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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 17 min ago

Study finds nearly 30% spike in male teen suicide following Netflix release of ‘13 Reasons Why’

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 18:00

Denver, Colo., Jun 7, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- When the Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’, which features teen suicide, first aired in 2017, mental health professionals expressed concerns that the show could have a contagion effect, triggering an increase in suicides among teens inspired by the show.

A new study suggests these fears were not unfounded. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, United States youth ages 10-17 had a 28.9% increase in suicide rates in young males in the month (April 2017) following the debut of the show.

“The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers,” the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported. Increases in suicide rates among youth were also found in the month leading up to the shows release, and through December 2017, nine months after its release.

“The findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media,” NIMH stated in a press release on the study.

The study was conducted by multiple researchers from several different universities, hospitals, and the NIMH, which also funded the study. The study found that the increase in suicides was statistically significant among young males. The increase in suicides among young females in association with the show was not statistically significant.

For the study, researchers analyzed death rates due to suicide based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web-based Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research.

Researchers found the increase in suicide rates even after adjusting for otherwise expected suicide rates during that time period, based on ongoing suicide trends. They also found that suicide rates did not increase during the studied time period for people ages 18-64.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. Studies show that publicized suicides may also trigger a ripple effect of additional suicides within communities.

“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,” one author of the study, Lisa Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., a clinical scientist in the NIMH Intramural Research Program, said in a statement. “All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises.”

The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” developed by Brian Yorkey, is based on a young adult novel with the same title by author Jay Asher. The series examines the suicide of 17 year-old Hannah Baker, who made 13 cassette tapes prior to her death. Each tape is addressed to a different person at her school, and details how and why they contributed to her desire to take her own life. It also graphically depicts Baker’s suicide in a scene in which she slits her wrists and lets her blood spill into her bathtub at home.

Mental health experts and other critics have raised concerns that the show portrays suicide as an act of revenge and a power play, rather than as an irreversible tragedy.

"There was a kind of romanticization, and at the core of the story was this idea that you can kill yourself and be dead and yet not really be dead," Don Mordecai, Kaiser Permanente's national leader for mental health, told Business Insider. "Because, of course, (Baker) continues to be a character - she's in scenes, and she's still there in many ways."

The creators of the Netflix original series insisted in a follow-up video that 13 Reasons was meant to be helpful - to bring up important conversations about serious topics like suicide, bullying and assault, and to get viewers talking about solutions to suicidal thoughts. The second season of the show includes a disclaimer, telling teenagers to watch the show with a trusted adult and to seek help if they experience suicidal thoughts.

But even prior to this recent study, the show faced much backlash from mental health experts, who said it failed to follow several of the “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” a list of guidelines for media outlets developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists. Experts advise against sensational headlines or depicting the method of suicide, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or “copycat” suicides.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a U.S. non-profit suicide prevention group, said at the show’s release that it may do “more harm than good.”

A Florida schools superintendent warned parents in April 2017 that the show was inspiring an increase in self-harming and suicidal threats among elementary and middle school students, according to the Washington Post.

A survey published in November 2018 also found that of 87 suicidal teenagers aged 13 to 17 who were taken to the emergency department, 43 of them said that they had watched at least one episode of “13 Reasons Why”. Of those who had seen the show, 21 reported that they believe it had increased their risk for suicide.

In the press release for the NIMH study, the authors concluded that the findings “should serve as a reminder to be mindful of the possible unintended impacts of the portrayal of suicide, and as a call to the entertainment industry and the media to use best practices when engaging with this topic.”

 

Under pressure, Biden now supports federal abortion funding

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The 1976 Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions. Biden, who voted as a senator in favor of the Hyde Amendment when it was first written, had reaffirmed his support for the law often, most recently on Wednesday.

Biden’s former support for the Hyde Amendment had prompted many other Democratic candidates for president to announce their support for federally-funded abortions. The Democratic Party’s 2016 platform includes a call for the public funding of abortions.

Before Thursday evening’s switch, Biden had supported some aspects of pro-life legislation during his political career. In addition to his Senate vote in favor of the Hyde amendment, he also supported the Mexico City Policy in 1984, voted again in favor of Hyde in 1993, and voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 1995 and 1997.

In an interview shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Biden refused to support unrestricted access to abortion and said that he thought the Supreme Court “went too far” in their decision. In 1981, he lent his name to the “Biden Amendment,” which bans the use of federal funds for biomedical research involving abortion or involuntary sterilization.

By 2012, in the vice presidential debate against then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Biden described himself as being personally pro-life, though he also expressed his support for legally protecting abortion.
Biden is Catholic and has spoken publicly about his faith.

At the time the Hyde Amendment was signed into law in 1977, it had the support of nearly half of Congressional Democrats. Nationally, more than half of Americans say they do not support federal funding of abortions.

While three out of four women who undergo abortions are living in poverty, the Hyde Amendment is actually far less popular among low-income voters. A 2016 poll found that only 24 percent of people making under $25,000 a year said they were in favor of the public funding of abortion services, compared to 45 percent of people making over $75,000.

Biden’s abrupt about-face on the Hyde Amendment has let down pro-life Democrats, who were once hopeful that Biden would break the party mould on abortion.

“We are extremely disappointed that Vice President Biden choose to cave to the pressure of the abortion lobby instead of standing with a majority of Americans who support the Hyde Amendment,” Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA.

“With all the major candidates fighting to be the most extreme on abortion, there is a wide open lane for a candidate to bring an alternative position to the discussion and to unify Democrats around common ground principles,” she added.

Day said that Democrats should instead work for equal opportunity and equality, instead of paying for abortions for poorer women.

“Poor women don’t want money for abortions; they want the same opportunities to parent as their rich counterparts.”

 

From a dumpster to the head of a procession: The story of 'Broken Mary'

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 05:08

Chicago, Ill., Jun 7, 2019 / 03:08 am (CNA).- On Friday, May 31, four lanes of traffic on a major thoroughfare in the city of Chicago shut down for an hour and a half, while 3,200 people marched past.

Instead of political banners, they held candles. Instead of shouting, they quietly prayed the rosary and sang Ave Maria. Instead of a politician or city official, they were led by ‘Broken Mary,’ a statue of the Virgin Mary rescued from a dumpster, who still bears the scars of her past - a crack in the middle where she was broken in half, chipped hands, faded paint with scratches.

The procession event, called “There is Hope for the Broken,” was organized by Chicago parish St. John Cantius, and by Kevin Matthews, who rescued Mary from the garbage in 2010.

But really, Matthews told CNA, the procession was all Mary’s idea.

Matthews first spotted what is now known as ‘Broken Mary’ outside of a dumpster at a flower shop, covered in trash and cracked in half. Mortified, he picked up the heavy concrete statue, brought her home and cleaned her up.

He had her restored to one piece again, but asked that her chips and scratches be left as they were: “No, she is broken, just like me. We all are broken and in need of repair. She represents the broken,” he told the repairman.

After finding Mary, Matthews experienced a profound new devotion to the Mother of God. Although born a Catholic, Matthews had strayed from his faith for many years, and had never learned how to pray the rosary. After finding ‘Broken Mary,’ it became his top priority: praying the rosary and encouraging others to do the same.

On his website, Matthews recites the rosary every day, and anyone can tune in. He has two rosary apps, and he also travels with ‘Broken Mary’, giving talks on her love for the broken, and how she can lead them to her son, Jesus.

Although Matthews now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Chicago procession was something he had been praying about for a while, he said. Matthews was a radio DJ in the city for years, and in many ways it’s his second home, he said.

“I love Chicago, I love the city,” he said. “There’s just so many people that wanted to pray for the city, and still do.”

Matthews connected with Fr. Joshua Caswell, S.J.C., an associate pastor at St. John Cantius in Chicago, because of ‘Broken Mary’ - Matthews was on a Relevant Radio show to talk about his ministry, and Fr. Joshua was a guest on Relevant Radio that same day.

After much prayer between the two of them, they decided to start organizing a Chicago procession with ‘Broken Mary’ in February.

“Kevin had said, ‘We need to bring Our Lady into the city, we need to bring her into the streets, she needs to be carried and be honored by people,’” Andrea Eisenberg, who served on the procession planning committee, told CNA.

But planning a large procession through the busy streets of Chicago is no small task, and shutting down four lanes of traffic on a busy street on a Friday night is a big ask.

“We knew it would only succeed if it were (Mary’s) plans and how she wanted it to go and how she wanted it to be,” Eisenberg said.

When Fr. Joshua applied for the permit, a city official saw the title of the event, “Hope for the Broken,” and said: “Oh, I really hope so Father, because we could really use some hope around here in this city,” Eisenberg recalled. Two days later, the permit came through.

The procession was the result of a combined effort of multiple police units and fire departments, Eisenberg said, as well as collaboration with Relevant Radio, Shalom T.V., the World Apostolate of Fatima, and other city officials.

“It was a combined effort by everyone to take our faith to the streets, and it was important to everyone to be a visible sign to people that hey, there’s hope, and it comes from our Lord, and our Lady will always bring us closer to him,” Eisenberg said.

On the day of the event, more than 2,000 people filled St. John Cantius Church and spilled out into the streets during a talk on Mary and the rosary by Kevin Matthews. Afterwards, an estimated 3,200 people joined in the procession.

“We marched from St. John Cantius to the city, and the closer we got to the old water tower,  more and more people were stopping on either side of Chicago Ave, to stop what they were doing, open their iPhones and take pictures and notice,” Matthews said.

“It was a very peaceful prayer walk that we were doing,” he added. “We recited four rosaries, sang Ave Maria. It was a beautiful prayer, you could feel Mary’s grace, and people...they took notice, and for the first time the city kind of just stopped for a moment and said a prayer for itself.”

Eisenberg said that she thinks ‘Broken Mary’ appeals to so many people because brokenness is something to which nearly everyone can relate.

“I think that people really resonate with brokenness, there isn’t anyone who can say, ‘Oh well, I’ve reached perfection, I’m not broken, this doesn’t apply to me’,” she said.

It also makes holiness seem “attainable,” she added.

“I think when people look at saints, they look at a beautiful picture and think, ‘Wow, this person must have lived a holy life all along...I could never do that.’ But something that’s holy, that’s broken? It’s like oh, I could be called to that, I’m broken, maybe this is for me too.”

Throughout his ministry, Matthews said he has witnessed many people come back to their faith through ‘Broken Mary.’

“It’s just a concrete statue, but where that statue is, Mary is, and where Mary is there’s Christ, and where there’s Christ, there’s God,” Matthews said, “and I’ve seen a lot of people literally cry and empty themselves in front of Mary.”

“She loves us so much that she will immediately embrace us in her Immaculate Heart. Mary, she’s our mother, and people just go to her,” he said.

“If you haven’t been in church for a while or you feel ashamed, just go to Mary. And try to go to Mary through the rosary. Just hold that rosary and just say any prayer you’d like. Hold that rosary, be dedicated to that rosary,” he added.

The statue of ‘Broken Mary’ will be at St. John Cantius Church through June 9, where people can pray before the statue. Those unable to visit in person can also submit prayer intentions online, which are printed out every day and set at the feet of ‘Broken Mary.’

'Absolutely nuts' to grill judicial nominees over KofC membership, Sasse says

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 02:34

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2019 / 12:34 am (CNA).- In his opening question for Peter J. Phipps, a judicial nominee for the United States Third Circuit court, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) started with what he called “a hard question.”

“Are you now or have you ever been involved in the organization of a fish fry?”

Laughing, Phipps responded that he had been involved in fish fries as a “consumer,” one who usually brings a few other consumers with him, he added.

The question was a poke at other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who have in recent years grilled potential judges over their membership in the Knights of Columbus, well-known for its fish fries and other philanthropic activities in the Catholic Church.

Phipps confirmed to Sasse that he had also fielded questions about being a member of the Knights during his district court nomination in May 2018.

“Do you know why?” Sasse asked. “Because I’m confused. This is a new tradition around here evidently, trying to figure out if people are members of religious organizations. Do you know what the point of the questions for the record about your membership in the Knights of Columbus was?”

“No sir, I do not,” Phipps responded.

It is not the first time a judicial nominee has been questioned by the Senate committee over their membership in the Catholic organization. Brian C. Buescher, a nominee for United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, was questioned in December about whether being a member of the Knights of Columbus would prevent him from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.”

In responses to Sasse on Wednesday, June 5, Phipps described the Knights of Columbus as a Catholic charitable organization that was founded not just to encourage community among church goers, but to “ensure that if a father had died, that the Knights would provide for their family.”

“So, it’s much more the stuff of community service, love of neighbor, fish fries, and pool parties than some kind of Da Vinci Code stuff, I just want to be clear that I understand this scary organization that you’re a member of,” Sasse added.

“That’s exactly right,” Phipps said. “It’s a charitable organization. It’s an organization that has social and recreational activities that many members of my family have really enjoyed and really benefited from.”

Sasse then noted some facts about the Knights, “so we have them as shared information for the next time a Catholic nominee comes before us.”

Sasse noted that the Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the world, with more than $185 million dollars and 75,600,000 hours contributed to charities in the United States in the year 2017.

The Knights also have a history of standing against “prejudice and oppression such as the KKK and the Nazi party in Germany.”

“And what’s happening in this committee is absolutely nuts, that we’re asking people why they’re members of the largest Catholic fraternal organization in America, and this is becoming common practice on the committee,” Sasse said Wednesday.  

In January, Sasse put forth a resolution approved by the Senate, which stated that disqualifying a judicial nominee on the basis of their membership in the Knights of Columbus would violate the Constitution, which states that ‘‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

“I really hope we reconsider this new tradition on this committee of asking people about their religious commitments,” Sasse added on Wednesday. “We should ask them about their oath of office to a Constitution and whether they can do that free from bias.”

 

Arson suspected in fire at Florida cathedral

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 21:34

Tallahassee, Fla., Jun 6, 2019 / 07:34 pm (CNA).- The co-cathedral of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was damaged by fire Wednesday, with several of the chairs in the sanctuary set ablaze using an accelerant. The church’s rector has said he suspects arson.

According to the diocese, the cathedra and presiders’ chairs were set on fire and were destroyed, while the flames charred the walls of the sanctuary and the building suffered smoke damage. No one was hurt and an investigation is underway, the diocese said.

Father John Cayer, rector of the Co-Cathedral of Saint Thomas More, told WCTV that a Florida State University student first noticed the smoke and called authorities. Mass was scheduled for 5:15pm on Wednesday, so the church was unlocked, he said.

The co-cathedral also houses the Catholic Student Center for Florida State University.

"We have no idea who has done this," Cayer told WCTV yesterday.

"This is an obvious case of arson. We are very upset. The community is becoming very upset and we hope that there is some resolution to this."

“I am saddened to hear of an apparently intentional fire set at the St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral in Tallahassee yesterday,” CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said in a statement today.

“My arson detectives responded immediately to assist local authorities in determining the cause. Arson is a costly and dangerous crime, and my arson detectives will continue to assist authorities in any way to bring those responsible to justice.”

The diocese said they are hoping to be able to celebrate weekend Masses in the church.

“We are hurt, upset, and deeply saddened, but we continue to place our hope in Christ during this Easter season in which we celebrate His resurrection,” the statement concluded.

Catholic veteran who took part in D-Day buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 19:01

Arlington, Va., Jun 6, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Sgt. Carl Mann, Sr. died March 30 at the age of 96, almost a month after his son, Fr. Gordon Mann, died of leukemia at the age of 59.

Both of the Manns' lives were changed forever on June 6, decades apart.

For the patriarch of the Mann family, his life-altering June 6 came in 1944, when he was part of the second wave of soldiers who stormed Omaha Beach as part of the D-Day invasion. Gordon’s was in 1992, when he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Evansville.

According to Miles and Carl Mann II, two of Carl Sr.’s sons, nobody realized the significance of the overlapped dates until they began planning their father’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery – which was also held June 6.

The brothers do not believe this happened by chance.

“It's not a coincidence, I promise you,” Miles told CNA. “I'm not good enough to try to coordinate anything like this and put all these pieces together. But God's perfect and that's how it happens.”

Their father lived his life by a simple motto: “God, country, and family.”

While in the army, Mann would take time to pray and evangelize, even in the face of death and in the midst of bloodshed.

Mann would baptize soldiers in the middle of battle. Miles said he “was basically just the hands and feet of Jesus to do that.”

Carl II said that his father was willing and able to baptize on the battlefield as he knew that he was “spiritually ready” to die, and wanted to make sure others were as well.

“He just knew there was nothing in the world more important than (baptism),” said Miles. “Not even his own life.”

Some soldiers came to know Christ in their dying moments because of Mann’s battlefield prayers.

“His buddies would ask him was he was doing because they saw him kneeling down praying in the middle of the battle. And, a lot of those men didn't know who Jesus was,” said Miles. They would ask Mann to teach them how to pray, and he would reply, “just listen.”

“He'd finish the prayer and then they would finish whatever skirmish or battle or event they were in the middle of. Some of them made it, some of them didn't, but the ones that did not make it, they got to meet Jesus through him.”

Initially, Sgt. Mann was reluctant to discuss his military experience, and would often make jokes relating to his service.

“He would say, ‘Boy, I couldn't wait to get off that (Omaha) beach. We were out of hotdogs and the ice cream was melting,'” said Miles. That all changed about a decade ago, after he was asked by a grandchild on which side of World War II he had fought.

Realizing that history was at risk of being forgotten, he began to open up more about his service, and shared his story at high schools and to his family. In addition to Normandy, Mann also served in the Battle of the Bulge and assisted in the liberation of two concentration camps. He was awarded three Purple Hearts and seven Bronze Stars, which enabled him to be buried at Arlington.

Sgt. Mann's priorities of God, country, and family will leave a lasting legacy after his death.

“I think that I could give one perspective on it. It's Dad's statement was this: You know, my brother is him,” said Carl II, gesturing around.

“My brothers were willing to die for freedom. He said, ‘but there was only one who died for our sins.’ And that was his faith.”

Analysis: Bp. Bransfield, the USCCB, and the Holy Spirit

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Jun 6, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- When the U.S. bishops arrive in Baltimore next week for their second plenary meeting since a year of serious crisis began last June, they will do so under the specter of another demoralizing scandal. This one involves a well-connected bishop, a ledger of extravagant gifts, and allegations of abuse from priests and seminarians subject to the bishop’s authority.

The Washington Post reported June 5 that a months-long ecclesiastical investigation of Bishop Michael Bransfield, formerly of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, had uncovered evidence that the bishop had a reputation for being sexually inappropriate with seminarians and young priests, that he may have had a substance-abuse problem, and that he used diocesan funds generated from its Texas oil fields to support a lifestyle of luxury, and to give $350,000 in cash gifts to Vatican officials, fellow bishops, and other clerics.

More troubling, the Post’s report suggests that when seminarians and young priests raised concerns about Bransfield’s behavior, they were met with either indifference or an unwillingness of authorities to intervene.

Some Catholics have already noted that Bransfield’s gift-giving habit likely gives some indication of how Theodore McCarrick’s ecclesial career prospered during his decades of sexual abuse.

The former cardinal is also reputed to have given large cash gifts to brother bishops and to Vatican officials, which might have contributed to his apparent ability to escape the consequences of his actions, and to navigate curial back channels with ease.

Catholics have also asked whether there is any evidence that an apparent culture of clubby loyalties cultivated through “personal gifts” has actually come to an end.

The revelation of Bransfield's gift-giving habit has infuriated many Catholics, who wonder whether bishops can ever really be expected to hold one another to accountability, if five-figure checks are exchanged between some of them with a certain degree of regularity.

It might be difficult, some Catholics note, to tell someone to change his ways after he has given you $29,000 to renovate your apartment.

Is this, those Catholics have asked, what Pope Francis means when he condemns clericalism?

Several bishops who will be present in Baltimore have received large gifts from Bransfield. But of course, the apparent malfeasance of Bishop Bransfield does not impugn all U.S. bishops, or even those bishops who received significant gifts from him.

In fact, some of those bishops have demonstrable track records of acting with integrity. And bustarella culture - the customs of giving cash or checks to visiting bishops or dignitaries - is so common in the Church that it would be unreasonable to conclude that every person who has received gifts, even large gifts, from figures like Bransfield or McCarrick bears some personal culpability for their ecclesiastical careers. Indeed, some bishops maintain charity accounts with the financial gifts they’re given, and use that money to help struggling families and others.

But what now seems clear is that in a culture in which large cash gifts are distributed with some regularity, the appearance of impropriety is everywhere, and the probability of cover-ups and corruption is quite high. Such a culture, many Catholics are likely to conclude, is, at the very least, systemically deficient at preventing a kind of laissez faire tolerance for malfeasance

For that reason, the report on Bransfield does further damage to the credibility of the U.S. bishops, at a moment when, for many practicing Catholics, their credit is already running quite low.

It is especially worth noting that the credibility of bishops is not suffering only among the usual crowd of doctrinal dissenters and social libertines. While it is clear that this crisis has been exploited by some for political or person gain, for profit, and to advance ideological agendas, U.S. bishops would be mistaken to underestimate the despondence this crisis has occasioned among their most ardent supporters, and their most orthodox parishioners.

It is faithful, practicing, engaged Catholics - chancery staffers and parish priests among them - who, at this moment, are struggling mightily to gauge, and come to terms with, a problem that might be much larger in scale than they had initially envisioned.

The initial McCarrick scandal raised questions about a particular situation: “Who knew what, and when, about this man’s sexual abuse?”

The Bransfield report forces much broader questions: “Are there are other bishops living like this? How many people knew and did nothing? How many bishops are buying silence with ‘gifts?’”

The breadth of those questions, for some Catholics, has led to a new level of discouragement.

Of course, Catholics - bishops, priests, religious, and laity alike - most likely are suffering from a kind of crisis fatigue. But the Bransfield report has been a sign to most observers that the Church has not yet turned a corner. In fact, to many, the scandal itself is still unfolding.

Pragmatically, the U.S. bishops have made concrete progress in addressing the substantive issues that have emerged in the scandal, as has Pope Francis.

The bishops in Baltimore will vote on a set of guidelines to accompany the pope’s Vos estis lux mundi. They will likely debate the degree to which lay review boards should be featured more prominently in the draft text, and some bishops are likely to call for a much more explicit call for their use by metropolitans in the investigation of bishops accused of misconduct or neglect.

By most expert accounts, the norms of Vos estis lux mundi represent a manageable and practical approach to addressing the issue of episcopal misconduct and neglect.

At the same time, the bishops will vote on a document of episcopal standards - a kind of episcopal code of conduct - and on a set of guidelines for how they should treat bishops who have been removed from office because of misconduct or negligence.

The measures the bishops have developed this year, in an often rocky partnership with the Roman Curia and Pope Francis, are, despite the challenges in the process, widely considered to be good tools, and many experts have told CNA they expect they will bear positive effect at managing the problems of episcopal misconduct and coverup.

But the neat efficiency of those measures is likely to be seen, by some Catholics, as a symbol of a broader problem.

Writing this week in National Review, Kevin Williamson observed that “conservatives believe ...that most problems are to be managed rather than solved, that we should aim at mitigation rather than transformation, that we are better positioned to assuage than to conquer, that things are what they are and must be dealt with on that basis.”

As a result, he said, conservatives very often are a disappointment to “the utopians of the Left and the utopians of the Right.” The observation might well apply to the situation of the Church. Bishops, very often, and especially when working through the episcopal conference, seem to be more inclined to manage problems, especially those they believe to be tied up with the intractable reality of evil.

Bishops, at least contemporary American bishops, tend to address problems through new policies or processes, which are unlikely to have dramatic or immediately visible effect.

It seems clear that their approach has advantages. Few would dispute that the policies advanced after the abuse crisis of 2002 have fostered a cultural change in the U.S. Church on the issue of child and youth protection. Many argue that over time, they’ve made the Catholic Church one of the safest places for children in America. But they are wonky, technical, bureaucratic, and the cultural shift they foster takes time.

But angry and discouraged American Catholics have not spent the last year calling for policies. They’ve spent that time calling for dramatic symbols of contrition and resolution for change. They’ve called for prophetic voices, and maligned their bishops for not seeming to measure up.

Catholics of all backgrounds, viewpoints, and perspectives have demanded a sign that things in the U.S. Church really will be different, and they don’t feel they’ve been heard.

The issue is that the bishops are working toward reform, and most of the Church is calling for renewal.

Reform comes often through new disciplines, policies, processes, and agreements. Renewal rushes in like fire, bringing new energy and vitality, bringing new freedom and hope. Both are important, and both are needed now.

The U.S. bishops can’t make a renewal happen. At least not in their committee meetings and floor debates. To win the trust of Catholics, it seems they would do well to acknowledge that.

If the bishops in Baltimore express that their efforts at reform are intended to address specific problems, and will have limited effectiveness, Catholics may be comforted by their candor. And if they express that in an ecclesial culture that seems, to many, fundamentally broken, the renewal that’s needed can come only through the Holy Spirit, their humility might help them to reestablish bonds of solidarity with their flocks.

And if the bishops spend their time praying for the Holy Spirit to bring renewal to the Church, and inviting other Catholics to do the same, they might be surprised by the results.

Renewal doesn’t usually come from the top. It doesn’t usually come in familiar shapes, or recognizable programs. It often comes through outsiders- through eccentric prophets or weird ascetics. Figures like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Hildegard of Bingen, Blessed John Henry Newman, or Dorothy Day.

Reform can gradually shift culture. Renewal can upend it. And the bishops, if they wish to be candid with U.S. Catholics, might consider admitting the limitations of their reforms, and then beg the Holy Spirit to renew the Church.

On Sunday, the Church will celebrate Pentecost.

In the year since last Pentecost, the Church has faced the McCarrick revelations, the Pennsylvania grand report, the specter federal and state investigations, allegations of abuse or neglect on the part of more bishops and cardinals, police raids in chanceries, the Vigano letters, the disappointing November USCCB meeting, the Zanchetta scandal, the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, allegations of grave negligence on the part of USCCB president Daniel DiNardo, and now the Bransfield report.

There has not yet been any substantive release of information on McCarrick. There have not yet been answers to the straightforward questions about his finances, his allies, and his protectors.

Those things have demoralized faithful, practicing, sincere Catholics. They point to the need for reform. But they also point to the need for divine intervention.

As the bishops begin their meeting, there may be no more important plea on their lips than: “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Biden faces Democratic criticism over support for Hyde Amendment

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 18:33

Washington D.C., Jun 6, 2019 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is facing opposition within the Democratic Party after voicing his support for the Hyde Amendment, a federal policy prohibiting tax dollars from paying for elective abortions.

Biden’s presidential campaign this week reiterated his support for the Hyde Amendment to NBC News.

The move immediately drew strong criticism from abortion advocacy groups, as well as from other Democratic candidates.

“There’s no political or ideological excuse for Joe Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment, which translates into discrimination against poor women and women of color plain and simple,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a June 5 statement.

Kelley Robinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, was similarly critical.

“As abortion access is being restricted and pushed out of reach in states around the country, it is unacceptable for a candidate to support policies that further restrict abortion,” she said in a statement.

Biden, who has been vocal about his Catholic faith throughout his political career, has repeatedly said that he is personally opposed to abortion but supports its legality. In his 2007 book “Promises to Keep,” Biden described his position on abortion as “middle-of-the-road” and reiterated his opposition to both federal funding of abortions and partial-birth abortions.

While Biden’s views on abortion have shifted over time, he has generally presented himself as pro-choice. Throughout his time in the Senate, he opposed numerous pro-life Supreme Court appointments. Last month, he released a video opposing new state-level pro-life legislation and saying he would support federal protections for abortion. He has recently reiterated that he thinks Roe v. Wade is “the law of the land.”

Biden’s stance on the Hyde Amendment, however, puts him at odds with other major Democratic hopefuls, including Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.

The Hyde Amendment was introduced in 1976 by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). It is not a law, but rather has been passed as a rider to budget legislation every year.

A policy that has been supported by members of both parties, it prohibits federal tax dollars from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when it is deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has estimated that more than 2 million unborn lives have been saved as a result of the policy.

Various efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment over the years have failed.

Biden enjoys a strong lead in the polls over more than two dozen other Democratic presidential hopefuls. While many of the other prominent candidates have moved in an increasingly progressive direction with their policy proposals, Biden has remained more moderate on topics such as the environment and health care. The former vice president argues that in order to beat President Donald Trump in the upcoming election, the Democratic Party will need to appeal to mainstream voters, including moderate independents and dissatisfied Republicans.

A survey by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the majority of Americans oppose taxpayer money being used for elective abortions.

However, the Democratic Party in 2016 included in its national platform a statement of support for repealing the Hyde Amendment, as well as opposition to state and federal restrictions on abortion.

Several other Democratic presidential contenders shot back at Biden and reiterated their own stance in favor of removing the Hyde Amendment.

“There is #NoMiddleGround on women’s rights. Abortion is a constitutional right. Under my Medicare for All plan, we will repeal the Hyde Amendment,” said U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Twitter.

“No woman's access to reproductive health care should be based on how much money she has,” said U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. “We must repeal the Hyde Amendment.”

“No matter your income or where you live, every woman should have access to health care including abortion,” said former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

McConnell: State pro-life bills could 'pick away' at Roe v. Wade

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Jun 6, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said June 6 that the U.S. Senate might soon have an opportunity to vote “on some kind of legislation related to Planned Parenthood.”

During an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, the Kentucky Republican said that there have been “some encouraging decisions already in recent months related to state prohibitions against funding of Planned Parenthood.”

“And I’ve noticed how a lot of the judges that we have already confirmed just in the last two and a half years have voted in these cases,” McConnell said.

Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider and receives more than $500 million dollars in taxpayer funds each year.

McConnell was recently awarded the Susan B. Anthony List’s 2019 Distinguished Leader Award at its 12th annual Campaign for Life Gala.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said his “vision and courage have been critical to the successful confirmation of two outstanding Supreme Court justices and more than 100 federal court judges nominated by President Trump.”

McConnell told EWTN that his decision not to fill the vacancy created by the 2016 death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the Obama administration “the single biggest decision I made in my career.”

“That led to the opportunity for President Trump to make a selection—I think he did a great job in picking Neil Gorsuch—and we of course had a second Supreme Court justice, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that became incredibly contentious,” he said. “But I think the American people understood that everybody is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and we were able to work our way through that.”

McConnell said the circuit courts are “immensely important” as well.

“We’ve done 41 circuit court judges, young men and women who believe in the quaint notion that maybe a judge ought to follow the law rather than his own—his or her own—personal opinion,” McConnell said.

“In fact, Justice Scalia used to say you’re not a very good judge if you’re not occasionally uncomfortable with the outcome you reach, because it’s not your personal opinion, it’s what the law seems to require.”

“So, these young men and women will be on the U.S. circuit courts—remember, these are lifetime appointments—for a very long time. I think it’s the single biggest contribution we made to changing America in the future,” he continued.

Ensuring that judges are committed to the rule of law rather than their own personal opinion will benefit the pro-life movement, McConnell argued.

“I think an awful lot of the abortion-related decisions have been by activist judges who sort of followed their personal opinion as opposed to what the law might seem to dictate,” he said.

“And there are a variety of different pieces of state legislation that would begin to try to define, legislatively, this whole process of giving birth in such a way, that it better identifies, now that science has become our ally, when life actually begins.”

McConnell added that pro-life bills passed by state legislatures and working their way through the court system might create “an opportunity to begin to pick away at Roe v. Wade.”

New Ukrainian Archbishop of Philadelphia: Let us be filled with hope

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 15:22

Philadelphia, Pa., Jun 6, 2019 / 01:22 pm (CNA).- Bishop Borys Gudziak was enthroned Tuesday as Archbishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, which heralded the arrival of the “new spiritual leader of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States.”

“I’ve come here very freely, no plan, no agenda. Just to open my heart to the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Gudziak said June 4 in a homily delivered in both Ukrainian and English.

Christ “goes to those on the margins. And that’s where we need to go as bishops, as priests, as Christians, not just me, friends. Not just these priests, these bishops, the sisters, but all of us. And that’s where we’re going to go.”

Gudziak, 58, a native of Syracuse, New York, succeeds Metropolitan Archbishop Stefan Soroka,who resigned for health reasons in April 2018. Pope Francis announced Gudziak’s appointment in February.

“I’m very grateful to all of you for your prayer, for your presence, for your desire to help. I’m grateful for everything that as done in my life, through my parents, my teachers; so many spiritual guides,”

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, an eparchy is the equivalent of a diocese. In the United States, there are three suffragan eparchies in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church under the Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

The archeparchy announced before the enthronement that the liturgical procession would include 50 bishops from the Ukrainian and other Eastern Catholic, the Latin Catholic, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, 125 priests, and 11 deacons. More than 70 religious were present, as well as more than 2,200 laity.

Archbishop Gudziak praised the witness of the many religious sisters in attendance.

“There’s nobody that is more free, nobody that has more courage, nobody that is more countercultural, nobody that is more nonconfirmist than a young woman who in the 21st century says ‘I pledge my whole life to God, and I promise poverty, chastity and obedience, in a time when everybody says ‘money, money, money, sex, sex, sex, and power.’ This is the kind of witness we have amongst us,” he said.

He also noted that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has suffered persecution, especially under the Soviet Union, but has endured.

“We’ve seen our Church, which was supposed to be dead – a totalitarian regime was trying to kill it, it had limitless resources, a nuclear arsenal, and this Church is alive. There are bishops here...that became a priest in the underground. What hope did he have that things could change?” Gudziak said.

“It just takes a few people that believe profoundly and are ready to give everything.”

Gudziak concluded saying: “I ask our faithful: pray every morning and every evening and go to Church on Sunday, it will change your life. Because the Lord is here not only on enthronization day.”

“This Cathedral is yours. Let’s fill it with our prayer, with our problems, with our agony. And let us be filled with hope. The hope, the faith, the love, that only the Lord can give, but once given we can share.”

Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Kyiv-Halyč, and Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, presided at the Divine Liturgy. Concelebrating bishops included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Gudziak attended Syracuse University and then studied in Rome for a time, moving to Lviv, Ukraine in 1992 and was the vice rector and rector of the Lviv Theological Academy, and president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He was ordained a priest of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Lviv in 1998.

In 2012 he was appointed apostolic exarch of the Ukrainian Apostolic Exarchate of France, and consecrated a bishop. The following year, the exarchate was elevated to an eparchy; in addition to France, it serves Ukrainian Catholics in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.

The enthronement is to be the highlight of a week of celebrations in the archeparchy ending June 9.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, which each have unique cultural traditions and liturgical patrimony.

There are about 100,000 members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church living in the United States. More than two thirds of this population lives within the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

The Metropolitan Archeparchy of Philadelphia includes the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania, and serves around 13,000 faithful in 62 parishes and two missions.

Bishop Paprocki bars pro-abortion Illinois lawmakers from Holy Communion

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 06:05

Springfield, Ill., Jun 6, 2019 / 04:05 am (CNA).- The Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, has decreed that state legislative leaders may not be admitted to Holy Communion within his diocese, because of their work to pass the state Reproductive Health Act. The bishop also directed the Catholic legislators who have voted legislation promoting abortion should not present themselves to recieve Holy Communiion until they have first gone to confession.

“In accord with canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law...Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan, who facilitated the passage of the Act Concerning Abortion of 2017 (House Bill 40) as well as the Reproductive Health Act of 2019 (Senate Bill 25), are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois because they have obstinately persisted in promoting the abominable crime and very grave sin of abortion as evidenced by the influence they exerted in their leadership roles and their repeated votes and obdurate public support for abortion rights over an extended period of time,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki wrote in a June 2 decree.

“These persons may be readmitted to Holy Communion only after they have truly repented these grave sins and furthermore have made suitable reparation for damages and scandal, or at least have seriously promised to do so, as determined in my judgment or in the judgment of their diocesan bishop in consultation with me or my successor,” the bishop added.

Illinois’ Reproductive Health Act was passed by the state’s House and Senate just days ago, and observers credited the advocacy of Cullerton and Madigan with helping to secure passage. It is expected to be signed by Illinois’ Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The bill declares abortion to be a “fundamental right” in the state and would remove regulations on abortion clinics and doctors.

Among the provisions that the bill would remove are regulations for abortion clinics, required waiting periods to obtain an abortion, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, it would lift criminal penalties for performing abortions and would prevent any further state regulation of abortion.

The legislation would require all private health insurance plans to cover elective abortions, and eliminate reporting requirements as well as regulations requiring the investigation of maternal deaths due to abortion.

Paprocki’s decree formally instructs priests and deacons in the Diocese of Springfield to refrain from administering the sacrament of the Eucharist to Cullerton and Madigan, both Catholics. The bishop also instructed other Catholic lawmakers not to approach Holy Communion, but did prohibit priests from administering the sacrament to them.

“I declare that Catholic legislators of the Illinois General Assembly who have cooperated in evil and committed grave sin by voting for any legislation that promotes abortion are not to present themselves to receive Holy Communion without first being reconciled to Christ and the Church in accord with canon 916 of the Code of Canon Law,” Paprocki wrote.

In a statement issued June 6, the bishop said that “in issuing this decree, I anticipate that some will point out the Church’s own failings with regard to the abuse of children.”

“The same justifiable anger we feel toward the abuse of innocent children, however, should prompt an outcry of resistance against legalizing the murder of innocent children. The failings of the Church do not change the objective reality that the murder of a defenseless baby is an utterly evil act.

“We also understand many unplanned pregnancies come with fear and difficulty,” Paprocki acknowledged.

“It is our obligation, as a society, to be there for these pregnant mothers, help them in any way possible, and empower them to make life affirming decisions. This also includes continued support for the mother and her child after birth. We must acknowledge a child in the womb is not a problem. He or she is a gift from God.”

The bishop’s decree comes five months after a controversy surrounding New York’s Catholic governor Andrew Cuomo, who in January signed into law a bill that also dramatically expanded legal protection for abortion.

While some Catholics called for New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan to excommunicate Cuomo - a canonical option most experts said was not technically possible - others encouraged the cardinal to formally prohibit Cuomo from receiving Holy Communion.

Although Dolan criticized Cuomo’s decision, he stopped short of issuing a decree prohibiting Cuomo from the Eucharist. The cardinal told reporters that decision would be counterproductive.

For his part, Paprocki said that he issued the decree to encourage conversion.

“In view of their gravely immoral action to deprive unborn children legal protection against abortion, it must be said that any Catholic legislator who sponsored, promoted, advocated, or voted for these pro-abortion bills has acted in a seriously sinful manner unfaithful to the 2,000-year-old Christian teaching against abortion and therefore, would place themselves outside of the full communion of the Catholic Church,” the bishop said.

“Such persons are not to receive Holy Communion until they have celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation and displayed a public conversion of life.”

“As sacred Scripture warns, ‘Whoever eats unworthily of the bread and drinks from the Lord’s cup makes himself guilty of profaning the body and of the blood of the Lord.’ To support legislation that treats babies in the womb like property, allowing for their destruction for any reason at any time, is evil. It’s my hope and prayer these lawmakers reconcile themselves to the Church so they can receive Communion.”

“The Eucharist is the most sacred aspect of our Catholic faith,” Paprocki added.

In 2018, Paprocki said that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin would not be admitted to Holy Communion because of his advocacy for the legal protection of abortion.

Paprocki’s statement recognized the Illinois lawmakers who had opposed the Reproductive Health Act.

“I want to thank lawmakers who stood up to these barbaric pieces of legislation and voted ‘no,’ and I applaud their courage to speak the truth that the most basic right we should all enjoy, is the right to life.”

Iowa bishops to cooperate with attorney general’s request for abuse records

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 02:03

Des Moines, Iowa, Jun 6, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Iowa have agreed to voluntarily hand over records on clerical sex abuse allegations in their dioceses, responding to a request made last week by the state attorney general.

“Our compliance is inspired by the teachings of Jesus and his Catholic Church: that it is right and good to respond to the sin and crime of clergy sexual abuse with sorrow, repentance, amendment of life, and efforts to repair the harm done,” the bishops said in a June 3 statement.

“In this regard, if there have been failures in the past, it is not for lack of trying. And after discovering when and where our efforts have fallen short, we will try again; there is no perfection this side of heaven.”

On May 31, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller sent a letter to the four dioceses of the state, saying that he was planning a third-party review of their sex abuse records, in the interest of transparency and healing for victims.

He asked the dioceses to submit their records regarding abuse allegations by Aug. 1.

The dioceses were asked to turn over all documentation of abuse reports that they had received. They were asked for a list of all clergy who have been credibly accused, as well as accusations which the dioceses have deemed “not credible.”

In addition, the attorney general requested records of meetings held to evaluate reports of clerical misconduct or abuse; copies of settlement agreements entered into by dioceses with abuse victims; and the definitions of “sexual misconduct,” “sexual abuse,” and “credibly accused” used by the dioceses in evaluating accusations.

Miller said he has heard from victims of clerical sex abuse whose stories have not been made public. He said transparency is essential for healing, and encouraged other individuals with information on abuse to call his office.

In a response published by the Iowa Catholic Conference, the bishops said they would comply. The statement was sent on behalf of Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, and Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport.

“Each diocese, in the interest of transparency and accountability, plans to comply with the Attorney General’s request,” read the statement.

The bishops’ statement noted that most of this information is already available to the public. It added that the diocese has for years undertaken an annual third-party review.

The bishops called on Miller to fight sex abuse in society more broadly.

“It is our hope that the Attorney General will use the resources of his office to protect minors from the scourge of sexual abuse wherever it occurs, and not limit his focus just on the Catholic Church,” they said.

Judge: Missouri can't require doctors' testimony in hearing on abortion clinic

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 20:18

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 5, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- A Missouri circuit court judge ruled Tuesday that doctors not employed by a St. Louis Planned Parenthood do not have to testify in a hearing on the clinic, which is the last functioning Planned Parenthood in the state.

Last week, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis sued the state after its health department refused to renew the clinic’s license.

State officials cited health and safety concerns about the clinic, while Planned Parenthood representatives said they had done everything possible to comply with state requirements.

The license of the Planned Parenthood clinic in question was set to expire May 31, but the clinic was able to secure a restraining order from Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis, which allowed the clinic temporarily to continue operating past that date.

The state had subpoenaed five doctors in residence who had worked at the Planned Parenthood, though not as employees of the clinic, for interviews in the ongoing investigative hearing. Stelzer dismissed the subpoena as an “undue burden” on those doctors June 4.

"The non-parties have shown that compliance with the subpoenas would present an undue burden and hardship on [the non-Planned Parenthood physicians] and that the subpoenas should be quashed," Stelzer wrote, according to CBS.

The state had previously said that the renewal of the Planned Parenthood’s license depended upon its interviews of these doctors.

While the clinic is the last abortion provider in Missouri, there is a private surgical abortion clinic near St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Ill. A Planned Parenthood clinic 20 miles away in Belleville, Ill. offers medication-induced abortion, the New York Times reported.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a Planned Parenthood physician in St. Louis, told CBS that “we are 100 percent committed to the best care that we can provide for patients. So certainly if there is an issue with the care we're providing we want to know about it. We want to be able to address that. But we can't do that when we're being attacked.”

A 2016 report on an inspection of the clinic, the most recent available through CheckMyClinic.org, shows that the clinic at that time was in violation of multiple state standards involving the sterilization and storing of equipment, and the proper documentation of medication and procedures.

Pro-life advocates have expressed concern that the clinic’s closure has been delayed despite violations of public health standards.

“This particular facility’s track record shows an appalling pattern of botched abortions and other violations that prove they are incapable of policing themselves,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said May 31.

“Planned Parenthood does not deserve special treatment and the health and safety of women should never come second to the abortion industry’s bottom line.”

DiNardo denies mishandling priest abuse case and confession allegations

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 19:06

Houston, Texas, Jun 5, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston disputed reports that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo mishandled a sexual abuse claim against a priest, and denied that the archdiocese had ever received reports that the accused priest violated canon law regarding the sacrament of penance.

“The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston categorically rejects the unprofessional, biased and one-sided reporting contained in today’s Associated Press story headlined ‘The Reckoning.’ At each step in this matter, Cardinal DiNardo has reacted swiftly and justly — and has always kept the welfare of the Pontikeses in mind. A number of the quotes attributed to the Cardinal are an absolute fabrication,” the archdiocese said in a June 4 statement.

The statement was a response to a June 4 story from the Associated Press, which reported the claims of a Texas woman, Laure Pontikes.

Pontikes said that DiNardo permitted his former vicar general, who she says sexually coerced her, to transfer to another diocese and continue in ministry, after she was promised that he would not be permitted to serve as a pastor.

The archdiocese said that after the woman reported a coercive sexual relationship with the priest, Msgr. Frank Rossi, she was promised by an archdiocesan official that he would not again be permitted to serve as a pastor.

In its statement, the archdiocese disputed that claim, saying that DiNardo “agreed not to reassign Monsignor Rossi in any capacity in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.”

In 2017, Rossi was permitted to be appointed a pastor in the Diocese of Beaumont, which neighbors the archdiocese. The archdiocese said that Rossi “completed his rehabilitation process and was recommended to be returned to active ministry by the professionals who assessed him” before he was permitted to be a pastor in the Beaumont diocese.  

For its part, the Diocese of Beaumont said this week it was not informed of the allegations of the priest before he was appointed a pastor, and it removed him temporarily from his parish assignment.

The archdiocesan statement noted that Pontikes, who also claimed to have been pressured by Rossi to donate millions to Catholic causes, made a “demand for a $10 million payment” after reporting the allegation. Mediation regarding the matter is reportedly still ongoing.

Rossi’s relationship with Pontikes was reported to police in 2018, and is now under criminal investigation. In Texas, it is illegal for a member of the clergy to have a sexual relationship with a parishioner if that relationship involves abuse of office.

In comments to CNA Wednesday, the archdiocese also disputed claims that the priest attempted to absolve Pontikes sacramentally of sexual sins she confessed to committing with him, which is a serious canonical offense that can lead to excommunication. Such allegations are usually addressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“When Mrs. Pontikes first contacted the Archdiocese to make her allegation, she stated in the interview that she went to a priest twice for Confession about her relationship with Monsignor Rossi and when she was asked if this confessor was Monsignor Rossi, she stated that it was not. Subsequently, the same question was posed to Monsignor Rossi who stated that he did not hear Mrs. Pontikes’ confession after their inappropriate relationship began nor any time after it ended,” the archdiocese told CNA.

The AP reported that the allegation of attempted absolution is under a “Vatican" review, but sources close to the relevant Vatican offices have told CNA that they are not aware of any such review.

The archdiocese told CNA that “the recent assertion  is a new development which will be thoroughly reviewed in accordance with canon law.”

The archdiocese declined to answer additional questions from CNA regarding the precise nature of an anticipated “thorough review.”

 

Analysis: Houston case raises questions about pope’s reforms

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A report was published Tuesday of an apparent affair between a married woman and a senior priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

While the case has provoked uncomfortable questions about what was or was not done to handle that situation in 2016, the more urgent question may prove to be: what should be done in similar situations now?

In 2016, Laura Pontikes told the archdiocese, led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, that Msgr. Frank Rossi had used his pastoral relationship with her to coerce her into a year-long sexual relationship, while at the same time offering advice and support to her husband and soliciting large donations from the couple.

Most seriously, Pontikes alleged to AP that Rossi had heard her confessions throughout the affair, apparently attempting to absolve an accomplice in a sexual sin – one of the most grave crimes in canon law.

The exact details of the archdiocesan response to the complaint are disputed. The archdiocese insists that it directed Pontikes to report the matter to civil authorities at once – Texas law prohibits relationships between ministers and their flock – and immediately removed Rossi from his parish. Since then, it says, it has been in ongoing negotiations with Pontikes and made every effort to accommodate her.

After spending eight months in “rehabilitation,” the archdiocese says that Rossi was recommended for a return to active ministry, but it was agreed with Pontikes that he would not be given any future role in the archdiocese. Instead, he was allowed to take “retired” status and seek a new assignment in the Diocese of Beaumont.

The most serious charge – that Rossi attempted to absolve an accomplice in an affair – remains unresolved. The Houston archdiocese say that this did not happen, Pontikes says that it did, and AP have reported that a Vatican investigation is underway; though sources in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, normally responsible for cases involving sexual crimes and the confessional, told CNA that no complaint has yet been received.

That issue to one side, the Rossi case highlights the gathering storm of confusion surrounding the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi. Attention to that document, which came into force June 1, has mostly focused on new procedural mechanisms for investigating allegations of abuse against bishops. But, canonists have noted, its potentially most significant provisions concern new definitions of who can be a victim of sexual abuse.

In addition to minors, Vos estis also creates a category of abuse of authority and offers a far broader definition of “vulnerable adult” than has previously been applied.

According to the text of the document, such a person is now to be considered “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offence.”

Many have noted that the new definition could be argued to apply to virtually any sexual relationship involving a priest in ministry. The Rossi/Pontikes case would certainly seem to illustrate the now much-expanded grey area around “consent” in sexual sins involving priests. How such a case should be handled, and by whom, remains an open question both in Rome and in dioceses.

Vos estis provides that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith handle cases “regarding the delicts reserved to it by the norms in force.”

Such crimes are currently defined by the motu proprio Sacromentorum Sanctiatis Tutela and include clerical sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. However, the CDF’s own definition of vulnerable adult is articulated in SST as “a person who habitually has the imperfect use of reason,” essentially someone with developmental disabilities.

The distance between the two definitions offered by Vos estis and SST is currently under active discussion at the CDF, where officials are currently preparing their own vademecum – guidelines for implementation – on Vos estis.

Sources close to the drafting process have told CNA that the proposals for the vademecum include a clarification on the scope of cases it is competent to handle, and directing those offences which fall outside its competence to other Vatican departments, most especially the Congregations for Clergy and Bishops.

According to sources familiar with the preliminary CDF draft, the intention is to reassert the standing definition of vulnerable adult in SST and, by implication, remit those falling under the broader definition of Vos estis to other departments. Such a move, sources stress, would be motivated not only by a close reading of SST but also the simple practical limitations of staffing.

“[The CDF] is already badly short-handed,” one official told CNA. “The idea that there are the resources to handle an entirely new classification of offence is crazy.”

If the demarcation between the broad and narrow definitions of “vulnerable adult” is included in the final draft of the vademecum, curial officials at the Congregation for Clergy could find themselves responsible by default for a slew of cases like that of Msgr. Rossi, and expected to come up with a new standard for assessing consent in sexual relationships with priests. To date, officials there have not been given any guidance on how to respond to a potentially new classification of crime by a cleric.

While many canonists in and out of Rome accept that the implications of Vos estis require close study and thoughtful response to be effectively applied, few expect that workable answers to new questions about consent in immoral clerical relationships will arrive soon.

Another of Vos estis’ provisions is the introduction of a canonical requirement on all clerics and religious to report any well-founded suspicion of sexual abuse. This requirement, coupled with the broader definition of vulnerable adult, could result in a sudden influx of suspected cases but with no clear understanding of where to send them for evaluation, or what is to be done with them when they arrive.

As curial officials, bishops’ conferences, and diocesan chanceries consider the theoretical implications of Vos estis’ reforms even as they come into force, the Rossi case throws into sharp relief the urgent practical applications the document is intended to have.

Unless and until Roman officials and local bishops come to a clear understanding of how they will define a vulnerable adult and examine the role of consent in clerical sexual misconduct, there is a growing chance all concerned will find themselves with a backlog of complaints and no way to clear them.

US bishops thank House for approving immigration bill

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 18:54

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2019 / 04:54 pm (CNA).- The chairman of the US bishops' migration committee welcomed Tuesday a vote in the House of Representatives passing a bill that would provide a citizenship path for some brought to the US illegally as children, among others.

The House passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 by a 237-187 vote June 4. Along with some “Dreamers”, who were illegally brought to the US as minors, it would allow a path to cizenship for qualified holders of Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure.

“This is a big step for Dreamers and TPS holders who have called the United States home but have been working and living in uncertainty for years,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin. “Dreamers, TPS and DED holders are working to make our communities and parishes strong and are vital contributors to our country. We welcome today’s vote and urge the Senate to take up this legislation which gives permanent protection to Dreamers, TPS and DED holders.”

The bill would grant qualifying childhood arrivals 10 years of legal residence, after which they could receive permanent legal residence with two years of higher education or military service, or three years of employment.

TPS is an immigration benefit that allows persons who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary conditions to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves. It protects them from deportation and grants them permission to work. DED protects from deportation persons from countries or regions facing political or civic conflict or natural disaster, and allows them to work. The status is currently given only to Liberians.

Those with TPS or DED could apply for lawful permanent residence if they have been in the country for at least three years and have passed background checks. After five yearrs of lawful permanent residence, they would apply for citizenship.

Voting for the bill were the Democrats in the House, as well as seven Republicans.

Similar bills have been introduced in the Senate, but according to Felicia Sonmez at the Washington Post “it is unlikely that the Senate will consider the bill.”

Last month, Bishop Vásquez and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, voiced concern over a separate immigration plan from the Trump administration which prioritizes immigration status based on merit rather than family ties.

“We oppose proposals that seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely ‘merit-based’ immigration system,” they said. “Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history, and our immigration system.”

The administration's proposal would significantly reduce the current family-based portion of the immigration system, instead focusing on applicants with high education and skill levels.

The plan would not provide legal status for those brought to the United States illegally as children. Nor does it provide a clear path forward for TPS holders.

HHS ends last research program to use human tissue from abortions

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 17:10

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2019 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it declined to renew a contract with the University of California that funded a research program which used fetal tissue obtained from abortions.

The decision, announced June 5, follows a “comprehensive review” by the Department of Health and Human Services, announced in September 2018, into any research involving fetal tissue. The review set out to find “adequate alternatives” to avoid the use of human fetal tissue altogether. At the time, HHS promised to “ensure that efforts to develop such alternatives are funded and accelerated.”

The review identified a program at the University of California, San Francisco, that used fetal tissue, and the determination was made not to renew its federally-funded contract. The non-renewal means that the National Institutes for Health (NIH) no longer funds any research that involves aborted remains.

The research program involved the use of bone marrow, thymuses, and livers from aborted babies which were used to create mice with human-like immune systems. The “humanized mice” were then used for testing and experimentation.

An official statement from the Trump administration said that the canceled contract was further evidence that President Trump was pursuing pro-life goals throughout his presidency.

“This is consistent with that direction and there will be continued work on the pro-life agenda throughout the rest of the first term and the second term as well, and so we will always work to err on the side of life in all critical decisions that come to the Oval Office at the president’s direction,” said the statement quoted on Fox News.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) called the canceled contract an “important step toward stopping the barbaric practice of using the body parts of aborted babies for research.”

In a release to media, Smith called the practice of using aborted remains “unethical” and “ineffective,” claiming that it has not produced “a single clinical treatment.”

Smith said that other techniques, which do not involve the use of any fetal body parts, exist, and are “proven ethical alternatives for this life-saving research.”

The announcement comes just one day after House members moved to prevent federal funding of other controversial research.

Since 2016, the appropriations bill has contained a rider that prohibits the federal Food and Drug Administration and NIH from conducting research or funding trials involving gene editing of embryos or human germlines.

The rider was dropped from a draft of the 2020 appropriations bill, but an amendment was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday to restore the language.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), the ranking member of the agriculture subcommittee, spoke at the Tuesday Appropriations Committee meeting in favor of maintaining the prohibition on embryonic gene editing.

Fortenberry said that human genetic experimentation is loaded with ethical questions largely unaddressed by researchers, and that funding unknown research could take away from effective treatments.

“If we cede this framework of science and ethics to maverick bioengineers who are detached from larger societal considerations, the risks of harm are real, and we will divert these resources away from real, viable alternatives,” said Fortenberry.

‘No excuse, no adequate explanation’: Lori releases findings of Bishop Bransfield investigation

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 16:20

Wheeling, W.V., Jun 5, 2019 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has released a letter to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston addressing the findings of a preliminary investigation into the former head of the diocese, Bishop Michael Bransfield.

In the June 5 letter, the archbishop states that accusations of sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield had been determined to be “credible” by an independent investigation. Investigators discovered that Bransfield had managed to erode and evade oversight and policy controls by fostering “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” in the diocese.

“There is no excuse, nor adequate explanation, that will satisfy the troubling question of how his behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did,” Lori wrote in the letter, addressed to the clergy and faithful of the diocese.

Lori was named apostolic administrator of the diocese in September 2018 by Pope Francis, following a series of allegations made against Bransfield including sexual and financial misconduct.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Lori subsequently barred him from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

Lori said he was writing the letter to share the conclusions of a five-month preliminary investigation into the former diocesan bishop which concluded in March and had been transmitted to Rome.

“In the spirit of transparency and based on my many conversations during various visits to the diocese these past months, it is clear to me that more must be said about the report’s findings and about the steps being taken to address them,” Lori wrote.

Lori said that while there was no “conclusive evidence” of sexual misconduct with minors, the investigation – led by five lay experts – had found indications of consistent sexual misconduct and harassment by Bransfield against adults.

“The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority,” Lori said.

Abuse of authority for sexual purposes was classed as a separate category of sexual abuse in the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which came into force June 1.

Lori also confirmed that investigators had established a pattern of serious financial misconduct by Bransfield throughout his tenure as bishop.

“The investigative report determined that during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said, citing renovations to multiple residences and the misuse of Church funds “for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items.”

The archbishop also set out a range of measures put in place since Bransfield’s departure to assist possible victims and to ensure there could be no repetition of his alleged misconduct.

“Without a doubt, the alleged victims of former Bishop Bransfield’s sexual harassment must be our first and constant concern,” Lori said.

“Thus, the diocese has committed to providing counseling to them and to all priests and lay personnel at the chancery. I have asked that a permanent program be developed and advertised to seminarians and priests that such services are available.”

Additionally, Lori confirmed that financial, pastoral, and practical resources were being made available to all victims, and that he had ordered the creation of an independent, third-party reporting mechanism in the diocese for accusations of sexual or financial misconduct, with complaints being forwarded to an independent, lay-led review board.

As Archbishop of Baltimore, Lori instituted a similar program in the archdiocese – the first of its kind in the United States.

“As we seek to understand how such behavior was able to occur over the course of Bishop Bransfield’s 13-year-long tenure, it is evident from those who spoke with investigators that the Bishop’s management style and personality undermined the effectiveness of diocesan policies, controls and oversight procedures,” Lori said.

“In some cases, it is apparent that the judgment of diocesan personnel was impacted by the culture of fear of retaliation and retribution that the former bishop fostered.”

Lori said he was working with the chancery staff and the diocesan finance council to institute new oversight policies. In response to Bransfield’s “excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said he had ordered the immediate listing and sale of the bishop’s residence in Wheeling.

Applying the policy of rigorous transparency to himself, Lori noted that he too had received financial gifts from Bransfield over the years.

“In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel it necessary to acknowledge that I was periodically a recipient of financial gifts in varying amounts by Bishop Bransfield for various occasions over the years, including my installation as Archbishop of Baltimore in 2012 and annually at Christmas.”

Lori said that following the extent of Bransfield’s financial misconduct becoming clear, he had returned a total of $7,500 to the diocese with instructions that the funds be used for Catholic Charities.

“I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding in a spirit of Christ-like humility, service and pastoral care and charity,” Lori concluded, underlining that episcopal accountability was a “critical issue” facing the Church.

“We are committed to bringing about the healing that the good people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston require and can only pray for and work relentlessly to regain their renewed trust and confidence.”

Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, eminent Italian bioethicist, dies at 90

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 14:01

Rome, Italy, Jun 5, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, a bioethicist and president eremitus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, died in his home in Rome Wednesday afternoon, one day before his 91st birthday.

Sgreccia had been hospitalized recently, but expressed the desire to return home, where, according to a statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life, “he died peacefully” June 5 at 12:15.

Called the father of Italian bioethics, in his retirement the cardinal was an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which he led as vice-president from its foundation in 1994 until 2005, and as president from 2005 to 2008.

Sgreccia also served the Italian government as a member of the Italian National Bioethics Committee from 1990 to 2006.

He published over 400 books and articles on the topic of medical science and ethics, including a manual on the fundamentals of bioethics and a book on St. John Paul II’s teachings on the transmission of life.

In his masterwork, “Personalist Bioethics: Foundations and Applications,” Sgreccia described his approach to bioethics as “ontologically grounded personalism.”  

Sgreccia’s niece Palma Sgreccia, a student and assistant of his, said the cardinal was “a man of faith, characterized by great sobriety of life, who has always tried to promote the good of all. He was guided by the inspiration of faith and the power of reason, in every choice and decision.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life said June 5 it is “grateful for the positive and valuable work” of the cardinal “and for his important contribution on scientific topics and in the academic area, for the benefit of the Church’s Magisterium.”

As a priest, Sgreccia spent 10 years serving as a spiritual minister for the faculty of medicine and surgery at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, later becoming a bioethics instructor for the university.

He founded a bioethics center at Sacred Heart University, which he directed until 2006. He acted as the Holy See’s observer on the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on Bioethics of the Council of Europe in the 1980s. Sgreccia was also the founder of the International Federation of Bioethics Centers and Institutions of Personalist Inspiration.

He was named secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family and appointed a titular bishop in late 1992, receiving episcopal ordination in January 1993.

Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in the November 2010 consistory, and he participated in the 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the family.

Sgreccia was born in the northern Italian region of Marche in 1928. At the end of World War II, he entered the seminary; he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Fano June 29, 1952, at the age of 24. Before going into bioethics, he was a chaplain for Azione Cattolica youth groups and vice rector of his former seminary.

Alabama mayor apologizes for Facebook post about killing gay people

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 13:23

Birmingham, Ala., Jun 5, 2019 / 11:23 am (CNA).- The mayor of a small town in Alabama has apologized after posting on Facebook that the only way to reclaim America is to kill gay and transgender people, abortionists, and socialists.

"Although I believe my comment was taken out of context and was not targeting the LGBTQ community, I know that it was wrong to say anyone should be kill [sic],” said Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers, according to the Daily Mountain Eagle. “There are not enough words for me to express how much a [sic] regret posting that comment. I hope very much our Citizens and anyone that was hurt by this comment can accept my apology.”

Chambers has served as mayor of Carbon Hill, a city of about 2,000 in northern Alabama, for five years. Last week, he posted on Facebook, “We live in a society where homosexuals lecture us on morals, transvestites lecture us on human biology, baby killers lecture us on human rights and socialists lecture us on economics.”

One of his Facebook friends responded, “By giving the minority more rights than the majority. I hate to think of the country my grandkids will live in unless somehow we change and I think that will take a revolution.”

Chambers then said, “The only way to change it would be to kill the problem out. I know it’s bad to say but without killing them out there’s no way to fix it.”

WBRC Fox6 News contacted Chambers about the post on Monday. He initially denied that he had written the message, saying, “I think that’s somebody else’s post,” the news outlet reported.

In a subsequent conversation, Chambers admitted that he had written the comments, but said they had been taken out of context and were intended to refer to a hypothetical civil war situation.

“If it comes to a revolution in this country both sides of these people will be killed out,” he said, according to WBRC Fox6.

The news outlet said Chambers also stated that he did not realize that he had posted the message publicly, and had believed he was having a private conversation with a friend. He later changed his Facebook settings to private.

On Tuesday, the mayor posted an apology for his previous comments, saying that he takes responsibility for them, and they do not reflect the views of the city.

While the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual actions are immoral, it also affirms the dignity of all people. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for respect, sensitivity and compassion for people with homosexual tendencies. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” it says.

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