professor, said in a statement that the researcher had not made the school aware of the gene editing he was doing.

According to Business Insider, the university said He had been on unpaid leave since this February and was not expected to return until January 2021. It is not clear why he had been placed on unpaid leave.

The university said that the use of genetic editing technology in human embryo research constitutes a serious violation of academic ethics. It announced that it would be conducting an investigation into He’s work.

He says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

Catholic bioethics experts have warned that while gene editing may sometimes be morally acceptable, it poses numerous ethical challenges that must be addressed in order to ensure its legitimacy.

Chinese officials and scientific organizations also issued harsh condemnations of the reported gene editing.

The Chinese Society for Stem Cell Research and China’s Genetics Society released a joint statement saying He’s experimentation posed “tremendous safety risks for the research subjects” and violated “the consensus reached by the international science community,” Reuters reported.

Xinhua’s official news agency also rejected the experimentation, stressing that ethical standards must not be ignored in scientific research.

The Shenzhen government medical ethics committee is reportedly investigating the matter.

Court motions filed as atheist group sues for churches to file tax returns

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a motion to intervene after lawyers from the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the IRS, arguing that churches should not be exempt from having to file tax returns and other forms with the IRS.

Currently, churches and religious institutions in the United States are tax exempt and do not have to file these forms.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation lawsuit, Nonbelief Relief v. Kautter, was filed with the District Court for the District of Columbia in October on behalf of Nonbelief Relief, Inc., which describes itself as “a humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters.” David Kautter, the acting commissioner of the IRS, was named as respondent to the suit.

The suit argues that allowing churches to be exempt from filing tax returns is a violation of the Establishment Clause, as it “results in obligations imposed on secular non-profits, including [Nonbelief Relief], that are not imposed on churches.”

On Monday, Nov. 26, attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion to intervene on behalf of New Macedonia Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. The motion argues that the church would be greatly affected if it were forced to file tax returns, saying such a requirement would be “costly, time-consuming, and intrusive.”

The ADF argues that requiring churches like New Macedonia Baptist Church to file various IRS forms would take time, money, and energy away from other aspects of the church’s ministry in the community, including worship services, a food pantry, and youth outreach programs. Additionally, they argue, the forms would make potentially sensitive information, such as ministerial salaries and church donors, publicly available.

If the lawsuit were to be successful and the church refused to file forms with the IRS, it would lose its tax-exempt status and result in a “devastating” loss of income, the ADF said.

ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley criticized “activist groups with an axe to grind against religion,” and said that suits of this kind would themselves violate the First Amendment by unnecessarily entangling the government with religion.

“Requiring churches to file tax returns with the IRS places too much power—and too much sensitive information about church operations and finances—in the hands of the government. That’s why the First Amendment legitimately blocks any requirement that churches file such returns.”

The Supreme Court has consistently sided with churches on questions of government involvement in their operations. In the 1819 Supreme Court decision McCulloch v. Maryland, the court warned that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” Since that ruling, the court has often ruled to keep government interference in religious institutions to a minimum.

Catholics in Tennessee, Virginia pray as their bishops face surgery

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 16:00

Arlington, Va., Nov 27, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Catholics in the Dioceses of Arlington, Virginia, and Knoxville, Tennessee, are praying for their bishops as they face serious health challenges.


Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, VA, is recovering after a scheduled surgery for prostate cancer on Nov. 27. Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville announced in a press release Monday that he will be undergoing a heart catheterization procedure “sometime in December” that will require him to spend at least one night in the hospital.


Burbidge was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall, the diocese told CNA.


“Those entrusted with his medical care expect a full recovery,” diocesan communications manager Angela Pellerano told CNA, who added that the surgery went “well.” This recovery will include two weeks of no activity, followed by another four to six weeks of limited activity.


Burbidge’s last public appearance prior to his surgery was celebrating Mass on Thanksgiving. On Sunday, news of his surgery was announced throughout the diocese, and the faithful were asked to keep their bishop in their prayers.


Bishop Burbidge became the fourth bishop of the Arlington diocese in 2016. Previously, he was the head of the Diocese of Raleigh.


Bishop Stika’s heart issue was discovered during a routine checkup, the Knoxville diocese said in a statement. After the procedure in December, doctors will then decide what further treatment may be required, but they are “hopeful” that the stent will solve the problem.


“It is best that we found this issue now, rather than later,” Bishop Stika said.


“It’s good to know that my guardian angels are always working out with me.”


In 2004, Stika underwent a multiple bypass surgery. Five years later, in 2009, he suffered a minor heart attack and, though briefly hospitalized, made a full recovery.


Stika said that he intends to be back on the altar before Christmas and that he expects his recovery to be very quick. In the meantime, he has requested prayers for himself and his doctors leading up to his procedure, which will likely happen around Dec. 13.

U.S. Catholics respond to use of tear gas at the border

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic groups have reacted to the use of tear gas at the U.S. - Mexico border Sunday, calling the situation “sad,” and expressing concern about the instability of the situation at the border.


The comments came in response to an incident Nov. 25, in which U.S. Customs and Border Patrol deployed tear gas against a crowd at the San Ysidro border crossing near Tijuana, Mexico.


The incident, which closed the port of entry, involved migrants from the so-called “migrant caravan” from Central America, many of whom have expressed a desire for asylum status in the United States. Some members of the caravan, which has been in Tijuana for the past several days, attempted to enter the U.S. in a large group, resulting in a confrontation with Mexican law enforcement.


U.S. border officials said that officers had rocks and other objects thrown at them from the crowd. In response, the border was closed for several hours and tear gas was used to break up the group.


The use of tear gas is not permitted by international law in situations of war, but is permitted for law-enforcement use.


“We are sad that such force has been used,” said Bill Canny, the executive director of the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services, in a statement provided to EWTN.


“The reports of better cooperation between Mexico and the US are encouraging as this is an important border issue for both countries. We are of course most interested in the well-being of those fleeing violence, persecution, and severe economic deprivation, and expect our laws and international laws vis a vis asylum seekers and migrants will be respected,” he added.


Canny’s sentiment was echoed by Lawrence E. Couch, the director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.


In a statement, Couch said the use of tear gas on the caravan represented a “sharp escalation” of the immigration crisis.


“When we start to tear gas women and children, we know we have gone down the wrong road,” said Couch, calling it “our duty and moral imperative to protect and welcome our brothers and sisters.”


Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, defended on Sunday the agency’s response. In a statement released on Twitter, McAleen said that the situation was “extremely dangerous” and involved over 1,000 members of the caravan.


“(Sunday)’s incident involved large groups of migrants ignoring and overwhelming Mexican law enforcement, then attempting to enter the United States through vehicle lanes at San Ysidro and El Chaparral, and then through breaches in the international border fence between ports of entry,” said McAleenan.


Some members of the group assaulted agents and officers, he said. Four agents were hit with rocks thrown by members of the crowd, but none were seriously injured due to protective gear.


While the use of tear gas Sunday attracted strong media coverage and reaction, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has deployed the measure multiple times in recent years. Between the years 2012 and 2016, tear gas was used 79 times along the border.

Pope names Texas auxiliary to lead Diocese of Monterey

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 10:00

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has chosen Bishop Daniel Elias Garcia as the new Bishop of Monterey, California. The diocese of Monterey has been without a bishop since the death of Bishop Richard Garcia in July.

The announcement was made Tuesday, Nov. 27, and released by both the Vatican press office and the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Daniel Garcia has served as auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Austin since his consecration on March 3, 2015. He was the first auxiliary bishop in the history of the diocese.

A native of Texas, Garcia was born in the city of Cameron in 1960. After earning his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees from St. Mary’s Seminary at the University of St. Thomas, he was ordained to the priesthood for the diocese of Austin in 1988. He received a Master of Arts in Liturgical Studies from the Saint John’s School of Theology in 2007.

Garcia spent several years in parochial ministry in Austin, serving in the parishes of St. Catherine of Siena, Cristo Rey, St. Louis, and St. Vincent de Paul. He also spent three years in the parish of St. Mary Magdalene, in Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

In the Diocese of Austin, Garcia has held numerous administrative assignments including serving as a member of the Priests' Personnel Board, the College of Consultors, and the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. He has also been both a member and later chairman of the Presbyteral Council.

Garcia is a current member of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s committees on communications and divine worship, and is the chairman of the subcommittee on Spanish language worship. He is also a consultant to the USCCB’s subcommittee on Hispanic affairs.

The Diocese of Monterey covers an area of 21,916 square miles and is home to more than 200,000 Catholics, some 20 percent of the total population. Upon his installation, Garcia will become the fifth bishop of Monterey.  

Claim of creating genetically-edited babies prompts ethics dispute

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 05:23

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 03:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Chinese scientist says he has created the first genetically edited babies, a claim that has led members of the scientific community to raise serious ethical concerns.

Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims that he altered embryos for seven couples, resulting in one twin pregnancy so far. There is no independent confirmation of this claim, the Associated Press noted.

He says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection, by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

The researcher says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

Scientists have been divided in their response to the claims, with some praising the goal of eliminating HIV and others warning that such human experimentation is risky and unethical.

Dr. Kiran Musunuru, an expert on gene editing at the University of Pennsylvania, called the reported procedure “an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” according to the Associated Press.

Musunuru noted that if the procedure successfully disabled the CCR5 gene, it would leave the individual at increased risk of other medical complications, including contracting West Nile virus and dying from the flu.

Critics have also questioned whether participants fully understood what they were agreeing to, and have noted that He did not give official notice of his work until long after he had begun.  

He, however, said he told participants that the procedure was experimental and carried risks. He said he would provide insurance for the children created through the project. The researcher said he believes the technology can help families, and that it is his duty to develop the technology and then let society decide what to do with it.

Early last year, CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, about the ethics surrounding CRISPR technology in general. He stressed that Catholics do not need to automatically consider all gene editing to be problematic, but “need to be attentive to where the dangers are.”

Gene editing may be morally legitimate, DiCamillo said, when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.” He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

In addition, for research on embryos to be ethical, therapies should be ordered to treating and benefitting “that particular embryo, not just for garnering scientific knowledge or seeing what’s going to happen,” DiCamillo said. He condemned policies that see destruction of embryonic persons as a back-up if research does not go as planned, as well as current U.S. policies that require destruction of human embryos as standard procedure.

Another potential problem is editing genes for non-medical reasons, for example to enhance vision or intelligence.

“There’s any number of things that we could do to change the qualities of human beings themselves and make them, in a sense, super-humans … this is something that would also be an ethical problem on the horizon,” he warned.

Since the technology is so new, patients or their descendants could experience a range of “unintended, perhaps harmful, side effects that can now be transmitted, inherited by other individuals down the line,” DiCamillo said. An embryo who experiences gene modification – such as those the Chinese researcher He claims to have altered – could also carry and pass on edited genes.

Last summer, researchers in Oregon announced that they had successfully altered genes in a human embryo for the first time in the United States.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, warned at the time that the experiment was contrary to the dignity of the human person.

“Very young humans have been created in vitro and treated not as ends, but as mere means or research fodder to achieve particular investigative goals,” he said.

Texas diocese says border wall on Church land violates religious freedom

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 02:03

Brownsville, Texas, Nov 27, 2018 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Brownsville, Texas is pushing back against a government effort to use Church property to aid in the construction of the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

David Garza, a lawyer for the diocese in South Texas, told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that “it goes against the First Amendment, freedom of religion.”

The federal government has informed the dioceses that it plans to survey an estimated 67 acres of property where La Lomita Mission, is located near the Rio Grande, the Caller-Times reported. Some or all of the land may be confiscated through eminent domain for the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

A statement from the diocese said that Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has already entered into several discussions with government officials regarding two properties owned by the diocese in Hidalgo County.

“While the bishop has the greatest respect for the responsibilities of the men and women involved in border security, in his judgment, church property should not be used for the purposes of building a border wall,” read the statement.

“Such a structure would limit the freedom of the Church to exercise her mission in the Rio Grande Valley, and would in fact be a sign contrary to the Church's mission. Thus, in principle, the bishop does not consent to use church property to construct a border wall.”

Garza argued that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should not be able to confiscate the diocese’s property. He said the land is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a public place of worship.

“La Lomita Chapel is a sacred building destined for divine worship to which the faithful have a right of access for divine worship, especially its public exercise,” he said, according to the Caller-Times.

Originally built in 1865 by Oblate Missionaries, La Lomita was the half-way point between the cities of Roma and Brownsville. A flood destroyed the original chapel building, but it was rebuilt in 1899. According to the National Parks Service, La Lomita was a major contributor to the foundation of Mission, the surrounding town.