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McConnell: Trump Supreme Court nominee ‘will receive a vote’

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 21:22

CNA Staff, Sep 18, 2020 / 07:22 pm (CNA).- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday night that after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Trump Supreme Court nominee will be voted on for confirmation by the United States Senate.

In a statement released Friday night, McConnell said that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

McConnell elaborated on that decision, saying that “in the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.”

“By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary, we will keep our promise,” McConnell said.

In March 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat that had been held by Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans did not consider Garland’s nomination, saying that it would be more appropriate to wait until after the November election to fill the Court vacancy.

After his 2017 inauguration, Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s seat, and the nominee was confirmed by the senate.

Senate Democrats have pointed to that 2016 decision in response to McConnell’s Sept. 18 statement.

A Trump appointment could tip the balance of the court to a 6-3 conservative majority, which Republicans have said would lead to the court overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that ensured legal protection for abortion across the U.S.

Trump last week expanded a list of potential judicial nominees under his consideration. At a presidential debate in October 2016, Trump pledged to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. In addition to appointing Gorsuch, in 2018 Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was retiring.

Among the names on the new list are Stewart Kyle Duncan of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals—the former general counsel for the religious freedom firm Becket—and Peter Phipps of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, whose membership in the Knights of Columbus was the subject of tough questions by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) when he was a district court nominee in 2018.  

Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit court, a former professor at the University of Notre Dame and a Catholic mother of seven, was on the existing White House list of nominees.

Pro-life leaders hailed last’s week announcement. Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said the appointment of pro-life judges to federal courts was “one of President Trump’s greatest accomplishments” of his first term, and that “[w]e anticipate that process will continue in a second term.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the Trump campaign’s pro-life outreach said that his list “is filled with all-stars.”  

in the first major abortion case before the court during Trump’s presidency, the court struck down Louisiana’s safety regulations of abortion clinics, a blow to pro-life efforts at the state level. While Gorsuch and Kavanaugh ruled in the minority on the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the Court’s four liberal justices against the law.

Ginsburg, who served on the court for more than 27 years, died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 18. She was 87. President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993. Ginsburg had previously been an appeals court judge.


Catholics respond after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 20:55

Denver Newsroom, Sep 18, 2020 / 06:55 pm (CNA).-  

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served on the court for more than 27 years, died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 18. She was 87.

President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993. Ginsburg had previously been an appeals court judge.

Ginsburg, who was Jewish, was noted for her friendship with Antonin Scalia, a Catholic and fellow Supreme Court Justice, who died in 2016.

Scalia’s son Christopher tweeted some recollections of his father’s friendship with Ginsburg after her death was announced.


I'm very sad to hear about the passing of my parents' good friend, and my father's wonderful colleague, Justice Ginsburg. May her memory be a blessing. I'd like to share a couple of passages that convey what she meant to my dad.../3

— Christopher J. Scalia (@cjscalia) September 18, 2020  

Ginsburg expressed her support for legalized abortion during her 1993 Senate confirmation hearing, as she had also done in previously. Though she was publicly critical before her appointment of the legal reasoning used in Roe v. Wade, Ginsburg consistently penned opinions in favor of abortion and contraception, including a 2007 dissent in a case upholding a law that banned partial-birth abortion. 

Ginsburg’s death could tip the balance of the court to a 6-3 conservative majority, if President Donald Trump nominates a new justice to fill the vacancy left by Ginsburg before the November election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said previously he would try to ensure Senate confirmation of a Trump Supreme Court nominee. Senate Democrats have expressed opposition to any nomination, citing McConnell’s objection to Barack Obama’s March 2016 of Merrick Garland to the court. At the time, Senate Republicans said they would not consider an appointment during an election year.

In a statement released Friday night, McConnell said that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Trump last week expanded a list of potential judicial nominees under his consideration. At a presidential debate in October 2016, Trump pledged to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. In 2017, he nominated Neil Gorsuch to be Scalia’s replacement, and in 2018 he nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was retiring.

Catholics on social media urged prayers for Ginsburg and her family Friday evening.

Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, a civil and canon lawyer and a professor of canon law at St. Patrick’s University and Seminary in California tweeted that: “In our modern divided politics the friendship between Justices Ginsburg and Scalia shone as a model of the respect that people can have for each other, even if they disagree.  May she, now along with him, rest in peace.”

In our modern divided politics the friendship between Justices Ginsburg and Scalia shone as a model of the respect that people can have for each other, even if they disagree. May she, now along with him, rest in peace.

— Fr. Pius Pietrzyk OP (@PiusOP) September 19, 2020  

Many reactions came from pro-life organizations, some of whom expressed their hopes for a pro-life replacement on the court.

“Rest in peace, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Let's pray for the repose of her soul and for her family. Let's continue to pray for our nation,” said Lila Rose, president of the pro-life group Live Action.


Rest in peace, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Let's pray for the repose of her soul and for her family. Let's continue to pray for our nation.

— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) September 18, 2020 Americans United for Life, a national pro-life group, noted that despite some positive elements in Ginsburg’s efforts for gender equality, her pro-abortion jurisprudence has left a far more regrettable legacy.

“We are grateful for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributions as an advocate prior to being a judge, in bringing down legal barriers to women’s advancement in American society. We are deeply saddened by her death, particularly at this moment in our nation’s history,” the group said on Twitter.

“Abortion is understood for what it is by millions of Americans due to its cruelty and violence. Future generations will not smile on the culture of indifference toward human life that Justice Ginsburg perpetuated [for] women who deserve better...Abortion doesn’t contribute to women’s happiness, and abortion isn’t necessary for women to succeed.”


We are grateful for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributions as an advocate prior to being a judge, in bringing down legal barriers to women’s advancement in American society. We are deeply saddened by her death, particularly at this moment in our nation’s history.

— Americans United for Life (@AUL) September 19, 2020  

Pro-life group Students for Life tweeted: “Tonight, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away, and our thoughts are with her family.”

“In partnership with Students for Life Action, we call for President Trump to move quickly with an appointment, in light of her tragic death.”


Tonight, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away, and our thoughts are with her family.

In partnership with Students for Life Action, we call for President Trump to move quickly with an appointment, in light of her tragic death.

— studentsforlife (@StudentsforLife) September 19, 2020  

Ginsburg had survived several bouts of cancer before she died surrounded by her family, the Supreme Court said. Her husband, Marty Ginsburg, died in 2010.


Mike Pompeo: Holy See's moral witness needed in China

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 20:01

CNA Staff, Sep 18, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Reflecting Friday on the state of the 2018 Vatican-China deal, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the human rights situation in China has deteriorated in recent years, and that the “moral witness” of the Vatican in support of religious believers is sorely needed.

“The Holy See has a unique capacity and duty to focus the world’s attention on human rights violations, especially those perpetrated by totalitarian regimes like Beijing’s. In the late twentieth century, the Church’s power of moral witness helped inspire those who liberated central and eastern Europe from communism,” Pompeo wrote in a Sept. 18 essay at First Things.

“That same power of moral witness should be deployed today with respect to the Chinese Communist Party,” he continued.

“What the Church teaches the world about religious freedom and solidarity should now be forcefully and persistently conveyed by the Vatican in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the Party and its totalitarian program.”

Pompeo said the human rights situation in China, especially for religious believers, has “deteriorated severely” under president Xi Jinping, who took office in 2013. He pointed out forced sterilizations and abortions of Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the “abuse of Catholic priests and laypeople,” and the persecution of Protestant house churches, “all of which are parts of a ‘Sinicization’ campaign to subordinate God to the Party while promoting Xi himself as an ultramundane deity.”

He said that “now more than ever, the Chinese people need the Vatican’s moral witness and authority in support of China’s religious believers.”

The US Secretary of State also observed that Vatican and Chinese diplomats are meeting to negotiate a renewal of the 2018 deal; a renewal which is being confidently predicted in both Rome and Beijing,

“Two years on, it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations, to say nothing of the Party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers,” Pompeo observed.

He added that “communist authorities continue to shutter churches, spy on and harass the faithful, and insist that the Party is the ultimate authority in religious affairs.”

Pompeo noted that “as part of the 2018 agreement, the Vatican legitimized Chinese priests and bishops whose loyalties remain unclear, confusing Chinese Catholics who had always trusted the Church. Many refuse to worship in state-sanctioned places of worship, for fear that by revealing themselves as faithful Catholics they will suffer the same abuses that they witness other believers suffer at the hands of the Chinese authorities’ increasingly aggressive atheism.”

Earlier this week the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom emphasized that religious freedom must be the result of any renewed Vatican agreement with China, noting that underground Catholics in the country continue to be persecuted.

Pompeo said that the recent imposition in Hong Kong of a National Security Law mandated by the mainland government “raises the specter that the Party will use the same tactics of intimidation and the full apparatus of state repression against religious believers.”

The top US diplomat observed that “many nations have joined the United States in expressing revulsion at the Chinese regime’s accelerating violations of human rights,” and said, “The State Department has been a strong voice for religious freedom in China and around the world and has taken steps to hold those who abuse the faithful responsible for their actions. We will continue to do so.”

After urging the Holy See to use its moral witness with the Chinese Communist Party, Pompeo wrote that “totalitarian regimes can only survive in darkness and silence, their crimes and brutality unnoticed and unremarked.”

“If the Chinese Communist Party manages to bring the Catholic Church and other religious communities to heel, regimes that disdain human rights will be emboldened, and the cost of resisting tyranny will rise for all brave religious believers who honor God above the autocrat of the day. I pray that, in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party, the Holy See and all who believe in the divine spark enlightening every human life will heed Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John, ‘The truth will set you free.’”

Pelosi 'misspoke' on San Francisco Mass attendance, spokesman claims

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 19:58

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2020 / 05:58 pm (CNA).-  

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office told CNA Friday evening that she “misspoke” when she described “recently” attending Mass in a San Francisco church, despite the city’s months-long ban on indoor Masses.

“The Speaker misspoke. She has not been in San Francisco since September 5th due to ongoing talks around COVID relief and appropriations,” spokesman Drew Hammill from the Speaker’s office told CNA in a statement on Friday evening.

“She [Pelosi] has been participating regularly in church services virtually,” Hammill said.

Hammill did not explain what Pelosi referred to when she described Sept. 18 attending what appeared to be an indoor Mass and receiving Communion “recently” at a San Francisco church.

Earlier on Friday morning, at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi was asked by Erik Rosales of EWTN News Nightly about a recent op-ed by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Pelosi’s archbishop, on the “unfairness” of the city’s public health rules.

Cordileone had pointed out the city’s ban on indoor religious services—except for funerals—during the pandemic while gyms and hair salons were allowed to serve some customers indoors.

Pelosi answered that “I have been to church in San Francisco recently, and I did receive Communion.”

She then went on to describe the experience in some detail, noting that she had to “sign up” to attend and that “I got in under the wire” as there were only two places left.

San Francisco has banned public indoor religious services—except for funerals—for months. Outdoor services are permitted with a cap on 12 people, although Speaker Pelosi’s recollection of the event recounted an indoor service.

“And when we got there—the church maybe holds 250 people. There were probably 12 people,” she said, “very, very, very spaced. But that was it, no more would be allowed.”

“And then we did receive Communion,” she said, noting that the priest washed his hands before distributing Communion, and that she received Communion in the hand.

“I miss going to church regularly,” she said. “Of course, we have virtual Mass here, many Masses in D.C., but all the other places…”

On Friday evening, however, Pelosi’s office told CNA that she “misspoke,” but did not explain in what she had misspoken.

Public Masses in San Francisco were suspended by the archdiocese on March 17, and the city’s public health ordinances have not yet allowed for public indoor Masses.

Archbishop Cordileone later informed parishes that they could resume public Masses on June 14, according to the city attorney’s office. However, the city said it informed the archdiocese on June 11 that indoor Masses were still barred “for the time being” as a public health risk.

Exceptions were made only for funerals with 12 or fewer persons, and live-streamed services where only necessary personnel were present to help with the Mass or video production.

On June 29, the city sent the archdiocese a cease-and-desist letter for public indoor Masses, saying that it had not officially amended the health order to allow for them.

“Our intention has always been to conform to what we understand to be the City orders and timelines,” the archdiocese said July 2, noting that the city’s orders had changed through the pandemic.

The situation continued through the summer. Archbishop Cordileone on July 30 urged prayer and fasting for an end to the pandemic and “for a restoration of public worship unhindered.”

In August, Cordileone asked the mayor to “at a minimum, remove the excessive limits on outdoor public worship.”

The city, meanwhile, watched for any possible violations of its order, sending the archdiocese a letter on Aug. 12 outlining “several things of concern.”

The city’s mayor, London Breed, announced this week that outdoor religious services with up to 50 people would be permitted beginning Sept. 14, but indoor religious services were still prohibited until Oct. 1, where they would be permitted with a cap at 25 people.

Archbishop Cordileone is leading a Eucharistic procession past city hall on Sept. 20 as a protest against the ongoing orders limiting Masses. He wrote in his Washington Post op-ed that “all we are seeking is access to worship in our own churches, following reasonable safety protocols.”

Pelosi, on Friday morning, said that the archbishop should abide by science in his desire to reopen churches.

“With all due respect to my archbishop, I think we should follow science on this,” she said.

She later added that “I don't know if he [Cordileone] was speaking as our pastor or as a lobbyist—advocate. But whatever it is, I am sure that he must have meant [reopen churches] if it is scientifically safe, rather than jeopardizing people’s health if they want to go to Church.”


Franciscan University honors NET Ministries for ‘strong Christian character’

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 19:07

CNA Staff, Sep 18, 2020 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- The Franciscan University of Steubenville this week bestowed its highest non-academic award to NET Ministries, a national evangelization program for young people, headquartered in Minnesota.

Mark Berchem, founder and president of NET Ministries, accepted the Poverello Medal on behalf of the group.

NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries’ model involves training and sending Catholic young adults across the country, divided into teams, to share the Catholic faith with young people through retreats for nine months at a time.

NET has led more than 34,000 retreats and ministered to more than 2 million young Catholics since its inception in 1981, the group says. In addition to the U.S., NET is active in Australia, Canada, Guam, Honduras, Mexico, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Uganda and Ireland.

Father Dave Pivonka, president of Franciscan University, said he experienced “fellowship and the power of the Holy Spirit” as a NET missionary before attending Franciscan.

“Thanks to NET, teenagers who may have never otherwise had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ have come to embrace him as their Savior and make the Catholic Church their spiritual home. Amid a culture that often rejects Christian principles, they are emboldened and empowered to live their faith,” Pivonka said.

Today, NET is currently active in over 100 dioceses. A notable alumnus is Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who first came to St. Paul through NET and later served as a traveling missionary throughout the country.

According to Franciscan, the Poverello Medal honors organizations and individuals who follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi through strong Christian character, practical charity, and service to the poor.

The award was first presented in 1949 to the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Other recipients include St. Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and Mary’s Meals.


What does the Catholic Church teach about voting? A CNA Explainer

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 17:43

Denver Newsroom, Sep 18, 2020 / 03:43 pm (CNA).-  

There is not a monolithic Catholic vote in the U.S., but Catholic voters do make a big difference in local, statewide, and national elections. And voting, the Church says, is part of participation in public life — part of contributing to the nation’s common good, the flourishing of its people.

The Church does not dictate to Catholics how they should vote, but it does provide guiding principles for making decisions about voting. This CNA Explainer offers some of those principles.


What does the Church teach about voting?

In 2007, the U.S. bishops’ conference issued “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a guide to participation in public life, which included a section on voting. The bishops have periodically updated it since.

The bishops say that Catholics should vote according to “a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods.”

Last week, Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown wrote that: “A ‘well-formed conscience’ for the Catholic is one that has been formed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, studying Scripture, and honestly informing oneself about the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The “proper relationship among moral goods” means that voting is a kind of a weighing exercise, that not all issues have the same weight, and that voters need to prioritize various issues at hand in any election, and make hard choices about who to vote for, and who not to vote for.


Immoral acts

The Church says first that it is always immoral to vote for a person who supports an intrinsically immoral policy, if the reason for the vote is to achieve that policy:

“A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position.”

The bishops say it could be possible to vote for someone who supports something intrinsically immoral but only for “other morally grave reasons.” Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described those as “proportionate reasons.”

In a 2004 letter to U.S. bishops, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that: ”When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

The idea of “proportionate reasoning” recognizes that there are no perfect candidates. The job of Catholic voters is to weigh the positions of all candidates, and to avoid choosing a candidate who supports something immoral, unless something good outweighs that immorality.



The U.S. bishops say that abortion has to weigh as an especially important factor when deciding whether it is morally acceptable to vote for a candidate.

In 2019, the bishops said that “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”

There were 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017, and there are 73 millions abortions each year around the globe.

The Church does not say that abortion is the only issue, but that it is a “preeminent” or foundational consideration about the moral acceptability of a candidate.

Pope Francis asked in Laudato si: “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?”

In Christifidelis Laici, Pope St. John Paul II taught that “the right to health, to home, to work, to culture is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

In 2008, Bishop, now Cardinal, Kevin Farrell released a joint statement with Bishop Kevin Vann, saying that in their view, “There are no ‘truly grave moral’ or ‘proportionate’ reasons, singularly or combined that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by abortion each year.”

Also in 2008, Archbishop Charles Chaput said that Catholics who support pro-choice candidates “need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it.” 

“What is a ‘proportionate’ reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life — which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed,” Chaput said.

In 1988, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was asked whether Catholics can “disqualify” candidates who support a legal right to abortion.

The cardinal put it this way: “Well, certainly. That’s what the consistent ethic is all about. I feel very, very strongly about the right to life of the unborn, the weakest and most vulnerable of human beings. I don’t see how you can subscribe to the consistent ethic and then vote for someone who feels that abortion is a 'basic right' of the individual. The consequence of that position would be an absence of legal protection for the unborn.”


What to do?

The bishops have taught that supporting a pro-abortion candidate requires overcoming the high bar of proportional reasoning. But a candidate’s opposition to abortion does not, by itself, make him an acceptable choice for Catholics. Voters should weigh the issues, and also consider character, leadership abilities, and integrity before casting a vote in any candidate's favor, the bishops say.

All of those factors go into the weighing exercise of proportional reasoning.

And the bishops say that well-formed voters could reach several conclusions:

“When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”

The bishops do not rule out the possibilities of not voting, or of voting for third party candidates.

In 2016, Bishop James Conley offered this summary of “Faithful Citizenship’s” voting advice: “In good conscience, some Catholics might choose to vote for a candidate who, with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues: life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty. Or, in good conscience, some might choose the candidate who best represents a Christian vision of society, regardless of the probability of winning. Or, in good conscience, some might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office.”

The U.S. bishops conference put it this way: “In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.”

“In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.”


Biden campaign downplays abortion, 'preeminent priority' of US Catholic bishops

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 17:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 18, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Catholic supporters of Joe Biden sought to deflect the Democratic candidate’s support for abortion on Thursday by pointing to other issues, despite the U.S. bishops calling it the “preeminent” issue for Catholic voters to consider.

“We’ve got to deal with the abortion issue, and the way we’re dealing with it here in Pittsburgh is by saying if you’re going to vote with your Catholic faith informing your choice, then you’ve got to be a multi-issue voter,” said Kevin Hayes, a Biden supporter who is conducting voter outreach to Catholics in the Pittsburgh area ahead of the November presidential elections.

Hayes was one of several Catholics who spoke to Biden supporters online in a “national call to action” on Thursday evening. He was joined by “Catholics for Biden” co-chairs Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2013-2017, and Mark Kennedy Shriver, son of the late pro-life Democrat R. Sargant Shriver and president of Save the Children Action Network.

Biden, a Catholic, has supported legal abortion and has promised to expand taxpayer funding of abortion by repealing the Hyde Amendment. He has also said his administration would work to codify Roe v. Wade, review state regulations of abortion, and cover abortion and contraceptives in his “public option” health policy.

Since 2007, the bishops of the United States have issued a document, titled “Forming Consciences for Faithful CItizenship,” to help Catholics decide how to cast their vote; it was most recently updated in 2019. 

Earlier this year, USCCB issued a letter, approved by the bishops, re-presenting the document along with a series of short videos. In that letter, the bishops identified abortion as the “preeminent priority” for Catholic voters “because it directly attacks life itself.”

Biden’s support for abortion was addressed by several campaign surrogates on Thursday evening, who asked listeners to look beyond the issue.

Dr. Anthea Butler, a professor of Religious Studies and Graduate Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said on Thursday she recognized that some of those on the Catholics for Biden call “have concerns” about Biden.

“You have concerns about whether he’s pro-life enough, whether he meets all of the criteria for Catholics. You’re listening to your bishops tell you one thing or another,” she said.

Butler asked listeners to instead consult their consciences. “You need to start to think about what it really means for us to have somebody who takes their faith and uses it in every area of their lives,” she said.

“Now that doesn’t mean that he [Biden] is always going to be thinking about his Catholicism when he has to vote, or all of that stuff. What it means is he has a moral core, he has a conviction, he knows right from wrong, he’s able to ask for forgiveness, he knows what it means to bear grief.”

Victoria Kovari, who is conducting outreach to Catholics in Michigan for Biden, said that she and other women, including a Catholic religious sister, developed talking points on abortion. The sister, she said, is a member of IHM, the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Kovari identified herself as a “lifelong Byzantine Catholic,” and said that she is helping test out different campaign messaging with members of her Byzantine parish. Kovari was a member of Catholics for Obama in 2008 and in 2012, and served as national field director for the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good from 2007 to 2010.

In addition, she said, the group organized a letter to the state’s seven bishops calling for an end to “partisan public statements made by Catholic officials urging them to vote Republican.” 

“We urge you to ensure that all Church spokespersons strictly refrain from public partisan-political statements, whether direct or indirect,” the letter states. 

The letter notes that, in the past, Catholic communications directors, priests, and bishops “have advocated for a particular political party -- or have condemned specific candidates (usually Democrats)” by “selectively quoting sections of Faithful Citizenship,” the voting document of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In several American dioceses in recent weeks, bishops have intervened to correct individual priests who made explicitly partisan statements, or statements of support or opposition of different candidates.

A priest of the diocese of La Crosse, Fr. James Altman, said in an Aug. 30 video that “You can not be Catholic and be a Democrat. Period.” His bishop subsequently said he was taking action to correct Fr. Altman, because the Church does not prohibit membership in the Democratic party.

Earlier this month, in the Archdiocese of Boston, Monsignor Paul Garrity apologized for causing “confusion and upset” after he posted comments on Facebook saying he “believe[s] in a woman’s right to choose,” and “will vote for Joe Biden for President because I believe that Joe Biden is pro-life like me.” Garrity also encouraged “Catholics and others” of similar viewpoints to vote for Biden as well. 

Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM, Cap., said that Catholics have “the right to expect the priests of the Archdiocese and those entrusted with handing on the faith to be clear and unequivocal on the Church’s teaching concerning respect and protection for life from the first moment of conception to natural death.”

“This teaching is of the highest priority for the Church,” the cardinal said in a statement provided to CNA after Garrity’s comments.

The national director of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone, once held official positions on the 2020 Trump campaign’s pro-life and Catholic outreach before stepping down at the request of his “competent ecclesiastical authority.” Canon law prohibits clerics from having an active role in political parties, unless they receive the permission of their bishop.

Pavone has remained outspoken in his support for Trump’s re-election, and made a series of controversial comments on social media. 

On Sept. 17, the Diocese of Amarilo noted that Pavone, in videos posted online, had condemned the act of “voting for candidates of a particular political party” and had reportedly suggested he might refuse absolution if such votes were confessed without contrition.

According to the diocese, Pavone also used “scandalous words not becoming of a Catholic priest.”

“These postings are not consistent with Catholic Church Teachings,” the diocese said in its statement. “Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone.”

Bishops routinely issue letters advising Catholics on how to form their consciences while refraining from backing individual candidates.

On Sept. 9, Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown, Pa., issued a pastoral letter saying that “While there is no initiative on the part of the Church to support one candidate over another, it is an indispensable obligation of bishops, priests, and deacons to inform the faithful about the hierarchy of issues that must be considered in conscience by every voting Catholic.”

“Hence, a Catholic voter is to approach the ballot box with the defense of innocent human life uppermost in his/her mind and conscience,” he wrote, adding that Catholic voters should consider whether their vote would constitute cooperation “with a candidate’s promotion of the grave sins of abortion and euthanasia.”

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” says that Catholics may vote for a candidate for political office who takes “unacceptable” positions on intrinsically evil acts; they may vote this way only “for truly grave moral reasons,” and “not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

“A ‘well-formed conscience’ for the Catholic is one that has been formed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, studying Scripture, and honestly informing oneself about the moral teachings of the Catholic Church,” Schlert said.

Dioceses in southern US shut down as Hurricane Sally brings floods

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 16:01

CNA Staff, Sep 18, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Dioceses in Florida and Alabama have shut down offices and schools as a large storm has flooded numerous houses and left over half a million people without power.

Hurricane Sally made landfall Sept. 16 near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph.

By midday, the hurricane downgraded to a tropical storm with 35mph winds, but its slow progress and large quantities of rain caused large amounts of flooding.

"Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues over portions of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama," the National Hurricane Center said.

A majority of the damage has been brought by the large amounts of rain, which has been measured about 18 inches in many regions.

Ginny Cranor, fire chief for Pensacola told CNN that the city has witnessed "four months of rain in four hours.” Pensacola has been hit particularly hard by the rain.

The damages include flooded homes, uprooted trees, and downed power lines. According to, about 253,000 people in Florida and 290,000 in Alabama are without power.

The storm has also caused at least one death and another person to be missing in the town of Orange Beach, the BBC reported.

The Archdiocese of Mobile closed Catholic Schools in Mobile and Baldwin counties Sept. 15 -18. The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee closed nine Catholic schools in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Bay Counties Sept. 15-16.

Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile tweeted: "I observed a generations-old tradition: the Archbishop blesses Mobile Bay when a hurricane nears & prayed that Jesus, who calmed the storm, would hear our prayers for protection from Hurricane Sally. On this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows may she wrap her mantle around us.”

Online course for Catholic politicians to study Thomas More, John Paul II, Dag Hammarskjöld

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, Sep 18, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- What do St. Thomas More, St. John Paul II, and Dag Hammarskjöld have in common?

According to a new course by the International Catholic Legislators Network, they all modeled the beatitudes in their roles as political and religious leaders.

In the second part of online classes for Catholic and other Christian political leaders, ICLN is studying these three men for their course “The Virtues Practiced by Great Statesmen who Changed the World.”

“What these remarkable leaders had in common was that they were Christians first, and all else followed from this that constituted their core identity,” the ICLN said in a statement about the course.

“The times in which they lived and fruitfully worked in the service of God and their fellow human beings were no less challenging than the conflict-ridden and confused world in which we live today,” the ICLN stated. “Thus, they offer concrete answers and useful suggestions for what it takes to be a faithful and highly effective Christian leader in public office in secular society today.”

St. Thomas More was a 15th century lawyer, author, and statesman who lost his life opposing Henry VIII's plan to subordinate the Church to the English monarchy.

More's eventual martyrdom would come as a consequence of Henry VIII's own tragic downfall. The king wanted a declaration of nullity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a marriage that Clement VII declared to be valid. More refused, and was eventually imprisoned and killed for refusing to accept Henry VIII’s new marriage to Anne Boleyn and for rejecting his attempt at seizing control of the Church. In the ICLN course, More will be studied for modeling the virtues of humility and righteousness, according to the course outline.

Dag Hammarskjöld is the second statesmen to be studied in the course. Hammarskjöld, a Swedish diplomat, served as the Secretary General for the United Nations from 1953-1961. He was known for being a deeply religious man who led with integrity and a strong peacekeeping ability. “From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God,” he said in a radio program in 1953.

Hammarskjöld died under mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in 1961 while on a peacekeeping mission to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Initial investigations said the cause of the crash was likely pilot error, while subsequent investigations have said that the plane may have been attacked or compromised. The ICLN course noted that Hammarskjöld will be studied as someone who modeled the beatitudes of being “pure in heart” and a “peacemaker.”

St. John Paul II is the third statesmen that the ICLN will study, as someone who modeled the virtues of “courage under persecution and suffering”, as well as mercy. As a young seminarian, St. John Paul II (then Karol Wojtyla) lived through Nazi rule of Poland in World War II. As a priest, bishop, and cardinal, he worked peacefully to oppose the anti-religious communist rule in Poland. Once he became pope in 1978, besides leading the Catholic Church for more than 25 years, John Paul II was a key leader in bringing about a peaceful end to communist rule in eastern Europe.

Dr. Christiaan Alting von Geusau, J.D., LL.M, will be the instructor for the ICLN course. Catholic and Christian political leaders who wish to participate in the course may register online. The course will be held for 50 minutes each Thursday, and participants may participate in the live-streamed course or through saved recordings of the course.

Pelosi says she attended Mass in San Francisco church, despite city health order

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 14:10

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 18, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- After San Francisco’s archbishop called on the city to reopen churches for indoor Masses, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said he should listen to the “science,” but admitted she had recently attended a church service in the city, possibly in violation of public health orders.

“With all due respect to my archbishop, I think we should follow science on this,” Pelosi told reporters at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.

“I don't know if [San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone] was speaking as our pastor or as a lobbyist—advocate. But whatever it is, I am sure that he must have meant [reopen churches] if it is scientifically safe, rather than jeopardizing people’s health if they want to go to Church,” she added.

Citing a recent Washington Post op-ed by Cordileone, in which the archbishop criticized the “unfairness” of a city health order that currently bars indoor religious services except for funerals, while allowing businesses such as gyms and nail salons to serve customers indoors, Erik Rosales of EWTN News Nightly asked Pelosi, a Catholic elected from a San Francisco district, for comment.

Rosales asked Pelosi on Friday, “Should churches in San Francisco be allowed to reopen with precautions?”

Pelosi’s answer suggested she may have violated standing health regulations herself. The congresswoman said that she had attended church in San Francisco “recently, and I did receive Communion.” She noted that she had to sign up in advance to do so, and “there were probably 12 people” in attendance, observing social distance, in a church that fit around 250 people.


"With all due respect to my archbishop, I think we should follow science on this, and faith & science are sometimes counter to each other" -- @ErikRosalesNews asked @SpeakerPelosi whether churches in San Francisco should be allowed to re-open if they adhere to safety precautions.

— EWTN News Nightly (@EWTNNewsNightly) September 18, 2020  

San Francisco's guidance for gatherings currently says that only one person at a time is allowed inside a church "for prayer, individual counseling, to pick up, or drop off items."

The city’s mayor London Breed announced this week that outdoor religious services with up to 50 people would be permitted beginning Sept. 14, but indoor religious services were still prohibited until Oct. 1, where they would be permitted with a cap at 25 people.

A June 29 cease-and-desist letter from the San Francisco city attorney to the archdiocese said that indoor religious services were not allowed, with exceptions for funeral services with up to 12 people or live-streamed Masses with necessary personnel present for the streaming. 

Speaker Pelosi’s office did not respond to an inquiry from CNA as to the Mass she attended, whether it was a funeral Mass or whether it occurred before the city’s health order.

Pelosi also claimed that “faith and science are sometimes counter to each other. Around here people say to me, ‘you’re a person of faith, why do you believe in science?’”

Science, she said, is “an answer to our prayers.”

Pelosi, a Catholic whose district comprises much of San Francisco, has been an outspoken supporter of abortion and the redefinition of marriage. She has been endorsed by the National Abortion Rights Action League in 2020, and promised that “with the support of NARAL, we will defend Roe v. Wade” and support “a woman’s right to choose.”

Recently, Pelosi promised to withhold the Hyde Amendment from relevant spending bills next year—threatening to end a decades-old policy that has barred taxpayer dollars in the form of Medicaid reimbursements from funding elective abortions.

In June of 2014, Pelosi asked Archbishop Cordileone to cancel his participation in the March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., saying that some supporting groups had pushed “disdain and hate towards LGBT persons.” While noting that “[w]e share our love of the Catholic faith and our city of San Francisco,” she said she respected the archbishop’s “view” of same-sex marriage.

In 2009, Pelosi told Newsweek magazine that she had “some concerns about the church's position respecting a woman's right to choose,” as well as “about the church's position on gay rights.”

“I am a practicing Catholic, although they're probably not too happy about that. But it is my faith,” she said, adding that “women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.”

In response, then-San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer wrote in a column that her statement included “some fundamental misconceptions about Catholic teaching on human freedom.”

He wrote that it is “entirely incompatible with Catholic teaching to conclude that our freedom of will justifies choices that are radically contrary to the Gospel—racism, infidelity, abortion, theft. Freedom of will is the capacity to act with moral responsibility; it is not the ability to determine arbitrarily what constitutes moral right.”

Netflix sees cancelations spike after 'Cuties' controversy

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 13:30

CNA Staff, Sep 18, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- After controversy surrounding the film “Cuties,” Netflix subscribers are cancelling the service at eight times the normal rate, an industry magazine has reported. The film’s release on the streaming service has triggered sustained backlash from customers and commentators for its sexualized presentation of a group of 11-year old girls.

Shortly after the French-language movie was released on September 8, the hashtag #CancelNetflix began trending across social media platforms. According to YipitData, a data analytics firm, starting on Sept. 10, people in the United States began canceling their Netflix accounts at a higher rate than normal. On September 12, the cancellation rate was eight times the rate of canceled accounts in August 2020, the firm told Variety. 

Per YipitData, the rate of cancelations on September 12 was a multi-year high for the streaming company, though the company did not tell Variety how many accounts were canceled. Netflix has nearly 200 million paid users. 

“Cuties” was originally released under the French title “Mignonnes,” tells the story of “Amy,” an 11-year-old Senegalese girl who lives in Paris with her family. Amy’s classmates form a dance troupe, called the “Cuties,” who perform hip-hop dances. As the film progresses, the dances get more risque. The film contrasts the conservative Muslim culture in which Amy is raised to the libertine culture of secular France. 

Netflix initially marketed the film with a poster showing the titular “Cuties” posing in spandex dance costumes, with Amy shown squatting with her legs spread. Netflix apologized and withdrew the poster, and updated the description of the film to remove the word “twerking.” 

The film’s director, Maïmouna Doucouré, said that her film was meant to highlight and critique the hypersexualization of young children. Many people, including members of Congress and child protection advocates, have challenged this interpretation. 

Since the film’s release, more than 700,000 people have signed a petition requesting that Cuties be removed from Netflix and that the streaming giant be charged with exploiting minors. 

“While we commend director Maïmouna Doucouré for exposing the very real threats to young girls having unfettered access to social media and the internet, we cannot condone the hyper-sexualization and exploitation of the young actresses themselves in order to make her point,” Lina Nealon, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s director of corporate and strategic initiatives, said in a statement that was published in Variety.

Nealon was particularly critical of the film’s use of “very long scenes with close-up shots of the girls’ bodies,” saying that they do “nothing to educate the audience on the harms of sexualization.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the film “pornographic” and called for a congressional investigation.

“If you have child pornography, if you have kids engaged in sexual activities, if you produce it, if you distribute it, you face criminal penalties,” said Cruz in a television appearance on September 13. “I guarantee you every pedophile in America is going to watch this movie,” he said.

“Cuties” includes a brief shot of an exposed breast; it is not immediately clear how old the actress who exposed herself was. She is implied to be a minor, but is not one of the “Cuties.” 

In addition to the exposed breast, there are numerous shots of Amy in her undergarments, including one scene where Amy’s relatives attempt to exorcise her. In the film, Amy posts a picture of her genitalia on the internet, but an image is not shown, and Amy is goaded by her classmates to attempt to film a video of her classmate’s penis. 

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor at the Catholic University of America, criticized the film for “normalizing ‘the pedophilic gaze,’” and discouraged people from watching.

“Cuties invites us to gaze for hours upon sexualized images of young girls against the backdrop of Islamic veils, honor, modesty, custom. Whatever the intentions of the filmmaker, or Netflix, your average American is not yet so morally supine as to be blind to the next con,” he said.

Fort Worth Bishop Olson apologizes for ‘horrible effects’ of invalid baptisms

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 13:20

Denver Newsroom, Sep 18, 2020 / 11:20 am (CNA).-  

An Oklahoma City priest who discovered he was invalidly baptized as a child received that invalid sacrament from a deacon in a Texas parish, the bishop of Fort Worth said this week, while encouraging others baptized by the same deacon to contact their pastors to address the situation.

The bishop urged clerics to contact diocesan offices if they had ever deviated from an approved baptismal formula, and apologized to all Catholics affected by the invalid celebration of sacraments.

“Last week, the bishop of another diocese informed me that one of his priests, while watching a video, discovered that he had been invalidly baptized as an infant by Deacon Philip Webb, a permanent deacon ordained for the Diocese of Dallas, but assigned at that time to Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Carrollton, Texas, in the Diocese of Fort Worth,” Bishop Michael Olson wrote in a letter to Catholics Sept. 18.

The diocese confirmed to CNA that the priest was Fr. Zachary Boazman of Oklahoma City, who was “subsequently baptized, confirmed, given first Holy Communion, ordained a deacon, and ordained a priest.”

“However, his invalid Baptism had horrible effects on the lives of those who thought that they were validly receiving sacraments administered by a man whom they thought to be a priest, and who thought himself to be a priest, but was in fact neither a priest nor even a Catholic,” Olson wrote.

“I apologize to all those whose lives have been adversely affected by the discovery that the sacraments they thought that they had received they, in fact, did not receive. Our priests and deacons stand ready with me to rectify these injustices to the best of our ability,” the bishop added.

“I recognize that the priests and deacons who committed these grave errors of judgment did so without malice and were even attempting to do good. Nevertheless, the Church requires of her ministers not just good intentions but also sufficient knowledge of what is expected and necessary in the administration of the sacraments,” Olson wrote.

Webb invalidly baptized Boazman by deviating from the Church’s approved liturgical texts, using a formula for baptism that the Vatican said in August changes the meaning of the liturgical act of baptism so much as to render it invalid. The deacon is now retired and in ill-health.

Olson said it was the deacon’s “regular practice to use a substituted and invalid formula in the hundreds of baptisms he is believed to have administered while assigned to Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church. I am making his name public to alert anyone who is recorded as having been baptized by Deacon Webb.”

“Anyone baptized by Deacon Webb should be conditionally baptized and confirmed unless there is evidence that he validly baptized on a specific occasion. Where it is applicable, issues regarding the validity of marriages should be addressed with the assistance of the Tribunal,” the bishop added.

In a separate letter to priests obtained by CNA, Olson told clerics that if they have deviated from liturgical norms while performing baptism, they should stop immediately. Olson said clerics who had ever attempted baptism using a deviation from the Church’s norms should contact Church authorities so that anyone invalidly baptized could be contacted.

“It is wrong and misleading to claim that one has the intention to do what the Church intends Baptism to do while using words different from the valid formula prescribed by the Church—and in the case of Baptism, prescribed by the Lord Himself,” the bishop told priests.

In his letter to the diocese, the bishop also reminded Catholics of the valid formula for baptism: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

“These are the words given to the Church by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. These are the exact words to be spoken by the minister of the sacrament while the same minister (and no one else) also pours the water over the head of the person to be baptized. No other words can be used. No other words can be added,” the bishop added.

The letter also offered encouragement to Catholics who might be discouraged “in the face of fear and doubt that otherwise might take root in your lives because of these human errors in the administration of the sacraments.”

“You should presume the validity of your Baptism and the subsequent sacraments you have received unless you can establish positive and probable doubt in its validity,” he told Catholics.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (1257): ‘God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by his sacraments,’” Olson wrote.

“God is always giving us His Grace and He will never fail us even when we fail in our stewardship of the sacraments in their appropriate celebration. Yet, Christ instituted the sacraments as the ordinary way by which God gives us His sanctifying grace and has instructed us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition in the stewardship of these treasures.”

“Let us always bear in mind that the People of God have a right to receive the sacraments in the form that the Church has prescribed them to be administered. Let us continue to pray for each other,” Olson concluded.


USCCB officials on the ballot for conference leadership role

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 12:25

Denver Newsroom, Sep 18, 2020 / 10:25 am (CNA).- Two officials of the U.S. bishops’ conference will be candidates to replace Msgr. Brian Bransfield, the outgoing general secretary of the conference.

Monsignor Jeff Burrill and Fr. Michael Fuller will be on the bishops’ conference ballot in November for the general secretary position, multiple sources have told CNA. Bransfield, elected in 2015, is completing a five-year term in the position.

Burrill is now a deputy to Bransfield, serving as associate general secretary of the conference. A priest of La Crosse, the priest earned a licentiate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, has served as a formator at the Pontifical North American College, a seminary in Rome, and has worked at the bishops’ conference since 2016.

One conference staffer told CNA that Burrill is regarded within the bishops’ conference as a “common-sense guy” with pastoral sensibilities, others speculated that if elected, Burrill might seek to streamline and simplify some of the procedural and bureaucratic aspects of the conference’s day-to-day operations.

A former conference staffer told CNA that he believes Burrill would have a good working relationship with episcopal leaders, and would do well forming relationships between offices of the conference.

Fuller, a priest of the Rockford diocese, has also worked at the bishops’ conference since 2016. The priest, who earned a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, is director of the conference’s offices for doctrine and canonical affairs. He was previously a professor of theology at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Mundelein seminary.

A source close to the conference told CNA that Fuller is a “good man,” with “a demonstrated capacity to reflect the Church’s mind on complex issues,” which he added, is an important aspect of leadership in the conference.

The bishops’ conference will conduct its November meeting virtually. The U.S. bishops ordinarily meet twice yearly, but their June meeting was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to electing a new general secretary, the bishops will elect the chairmen of several committees and vote on some planning and budget items at the November virtual meeting. 

The conference’s general secretary, who must be a priest, is responsible for overseeing staff, committees, and projects of the USCCB, and for facilitating dialogue between the U.S. bishops and offices of the Vatican’s curial offices. Some priests who have served in the position have subsequently become bishops themselves, including Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, who is Fuller’s bishop.

Bransfield is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Before he was elected general secretary, he was an associate general secretary of the conference, and before that led its catechetical office. The priest, who is the author of several books, has a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and has been a theology instructor at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.

Amarillo diocese disavows Fr. Frank Pavone statements, requests prayer

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 19:15

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Amarillo has spoken out about election-related comments from Fr. Frank Pavone, the national director of the pro-life group Priests for Life, and asked prayers for the priest.

In a Sept. 16 statement, the diocese noted that Pavone, in videos posted online, had condemned the act of “voting for candidates of a particular political party” and had reportedly suggested he might need to refuse absolution if such votes were confessed with contrition.

According to the diocese, Pavone also used “scandalous words not becoming of a Catholic priest.”

“These postings are not consistent with Catholic Church Teachings,” the diocese said in its statement. “Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone.”

Pavone served on official Trump campaign outreach positions in 2016, and was originally a co-chair of Trump’s 2020 pro-life coalition, as well as an advisory board member of Catholics for Trump.

Canon law forbids clerics from having an active role in political parties unless they receive the permission of their bishop.

Although he has since stepped down from the two positions at the request of “the competent ecclesiastical authority,” he has still maintained public support for the re-election of President Trump, citing abortion and religious freedom as key issues of concern.

In tweets that were subsequently deleted, Pavone last weekend reportedly called Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a “[expletive] loser” and said the Democratic party was “God-hating” and “America-hating” and that Biden’s supporters “can’t say a [expletive] thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump.”

“What the hell do you have to say for yourselves, losers?” Pavone asked.

As the diocesan statement indicated, Pavone also reportedly tweeted that he would hear the confession of a Catholic who votes Democrat, “but we are trained that in the absence of repentance, absolution has to be withheld.”

In other videos posted on the Priests for Life Facebook page, Pavone referred to the “terrible mistake of even considering voting Democrat.”

Asked by CNA in April whether he had obtained permission from his bishop to officially campaign for Trump’s re-election, Pavone would not answer directly; he said that he had not been forbidden from doing so, and that communication with his bishop was a “dysfunctional process.”

The priest faced criticism from Church leaders ahead of the 2016 presidential election as well.

In November 2016, Pavone filmed a video at the Priests for Life headquarters, urging support for Trump. The video was staged with the body of an aborted baby laid before Pavone on what appeared to be an altar. 

Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo said soon after the video’s release that he would open an investigation into the incident, calling it “against the dignity of human life” and “a desecration of the altar,” and adding that “the action and presentation of Father Pavone in this video is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”

Pavone told CNA in April that “nothing happened” after the incident, and the Amarillo diocese has not responded to questions about its investigation or its outcome.

Pavone said he had done similar things before that incident.

“[W]ould I do it again? Absolutely,” he told CNA.

Pavone was incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, in 2005, when he transferred to that diocese from the Archdiocese of New York with plans to begin a pro-life religious order of priests. Those plans did not materialize, and Pavone found himself at odds with Bishop Patrick Zurek, soon after the bishop was installed in 2008.

In 2011, the dispute between Pavone and Zurek became public, after the priest was recalled to the diocese and suspended by the bishop. Pavone appealed to the Vatican, and the suspension was eventually lifted in 2012.

In April, the priest told CNA that his relationship with Zurek remained rocky, and that he was in the process of transferring to a new diocese.

The Diocese of Amarillo has not responded to repeated requests from CNA for clarity about Pavone’s political activity or ecclesiastical status, including requests to clarify whether he has faculties to minister publicly as a priest.

Pavone told CNA in July that he remains incardinated in the Amarillo diocese, “but my transfer has been canonically completed to a different bishop who has good will toward me and my work.”

He declined to name that diocese, saying that “the announcement of what diocese I’m in now is up to the same ecclesiastical authority to make.”

Pavone sought a transfer to the Diocese of Colorado Springs in 2016. Asked by CNA in April if his pending transfer was to that diocese, he would not say. The diocese told CNA then that Bishop Michael Sheridan had not received information from the Vatican indicating that Pavone was being transferred there.

Why priests don't endorse candidates: Experts respond to FEC chair

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 19:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).-  

In an interview Wednesday, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission accused Catholic bishops of “hiding” behind the Church’s tax exempt status instead of backing political candidates, and said that priests and lay Catholics have a “right” to conduct political activity on parish premises. 

The Catholic Church has had long-standing policies against endorsing particular candidates for political office. Experts in civil and canon law explained to CNA why Catholic clerics do not endorse political candidates, and why that issue touches on the religious liberty of the Church.

James E. Trainor, a Catholic, was appointed to the bipartisan commission by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate earlier this year. He spoke Wednesday in an interview with the website Church Militant.

In his interview, Trainor questioned the legal and moral authority of bishops to limit the endorsement of candidates from the pulpit and in the pews.

“I don’t think a bishop has the right to tell a priest that he can’t come out and speak… When the priest takes the vow [sic] of obedience to the bishop, it is in the area of faith and morals, but they have a higher duty to our Lord, and if the bishop is putting something out there that is not right then the priest has an obligation to the faithful to correct it,” he said.

Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, is a civil and canon lawyer who was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the Board of Directors of the Congressionally-funded Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding for legal aid programs. 

The priest, who serves as a professor of canon law at St. Patrick’s University and Seminary in California, told CNA it is not the function of clergy to instruct laity on who they should choose in the voting booth.

“The primary end of the Church is not the ordering of civil society,” he told CNA. “The primary end of the Church is the sanctification of humanity,” he said. “While the Church is concerned that secular society be just and moral, the prudential decisions on carrying that out is properly the role of lay people in the world.”

“While it is true, as the Second Vatican Council said in Gaudium et Spes, ‘the Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other,’ that autonomy of the secular world does not mean an autonomy from natural and divine law. The Church must grant to the secular government its legitimate autonomy, and the legitimate freedom of Catholics within a particular country to participate in that governance.” 

“Nonetheless,” he said, “the Church has a right and duty to elucidate the moral precepts that guide a society in properly fostering the common good.”

Trainor also said bishops are too cautious about their ability to engage directly in partisan politics under civil law.

“The bishops are using their nonprofit status as a shield to hide behind,” he said, “from having to make a decision about who to support [in the elections].”

He charged that bishops choose to be silent on political matters out of concern they might lose grants received by Catholic institutions for refugee resettlement and other federal programs. 

Eric Kniffin, an attorney specializing in First Amendment and religious freedom cases, told CNA that, in practice, bishops have little reason to be concerned about government ramifications from political speech.   

“The Internal Revenue Code, on its face, bars tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other religious organizations—from saying anything ‘on behalf of’ or ‘in opposition to’ a political candidate,” Kniffin said.

“This restriction, often referred to as the ‘Johnson Amendment,’ is still on the books, even though President Trump has directed the IRS to be lenient in its enforcement of the law.

“At a practical level, the federal government has not had much appetite to enforce this rule,” Kniffin, who has worked for the Department of Justice and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA.

During the interview, Trainor also said that in his view, civil law prevents bishops from prohibiting their priests from endorsing candidates.

“If you look at it just from a legal perspective, the priest to bishop is still an employer-employee relationship and that’s the employer telling the employee what they can and cannot do.”

“We don’t tolerate that anywhere else, in fact there has been this huge uproar over NFL owners not allowing players on the field to be able to protest.”

But Kniffin told CNA that the comparison to NFL franchises was inapt, and that the legal ability of churches to regulate the actions of clergy is well established.

“The Supreme Court recently affirmed that the First Amendment’s church autonomy doctrine guarantees churches ‘independence in matters of faith and doctrine and in closely linked matters of internal government,’” he told CNA.

“This doctrine prevents government from interfering with the relationship between churches and their members and between churches and their ‘ministerial’ employees.”

Fr. Pietrzyk explained that in the mind and law of the Church, the relationship between a bishop and priest is much more than employer-employee.

“It is completely inappropriate, and a violation of the Church’s legitimate autonomy, an autonomy recognized in the First Amendment to the Constitution, for a federal official to opine, under the cloak of that office, on the duty of obedience owed by a priest to his bishop,” he said.

“There is a tendency among U.S. government officials – whether federal bureaucracies or local judges – to try to fit the Church into a secular category,” he told CNA. 

“Certainly there are aspects of the bishop-priest relationship that look like employment.  The diocese usually pays the priest’s salary, provides him health insurance, etc. But it is an ongoing mistake on the part of secular authority, and indeed a violation of the freedom of religion, to force the employer-employee model as the primary or only way of understanding that relationship,” the priest added.

“The document Christus Dominus, a decree from the Second Vatican Council on the Pastoral Office of the Bishop, said that, ‘[Bishops] should regard the priests as sons and friends.’”

“At the same time,” Pietrzyk told CNA, “the bishop is the head of the diocese, as a father in a family. The ministry of the priest depends on his submission to the legitimate authority of his bishop. Thus, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote, ‘there can be no genuine priestly ministry except in communion with the one's own Bishop, who deserves that filial respect and obedience.’”

“Every Catholic, and even more so a priest, has a duty to submit to the legitimate governance of their bishop,” he said.

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA that in his view Trainer’s comments reflected a serious misunderstanding of the relationship between priests and bishops in the Church.

“Mr. Trainor seems woefully ill-informed about the relationship between the bishop and priests of a diocese,” Weigel said.

“He also seems to think of his fellow-Catholics as dolts who require specific instructions on voting from their religious leaders.”

Weigel reflected on a longstanding American anti-Catholic stereotype that bishops and priests direct Catholics about how to cast their votes. 

Trainor’s view “mirrors the false charge laid against Catholic immigrants for decades by anti-Catholic bigots, which suggests that Mr. Trainor is also not very well versed in U.S. Catholic history,” Weigel said. 

Fr. Pietrzyk told CNA that as chairman of the FEC, Trainor “is certainly free to opine on freedom, in American law, he is not competent, however, to evaluate the provisions of ecclesiastical law.”

“The ministry of a priest in a sacred place, like a church, may be legitimately directed by a bishop,” Pietrzyk said. 

“In addition, preaching within a sacred place, even a parish church, may be regulated by the diocesan bishop. Absent that guidance, a pastor does exercise that authority within his own parish. However, simply because he is the pastor does not give him the right to act contrary to the directives of his own pastor, the bishop.”

“As Pope St. John Paul II emphasized, the ministry of the pastor is not genuine when it runs contrary to the legitimate direction of his local bishop.”

El Paso cathedral vandal charged with criminal mischief

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 18:01

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A man has been charged after he decapitated a statue of Christ in El Paso, while the NYPD is looking for a man who threw a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe into the sidewalk outside a church in Brooklyn.

Isaiah Cantrell, 30, has been charged with criminal mischief and possession of marijuana after being arrested. Cantrell walked into St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso Sept. 15 and proceeded to smash the nearly 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that was displayed behind the altar.

Mass was not being celebrated during the vandalism, but the cathedral was open for prayer.

Cantrell reportedly told police that “the skin color of the statue was the wrong color,” and that “Jesus was Jewish and therefore should be a darker skin color.” He is being held on a $20,500 bond.

The Diocese of El Paso is raising money to assist with renovations and increased security at the cathedral. Bishop Mark Seitz earlier appealed for people to pray for Cantrell, and that he may get the help he needs.

The Twitter account for the NYPD Crime Stoppers released a video Sept. 15 asking for help identifying a man who threw a statue onto a sidewalk.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-theme="light"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">?WANTED? for a Criminal Mischief in front of 2866 West 17 Street <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#coneyisland</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#brooklyn</a> <a href="">@NYPD60Pct</a> on 9/11/20 @ 11:40AM ?Reward up to $2500? Seen him? Know who he is?☎️Call 1-800-577-TIPS or DM us!?Calls are CONFIDENTIAL! <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#YourCityYourCall</a> <a href="">@NYPDDetectives</a> <a href="">@NYPDShea</a> <a href="">@News12BK</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NYPD Crime Stoppers (@NYPDTips) <a href="">September 15, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

The video shows two men standing outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Solace, located in Coney Island, New York, Sept. 11. One of the men is seen climbing over a fence, where he then pulled the statue out of the ground.

The man proceeds to then throw the statue onto the sidewalk. The base of the statue was damaged by the vandalism.

According to the NYPD, the man is facing charges of criminal mischief. The NYPD is offering a reward of $2,500 for any information about his identity.

San Francisco archbishop: Worshippers should be treated equally during the pandemic

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 17:25

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- The archbishop of San Francisco penned an op-ed in the Washington Post this week citing the First Amendment as he called for city officials to relax the current restrictions on public worship, which are some of the strictest in the country.

Rather than asking for special treatment, “all we are seeking is access to worship in our own churches, following reasonable safety protocols — the same freedoms now extended to customers of nail salons, massage services and gyms,”  Cordileone wrote in the Sept. 16 op-ed.

“It’s only fair, it’s only compassionate, and, unlike with these other activities, it’s what the First Amendment demands.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has said the city will allow indoor services up to a maximum of 25 people by Oct. 1. This is, Cordileone noted, less than 1% of the capacity of San Francisco’s cathedral.

Mayor Breed had announced this week that starting Sept. 14, houses of worship may have 50 people at religious services outdoors. In addition, indoor private prayer is allowed, but only one person at a time is allowed inside a house of worship.

Previously, the limit for outdoor services had been 12 people, with all indoor services prohibited. The archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco— where the cathedral is located— as well as San Mateo and Marin counties.

In contrast, hotels in San Francisco are fully reopened; indoor gyms are set to reopen at 10% capacity; and most retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while malls are restricted to 25%. Gyms operated in government buildings for police officers and other government employees have already reopened.

“Catholics in San Francisco are increasingly noticing the simple unfairness,” Cordileone wrote.

“As one of my parishioners asked recently, ‘Why can I spend three hours indoors shopping for shoes at Nordstrom’s but can’t go to Mass?’”

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, has a page tracking restrictions on public worship related to the pandemic. By their estimation, six states— California, Nevada, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine— are treating religious activities unequally as compared to similar secular activities.

The City of San Francisco has been closely monitoring Catholic churches in the city and has repeatedly issued warnings to the archdiocese for apparent health order violations.

“I sometimes wonder whether the increasingly secular elites imposing these restrictions understand the pain they are unnecessarily inflicting. The sacraments as we Catholics understand them cannot be live-streamed,” Cordileone wrote.

“People are being denied the religious worship that connects them with God and one another. For hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans facing the simultaneous challenges of a pandemic and economic downturn, the church is their key source of spiritual, emotional and practical help.”

Cordileone said priests at many parishes around the archdiocese, including the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday— outside, and spaced out— in order to adapt to the restrictions.

These outdoor Masses pose their own health challenges, as the Bay Area is experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world, due to smoke and other pollutants coming from wildfires ravaging the West Coast.

Cordileone related the message of Father Moises Agudo, who pastors the predominantly Latino churches in San Francisco’s Mission District. The priest said his people have “lost many things” because of the pandemic but “the consolations of the Mass should not be one of those things.”

This weekend, San Francisco Catholics will participate in Eucharistic processions across the city, which will join together and walk past city hall, in part to protest the city’s revised limits on public worship.

Cordileone said the archdiocese has ordered 100 banners in English, 15 in Spanish, and 5 in Chinese that read: “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!” He asked that parishioners carry the banners during the Eucharistic processions.

While the archbishop said city officials have been “cordial and respectful” in their dialogue with the archdiocese, he added that the city still has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan— outlining how churches could be safely opened for indoor services— which was submitted in May.

Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines, adding that “Catholics are not indifferent to the very real dangers posed by covid-19.”

In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited a recent article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.

By following public health guidelines, Catholic churches have largely avoided viral spread during the more than 1 million Masses that have been celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders, the doctors found.

They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have yet been linked to the celebration of the Mass.

California’s church service limits earlier this year were challenged by a Pentecostal church, which argued that houses of worship were being unfairly treated more strictly than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

In several other states, churches have successfully challenged restrictions against houses of worship, on the grounds that public officials were not able to justify the decision to treat them more strictly than other secular gathering venues.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill into law Sept. 16 that prevents local or state officials from shutting down houses of worship.

'Expedited' investigation ordered over ICE detainee hysterectomies

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 13:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- This story has been updated.

The acting director of U.S. immigration services has ordered an expedited investigation into allegations that hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women in federal custody without their full consent. 

On Monday, The Intercept reported a whistleblower complaint had been filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of a nurse at a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for migrants in Georgia. 

The complaint was filed with the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On Wednesday, National Review reported that Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, ordered the investigation to be expedited and said he will be conducting a separate, parallel investigation. DHS staff confirmed the report to CNA on Thursday.

The nurse, Dawn Wooten, as well as several immigrant women, claimed that an apparently high rate of hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women while in ICE custody at Irwin County Detention Center, and that some of the women did not understand the procedure they were receiving. The center is operated by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections.

On Thursday, the Daily Caller reported that the doctor identified in the whistleblower report for allegedly conducting the hysterectomies—Dr. Mahendra Amin—was indicted in 2013 by federal prosecutors for Medicaid fraud.

According to the indictment, Amin was believed to be part owner of Irwin County hospital, where patients were given unnecessary medical procedures and the hospital in turn billed Medicare and Medicaid; Amin settled with prosecutors for $520,000 in 2015.

Cuccinelli’s investigation will include a Coast Guard doctor, a medical nurse from the deputy secretary’s office, and a lawyer in the DHS general counsel’s office, National Review reported.

In addition to seeking confirmation, CNA also asked DHS who specifically would be part of Cuccinelli’s separate investigation, and why the parallel investigation was ordered in addition to the inspector general’s review; DHS staff did not address those questions directly.

According to the whistleblower complaint, the immigrant women were referred to one doctor in particular who was allegedly known for performing frequent hysterectomies; Wooten called the doctor “the uterus collector.” Wooten reported that some nurses could not communicate well with Spanish-speaking migrants, even resorting to using Google Translate to talk to them about medical procedures.

A senior ICE official has reportedly disputed the claims that immigrant women were allegedly subject to hysterectomies without full consent. A top ICE medical official said only two women were referred for hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center since 2018, according to NPR.

More than 170 members of Congress wrote the DHS inspector general’s office on Wednesday asking for an investigation.

“We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent and request that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation,” the letter stated.

The private prison company LaSalle, which operates the ICE detention center in Irwin County, is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the family of a deceased woman Holly Barlow-Austin on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. 

In the lawsuit, Barlow-Austin’s family members charged LaSalle with neglect by company guards at an East Texas prison, neglect that resulted in Barlow-Austin leaving the prison “blind, emaciated, and barely able to move.” The family alleges that LaSalle was culpable in Barlow-Austin’s death.

Charlotte Diocese opens new seminary to serve growing Catholic population

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 02:02

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 12:02 am (CNA).- As the number of Catholics in the Diocese of Charlotte continues to rise, Bishop Peter Jugis opened a new seminary this week to help prepare future priests in the area.

The bishop blessed St. Joseph College Seminary in Mount Holly with holy water on Sept. 16, officially completing the first phase of the building project, which broke ground in 2018.

“This is an enduring structure that is both traditional and modern, with beauty and function, that we hope will inspire future generations of Catholics in Western North Carolina to continue our mission to share the Gospel,” said Father Matthew Kauth, St. Joseph’s rector, according to the Gaston Gazette.

Seminarians at Tuesday’s opening ceremony - which followed social-distancing protocols - sang “Salve Pater,” a Latin hymn recognizing the loving care of the holy family.

The $20 million project, built in the Gothic architectural style, includes 40 seminarian rooms, a conference room, a refectory and kitchen, classrooms, administrative offices, guest rooms, a temporary chapel, and a meditative cloister walk. Donors have so far contributed $15.5 million to the seminary.

The 27 seminarians at St. Joseph Seminary will also attend classes at nearby Belmont Abbey College.

“St. Joseph is an extraordinary milestone for our diocese and for the Charlotte region,” Jugis said,” according to the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s a sacred place where those who feel called to serve God can be nurtured and grounded in faith that will carry throughout their lives.”

The new seminary is a response to rapid growth of the Church in Charlotte. There are an estimated 400,000 Catholics in the diocese, more than 10 times the number present when the diocese was established in 1972.

When the diocese’s seminary program first opened four years ago at St. Ann Catholic Church, seminarians lived at a former covenant and other housing nearby. Since 2016, enrollment has tripled, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Bishop Jugis voiced gratitude for the 92 priests currently serving in the diocese, while noting the need to increase these numbers to serve the needs of the people. Since becoming bishop of Charlotte in 2003, Jugis has prioritized efforts to increase the number of priests in the diocese, the Charlotte Observer reported.

“Though we’ve been blessed with many good and holy priests, we need more to meet the needs of our rapidly growing flock,” Jugis said in a statement. “So it is essential that we make every effort to help form young men to be ready to serve in our parishes when the time comes.”


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Listen to Black community to build pro-life consensus, Black pro-life leader says

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders should prioritize listening and understanding in order to make inroads in the Black community, Black pro-life advocate Benjamin Watson said Tuesday.

While white Christians may be comfortable identifying themselves as “pro-life,” some Black Christians who oppose abortion are reluctant to identify themselves as “pro-life” for other reasons, Watson, a former NFL player told an audience of reporters and pro-life leaders on Tuesday evening.

Watson spoke at a screening of his new pro-life movie “Divided Hearts of America” which streams online on Thursday. He and his wife Kirsten are co-executive producers of the movie.

“You look at statistics, the Black community is very, very religious, going back years and decades,” Watson said. “We have a desire to honor life.”

“What we don’t, however, have, is a desire to be affiliated, sometimes, with all the other things that are in the pro-life bucket,” he said.

Pro-lifers, Watson said, should seek to understand other issues of import to the Black community, including the racial wealth gap and unemploymentd disparities, as a means of grounding pro-life positions in broadly shared concerns among the Black community.

“For the pro-life community, it’s not about just throwing out statistics,” he said. “You want to throw the [abortion] stat out, but behind the stat there’s not a caring posture to why that might be the case.”

“The way that you bridge any gap between any communities is when you try to understand the ‘why’,” he said. “It’s been said that when white America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu. And that’s what’s happening with abortion—any negative outcome is worse in the Black community.”

“Many of us do care about life,” he added.

At a University of Notre Dame panel discussion on racism as a “life issue” in July, Watson explained that many African-Americans associate the term “pro-life” with party politics and “a host of other issues that seem to be anti-Black,” rather than with concern about abortion rates and other life issues.

On Tuesday, Watson noted that pro-lifers can more hearts through listening and understanding rather than by arguing from statistics on abortion. “The way the pro-life community bridges the gap is in our rhetoric. It’s in how we embrace. It’s in understanding,” he said.

Watson is the father of seven children and an outspoken pro-life advocate, in addition to playing tight end in the National Football League for 15 seasons. On Tuesday, he said that he and his wife were looking for a way to become more involved in the pro-life movement when they were recruited for the movie, which was directed by Chad Bonham.

“This was a labor of love,” he said of the movie, describing the goal as “just wanting to get to the bottom of what this whole [abortion] debate is about.”

Some of the interviewees in the film are pro-abortion, he said, including the New York legislator who authored the Reproductive Health Act that that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in 2019, legalizing abortions in some cases up until the point of birth. Watson said on Tuesday that the New York law was part of “the impetus for the film,” with the goal of seeking to understand the issue more deeply and “see the humanity of everybody.”

The documentary explores the life issue from several angles, including racial issues of abortion clinics in majority-Black neighborhoods, and interviews of Black religious and pro-life leaders as well and members of the media.

At the Notre Dame panel event in July, Watson said that pro-lifers should take the life issue “out of the political realm.”

“The Black community is overwhelmingly pro-life in the sense of for-life, against-abortion. We are,” he said, adding that the pro-life label “has come to mean something totally different than the essence of what it is.”

Watson was also one of a coalition of Black leaders who sent a letter to Planned Parenthood head Alexis McGill Johnson, calling out the organization as hypocritical for “targeting” Black communities for abortions while at the same professing to support calls for racial justice.